Repair Requests on Homebuying and Selling
Options for Making Repair Requests From Home Sellers
Every house needs repairs. The envelope 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 the home is newer or older.
It's the home inspector's job to find as many of these defects as possible, regardless of how small and seemingly inconsequential. An older home will likely generate a longer laundry list of repair items. The objective is to figure out which repairs are serious or severe safety issues, and to determine whether a seller will honor a buyer's request for repairs.
Always Get a Professional Home Inspection
Every buyer should hire an independent and qualified home inspector to conduct a home inspection before buying a home. Sellers are reluctant to negotiate or even listen to a request for repairs from buyers without a home inspection. They're more agreeable to making repairs if they see other deficiencies on the report that a buyer isn't nitpicking and addressing.
Not every state certifies or provides licensing for inspectors, but most reputable inspectors will belong to a trade association. Ask for credentials.
Don't ask your cousin or a friend to do an inspection for you. There's little recourse available if he misses defects, plus a seller is highly unlikely to accept your friend's opinion.
Some problems are more common than others, especially with older homes. Those built before 1960 often have ungrounded wiring and polarized receptacles. These are two-plug outlets.
You can't change out a two-prong for a three-prong outlet without grounding the receptacle or installing a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Check your city code requirements.
There's nothing terribly 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.
Some sellers might agree to rewire the house, but the majority of them will adamantly refuse.
Look at newer homes if you don't want to buy a house with ungrounded wiring.
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 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 simply repair them when they leak. It's not unreasonable to ask a seller to repair a leaking galvanized pipe, but few sellers will replace all galvanized pipes with copper, CVPC, or Pex.
Orangeburg Sewer Pipes
Ask your 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 if the sewer line is Orangeburg. If so, these types of pipes last about 50 years before they disintegrate.
Ask for a sewer inspection. Replacement of sewer lines is expensive, but it's an item that many sellers will replace.
Sellers will sometimes provide a roof certification, issued by a roofing company, to buyers. The certificate won't be issued until repairs are made if the roofing company recommends repairs. Sometimes sellers will offer cash credits for a new roof if it needs to be replaced.
Many home inspectors don't inspect roofs, so you might have to arrange for this separately if the seller doesn't offer a roof certificate.
HVAC Systems and Water Heaters
Age is a good indicator for determining when heating and cooling systems should be replaced. Check with city code enforcers to find out if you'll need a permit and to learn about today's standards and requirements.
It's not unusual for a buyer to request new systems, but they're expensive to replace. The average life expectancy of a furnace is about 20 years, and it's 10 years for a water heater. This doesn't mean you have to buy a new water heater on its 10th anniversary, but be wary.
Cash Credit or Repair?
Sometimes buyers are better off asking for a cash credit on a repair item instead of asking the seller to replace or repair. The seller has no vested interest in the home after it's sold, and he might not hire the most qualified contractor or do the repair in a manner that's satisfactory to the buyer.
Check with your lender to determine if a cash credit is allowed before asking for one.
The Bottom Line
- Don't nitpick small items unless the home is brand new. Address major issues and safety issues.
- Don't make repair requests for items that could have been readily ascertained on your initial inspection, such as cracked sidewalks, a bad paint job, or uneven floors.
- It's common for sellers to reject all repair requests in a sellers' market.
- Smart buyers will ask the seller to pay for a home warranty. Home warranties cover major defects for a year and provide a buyer with peace of mind.
- You might want to think twice about pursuing a purchase if the home has foundation problems or a wet basement.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a broker-associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento.