Undetectable problems

I’m just getting started in REI and this site seems like it will be a very valuable resource. Its very comforting knowing that hundreds of years of experience is right at my fingertips…Thanks in advance for your responses! Some of the homes I’ve been looking at are vacant and being sold “as is”. How can you assess if there are any major plumbing, heating or electrical issues considering these utilities are not on during vacancies? Depressed properties in my area are selling for 70 to 100K so the last thing I want to do is shell out thousands of dollars up front only to find out I have a very costly plumbing repair that’s needed. Please advise.

You can go ahead and tie up the house under contract. This is good, because then other people can’t bid on it. Make a clause in your contract that says “subject to acceptable home inspection” or something like that. If during this time you find anything earth-shattering such as mold or major structural problems, you can back out of the deal or hire a contractor to give you a detailed bid of how much repairs will cost. It’s a rookie mistake to hire a home inspector before the seller accepts your offer, because if someone out bids you, you just lost your $250. It’s tempting, but it’s still a mistake. Just include that clause in your contract and you should be fine.

Thanks for the feedback Fancy. Wouldn’t I still have the same problem of not being able to fully evaluate the utilities? After I’ve tied up the property with a contract and earnest money, the utilities still wouldn’t be turned on…or would a thorough inspection be able to uncover any plumbing, electrical or furnace issues without them actually running?

I’ve been in homes that have been vacant for a while and the power has been left on. I’ve been in some homes where the power was turned off immediately. It just depends on the sellers preference. There is no rule about turning on/off utilities. If you hire a good home inspector they should be able to inspect the major stuff. Some home inspectors will tell you they can’t do the HVAC system, so you may have to call a specialist for that. Good luck.

Hire the home inspector (after the seller accepts the contract, as stated above) and have them check the place thoroughly. As far as the utilities go, some localities will turn the power and water on for a day to have the property inspected. Check with yours as it may be necessary for the inspector to schedule the time/day of the inspection.

Water is generally more important than electrical to have on during the inspection. Of course, for a property with a well, power is necessary as well to get water. On county/city property, sometimes the inspector will have the tool necessary to turn on the water at the meter themselves. Again, it depends on the local laws/customs.