Every house needs repairs. The major elements of a home—its roof, floors, walls, windows, and structural support members—all have different lifespans, so a home inspection is likely to turn up a list of repairs, whether it’s a new house or an old one.
When you get a home inspection, the inspector will attempt to find as many of these defects as possible. Once you have the inspection report in hand, you can request that the seller repair the items found. They may agree, decline, or in some cases, offer you “repair credits” instead. These essentially lower the selling price, giving you more cash to do the repairs yourself once you own the home.
Your job as a buyer is to figure out which issues warrant a repair request with the sellers, and which you’ll ask for cash for, handle yourself, or let slide altogether.
- You’ll generally want to focus on bigger-picture items when making repair requests.
- Consider asking the seller to pay for a home warranty, which cover major defects for a year and provide added peace of mind.
- Major repairs include ungrounded wiring, defective water or sewer pipes, roofing issues, and aging HVAC systems.
- If you prefer to get the repairs done yourself after closing, see whether the seller will pay a lump sum to cover the estimated costs of future fixes.
Tips for Making Repair Requests
You’ll generally want to focus on bigger-picture items if you’re going to make repair requests. Remember that sellers are on their way out of the home (they may already have a new one), and they probably don’t want to put much time or cash into a property they’re just about to leave. They may also be on a tight timeline.
Here are some general tips for making repair requests as a homebuyer:
- Don't nitpick small items unless the home is brand new. Address major issues and safety issues first.
- Don't make repair requests for items that could have been readily ascertained on your initial walk-through of the home, such as cracked sidewalks, a bad paint job, or uneven floors.
- Consider asking the seller to pay for a home warranty. Home warranties cover major defects for a year and provide added peace of mind.
Sellers don’t have to agree to any repair requests. In fact, if it’s a seller’s market, and there are lots of buyers vying for the property, they may reject them altogether.
It’s also important to think about the quality and aesthetics of the repairs you’re requesting. Because sellers have one foot out the door, they may not be as focused on quality as you would be. They also may have different aesthetic tastes and standards from yours. If it’s important to you to have something repaired or updated a certain way, you may want to wait and handle it yourself.
Serious Issues to Watch For
If serious issues are found on your home inspection, you should request repairs from the sellers. Some of the more severe issues you should watch for include:
Homes built before 1960 often have ungrounded wiring and polarized receptacles. These are two-prong outlets that come with a higher risk of electric shock than current standards allow.
There's nothing bad about ungrounded wiring, but it's not a good idea to plug sensitive electronic equipment into an ungrounded outlet, such as computers or televisions, or appliances that draw a lot of power, such as microwaves or newer refrigerators.
If a home you’re looking to buy has ungrounded wiring, you might want to request that the home be rewired before closing. If the sellers don’t agree to your demand, you may consider a newer property with modern wiring instead.
Galvanized Water Pipes
Most homes built before 1970 have galvanized steel pipes. Minerals in the water supply can cause a buildup inside these pipes over time. This buildup could be your problem if you notice low water pressure. Galvanized pipes can also rust and leak.
Many homeowners don't replace galvanized pipes; they repair them when they leak. It's not unreasonable to ask a seller to repair a leaking galvanized pipe. You may also ask them to replace all galvanized pipes with copper, CVPC, or Pex, though they might be less likely to take on such a large project just before moving out.
Orangeburg Sewer Pipes
Ask your real estate agent if other homes in the neighborhood have had Orangeburg or "tar paper" sewer pipes. You can hire plumbing specialists to insert a camera down the sewer line to look for tree roots or to find out whether the sewer line is Orangeburg. If so, these types of pipes last about 50 years before they disintegrate. They can also cause thousands of dollars in repairs if a pipe should burst.
You can also ask for a sewer inspection. Replacement of sewer lines is expensive, but it's an item that many sellers will replace if asked.
If roof issues crop up on your inspection, you can certainly ask for these to be repaired. Usually, sellers will get a roof inspection when these requests are made. These are conducted by a roofing company and are designed to find any issues with the roof, its materials, and its features—ridges, caps, pipes, and other features. Once the repairs are made, the roofing company will issue a roof certification to show it’s in good condition.
If the roof needs a full replacement, there’s a chance the seller will replace it or have it replaced under their home insurance policy. Sometimes, they will offer cash credits instead.
HVAC Systems and Water Heaters
Age is a good indicator for determining when heating and cooling systems should be replaced. The average life expectancy of a central A/C unit is usually 15 to 20 years.
This limited lifespan doesn't mean that the seller should have bought a new unit immediately on its 20th anniversary, but be wary if a system is nearing its age limit. If your home inspector notes a unit’s old age on your report, have it inspected by a licensed HVAC professional to make sure it’s up to snuff.
It's not unusual for a buyer to request new systems, but they're expensive to replace, so keep this in mind if you intend to request a full replacement.
If you’re a home buyer, getting a professional home inspection is an important step in the process. Home inspectors are specifically trained to find deficiencies in residential properties. They can also advise you as to what deficiencies are most important or pose safety issues.
Cash Credit or Repair?
Sometimes buyers are better off asking for cash credit on a repair item instead of asking the seller to replace or repair something. The seller has no vested interest in the home after it's sold, and they might not hire the most qualified contractor or do the repair in a manner that's satisfactory to the buyer.
Ask your lender whether a cash credit is allowed before asking for one, and work with your agent to determine the best strategy for working with the home’s sellers. The current market, the condition of the home, and the exact sellers you’re working with will all play a role.