There is no question that purchasing a home can test even the most seasoned real estate buyers. Many things can happen and plenty of time passes from the first tour to the final handing over of keys. Depending on the market, the process can last anywhere from just over a month to the national average of 68 days or beyond. Considering the potential costs—and headaches—that can occur, the buyer's last inspection before purchasing a new home is one of the most important steps they will take.
Routinely, the most crucial moment at the end of the process is the final walkthrough, which should be completed one business day ahead of the final closing date. A buyer should approach the pre-close inspection, the last chance to spot and resolve any issues, with a critical eye and little emotion. After all, no one wants expensive, unforeseen repairs during the first few weeks in their new home.
With that in mind, here are five things every homebuyer must look for and be prepared to address on their final walkthrough.
Verify All Repairs
Home inspections are a key element in assessing the overall condition of a house. They ensure that deficiencies or safety concerns are identified and fixed while the seller can still be held responsible. Negotiated repairs should not only be completed in a timely manner but include all receipts or proof of completion before the buyer's final walkthrough.
A prudent buyer and their agent (and, in certain situations, a licensed contractor) must inspect every negotiated repair. If something is amiss, the buyer should speak up and enforce the agreed-upon remedies.
Look Out for Leftovers
It's become commonplace for sellers to leave behind small touch-up items, like paint or additional floor or backsplash tiles. Most buyers accept these little extras in stride. If, however, the leftovers exceed a cursory can of paint—furniture, appliances or electronics—it’s the seller’s responsibility to have it removed, and the buyer is within their rights to demand it. Unless otherwise noted in the agreement, the seller should always empty the house prior to closing.
Assess the Home’s Cleanliness and Condition
As far as actual cleanliness, it’s common for a seller to give a house a once-over cleaning—sweep or vacuum the floors and wipe down counters and wet areas. Some contracts may even note the level of tidiness required, but this is not always the case.
Unless an explicit condition of the purchase, a buyer should not expect an immaculately clean home. Conversely, a buyer shouldn’t have to walk into a dumpster. As long as there has been no blatant disregard for the home's condition, the expectation is that the seller leaves it in good shape and the buyer accepts it as is. Regardless of how clean the house actually is, it is always a good idea for the buyer to coordinate their own cleaning after taking possession.
Damage, however, is different. If any occurs during the time period following the original purchase agreement (from the seller moving out, for example), the buyer should exercise their rights to have the issues addressed, even if it means delaying the deal or placing it on hold.
It's important to note that cleanliness and condition also extend to a home’s exterior. If the landscaping or physical aspects of the facade are in poor shape, the buyer needs to seek the appropriate remedy.
An often misunderstood part of the home buying process is personal property. The definition includes anything that is not affixed to the house or is not a permanent part of the structure: appliances, patio furniture, a grill, a backyard playground set and the like. Lighting and fixtures are not considered personal property.
A separate personal property addendum is typically added to the purchase agreement to account for any items remaining with the house. A buyer should have this list during the final walkthrough to verify that the seller has adhered to the contract.
As a general rule, if personal property is left behind without the buyer's consent, it is the seller's responsibility to remove it. If something is missing that was agreed upon to remain with the house, the buyer can seek a concession for that item.
Finally, check everything. The lights, faucets, toilets, HVAC system, windows, remaining appliances—basically everything that has an on/off switch and a few things that don’t. This final step in the walkthrough is not meant to find minor problems, like a burnt-out lightbulb. Instead, the intention is to ensure there are no last-minute repairs that could prove costly to the homebuyer. Think a shorted light, leaky faucet or HVAC unit that doesn’t kick on.
Sure, the initial inspection should have caught most issues, but things can be missed. In addition, a lot of time can pass from the home inspection to the final walkthrough, in some cases a month or more. Overlooking the final walkthrough is an unnecessary risk for the homebuyer.
One obstacle that can prevent a buyer from determining whether everything works is when the house has no electricity. If the utilities are shut off, a buyer can request they be turned on to complete a proper walkthrough. To avoid delays, it’s best to make sure they are on in advance.
Delays are the last thing anyone wants. It’s important though that a buyer protects their rights and future investment. Thankfully, there are a handful of remedies that can be explored to address any last-minute headaches.
Delay the Closing
A delay is the most common method used when addressing issues discovered at a final inspection. Although anyone on the purchaser's side can step in, it’s most often the attorney, lender or title company who can place the process on hold until the problems are resolved.
Most often utilized for small-scale concerns, seeking a concession from the seller can provide a remedy and keep the closing date on track. An example could include pest control that was scheduled to occur but never did. A seller could pay an amount equivalent to the service in question. This is also common in the case of minor repairs (anything less than $100–$200).
A third remedy involves keeping a portion of a seller’s proceeds in escrow until they remedy the respective problem. This tactic usually occurs from an oversight or neglect of a larger concern. These issues can include significant repairs left unaddressed, malfunctioning appliances or comfort systems, or damage to the home between negotiations and walkthrough. Escrow may also play a role in cases where an agreed-upon repair is delayed due to unforeseen circumstances (weather or contractor delays, for example).
A Final Chance to Get It Right
It's easy to get excited about a new home purchase. After a lengthy search and negotiation process, it's understandable to want to rush everything through to closing. Even with that fervor, it’s vital to take a pragmatic approach and understand what’s at stake. The final walkthrough is meant to protect the buyer and ensure the house they viewed and negotiated for is the actual house they are moving into.
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