Buying a home? The process can be stressful. A home inspection is supposed to give you peace of mind, but often has the opposite effect. You will be asked to absorb a lot of information and make important decisions in a short time. This often includes a written report, checklist, photographs, environmental reports, and what the inspector himself says during the inspection. All this combined with the seller’s disclosure and what you notice yourself makes the experience even more overwhelming. What should you do?
Relax. Most of your inspection report will be maintenance recommendations, life expectancies and minor imperfections. These are nice to know about. However, the issues that really matter will fall into three categories:
Major defects: Termed ‘Substantially Deficient’ by State Law, this refers either to an unsafe situation (very bad electrical wiring or a structural failure) or a non-functional system (air-conditioner or water heater that doesn’t work). Only some defects will be serious, while most can be easily, and inexpensively, handled. The Inspector, working with your lawyer, will help you to understand exactly what the real situation is and the best course of action for you to take.
Repair and/or Replace: Items that are broken or situations that may lead to major defects. Examples would include a small roof-flashing leak (which could lead, if not addressed, to a major roof repair), wall cracks or broken bathroom tile. The Inspector can give you advice on how to approach these kinds or defects. He has the experience and usually knows how to address these minor problems using the newest material and construction techniques.
Watch List: Items that should be watched or that will require repair or maintenance in the near future. An older roof that will probably have to be replaced in the next few years is a case in point, as is a water heater nearing the end of its useful life. It is always a good thing to know what you will have to plan for in the near future.
Usually, only items in the first category should be of any great concern, and very few such items are real deal breakers. Often a serious problem can be corrected quickly and inexpensively to protect both life and your property investment.
Most sellers are honest, and are often surprised to learn of defects uncovered during an inspection. Please, realize that sellers are under no obligation to repair everything mentioned in the report, but most of the time such items can be addressed by a selling price adjustment or a give-back at the closing. Your lawyer will be the best judge of what, if any, action should be taken and will negotiate the best deal for you.
Remember, no home is perfect. Keep things in perspective. Don’t kill your deal over things that really don’t matter. On the other hand, it is always wise to be aware of as much as you can before you find yourself legally (and financially) committed. It is inappropriate to demand that a seller address deferred maintenance, conditions already listed on the seller’s disclosure or nit-picky items.
“Trust, but verify” is always a prudent policy.