It's no secret you need to get a home inspection before buying a home. There is even a school of thought that recommends getting a home inspection as a seller. That way you are already aware of any hidden trouble-spots and can remedy them before the first potential buyers walk through the door (or watch your walk-through video). What typically arises after the inspection is the debate about which items on the list "need" to be fixed. As someone very interested in purchasing a fixer-upper, that list is a gray area of what is "unsafe" versus what could be left for me to fix and reduce the selling price. Let's dig in a bit and figure out a good strategy.
Before we get started I'd like to make a disclaimer. Our world is regrettably filled with sue-happy, greedy, selfish, terrible people. That's a fact of life we all learn early on. So when you're reading this article, just keep that in mind. Every inspector is different and every contract is different. Every town, city, county and state is different with how it handles inspection clauses and contracts. The thoughts below are just some general guidelines, but you should always read your contract carefully and have your own smarty-pants lawyer take a look at it. If, for nothing else, only to protect you from the aforementioned terrible people. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
There are some things that come up in an inspection report that truly "need" to be fixed. These typically fall into the "structural integrity" category. There are loads of images on the interwebs portraying a bowing, cracking basement wall or a roofline that resembles a sweet half-pipe. Those are not going to fly with most buyers (or lenders!). That's right. While we may feel that something is "fixable" or tolerable, lenders also have a say in this. After all, for most of us, it really is still their house until that last payment is made. You can't blame them for being careful with their investment. "It's also important to note that once an item like that is uncovered, as the seller you are obligated to disclose that to any future interested party," notes Badger Realty agent, Deirdre Lorway.
Another area that will raise red flags (and potentially stop your purchase in its tracks) is code violations. These are not gray areas at all and will always need to be fixed before anything moves forward. Actually, anything safety related is something you will want to address before that next showing. Have your chimney checked and swept. Tidy up any loose wires in the attic, crawl space and basement. And have your furnace or HVAC system inspected. Again, some of these might slip under the inspector's radar (or responsibility), but they are all good areas of your home to sure-up before you sell.
The other side of the coin is where my fellow fixer-upper fans and I like to live. It's in that gray area between "Holy cow, that's a huge hole in the wall" and "A coat of paint and it'll be good as new." This is the place where, as a seller, you are hoping the buyer will see and accept the blemish, but not ask too much of a concession with their offer. And as the buyer, you're excited to see how much of a concession you can get. We don't really "haggle" much in this country, but this is an area that lends itself very well to those negotiation tactics.
One of the larger factors in the above noted "game" is the current state of the local real estate market. Remember, whatever you're hearing on the national news is truly useless to you. Talk to your local real estate professional and get the real scoop about your own backyard. If the market is piping hot and homes are flying off the shelves, buyers may be better suited to forego any concessions and make their offer much more attractive to the sellers. If the market is a little softer and homes are lingering longer than average, buyers can stick to their guns and get those deal-breakers fixed before they get to the closing table.
The main category of items that are "safe" to negotiate are cosmetic defects. This is anything that, while it may look horrible, is not structurally deficient. Even though the wallpaper is peeling onto the floor, the paint on the windows is almost nonexistent, and the linoleum in the bathroom looks like wood shavings, all of those things are fixable. Peeling paint is not a structural problem unless the paint was covering up some serious water damage. The curled up linoleum in the bathroom is easily replaceable unless the floor beneath it is just as "curly"! As someone who loves remodeling and repairs, the uglier the home, the better. It almost always translates into savings and a fun project for the next couple months.
A home inspection is a brilliant idea and I would never recommend against them. Even if you intend to waive any necessary repairs, at least you had a professional review the home and you know what you are getting into. As with any big life choice and certainly one as financially impactful as this, more knowledge is always the best bet. Learn about your market. Engage with intelligent, experienced contractors and builders. Gather all the knowledge you can about this property (inside and out!). At that point, you'll be far better suited to negotiate and move forward knowing you learned all you could about your future home. Happy house hunting!