As of 2017, one-third of every dead real estate transaction fell apart thanks to the home inspection. It’s a daunting process in theory (hey, let’s invite someone into my house to point out every little thing that’s wrong with it!), but we want to make it easier for sellers to be prepared mentally and logistically.
HomeLight spoke to Toni Vander Heyden, a top-selling agent in Rockford, Illinois, and Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, to answer all your burning home inspection questions upfront.
1. What’s the purpose of the home inspection?
The purpose of a home inspection is to give the buyers of a house the details they need to make an informed purchase before closing. The inspection brings to attention any major defects about a house that could threaten a buyer’s health or safety and gives the buyer the chance to negotiate on repairs or request a price reduction based on the findings.
The point of an inspection is not to make a house look as bad as possible to cheat the seller out of a good deal (any inspector who agrees to that end goal would be entirely unethical.)
A seller can deny any and all repair requests resulting from the inspection—so long as the contract stipulated that repairs would be negotiable—but the buyer can then walk away, void the contract, and keep their earnest money if it comes to a stalemate.
2. Can the seller be at the home inspection?
The seller is allowed to be present but it’s not usually a good idea. A seller that hangs around and eavesdrops during the home inspection makes buyers uncomfortable and hesitant to ask questions about the house as the inspector makes the rounds.
What’s more, sellers run the risk of saying something they shouldn’t. Finally, it can be difficult as a seller to hear an inspector discuss in detail all your home’s defects with the person who’s agreed to buy your house.
However, a home inspector and the buyers of the house should be respectful of a seller’s time and conduct the inspection efficiently. Standing outside in the garage and chit-chatting for a long time after the inspection ends, for example, would not be a good look.
3. Is the seller entitled to the home inspection report?
Not automatically. Unless you pay for a pre-listing inspection, the buyer is the only one who receives a copy of the home inspection report. However, since the buyer will use statements in the report as leverage for negotiations, they’ll often provide a copy of the sections that support their requests.
4. How does a seller prepare for the home inspection?
The big thing is you need to allow for “readily accessible areas,” says Lesh. So clear out clutter and move items away from attic entrances, crawlspaces, electrical panels, and any other parts of the house that the inspector needs to perform a visual inspection on. Other seller preparation tips include:
- Leave the utilities on and provide the remote controls for any fixtures such as lights and ceiling fans.
- Get pets out of the house for the duration of the inspection.
- Schedule a haircut or plan the inspection for when you’re at work so you have somewhere to go for the 2-4 hour inspection duration.
5. What are a seller’s disclosure obligations and how do they relate to the home inspection?
Nearly every state has a disclosure form sellers must complete (to review your state’s disclosure form, you can find it linked in our comprehensive seller’s disclosure guide). These forms list any problems with the home the seller knows of (like if something is broken or doesn’t work), sheds light on the general condition of the home, and notes any major repairs or remodeling work you’ve done over the course of ownership.
Typically the seller has to provide the state’s required disclosure form within a few days after signing the purchase offer. This doesn’t negate the need for a home inspection, however. The buyer will still order an inspection for the purposes of identifying any unknown issues with the house that aren’t immediately noticeable.
6. Which repairs on the home inspection report are mandatory?
“There is no law that says things have to be fixed,” Lesh said. “However, safety-related items are typically a good idea to repair so no one gets hurt. For example, a gas leak is extremely dangerous and that should be fixed.”
Essentially, you need to look at what might constitute a threat to a person’s health or safety. For example, an old water heater generally won’t pose risk to the buyer, aside from cold showers.
Also remember to check on local codes and when they were updated. If you did a remodeling project after the code went into effect, you’re likely not on the hook to bring it up to the new code before closing.
However, if you’ve accepted an offer saying that all the repairs are mandatory, then you’ll have to do them all per the agreement. But if you signed one that says all repairs are negotiable, then you don’t. And even then, smaller inconsequential items needing repair might not be included—like cosmetic issues that aren’t “major components of real estate” per the inspection regulations, Vander Heyden said.
Remember that the inspector’s job isn’t to tell the buyer whether or not to purchase the house, but the inspection does open the door for the buyer to renegotiate with you.
7. How much will repairs that come up in the home inspection cost the seller?
Repair costs can range from practically nothing (fixing a gas leak by tightening a fitting) to thousands (repairing a broken underground sewer line). Lesh says the best course of action is to have a home repair contractor come out to assess the damage and give you an estimate to fix it.
8. Do you have to hire a pro to fix repair requests or can you DIY?
You can DIY repairs, but that doesn’t mean you should. It really depends on both the repairs and the contract. For example, it’s easy enough to replace a busted electrical socket on your own, but replacing all the knob and tube wiring in a home will require a professional.
Sometimes, though, the agent will include in the contract that they want all the items repaired by a licensed, certified, and insured contractor. And that’s often for the buyer’s benefit, Vander Heyden says. A homeowner may be able to replace a broken pane of glass, for example, without paying someone to do it, but a buyer may want to know that someone reputable who was certified to do the work fixed it.
9. If I get a bad home inspection that turns up lots of issues, what are my options?
You’ve got a few here. You can repair everything, you can offer to repair some of the issues, or you could do nothing and sell the house to someone else.
Commonly, though, sellers will end up reducing the sale price of the home or give the buyer a “credit” so they can make repairs once the sale is complete. Vander Heyden says this often happens with major repairs that aren’t covered by insurance, like an aging roof.
“Typically a seller is not going to buy the most expensive roof,” she said. “They’re just going to get one that will pass the inspection. But the buyer would rather pick their own color and the quality of the shingle. So we negotiate a credit or an amount of money towards the roof repair for the buyer to do the work once they move in.”
10. If a buyer backs out, do I have to disclose the report results to future buyers?
You don’t need to share the previous report itself, but you do need to disclose any issues that exist in the home.
“You’ve got two options,” Vander Heyden said. “Either fix any issues from the inspection, which would be my recommendation because that’s the right thing to do to remarket the house, or go back to the disclosure report and mark on there that you’re aware of a problem, initial it, and date it with the day you were made aware of the issue.”
11. If you have to offer the buyer a credit for repairs, how much will that be?
That’s really up to you and the buyer. The credit will be negotiated during the sale.
Vander Heyden suggests getting bids from several contractors or stores to see how much it would cost to fix or replace the problem, and then taking those bids to the buyer to work out a credit price.
12. What do sellers need to know about repair negotiations?
“The first thing I would do is try to avoid them,” Vander Heyden said. But if you can’t, both she and Lesh suggest working closely with a real estate agent who’s done a lot of home sales. They have all the tools and knowledge to ensure everything goes smoothly.
13. Is it worth it to concede to repair requests?
It can often be easier to concede to repair requests if the seller wants everything to go through without delay. But it really depends on the contract and the types of repairs requested. If it’s something like installing a banister on a staircase, that takes virtually no time and money to do compared to something like re-drilling a well.
However, if you’re selling a house as-is, any repair requests can void the contract. Vander Heyden recently ran into that issue, where the buyer’s agent came back from the inspection with a list of repairs. She told him the contract specifically said any repair requests would void the deal, and he backpedaled.
You might also consider how long the house has been on the market and how much interest it has. If it’s been the average amount of days with nominal interest, then yes—try and get the major things like electrical and plumbing fixed. But if it’s only been on the market three days and there are already five offers, you’ve got a bit more leeway to negotiate.
14. What’s a pre-listing inspection and should you get one?
A pre-listing inspection happens before a house goes on the market. It’s not mandatory, but it’s often recommended by professionals. The goal is to let the seller know what’s wrong with the house and then have a chance to fix it before listing the home, so there aren’t any surprises during the actual inspection.
“We’re selling houses, not our kid’s bicycle,” Vander Heyden said. “It’s really important to take it seriously and get a pre-listing inspection.”
Lesh does caution, though, that a pre-listing inspection won’t be the final word on necessary repairs. Things can change quickly and unexpectedly between the pre-listing inspection and the buyer’s inspection. So while it’s a good idea to get one done, just remember that you still may run into repairs you weren’t prepared to deal with.
15. Should I work with a real estate agent during my inspection negotiations?
There are benefits to working with a real estate agent who’s negotiated through hundreds of home inspection results and knows how to work out a deal that will lead to the best outcome depending on your priorities.
In addition, an agent can help connect you with anyone you need during the home inspection and repair process, and also guide you on what needs to happen in order to get the house ready to sell.
Also, if you’re using an experienced agent, they should be able to walk through your house before even listing and let you know if they see anything that should be fixed before going to market.
“I’m always looking for common things home inspectors find,” Vander Heyden said. “That doesn’t mean I’m a home inspector, it just means I’ve transacted so many homes that I know what they’re looking for. I’ll point it out to the homeowner and say, ‘Hey, let’s take care of this.’”