Buying a home is one of the biggest investments most people will ever make, and you should know what kind of investment you’re making. But I still hear the stories where homebuyers don’t get a home inspection before buying a house.

I get that in some cities it’s a seller’s market, and you’re lucky to even buy a house or a condo. But if you buy the wrong one, you will lose it all and you will regret it. I’ve seen it happen, over and over again, where couples think they bought the house of their dreams only to discover that it’s a complete nightmare.

Too many people have gone bankrupt and too many marriages have fallen apart because of one bad decision: Buying a house that needs a fortune to make right.

What’s the rush? I’d rather not buy a house than buy the wrong one, and you should too. We all know it’s very easy to make a house look good on the surface, and you can hide a world of trouble behind the walls.

At the end of the day it’s buyer beware. Believe me, I get the emails.

Just today I saw an email from a dad whose son (only 20 years old) just bought his first house. It was originally built in 1963. Once he took possession they started renovating. Turns out, the plaster walls and laminate flooring contained asbestos. Not only is this a huge threat to their health (material containing asbestos should never be disturbed), but now they need a professional abatement company to come in and remove the materials for them, which is very expensive.

And sometimes people get a home inspection and still end up buying a lemon. Why? Because they didn’t hire the right professional. Just because they call themselves a home inspector doesn’t mean they’re any good.

Again, it’s buyer beware. Homeowners and homebuyers need to ask the right questions, especially when hiring a home inspector. For example, how long have you been inspecting homes for? What were you doing before home inspections? (You want someone with a background in home construction.) Are you insured? Are you certified? By who and what does that mean?

Ideally, we should be able to rely on the advice of the pros we hire. But sometimes it’s difficult to know who’s a pro and who’s not, and by the time we find out it’s too late. Then who’s stuck with the bill? You.

So to save your own butt I always tell homeowners to educate themselves. Learn what separates the pros from the players. Also, learn the red flags. Here are some of the things my guys look for when they inspect a home:

  • Missing downspouts or downspouts that direct water to the roof or foundation; could lead to leaks
  • Cracked brick, including around windows; could mean moisture intrusion and rot
  • Poor grading; could lead to leaks in the basement
  • Vertical foundation cracks; more than one could mean structural problems, like a cracked footing
  • Trees next to the foundation; could get into plumbing and interfere with proper water drainage around the home
  • Lights that flicker; could mean something’s wrong with the electrical
  • Missing insulation in the attic and/or exterior walls; leads to higher energy bills and potentially mould
  • Blocked soffit venting; leads to poor air circulation and possibly mould
  • Mouse droppings & insect wings (could mean termites)
  • Patch jobs on the walls and ceiling; could mean a leak
  • A musty smell; could mean there’s mould

Another thing homebuyers should be asking for is permits.

If you are looking at a house that’s been renovated, you can go to the city and find the permits on it. If there are no permits that means they didn’t hire a pro or they did the work themselves. Either way, if they didn’t know what they were doing you’re stuck with the potential risk and the repair bill.

Buying a house shouldn’t be like playing Russian roulette. You should know that you are making a smart investment.