By Robert Irwin
Home sellers across the country are almost always faced with buyers' demands for a professional inspection of their home. Many sellers resent this. They feel their home is their castle and they don't like the idea of someone poking around in it. Further, an inspector might turn up something that would cause the buyers to reduce their price, or even back out of the deal. So, why should a seller allow a professional home inspection?
In reality, I don't know of any laws that require professional home inspections. Rather, the demand for it by buyers has come about because of abuses that have taken place in the past. Years ago sellers might plaster over cracks in walls and foundations that could indicate structural damage. They might paint over telltale signs of water damage in basements. They would only show the home in the summer dry season when leaks in the roof weren't evident. In short, the game was "caveat emptor," let the buyer beware.
However, as prices on properties skyrocketed over the past 25 years or so, buyers began to hit back. Their argument was that a property with an undisclosed defect wasn't worth the full price they were paying. Rather, it was worth less. They sued sellers and agents over this and the resulting litigation led to disclosure requirements for sellers' and buyers' inspections by professionals to help assess a property's true condition.
DON'T FRET ABOUT INSPECTIONS
Whether you are selling through an agent or by owner, the buyers will want a professional inspection of their home. This is actually to your advantage. (If the buyers don't request an inspection, I suggest you insist they have one!)
The reason is your liability for an unknown defect. If buyers hire and pay for their own professional inspector to come in and check over the property and he or she doesn't find anything, it's much harder for that buyer to later come back after the sale and say that there was a defect that makes the property worth less (and demand that you pay to have it fixed, pay damages, or take the property back). You can always say, "If your inspector didn't find it, how should I know about it?"
Of course, inspectors generally only can see accessible areas, which is very limiting. And having an inspection does not relieve the sellers of disclosing any known defects. Nevertheless, a professional inspection goes a long way toward helping to protect you, the seller.
Beware of buyers who use an inspection to try to force you to lower your price. Sometimes an inspection will reveal a few cracks in the foundation or perhaps a few leaks in the roof. Suddenly, the buyers want you to lower your price tens of thousands of dollars to compensate them for these defects.
Don't panic. Call in an engineer to assess the cracks, a roofer to check it out. It might turn out to be nothing, or at the most, something that can be repaired for a few hundred dollars. Sometimes you can fix it yourself, or give the buyer a sum of money to cover repairing it after the sale.
What you need to be wary of are buyers who aren't really interested in getting the problem fixed, but who just want to use it as a wedge to get you take a huge chunk out of your price. Sometimes it's better to find a better buyer.
Robert Irwin is the most prolific real estate writer in America having produced over 100 published books in the field. His TIPS & TRAPS McGraw-Hill series has sold well over a million copies and his FOR SALE BY OWNER KIT and FIND IT, BUY IT, FIX IT and other books have been strong sellers for Dearborn.
In addition Irwin writes a regular real estate column for The Wall Street Journal online and is introducing a new weekly column for Owners.com.
Irwin has sold his own property "by owner" and during over 30 years in the business has been a broker and consultant to lenders, agents, buyers and sellers.