Mastering The Walk Through
The final inspection or “walk through” can often generate last-minute disputes between buyers and sellers the can transform an amicable closing into a contentious one. But it doesn’t need to, and here are some tips that can help avoid problems.
Let’s remember what we are trying to accomplish in the walk through. The purpose is to ensure that the property is being delivered in accordance with the contract. Typically, the seller is required to deliver the real estate:
Vacant and broom clean
In substantially the same condition it was in at contract signing, subject to ordinary wear and tear
With the appliances and, typically, the “systems” in working order (e.g. heating, plumbing).
The exclusive agent can help by reminding sellers before they move out, what is required. The property must be vacant by the time of the walk through, and often sellers time the move too close to the final inspection to ensure that everything is out. Explain to the seller that the movers need to be done, and the property “swept” before the buyers come to inspect. Also, reminding sellers what needs to remain before the move out starts, can avoid inadvertent mistakes during the chaos of the packing and move out. The contract may require that certain items remain, like televisions and electronics, as well as window treatments and appliances. If the contract provides that the seller is to remove a light fixture, does it require the seller to replace it with another, or just cap the wires? If the sellers have moved out days before the closing, a good practice for exclusive brokers is to do a “pre” walk through inspection. Visit the property to see if there are issues. Seller left food in the refrigerator? Accidentally took a light fixture that was to remain? Faucet leaking in the kitchen? Rather than wait until the walk-through for the issue to be noted, a “pre” inspection allows some issues to be resolved before the buyer does the final walk-through.
The buyer’s representative should explain the purpose of the walk through before it begins. This is not an invitation for the buyer to create a “wish list” of items for the seller to fix. The buyer contracted for a used apartment, not a new one. So, for example, the walls will not be painted, and nail holes that were present when the contract was signed (but perhaps not apparent because a painting covered them) are normal and the buyer cannot object. At the inspection, appliances should be tested, and systems should be turned on to ensure they are working (most contracts require major systems to be in working order at closing). Hot water should get hot when turned on within a reasonable time, and water should have sufficient and normal pressure. Depending on the season, it may not be possible to test all systems and buyers must understand that this is a normal and acceptable risk of buying real estate. It is not possible to check if air conditioning works in February.
Despite the best preparation, issues to come up. Suppose a buyer notices that the windows do not open and close easily, and instead seem to be “sticking.” Does the seller need to repair? Hold back money? The answer is in the contract. Typically, the real estate is to be delivered “as is” at the time of contract signing, subject to ordinary wear and tear. Unless there is a specific provision requiring the windows to be in “good working order” at closing, then the question is, were the windows “sticking” when the contract was signed? Chances are they were, as it is unlikely that they just started having issues in the last couple of months, and moreover, the buyer likely never tested them before signing the contract. In this case, the buyer contracted to buy an apartment with “sticking” windows, and the “as is” nature of the deal requires no repair or escrow. What if a window is cracked at the walk through? Was it cracked when the contract was signed? If yes, then the buyer bought an apartment with a cracked window. If no, then likely the seller needs to repair this, or give a credit, as cracking a window is beyond the ordinary “wear and tear” permitted under the contract.
Keep it in perspective:
There is a lot to be done on the day of the closing, so it’s helpful to keep things in perspective at the walk through and try not to let clients escalate matters unnecessarily. Generally, there are heightened emotions on both sides of any residential deal. Successful brokers keep things calm and don’t “fan the flames” on walk through issues. Intercom not working? Call the building super, see if it can be looked at promptly. If the repair is a $50 item, this can be handled among the brokers informally, allowing the closing process to continue smoothly without unnecessary tension or dispute.