Recently a couple considered buying a home in the Berkeley Hills of California. Before writing up an offer, they reviewed the seller’s disclosure package. The package included the seller’s disclosure statements about the property’s condition, a termite inspection and a home inspection. Based on the fact that the property appeared to have no significant defects, the buyers made an offer and the seller accepted.
Subsequently, the buyers decided to hire their own home inspector, just to make sure that the seller’s inspectors hadn’t missed anything. The buyer’s home inspector made a more thorough examination of the property, which revealed that the property had serious drainage problems.
Based on the new information, the buyers asked the seller to lower the purchase price by the amount of the repair estimate. The seller stood by his inspector’s opinion and refused to concede anything. The deal fell apart.
Be aware that if the buyers in the above scenario had purchased the property in its “as is” condition and without an inspection contingency, they could have risked losing their deposit if they withdrew from the purchase without the seller’s agreement. Contracts differ regarding methods for dispute resolution and who is entitled to the deposit when a purchase transaction falls apart.
Also, some states don’t have seller disclosure laws. However, the trend nationally is moving in the direction of requiring sellers to disclose known defects, as is the case in California. Local custom usually dictates whether or not sellers have inspections done before marketing their homes.
In cases where inspectors disagree, it’s usually best to try to reach an acceptable middle ground rather than let the deal fall apart. Otherwise, both parties are back at square one: the seller looking for a new buyer and the buyer searching for a new home to buy.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: One way of solving such problems is to hire a third inspector to look at the property. In this case, it’s best to find someone who can give an accurate and unbiased opinion. A contractor who’s looking for work may have difficulty being objective.
Even if two inspectors agree there’s a problem with a property, the recommended remedies may vary significantly. This can affect the cost of repairs. In the case of a home sold in nearby Piedmont, one inspector thought the roof was on its last legs. Another believed that it could be repaired to extend the life of the roof a few years. The buyer wanted a new roof. The seller was willing to pay for repairs.
They reached a compromise when the seller agreed to credit half the cost of a new roof to the buyer at closing. This seemed fair since the buyer knew when he went into contract to buy the home that the roof wasn’t new.
Even when inspectors are in complete agreement about the severity of a problem and what needs to be done to fix it, estimates to complete the repairs can vary widely. The busiest and best contractors are often the most expensive. Buyers are inclined to ask for the most expensive bid, while sellers usually want to pay as little as possible.
A compromise can often be reached if the seller is willing to credit the buyer an amount based on one of the lower bids. The buyer can then have the work done after closing, using whomever he wants to do the work. He can even make up the difference in cost and use a more expensive contractor.
THE CLOSING: Just make sure that all bids obtained to resolve inspection issues are from reputable contractors.
Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.