The little condominium in the salt-water marina was across the street from the shopping center that had drawn the rest of my family. The “For Sale By Owner” open-house sign caught my eye as a chance to burn some time while the shoppers filled their bags.
The place was cute, well appointed and appeared in terrific condition for an older building — the kind of place that probably would have sold in a matter of days two years ago. The owners, who are competitive sailors, had purchased the place as a second home but never found the time to use the place as much as expected.
It was clear the owners had gone the extra step not only in maintaining, but also in showing. The brass door numbers had recently been purchased; the welcome mat was new; and the back deck had a fresh coat of stain.
The extra step suddenly turned into an extra mile — the sellers had paid for a complete inspection report that was stapled to the common sales flier.
“We simply have got nothing to hide,” the husband said. “The report was done by the best guy around — everybody knows him. If there was something that needed fixing, we wanted to know up front. We wanted to fix everything we could before we put it on the market.”
The practice of a seller purchasing an inspection report before advertising the home for sale not only is becoming more common in primary residences but the practice is also spreading to second homes. Seasoned sellers, who had been in the buyers’ shoes not long ago, are taking the step for two key reasons: the report not only saves time on the market, but it also manages the expectations of the buyer.
According to Cris Ugles, whose Building Inspection Services provides detailed inspections in the Puget Sound area near Seattle, Wash., the percentage of his business now initiated by sellers has risen from 25 percent to 40 percent in the past year.
“Why the shift?” Ugles asked. “I think it comes from their own experience of buying a home, coupled with the suggestions from Realtors and friends. In reality, sellers can deal with issues that arise on their own terms. There’s no 11th-hour, in-the-middle-of-escrow negotiations.”
While some inspectors have attempted to become more thorough, they cannot see through walls or be absolutely certain of the quality of all materials and craftsmanship. And to compound the problem, their reports now contain hold-harmless agreements and qualifying phrases (a result of lawsuits) that make some consumers wonder what service the $250 to $550 inspection fee is buying.
The inspector’s job is to highlight the negatives, and some buyers aren’t ready for all the negativity. What often happens is that a potential buyer suddenly faces a report that seems too picky and derogatory. That experience generates remorse and thoughts like, “Do we really want to move? The home we have isn’t so bad after all.”
However, when a seller initiates the procedure, a new, positive atmosphere can rest upon the entire buy-sell process.
“A presale home inspection demonstrates good faith on the part of sellers and thereby promotes an atmosphere of trust among the parties of a transaction,” said Barry Stone, a home inspector and Inman News columnist. “When buyers are assured that sellers have nothing to hide, a deal can run much more smoothly, and post-escrow problems can be avoided.”
For sellers, inspection reports can be infuriating, last-minute report cards on conditions they inherited from the previous owner. Why not perform as much discovery as you can and keep the surprises to a minimum?
In addition, most inspectors do not always probe for pests, and they rarely perform environmental testing for materials such as asbestos, urea formaldehyde insulation and radon. Inspections rarely include intercoms, appliances, smoke detectors, pools and pool equipment, hot tubs, saunas, elevators, dumbwaiters, heat pumps, furnace heat exchangers, electronic air cleaners, air-conditioning systems, gas space heaters, gas fireplace accessories, solar systems, wall insulation, sewage disposal systems, water, and “specialty items” such as alarm systems.
Very rarely is anything positive mentioned in an inspector’s verbal or written report, even when thousands of dollars have been spent to correct or remodel a potentially disastrous situation.
“Consumers should keep in mind that it’s often difficult to go through an inspection of your own home,” Ugles said. “It should be an objective exercise, not a personal affair.”
Deal with possible disappointment long before you list your home — or weekend getaway — for sale. It will probably save you time and money, and limit your liability down the road.
To get even more valuable advice from Tom, visit his Second Home Center.