Except with auction purchases, you should always demand the ability to conduct a property walk-through and a professional property inspection.
If the inspection will not take place until after you sign the purchase contract, make sure you reserve the right to cancel the contract if the inspection is unsatisfactory. Many states also have mandatory property condition disclosure laws. Almost any residential real estate broker can supply you with the forms for these disclosures, if they exist in your state.
Foreclosure auctions present a completely different problem. The borrower may not be very cooperative, and the lender may not be able to grant you access for an inspection. Mandatory property condition disclosures may not apply to foreclosing lenders.
You will probably have to be a bit of a detective. Bring someone with you and go visit the house. Notice the condition of the yard. It usually reflects the condition of the interior. Knock on the borrower’s front door, and say, “Hi, my name is Jim/Jane, and I have a few questions about the average cost and quality of home repair companies in the community. Do you have a minute to answer a few questions? I am prepared to pay you five dollars for your time.”
If the borrower slams the door in your face, you at least have seen a short glimpse of the interior of the house, have gotten a whiff of any pet odor problems, and might have seen evidence of packing. This is certainly more than you knew beforehand.
In the best case, the borrower invites you in, lets you tour the house, and points out every repair he or she has paid for in the past two years. Do not forget the five dollars. It gets people’s attention every time.