A: Well, we can’t say that we have encountered any specific inspector that has been influenced by a buyer to make stuff up about a home in the way you have described. However, Sam frequently deals with home inspectors who generate a huge list of items related to a home his buyers are buying or that his sellers are selling.
While we can’t rule out that there are bad inspectors out there who are making stuff up, they don’t really have any incentive to do that. Instead, home inspectors are paid to note all items wrong with a home. That’s their job. As a home buyer, you want to know what shape the mechanical systems are in (so you understand if there is a big-ticket item that will need to be replaced) and whether there are small items you’ll need to attend to once you close on the property.
Given that the home inspector is there to give the buyer as much information about the home as possible, the inspector will note everything from dirty filters in the air-conditioning system, cracks in foundations, uneven floors and doors, chipped countertops, loose door or cabinet knobs, burned out lightbulbs, problems with the roof, the age and condition of the hot water heater and hundreds of other possible items.
The inspector will give the buyer all this information, and then it’s up to the buyer to decide what, if anything, to request the seller to repair. Some buyers go way overboard and ask the sellers to repair everything noted on the inspection report. We do not think that is fair. A home inspector may note common wear and tear to a home for a buyer, but that does not mean a seller needs to deliver a home to a buyer in brand new condition. A 20-year-old home will have issues. In fact, many new homes have issues as well, but with a new home, you expect the home builder to give a buyer a home free of issues.
Having said all that, we suspect you might have found a pair of buyers who felt it was better to ask for everything with the hope that you would give them something. We generally think a buyer is entitled to buy a home with working appliances and in a condition that would be about what you would expect for a home of that age.
If you are buying a 100-year-old home that has never been updated or remodeled, you cannot expect the sellers to bring the home up to today’s standards. Supposedly, the price you are paying reflects the age and condition. So when the home inspector tells the buyer that the home has a fuse box, knob and tube wiring, non-grounded outlets and no GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupters) in the bathrooms and kitchen, you should not harbor the expectation that the seller will take a 100-year-old home and make it look like a brand new home.
Now, if you are buying a home that is only a year old, you would expect everything to be in good working condition and that the home would meet all (or almost all, in case there had been very recent revisions) of the current building code requirements. If the builder missed the installation of a GFCI in one of the bathrooms, you could expect the buyer to ask the seller to make that installation.
It gets a bit harder and fuzzier to make the decision and determination as to what to ask of the seller when a home is older (but not ancient) and some of the mechanicals, fixtures and appliances are aging. If they are older but working, we do not think it is fair for a buyer to ask of a seller to replace all the appliances and other mechanicals just because they are old. A buyer may be entitled to have all these items in working condition but not new condition. Again, the price you pay generally reflects the condition of the property.
There are no hard and fast rules here, except that when buyers come in and tell the seller to fix scratches on countertops, repaint scuffed up walls, replace worn carpeting, refinish wood flooring or replace worn cabinet doors, they may be overreaching. Sam’s experience has been that when buyers overreach in a home purchase, buyers tend to get less than if they come in and only request the most important items. Sellers appreciate it when buyers focus on items that are clearly broken and need repairs.
Finally, for our readers who will be soon be home buyers, remember to focus on the big ticket items when buying a home, and ask your home inspector to do the same. That way, if there is a problem (like a foundation problem that might cost $10,000 to repair), you can get the seller to focus on that issue, get it resolved (either by making the repair or giving you a credit), and proceed to the closing.
At the end of the day, you want to buy, and the seller wants to sell. If you both focus on what you are each willing to live with, you should be able to get your deal done.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, ThinkGlink.com.