Savvy buyers always include a contingency in their offers to allow for a last-minute check of the property before the sale closes.
Q. We signed a contract to buy our first home in May, and we followed your previous advice to schedule a final "walk through" inspection a few days before the deal closes two weeks from now. We are buying the house without the help of a real estate agent, so we don't really know what a walk-through entails. Can you help?
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A. Sure. You were wise to include a contingency in your purchase offer that allows you a final walk-through of the home shortly before the transaction closes, mostly because it will help to ensure that the property is in the same condition -- or possibly even better -- than when you first agreed to buy it.
If your accepted offer required the sellers to make some repairs, use the walk-through to make sure that the improvements have been made to your satisfaction. If so, ask for copies of any bills that were paid for the work and any related warranties. But if the repairs aren't up-to-snuff, you'll need to call your closing attorney or escrow officer to delay the transaction's completion until the sellers meet all of their contractual obligations.
During the walk-through, make sure that any items that were included in the sale (light fixtures, drapes or perhaps a hot tub) are still there. Also double-check that the appliances, as well as the heating and cooling systems, are working properly. Again, if there's a problem, the closing date should be delayed until any issues are resolved.
Also remember the "little things." Is the doorbell working? Did the sellers keep their promise to replace a cracked floor tile or leaky valve in a toilet tank? Do they need to hand over an automatic garage door-opener, or the password to an electronic home-security system?
Though you're buying the house without using a real estate agent, a local realty representative might be willing to provide additional tips for free. So might the home inspector or appraiser you hired shortly after the sales contract was first signed.
You also can get more information on the Internet. One of the best walk-through checklists I have found is on the website operated by realty-services provider Closing Corp. (www.closingcorp.com), which offers a free list of more than 60 items that buyers should review a day or two before the transaction will close.
Q. Our local home-improvement store is advertising "clear lumber at plywood prices!" What does this mean?
A. "Clear" lumber is wood that's free of knots or other imperfections. It's typically used in stuff like cabinets or fancy, unupholstered furniture.
Plywood isn't quite as attractive or expensive. It's made from thin layers of trees that are then glued together.
Though you probably wouldn't want plywood for a table in a formal dining room, its extraordinary strength makes it perfect for the framing of a new home after it's covered by drywall and paint.
Q. We have remodeled our home several times in the past 21 years. When we recently got bids to redo our kitchen, all of the bids from the three contractors included something called a "force majeure" clause that seems to allow the contractors to avoid any [financial] penalties if they don't complete the work on time. What gives?
A. Force majeure is the Latin term for "greater force." Such a clause was probably included in the several remodeling contracts that you have signed in the past, but they have become much more noticeable and prevalent in the past few years. That's because the unusual amount of natural catastrophes (think "Katrina" or "Sandy"), plus continued harsh weather in the Midwest and on the East Coast, has made it impossible for even the most capable of contractors to complete their work by the time that was originally promised.
A force majeure clause allows a contractor or new-home developer to avoid financial liability if an unforeseen problem prevents a project from being completed on time. Those problems typically include hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or flooding.
Beyond such "Acts of God," the clause also can protect the contractor or builder against penalties if a subcontractor or supplier can't perform contractual obligations of their own.
To illustrate, let's say that you have ordered some specialty cabinets or hand-painted tile for your planned kitchen-remodeling job. If the supplier doesn't deliver them by the date that was promised, the contractor or builder can't be punished for missing the deadline that you had originally set.
Real estate trivia: The Library of Congress has officially named the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 as "the greatest real estate deal in history." The U.S. paid France $15 million for 828,000 square miles of land, from Florida to Canada and west to the Rockies, which were eventually carved into 15 of our modern-day states.
• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.
© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.