Several months ago we looked at a house that had been bought at auction by a housing company, fixed up and then put on the market. We found it among the listings on the home page of a realtor we've dealt with in the past, and he agreed to show it to us.

It was a nice house but we had questions, mainly about the stability of the land and the quality of the construction. He couldn't tell us anything because he said he didn't know, though while we were inspecting the kitchen he removed a panel in the floor, exposing the foundation, and invited us to have a look. We weren't sure what we should be looking for, and he didn't know either. Later, we asked if he could get us the information we needed from the company that was actually selling the house, and he seemed put out. "They're very scary," he said.

Though this is an extreme example, it illustrates a problem we sometimes have when looking for a used house to purchase. Some real estate agents don't have much knowledge about the properties they represent. Our budget is limited, which means the chances are greater that a house or condo we see is going to be of lower quality, and we understand that, so we've tried to educate ourselves and always inquire about things important to us, such as whether or not a property has been renovated and if so what sort of renovations were carried out; the attendant property taxes; the environment and whether a particular open view is going to vanish in the near future because of a housing development or tall building.