Knowing the condition of the home is very important due to the fact that it is such a large and important purchase, you do not want to have any unexpected, and possibly expensive, surprises.
The best way to protect yourself from these surprises is to have a home inspection. There are many major systems and areas of the home that will need to be inspected. The ones which you will need to have inspected depend on the location of the home as well as local custom and conditions. Areas to be inspected include:
Heating and air conditioning
Pests (termites, carpenter ants)
In most locations, the majority of these items can be inspected by a Home Inspector. It may be advisable to hire a specialists if there are any doubts with the structural integrity of the home, like if cracks were seen in the initial inspections. Specialists may also be needed when inspecting wells or septiic systems.
Although it can be negotiated, it is usually the buyer that will determine which inspections they want and is responsible for paying for them. However, the lender will usually require a minimum level of inspection before they are willing to go through with the loan. Once the inspectors have gone through the home, they will submit a report to the buyer with information about the condition of the property as well as any recomendations they may have for repairs.
It is important to be aware that there are very few existing homes that are so well-maintained that they will have nothing that needs repair. There will almost always be the normal "wear and tear" such as cracks in the counter tile and torn window screens. After this has been completed, the buyer must then decide whether they want to ask the seller to pay for the repairs. Sometimes, the lender will want to see the inspection and may require certain repairs be made before closing on the home.
Repairs now become another point of negotiation. If you've already run a hard negotiation on the price of the home, it may be difficult to get the seller to make any repairs or give you monetary credits to make the repairs yourself. Along with this, many lenders may not accept monetary credits given to the seller from the buyer for repairs.
You must be aware that your goals and the sellers goals are at odds with eachother at this point. If they do agree to make the repairs, they will want to spend as little as posible on the repairs. You, however, will want them to spend the money in order to get quality and lasting repairs. The best way to deal with this is to have the repair negotiations in writing so your inspector can see it and approve the work.
Home inspections are very important so you must be sure to hire competent inspector. Do not let a real estate agent recommend an inspector for you; they can provide you with a list but you need to have choices and control over the quality of the inspectors.