Buying “as-is” doesn’t mean you have no “escape clauses.” “As-is” just assumes that you’ve already been in the house, know about the important problems, and assumed the rest are problems, and go forward.
It’s probably not smart for someone with little, or no, experience to buy this way. It takes experience to recognize what you’re supposed to recognize. It takes practice to quickly assess repairs, upgrades and come up with repair estimates.
As a result, you need to give yourself time to get the professionals in, to give you feedback about what you’re buying. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a matter of recognizing problems.
For example, cracks in the walls and ceilings indicate settling problems. This is always a foundation problem. If the floors show cracks, you’ve got heaving/expansion problems. Of course this automatically leads to the assumption you have grading problems (incorrect, inadequate water run-off), or failure to train water far enough away from the house. Expansive soils (clay) are monsters to deal with.
This requires special attention and specific solutions including extreme control of water run-off. I mean it’s not like just laying a down spout tray on the ground and calling it a day. It’s gutters, trenches, drain pipe, and grading corrections to make sure NO water stays near the house.
If there’s discoloration around the vents, your furnace is shot (and deadly). If air doesn’t blow in all the vents, you’ve got duct leaks, or an inadequate blower (more common on older houses, or those with additions).
If there’s stains on the ceiling you’ve got a leaking roof, or plumbing leaks from an upstairs bath/laundry, etc. You look for weak floors around toilets. Often this requires substantial floor repair/replacement (to the joists).
Then there’s the plumbing fixtures. Do they drip? Can they be turned off and on with ease? Can you turn the supply lines off and on with ease (most of the time these don’t actually work correctly, and are often replaced anyway when new fixtures are to be installed, etc.)?
Sewer problems aren’t always obvious and you can’t always verify what you’ve got. If the water isn’t on, it’s then a matter of looking for clues that this has been a problem in the past. Sink holes in the lawn might be a clue. Extra green grass in a spot over the sewer line is another. Evidence of backup in tub or shower floors is yet another. However, the easiest and may the most reliable method of checking for problems is to run all the water fixtures at once (sinks, tubs, showers) and let them run for several minutes (don’t get in a hurry), and then flush all the toilets at the same time. If the main line will handle all that, it’s likely to be clear and functional.
I have little experience with septic systems except when they’re having trouble, you can spend a boatload of money fixing/replacing them. It’s mostly about capacity, rather than function, but you’ll need professional feedback here most likely.
Then there’s cracks in the exterior walls which can mean a couple of things; bad installation or foundation problems.
Cracks on exterior walls (stucco) that have been patched scare me to death. Same with interior cracks as I mentioned. Something is/was terribly wrong with the house; settling, poor foundation work, heaving, and/or poor drainage. I need to know why and how recently. If this is an old house and the cracks are not large, I can be assured this isn’t a serious, impending issue. But I need to know it can be controlled, if not stopped.
Stucco is often misapplied “hot” and cracks appear all over the place. This is not the same as foundation problems. It’s an appearance problem, and if not fixed could turn into an insect infestation problem, if not a water intrusion problem.
Board and Batten exteriors are the pits. The battens warp and expose cracks. They open the house to water and insect intrusion, and plain old dry rot. FWIW
Termites are another issue in some parts of the country. Some states require inspections regardless of the terms of the contract. I like to use termite inspectors when it might be possible to renegotiate the price based on what they find. Also, I’ve missed termite damage and lived to regret it.
Inspectors look for at least “sand particles” on the ground, in window sills, at the base of any door jambs (garage, back door, etc.) and pin holes in the walls that will indicate active termite activity.
It seems to me that cracked driveways and patios go right along with foundation problems. So, if the driveway looks like a relief map of the Rocky Mountains, it’s a safe bet the house has some foundation and settling issues.
My friend Scott bought a house like this for cheap, but discovered about two years into ownership that the exterior sill plate had detached from the foundation, and the outer wall were actively shifting off the foundation about 1.5 inches. He fixed the drainage problem, but the shifting had already occurred. Meantime, the driveway was a clue to a potential problem.
So, basically you’re looking for problems with water damage, foundation defects, functioning fixtures and appliances, and insect infestation for starters. Then it’s about estimating costs of repairs.
That all said, and just as importantly, is knowing your market values. This is 90% of your solution to any buying question. Everything falls from there.
That’s a lot, but that should give you some clues of what’s involved in making an “as-is” offer.
Frankly, if you do this often enough, you’ll get to a point of being able to make “as-is” offers on houses sight unseen. Meantime, you’ll make quality assumptions, and knowing the market will give you enough confidence to lock up screaming deals, and then take a closer look.