Q: We are flying to Palm Springs, Calif., over the weekend and are hoping to find a condo for vacations and eventual "snowbird" retirement. But, if we do find something, I am concerned that an inspection would take place without us being there. Flying back and forth repeatedly for every little thing involved in this purchase could almost cost more than the condo! Do you think a fair and thorough inspection can/will happen without the buyer being there?
A: Absolutely — I do think a fair and thorough inspection can happen in your absence, if you put all the right ingredients in place, which we’ll get to in just a moment.
However, I’d still strongly encourage you to attend your inspection. I agree that flying back and forth can be uber-expensive, and I’m not suggesting you need to do it several times for a single property. But I have — more than a few times — heard deep buyer’s remorse from buyers who saw their properties only once, at the initial showing, before they bought it.
A second visit, whether it occurs during inspections or not, is the opportunity for you to make sure that this is the place you want; to spot and notice good, bad and ugly elements of the property that you simply did not see the first time you were there; and to get a deep confirmation that this is the right place for you — or have a change of heart — before you have to remove your contingencies and commit to closing the deal.
These days, it is not necessary that you be in the town where the property is located to execute your closing. The escrow holder can overnight the paperwork to wherever you are, and a local notary who can vouch that you signed it in person is really all it takes to seal the deal.
Nevertheless, I’d urge you to plan your vacation/retirement home budget to include at least one trip during the actual transaction. But I suggest that you calendar that trip to coincide with the property inspections, rather than the closing.
With that said, it’s not always possible to be present in person at your inspections — and yes, that was inspections, plural. If you’re buying a condo, you’ll likely want to obtain at least a general property inspection and a pest inspection to start with; usually the roof, foundation and sewer line are the responsibility of the homeowners association to maintain and repair.
Also, unless you’re aware that there’s an electrical issue or a plumbing problem, you might not need to call out any specialty inspectors unless the general property inspector or pest inspector recommend that you do so. (Check with your agent about what inspections they would recommend — this can vary by locality.)
If you’re not going to be able to attend your inspections for whatever reason, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.
First, when you see the property at your initial viewing, spend more time there than you would otherwise, taking pen and paper and walking through the unit and the complex to note any questions you have for the inspectors and for your agent. As soon as you have access to the seller’s or HOA’s disclosures, it makes sense to review them immediately, adding to your inspector question list as needed.
Next, select an inspector who your agent knows will be very patient in answering your questions via email and phone, and who has strong skills of communicating findings verbally, as the inspector won’t be able to just point at things.
Also, select an inspector who produces vivid, detailed reports. My favorite inspector’s standard report is 30-40 pages of detailed descriptions of what features, amenities, appliances and materials are contained in the home, and even more detailed descriptions and color photos of anything that might need further inspection or repair — in PDF format, no less.
If you aren’t present at the inspection, and you just get a single page of checkboxes as your inspector’s report, you’ll feel insufficiently informed about the property and uncertain and anxious when it comes time to make your decision whether to move forward and close the deal.
You’ll also just want to be sure that your inspector is legit, in general. Your best bet is to ask your agent for a reference (or a few), then to check and be sure the inspectors you choose are licensed, if your state licenses inspectors (in California, pest inspectors are licensed, but no license exists for property inspectors, so look for one who is certified). It’s never a bad idea to also check references, if any, on review sites like Yelp.
Once you select an inspector and schedule the inspection, make sure you send the inspector and your agent any particular questions you have in advance, and make sure that your agent will be able to attend the inspection and be in touch with you via phone as it takes place.
Finally, make sure you set things up so that you get inspection reports emailed to you within 24 hours of the inspection. Then, make sure you read them, thoroughly, and schedule a phone conference with your agent, the inspector and yourself to cover any questions you have or any items the inspector might have noticed, but not mentioned in the report.
If you cover all these bases, which your agent should be able to help, you can obtain a fair and thorough inspection, even in your absence.