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updated: 3/10/2011 10:11 AM

Home inspection negotiations end up being a game of chicken

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Q. My husband and I are selling our home of 32 years. The buyers made a low offer but we realized it wasn't a great market and we accepted their offer after a little haggling. We were happy to have the house sold and were looking forward to the next part of our lives.

Unfortunately, our problems were just beginning. Their home inspector found 34 things wrong with our house. The buyers wanted us to either fix everything or give them $7,000 off the sale price. We couldn't believe it. My husband and I were laughing about how we were fortunate not to know that we have been living in such a decrepit home.

Most of the items cited by the inspector were minor, such as the furnace needing servicing and some stair rails being loose. We eventually negotiated a credit and we will be closing soon, but we were just wondering how other sellers handle this? And, were we foolish to give them the credit? Maybe we should have told them to take it as is and if you don't like it, we'll sell to someone else? We feel we have been taken advantage of.

A. As you indicated, it is a buyers market. Accordingly, many buyers feel empowered not only to strongly negotiate the sales price, but to then essentially take another swing at reducing the sales price through the home inspection provision of the contract. Of course, before we get too upset with today's buyers, let us not forget the scene not too very long ago, when sellers ruled. Multiple offers on properties and sellers playing one purchaser off another was the game back then. The buyers weren't happy then just as the sellers are not happy now.

Most home inspection contingencies include language which essentially states that minor repairs and routine maintenance are not to be considered defects and are not to be part the home inspection contingency. Of course, what constitutes minor repairs and routine maintenance is not defined and buyers routinely cite furnace servicing, loose siding, missing roof shingles and similar defects in their home inspection letters.

As I consistently indicate to my clients, both buyers and sellers, the negotiation process under the home inspection contingency is a little like a game of chicken. The bottom line is: Who wants/needs it more. If you are the seller and you won't be crushed if the deal falls through, tell the buyer to take it or leave it. If you are the buyer and this is one of four great houses you saw for the price, negotiate tough and don't take no for an answer. However, if this is the buyer's dream home or the seller absolutely positively must sell now, obviously, your negotiation strategy must lighten up.

So, in response to your particular situation, the bottom line is: You sold the home, which puts you ahead of many sellers out there. You can move on, which you seem very happy about. And, if it cost you a few extra bucks, well, it probably wasn't enough money to have any long term effect on your lives. If the deal fell through, the next offer might have been for $20,000 less and you would have been kicking yourselves for letting these buyers get away.

• Send your questions to Attorney Tom Resnick, 345 N. Quentin Road, Palatine, IL 60067, by e-mail to or call (847) 359-8983.