In Northern Virginia I have been doing many home inspections on foreclosures (and more recently short sales) for over a year. Years ago, foreclosure meant "trashed," with people so mad they left the house taking all they could and damaging what they couldn't. At the outset of the recent foreclosure wave the houses seemed to be in relatively good shape. Pride in ownership was evident.
Lately, however, things have changed. What's left on the market unsold is often left with conditions that aren't good. Here is some of what I'm seeing now:
- First and foremost, houses that have been altered. In Northern Virginia we have a large illegal population. They are leaving houses left and right. And why not? An easy, no-doc deal on a house, perhaps using someone else's social, and the house is worth much less than owed. What is the negative to leaving it? What they have done, however, has been to alter the houses dramatically, and not to code. Seven, eight, nine "bedrooms." Second "kitchens." Laundry rooms turned into "bathrooms." The wiring is frightful. Scorches here and there. The plumbing is frightful. Evident, previous leaking. The rooms are unsafe. Fire code violations. Windows nailed shut to keep out their "friends." No heat or AC in the rooms. No lights or outlets in some rooms, which have to be serviced by overloaded extension cords. One "bedroom" I saw recently was the rear basement entrance to the house, and formerly the laundry room. It was 6'x8', and the plumbing had been altered to accommodate a new sink and toilet (virtually a hole in the floor connected to the small drain) glued onto the floor. The door was locked so only the exterior entrance would get you into the room. And the concrete block foundation walls were sprayed with a substance, some form of cellulose I think, to act as "insulation." But, it had a light (!) and an outlet, from which a new "outlet" was created and hung on the wall. The door and small window were covered with newspaper. It was an inviting space!
- Secondly, houses that have been sitting. There are problems here because previous and improper plumbing or AC installations had leaked extensively before the utilities had been turned off. That, combined with stagnant air, has created mold. Lots of mold in some houses. I saw a recent listing where the agent suggested that anyone entering her listing do so wearing booties, rubber gloves and face masks. Yes, it is that bad! So much mold will continue to amplify if unchecked. It is a serious problem. It is not only expensive to remediate, but can be very, very difficult to eradicate. If you walk into a house and smell mold, likely there IS mold. Your nose is your best mold detector... so pay attention!
- Thirdly, appliances that were misused and left broken. The refrigerators are moldy beyond the ability to clean. I saw a microwave, installed INTO the cabinet (sticking out the back in another room), and wired directly into the back of the oven! It looked fried and should have. One kitchen wall switch in a recent house turned the refrigerator on and off! I saw a gas space heater (YIKES!!) in a "bedroom" closet, with a flexible gas line running through the floor and joined into the solid furnace gas line in the basement below!
What this adds up to would be huge expenses to bring the houses back into a livable, code-compliant condition. Often the lower prices of these foreclosures is an attraction to those who otherwise could not have entered the market. What they are finding, though, are houses that would be extremely expensive to occupy. These may not good deals for the young couple looking to buy their first house. Unless they have lots of time, talent and money, it might be best to look elsewhere. If they have those things, go for it!
My recommendation: A careful, thorough home inspection, by an experienced inspector, is worth its weight in gold!
Beware - if there are problems you CAN see, that usually means there are other problems you CANNOT see!
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560