As a homebuyer, a real estate inspector can be your best friend.  A best friend, as in the guy who’ll tell you you’ve got spinach between your teeth, or the gal who gives an honest answer when those pants don’t flatter your figure — and then suggests an outfit that that really does.  A friend won’t let you buy a pig in a poke.

Ever heard of a pig in a poke?  A “poke” is an old European word, still used in many places in the United States.  It means “a bag (for carrying things).”  The word “pocket” comes from the same word, and originally meant, “a little bag.”

What’s all this got to do with buying a home?

Let’s dig a litter further into the derivation of that phrase.  Back in the middle ages, wealth, not surprisingly, was determined by how well you could shelter and feed those you were responsible for.  A person who owned a herd of swine was rich.

Someone shopping for a way to provide for his family would often invest in a newborn pig.  Of course, it could be roasted and eaten for an immediate meal, but a wise provider might save it and feed it well, until it had grown to be the beginning of his family’s own herd, providing a limitless number of pigs and an endless number of meals.

Hang on; I’m getting to the pig in the poke part of the story.

Crafty characters figured out a way to make money off all this.  A suckling pig is approximately the size of a cat or a small dog.  Tie up a cat in a bag, tell an unsuspecting buyer it was a baby pig, already caught and packaged, and take his money.  Hey, if the buyer was foolish enough to purchase something in a poke without inspecting it, he deserved what he ended up with, right?

Even common law took the side of the seller, warning “let the buyer beware.”

So, “buying a pig in a poke” became a phrase for the foolish action of failing to inspect before you buy.

Someone who’d been through it all before, familiar with the market, could have prevented the buyer’s folly by “letting the cat out of the bag” before the transaction.

Let’s not carry the comparison between home buying and a medieval market too far.  Very, very few of today’s sellers would intentionally rip a buyer off.  And modern law gives buyers the chance to fully inspect a home before any transaction takes place.

Here’s how your inspector does fit in with our example.  He’s that friend who can step in and help you see more than what a hopeful buyer would like to believe about a property.  His familiarity with all aspects of home inspection — roof, foundation, basement, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and more — will put you at the advantage.

With the truth “out of the bag,” you can not only make an informed decision, but have all the data you need to see the possibilities of your dream home.  Mike Howson is that friend who will tell it like it is, and help you see what it would take to make a property what you would like it to be.