Most homeowners are familiar with the home inspection process, a traditional step in the home buying process. The goal is to determine the home’s condition, from the roof to the foundation and all the systems in between like electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling. Ideally you are buying a home that is well maintained and only has a few outstanding problems that require attention.
As a buyer, you want to consider things like how quickly you want to close and how much time you'll have to manage repairs once you move into your new home. Timing may be critical. My challenge when buying a house in Arizona with significant defects, was knowing I wouldn't be moving into the house for five months. This drove me to ask the seller to correct all safety issues before the closing so I didn't have to worry about them in our absence (read: Home Inspections, GFCIs, Smoke Detectors & Home Safety).
Choices After the Home Inspection
The home inspector provides an impartial view, performing a service without emotional ties to either the buyer or the seller. Reuben Saltzman, Home Inspections, GFCIs, Smoke Detectors & Home Safety, identifies four choices for the buyer to consider after receiving your home inspection report:
- Do nothing until after the closing.
- Ask the sellers to make the repairs.
- Ask the sellers to pay for the repairs.
- … or cancel the purchase based on the report.
When you’re not sure, try listing your choices with the pros and cons of each option. Sometimes just organizing your thoughts and writing them down will help you find the answer. If you’re still not sure, call your home inspector and discuss these options with them.
Having bought 15 houses, I only found one home inspection challenging
Home Inspection Option #1: Do Nothing
Reuben suggests “Doing nothing is usually the best option for buyers.” Unless you’re buying a new home, you shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect due to normal wear and tear. Even with new homes there are flaws, as traditional “stick construction” is built by humans who can and will make mistakes.
If you’re buying a home that is well maintained, it is realistic to find minor repairs you can handle after you move in. Asking the seller to address the entire list of minor repairs will typically lead to bad feelings and poor communications which exacerbates the stress associated with moving.
Home Inspection Option #2: Ask The Sellers To Make Repairs
Conscientious sellers will automatically make the repairs listed in the home inspection report. If you need to ask for this, chances are you won’t be happy with the quality of the repairs and/or materials, making this the worst option.
At my handyman business, we sometimes go in days before a closing to correct repairs the home owner tried to handle personally. We deal with doors that won’t latch, light switches that don’t work and maybe they’ve removed old grout and/or caulking but ran out of time to finish installing the new materials or worse, they tried and it looks worse.
If you’re firm about having the seller do the repairs, use the following recommendations:
- Specify in the purchase agreement that work must be done by licensed contractors.
- Require that permits be pulled and inspections completed by the authority with jurisdiction, i.e. your town’s building inspector.
- State that written proof must be given to the buyer with work guaranteed for 1 year from date completed.
- Specify a date for the follow-up inspection if one is planned, preferably a week before the closing so there is time to resolve outstanding items.
Major repairs to plumbing, electrical, or HVAC require a permit. If a project is too small to require a permit, maybe it doesn’t make sense to ask the seller do it at all?
Home Inspection Option #3: Ask Sellers To Pay for Repairs
This option is usually best for the buyer, as they don’t pay for the repairs. Often the seller will counter with an offer to split the projected costs. The buyer can then hire their own contractors to do the work, and oversee the project after they own the house. This is definitely the most logical approach, but sometimes buyers think they’re not getting a good deal if they buy a house and need to do repairs right away.
Ask your home inspector which repairs need to be done right away, and do them. Other projects like re-wiring might make more sense a few years later when you put on that addition or replace the entire deck with low maintenance materials.
Home Inspection Option #4: Cancel The Purchase
Unless you have experience fixing up homes, you may find yourself in a situation where there are too many problems, or they’re too large, complicated and/or expensive. This can happen when the home inspector finds serious problems with the foundation, structural problems or multiple whole house systems all needing to be replaced immediately. If you don’t have the time or skill to deal with these repairs, and the seller won’t correct the problems, then you likely will have to walk away from the deal.
When major problems are found and you are willing to mange the repairs, you need to make sure you have committed estimates from the contractors who will be making the repairs. Where the extent of the damage is unknown, you either need to add contingency to projected costs or find a way to get a more complete evaluation and estimate which is critical when there is water damage and/or mold issues that could cost $10,000s in repair.
We just put an offer on a large 4000 square foot waterfront home. During the inspection the inspector watched a squirrel crawl into the roof. Very concerned there are many more there and the damage they could have done. Also it’s a home that has a wood furnace as well as an oil furnace. They say they only used wood which I don’t want to use. The oil furnace will have to be replaced as it’s from 2006. Also the hot water tank appears to be under the roof. Lastly the alarm on their septic tank goes off all the time so they turned it off. These issues make me nervous to go ahead with the offer. Any advice?
Sandy, You absolutely need a home inspection asap & I hope you have time to get the feedback to re-negotiate your offer to make the seller make repairs and/or lower the price to cover your costs to correct problems. Here’s an article detailing how I handled a home inspection (2 follow-up visits too) a few years back, as this house had lots of electrical problems.
My daughter bought a house and had an inspection done. He found a few minor issues, but nothing major at the time. She made a few improvements, then moved in a month after closing. One month later she had to call a plumber about a clog. He came twice within the week and snaked it both times. Couldn’t fix problem so he recommended a camera through the pipes. They found that the sewer line was broken in the crawl space, something the inspector missed. Who would be liable, the inspector, previous owner or my daughter. Any thoughts.
Mel, This is a tough one but yes, worth chasing and first, I can offer some ideas but please understand I’m not a lawyer.
First I’d go back to the plumber & ask him whether this clog affected all the drains in the house or just one sink / toilet / tub. If the problem affected all plumbing then the inspector should have caught the problem but you’ll quickly discover that home inspectors are only liable up to the amount you paid for the inspection … which won’t cover this repair.
My guess is this clog affected one bathroom that wasn’t used frequently but it’s hard to believe the sellers didn’t know about it. Sellers are responsible for disclosing known defects in most states but laws vary by location. Your daughter should pursue financial assistance from the sellers. My recommendation is she start by seeking help from her real estate agent who has a reputation to protect, and let them negotiate with seller’s realtor. Get an estimate for repairs and try to recover at least half as that’s what might have been the settlement before closing.
In my experience, a lawyer here would be a waste of time and money. The clog needs to be fixed now and lawyers take forever (think a minimum of 6 to 9 months) to settle the case and they’ll never get you the full amount, and then you’ve got to pay them too.
My sister has recently found a property listing that she likes and I want to make sure it’s the best purchase for her. It really helped when you stated that sellers can be asked to pay for repairs and that the project costs can also end up becoming split because while the property my sister found looks exactly like she wants it, there are a couple of small repairs that need to be done before it can be inhabitable but they’re nothing too serious. I’ll be sure to show this article to my sister so we can get an inspector to do a double check on the house to list down everything that needs to be done in case we missed anything.
Yes & the house we bought in Arizona had so many electrical problems that I had the home inspector come back & reinspect the repairs … because I was in New Hampshire.
How long after you sell a house are you responsible for repairs if something breaks after the sale of the house
please email a answer thank you
Response written here & emailed per your request
Audrey, There are 3 different scenarios here:
1 – When you buy an existing house, the buyer does a final walk through & assumes ownership for all problems at time of closing.
2 – Buyer based on their home inspection and/or final walk through can have money set aside in an escrow account to cover projected repair costs. The seller only gets this money when repairs completed, or the buyer if they have to make repairs, gets the money.
3 – With new construction, the builder has a 1 year warranty period. It’s pretty standard to do a walk through towards the end of the year, and then the builder makes repairs for things like nail pops, door that’s difficult to close, deck stairs that have settled, etc.
The biggest problems I’ve seen are inexperienced real estate agents who don’t get money set aside in escrow, and builders who get too busy to handle the little stuff for homes that have closed. My handyman business did builder punchlist work from 2004 to 2006, for this reason. Guess I should write another article about escrow for repairs, as I recently visited a homeowner who had 1.5-2 days worth of repairs they wanted, and no way to make the builder respond.