Thank you for considering Stuart and Maury Inc., Realtors, as the real estate company to professionally represent you in the sale of your home. This letter is written for the purpose of acquainting you with some of the issues that often cause problems in a real estate sale and to help you avoid them. At Stuart and Maury, we do our best to educate sellers (and buyers) about these potential pitfalls well in advance of the contract phase. Understanding nuances in the sales contract can go a long way towards eliminating misunderstandings and confusion.
It is very likely that the contract offer from your prospective buyer will include a contingency that provides the opportunity for the buyer to have a professional home inspection of the premises. On rare occasions, the inspection is “clean” and the buyer simply removes the contingency and the contract moves forward toward closing. However, in most cases, the best kept houses – or even new homes for that matter! – will generate a list of defects that require attention. While the seller is not bound to make the repairs, declining to do so gives the buyer the option of voiding the contract. Many items come as a surprise to both the buyer and the seller because we all get used to working around certain imperfections in our homes and other items are things that only a home inspector checks. This could include such items as electrical panels that are rated for more power than the entry cables can deliver, flues and piping related to your furnace and hot water heater, and extremely dirty chimneys. It is hard to say “no” to some of these things that come as a surprise to the buyer, particularly when they are deemed to be unsafe.
It is very common for an owner to say "it was like that when we bought the house." Unfortunately, that does not make the issue any less important to the buyer, the home inspector and the licensed people who solve these problems. A good example is the two pronged outlet that is part of the base of old bathroom light fixtures from the 40’s and 50’s. Since those were installed, the building codes have changed to require electrical outlets near water (the sink) to be GFCI protected to prevent accidental electrocution. Yes, those old outlets still work but they are not safe. It is not uncommon for the home inspector to strongly recommend replacing them with a GFCI outlet in the wall. Remember, emotions always run high during a real estate transaction. Buyers are at their highest anxiety levels during the home inspection, often questioning their own judgment for the decisions they have made. It is important to rely on the experience of your Stuart & Maury agent to guide you successfully through this delicate phase of the sale.
A seller will occasionally ask to convey an item in "as is" condition. The conveyance of an item or two in "as is" condition may not significantly affect the prospective purchaser's interest in your home. But it may erode confidence somewhat and cause an even more careful analysis of the problem. "Why doesn't it work? Why didn't they fix it? What else might be wrong?" Whenever possible, it is better to eliminate the concern before they ever know of it by repairing the problem in advance of marketing your home.
Here are a few of the common problems with houses that cause concern during home inspection:
- Deterioration of the cement chimney cap and/or bricks near the top of the chimney
- Clogged gutters, downspouts and underground downspout extensions
- Leaking roofs and poor roof flashing
- Eroding and leaning retaining walls
- Deteriorating walks, steps and stoops
- Loose railings and bannisters
- Warped doors that do not latch properly
- Broken windows, windows painted shut, and torn screens
Depending on the specific terms of the contract and your sale strategy, these items could be problematic. However, in the case of an “as-is” sale where the lower price takes into account the deficiencies, no repairs may be necessary.
Termites and other wood destroying insects fall into a special category. Most contracts include a paragraph dedicated to this subject and provide the buyer an opportunity to have the home inspected for any infestation or damage caused by wood destroying insects. The customary language of the Termite paragraph states that it is the seller’s responsibilit to treat any infestation and to have a licensed contractor repair any “visible” damage. Keep in mind that the termite paragraph also includes damage from powder post beetles (rare in our area) and carpenter bees (very common in our area!). Many homeowners choose to have a termite warranty with one of the local termite companies which would protect them from the cost of any required extermination. Please note that most warranties only cover treatment, not damage. A local company whose warranty includes a provision for damage repair is Capitol Termite and Pest in Bethesda, MD.
It would not be unusual for purchasers to make their contract contingent upon a radon test of the premises. Most often this is done in conjunction with the home inspection but the results are not usually available until two days later. Canisters are placed in your home for two days or so and then analyzed by the radon inspector to determine the level of radon gas on the lowest level of the home. Most homes have some level of radon because radon is a naturally occurring gas that is present almost everywhere. However, if a home has a radon level above the EPA action level (currently 4 picocuries per liter), then you may be asked to undertake corrective measures to bring the reading under that level. A seller may decline to remediate the radon but that could result in the buyer declaring the contract null and void. As a seller, once you have knowledge of a radon test result, it is your obligation to reveal such result to a future potential buyer. For that reason, it is usually best to make the repair and move forward with the current buyer. The good news is that a sub-slab ventilation system can be installed for under $1,000 that almost always eliminates the problem.
These are days of environmental concern and there is a great focus on the 9”x9” linoleum tiles that were installed on the floor of countless basements in our area. It has been publicized that these tiles may contain asbestos and the home inspectors must make that known to the buyers. In fact, the asbestos is no threat as it is safely encapsulated in the tile and, as such, is not friable (cannot be inhaled). But the mere mention of the word causes anxiety and fear and sellers are often asked to mitigate the problem. That can be done expensively by having a qualified, licensed, EPA and MDE approved contractor remove the tiles. But the less expensive and more common remediation involves covering the tile with vinyl or carpet to prevent any contamination. Because of the emotional component associated with this issue, it is highly recommended that a seller address this problem before it becomes one – in advance of marketing the home.
We encourage all potential sellers to discuss these issues with their Stuart and Maury representative and together you can chart a course that will make your transaction smooth and successful.