Q: My wife and I entered into contract to sell our Maryland residence. There was a contingency in the contract giving the purchaser three business days to cancel the contract "in the event of an unsatisfactory inspection of the subject property by an inspector of purchaser's choice and at purchaser's expense."

We received word from our agent that the purchaser was dissatisified, and wanted out to cancel the contract and get their deposite refunded. We tried to get a copy of the inspection report, but were told this was personal to the purchaser.

Is there any way we can obtain a copy of the report, to determine for ourselves whether there is some problem with the house?

A: I always recommend that a purchaser obtain the services of an independent housing inspection service, and make the purchase of property contingent on a satisfactory inspection within a reasonable period of time. After all, if purchasers are spending so much money for a house, they should have the right to satisfy themselves that the property is in good condition.

In fact, when counselling home purchasers, I often suggest that the inspection be used as a form of cooling off period, to give purchasers an opportunity to sit back and reflect on whether they really want to go forward with this deal. If the language of the inspection contingency is broad enough-such as in your case-the purchaser can, for any reason whatsoever, back out of the transaction.

However, sellers need advice also. You have taken your house off the market, have relied on the good faith of the purchasers that they will go forward with the contract, and indeed you might have lost some money as a result of the contract. Every contract is negotiable.

You do not have to accept the housing inspection contingency clause as is. Often, you want to limit the inspection to structure-thereby giving the purchaser an excuse to back out only if the house is structually unsound.

You should also limit the time of the inspection to a reasonable period, not more than five business days from the date that you sign the contract. And, it is strongly recommended that sellers include in any such contingency a provision that, "If the purchaser does not remove the contingency within the stated period of time, this contract remains in full force and effect."

By this language, the burden is on the purchaser to remove the contingency, or your deal stays in effect.

It is also important to have access to the inspection report. However, since the purchaser paid for this report, I have to agree that it is not available to you, under the circumstances. Thus, I suggest this additional language in the contingency clause:

"If the purchaser determines that the inspection report is not satisfactory, the purchaser will provide a copy of the report to the seller, without cost."