Seller stunned by home inspector's 'nitpicking'
Q. We finally found buyers for our home, and everything was going smoothly until we were invaded by their home inspector. Now they're hitting me upside the head with a radical repair list. Look out! They want paint touch-ups on the doors, new baseboards in the hallway, a quieter vent fan in the bathroom, and further evaluation of the heating system by a licensed HVAC contractor. How is a seller supposed to respond to all of this nitpicking?
A. Unless you agreed in your purchase contract to repair any defects found by the home inspector, you are not under obligation to meet the buyer's demands. At the same time, you should understand that repair requests after a home inspection are typical in most transactions. If the buyers are saying "repair everything on this list or else," that would be unreasonable. At the same time, if you say "take it 'as is,' or else," you could be throwing away a sale over some minor repair requests.
The middle ground in these situations is to recognize this is the beginning of a negotiation process. Instead of feeling as if you've been hit in the head, take a deep breath, evaluate the repair list, discuss it with your agent or whomever you trust, and come up with a balanced, give-and-take response to the buyers.
Let's look at the four items requested. Two are cosmetic issues involving paint on doors and replacement of some trim boards. Though you may not be obligated to make these repairs under the purchase contract, there's more than one way to view all of this. You can see it as an outrageous demand and conclude that the buyers have a lot of nerve, whereupon you can risk the sale of your home as a matter of principal; or you can decide that it's not wise to throw away a sale over a low-cost repair request.
The next item on the list is a noisy vent fan in the bathroom. Actually, many bathroom fans are noisy, not because they are defective, but simply because that's the way so many of them are made. For some people, this is a positive feature because it keeps people outside the bathroom from hearing other sounds that might be occurring inside the bathroom. Be that as it may, unless the fan noise is due to an actual defect, there is no reason to insist that it be replaced.
The final request is for further evaluation of the heating system by a licensed HVAC contractor. Home inspectors typically make this request when there is an actual problem affecting the safety or functionality of the system. However, there are some home inspectors who routinely recommend further evaluation of every heating system in order to limit their own liability for undiscovered defects. If the heating system has an actual fault, that would be an important discovery, and that type of repair is usually paid by sellers. On the other hand, you don't want to pay for a contractor's evaluation if nothing is actually wrong. So here's a practical approach: Tell the buyers that you will pay for the evaluation if an actual defect is discovered by the HVAC contractor. However, if the contractor finds the system to be safe and functional, the buyers should pay for the evaluation as part of their inspection costs.
The main thing to keep in mind is that repair lists arising from home inspections should be viewed as requests rather than demands. Except for repairs and upgrades required by law or specified in the purchase contract, all property defects are matters to be negotiated between buyers and sellers. All that is necessary is for all parties to be fair and reasonable in their considerations.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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