Don't Forgo Final Inspection

Special to The Times

Patty and Frank agreed to buy a $300,000 condo from David and Marla. When they negotiated the contract, David and Marla agreed to leave the light fixtures, refrigerator, sconces and some bookcases that were attached to the wall.

Everything was going along so well that Patty and Frank decided to forgo the pre-closing inspection.

After the closing, everyone shook hands, and David and Marla handed over the keys. Patty and Frank went over to their new condo, opened the door and discovered that it had been stripped bare: no light fixtures, no refrigerator, no sconces and huge holes in the wall where the bookcases had been ripped out. They were heartbroken.

Though the sellers certainly should have lived up to the contract, something for which they could be sued, Patty and Frank should have done a final walk-through of the condo before closing.

Most first-time buyers understand the importance of having the home examined by a home inspector, but many first-timers don't do a pre-closing inspection.

Schedule Walk-Through Close to Closing
To avoid getting burned, schedule the walk-through as close to the actual closing as possible, certainly within 24 to 48 hours before closing, preferably after the sellers have moved out.

The whole point of the walk-through is to protect yourself and your future property from sellers who aren't as nice as they seem to be or who are actually as nasty as they appear.

By inspecting the premises, you're making sure the seller has lived up to his or her agreements in the sales contract. And if he or she hasn't, you want to know about it before the closing so remedies (both monetary and otherwise) can be agreed on before the sale closes.

What should you look for in a pre-closing inspection?

To start, make sure that the condition of the home hasn't changed since you signed the contract several months earlier. Remember, you probably negotiated for the home some 45 to 90 days ago and have spent the last weeks arranging for your mortgage, packing and preparing to move.

As Patty and Frank discovered, a lot can change in 60 days. And you don't want any surprises at closing.

There are several "musts" in a walk-through:

First, you and your agent should both do the pre-closing inspection.

Turn on every appliance, open every door, make sure nothing is broken. Be certain everything the seller agreed to leave is actually there and in good shape and be certain that when the sellers moved out, they did no damage to the home.

Check your contract if you're not sure what the seller agreed to leave. Was leaving the window air-conditioner part of the agreement? Are the window shades or curtains supposed to be left? Or did the seller want to take them?

If the seller asks you at the pre-closing inspection if he or she can take additional items, simply say, "I have to check with my attorney." That will give you time to think about whether you want to give away that particular item.

If you find something missing and the seller is present, avoid a confrontation. Have your broker speak to the seller or seller's broker to confirm what was written in the contract. If the items aren't returned before the closing, you may need to renegotiate the price of the property or delay the closing.

If you're buying a newly built home, you'll be looking for different things on your walk-through. Make sure everything the developer promisedwould be done is actually there (and working) before closing. This includes any sod or plantings, doorknobs, doorbell, window screens, fixtures, appliances, etc.

You also want to be sure that everything works. Take a hair dryer or radio with you and test out the electrical sockets in each room. You can buy a simple device that will tell you if a socket has been wired correctly. Make sure everything has been painted to the agreed-on specifications. Turn on the water in the showers and sinks, and flush the toilets. Does the garage door opener work?

With new construction, there are always a few last-minute items that need to be finished, and it may not be possible for the contractor or developer to get them finished before closing. That's why you should create what's called a "punch list."

Developer Should Comply With Requests
A punch list is a list of all items that need to be fixed in the home before you consider it completely finished. During your pre-closing inspection, write down all of the items that need attention: that loose tile in the master bath; the wall that wasn't painted; the electrical outlet that doesn't work; the tree that should have been planted in the side yard.

Give your punch list to the developer's customer service representative before closing and have the developer agree (in writing) to fix these items before you actually close. Most builders should be happy to comply with any reasonable request.

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Ilyce R. Glink is a syndicated columnist. She's the author of "100 Questions You Should Ask About Your Personal Finances." If you have questions, write Real Estate Matters Syndicate, P.O. Box 366, Glencoe, IL 60022 or send e-mail to Her Web site is Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.

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