As we all know there are many foreclosures on the real estate market at this time. While these can seem like a good bargain, it's critical that the transaction be properly handled during the inspection process.
Home inspectors are finding many problems that are unique to the purchase of foreclosed or abandoned properties. The following is a good list of these specific issues.
1. Bank foreclosures, REO's (Real Estate Owned by banks), etc., have no obligation to disclose any issues and work to deny any liability for any issues found wrong with the property after the purchase.
2. Owners who run out of money may remain in the house for many months or years without doing any maintenance or repairs to the property thereby allowing the property to deteriorate.
3. Sabotage and vandalism are often found. There are garbage disposal systems and sewer pipes deliberately clogged with concrete, gravel and other debris and there is often damage to the property by banging holes in walls, breaking windows, doors, etc.
4. Removal of components such as appliances, toilets, light fixtures, cabinets, fancy tiles, water heaters, air conditioning systems and pool equipment have occurred. The copper water pipes and copper electric wiring have been removed and sold for scrap.
5. Sometimes pools are drained to cut down on the banks monthly expenses, which can create other issues such as plaster and tile cracks in the concrete walls of the pool. Pools can also shift and lift out of the ground when the weight of the water is removed. Sometimes pools are partially full of water but are not maintained, allowing the water to turn into a green algae mess and a breading ground for mosquitoes.
Houses that are left vacant with services turned off create other special issues as well.
1. Sink, tub and shower faucets can become clogged with rust flakes and debris restricting the flow of water. Also, valve washers dry out and crack so they often leak when turned on after sitting for extended periods of time.
2. The hair, debris, toilet tissue and roots that normally are softened by a daily flow of water through the drainpipes can harden into solid masses creating clogs that can cause drains to back-up and overflow.
3. Vacant houses often have the water, gas and electric services discontinued. Buyers and agents need to verify that all of the services are turned on and all of the systems are ready to be tested prior to the property inspection. Unless all of the services are on and the systems you want inspected are ready to be tested, the property inspection may need to be rescheduled so it can be performed when the property is fully ready. If an inspector has to be rescheduled additional charges may be incurred.
4. Vacant houses that are left sealed up for a while often have mold issues due to constricted air flow.
This is not necessarily a complete list. It's possible to have various issues that are specific to an individual property.
Banks are often not very cooperative through this process so a buyer's best protection from incurring additional costs during the escrow period and unforeseen unpleasant surprises after the close of escrow is to do their due diligence. Professional home inspections, sewer line inspections, chimney inspections, and mold inspections should be standard with foreclosure purchases. Reviewing city building permits, tax records, talking to neighbors, and any other area of concern should be part of the buyer's due diligence.
There is a new definition of the "Wild West" and it comes in the form of staking your claim to a piece of real estate. Being diligent can help make buying a home the "American Dream" and not your personal "American Nightmare."
By John LaRocca, Certified Real Estate Inspector and Licensed General Contractor. 818/951-1795 or John.Larocca@LaRoccaInspections,com