What does a home inspector do? This home seller thinks the requests a buyer made after the home inspection are unreasonable.

Q: I enjoyed your column today in the Sunday Chicago Tribune. In your experience, have you come across buyers trying to use their home inspector to assert that there are many problems with a home, even if those complaints are unjustified, with the hopes that seller will come up with a big credit for them?  

This type of situation has happened to me and the requests were so outrageous that I can’t help but think buyers were really trying to take advantage, almost to the point of fraud. If you have not heard of this maybe I just got a bad pair of buyers! I turned down all of their requests and then they backed out of the contract. 

A: Well, we can’t say that we have encountered any specific inspector that has been influenced by a buyer to make stuff up about a home in the way you have described. However, Sam frequently deals with home inspectors that generate a huge list of items related to a home his buyers are buying or that his sellers are selling.

What Does a Home Inspector Do?

While we can’t rule out that there are bad inspectors out there who are making stuff up, they don’t really have any incentive to do that. Instead, home inspectors are paid to note all items wrong with a home. And that’s their job. As a home buyer, you want to know what shape the mechanical systems are in (so you understand if there is a big-ticket item that will need to be replaced) and whether there are small items you’ll need to attend to once you close on the property

Given that the home inspector is there to give the buyer as much information about the home as possible, the home inspector will note everything from dirty filters in the air-conditioning system, cracks in foundations, uneven floors and doors, chipped countertops, loose door or cabinet knobs, burnt out light bulbs, problems with the roof, the age and condition of the hot water heater and hundreds of other possible items.

The inspector will give the buyer all of this information and then it’s up to the buyer to decide what, if anything, to request the seller to repair. Some buyers go way overboard and ask the sellers to repair everything noted on the inspection report. We don’t think that’s fair. A home inspector may note common wear and tear to a home for a buyer but that doesn’t mean that a seller needs to deliver a home to a buyer in brand new condition. A 20-year old home will have issues. In fact, many new homes have issues as well, but with a new home, you expect the home builder to give a buyer a home free of issues.

Do Sellers Need to Repair Everything the Home Inspector Notes?

Having said all that, we suspect that you might have found a pair of buyers that felt it was better to ask for everything with the hope that you would give them something. We generally think that a buyer is entitled to buy a home with working appliances and in a condition that would be about what you’d expect for a home of that age. 

If you’re buying a 100-year old home that has never been updated or remodeled, you can’t expect the sellers to bring the home up to today’s standards. Supposedly, the price you’re paying reflects the age and condition. So when the home inspector tells the buyer that the home has a fuse box, knob and tube wiring, non-grounded outlets and no GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupters) in the bathrooms and kitchen, you shouldn’t harbor the expectation that the seller will take a 100-year old home and make it look like a brand new home.

Now, if you’re buying a home that’s only a year old, you’d expect everything to be in good working condition and that the home would meet all (or almost all, in case there had been very recent revisions) of the current building code requirements. If the builder missed the installation of a GFCI in one of the bathrooms, you could expect the buyer to ask the seller to make that installation. 

How Do I Know If the Repairs a Home Buyer Requests Are Fair?

It gets a bit harder and fuzzier to make the decision and determination as to what to ask of the seller when a home is older (but not ancient) and some of the mechanicals, fixtures and appliances are aging. If they’re older but working, we don’t think it’s fair for a buyer to ask of a seller to replace all the appliances and other mechanicals just because they are old. A buyer may be entitled to have all of these items in working condition but not new condition. Again, the price you pay generally reflects the condition of the property.

There are no hard and fast rules here, except that when a buyer comes in and tells the seller to fix scratches on countertops, repaint scuffed up walls, replace worn carpeting, refinish wood flooring, or replace worn cabinet doors, the buyer may be overreaching. Sam’s experience has been that when buyers overreach in a home purchase, buyers tend to get less than if they come in and only request the most important items. Sellers appreciate it when buyers focus on items that are clearly broken and need repairs.

Finally, for our readers who will soon be home buyers, remember to focus on the big picture items when buying a home, and ask your home inspector to do the same. That way, if there’s a big-ticket problem (like a foundation problem that might cost $10,000 to repair), you can get the seller to focus on that issue, get it resolved (either by making the repair or giving you a credit), and proceed to the closing. 

At the end of the day, you want to buy and the seller wants to sell. If you both focus on what you must have fixed and what you’re each willing to live with, you should be able to get your deal done. 

More on Home Inspections and Buyer Requests

When a Home Inspector Overlooks an Asbestos Problem, What Can You Do?

Can I Report My Home Inspector to ASHI?

Home Inspector Should Make Terms Clear Before Payment

When a Lack of Seller Disclosure and a Bad Home Inspection Collide

3 Issues Standard Home Inspections Don’t Typically Catch

Advantages of Pre-listing Home Inspections

Failed Home Inspection: What to Do When Home Inspection Goes Bad