The buyer's walk through: protection for the seller
Julie Garton-Good, GRI, DREI

The sale of your home is about to close and the Realtor working with the buyer calls to set up a time for their final look at the property. Don't panic. In fact, allowing the buyer to take a final look is actually in your favor. It reinforces the property's condition to the buyer and is verification that the buyer is accepting the prior as it is seen.

The "walk through" as it is referred to usually occurs a few days or so before the loan closing. If the buyer is not working with a Realtor, it's equally advisable that you as the seller arrange for the walk-through to occur. Be sure to document any questions the buyer has as well as the answers you provide.

What do you and the buyer use as your guide for the property walk through? The purchase agreement is a good place to start, as well as any other property condition forms attached to it. It spells out the terms and conditions of the sale as well as the condition of the property being sold to the buyer. For example, most agreements specify that the heating and cooling systems be in working order. That would suggest that the buyer turn on all heating/cooling systems, even in off-season.

What the buyer might check during that final look around before closing

The following is a checklist of areas in and around the home that the buyer may examine. They include:

  1. General condition of interior walls and ceiling
  2. Conditions in the attic (to check for a leaking roof)
  3. Conditions in any basement or crawl space (to check for dampness)
  4. Electric & Mechanical aspects--These include furnace, air conditioner, ceiling fans, water heater, plumbing fixtures, drains, garbage disposal, and built-in appliances.
  5. The exterior of the house--This could include the roof, turning water spigots on and off, inspecting downspouts and checking exterior lighting.
  6. Any garages and/or detached buildings
  7. A thorough inspection of any personal property you're leaving with the home. This would include appliances as well as their applicable warranty information, area rugs.

Don't be offended if the buyer moves area rugs or swings picture out of the way. It's merely part of a thorough review, and something you should do when the tables are turned and you're the home buyer!

What if the Buyer Finds Discrepancies?

The first step is to verify (using the paperwork) what the discrepancy is. Often what appears to be a discrepancy is merely a difference in opinion or interpretation.

Second, ask the Realtor(s), if applicable, to discuss whether there really is a discrepancy. Is there additional paperwork to back up the concern? Is there other third-party information like a property inspection completed by an appropriately licensed person that could serve as documentation?

Third, if you can't come to a meeting of the minds about the item, get a third party interpretation (from your attorney and/or the home inspector). Know that if the buyer's questions aren't thoroughly answered, the buyer might delay the closing. Just as with your initial negotiations with the buyer, know which battles are worth winning and which are more frivolous or ego based. You don't want to delay the closing and/or chance not selling the property over an issue that is unimportant and that a little give and take can rectify.

Just a reminder, the "walk through" is not a home inspection. A home inspection can only be conducted by an appropriately licensed person (such as a general contractor, master electrician for electrical problems, etc.). The purpose of the final look at the property before closing is primarily to determine that all personal property noted in the contract will be left with the property, and to ensure that the property condition is consistent with terms of the contract.

What does that mean? If the contract requires that the seller replace or repair the roof, these repairs should be made prior to the buyers final visit to the property before closing. If the contract stated that the seller's 24-cubic-foot side-by-side refrigerator stays with the house, it better be there, and not be replaced by an 18-foot stripped-down model.

Taking the time to ensure both buyers and sellers understand what will transfer with the home will save time and misunderstandings that can kill a closing, and help both parties feel good about the transaction.

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