Searching and finding that dream home to close on is a big deal. You’d probably be excited to sign on the dotted line and move in right away. After all, owning a home is huge and something to celebrate. So imagine the disappointment you would feel after you’ve settled in to discover mold in the basement due to bad water drainage, or damaged shingles on the roof thanks to past storms causing costly problems.
Buyer beware, right?
Wrong. Whether you’re a new homebuyer, a seasoned real estate agent, or “just looking” at the housing market, you’re going to need to know about the importance of a final walkthrough. You’d like to trust that everything would be fine and kosher once your offer has been accepted on a house, but that isn’t always the case. It’s wise to be vigilant and thorough throughout the entire buying process, all the way to the end.
Why the final walkthrough is so important to have before closing
A final walkthrough is the final checking of the home before signing all of the important documents and contracts to make the sale official. According to reports from EllieMae, on average, it takes about 47 days from start to finish to close on a home purchase. It is a buyer’s final chance to make sure everything’s set and nothing goes against the contract. If there’s a final walkthrough problem, that could delay — or even kill — a deal.
“Final walkthroughs are not required. From a liability standpoint you’ll always want to. The closer to closing, the better. It’s the agent’s responsibility to schedule it,” said James Roehrenbeck, a top-selling agent in Columbus, Ohio, who has sold more than 66% more properties in Columbus than the average agent.
A final walkthrough is not a home inspection. That’s when a buyer hires an inspector to come to the house and visually check it out. Inspectors are the people who make sure the home is in accordance with the state’s standards.
“I always recommend a home inspection,” Roehrenbeck said. From radon to termites, home inspections will not only save the buyer a lot of grief and money but protect against liability issues in the long run.
A final walkthrough is your chance to make sure any changes during an inspection actually got made. It’s the best bet you’ll have for discovering any defects or issues in the home before you make this important buying decision.
Typically in a real estate contract, “you have two days before closing to go through the property,” Roehrenbeck explains. “On the final walkthrough, you want to check to make sure those items are completed, and also [that] the home’s in the same condition as when you made the offer.”
Unexpected obstacles can pop up and delay a closing. To make things easier for everybody involved, we’ve included a list of the top 11 walkthrough problems and what to do if any arise before closing on a house.
11 final walkthrough problems
1. There’s still stuff in the house that shouldn’t be there.
This is one reason why it’s good to do the final walkthrough. If you’ve discussed this with the seller, they shouldn’t rush and forget to remove things.
You could get a credit (in other words, money) if you have to remove things yourself that you haven’t agreed to keep.
2. Or there are things that were supposed to be there — but aren’t.
Once, prior to closing on a home, Roehrenbeck explains that someone broke in and took one of the appliances — and was in the process of taking another appliance.
“If we wouldn’t have done that final walkthrough, the insurance would not have covered that,” he says. “Because their question was, ‘How do we know that that wasn’t done prior to you buying the home?’”
3. It’s not ‘broom clean.’
This means that the seller hasn’t cleaned, swept, vacuumed, and made sure the house is clear of debris. It’s their obligation to make sure the house is “broom clean,” especially if it’s in the contract.
4. Repairs haven’t been made.
If a seller has promised you that something broken would be fixed, or you have an agreement to remedy an issue, it’s important to follow up and make sure the seller fulfilled their part of the bargain. This can also be a negotiation leverage point if repairs weren’t made at the expected time.
5. Appliances aren’t working.
Ideally, you would have tinkered with these when you were first touring the house. Roehrenbeck highly recommends running the water in the bathroom and kitchen as you’re walking through.
6. The utilities have been shut off.
Utilities should be on during a final walkthrough so you can test and make sure everything works. You won’t know if there’s a short circuit somewhere or a bigger issue if the seller has shut off utilities before the final walkthrough.
7. There’s a plumbing or electrical issue.
Plumbing issues are hard to see, but they will be extremely expensive to fix. Electrical issues should also be taken seriously, as there could be a possibility of fire or electrocution if something’s not right. It’s a good idea to hire a plumber and electrician to check for any possible issues if you have concerns.
8. There’s mold or evidence of a water leak that you didn’t see before.
A leaking faucet can significantly run up water bills. This is why you want to run the water to check for leaks beforehand — so you don’t open yourself to a lot of liability.
Mold removal and water damage can cost thousands of dollars to fix. If there are signs of severe water damage, you may have to bring in a professional.
9. There’s damage from the move out.
Minor issues, such as a mark on the wall or a scuff on the floor, can be fixed. You can also request that any damage be repaired or ask for a credit to fix the issue when you own the house.
But if there are stains in the carpet, deep scratches in the floor, or damage to door frames requiring major repairs, it’s possible that the damage will delay the closing process while you negotiate with the seller.
10. There’s something wrong outside.
If there’s debris or trash left outside, you could get fined by the city. Or there could be something left outside that you didn’t sign off on, such as outdoor furniture or decorations. Talk with the seller and your agent if there’s something left that you didn’t agree to so you won’t have to delay closing.
11. Heating and cooling systems are wonky.
The National Association of Home Builders says an HVAC system should last you over 10 years. But that doesn’t mean little things won’t break over time. Test the heating and cooling to make sure everything is still working as well as when the home inspector took a look.
This walkthrough did not go as planned. What now?
1. First things first: call your agent.
“Something’s not working right or something’s leaking, and first call they’ll make, it’s gonna be to the Realtor,” Roehrenbeck says.
If necessary, you may need to make a second call to your insurance company.
2. Don’t close until everything’s fixed and you have the documents that prove it.
No matter how small the issue is, you should request receipts that say what, exactly, has been completed. If there is something major that hasn’t been fixed, you might want to postpone the closing altogether.
3. Hold back money in escrow for any repairs.
If the seller agreed to make repairs, you can hold the money to pay for those repair fees or construction materials. You want to be prepared for any additional costs, too; closing costs make up between 2% and 5% of the home’s purchase price, according to the National Association of Realtors.
4. Renegotiate with the seller.
“The seller has three recourses: They can say, ‘I’ll fix what you want me to fix, I won’t fix anything, or we’ll compromise,’” Roehrenbeck explains.
5. Walk away.
If the seller refuses to compromise, you can back out of the deal. You have that right. “That happens probably 5% to 10% of the time, and it’s usually due to home inspection or it’s due to an appraisal issue,” Roehrenbeck says. So losing out on the house at final walkthrough doesn’t happen all that often — but it does happen.
If you’re not comfortable with how the seller is handling the final walkthrough problems, you should seriously consider walking away.
This is the ultimate route when things have really gone awry. A closing attorney can protect you and your assets. They will tackle any legal disputes and can identify any issues. Search the bar association website or talk to your agent to find the best real estate attorneys in your area.
Fully understanding these walkthrough problems can save you a lot of grief (and money) in the long run. Work closely with your real estate agent, and you should have a smooth closing in the future.
Header Image Source: (Steven Ungermann / Unsplash)