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Arizona house hunters beware: Bad flips could cost you

Could that great house deal in Phoenix or elsewhere in Arizona be hiding some ugly secrets?

Maybe so -- particularly if the house was recently purchased at auction and "flipped" by renovators. While many renovators who make their living flipping houses legitimately work to correct structural problems, plumbing issues, bad wiring and any other major issues they find, some renovators focus only on cosmetic improvements to make a quick sale. That can leave buyers suffering once they find out that there's a lot of expensive problems with their new homes.

For example, one Phoenix couple had barely purchased their new home before they found out that the sewer line was collapsed. Five months later -- and $100,000 poorer after finding everything from asbestos that had to be removed and shoddy electrical work -- they were finally able to move in. Experts say that they're not alone in their misery.

New homeowners have found everything from mold behind thin layers of drywall to vents with no outlet and attics missing the insulation. One homeowner found a pool buried in the backyard of his new home. The "flipper" who sold him the house had used it as an illegal dumping site for construction trash and then poured a layer of topsoil over it.

Because the market in Valley and certain other areas of Arizona is so competitive, many buyers are purchasing their homes "as-is," without even bothering with an inspection. Less-than-honest flippers are taking advantage of the anxiety buyers feel to rush a purchase and offloading homes that are hiding major defects behind a little paint and wallboard.

Experts recommend that you pay for a home inspection before you decide to buy. You may also want to ask questions of the neighbors before you buy a house. Many times, they can clue you into to things that you wouldn't otherwise find out through an inspection (like the fact that an entire pool was filled with trash and covered before you ever saw the place).

If you've been stuck with a bad house deal and the seller never disclosed known problems, you may have legal options to recover your losses. An attorney can help you understand the possibilities.

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