There's CarFax for cars and now comes BuildFax for homes. By paying $39.99 (it's free through 7/31/11) you can run a background check on the home you're planning to buy. This can also supplement your inspection report. Here's the link to the site:
Basically, the site will access electronic public records. You can get the same information for free at your city's Buildings Department. It really depends if you have the time or it's worth 40 bucks to have someone do it for you. You decide.