Yes, that is the question when you’re a home buyer who’s newly in contract on a property. And the answer usually is: “Have your inspection.”
With few exceptions in San Francisco, I think it’s always a good idea to spend the $500-$600 on a general contractor inspection conducted by a reputable, local inspection company. Even if an inspector doesn’t find any alarming new discoveries, it’s always beneficial to walk through the property with a professional who’s seen hundreds of houses. Checking out the major systems and roof, as well as components such as the furnace is key to your understanding of the overall condition—and how much you may have to spend in the near future to maintain the home.
Inspectors are not structural engineers or termite/dry rot experts. They’ll let you know if they see any red flags where these items are concerned (for example, large foundation cracks or obvious dry rot). And if they see anything that looks like it warrants further investigation from the appropriate professional, they’ll say so.
Many times, sellers will have a recent termite report on file, which is great to reference during your general contractor home inspection. And if there’s a particular issue on which you’d like a second opinion, it doesn’t hurt to pay the few hundred dollars in order to have your own termite inspection.
Inspections in condo buildings are limited to the unit itself, as well as the common areas. But if there is anything that was not done with permits within a unit (say, a kitchen or bath remodel), it’s a good idea to have an inspector see what’s under the sink or in the electrical panel to at least get a sense for any obvious issues.
When you get your written inspection report, you’ll notice that there are no dollar amounts next to any findings. (There are usually estimated repair costs in a termite inspection, however.) A home inspector can generally give you an idea of ballpark figures for, say, correcting a drainage issue or replacing a furnace. But if you are concerned about cost (and who isn’t?), it’s always a good idea to bring in the property corresponding professional so you can get a grip on upcoming costs.