When you buy a home you have the right to inspect it to learn whether it is in need of repair or not. And if it is, you can ask the seller to make those repairs. But the seller does not have to make them. So how does that all get worked out? Much of it is spelled out in the contract that you and the seller will have agreed to, but some of it is open to negotiation. So yes, after you reach agreement on a home’s purchase price, the deal can still fall apart if the parties disagree about repairs. Therefore it is important to understand this part of the process.
It begins with the contract. There are two approaches, or alternatives, defined in the standard contract. Alternative 1 says that you (the buyer) have narrowly defined rights to inspect and request repairs, that the seller has rights and responsibilities, and resolution must be negotiated, or the contract is terminated. Alternative 2 says that for an agreed upon fee, you can inspect the home, have all the rights defined in Alternative 1 described above, plus have the right to decide to terminate the contract, for any reason or no reason, and walk away. Both alternatives need more discussion than we’ll go into here, but the point is that both alternatives give you the right to inspect the home and make decisions based on what you learn.
Who does the inspection? Your Realtor, more likely than not, is not a qualified inspector. You probably aren’t either. That does not keep you from looking for problems, but the objective here is to find what should be found, not what is easy to spot. Inspectors are trained for the specific tasks, and experienced inspectors have “seen it all before” and know what to look for. Inspections are not free, and are optional, but highly recommended.
What kinds of inspections are there? The following are common: home, pest, radon, well, and septic. Each is separate and distinct. There are more kinds of inspections, depending on the specific nature of the property being purchased. Why would you get the above inspections? A home inspection looks at appliances, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, insulation, roofing, doors and windows, and much more. The objective is to find out if all systems and major components of the home are performing the intended function and if they are in need of immediate repair. Cosmetic concerns (needs paint, dead lawn) and old but working systems are not “in need of immediate repair”.
Pest inspections look for evidence of termite or other troublesome infestations. North Carolina has a lot of termites, and they can do extensive damage, and it can be hidden from view. Radon is an odorless and colorless gas that has been proven to increase the risk of cancer if present in sufficient quantity. It occurs naturally, and can be found in Wake County in concentrations that exceed EPA-defined safe limits. Well water can be tainted and unsafe to drink. Septic systems can be in need of immediate repair, or even replacement. The point is that inspections by qualified inspectors can find things that you, as the buyer, absolutely need to know – and you need to find out about them before the deal is done.
The repair issues create a second round of negotiations, after the first round of reaching an agreement on the sale. If the dishwasher leaks, you can ask that it be repaired or replaced. The seller can say no, say yes, or offer compensation in lieu of repair. If the seller says no, you have to decide if you want the home anyway. If the seller says yes, you have to realize you have little control over the quality of the repair, other than that the dishwasher must work and not leak when done. Agree on compensation instead, and you can control the quality of the repair or replacement, after closing, not before. You will repeat this process for each item “in need of immediate repair”. Again, your Realtor, having done this many times before, can advise you on approach, and should handle the negotiations, but the decisions are ultimately yours, and the sellers.
If repairs are made, you have the right to re-inspect and make sure the repairs were effective. This may require the services of a qualified inspector again, but usually it is easy enough to see if the repair was properly done, particularly if you get a receipt showing that the repair was properly done.
Before you close the sale on your first home, it is important that you get an inspection, so that you know all about the home that you are buying. Also, if you negotiate well, you may be able to move into a home where all the necessary repairs have been done, so that you can spend your time enjoying your new home instead of battling with things that are broken.