Don’t Substitute a Pre-sale Inspection for a Full Buyer’s Inspection
Last updated in May 2018
Most buyers’ offers include home inspection contingencies. This clause grants the right to inspect a property and bow out of the deal if something dissatisfactory is found and the two parties can’t agree on a solution.
Make sure you understand the home inspection contingency clause included in your offer. In this area, the boilerplate used by agents is usually sufficiently vague that buyers can back out of deals if you can’t work out with the seller a problem found during an inspection, but check that your offer doesn’t complicate your escape hatch by including language that gives the seller a lot of leeway.
Many buyers also add contingencies for radon testing and termite inspections. You should hire your own outfit for these inspections, too—if the seller does the hiring, problems are far less likely to get uncovered. Use ratings here at Checkbook.org to find top pest control services for your termite inspection. We also have ratings of indoor air-testing services for radon tests.
Some municipalities in the Twin Cities area require sellers to get truth-in-housing or pre-sale inspections before listing single-family homes, duplexes, or townhouses; some also require these inspections of condos. Each city has its own guidelines, but these inspections usually take under an hour and typically cover a short checklist of glaring problems, from obviously improper wiring to looking for leaks to missing handrails. In some communities, pre-sale inspections are done by government building inspectors; in others, approved home inspection companies do them. As of this writing, the following communities require truth-in-housing inspections: Bloomington, Golden Valley, Hopkins, Maplewood, Minneapolis, New Hope, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park, St. Paul, and South St. Paul.
Because many of these inspections are cursory, even if the pre-sale inspection notes no problems, don’t skip doing your own buyer’s inspection. In addition to learning more about the home’s problems, another reason to get a full inspection is that the report can act as a well-documented baseline of the home’s condition when you made your offer. If something happens to the home in between your inspection and closing—say, an appliance goes missing or there’s new water damage or an expensive chandelier was swapped for a cheap ceiling fan—a well-done inspection report with lots of pics helps you prove something changed.
If you’re buying a new home, the builder usually supplies a warranty that promises to fix big defects. But you still should get an inspection. That way you can identify and fix major problems while you still have the leverage of backing out of the deal or delaying your final payment.
Almost every home inspector and real estate agent we spoke with adamantly recommended inspections for new homes and recently remodeled ones. They said inspections of recent work often uncover more problems than in old homes. Both groups were especially dire in warning about big problems with flipped houses (“often lipstick-on-a-pig situations”) and homeowner-done additions and remodels (“Homeowners who think they’re handy and DIY their remodels are the worst”). In addition to an inspection, get the builder or contractor to provide copies of any permits, building inspection reports, and plans.
Oh, and if your builder or contractor offers a home inspector recommendation, definitely do not trust it.