Although there is no substitute for a professional home inspector, you can do some preliminary work on any houses you are interested in buying, which may save you time and money in the long run. We'll give you tips on what to look for.

The house is perfect. It's in a great neighborhood, close to work, close to school. It has the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms. It doesn't have ugly tile or shag carpeting. Before you start salivating too much, take pause and remember these tips for doing a preliminary inspection, as presented in a recent USA Weekend article. There is no substitute for a professional home inspection, but doing a bit of legwork yourself can save time and money and reveal any problems before things get too serious.

The Outside
Stand in the front yard. How does the exterior look? Does the yard and exterior of the house look well-maintained? A messy or shabby exterior does not necessarily indicate serious problems, but it can be a sign that the owners may not be highly dedicated to maintaining their home.

Now look at the house. Does it stand straight and tall? Does the roof make a strong horizontal line? Walk around the house and look closely at the places where the house meets the foundation. Look for any signs of rot or cracking. Any of these things can indicate the need for a lot of structural work. Also look at the driveway and sidewalks. Are they seriously cracked? This may indicate how strongly the house is situated, as well as the volatility of the soil.

Finally, take a look at whether the landscaping, driveway, sidewalks and gutters are pitched away from the house. If not, proper drainage of moisture may not occur and may cause rot or erosion.

The Interior
When you enter the house, pay attention to the details. Make sure the front door handle is secure and the front door closes with a solid thud. Test all kitchen cabinets, opening and closing each cabinet and drawer. They should all move smoothly and close squarely.

Also make sure to turn on the water in every sink to assess the water pressure. Also take a good look at faucets and other fixtures; they should be in excellent condition. In the bathrooms, touch all tiles in the shower and tub areas to make sure there is no movement. If any tiles move, there may be rot behind them, which could be very costly. Take a look at the grout and caulking and make sure it isn't cracked or gapping.

When going up or down stairs, make sure that railings and banisters are secure; they shouldn't wiggle when you grab hold. Open and close all doors to make sure that they move smoothly and close securely. Finally, if the house has a basement, it should not smell mildewy or musty.

Taking a critical eye to your dream home might be tough, but you may be grateful you did. You should always get a professional home inspection, but if your preliminary inspection turns up problem after problem, you may not want to go any further!

Although it is now believed that some dirt and germs may help us develop immunity to asthma and allergies, no one wants a filthy home. Work less in your home by following these easy steps.