FIRST-TIME HOME BUYER'S GUIDE
You're this close to owning a new home, you can almost taste it. The closing paperwork is prepared, your new digs passed the inspection, and—wonder of wonders—you're even happy with your loan. Home ownership is just on the other side of the hill.
As long as the final walk-through goes all right.
OK, take a breath—there's no need to panic. The vast majority of walk-throughs reveal no problems at all, and even if they do, most issues are easily fixed. Still, it can be an awkward, stressful process that can make you want to reach for the Xanax, especially for first-time buyers. Learn what to look for on your last trip through the house before the sellers hand over the keys. Your new keys!
Create a checklist
Before your walk-through, work with your Realtor® and real estate lawyer to create a comprehensive checklist covering all of your concerns with the home—the items that you'd like to see addressed or fixed, pronto. Look at your notes from previous walk-throughs and the inspection report to determine what areas of the house you should double-check.
“Simply having a checklist during final walk-through can greatly reduce any issues,” says Joe Stanfield, a Realtor in Charlotte, NC.
Other things to add to your inspection list include ensuring that all appliances work—make sure to turn them on while you're in the house—as well as the bathroom plumbing. Check the windows, doors, and all outlets and lights. If anything is amiss, bring it up with the sellers as soon as possible and negotiate a fee the sellers can give you by personal check to cover the costs of fixing it yourself. It's your last chance. Make it count.
Ensure required repairs were completed
Most sellers are good, ethical people, but you never know if you're dealing with a sneak (or at least a transitory case of seller amnesia, whose symptoms include the oft-heard line, “Oh, I meant to get to that”) until the final walk-through. After all, the selling process can be hypercomplicated—leaving required repairs unfinished because priorities have been focused elsewhere.
“Sometimes a seller will have indicated that a repair previously negotiated during the due diligence period was completed, but the buyer finds out during the walk-through that it has not,” says Suzette Gray, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Charlotte, NC.
She recommends asking for copies of paid invoices for all repairs. If it's a simple repair—such as patching up drywall or replacing a faucet—ask them to send you a photo of the completed work before the walk-through, “so there are no surprises.”
And while civility is key, this is not the time for preternatural politeness. If you dofind something wrong that they'd vowed to address, it's worth the awkwardness of bringing it up face to face and demanding compensation—after all, a promise is a promise. Right?
Inspect previously hard-to-reach spots
During your final walk-through, inspect everything you couldn't check out earlier due to lack of time.
“You always want to ensure that you aren't stuck with problems that were previously hidden from view,” says Seth Stisher from the Seth Realty Team in Charleston, SC.
Did an enormous Persian area rug cover the living room floor before? Was the couch pushed flush against the wall? Take a careful look at the hardwood below for any water damage or rot. This goes double if you're buying a home with a basement once filled with boxes or clutter. Basements are ground zero for mold, water damage, and other structural issues, and it's easy for sellers to hide (or miss) problems behind a layer of clutter.
Look for missing items—or secret swaps
Make sure all appliances and fixtures you'd liked during earlier visits are still present—or haven't undergone a subpar substitution.
“If you were promised a chandelier and now there is an empty socket, that's not going to fly,” says Janine Acquafredda, a Realtor in Brooklyn, NY. Basically anything connected to the home by plugs or pipes should stay—or if the sellers intended to keep something other than their furniture and belongings, it should be specified in the contract. Swapping out the bronze cabinet pulls for mediocre chrome replacements isn't OK, either, and you have every right to demand them reinstated before the home changes hands.
Don't panic over a little dirtYou might be expecting a picture-perfect, Architectural Digest–ready home, with polished hardwood floors and shining countertops—but few real estate contracts mandate those expectations, instead asking for the place to be “broom clean.” Which does not mean “scrubbed within an inch of its life.”
Usually that's your job. Sorry.
“Everyone has a different definition of broom clean, and if the place is a little dirty it's not the end of the world,” says Koki Adasi, a Realtor with Koki & Associates in Silver Springs, MD. Don't stress over minor problems such as scratches in the hardwood or marks on the walls. It's certainly not worth raising a fuss over—not only will it annoy the sellers, but chances are you'll cause more damage during move-in.
Speaking of: With your final walk-through completed and closing paperwork signed, you've got only one step left: moving in to your new home. Really.