It seems like everything is in place. Your offer has been accepted, the unit has been inspected, you’ve secured a mortgage and found insurance. You’re a few days from closing. All that’s left is transferring money for the down payment and a few other formalities before you actually close. Right? Yes and no.
You still need to do the pre-closing walkthrough, which is often pooh-poohed as an unnecessary formality. In fact, it’s quite a bit more than that. The basic idea is that either the day before or the day of closing, you go to the property and take one final look around. You want to make sure that what you’re buying is in its agreed-upon condition – and that nothing’s changed since it was inspected. Here are some suggestions on how to have a successful walkthrough.
Bring a camera. It’s overwhelmingly likely that there will be no issues when walking through the unit – but should something go wrong, you need to be prepared. If there’s unexpected damage or debris, you need to be able to document it and bring proof to the closing itself. Therefore, bring a camera.
The unit should be empty. Unless you agreed to purchase some of the previous owner’s furniture, there shouldn’t be anything in the unit when you do the walkthrough. This means it should be “broom-clean” – swept and with no debris and with nothing to be thrown out. You shouldn’t have to dispose of the previous owner’s junky furniture or old clothes or half-full cans of paint. Getting rid of these things can be a pain – and one you shouldn’t have to deal with.
Turn on all major appliances to double-check that they still work. Run the heat and the A/C. (Note that in cold weather, you may not be able to run the A/C without breaking it – so skip it in that situation.) While some people would argue that this step is overkill, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Yes, everything’s been inspected, but if you have any reason to think that something might have broken in the interim, check it out. Here’s a complete checklist of what to test.
Make sure that any agreed-to fixes have been made. During the inspection, if you found any major problems that needed to be addressed before closing, this is the time to double-check that they’ve really been fixed. So, for example, if the seller agreed to replace a faulty thermostat and replace a rotting windowsill, you need to check that these things have been replaced as stated. (And you should have previously gotten itemized receipts from the seller documenting the contractor’s work in making the fixes.)
A vacant unit looks a bit different. While this is more often an issue in a house, it still comes into play in a condo. Once bookshelves and rugs have been moved, you can see more of the unit. Perhaps a rug was hiding a hideous gash in the floor, or a bookshelf hid a mouse hole. If that’s the case, document it and ask for a credit so they can be repaired.
Storms can be important. If there was a large storm after the inspection, make sure you briefly look over the exterior of the building. Was there roof damage? Broken windows? If these problems are to common areas, it’s the Association’s responsibility to fix them… but make sure they have a plan in place and that the fixes won’t result in a special assessment. If you’re buying a unit that’s on the ground floor or basement, check for possible water seepage or leakage – buckets of rain have a way of exposing such problems.
Marks on the walls are nothing. When the seller removes his or her framed photos, there are going to be holes in the wall. This is common practice – the assumption is that you’ll repaint. So scuffs on the wall and other minor blemishes will not be up for negotiation.
If there is a major problem, or an adjustment that needs to be made, talk to your lawyer. Usually the problem will turn out to be less major that you think. And, most likely, you and the seller will be able to negotiate a credit. In serious cases, where something was promised but not completed (a new heating system, for example), you may negotiate a hold-back – or you may walk away from the deal. But before you do anything rash, consult with your lawyer.
Try to keep things in perspective. Buying a home can be stressful – and stress can make a minor problem feel like a major problem. But remember why you’re buying the unit in the first place. In the scheme of things, does a divot in the floor (previously hidden under the couch) and an incredible amount of junky old electronics left in a closet (that you’ll have to haul to the recycler) mean you should walk away from the deal? Of course not.
You love the place because it’s a good price, it’s in your dream neighborhood and it has the space you need. Issues that come up during a walkthrough are usually just inconveniences you’ll have to deal with. But that’s all they are: minor issues. So negotiate a credit, be glad you did the extra legwork, and then be done with it. And smile – you’re about to own you first condo!