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Once an offer is accepted and has been through attorney review, the inspection period begins. Usually the buyer has two weeks to perform any inspections and negotiate any issues that are found. The buyer should schedule the inspections as soon as possible to allow time to schedule secondary inspections if needed. Like the attorney review period, buyers who have an inspection contingency clause in their contract can decide to withdraw their offer without penalty if he or she feels uncomfortable with the issues found and the seller and buyer cannot agree on a solution.
What inspections should the buyer order?
General Home Inspection: The most important inspection is the general home inspection. Even if the buyer is purchasing an "as-is" home, it is important for the buyer to know the condition of the home and the extent of needed repairs. The general inspection is also an opportunity for the buyer to learn about the maintenance needs of the home.
Buyers can be overwhelmed when they receive a large report after the inspection. Keep in mind that unless it's a new home, multiple issues will most likely be found. The buyer is paying someone to find problems. Most inspectors will err on the side of precaution by mentioning every possible issue. That does not mean that every item needs to be resolved. Once the buyer receives the list, he or she should review it with the buyer's agent and decide which items are most critical. In Northern NJ, real estate attorneys usually negotiate the inspection items and modify the contract as necessary.
Termite Inspection: Even if the seller's disclosure says that the owners have no knowledge of termites, a buyer should order a termite inspection. The inspector should be able to tell if the home has been treated for termites in the past, as well as find signs of termite damage and active termites.
Finding termite damage in older homes in not unusual. The termite inspector can assess the extent of the damage. Even if the damage looks like it occurred years ago and there are no signs of present termites, the buyer should request a termite treatment and/ or a warranty document certifying that the property will remain termite free for a year or another treatment will be done for free.
Radon Test: A buyer should order a radon test for the basement. If radon over a certain level is found, remediation can be discussed.
Oil Tank Sweep: A sweep for an oil tank should be done on a property even if an oil tank has already been removed or decommissioned. There have been instances where a second tank has been found. Accepting oil tank insurance on a certified decommissioned tank can be risky since oil tanks can leak into the ground despite their status. The price to remove an oil tank and remediate the soil can be extremely costly.
If sellers are serious about selling their home and they suspect that there may be an oil tank, I recommend that they have an oil tank sweep done before listing the property. If an oil tank is found, the seller should remove it before the home is listed. Most buyers will not consider a home with an known underground oil tank. If the seller waits until the buyer finds the tank, the buyer will most likely insist that the tank be removed or will withdraw the offer.
Chimney Inspection: Homes with fireplaces, especially wood-burning ones, may require a secondary chimney inspection. The general inspector will normally suggest one if it looks like the chimney is old or has signs of water damage. Chimney repairs are costly. Keep in mind that a crumbling chimney in also a safety issue.
I advise my sellers to have their chimneys cleaned and inspected prior to listing the home. By ensuring that the chimney is in working order, the seller can avoid requests to lower the price or supply a credit for chimney repairs.
Note that I did not list a lead paint inspection. If the home was built before 1978, there is a high probability that there is lead paint in the home. Home Depot sells inexpensive test kits should the buyer want to know.
Buyers should remember that inspections exist to help them avoid buying a home with more issues than they can handle. An inspection should not be treated as an opportunity to renegotiate the entire contract or an excuse to nickel-and-dime the sellers.
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