Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Without the cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, the American Thanksgiving dinner would be largely a beige and taupe affair: safe, comforting and familiar, just like your home should be.
But what if, instead of the dinner, the turkey is actually the home you’re serving it in?
I recently wrote an offer for a client where we competed against 22 other people for a D.C. rowhouse. Another client had to write offers on three different places this fall before beating off hoards of other buyers for his new home.
So what was one of the determining factors the sellers focused on in choosing who would win the housing hunger games? The lack of a home inspection contingency in an offer.
Great! The buyer gets a home he knows nothing about and the seller gets the future liability for a problem he wasn’t aware of. Seriously, folks, who decided that this was a good idea?
There is no such thing as a flawless home. Even if you are buying a new home or a meticulously renovated one you don’t really know whether it has fewer problems than the one advertised as a fixer-upper or an “as is” estate sale.
Faulty wiring, leaky pipes and wet basements are just some of the complaints I’ve heard from people who bought their homes between 2003 and 2007 when inspections were thrown, like caution, to the wind. Liability has also been a problem for sellers as buyers try to determine what sellers must have known or should have disclosed. And here we are; it’s déjà vu all over again.
So what are some ways to keep the turkeys from gobbling up your savings?
First, read any property condition disclosures provided by the seller carefully and review them with your agent. Ask questions if there is information that is incomplete or unclear, or if you notice something about the home that concerns you but isn’t mentioned on the disclosure forms.
For the best protection, your offer should contain a home inspection contingency with the right to negotiate the outcome or run screaming from the property if the situation warrants. At minimum, include a “take it or leave it” inspection contingency, where you have the right to inspect and reject the property, but no authority to ask the seller to make any repairs.
Alternatively, some sellers may allow a pre-offer inspection, where you may inspect a home prior to submitting an offer. You may balk at the idea of spending money to inspect a house you may never buy, but spending several hundred dollars now could save you thousands of dollars later.
I have also seen clients bring or invite a home inspector to an open house. While this tactic limits one to a quick look and nothing invasive, a seasoned inspector may identify a problem with merely a jaundiced eye and a sniff of the premises.
Home warranty programs generally cover repairs to heating, central air conditioning, plumbing, electrical items and appliances and can be purchased in one-year increments. Sellers who offer them upfront give buyers some additional peace of mind and may also be able to use them themselves if covered items should need repair or replacement before settlement.
Whatever protections you are able to avail yourself of in advance, remember to budget for the future by taking a cue from a document created for most condominiums: the reserve study, which monitors the budget and timing for replacement of major items.
You can estimate funds to hold in reserve for replacing an appliance or fixture by searching the web to determine its useful life and replacement cost. Now double it and set that money aside.
What else can you do?
Buy an annual maintenance contract for specific items, such as furnaces and air conditioning systems. Having these professionals inspect and tweak major systems throughout the year helps to keep them in top shape and prolong their lives.
Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for how you use, clean and care for your appliances and systems so as not to void any warranties they offer.
Sign up for websites such as Angie’s List and others that offer discounts on home repairs and maintenance and check your neighborhood listserv for contractor recommendations.
And if you’re the lucky one whose house is more turnkey than turkey, just give thanks and pass the mashed potatoes.
Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or Valerie@DCHomeQuest.com. Prudential PenFed Realty is an independently owned and operated broker member of BRER Affiliates, Inc. Prudential, the Prudential logo and the Rock symbol are registered service marks of Prudential Financial, Inc. and its related entities, registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Used under license with no other affiliation with Prudential. Equal Housing Opportunity.