Without a doubt, the home inspection part of the home buying process is my least favorite, and I think most buyers (and sellers) feel the same way.
You find a house and you are super psyched about it, and then an inspector comes in and tells you everything that is wrong with it. It is a major bummer for all involved.
No house is perfect. I’ve never seen a blank inspection report.
Frankly, the vast majority of home inspection reports are super long and document all sorts of issues that neither my buyers or I noticed on our initial walk through.
Some of the issues are easy to ignore:
Maybe a handrail is missing.
Perhaps the smoke alarms are the wrong type.
There is a good chance that a few of the windows are missing screens or don’t latch properly.
These are minor issues that most buyers can overlook.
The majority of the time, however, there are others that can seem scarier.
Faulty electrical wiring or non-GCFI protected outlets, suboptimal plumbing, or evidence of water in the basement are all somewhat common.
Occasionally, there will be really big issues.
These issues may include evidence of significant mold, a roof in dire need of repair, or a foundation with evidence of a major structural issues.
In almost all cases, there is a noticeable drop in mood after the inspection.
You want the house, but do you want it badly enough to take on these problems?
What should your expectations be about what problems you should be willing to take on?
Shouldn’t the seller fix at least the safety problems before moving in?
This is a conversation I have with my buyers all the time, and there is no easy answer.
Here are a few things you may want to think about as you and your Realtor work through this messy process.
Sellers Have No Obligation to Fix Anything
Unless you put something in your contract that says otherwise, the seller has no obligation to fix anything that comes up in your structural inspection.
That is right.
Even if something comes up that you think they obviously should fix, you need to keep in mind that they don’t have to agree to anything.
Your inspection contingency probably said that you had the right to terminate the contract if you were dissatisfied with the inspection for any reason.
So when you are unhappy with the inspection results, you can terminate, but you can’t require the seller to do something they don’t want to do.
If they don’t want to fix something, your recourse is to terminate the contract and look for a different house.
This does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t ask for what you want or even need to make this work. Lots of times, it is in everyone’s best interest to make a few compromises.
By the time the inspection rolls around, sellers have made an investment in you and may not want to start from scratch showing the home to new buyers which will likely delay their closing by at least several weeks and introduce some unknowns.
Not to mention, if any serious issues did come up in the inspection, the seller would be required to disclose them to potential buyers if the property went back on the market and that could make the house harder to sell.
What Should I Ask For?
There is no right answer to this question, and it may depend entirely on your comfort level.
In general, however, it is very reasonable to ask for any major issues that come up in the inspection that were not disclosed to the buyer beforehand. By major issues, I mean things like discovering that the roof is in dire need of repair or that the foundation has major structural issues.
These things are no doubt critical and expensive items that you likely didn’t account for when you made your original offer.
Note, however, that if a seller disclosed these problems in the listing, you probably aren’t going to a sympathetic ear. They will assume you took these things into account when you made your original offer.
Even if they didn’t disclose the problems upfront, they could still say no to your requests. It all depends on who the seller is and their personal perspective on each of these issues.
What about medium and small problems?
For everything else on the list – everything from plumbing leaks, missing GFCIs, missing fire alarms, inoperable garage doors, mold in the attic, improperly venting bathroom fans, cracked driveways, gaining decks, and the other dozens of issues that are likely to come up – here is what I advise:
Take out a piece of paper and divide it into three columns, List 1, List 2, and List 3.
List 1 – What is Required for Basic Comfort & Safety
Make a list of every item that you would need done in order to feel a basic level of comfort and safety in your home.
This list might include items such as dealing with live hanging wires, fixing a leak in the sink, and replacing a water heater that is on its last legs.
List 2 – The Someday List
Create a second list of items that you’d like to do at some point but that you can live without for a while.
This list might include things like adding more insulation to an attic, replacing cracked doors on the interior of the house, and restoring a fireplace to working order.
List 3 – Doesn’t Matter List
Write a third list of items that might matter to others but that you can live without.
This may include items such as deciding that you don’t need to add extra safety railings on the deck like the inspector recommended because you don’t have pets or kids.
Perhaps you can live without window screens in certain rooms because you plan to install window AC units in the summer anyway.
Maybe you also don’t have to replace the poorly installed laminate flooring in the basement because you were only going to be using it for storage anyway.
Take a deep breath.
Hopefully at least categorizing the long list of inspection items helped you define what your real priorities are.
At the very least, you’ve built yourself a to do list for now (List 1), one for the next few years (List 2), and another list that you can toss aside and not worry about (List 3).
Suddenly that terrifying 40-page report from your inspector seems a lot more manageable.
But as far as the negotiating process is concerned, you are going to want to turn your attending to List 1.
Acquiring a Safe and Comfortable Home
If you are buying a home that will be your primary residence, having a safe and comfortable home will no doubt be of paramount importance.
List 1 is the inventory of items that will need to be completed in order for you to get what you need to make this house work for you.
You need to figure out what it is going to cost in order for you to get there.
Look through each of the items on your list and see if you can put together a projected budget.
Some items are easier than others. If your home needs to have new smoke detectors installed, you can easily look up the price online.
Many items are more complex.
If extensive electrical work needs to be done, for example, you may need to call an electrician.
The electrician may want to see a copy of your inspection report to give you an estimate and go ahead and share it with them so you can get the most accurate information.
Occasionally, you may find that the professionals tell you that they need to see the property in order to give you any kind of estimate.
If that is the case, go ahead and ask your agent to ask the seller if you can bring someone by to take another look.
Yes, this sounds like a lot of work, but it is work well worth it.
You need to know what you have to spend in order to make this home purchase worthwhile.
If the cost to repair these essential items is more than you are able or willing to pay for this home, then it is time to use your inspection contingency to renegotiate.
Initiating a Negotiation
When you start negotiating with a seller on inspection items, what you are really saying to the seller is this:
Hey Seller! These issues are big problems for me. If you don’t fix these items or give me more money than we originally agreed to, I am not going to buy this house anymore.
Does that sound like a threat? It pretty much is.
Yet if it is true that you need these things to be done to feel safe and comfortable in your home, and you can’t afford to do all of those things yourself, you should be making a threat because otherwise the purchase is not worth it.
My stance has always been to ask for the things on List 1 that you can’t afford to do yourself.
You can slice it in different ways.
You can ask for the sellers to complete certain things prior to closing.
You can ask that they give money to you so that you can complete certain things on your own.
You can give the sellers an option either way.
The point is, you lay out your list of essentials to the seller or sellers agent and explain that they were unforeseen items that you need to be minimally safe and comfortable in your home and leave it at that.
What happens next? Usually one of the following:
1. The Sellers Agree
Obviously this is the best case scenario. When this happens, we all move on and things proceed smoothly.
2. The Sellers Try to “Meet In the Middle”
Some people think they have to counteroffer everything and will respond by trying to meet you in the middle.
However, if you really are only asking for items that you need to feel minimally safe and comfortable in your home and that you can’t afford to do yourself, you aren’t able to meet in middle.
As your agent, it is my job to explain that we wouldn’t be asking if we didn’t actually need these things to make it work.
Once they understand this, it doesn’t mean there can’t be negotiation, but it changes the conversation.
Instead of talking about who will pay for the roof repair projected to be $5,000, we may decide that we should all send out a couple of reputable roofers in the area to see if we can get a quote for $3,000 or less, which could potentially save everyone money.
3. The Sellers Don’t Think Your Concerns are Legitimate and Refuse
Very frequently, the problem we get into is that the sellers think your standards for a “comfortable and safe home” are unreasonable.
From the sellers point of view, this is a reasonable perspective.
They are probably thinking:
I lived in this house without GFCIs in the garage. Why do you need them?
I covered this massively stained carpet with a bed so I didn’t have the look at the stain, so why don’t you just do the same thing?
I didn’t mind seeing a couple mice now and then, so why are you telling me I have to pay for the whole house to be fumigated?
We all live in different ways, and these differences of opinions are extremely common and create some very tense and awkward moments throughout the negotiating process.
If this happens, you likely aren’t going to get very far unless the seller is motivated enough to throw up their hands and just to agree to your demands begrudgingly.
Usually, you will have to give what they say some serious thought and do some introspection.
Would I be able to feel safe without the GFCIs?
Could I just cover that hideous stain with a piece of furniture?
Can I just buy some cheap mousetraps at CVS instead of hiring the pest control company?
If you realize that you can make some compromises and still feel safe and comfortable, great. If not, it is time to cancel.
Reading your inspection report will likely be a trying and disappointing experience.
Know going into it that this will likely be one of the lowest points in the home buying process.
Yet staying organized and working through your priorities is going to be essential in figuring out what to do with this barrage of information.
The most important thing in deciding whether or not to proceed with your contract is to figure out what you need to do to be safe and comfortable in your new home.
If you can’t meet that standard, why proceed?
Do your research to figure out exactly what needs to be done and how much it will cost so that you can move forward into negotiations with the seller confidently.
There are no guarantees you and the seller will be on the same page.
However, when you take this approach, you will give yourself the best chance of making a convincing case to a seller to make this work.
You will open up a dialogue that may help you learn more about your new home.
Even if the worst happens and you decide to walk away, you will do so with the knowledge you are making the right choice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pallas Ziporyn is a Realtor based in Burlington, VT. She is the founder and head writer for The Vermont Real Estate Blog, and she works with both buyers and sellers in Chittenden County and surrounding areas.
In addition to her real estate pursuits, Pallas enjoys serving on the Winooski Planning Commission, skiing, writing, and spending time with her husband Chris and their two small children, Leander and Hugo.