The first rule of inspecting a home you want to buy is to stay intimately involved in the process, and to leave no stone unturned. If you’re busy or traveling during the time period, you have to complete your due diligence investigations by enlisting the aid of a friend you trust to stand in on your behalf — someone who will keep you well informed as inspections proceed.

Buyers want to be sure they get a good deal on the home they buy. This is especially so if they’re buying in a soft market. Whether a property is a good deal depends on its condition, its location and the price paid.

Most buyers don’t take the inspection process far enough. They hire a home inspector to do a general home inspection to make sure that all systems are in working order and that there aren’t any serious defects that might affect their decision to buy or not.

For some buyers, this constitutes their due diligence inspection of the property. But, in many cases, simply having a home inspection done is not enough to ensure that you don’t end up regretting you bought the property.

Most home inspectors recommend further inspections. Some buyers take these admonitions seriously and some don’t. A recommendation that is often overlooked is to research the permit history.

If you don’t check the permit history, you could find out later, when you want to take out a permit for a renovation, that there are expired permits for work that never received a final approval from the city inspector. You might be required to reinstate the expired permits and finish the job to the building department’s satisfaction before you can take out a permit for a new project. This could be expensive, take time, and at the least, be a hassle.

Another item buyers ignore is the cost of routine home maintenance. Some homes cost more to maintain than others. Well-maintained homes will be easier to maintain because you’ll have little deferred maintenance to repair.

Ask the sellers for information about how much they pay per year for tree trimming, painting, and servicing house systems such as the roof, furnace and drainage systems. Also ask how much the utility bills run in an average winter and summer month. All of this will factor into the cost of owning the home. Buyers usually focus on the price they’ll pay upfront for a house. How much it will cost them over time should also be factored into the total cost of home ownership.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Buyers tend to pay more attention to the condition of the home they’re buying than they do to finding out all they need to know about the area in which they’ll be living. The home you buy is not a good value if you find out a year later that the neighborhood is declining. Make sure you find out if homeowners are moving in or out of the area. If you see a lot of remodeling going on in a neighborhood, this is a good sign that the homeowners plan to stay put. Another good sign is if there are few listings and the ones that come on the market sell quickly. This indicates a high demand for the neighborhood.

You’ll also want to find out about crime in the neighborhood, and whether or not there is development planned in the area that might have a positive or negative impact on the neighborhood. And check into the general state of the local economy.

THE CLOSING: Are businesses hiring new employees or issuing pink slips?

Dian Hymer is author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide," Chronicle Books.


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