Q: My buddy bought this incredible house on the beach for more than $1 million. It was really stunning and had awesome views — he fell in love with it at first sight, and closed the deal pretty quickly. He did have inspections by a contractor friend the seller was able to get to come out really fast.

My friend bought the house in the summertime, but when it started to rain, the rain literally poured inside the house. In the course of getting the roof replaced, he started to discover all these other issues wrong with the place that the seller had to have known about and concealed, including the fact that the whole foundation has some kind of dry mold issue. To make a long story short, the place needs to be torn down.

My friend actually sued the seller and got a good judgment, but the seller won’t pay and now my friend is in the hole $50,000 for attorneys’ fees and is living in a rented apartment while he lets the house go back to the bank because it’s not livable and he can’t afford the repairs. I’m about to buy my first home, too — what can I do to avoid that situation?

A: Fortunately, it’s actually pretty rare that a seller will go to such lengths to conceal such a major problem. It’s much more likely for there to be a problem with the property that the sellers are unaware of. Hence, my short answer to your question: Get rigorous inspections.

While, for the most part, properties that have been poorly maintained have an apparent air of poor maintenance about them, it is totally possible to have a pristine-looking property come up with big-time problems.

I once had a client in contract to buy a home that had been gutted to the studs — the interior was so new the windows, appliances and shower doors still had sticker tags on them. In what some folks thought was a waste of money, we had inspections anyway, and discovered that the entire foundation was entirely rotten. The repair bid? $120,000. Inspections seem like a lot of money out of pocket at a time when cash is tight, but who in their right mind wouldn’t spend $750 to save $120,000 and months or years of headache and heartache?

But recall, my advice was not just to get inspections, but to get rigorous inspections. That means to use an inspector who is not some crony of the seller. Work with an inspector who is referred by a friend of yours or, even better, by your Realtor. The inspectors I work with frequently know that not only are they accountable to my clients, they are accountable to me — and I’m fiercely protective of my clients’ interests. …CONTINUED

I read somewhere recently the opposite advice — that people shouldn’t work with their Realtor’s preferred inspectors, because the Realtors might have paid them off to lie about the property’s condition. Maybe there is some real estate agent somewhere who did that, but every Realtor I know would rather their client know about a defect — actually, would rather their client know everything feasible to know about the condition of the home — in time to back out of the deal and find something in acceptable condition, than close the deal ignorant and get a nasty, big-ticket surprise later on.

By rigorous I also mean to get the right inspections. On a single-family residence, unless you have a warranty in hand that shows that the roof is nearly new, I’d encourage you to obtain pest, property and roof inspections — not just a property inspection. These three reports together paint a pretty comprehensive picture of the property’s total condition, and anything that these inspectors can’t vet themselves that needs to be looked at will be called out, with specialist inspections recommended by one of these three pros. So rigorous also means to follow up on recommendations for further inspections, and it means to show up to at least your pest and property inspections in person — you’ll get much more detailed, nuanced and useful information live than you will if you’re looking only at the report on paper.

And, finally, by rigorous, I mean have your inspections completed by the right kind of inspection professional. I’d encourage you to have inspections conducted by a certified property inspector (one who is also licensed, if your state offers such a license), a state-licensed pest inspector/contractor and a state-licensed roofing contractor. A regular old general contractor with no inspection credentials may not be in the position to conduct a thorough presale property inspection or prepare an exhaustive report for you. Your inspection professionals should also carry insurance, and should notify you of their coverage.

Some would say to never fall in love with a house, and to never rush your transaction to closing — I don’t know that falling in love is always within our control, and you can close an escrow quickly without omitting these key elements, if necessary. So, do these things, and also make sure that when you do buy, you obtain a home warranty at close of escrow — the seller usually pays for it, and you’ll have the opportunity to renew it every year, so renew it! Your chances of having rainy days inside your house, like your poor friend, will be drastically diminished.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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