Repair Requests on Home Buying and Selling
Requesting Seller Repairs
Every house needs repairs. There is no perfect house. If a house were perfect, everything would break or fall apart at the same time. But as it is, the envelope of a home: its roof, floors, walls, windows, structural support members, all have different lifespans. Although, today, many appliances seem to stop working as soon as the warranties expire. The point is if you're looking for a perfect house, you can stop home searching now. It doesn't exist.
It doesn't really matter whether the home is newer or older, a home inspection is still likely to turn up a list of repairs. It's the home inspector's job to find as many defects as possible, regardless of how small. An older home, of course, will likely generate a longer laundry list of repair items. The objectives are 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.
Get a Professional Home Inspection
- Sellers will be reluctant to listen to or negotiate a request for repair from a buyer without receipt of a home inspection. Inexperienced agents might refuse to give sellers a copy of the home inspection until after the request for repairs are agreed upon. However, that's like putting the cart before the horse. Besides, sellers will be more agreeable to making repairs if they see other deficiencies on the report that a buyer didn't request.
- Every buyer should hire an independent and qualified home inspector to conduct a home inspection before buying a home. Not every state certifies or provides licensing for inspectors, but most reputable inspectors will belong to a trade association. Ask for those credentials.
- Don't ask your cousin or a friend to do this for you. There is little recourse available if your cousin or friend misses defects, plus a seller won't accept your friend's opinion.
Older Plumbing and Wiring
- Ungrounded Electrical.
Homes built before 1960 often have ungrounded wiring and polarized receptacles. These are two-plug outlets. You cannot change out a two-prong for a three-prong outlet without grounding the receptacle or installing a GFCI. Check your city code requirements. While there is nothing terribly bad about ungrounded wiring, it's not a good idea to plug in sensitive electronic equipment such as computers or televisions to an ungrounded outlet, much fewer appliances that draw a lot of power such as microwaves or newer refrigerators. Many homeowners run Romex from the electrical box to new receptacles for these items.
While some sellers will agree to rewire the house, the majority of them will adamantly refuse. If you do not want to buy a house with ungrounded wiring, do yourself a favor and look at newer homes.
- Galvanized Water Pipes
Most homes built before 1970 have galvanized steel pipes. Over time, minerals in the water supply can cause a build up inside the pipes. If you see low-water pressure, build up could be your problem. Galvanized pipes can also rust and leak. Many homeowners do not replace galvanized pipes but repair them when they leak. It is not unreasonable to ask a seller to repair a leaking galvanized pipe. 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 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 many sellers will replace.
Sellers will sometimes provide a roof certification for the buyer, which is issued by a roofing company. If the roofing company recommends repairs, the certificate will not be issued until the repairs are made. Sometimes sellers will offer a cash credit for a new roof if it needs to be replaced. Many home inspectors do not inspect roofs.
HVAC Systems/Water Heaters
Age is a good indicator for determining when heating and cooling systems need to be replaced. Check with city code enforcers to find out if you will need a permit and today's standards requirements. It's not unusual for a buyer to request new systems, but it is expensive to replace. The average life expectancy of a furnace is about 20 years and 10 years for a water heater. It doesn't mean you need to buy a new water heater on its 10th anniversary. Just 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 once it is sold, and might not hire the most qualified contractor or do the repair in a manner that is satisfactory to a buyer. Before asking for a cash credit, check with your lender to determine if a cash credit is allowed.
Above all, unless the home is brand new, do not nitpick small items. Address major issues and safety issues. Do not make repair requests for items that could have been readily ascertained on your initial inspection such as cracked sidewalks, bad paint jobs or uneven floors. Otherwise, the seller will feel you should have asked for those items in the purchase offer. In seller's markets, it is common for sellers to reject all repair requests.
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.
In closing, if the home has foundation problems or a wet basement, you might want to think twice about pursuing a purchase on this type of home.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a broker-associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento.