A thorough home inspection is often recommended for any real estate transaction, but when considering the purchase of a foreclosed home many experts believe it becomes even more critical.
Tom Jansson, secretary of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors Chicagoland Chapter, says while the inspection for a foreclosed home is the same as with other real estate there are areas inspectors are looking at more closely such as water infiltration or burst pipes.
"What happens to houses in foreclosure is they simply deteriorate from neglect," he says adding that banks don't typically know how to maintain or safeguard the homes.
In Chicago, for example, it is important to winterize a home, particularly if it is vacant, to avoid burst pipes and water damage.
Jansson says in foreclosure the problems are often something that would have otherwise been fixed, but has been exacerbated by the neglect.
"If there's a roof leak chances are it's really bad," he says.
Jansson says there are also many homes that were built during the real estate boom that were poorly built to begin with and when you add several years of neglect there can be more serious problems such as structural damage.
As with any home inspection, Jansson says the key to choosing someone to inspect a home is to make sure they are licensed. It is easy to check by going to www.idfpr.com/dpr/licenselookup - the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation's license look-up. He says it is also a benefit to hire someone involved with a professional association such as NACHI or the American Society of Home Inspectors.
"That is evidence they are committed to their profession and continuing education," he says.
There are some foreclosed properties that are sold "as is" or with no inspection, Jansson says, but he suggests an inspection can be requested anyway. Typically if someone is motivated to sell they may be willing to allow an inspection. It may mean the property will still sell "as is" but the buyer will have a better idea what they are purchasing.
While an inspector is barred by law to advise a client whether they should purchase a property, Jansson says they can be very helpful in determining the scope of work that needs to be done.
The key to keep in mind, however, is that inspectors can only advise on the issues that are visible.
"There is no inspector out there with X-ray vision," Jansson says.
Damage can sometimes be hidden and issues real estate agents have found such as concrete poured in the pipes might only be evident if the water is turned on.
Jansson says he has a good eye for seeing areas where paint doesn't match on a ceiling that would prompt him to go into an attic to check for moisture or other little clues an experienced inspector would notice. But, if someone was clever enough, damage behind the scenes could go undetected.
Jansson suggests, especially with a foreclosed property, to hire a licensed inspector and not rely on a handy family member or friend who is a plumber to do the job.
"We are generalists with experience with every major system in the house," Jansson says. "We have no financial stake in the outcome of the sale. We are an unbiased third party."
Jansson says that is important because it isn't unusual for someone to fall in love with a house and not be able to see the repairs that need to be done.