After months of negotiation and waiting, we had a closing date for our house. All that was left was the final walk-through.
I figured this final tour of our new home was just a formality, a victory lap around what would soon be ours. The home inspection, after all, had come back without any big problems. After the inspection, the home seller had been kind enough to give us a tour and tell us about the quirks of the 90-year-old house.
We knew a home this age would be a maintenance challenge, and we were ready to take it on.
But we didn’t expect problems to crop up the day before closing, during a walk-through that we presumed would go just fine.
It was pouring that day, and unfortunately, rain was also coming in through leaks within the roof.
At least it wasn’t leaking into the house, but rather through the roof extending from the house over the driveway—call it a carport or, if you’re feeling fancy, a porte-cochere. Still, we knew this couldn’t be good. If it kept raining, would the water run across the roof and leak into the nearby kitchen wall? What kind of structural damage was all this water causing? How much would it cost to repair? Was the seller going to fix this—and how would all this affect our closing?
What I learned that day was that a walk-through isn’t as simple as it might seem. Here’s some advice for homebuyers I wish I’d known sooner.
What is a walk-through, and why is it done?
The purpose of a walk-through is to make sure that the home is in the same condition it was when the buyer agreed to purchase it, says Susan Delaney, a real estate agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services from Shaker Heights, OH.
It’s also important to make sure that any issues that the seller had agreed to fix based on the home inspection have been taken care of.
“It’s not the time that we’re going to measure or decide on paint colors,” says Delaney.
Buyers should go to the walk-through with a laser focus on making sure the home matches the home that they agreed to buy.
When should the walk-through take place?
Amita Patani, leader of the ZAR Team at Keller Williams Realty in Princeton, NJ, says it’s important to walk through the property as close as possible to closing and not the day before.
“Not even the night prior,” she says. “The walk-through should be done within hours leading up to closing time.”
Delaney agrees, with a caveat. She likes to put a term in the purchase agreement allowing for a walk-through three to five days before closing, with another, final walk-through to ensure that issues that might have come up during the initial walk-through have been addressed.
What kinds of issues can arise at a walk-through?
Leaks—from either the roof or indoor plumbing or radiators—are common walk-through discoveries. There also could be holes in the walls from the seller moving furniture out, or perhaps taking an item such as a chandelier that was supposed to stay with the house.
Delaney had a sale in which the seller took the home’s window boxes, and the buyer wouldn’t complete the purchase without them.
Patani had an even stranger case: During one walk-through, a squatter was discovered living in the basement. The squatter turned out to be the seller’s brother, and he refused to leave!
What can homebuyers do if there’s a problem during the walk-through?
The first step is for the buyer’s agent to inform the seller’s agent of the problem. Typically, the seller will take care of things to move the transaction along, says Delaney. That could mean the seller getting a repair done immediately or putting money in escrow for the buyer to fix the problem.
What if the seller refuses to address the problem?
The squatter that Patani’s buyer found in the basement during the walk-through refused to leave, so law enforcement was called. Formal eviction proceedings had to take place, and the closing was delayed two months. But in less drastic circumstances, such as a leaky toilet found during the walk-through, a seller might refuse to fix the problem. In that case, the buyer can either proceed with the sale (and take responsibility for the problem) or back out.
Buyer beware: If the buyer decides not to close on a contract, the earnest money might not be returned—or the buyer might need to go to court to get it, says Delaney.
If cooler heads prevail, though, both parties can sign a mutual release from the purchase contract. This way, the buyer can get back the earnest money and the seller can put the home back on the market.
What can buyers do to prepare for the possibility of a problem at walk-through?
Besides engaging a real estate agent who will advocate for their best interests in the event of a problem, buyers should reserve a financial cushion in case they wind up having to pay for surprise repairs. Purchasing a house is expensive, but buyers should avoid stretching themselves so much that they don’t have funds in reserve.
“You’ve got to have contingency money when you’re a homeowner,” says Delaney, because you never know what repairs will be needed.
In fact, that’s what happened to me and my leaky roof. Our seller refused to fix it or the finance repair. We didn’t want to begin the home search process again, so we closed on the house—and hired our own roofer out of our own pocket.
I do feel better knowing that we got to choose the roofer and that the job was done right. But most of all, I’m now feeling lucky that our only walk-through problem was a roof leak—and not a squatter living in the basement!
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