When making an offer to buy any type of property, include a clause in your purchase agreement that makes your offer contingent upon the property passing inspection. You must do this in order to avoid being bamboozled by an unscrupulous owner surreptitiously masking a property’s major defects. Who should inspect your property for major defects depends upon how much construction knowledge and experience you have. If you lack the necessary knowledge and experience, you should hire a retired tradesmen or professional property inspector to snoop around and inspect the property for major defects that some owners will try and hide. Conduct a search on the Internet to obtain the names of certified or licensed property inspectors in your area. If you know what you’re doing, you can do your own property inspections. That’s what I do when I need to have a property inspected. I simply make an appointment with the owner and show up at the property in my old coveralls with my high-powered searchlight, trusty ice pick, binoculars, extension ladder, mini-tape recorder and inspection checklists, and inspect the property for:

  1. Structural roof damage.
  2. Sinking and cracking foundations.
  3. Mold contamination.
  4. Structural termite damage.
  5. Structural dry rot damage.
  6. Water and moisture intrusion.
  7. Collapsed water and sewer lines.
  8. Stripped mechanical systems and missing electrical wiring.
  9. Missing roofing material, gutters and downspouts.
  10. Rotting wood.
  11. Signs of termite infestation.
  12. Electrical, fire and safety hazards.

Inspect Suspicious Properties For Environmental Contamination

In order to avoid buying a potential toxic waste dump, have suspicious properties inspected for various types of environmental contamination that could make a property uninhabitable and render it worthless. By a suspicious property, I mean a property that has been used to house businesses such as gas stations, dry cleaners, automobile repair shops and other businesses that use petroleum products, cleaning solvents and hazardous chemicals. I recommend that you hire a reputable company to perform a phase one environmental audit on any property you suspect has been contaminated by some type of environmentally hazardous waste. Even if you don’t suspect that a property has any type of environmental contamination, use the phase one environmental audit checklist below to conduct your own inspections.

Sample Phase One Environmental Audit Checklist

When conducting a phase one environmental audit, the inspector:

  1. Examines the property’s chain of ownership for the past fifty years.
  2. Interviews the current and available past owners of the property to determine if any present or past uses of the property would have an adverse affect upon the environment.
  3. Reviews available past city cross-reference street directories to determine how the property was previously used.
  4. Reviews available topographic maps of the property.
  5. Reviews available historical aerial photographs of the property.
  6. Reviews available geological reports affecting the property.
  7. Researches local, state and federal government files for records of environmental problems affecting the property.
  8. Researches local, state and federal government files for records of environmental problems affecting adjacent properties.
  9. Conducts an on site inspection of the property for obvious signs of past or present environmental problems such as odors, soil staining, stress vegetation or evidence of dumping or burial.
  10. Determines the existence and condition of above ground storage tanks.
  11. Determines the existence and condition of underground storage tanks.

Housing Built Before 1978 May Pose Potential Lead-Based Paint Hazards

The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act requires that all sales agreements to sell residential property built before 1978 contain a Seller’s Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Statement that discloses whether or not the property has been inspected for lead-based paint hazards, and if lead-based paint hazards have been found on the property.

Use HUD’s Minimum Property Standards For Housing Handbook

HUD Handbook, 4910.01 R01, Minimum Property Standards For Housing, is an excellent property inspection resource that can be ordered online from the HUD Direct Distribution System for free by logging onto the HUD Direct Distribution System.

Always Best To Do A Walk Through Inspection With The Seller

I always insist on the seller giving me a walk-through tour of any property I may be interested in prior to starting any negotiations to buy the property. The reason I want the seller to show me the property is so that I can study the seller’s facial expressions and tone of voice as I ever so gently point out needed repairs. Here’s what I do. First off, I show up for my prearranged property tour right on schedule. I come with my clipboard, flashlight, ice pick, inspection checklists, binoculars and calculator. I do this to show the seller that I am a serious buyer, while I use these tools of the trade to determine the property’s physical condition while doing a rough cost estimate for needed repairs at the same time. When I notice some obvious structural defect or needed repair, I immediately bring it to the seller’s attention with a comment like, “how long has this crack been in the ceiling?” Most sellers will respond with something like, “Oh my, this is the first time that I’ve noticed it.” Sure it is! In other instances, I’ll just point and shake my head or make comments to myself like “hmm” or “oh boy!” But I never insult the property owner. I just want them to know that I see exactly what is being offered for sale. The reason I conduct the inspection in this manner is to begin to dampen any expectation the seller may have about receiving their initial full asking price.

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