There’s one thing that buyers and sellers agree on: home inspections are no fun. Buyers and sellers hope for a good end result, but something invariably comes up.
To complicate matters, inspectors sometimes disagree on what is wrong, what should be done to correct a problem or how much it will cost. Finding the right inspector isn’t always easy, but it’s often critical to resolving an issue.
A home inspector recently found a defect in a chimney. He recommended that the fireplace not be used until the problem was corrected. A chimney contractor looked at the problem and said that fixing it was beyond his area of expertise.
The buyer’s agent suggested calling a second specialist who said he could repair the defect, but he was too busy to do the work before the transaction closed. Furthermore, he wouldn’t be able to issue a firm bid for the repair work without dismantling part of the chimney in order to access the problem.
The sellers agreed to fix the problem, but they were unwilling to sign a blank check. So the chimney contractor came up with a cost-not-to-exceed price. The sellers agreed to leave enough money in an escrow account to cover the maximum cost for the repair work; any unused funds would be returned to them after the work was completed.
This was a relatively easy solution. The sellers took responsibility for paying for the repairs. And, the buyers agreed to wait to have the work done until after closing.
Not all inspection-related negotiations go so smoothly. Some sellers, particularly in the current market, feel that they sold for a bargain price and don’t want to give up a penny more for anything.
Sellers who adopt a hard-line on inspection-related defects — particularly if the buyers didn’t know about the defects before they entered in to contract — can sabotage the deal. With an increase in the number of homes for sale in many areas, it’s easier for buyers to find another house to buy if a deal doesn’t work out. And, they can usually wait if the right house isn’t immediately available.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: You can best work out inspection-related issues by hiring a real estate agent before you get into contract to buy or sell a house. The agent should be a strong negotiator, resourceful and have a good track record for keeping transactions together.
If you don’t have past experience with an agent you’re considering, ask for references. Then, contact the references. Be sure to ask if the buyer or seller felt well-represented during the inspection process. Ask for specific examples.
Open lines of communication facilitate working through the inspection process. Sellers often balk when they find out at the eleventh hour that there is an issue. Rather than wait until the last minute to gather critical information, start working on your due diligence as soon as your offer is accepted. Frequent conversations between the buyers’ and sellers’ agents during the inspection process can pave the way to a more successful resolution to issues that arise.
Buyers can be understandably upset if they find out only after their offer is accepted that the sellers neglected to disclose a material fact. A material fact is anything that might be relevant to someone’s decision to buy or the price he’d be willing to pay. Along with full disclosure upfront, presale inspection reports can be beneficial. Note that disclosure laws vary from state to state.
THE CLOSING: The more the buyers know about the property before they make an offer, the less chance there is of a deal falling apart or of the sellers being sued later for failure to disclose.
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.