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A Guide to Negotiating Repairs After a Home InspectionOctober 18th, 2022 by
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Getting a home inspection before purchasing a house is an absolute necessity. You’d probably be able to point out obvious issues in a house. But you likely don’t have the national residential building code memorized. And you certainly aren’t alone!
Few home buyers would know whether an electrical panel is out of code, or whether a staircase has the right handrail. That’s why we rely on home inspectors.
With that said, home inspectors aren’t magicians. They can’t see through walls and into the future. But they are your best resource for understanding the house you’re purchasing. Many home inspectors have a background in residential construction, so they’ve seen it all.
Home inspections usually happen during the two-week due diligence period. This due diligence period goes into effect after the buyer and seller have settled on a price but before the sale contract is final. Home inspectors check the structure and function of the house from roof to foundation and everything in between.
The cost of a home inspection varies somewhat depending on your area and any extra tests or services you request. You might want radon testing, mold testing, and well or water quality testing, for example. Remember that the cost of a home inspection is nominal compared to the expense of repairing a house with major problems you didn’t know about.
A house can hide a lot of secrets, but there are a few problems that home inspectors see often. Check them out below, and then scroll to the end for tips on negotiating repair costs with the seller.
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What Fixes Are Mandatory After a Home Inspection?
The short answer? Nothing. Really! The seller isn’t required to fix anything. But if they want to sell their house, they’ll need to. Here are some common inspection findings that sellers often address.
Air conditioning and heating issues
Outdated or incorrectly sized systems and lack of maintenance are common HVAC problems. Your inspector should be able to tell you the age of the existing system. To learn much more, you may need to schedule a separate inspection by an HVAC specialist.
New heating and air conditioning systems are expensive. As long as the existing system works, it’s unlikely that the seller will volunteer to replace it. An HVAC specialist can give you an idea of how much longer the unit will run as well as an estimate of the cost for replacement.
Faulty electrical wiring is a costly and dangerous problem. Your inspector will check the main electrical panel to make sure that it’s installed and grounded correctly. They’ll also check that the panel is the right size for the house.
Inspectors cannot open walls or damage the house in any way. If they notice any electrical problems, you’ll need to bring in an electrician. A licensed electrician will let you know how severe the issues are and how much it’ll take to fix them.
Toxic or dangerous materials
Mold and asbestos can have major health consequences, like asthma attacks, skin irritations, and even lung cancer. Mold is typically found in poorly ventilated areas, such as bathrooms and basements. Asbestos can be found in less obvious places, such as flooring, pipe insulation, and exterior cladding.
Your inspector may be able to conduct a mold test, but asbestos is a little trickier. Defer to your inspector’s advice on how to proceed. If the material is in good shape, you may not need to do anything. If the asbestos needs to be removed, your inspector can give you referrals for a contractor.
If the house you’re purchasing was built before 1978, it may have lead paint. Removing lead paint isn’t an easy process, and it can stir up a lot of toxic particulate matter. In many cases, it’s safer to know the lead paint is there, but leave it alone otherwise.
Inspectors often find evidence of destructive pests, such as rodents and termites, during a home inspection. Your inspector will note the damage these pests have caused and recommend a plan for getting rid of them and repairing the damage.
Unless your contract stipulates no conditions on the sale of the property, request that the sellers provide you with a termite bond. This means that the house has been inspected for termites and treated, if necessary. In most cases, the pest control company will return for additional treatments if you find termites after you buy the house.
Plumbing problems, especially in older homes, are a common find during a home inspection. Your inspector will look for evidence of leaks, signs of corroded pipes, and problems with water pressure levels.
During the inspection, either you or your inspector should test all faucets and toilets as well as the dishwasher. Also test the ice maker and the refrigerator’s in-door water and ice dispenser.
If the property you’re purchasing is on a septic system, request as much information as possible about the system from the current owners. They should be able to tell you when the system was last serviced, at the very least. Your inspector may be able to test the system to make sure it’s working, but ask about this service before the inspection appointment.
Roof or attic work
Some home inspectors get up on the roof, and some don’t. Most will at least stand on a ladder to get a better (and closer) view of the shingles and the roof’s condition. If the existing roof is a couple of decades old, your inspector will be able to give you an estimate of how soon you’ll need to replace it.
Your inspector will also look around the attic to check for roof leaks, pest damage, and bad insulation.
Missing shingles, rotting spots on fascia boards, and poor ventilation are all common problems. These issues don’t have to be deal breakers, but do ask your inspector to explain the severity of the problem.
Lastly, your home inspector will ensure that the house is structurally sound. Cracks in the foundation, decks that are not up to code, and problems with footings can have huge consequences.
Structural problems are expensive to fix, but if you love the house, this is a point where you may have some leverage over the seller. Home inspectors usually don’t miss major issues. If you back out of the contract because of a foundation problem, any subsequent buyers are likely to follow suit. If the current owners want to sell the house, they will need pay for structural repairs.
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How to Negotiate After a Home Inspection
Once you get the inspection report, review it with your real estate agent and form a plan to negotiate repairs or concessions.
Be very clear with your real estate agent about the outcome you want, and then leave the finer points of the negotiation to him or her. It’s easy to get attached to a house, both for sellers and buyers, and your agent will be able to keep a clearer head. Above all, don’t lose sight of the fact that there are real people on either side of the contract.
In many cases, sellers don’t want to pay to repair a home that they are leaving. Chances are high that they have already spent money upgrading the home in other areas. The current owners may also be selling their home for financial reasons. In these cases, they may not have any funds available to pay for repairs.
On the other hand, buyers often don’t want to pay for additional work on a home that is new to them. They typically want a “move-in ready” property.
As the buyer, you can work with your agent to stipulate the repairs you want the seller to make. Another option is to request a credit in the sale to cover the cost of an update or repair.
Your agent will present these contract additions to the seller’s agent. The seller will either accept all or some of the conditions or refuse all the conditions.
Six Dos and Don’ts for Negotiating After a Home Inspection
1. Do know when to ask for repairs.
Ask the seller to address major problems. These can be issues like structural defects, damaged flooring, or dead trees near the house.
Remember that you will not have control over who does the work. If that detail is important to you, consider requesting a credit instead.
2. Do know when to ask for credit.
Ask for credit if you want to control who does the repair work or if the repair is not a complete deal breaker. If the carpet in the living room needs to be replaced because of pet stains and odors, for example, ask for a credit. If you know that the seller has moved out of state, consider requesting a credit for any repairs. Arranging contractors can be difficult from a distance.
3. Do know when to walk away.
There are a couple cases where you need to walk away and keep looking:
- The inspector finds something truly dangerous in the house that requires significant money and time to address.
- The sellers have stated that they will not consider any sale conditions or requests for repairs and/or credits.
4. Do know the difference between fixes and upgrades.
A repair or a fix is something that must be done for reasons of safety or proper function. In most cases, a seller will not agree to pay for a repair unless the need for that repair is documented in the home inspection report.
An upgrade, on the other hand, is typically a question of preference or aesthetics. As a buyer, you can certainly ask for a credit to accommodate upgrades. However, unless the seller has the money and agrees with you that the upgrade is necessary, you likely won’t get your wish.
5. Don’t get caught up in negotiating small fixes.
Minor defects and cosmetic issues can be frustrating, but they shouldn’t derail the negotiation. Walls can be painted. Functioning appliances are better than no (or broken) appliances.
Try your best to focus on the bigger picture: the house as a whole and whether it’s safe and structurally sound.
6. Don’t expect to get everything.
The goal of a real estate negotiation is that neither the buyer nor the seller feels taken advantage of. Know that the seller may not agree to everything on your list of requests.
Focus on the major repairs. Remember that if you aren’t happy with the results of the negotiation, you can always back out of the contract.
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The Bottom Line
Buying a house is exciting, but the entire process has its ups and downs. No house is perfect. Before the paperwork is final and you’re given the keys to your new place, you’ll probably work through a couple of rounds of negotiations with the seller.
Keep the following points in mind as you submit that first offer:
- Don’t skip the home inspection.
- Make sure your real estate agent understands the repairs you’d like the sellers to make and the outcome you want.
- Know the difference between necessary repairs and nice-to-have upgrades.
- Know your limits. Think through where you’re willing to compromise and what will make you back out and continue your search.