Don’t Buy an Unoccupied Home with Reckless Abandonment

March 24, 2009
Share this story:

colleen-real-estate-photo-061By Colleen Bennett, Dilbeck Premier Properties Realtor

In this real estate market, you take nothing for granted. There’s no such thing as “business as usual,” and this rule especially applies to the purchases of unoccupied homes.

Many occupied homes suffer from deferred maintenance and poor upkeep, such as  changing out air conditioning and furnace filters, repairing broken windows and screens, patching peeling plaster or wallboard, correcting burned out electrical outlets, fixing dripping faucets and many other common household pitfalls. If the home is unoccupied, you can multiply all of the above housing maladies, a sort of double-trouble, if you will. That doesn’t mean the unoccupied house you’re considering buying isn’t a good deal, you just need to make sure you know what you’re getting into, and make a purchase offer to reflect the true value of the home in its current condition.

You don’t have to wait for the home inspector to call out problems. You can spot many yourself, if you just bother to look around with your eyes wide open. Besides, home inspectors usually file their reports after the buyer has made a purchase offer and earnest money has been paid. Although your Realtor most likely will write a purchase contract subject to the house passing inspection, why wait and get that far into the homebuying process if you know the home’s a lemon. This is one time you don’t want to make lemonade from lemons unless again the home’s price reflects the general state of disrepair.

So what should you be looking for? Start with the big-ticket items first. In other words, the hazards that could set you back financially in a heartbeat. For example, houses that have been shuttered too long can grow mold quickly, not just behind the wall but out in the open, too. Leaky faucets in humid, uninhabited homes can be a perfect breeding ground for mold.

Your contract may say that the seller agrees to leave behind all the appliances. It may not be a great sacrifice, however, if the appliances haven’t been used for some time. Unused appliances are often notorious for having leaking valves and gaskets. It’s important to remember that every plumbing fixture and appliance has at least one valve, gasket or hose that could be brittle or dried out, a perfect recipe for a leak, or, worse, a flood. A dried out sewer trap could even allow methane gas to seep into your house.

The longer a home sits empty, the greater the opportunity for problems with waste and sewer lines, as well. During your own personal home inspection, turn on the faucets to check water flow and pressure. Also, take a close look at ceilings and floors for evidence of water stains and damage.

Often other telltale signs of trouble are tangles of extension cords left behind. Nothing offers clearer evidence of a poor electrical system no longer able to handle the home’s electrical load. Should the home need a new electrical panel, you need to know about it because it’s a high-cost upgrade that will affect how much you offer for the home, if you’re still interested in purchasing it.

Also, on my short list of things to especially be on the lookout for are cracks. Vertical cracks shouldn’t scare you away, according to most home inspection experts. It’s the horizontal ones that cause concern. While vertical cracks often indicate normal settlement tolerances, horizontal ones could indicate hydrostatic pressure, which can cause serious harm to footers and foundations. In the event that a footer or foundation has a structural failure, this condition could actually lead to the ultimate collapse of your home.

Again, if the last several months have taught us anything it’s that consumers have to do a lot of their own homework. You have to be your own best advocate. You may have your area’s best inspector going out to inspect the home you’re thinking to purchase, but don’t solely rely on one expert’s report. Do some snooping around on your own. Ask the hard questions of the owners before you make your purchase offer. If you don’t get the ready, transparent answers you’re seeking, walk away from the deal right away.

For all your questions, you want yeses, not guesses.

By Colleen Bennett

Dilbeck Premier Properties Realtor

(909) 374-4744;

Leave a Reply