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Negotiating Home Repairs with a Seller

Buying a home is rarely a simple and entirely stress-free process, and one piece of the process that potential buyers agonize over is the home inspection.

Unless a buyer is agreeing to buy a home “as-is,” many will want to have a home inspection completed prior to making an offer.

It’s up to you and your real estate agent to decide which repairs to push for and how to get them done. This article will provide advice on how to go about this process.

Getting the Home Inspected

If you choose to have a home inspection in your offer to purchase as a contingency, you will choose. a qualified home inspector who will be approved by the state and serve as a third party. There are some inspectors who will do a pre-offer “consultation” and provide you with verbal information on the home. In this case, you will likely be using that for your own peace of mind, and not for negotiation. If you opt for the more traditional home inspection, which is done after your offer to purchase is accepted, the inspector will provide an impartial report of the home’s condition. No matter what kind of home it is, you can expect the inspector to provide a laundry list of recommended repairs to be made. If it’s a newer home, the list may be shorter. If it’s an older home, there will likely be hundreds of issues that the inspector brings to light. Some of these will be as harmless as loose cabinet knobs in the bathroom, but some may be more serious structural issues.

Should you be worried?

There are certain problems that shouldn’t be overlooked when buying a home. A failing foundation, weak walls or any other kind of structural damage, for example, should be addressed before you make any commitments. Roof problems can also be serious and expensive to fix. Other major repairs that you want to look out for include electrical, plumbing and HVAC issues.

Most other, less serious repairs that show up in the inspector’s report can be best to leave alone and fix yourself once the home is yours. This includes any cosmetic fixes, such as paint defects, stained flooring, holes in the wall and cracked tiles. It also includes any repair that would cost less than $250. It’s better to handle these types of repairs yourself rather than annoy the seller by adding to the overall repair costs.

Negotiating the Costs

Once you’ve determined which defects are of the most concern to you,, you’ll be ready to work out the details with the seller. Negotiating the price of the repairs and how the repairs will be done is just as important as the inspection itself. Buyers typically have three options in this regard:

  1. Ask the seller to have the repairs done before closing.

  2. Ask for a closing credit for the cost of the repairs.

  3. Ask the seller to deduct the repair costs from the sale price.

I rarely recommend that buyers go for option 1 because they will have no control over the quality of the work that is done. If you do go down that road, though, make sure your agent is exceedingly specific in how the punch-list item is incorporated into the Purchase & Sale Agreement. For example: “seller agrees to fix roof” can yield very different results than “Seller will have a qualified and licensed roofer of buyer’s choice make all necessary repairs noted in the inspection report. This will be done at seller’s cost and prior to closing”.

Option 2 is often ideal for both parties, because the seller can move on with their life and you can ensure the repairs are done to your satisfaction. For this option, you should have contractors or specialists give you an estimate for the work that needs to be done, and receive that amount in a credit at closing. This gives you cash on hand that you have effectively mortgaged. Think of it as a personal loan from the bank at 4% instead of 18%.

Option 3 can also work for buyers, but you generally want to opt for this only if you have the money to make the repairs yourself. If you’re going to have a $10,000 roof project, it’s usually best not to use the “deduct from sales price” approach.

Nonetheless, either way you go, you want to make sure you’re not getting the short end of the stick. Negotiating repairs with the seller is paramount when buying a home. Be sure to have the home inspected so that you can determine which repairs the seller should cover and which they shouldn’t, and then work out the best way to have the repairs done. Taking care to do this process the right way can save you a lot of time, money and stress.

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