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Old 12-15-2010, 07:39 AM   #1
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


This thread is for all of the "wow, didn't see that coming when I looked at this house" experiences. I'm a licensed engineer and licensed home inspector, and I'm going to try to add some nuggets of experience from the time I (and the guys in our office) spend doing inspections. So in the future, if you're with your home inspector walking through a home that you are interested in purchasing, maybe you'll have a few more things to ask him to check. It might avoid a surprise after you move in. Oh, and please feel free to add your own "gotcha's".


First up:

The dreaded "vacant building choke hold syndrome".

If a house (regardless of age) has been vacant for any period of time (which is sadly a condition more prevalant now than ever), the plumbing drains, traps, and waste lines could pose problems for you that can't be caught during a normal inspection. Root balls, dried up solids and paper, and partial collapses are things a typical inspection won't catch, because the standard of care typically only calls for running tap water in the fixtures during the time of the inspection. In order to catch these larger problems before you buy and move in, bring it up during the inspection as a concern. The inspector will include it on his/her report. He probably can't physically do the sewer line inspection, but he can note it in the report and recommend a video inspection. This could avoid the scenario of you moving in, spending the first couple days in the house, only to realize then that your sewer line is clogged with a root ball, old solids, or a partial collapse, and you've filled the plumbing lines up to the gills with waste.

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Old 12-15-2010, 08:41 AM   #2
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


Who pays for the video inspection?

Buyer or seller?

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Old 12-15-2010, 11:32 AM   #3
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


Typically the agents negotiate that. It's similar to a structural concern. If it pops up on the inspection report, the buyer's agent can say "we have a concern, please have the owner confirm condition through a video inspection." The seller can turn around and say "price is based on as-is condition", in which case a buyer can either walk, or if they're really interested in the home, pay for that due diligence inspection themselves. I've seen it go both ways. But a vacant home is usually either bank-owned or relo company-owned, and it behooves them for the sale to proceed, thus making it worthwhile for them to cover the inspection. And more likely than not, those types of companies have oodles of contacts to do such inspections (I'm part of a network that does them for relo companies and banks).
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Old 12-20-2010, 08:13 PM   #4
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


Quote:
because the standard of care typically only calls for running tap water in the fixtures during the time of the inspection. In order to catch these larger problems before you buy and move in, bring it up during the inspection as a concern. The inspector will include it on his/her report. He probably can't physically do the sewer line inspection, but he can note it in the report and recommend a video inspection. This could avoid the scenario of you moving in, spending the first couple days in the house, only to realize then that your sewer line is clogged with a root ball, old solids, or a partial collapse, and you've filled the plumbing lines up to the gills with waste.
Aggie67 -

First off, thanks again for your important and useful post. That's exactly what I do here in North Idaho, and that's all I do. Video inspections and locates. I don't do sewer or septic repairs, service, replacement, or excavation. Thus, I'm unbiased in providing my clients with forthright information. I do offer free consulting however for sewer and septic problems. In many cases if a problem is found, the client looks to me for professional advice. If they are interested in having the repair or replacement done, I will then step in and act as a liaison between them and the contractor to make sure they are not taken advantage of. In many cases I can even save them on the repair due to relationships I've built with local contractors.

Sewer and septic problems can cost thousands of dollars in property damage and sometimes tens-of-thousands of dollars to repair. Anyone planning to purchase a home or investment property should not go without a sewer or septic lateral inspection.

Thanks again!

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Old 01-06-2011, 08:52 AM   #5
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


You can look up my post from a few weeks ago for more details, but I agree with the OP that if the seller is out, look extra carefully at the mechanicals.

October and November were very warm here in Ohio, and our inspection in november found only a leaking water pipe. Because of this the seller shut off the hot water heat in the house, and left it off through a very cold snap. We take possession Dec. 22 to find several leaks in domestic water pipes, cracked radiators in radiant system and at least one break in a cast iron hot water pipe to a radiator, found at the elbow the the radiator.

Not good. Terrible in fact! The day of closing go over and power everything up to the max and make sure it's all cool if the place hasn't been lived in.

You'll save yourself a lot of money and time.
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Old 01-07-2011, 08:59 PM   #6
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


Proper due dilligence includes cranking up the heat. Even if it's summer, I'll get the boiler cranking just to make sure it all works (with the seller's permission). But even so, like you say there's no telling what could happen between the inspection and the move in. It would be interesting to find out if you could have a clause that states something along the lines of "seller responsible for maintaining good working order of equipment and appliances between time of inspection and time of closing." That has to have come up already, somewhere. Your agent would probably be the best one to have that conversation with, and bring up Salvatorparadise's experience.
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Old 01-07-2011, 09:07 PM   #7
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


Here's one for sellers:

To avoid surprises like buyers asking for copies of permits, have them ready. All you really need is the approval copy. If the buyer wants all of the gory details, you can politely give them directions to borough hall. Having copies of the permits handy for when they ask (if they ask) will go a long way in preventing the scenario where a lack of permits pushes the buyer off their desire to buy the home at a price close to where it would have sold, had permits been in place.
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Old 01-07-2011, 09:09 PM   #8
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


we're hoping our lawyer will help us after we meet with him this week
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Old 01-08-2011, 12:56 PM   #9
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


Here are a couple of good reads that could avoid problems:

http://ezinearticles.com/?Your-Final...ugh&id=2789987

http://ezinearticles.com/?How-To-Wri...ails&id=852279

A blurb from an official Louisianna home purchase contract, available on the state's web site:

THE SELLER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MAINTAINING THE PROPERTY IN SUBSTANTIALLY THE SAME OR BETTER CONDITION AS IT WAS WHEN THE AGREEMENT WAS FULLY EXECUTED.

In addition, make sure you at least discuss these scenarios with your agent and lawyer.
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Old 01-12-2011, 03:48 PM   #10
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


I don't know that I'll add much new here, but I'll give it a shot. This is what I have taken away from searching for my first home:

- Check the roof. Outside, inside, and all along the perimeter of the house. Check it very closely. Don't be afraid to climb up in the attic and go from one end to the other.

- Check the crawlspace/basement if it has one. Mainly checking for water damage, but many homes have been junked underneath from the previous owner not wanting to dispose of his unwanted items the proper way.

- Check every window inside and out. Will they open? Will they lock? Are they square? Do they seal properly?

- Check all cabinets, especially those that are located beneath sinks.

- Look at every square inch of bathrooms. Water damage.

- Check the age and condition of the heating and ac unit.

- Check and decide what updates will have to be done immediatley and ones that can wait.


After all of this (I'm sure I am missing one of my personal steps) if you still like the house very much. Do the right thing and pay a proffessional (if you aren't one or aren't equally knowledged) to do a proper and thorough inspection of the house.

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Old 02-07-2011, 08:58 AM   #11
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


There might also be environmental problems.

if you are sensitive to noise, consider that.

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Old 03-05-2011, 09:56 AM   #12
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


I've bought and sold about a dozen homes in my life, so I think I speak from experience on this topic. The inspection not only protects you against surprises, but it is also a great negotiating tool. The more problems the inspector finds and documents, the more likely the seller will be to reduce the price. IMO, there are two critically important aspects: 1. Find the right inspector, and 2. participate 110% in the process.

It's going to take some time to find the right inspector, so you should start interviewing right away and have your guy lined up before you make an offer. Anyone can call himself a home inspector, but you really need somebody who understands how a house is put together and how all the mechanical systems work. Ideally, you want somebody who has personally built a lot of houses in the area where your new house is located, so a retired contractor is best. It's also important to find someone you're comfortable being around and talking to, because you're going to spend a lot of time with him.

If you don't already know someone, just call a few local realtors and ask for recommendations. Realtors deal with inspectors all the time, but they usually don't have any financial connections so you should get an unbiased opinion (especially if you're not using that particular realtor).

Once you have an inspector lined up, schedule the inspection for as soon as possible after your offer is accepted. You usually only get 5-10 days to inspect the house, so get started immediately. You want as much time as possible in case you decide you want to go back for a second look after you've had time to think about things.

On inspection day YOU MUST BE THERE, and YOU MUST BE FULLY ENGAGED. No matter how good the inspector, it's a total waste of time if you're not there and paying attention. You should plan on spending at least 3-4 hours looking over the house, and you will want to ask a lot of questions. The inspector should tell you what he's looking for (and why), and he should show you all the good and bad parts of the house. He should also explain how all the HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems work. At the end of the inspection, before you even see the report or get feedback from the seller, you should already know whether you still want to buy the house.

At the end of the inspection you'll receive a printed report detailing all the inspector's findings. It will usually be a nicely bound 30-40 page report, and it will look like it covers everything. Unfortunately, the report is basically worthless except as a bargaining tool to help get the seller to pay for repairs (or reduce the price). In most cases, the inspector can't guarantee the condition of anything, and the report will contain dozens of disclaimers limiting his liability if/when problems come up. That's ok as long as you understand that going in. Just don't expect to be able to sue the home inspector if you later find a problem that "he should have caught". The real value in the inspection comes from the time you spend with the inspector, not the report.

It's also a good idea to talk to a few neighbors, either before or after the inspection, to see what they'll tell you about the house. This is probably the fastest/easiest way to learn about any problems with the house or neighborhood.

Good luck.

Last edited by FlyingHammer; 03-05-2011 at 10:00 AM.
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Old 03-16-2011, 04:14 PM   #13
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Not sure if this is totally on-topic but it's certainly valid IMO.

In 2009 I made the grave mistake of purchasing a home that was about a half mile from a gun club. I knew the club was there before purchasing (the house/neighborhood was about 15 minutes away from where I had previously lived and we often were in the area), but this is a suburban neighborhood that is well populated so I figured I would have heard if there was a problem. This house had about .75 of an acre yard behind the house, and then the township owned a lot of wooded, undeveloped acreage between this house (and the rest of the development) and the gun club. We visited the house 3 times before making an offer, with each visit being at least an hour, and had a home inspector in which I was there for a couple of hours with him and never once did we ever hear any gunfire.

All of this happened in March while it was still cold out. We settled and moved in on July 31st.

The day we moved in all we heard was gunfire in the distance, non-stop. Turned out that, in the summer, the outdoor range at this gun club was used non-stop some days from 9am to 11pm at night (even though the rule was supposedly for no one to shoot after dusk, I was told that half the guys shooting at the outdoor range on Friday/Saturday nights were the township police...). I was devastated, my wife was devastated, and the smiling neighbors, who like us had not been aware of the issue until after they bought and moved in, kept telling us "you'll get used to it in no time! we don't even notice it anymore!".

Well, within 2 months of moving in, my wife had had enough and we decided to sell the house. We waited until after the winter, sold the house, and moved back to our old neighborhood. I lost approximately $40k in the process. All equity from the sale of our previous house, so I technically 'could afford it' (we made over $100k from that sale), but this was supposed to be our dream house and our dreams were shattered.

We like our new house but because of the money we lost from having to sell the prior house (there is a whole 'nother angle to this story too, regarding structural problems that had to be repaired before I could sell....), it is a definite step down from what we had always hoped for.

I urge anyone that is buying a house to not trust ANY realtor.

Another good tip: check Google (or Bing) Maps and do a 'satellite' view of the surrounding property so you can see what is nearby from a high-level.

If you are wondering:

1. No, it is not law in this state (PA) to divulge this.
2. No, I did not voluntarily divulge this to the buyers I sold it to. I feel horrible about this to this day, but the alternative would have been for us to stay for the rest of our lives, which my wife was not going to do. I would have made the best of it and 'gotten used to it' like the neighbors claimed. I heard through a contact that still lives nearby that the buyers are quite happy and don't mind the gunshots. I hope that is true.
3. Turned out that when the gun club was open, the shots were clearly heard very loudly throughout the ENTIRE village. The village was quite a few miles square. It wasn't just my house but the entire damn town.

Buyer beware.
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Old 03-16-2011, 04:44 PM   #14
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Quote:
1. No, it is not law in this state (PA) to divulge this.
2. No, I did not voluntarily divulge this to the buyers I sold it to. I feel horrible about this to this day, but the alternative would have been for us to stay for the rest of our lives, which my wife was not going to do. I would have made the best of it and 'gotten used to it' like the neighbors claimed. I heard through a contact that still lives nearby that the buyers are quite happy and don't mind the gunshots. I hope that is true.
3. Turned out that when the gun club was open, the shots were clearly heard very loudly throughout the ENTIRE village. The village was quite a few miles square. It wasn't just my house but the entire damn town.

Buyer beware.
Yes, buyer beware.. of previous homeowners that don't disclose the reason behind selling. Hopefully the new owners truly do enjoy the sound of repeat gunfire; and if they don't, hopefully they don't also lose $40K or more over something that could have been easily disclosed by the seller (law or not).

Just like with sewer and septic problems... there are plenty of tell-tale signs for the layman indicating whether a sewer back-up has occurred in the past. Other times however, it's simply out of sight, out of mind. That's where sewer or septic inspection and/or lateral video inspection would come into play. It's especially important in states without disclosure laws for buyers to perform their own due diligence. Whether you're buying a used car or "your dream home", sellers simply (in most cases) won't disclose major problems. And sometimes they just don't know major problems exist.
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Old 01-18-2012, 12:37 PM   #15
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How to avoid surprises when buying a house


I understand you can ask your realtor to get you copies of the last 12 mos of utility bills on a house you may be interested in. Didn't know this when we bought ours.

Not only can it save you sticker shock come heating season, but can give you a heads-up on the general energy efficiency of the house.

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