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A final walk-through can be a buyer's best friend

December 11, 2009

Imagine this. You move into your new home for the first time after closing and, although you transferred the utilities into your name, the lights don't turn on. There isn't a single light bulb left in the house, the yard is overgrown and the leaky faucets the sellers were to have fixed still leak.

Most home buyers aren't faced with such an unpleasant surprise. You can gain some degree of control over the situation by completing a walk-through inspection of the property within five days of closing.

Your purchase contract should include a clause that grants the buyers permission to do a final walk-through inspection sometime close to the closing date. A final walk-through provides the buyers an opportunity to verify that the property is in substantially the same condition it was when the sellers accepted their offer. The walk-through is not a contingency of the contract that gives the buyers the right of approval or disapproval.

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Your purchase contract should require the sellers to maintain the property in its present condition until closing. So, if a window breaks before closing, the sellers would be responsible for fixing it, depending on the verbiage in the contract.

During the walk-through, the buyers can also confirm the completion of any work the seller agreed to do before closing. Ask the sellers to provide you copies of invoices for work done before closing. Keep these documents in your house file for future reference. If sellers made repairs themselves, they should provide an itemization of work completed that describes what they did.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: It's a good idea to have your real estate agent accompany you on the final walk-through and take notes as necessary. If the property isn't in the same condition it was when you agreed to buy it, put this in writing and have your real estate agent contact the sellers' agent to inform them of the items remaining to be done before closing.

Your purchase contract should include a provision for the sellers to deliver the property to the buyers free of personal property and debris, unless otherwise agreed to in writing. For example, the sellers might have agreed to leave the washer, dryer and refrigerator with the house, and the buyers accepted the offer. These items are usually considered personal property, unless they're built in. If the sellers moved these items out or the movers did by mistake, they would need to be returned by closing unless you make other arrangements with the sellers.

It can be very helpful if the sellers agree to do a walk-through with the buyers to show them things about the home that the buyers would have difficulty figuring out on their own, like the location of obscure light switches or how to operate retractable skylights. If something is disclosed about the property that should have been disclosed earlier, put it in writing. If it's something significant, talk to your real estate agent or attorney about how best to resolve the issue. Keep in mind that most real estate agents are not licensed to practice law. Also, seller disclosure laws vary by state.

Doing a final walk-through to verify the condition of your new home can be complicated if it's tenant-occupied. If you are buying a tenant-occupied property to live in, your contract should provide for the property to be vacant several days before closing.

THE CLOSING: That way you can walk through the property free of tenants' belongings before you close the deal.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years of experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."

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