Final walk-through wise step for buyer

Check: Home purchasers can save a lot of trouble and money with that last careful look before settlement.

March 24, 2002|By Amelia Cleary | Amelia Cleary,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

This wasn't the first house Susan Duroeulx had ever purchased, but it was going to be the one she paid the most attention to.

At the small two-bedroom townhouse in the Anne Arundel County planned community of Russett, Duroeulx and her real estate agent, Scott Kapinos of Re/Max Advantage Realty, started their final inspection of the property - what most people commonly refer to as "the walk-through."

She looked at the sliding front window. Was it still getting stuck on an improperly placed screw? As a single woman, separated and going through a divorce, she was particularly concerned about safety.

Then there was the basement furnace. It was filthy when they first walked through the home, and they wanted it serviced by the seller. Making sure sellers abide by their contractual promises is a matter for Kapinos. In this case, the sellers did a fine job.

And there was the question of the siding at the back of the home that had been warped by heat from an outdoor grill. For that problem, the sellers agreed to place $400 in an escrow account until new siding could be installed.

"I've learned my lessons in life a little," said Duroeulx, who, when married, lived in a 5,000-square- foot home in Friendship. "I probably fell in love with that [first] house, which is the wrong thing to do. Houses are investments. They are nothing more. And I did fall in love with that first house, which was a mistake, so I vowed I would not do that again.

"I'm not a first-time homebuyer, and I'm not even a twenty-something. [But] I'm a little bit tougher in that I am going to say, `I want that done.' And if they don't agree to it, well, then this wasn't the house for me."

But this house was for her, and after spending about an hour making one last inspection, she was ready to go to settlement and take possession of the home.

For the buyer of a new or existing home, the final walk-through might be one of the most important aspects of completing the deal to purchase a home. The best advice is to go slow and examine everything, because typically it will be the last chance to negotiate with the seller before the keys change hands.

"You should never waive the right to a walk-through," said Pat Hiban, also of Re/Max Advantage Realty.

When the owners of a house move out as the buyer gets ready to move in, the final walk-through can expose blemishes hidden under sofas or dents to walls made by movers or scratches made to hardwood floors and walls. A final walk-through can also assure the buyer that items the seller agreed not to take from the house remain with the house.

Hiban says that if the owners of the house haven't moved out, the best thing to do, if possible, is push back the settlement date to give them more time to vacate the home. He suggests looking at the home several times: when you first see the home, about 10 days later with a home inspector and then the final walk-through.

The multiple approach

Joaquin Urbina bought his first home in Jessup about three months ago. The house was 20 years old. He did two or three walk-throughs, with the house furnished and unfurnished, and thinks it went relatively well, though problems were discovered on the final walk-through.

"I think multiple walk-throughs are very important," he said.

He suggests doing several walk-throughs, at different times of the day.

When he and his wife originally looked at the house at night, it was furnished and the lighting wasn't good. On the final walk-through, in the daytime, they saw a nicked wall, white paint jobs that didn't match and a water stain on the family-room wall. "If I were [picky], I could have broken the contract," he said, "but sometimes you have to bite the bullet."

According to Marc Witman of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., "good condition" does not mean that the house has to be cosmetically perfect. The house should be "broom clean," which doesn't mean that a professional cleaning service has to come and make the house sparkle. It means no trash should be lying about.

Donnell Spivey of Re/Max Columbia says the main thing to look for on a final walk-through is that the house is in the same condition as when the buyer first saw it, and that means checking to see that all appliances and utilities work.

Said Witman: "You want to go into the house and turn everything on - stove, oven, run water in every faucet, flush toilets, check hot water."

In examining the structure, look for cracks or water marks in the foundation. Look for an unevenly painted ceiling or wall, a mildew odor in the basement or signs of replastering, all evidence of water damage.

When checking the water pressure, flush the toilet while both the hot and cold faucets are running.

When Urbina had his home inspection, the house was found to need a new roof. An addendum to the contract was made, requiring $3,000 from the seller for the repairs. It wasn't an easy agreement to reach, but Urbina gave the seller an ultimatum. In the end, the roof cost $2,400, and Urbina was left with $600 for small repairs.

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