In the August episode of Google SEO Office-Hours, someone asked how to see if his newly bought site has a penalty. John Mueller responded that you can only see the current status of manual actions as site has in Search Console once you have verified the ownership of the site in Seach Console as this information is only visible to verified owners of the site.
However, manual actions that have expired or have been resolved would not be listed there. This is because when a manual action is resolved, the effect generally goes away fairly quickly.
Mueller also reminds that Google’s algorithms can also react to significant quality issues without a manual action involved.
Watch the SEO Office hours episode here –
Before purchasing a site or an expired domain, it is best to do your due diligence and go through the site/domain to check for possible issues. A good way to check this out is to check how the site looked like before through archive.org. Using SEO Tools to look through the site is also a good way to see how it currently stands, the types of sites that have linked to it, and determine if it would be a good purchase or not.