The professional home inspector you hired has completed his report and identified some red flags within the property you’re eager to buy. Now comes the tricky part: getting the seller to agree to make the necessary repairs or come down in price to cover the costs of later fixes.
It’s a delicate dance that many buyers need to prepare for, say the pros, and knowing what to expect and how to proceed can lead to better outcomes and less frustration.
“A home inspector could identify major defects that will cost you a lot of money above the purchase price to repair. This may give you an opportunity to further negotiate the final price or walk away from a deal that may not be right for you,” says Chrisoula Papoutsakis, agent with Triplemint in New York City.
Ron Humes, broker/owner of Lexington, Ky.-headquartered HomeSelect Realty, says serious defects that the seller should pay for include anything the inspector found that could be hazardous to your health or pocketbook.
“This includes mold; radon; electrical shock risks; foundation issues; structural instabilities; major heating, ventilation and air conditioning problems; and roof and plumbing leaks,” says Humes.
Then there are category B items — minor defects that don’t necessarily need to be repaired immediately and that may or may not be worth haggling with the buyer over.
“These are things like a doorbell that doesn’t work, a wobbly ceiling fan, lack of weather seals on doors and windows, or a range hood light that doesn’t function,” notes Gordon Jones, owner of GI Jones Home Inspection in San Antonio.
Identifying imperfections is often the easy part. Things get more complicated when requesting remediation.
“If the information is presented in the wrong fashion or if too many insignificant repairs related to cosmetic or maintenance items are requested, the seller may elect to reject all requests and cancel the contract,” Humes says. “This is where a real-estate agent can be very helpful.”
“A good agent will be able to advise on how much to push a seller on certain repairs,” says Jones, who adds that a thorough and detailed inspection report coupled with photographic evidence can help your cause.
If the seller balks at making requested repairs, “your only recourse is to lower your offer price to accommodate these repair costs. Remember that if you purchase the property without any guarantees from the owner, you’ll have no recourse after you close to recoup funds from the seller,” cautions Dominic Longcroft of New York City-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties.
“So, it’s important to get the buyer to either make repairs now or accept your lower offer now. These issues must be raised before an offer is made or after an offer is accepted, but subject to a home inspection.”
Note that if making repairs is a condition of your lender, such as those required by an appraiser to approve the loan, “the seller will have to make those repairs and the appraiser will have to revisit the property in order for the loan and transaction to proceed,” says Humes.
“If the repairs are major and there will be surviving warranties to be passed along, it may be better for you to contract those fixes and take money from the seller at closing in lieu of the repairs. This way, you can select the appropriate subcontractor and oversee the quality of the work.”
But if the repairs are minor and will not have any associated warranty, “it may not matter who completes the repairs,” Humes adds.
Papoutsakis says it’s often better when the seller discounts the price and you handle the repairs, “as the seller may choose a more affordable and less effective route that doesn’t actually fix the problem to your satisfaction.”
Finally, give thought to backing out of the contract if the inspector’s report finds major multiple defects that make you feel uneasy or overwhelmed —even if the seller agrees to cover these repair expenses.
“When significant repairs are identified and the seller is not willing to fix them or negotiate a lower price, it’s time to walk away from the deal,” suggests Papoutsakis.