Recently, there was an interesting article published in the Toronto Star about home inspections. Four months after the home inspection and two months after closing, it was obvious that Glenda Halliwell’s new home had some major issues. There were clear signs of water damage, moisture, mold, mildew, rot, dust and drywall deterioration in the basement – signs that should have been addressed before closing. The discovery was soon followed by legal action. Ms. Halliwell sued her real estate agent, the inspector and the seller.
Since the sellers had made no attempt to cover up the damage, probably because they were completely unaware of the problem in the first place, they were declared free of responsibility. The home inspector, however, was found 50% responsible since it was his duty to clearly inform the buyer about potential issues. The real estate agent was found 25% at fault because he took a “hands-off” approach and also did not inform the buyer of any potential problems. Ms. Halliwell was left to assume the remaining 25%, since it was her responsibility to read the report and ask the appropriate questions before waiving the home inspection condition.
This situation is more common than one would expect and it begs the questions, just whose responsibility is the home inspection anyway?
The Buyer’s Responsibility
At the end of the day, if this is going to be your home, you want to make sure that it’s in a livable condition before closing. Do not skip the home inspection. Too many problems – problems that don’t immediately stand out – come to the surface after closing. Things to look for include:
- Mold and mildew
- Damp basements and crawlspaces (indicating foundation issues)
- Roofs and chimneys
- Plumbing issues
- Electrical systems
If and when the issues are discovered, you can make a clean inspection a condition of your offer. Make sure that the problem has been fixed at its source – it’s all too easy to cover up the issue, making it appear as if it has been repaired. If you waive the home inspection later, then any problems that arise are your responsibility. Don’t be discouraged if the report comes back with a few negative notes – a perfect inspection is extremely rare and the inspector is obligated to report everything they find. Keep in mind that the home inspection is not a buyer’s wish list. It simply dictates which systems should be in good working order at the time of closing.
The Seller’s Responsibility
Think of your house like a product – a product that is about to compete with similar products on the market. Potential buyers are not interested in purchasing your good intentions; they want to know that the house is good and ready to go, as is. They definitely do not want to inherit your maintenance and repair hassles. Although it is your responsibility to make sure that the home is livable for closing, don’t feel that you must comply with unreasonable demands for repairs. You do have the right to say no.
“Pre-listing Home Inspection”
It is standard procedure for the homebuyer to order a home inspection, but you can get ahead of the game by springing for it yourself. Although you are in no way expected to conduct a pre-listing home inspection, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation suggests that it is a really good idea. Here are some reasons why:
- Allows you to take care of serious deficiencies beforehand
- Reassures homebuyers, providing them with peace of mind
- Keeps you in the driver’s seat
- Can lead to a much quicker close
- You are more likely to get your asking price
Uncovering problems before they arise later will help you in two ways. You can choose to deal with the problem by getting the repairs done, or you can lower your asking price to make it better reflect the value of your home. Foundation problems, for example, can be quite costly. If you discover an existing problem, but cannot make the repair yourself, you can at least adjust the price of your house upfront. The price can, therefore, reflect the true value of the house, foundation problem and all. You could also provide the buyers with an allowance that allows them to make the repairs after closing, although some buyers may find this situation less than desirable.
Hiring a Home Inspector
When it comes time to hire the home inspector, whether you’re the buyer or the seller, make sure that the person you choose is qualified and experienced. Visit the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (CAHPI) website to find out where you can find a qualified inspector. Ask questions. Quite often the inspector will happily explain proper maintenance and operating procedures. Finally, keep in mind that the home inspector is not there to make the buying decision for you. Ultimately, the home inspection is the buyer’s responsibility – if you choose to waive an inspection at closing, any problems that arise are yours to deal with.