Foreclosure Tips: Foreclosed Homes Need Close Inspection

foreclosed homeWith foreclosures at record highs, buying a foreclosed home might be a great deal, but the risk of getting a lemon also is greater.

Home inspectors don't always catch all the flaws in foreclosed homes that have remained empty for months, if not a year or longer.

Here are the top areas, from air conditioning to plumbing, that a potential homebuyer should either urge a home inspector to thoroughly check, or bring in a specialist to examine:

Heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) unit

Most home inspectors don't check the HVAC completely, giving a mostly visual check, said Bill Cunningham, product manager for Lennox. Beyond simple maintenance that the previous homeowner might not have done, such as changing the filter regularly, a home repossessed by the bank might have had the electricity cut off. That could lead to damage in a cold environment, for example, if the heater hasn't been turned on for a winter season.

Air conditioners are also full of a few hundred pounds of copper coiling, which vandals could steal to sell. That type of theft should be plainly visible, Cunningham said. Replacing an entire air conditioner could cost $2,000 to $15,000, he said.

A drawback to buying a repossessed home is that there's probably not a maintenance record, he said. It's a good idea to look at the back of the air conditioner to see what year it was built (it should be on it somewhere, much like a car's vehicle identification number is under the hood) and see if the system is beyond the average lifespan of 10 to 15 years. If it is, you might be buying a new one soon.


Mold can grow when a house is closed up for too long, both behind the walls and out in the open. A humid climate, or leaky faucets if the water hasn't been turned off, can lead to mold. Beware of a house that has been boarded up, preventing air circulation.

Water problems

Leaking valves, gaskets and appliances are common for houses that have been empty for a while. Every plumbing fixture and appliance has at least one valve, gasket or hose that can dry out if the item isn't in regular use.

Hard water left in a water heater for too long can cause problems, said Andy Jasper, owner of Village Plumbing in Indianapolis, Ind. Freezing can cause problems with water in the bottom of dishwashers, as well as in the ice-maker lines to refrigerators, Jasper said.

Allowing a sewer trap to dry out can allow methane gas back up into the house, and older homes with old sewer lines could be clogged from tree roots.

Unwanted guests

Vandals and animals can damage a foreclosed home that has been empty for a long time. Along with the copper in an air conditioner, vandals might also rip out wiring, cabinets and plumbing fixtures to sell. Ripping out such components could cause structural damage to the house, something an inspector should be aware of.

Small animals such as raccoons, along with rodents and insects, can damage a home by chewing through walls and leaving unsanitary conditions.

Buying a foreclosed home can be a good deal, as long as you're aware of the increased potential for problems that need fixing. Even if the damage is in obvious sight, get a home inspector to look for additional damage you can't see, and don't count on a thermal imaging gadget alone to do the job.

Find foreclosed homes for sale at AOL Real Estate.

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