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Q&A: Should I buy a vacant home?

FILE - A Jan. 10, 2009 file photo

FILE - A Jan. 10, 2009 file photo shows a bank repo and foreclosure for sale signs outside a foreclosed home in Houston. Foreclosure sales plunged 25 percent in the July-September quarter versus the April-June period and tumbled 31 percent from the third quarter last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip/file) Credit: AP Photo/DAVID J. PHILLIP

Q: I’m considering buying a home that was in foreclosure and has been vacant for more than a year. It’s a great bargain, but should I be concerned about buying a vacant house?

A: “Absolutely be cautious, ” says Joel Blatt, a home inspector who owns Building Inspection & Consulting Inc. in East Meadow. “There are many hidden and costly problems that can lurk in vacant, foreclosed houses. For starters, they were probably neglected by a cash-strapped homeowner. And once vacant, they are open to vandalism.”

Broken water pipes, stolen copper wiring, damaged appliances and mold are just a few problems to keep in mind.

It’s also very hard to give an accurate home inspection report on a vacant home. “The water, gas and electricity have been shut off, making it impossible to properly assess the plumbing, electrical wiring, heating and cooling system and other major appliances," says Blatt.

While a Realtor or bank sometimes sends in someone to turn on the utilities, it’s usually not the case, notes Blatt. “In a boarded-up house on a 90-degree summer day, you’ll need a winter coat and gloves because there’s no sun or air flow," he says. "And, if the house is still purchased, the sudden turning on of heat and water can cause cracked walls, ceilings, and ceramic tiles that couldn’t be predicted. You can get stuck with a lot of unknown problems."

The best advice, he says, is set aside money to make repairs if you go ahead with the purchase.

Derrick Rubin, a real estate attorney at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C. in Great Neck, says that besides the home inspection issues, there are legal ones. If the bank has started a foreclosure action, but has not yet obtained a judgment of foreclosure, in order for the purchaser to obtain good title to the property from the current owner, the bank will need to remove the lis pendens filed on the property and execute a stipulation of discontinuance of the foreclosure action. If a judgment of foreclosure has been issued, in addition to the above, the bank has to obtain an order to vacate the judgment of foreclosure.

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