Property inspections have long been a part of the real estate buying process. Traditionally, a buyer would make an offer subject to a satisfactory home inspection. If something were found to be functioning poorly or not at all, the buyer would request that the seller make repairs and that request would be negotiated between the parties until they agreed on what was to be done.
As with everything else, there have been changes to the process over the years. There are now options for radon and lead paint inspections, and inspection of wells and septic systems that are more commonly found in outlying areas. Some jurisdictions specifically add mold, chimneys and environmental hazards to the list of possible inspections.
Now, when preparing an offer for a buyer, an agent will discuss how, when, which, or if inspections should be conducted, in what manner the process may differ in each jurisdiction, and how a buyer’s market or a seller’s market can affect the process. She will also caution the buyer to focus on systems that are malfunctioning and safety concerns rather than on cosmetic issues.
Sometimes a listing agent will advise a seller to have a home inspection before putting the house on the market to identify items in need of repair upfront. The seller can then make the repairs and provide the report and invoices for the work to the buyer. If no repairs will be made, the information about the condition of the home can be used to set its price or market it “as is.”
In D.C. and Montgomery County, for example, there are two types of home inspections, one where a buyer can choose between the ability to negotiate repairs with the seller and the opportunity to cancel the contract for any reason he is dissatisfied with the inspection, or both.
A general inspection in D.C. need not be conducted by a certified home inspector but can be carried out by the buyer’s brother-in-law, best friend, or anyone else the buyer chooses. An inspector in Maryland as well as in Virginia must be licensed and insured. Radon, lead and well/septic inspections are required to be conducted by professionals who specialize in those areas.
At this time, we are still experiencing a seller’s market in many portions of the metropolitan area, although condominium sales are slowing, with 1,160 of them available just in D.C. and nearly 300 of those on the market for more than 60 days.
That means that houses in sought-after areas in pristine condition will still command multiple offers. When that is the case, a seller is looking for an offer with as few contingencies as possible. A home inspection contingency of 7 to 10 days leaves the seller in limbo, holding her breath to see if the transaction will continue or the buyer will opt out, so you can understand why she would look more favorably on an offer that has no such contingency.
One of the ways around this is by doing a pre-offer inspection, also referred to as a “walk and talk.” With the seller’s permission, you go to the home with your inspector prior to making your offer to determine whether you want the house and how much you are willing to pay for it based on its condition.
A walk and talk inspection is often less invasive and less expensive than a traditional inspection. You will either get an abbreviated report or none at all, so it’s important to take notes and photographs while you’re there with your inspector. Having this type of inspection allows you to write an offer without an inspection contingency, increasing the value of your offer to the seller.
While I don’t recommend it, sometimes a buyer will opt to bypass an inspection altogether. For example, in new construction a buyer meets with the builder’s representative prior to settlement to check the physical condition of the property and make sure systems and appliances are working properly. Items of note are entered on a punch list for repair by the builder.
Other examples may include a condominium, where the roof, basement, and some of the major systems are the responsibility of management, and a cooperative, which often requires an inspection by the building manager. Items identified must be repaired by the seller prior to transferring ownership.
And a word of caution about quick flips: During sellers’ markets, everyone with a hammer and a screwdriver becomes a renovation expert. There may be a pig hiding behind that lipstick.
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202- 246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.