Q. I am selling my house and have just received an offer to purchase. The offer contains a contingency for the buyer to obtain a home inspection report within three business days from the day I sign the contract.
The buyer is asking for a general inspection contingency and my real estate broker is advising me to use the specific inspection contingency. Can you explain the difference and give me some assistance?
A. In my opinion, it is imperative for a home buyer to obtain a home inspection after the contract for sale is signed by all parties. Buyers often purchase real estate based on emotions rather than facts and a good home inspection is important to satisfy the purchaser that the property is substantially in sound condition.
A buyer should include in a sales contract a contingency to the effect that the contract is contingent on the purchaser's obtaining, at purchaser's expense, a satisfactory home inspection within three or five business days after the real estate contract is ratified.
While sellers may think, at first blush, that an inspection is not in their best interests, if the seller stops and thinks about it for a moment, it becomes very clear that even from the seller's point of view, it is advisable to let buyers have a short contingency to back out of the contract if they are not satisfied with the condition of the house.
First, I would rather have the purchaser back away early in the process than wait until the very last minute and raise all sorts of problems on the day of settlement.
Of equal importance, if the purchaser has obtained a satisfactory home inspection report, that same purchaser will be hard pressed to raise issues about the house on the day of settlement. Often, I have heard sellers tell buyers, "You removed the inspection contingency, and if you have a problem with our house, look to your home inspector."
However, there are two basic inspection contingency forms being used in the Washington area. The first is known as a general contingency, giving the buyers the absolute right to back out if, for any reason whatsoever, they are dissatisfied with the inspection report. In practical terms, however, buyers often tell sellers that the contingency will be removed if the seller makes certain repairs.
The other contingency is known as the "specific contingency," which works like this: After the buyer has completed the inspection, the buyer must submit a list of items to be repaired or corrected to the seller. The seller has a couple of days to advise the buyer whether they will do any or all of the items on the list. The buyer then has one additional day after receiving the seller's response in which to determine whether to buy the property or to declare the contract null and void.
Obviously, from a buyer's point of view, the general contingency is much preferred. Basically, the buyer can walk away from the house for any reason whatsoever. On the other hand, the specific contingency is clearly much better for the seller, since it narrows down the issues, and gives the seller the opportunity to correct certain repairs rather than lose the buyer.
Needless to say, from your point of view as the seller, the specific contingency is in your best interests. However, from a psychological point of view, if the buyer is demanding the general contingency, you might be suspect as to why you are insisting on the specific contingency. Keep in mind, your buyer does not know the house at all, and if they feel you are trying to hide something from them, they may become very hesitant on going forward with the purchase of your property.
My own suggestion is to rely on your real estate broker's advice in this case. If your broker truly believes the buyer will not sign a contract without the general inspection contingency, then clearly you should use that form. On the other hand, if your broker does not believe the buyer really cares, then the specific contingency should be included in your sales contract.
You should insist, however, as a seller, to obtain a copy of the entire inspection report, whether or not the buyer raises any objections based on that report. After all, if the buyer raises problems later at the settlement table, it would be helpful to have a copy of that report in your possession.
Benny L. Kass is a Washington lawyer. For a free copy of the booklet "A Guide to Settlement on Your New Home," send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Benny L. Kass, Suite 1100, 1050 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.