When I was buying my first house, everything seemed too good to be trueâat least at the start of the process. I found a home within a couple of weeks, the price was fabulously low, it was in a cute lake community with a style I loved, and funding came through quickly and easily. I even received a first-time home buyerâs bonus for tax time. Plus, I didnât need much of a down payment.
But it turned out too good to be true. My smooth path to homeownership suddenly became rocky when the inspection report came back with a big fat failure on it. I immediately panicked. What did it mean? Was I still able to buy the house? And if I did, was it going to fall apart?
After a few calls with my real estate agent (who, at that point, had become more of a home-buying therapist), I learned that a bad inspection isnât that rare. In fact, my new home wasnât in as bad of shape as I initially feared. We were able to make some repairs and, after a second inspection, the house was appraised and the sale was able to go through.
During the process, though, I learned a lot more than I ever expected about home inspections. Whether you’re a first-time or repeat home buyer, hereâs my advice for getting the house you want after a shaky home inspection.
Houses don’t really pass or fail
Though my home inspection appeared to be a failure, homes aren’t actually graded on a pass/fail system.
âThere is no such thing as a failed inspection,â said Karen Kostiw, an agent with Warburg Realty in New York. âThe inspection just points out small and potentially larger issues that you may not be aware of.â
Sure, some houses can sail through the process and others may fare poorly, but itâs not a âYou can never buy thisâ situation if there are problems with the property.
For me, my mortgage hinged on a solid inspectionâso the initial results meant I wouldnât get the loan unless things were fixed. That being said, if I had enough cash on hand or wanted to try a different mortgage lender, I could have continued with the purchase even with a negative inspection report.
So if the house you’re set on buying ends up having issues, donât panic. You still have options.
Most inspection issues are small
Itâs important to remember every home inspection report will come back with something, according to Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in Boston. My inspection report had noted about 40 fixes. But a lot of times, the problems arenât as bad as you think.
Keep in mind that the inspector’s job is to call out any trouble spot. Also, all issues noted in the report aren’t equal: Some problems flagged by an inspector can wait.
âThe inspector will find defectsâsometimes many defectsâbut that does not mean buyers are not purchasing a good home,â Kostiw says. âThe small leak might mean a bolt needs to be tightened, or the dishwasher is not working because the waterline was switched off by accident. These are easy fixes. However, when buyers see a laundry list of items, it can seem as if the home is falling down. This is most often not the case.â
Red flags do exist
Ziegler and Kostiw agree that though most repairs are easy fixes, some items should give you pause if you see them on your report.
Structural problems, antique electrical systems, old windows, unexplained water damage, evidence of termites or wood rot, a bad roof, asbestos, mold, radon, and lead paint are all red flags that can show up during a home inspection. If fixing these problems is impossible or way beyond the means your budget, you may want to reconsider your purchase.
âWhether or not inspection items warrant backing out entirely depends quite a bit on any individual buyer’s experience and bandwidth, as well as personal risk tolerances and financial situation,â Ziegler says. âIt’s true that houses don’t stay in good repair on their own. They require maintenance and care, just like your houseplants and your sourdough starter!â
Donât try to fix things yourself
Unless a repair is something truly minor like caulking a bathroom tub or putting a cabinet door back on its hinges, donât try to fix anything on your own. You could make things worse or even injure yourself. Hire licensed contractors that youâve vetted to handle any problems. And try not to leave it all up to the sellerâthey’re not going to be living in the home. You will be.
âMotivations in this case are not aligned,â Ziegler says. âThe seller wants to spend as little as possible to meet their contractual obligations, but [a] buyer should be more concerned with the quality of the repair.â
Work the costs into the sale
At first I worried I would have to pay to fix everything that was wrong with my house. But itâs important to know you can work the cost of repairsâand how long it should take to make themâinto the sale.
Say you can’t afford to fix the busted water heater but the seller can. You can raise the offer price by that cost, or you can trade off: The seller fixes one thing, and you fix another. In my case, I only had to add a banister to one stairwell. The sellers were particularly motivated to unload the home so they handled everything else.
Hopefully by the end of this process, every issue will be fixed and youâll be ready to purchase your home. And youâll be able to move in with a clear head, knowing everything is really as good as it seems.
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