Smart Moves: Foreclosed homes may need extensive repairs

Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin: Homebuyers are advised to be especially wary of any foreclosed property that's stood vacant for more than a few weeks, had its utilities shut off for a lengthy time, or is more than 50 years old.
Published: January 28, 2012

Housing specialists say there are many diamonds in the rough to be found among foreclosed properties.

But they caution that anyone shopping in this market should be choosy.

“Trust your instincts. If the house looks bad from the outside, it's probably worse than you think,” said Marvin Goldstein, a home inspector who's done more than 1,000 inspections of foreclosed properties since 1970.

Goldstein advises homebuyers to be especially wary of any foreclosed property that's stood vacant for more than a few weeks or had its utilities shut off for a lengthy time.

That's because with no heating, cooling, electricity or running water, a home can deteriorate quickly.

He said buyers should also be cautious about any foreclosed property more than 50 years old.

“Many older homes have failing plumbing systems. And really old houses can have very inadequate electrical wiring,” Goldstein said.

Despite some caveats, many real estate specialists encourage home shoppers to consider foreclosed properties, along with homes still occupied by their owners.

“Buying a bank-owned home gives you the opportunity to enter the market at a very low price level. You can find terrific values among foreclosures, especially if they're not in too bad shape. But, remember, these houses are discounted for a reason,” said Dorcas Helfant, a real estate broker and a past president of the National Association of Realtors.

Here are a few pointers for homebuyers:

•  Get the back story behind many foreclosures.

Before they exit, some owners try to remove anything of value they can find, including built-in light fixtures, hardwood flooring and bathroom tile, said Bill Jacques, president-elect of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Others even take water heaters and air-conditioning units.

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