In asking for repairs, buyer should be precise

Inspector's Eye

August 04, 2002|By Dean Uhler

The home inspection can be an important part of the buying process. Inspections for homebuyers are therefore typically performed soon after a contract of sale has been ratified - signed by the buyer and the seller.

Remember, the purpose of the inspection is to inform the buyer about the condition of the property and, often, to help educate the buyer about systems and components in the house.

With respect to the condition of the property, the contract of sale frequently gives the homebuyer the right to request repairs of significant defects identified during an inspection of the property, and to withdraw from the contract if the seller declines to make those repairs. The home inspection report provides the basis for the buyer's request for repairs under the contract of sale.

Repairs are negotiable

A misconception sometimes encountered during home inspections is that the home inspector will dictate what repairs the seller is required to make. The determination of what repairs will be made by the seller is negotiated between the buyer and seller. If real estate agents are representing the buyer and seller, the agents will facilitate the negotiation.

The home inspector's expertise is in evaluating the condition of the property and not in evaluating the contract and the bargaining positions of the parties. The inspector is not usually involved in negotiation over repairs, other than perhaps to clarify or elaborate on parts of the inspection report if asked to do so.

The negotiations between homebuyers and sellers over requested repairs begin within several days of the home inspection. The contract of sale specifies the time period.

The negotiation is initiated when the buyer submits to the seller a written request for repairs. This may be phrased as a "release of the home inspection contingency, subject to the following repairs ..."

Proper wording of the request for repairs can be important to ensure that repairs are made completely and competently. An important consideration in wording a request for repairs is that the severity and scope of a defect identified during a home inspection are often not known.

A home inspector's job is to systematically check a large number of systems and components in a house and identify those that are defective (that is, do not appear to be reliably performing as intended). Some of the defective conditions identified can be fully diagnosed and a specific repair can be recommended on the spot, but many cannot.

Precise wording needed

The inspection is not technically exhaustive, and even knowledgeable and thorough inspectors are often unable to determine the exact scope of necessary repairs. For this reason, a narrowly worded request for repair of a defect, without a request for further evaluation of the system containing the defect, can result in the homebuyer's taking possession of the property without the completion of a repair.

The homebuyer's interest can be better protected by specifically requesting expert evaluation of the system in which the defect was found and "repairs as needed."

A qualified contractor that installs or repairs the relevant system, or some other expert in the field, will have more time, more specific expertise and the ability to perform an evaluation more exhaustive than the home inspector's.

Thus, language requesting "further evaluation by a qualified contractor or other expert, and repair as needed" is advisable for each significant defect for which a repair is requested of the seller.

An example is a fireplace flue damper that is jammed shut and cannot be opened. In many cases, a simple request for repair stating "repair the stuck flue damper" will prove to be sufficient. The damper gets repaired and everything is fine.

However, if another, related problem exists but cannot be discovered until the damper is repaired and opened, the simple request to repair the damper would probably not result in repair of the other condition. A request for "evaluation of the fireplace by a qualified sweep, repair of the jammed flue damper, and other repair as needed" would place repair of the related problem within the scope of the request.

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