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Don’t Let the Home Inspection Derail the Sale

Michael McKenna

Michael McKenna is an associate broker and the president of WEICHERT, REALTORS® – McKenna & Vane, with offices in Columbia, Md...

Michael McKenna is an associate broker and the president of WEICHERT, REALTORS® – McKenna & Vane, with offices in Columbia, Md...

Jan 24 6 minutes read

It's a real-life request from a buyer. There was also the buyer who wanted an automatic garage door opener installed, even though the owners had never had one in the 20 years they lived in the home!

Absurd, right? But what about replacing the carpet with a different color, or adding a hand-rail in the stairway? Whether you're the buyer or the seller, this is where you need a licensed Realtor® to guide your expectations. The McKenna Group offers these guidelines.

"Buyers can ask for the moon, if they want," says Realtor® Donnamarie Needle, but they need to be realistic. "If it is something mechanical that does not work—like an appliance, AC/heating unit or plumbing—that is a reasonable request. Anything electrical can be a safety hazard and should be included in the buyer's requests."

Other reasonable safety requests included adding that stairway hand-rail we mentioned above, repairing broken concrete near the entryway, and making any repairs necessary for a fireplace or woodstove to operate safely. These are just requests, though, and there are no guarantees a seller will agree to them.

Cosmetic items are where the negotiation can really get sticky. Many of today's Maryland home buyers expect each home they preview to be move-in ready, but that isn't always the case. Michael McKenna, vice president and associate broker of WEICHERT, REALTORS® — New Colony, explains that a buyer should not expect the seller to replace the carpet, paint the walls, or patch any holes in the drywall. These are purely cosmetic attributes. There are other requests that can be argued as both cosmetic and functional, McKenna says, such as new caulk in the bathrooms, replacing torn window screens, or replacing the glass in double-paned windows with a broken seal.

For sellers, the inspections process can be a make-or-break moment in the contract. If any of the inspections or tests reveal a serious problem, the buyer who has a properly drafted contract can get out of the contract. What usually happens, however, is that the cost of remedying the problem becomes an issue of negotiation between the buyer and seller.

This is where having a full-time professional Realtor is critical in resolving the issue and keeping the purchase moving forward. The seller has five days to review the buyer's requests, and then accept all or some of them. The seller can also negotiate a lower price in exchange for the buyer making the repairs, or the seller may offer to split the difference in cost for the repairs. The buyer has two days to agree to the seller's proposal or to break the contract and move on.

Even people who have lived in their home for a decade or more can be surprised to discover the issues found during an inspection, such as ungrounded electrical wiring or inadequate support beams. Other people have just learned to live with things that a buyer will not.

One buyer discovered several safety and structural issues during an inspection. That included a dryer vent leading back into the laundry closet that caused ongoing water damage from the steam, a permanently open fireplace flue that let in rain, and bathroom vanity lighting that would collect condensation because the sconces faced up instead of down. The seller declared that she would change absolutely nothing. She had lived there for 25 years and everything was just fine. The buyer quickly moved on.

"Having a savvy agent working on the seller's behalf to educate them about what the seller can and can't be held responsible for is the first step in getting through the inspections process," Needle says. "A good listing agent may also suggest their sellers take a proactive approach prior to listing their property by investing in a professional licensed electrician, or general contractor to do a once-over of the property prior to listing. This could help avoid all the headaches of the inspection."

The McKenna Group offers some final advice. Sellers can feel nickel and dimed following the inspection, and it's an added frustration when you've already put time and money into the home—and you're also likely counting on those funds for the down payment on your next home.

"Take a deep breath and ask yourself if the cost of not repairing the requested items is worth not selling the home," McKenna says. "Will that keep you from purchasing your next home? Or moving to a different state? You can't think about the money you have put into your home, if you want or need to move on. There's another option. If you don't want to make a repair, you can offer the buyer a closing credit, which means you will give the buyer money to put toward the repair."

For the buyers who have a seller who won't make a repair, there are a few options. One is to break the contract and look for another home. McKenna suggests another option.

"I encourage buyers to consider asking for repair credits at closing, rather than demanding that the seller to fix the items. Here's why: Would you want zero control over the contractor? Or the type of appliance or fixture someone else selects for your new home?" If the home feels right and items need fixing, they can be fixed.

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