If you’ve ever bought or sold real estate, you’ve probably experienced a home inspection. If you’re considering your first home purchase, understanding the inspection process is a crucial stop along your path to home-ownership. Or, if you own property and somehow sidestepped a traditional inspection when you acquired it, knowing how to prepare for and successfully navigate through the inspection waters will be vitally important when you sell.
Whether you are a buyer, a seller, or real estate professional, home inspections can be stressful. They typically result in a second round of contract negotiations, sometimes even more emotional than the first. Inspections can rip a deal apart, shifting buyers back into house hunter mode and leaving sellers in the mire of having to put their property pack on the market. In order to avoid those worst-case scenarios, it’s important to understand the three key classifications to a home inspector’s findings: Maintenance Items, Safety Issues, and Major Defects.
Maintenance items, you would think, are pretty self-explanatory. This can include things like a tricky door lock, a broken window seal, or a missing gutter extension, just to name a few.
Buyers (especially first-timers), please take note: you are going to own a home soon. That comes with a lot of responsibility, including taking care of all kinds of little things that get wrapped into the “joys of home-ownership”. If you own an automobile, you have maintenance responsibilities such as changing the oil, keeping air in the tires, filling it with gas, and hopefully washing it every once in a while. Houses need maintenance too, though they typically pay you back in the form of appreciating value. No matter how much you love your car, it can’t do that. Maintenance items are normal, and when identified by a home inspector, consider putting them on your first to-do list once you move in.
Sellers, when maintenance items are brought to your attention, don’t take it personal. Again, maintenance is part of normal home ownership. Depending on what tasks arise from an inspection, you should consider tackling them as part of your regular duties while waiting for your sale to close. More importantly, if the fixes are cheap and easy, it may be smart to remedy them before they become one of our next classifications.
Safety issues can be scary. A broader definition, “serious safety deficiencies that immediately impact the life and/or health of future owners or occupants”, can definitely make you feel a little goose-bumpy. Whether you are a buyer or seller though, it’s important to remember that most fear comes from a lack of knowledge.
The absence of a proper ground-fault protected outlet near a sink or other water source can be dangerous; some people may not read warnings about listening to their plug-in boom box in the shower. An under-supported deck sounds, feels, and looks scary when an inspector recommends not to have more than a handful of people on it at any given time, especially while that recommendation is delivered while jumping up and down on it for the full “wobbly” effect. And environmental hazards, with all their disclosure requirements and government regulations, are often some of the scariest (and potentially deal-breaking) problems of all.
When confronted with these and other safety issues, remember that information is our friend. The opinion of a good contractor or subject matter expert can reveal solutions that remove the fear from the equation and maybe even shed light on an inexpensive remedy that resolves a problem altogether. Expenses are the determining issue of our next classification.
Material Defects, specifically “major” ones, are simply issues that cost a substantial amount of money to remedy. They may not be related to matters of maintenance or safety, but often are.
A roof covered in deteriorated shingles, even though it may not be leaking, could be considered a material defect. Older mechanical items, structural concerns, and even large, old trees, while not immediately unsafe or in need of maintenance, can greatly effect a property’s value, or more specifically, the pocket book of current or future homeowners. These issues can cost many thousands of dollars to remedy, an expense that no buyer or seller will want to bear.
The important thing to consider with material defects is that the value threshold to consider something a “major” problem is different for everyone. One person’s $500 problem can be more serious than another’s $5,000 issue. Or the customary percentage of a property’s value constituting a major material defect in one marketplace could be completely different from another – an inspection in Omaha will be completely different than one in Chicago, for example. You will find that the issues that arise during a home inspection often overlap in their classification, but this final idea of subjectivity really sums up most home inspection findings, regardless if they’re maintenance items, safety issues, or material defects. And that summary leads to the best logic on how to deal with a home inspection.
The best way to sail through and successfully deal with any home inspection is to hire, and listen to, a good Realtor®. Realtors® are the subject matter experts on how inspections affect real estate transactions, and they can guide you through the general give-and-take associated with them. They’ve often seen and already dealt with similar issues in the past. Realtors® can help you sensibly and objectively review inspection reports, and often know many other industry professionals and experts when you need to gather additional information before making a decision. If you don’t utilize the skills and advice of a Realtor®, in the very least try to follow one of the basic principles of the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics: “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them.”