Not every person is a contractor or works in the trades, and may never want to for that matter. But most people want to be a homeowner. Homes are complicated structures with many components and systems integrated together carefully to make that house function and last more then 10 years. Materials and systems are installed by professionals and are usually very expensive for the average homeowner. Owning a home is not like owning anything else in your life, you need to have some level of knowledge, or know where to get it.
A great source of free information is your city, county, or state building department. You can access records from that specific piece of property you are looking to purchase. Think of it like a Carfax report. These records will include permits (or lack there of), zoning, boundary's, and more. Knowing the history and facts about your potential property is invaluable and important for every homeowner. This can potentially save you from a "messy" purchase.
When buying a home there has to be a lot of trust between you and your Realtor. They are professionals at putting together a legal transaction with the seller, and selling properties. This does not mean they know the state or history of the house you might be purchasing and living in. That's why a Home Inspector is contracted to inspect the home. Now you are trusting a person that you do not know, and did not choose to work with. Many home inspectors gain their credentials online through varying accredited programs. So with 120 hours of book work this home inspector is ready to tell you whether or not the house is sound in structure, moisture protection, electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, safe, and code compliant. I have been remodeling for 11 years and I can tell you that it takes more then some book study to assess a house thoroughly and correctly. Check out your home inspector, ask for his credentials, and referrals. There are some very good home inspectors out there, take the time to find and use one, these guys are doing there job well and have your best interest in mind.
Ultimately the responsibility will be YOURS! So educate yourself properly and work with quality professionals throughout the process. I also suggest working with a contractor who has experience working in the homes in your area. Check them out through your county or city, or through private organizations like the MBA. Most Quality Contractors will provide a service to do a comprehensive report of a home you are looking to buy. Do the necessary research and use the right professionals when buying your next home.