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Walk-through allows buyers to spot problems


What is a final walk-through inspection?

A buyer completes a final walk-through inspection before closing to confirm that the property is in substantially the same condition it was when the purchase contract was negotiated. If the seller agreed to complete repairs as a part of the purchase agreement, a final inspection enables the buyers to verify that the work has been done.

The final walk-through also gives the buyers the opportunity to confirm that the seller's personal belongings and debris are being removed from the property; that tenants have vacated; and that appliances the seller agreed to leave with the property haven't been moved out by accident.

The final inspection is usually a buyer's right but it's usually not a contingency in the contract. This means that buyers can't use the walk-through as a means of backing out of the contract at the last minute.

The walk-through should be completed far enough in advance so that the sellers have time to remedy any problems. Ideally, the final inspection should be done within 7 days of closing.

New homes are often sold before they're completed. During the final walk-through of such a house, you should make a list (called a "punch list") of finishing details the builder still needs to complete.

It's wise to have the builder sign a copy of your "punch list." If the list is short, the builder probably won't have trouble getting the work done by closing. If a substantial amount of work remains, you may want to delay closing until the work is done. Your lender may actually require this.

Sometimes a new home is ready to occupy but a few items are unfinished that can't be done before closing.

Ask the builder to give you a written commitment that states when these items will be completed.

FIRST-TIME TIP: In addition to completing a final walk-through inspection, it's a good idea to schedule a meeting with the seller so that you can learn some of the idiosyncrasies of your new home before you move in. Find out how to operate the irrigation, security and lighting systems. Ask the seller to leave any operating manuals and warranties.

Inquire about routine maintenance items the sellers feel are necessary to keep the house in top condition. How often do gutters need cleaning? Are there any drains that need to be cleaned out periodically? Are there areas of the roof or around the foundation that require caulking?

Ask the sellers to leave you the names and phone numbers of the tradespeople they have used to maintain the house in the past. Such recommendations are valuable because these people have worked on the house and are familiar with it. Buyers of new homes should ask the builder who they should call when they find defects that need correcting. If you're moving into a completely new community, ask the sellers to introduce you to a few of your new neighbors.

If you don't have an opportunity to meet with the sellers personally before you take possession, ask them to leave you a note detailing any relevant information.

THE CLOSING: Not all buyers complete a final walk-through inspection. Some operate on good faith that the sellers will comply with the terms of the contract and deliver a house that has been maintained, is free of debris and is broom clean. But if you've ever heard a horror story of buyers taking possession of a house that's in shambles, you'll want to exercise your right to do a final inspection.

Dian Hymer's column is syndicated through Inman New Features. Send questions and comments care of Inman News Features, 5335 College Avenue, No. 25, Oakland, Calif., 94618.

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