WHEN IT COMES TO THE HOUSING MARKET FOR FORECLOSURES, BUYER BEWARE. • "One mistake that we see all the time is buyers going in and assuming all the mechanicals are working," said Brandon T. Johnson, president of GTJ Consulting in Roseville, Mich. "You have to be careful you don't get burned that way." • Johnson's company maintains foreclosed homes for a number of lenders, Realtors and Freddie Mac. He said the term "as is" shouldn't scare buyers off as long as they know what it means. He recommends that buyers get private inspections on houses they want to buy to avoid surprises such as missing plumbing or water damage. • Here's a list of things to watch for in foreclosed or vacant homes from Ross Kollenberg, mitigation and construction manager for On-Site Specialty Cleaning & Restoration in Troy, Mich. — Greta Guest, Detroit Free Press
Air qualitY: This tells a lot about the home's condition. Include air and surface testing. It's a few hundred dollars well spent.
Extensive renovations: Check with the city for permits; you'll get remodeling details. If asbestos or lead paint is present and has been disturbed, be sure it has been remediated by a certified specialist. If the home has four or five major changes, it may not be up to code, and that could mean extensive fixes for the next owner.
Missing sinks, toilets and other fixtures: Sometimes the previous owner will take the fixtures with them but won't shut off the pipes or will rip fixtures from the wall. If a pipe was cracked during the fixture removal, it could start a slow leak in the wall that isn't easily seen. Make sure those fixtures have been properly removed.
Discolored subflooring: From under the house or from the basement, check the subflooring above for stains and small holes, both caused by mold.
WATER DAMAGE: Peeling, bubbling and discolored paint; swelling in walls or ceilings (especially in kitchens and bathrooms); and a musty odor indicate water damage and, potentially, the presence of moisture and mold.
Fungus growth: The presence of fungus inside cabinets and behind drawers and built-ins could mean there has been water damage. Since water falls down, look for the source above the mold. One trick inspectors use to determine whether there could be hidden water damage is to pull out the kitchen drawers and look inside to see whether the back wall has been rebuilt. If it has, that could mean water damage has been covered up.
SOOT DAMAGE: Black cobwebs, greasy gray residue on walls and/or a strong oily odor are signs of soot damage, which requires professional cleaning. It could point to a malfunctioning furnace or a previous home fire.
Excessive painting: If every nook, cranny, door and floor has been painted, the seller may be covering up mold. "When you go do a home that is 'landlord white' and the trim is flat, we tell people there is a reason the house was painted this way," Kollenberg said. "When we see it is over everything, it is a tipoff that it is just covering something up."
Blocked drains or pipes: These will cause future problems and may have already created sewage backups.