How can I reduce the risk of an expensive surprise when buying a house sight unseen?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

When time or distance constraints make it necessary to buy a house before actually setting foot inside, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of unexpected problems when you move in. Here’s our “Top 5” list and, since we are home inspectors, it won’t be hard to guess what one of our recommendations is going to be:

1) Get key facts from the real estate agent and seller’s property disclosure statement - Find out the age of the big-ticket components of the home like the roof, HVAC system, water heater, plumbing, and electrical wiring, along with the year of any window and door replacements, or interior remodeling. Your home inspector will verify the age and condition of these items later. But if the roof, for example, is 20 years old, it is likely ready for replacement. For more about disclosure statements see our blog post Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

    The year of construction of the home can give you insight into what types of possible issues it has, and you might want to check out one of our blog posts about the decade the house was built at the bottom of this page to learn more.

2) Tour the neighborhood on Google Maps “Street View”® - Nothing beats actually walking or driving up and down the nearby streets to get a feel for a neighborhood, but the street views and aerial views on Google Maps will give you a good idea of what nearby properties look like and how they are maintained.

3) Search the internet using the home address, nearby addresses, and name of neighborhood  or homeowner association - It’s amazing what you can find out about the area by poking around the internet for while—including local crime reports—but, it’s equally amazing that some of what you find will be outdated or inaccurate. So consider the source when collecting internet data.

    Many cities and counties now have their building permit records available online, so you can check to see what work was done to the house and when. You may need the property assessor’s parcel number for the search, although most will also search permits by the address. Matching up permit records to the seller’s listing of recent home improvements will tell you whether permits were pulled or not, and if a final inspection approval was issued. 

4) Hire a home inspector - If you tell the inspector that you are buying the house sight unseen, you may be able to get additional photos of the property along with the usual ones illustrating the defects observed. This can be helpful because sometimes the images provided by the realtor have been “enhanced” to make rooms appear larger than they actually are, and parts of the home that are not-so-pretty get omitted in the sales photos.

    The inspector can also advise you on evidence of current or previous water damage events, and a WDO (termite) inspection is always a good idea. An experienced inspector can also tell you about any history of other problems that are common in the neighborhood, such as clay soil or sinkhole activity. 

5) Have a friend that lives nearby tour the house - A good friend’s opinion can be invaluable. But if you choose a family member, and they really want you to move there or would prefer you choose another neighborhood they think is better, be prepared to get a biased report.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

If we already looked at the house very carefully, do we still need a home inspection?

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What do I need to know about buying a foreclosure? 

What should I look for when buying a former rental house?  

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What should I look for when buying a house that is being "flipped" by an investor seller? 

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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