How to Handle a Home Inspection Surprise

 

By Marni Jameson

“We accepted an offer on our house,” I tell my colleague.

“Already?” she says.

I shrug. “It took 18 days. I was trying to beat my record of one day.”

“We did have a hurricane,” she reminds me, then adds, “You don’t seem very excited.”

“Not till it’s over,” I say wearily.

When you have bought and sold as many homes as I have, you know that a lot can go wrong between offer accepted and done deal pop the champagne. Loans fall through, properties don’t appraise, titles surface surprises, buyers get cold feet, home inspections turn up literal skeletons in the closet, a sinkhole opens in the backyard, the neighbors start running around the street with lampshades on their heads. You just never know.

Accepting an offer is just the beginning.

Our buyers, a lovely, highly qualified couple, saw our home before Hurricane Irma hit, but wanted to wait until she blew through to make an offer.

That seemed reasonable.

Irma came through Florida all right. She huffed and she puffed and she blew some houses down, severely damaged others, and, on many, inflicted small amounts of weather damage, a missing roof tile here, a downed tree there. Some insults were so minor no one noticed them. At first.

The offer came in. We negotiated and accepted. And last week we had the home inspection.

“It would have been perfectly clean except for the storm damage,” my broker calls me at work to relay the news.

“Storm damage?” I shoot my colleague a like-I-said look.

“The inspector noticed that some water had seeped in beneath a window,” my agent said. Though the wall looked normal, when the inspector looked closer and used a moisture meter he detected wetness, right down to the floor.

“You’re kidding!” I feel the imaginary cord between my temples pull tug-a-war tight.

Fortunately, before everyone panicked, and before I chased downed a bottle of valium with a bottle of vodka, the home inspector and the buying and selling agents, who have seen this all before, went into calm-down mode.

“No house is built to withstand 100-mile-an-hour winds bringing driving rain into it sideways,” the inspector assured the prospective buyers and later us. This house is very well made, and the problem is an easy fix because we caught it early.”

Easy for him to say, I thought.

Our handyman said the same thing. “Pshaw,” he said, waving his hand as if batting construction dust. “We just remove the drywall and baseboards under the window, pull out the insulation, let everything dry out, put in new insulation, new drywall and baseboards, and it will look like new.”

I wonder if we have smelling salts.

While natural disasters can dampen a deal, if repairs are handled properly, promptly, and professionally, they rarely cause a deal to fail, say experts, said Frank Lesh, a veteran home inspector and executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

“As nervous as inspections make buyers and sellers, once you go through the house and show the client the issues and talk about them, they relax,” he said.

Drywall, insulation, baseboards, vodka. I got this.

Across town, the sellers of the house we are buying field similar inspection concerns from us. Being in the middle of this on both sides, I had some questions for Lesh:

  • How often does an inspection kill a deal? Seldom, said Lesh. Fewer than one in 50 deals go south as the result of an inspection report, he said. About 4 percent of houses that go under contract have “sale fail,” according to Trulia, but buyer financing and low appraisals are the most common reasons.
  • How can inspectors make or break deals? “Home inspectors are by nature fault finders,” he said. “They key is how they convey negative information.” Good ones put problems in perspective. They neither marginalize a big problem nor magnify a small one. They are frank, without being alarmist.
  • What if something happens to the home between inspection and closing? Most sales contracts require sellers to keep the house in the same condition it was the day of the inspection. So, if the roof blows off between the inspection and the closing, or the water heater springs a leak, the sellers need to fix it. Buyers have a chance on their final walk through to make sure everything is as promised.
  • Should you rely on your agent to choose your home inspector? If you trust your agent, start by getting his or her recommendation, said Lesh. “Although agents have a personal stake in making sure the deal closes, pointing you to a weak inspector would be very short sighted of them.” Also ask friends for recommendations, then check the inspector’s credentials to make sure he’s certified and experienced.
  • What is the biggest mistake clients make? They don’t show up. “You have to be at the inspection,” said Lesh. “Do not just say ‘send the report.’” On paper a small issue can seem huge, and a big issue may seem small. Another mistake clients make is not reading the report carefully.
  • What recourse do you have if the inspector misses something? Ask up front what the procedure is if the inspector misses a problem that owners discover after they move in. If that happens, first call the inspector and tell him. If the issue wasn’t mentioned in the report, most inspectors will offer to pay to have it fixed, or refund their inspection fee. If it’s a very expensive repair, buyers may have some recourse through the inspector’s errors and omissions insurance.
  • How can I get the most out of a home inspection? Listen and learn not only about your new home’s structural integrity and what needs to be fixed, but also about how to properly care for your investment so it lasts.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.

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