A: Yes it is a good reliable handgun. I have a 96 INOX and I shoot it at least 3 times a week and I have not had a problem yet.
B: No. If the gun is in great shape then it is not a foolish decision
C: Can't really answer that one. I started off with the 96 whereas most start off with a 92 or another 9mm handgun. Best thing to do is to go to a range where you can rent guns. Rent various caliber guns and shoot them and see what best suits you.
$550 is a really good deal on a 96 that has laser grips already installed and only has one little mark on it. I'd jump at that in a heartbeat.
As far as looking at the gun. Just do a good visual inspection. Rack the slide to see if pulls back smooth and freely. Look for chips or gouges on the gun and inside the gun. Particularly by the feed ramp where the bullets are fed into the chamber. If you dont find any dents and dings on it and the slide moves smooth and freely, I'd say go for it.