Even after your offer is accepted, there are several steps before you actually own the condo. One of those steps is the home inspection. It’s something you arrange and it’s often treated as perfunctory or unimportant. In fact, though, the process should be taken seriously. Here are some tips and guidelines.
What is a home inspection? Your offer was made and accepted on good faith. You really liked the place and, to your eye, the walls looked good, the ceiling looked good, and you assumed that the appliances worked and the heating system was functional. But you’re not in the building maintenance business – you don’t actually know that everything is as it should be. Before you fork over your money, you need a professional to check all the appliances, the wiring, the utilities, the foundation, ceiling, roof, floors, and so on, to make sure they’re in the condition they should be in. This is why you hire a home inspector.
Make sure your inspector knows what he or she is doing. Much like with contractors, there’s a large range of competency and quality among home inspectors. Make sure your inspector is licensed and make sure he or she has good reviews and ratings online. Your purchase of the condo will be based in part on this person’s assurance that nothing is wrong. So, make sure the inspector knows what he or she is doing.
Expect a lot of information quickly. The inspection will usually take around an hour to an hour and a half. The inspector will be examining the exterior of the building, and then, on the inside, turning on every faucet and light, opening every cabinet door, checking everything there is to check, and making notations on whether they work as they should. The inspector will work quickly – he or she has done this hundreds of times before and knows the ins and outs. To you, the process may be overwhelming.
If you have questions about the place that you wanted addressed specifically, have them written down and be ready to ask them. Also, if there’s something you don’t know – like how a heating system works, and how you should operate the one you’re about to buy – go ahead and get instructions from the inspector. He or she will know.
At the end of the process, you will get a written report. The report will include a checklist of all that was tested, along with written explanations of anything that didn’t work. Before the inspector leaves, review the report and make sure that everything is consistent with what the inspector told you verbally – this written report is your evidence that the condo was reviewed and (possibly) that there are problems with it.
You’ve got the report, now what? As described by the Chicagoland Chapter of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, the report will have four things worth taking very seriously:
- A listing of major defects (such as a structural failure)
- Problems that can eventually devolve into major defects
- Problems that could prevent you from being able to insure your home, obtain financing or occupy your home
- Safety hazards, such as exposed electrical wires.
Sometimes, these problems can be addressed easily – if, for example, the place doesn’t have functioning smoke alarms, that’s a safety hazard, but simple to remedy. Or, if your heater sweats in a way that causes water damage on the floor below, this may not be a big problem. Yes, if unaddressed, the problem could eventually cause molding and serious damage – but you’ll address it.
On the other hand, if the inspector finds that the building’s foundation is leaning, or that it has termites… well, that’s another issue. These types of problems are serious enough that you should consider cancelling the purchase – you don’t want to buy into a structurally unstable building or an uninsurable unit.
If your inspection turned up no major issues, that’s great. But the process and paperwork are still important. All minor problems will also be documented. When you’re negotiating the final sale, you can get what’s called a credit for all minor problems that need to be corrected. Let’s say, for example, that the oven doesn’t work. For whatever reason, the previous tenant never cooked and didn’t care about it. But you want a unit with a functioning oven. You may be able to negotiate $650 or so (the price of a cheap-but-functional range plus installation) off the price of the condo, because it’s reasonable for you to expect the oven to work, and you’ll need to have it replaced.
When negotiating credits, keep things in perspective. Problems like a non-functional oven, rotting windowsills or a broken central A/C unquestionably need to be either replaced or credited before you purchase. Problems like a door handle that locks up occasionally, missing window screens, and a missing garage door clicker are borderline – expect to argue about whether these really need to be fixed, if you take them up at all. And, then, problems like a ragged carpet, or merely old appliances or nail holes from hung artwork? Those come with the purchase and won’t be up for negotiation.
A lot of people find the home inspection process stressful. This is natural: you’re trusting someone you barely know to assure you that your dream condo is in good shape. But if you take a few deep breaths and follow the steps above, you’ll come out of the process with peace of mind. A thorough inspection gives you comfort and confidence in your final decision, whether you end up purchasing or walking away from the deal.