The days have gotten longer and Spring can't be far away. With Spring there is running water. With all of that running water around some of it is going to end up in people's basements. A wet basement is not the end of the world, but it would be a good idea to know how wet and where its wet before you purchase a house that has had water in the basement.
With all of the disclosure laws these days it seems that we have fewer water in the basement disputes. As a buyer water in the basement still could still cause a problem for you. When the little box on the Seller's disclosure next to "wet basement" is checked, yes, you should look carefully and ask a few extra questions. Where exactly did the water come in? What exactly was done to correct the problem? Did water come in after corrections where made? Did the previous owner disclose water probelms to the current owners when they purchased the house?
Many wet basements can be dried out with simple landscaping changes, some can not. I once sold a commercial building that had an access panel in the basement floor. Under the panel there was a constant flow of water. A few blocks south there was a home that always had water in the basement. I've learned that both the commercial building and the house were built over a creek that was filled in way back in the 1800's. The creek is still there, it's just underground. Those basements will never be dry.
Homes built on clay soil or in areas with a high water table are more likely to have wet basements. If you ask around you will find people from the area are generally aware of these situations. Somone in the city engineering department should certainly know about problem areas in town.
I have been in old homes with seemingly dry basements, but when it rains a rivlet of water runs in and harmlessly down the drain. Harmless as long as the basement isn't finished or as long as no one stores anything in the path of the water.
When you are looking at homes pay attention to things like mops and buckets in the basement, boxes stored on pallets or areas where nothing is stored. Look for powdery white "efforvesence" on the walls or stains on the floors.
Outside look for plants growing out of gutters, downspouts that are off or that empty inside of landscape edging. Take note of if the ground slopes away from the house. If there is concrete near the house does it slope away? Has somebody caulked cracks in the concrete near the foundation?
These situations are all common in older homes, but they are flags to be on the lookout for a basement with water problems. Asking a few extra questions so that you know what you are getting could save you a lot of future grief.