For more information about buying a home in Tallahassee check out these pages:
The Eight Step Process Overview of How to Buy a Tallahassee Home
What You Should Know About Financing Your Tallahassee Home.
Here’s what You Should Know About Negotiations Before You Make An Offer
Read these pitfalls to avoid and real estate horror stories.
Follow this link to download a copy of our Tallahassee home buying book!
The home-buying inspection period has started! What do we inspect? Who do we contact?
Congratulations! You have won the bid, and now the house is yours if you want it. Most contracts in Tallahassee allow the buyer 15 days to inspect the property and agree to its condition. Even with as-is contracts, you can negotiate repairs. When sellers accept an as-is contract, they do not expect to make repairs. However, this may change if the buyer finds something during inspections that were not disclosed or noticeable. This is especially true if the seller finds out the financing is contingent upon repairs.
The inspection period (also called the contingency period of the home buying process is also a time to complete the financial stuff. The buyer should ensure they have submitted their entire application and that the financing numbers are comfortable. During this time, the property is on the market as ‘active-contingent’ on the MLS and the internet. The seller can still receive other offers during this time and are able to sign backup offers unless they agree not to in writing. If the buyer finds the property unsatisfactory, FOR ANY REASON, the buyer can terminate the contract and receive their earnest money deposit back.
After the Last Signature is on Offer Contract
The home buying inspection period begins when the last signature is added to the contract. The next day is day one. So, for example, if the you send an offer on Saturday and it is signed by the seller on Sunday, Day ONE is Monday. Inspections are just one of the things that happen right after the contract offer is signed by both sides. The lender and the closing agent also need a copy of that contract! This is an exciting time, and the buyer has 15 days to determine if this house is THE ONE. We have a checklist for this for our customers that includes the specific due dates (based on the contract you signed) and a to-do list of what comes below. Contact us for a blank copy.
Research the house during the home buying inspection period.
Start with the Leon County Property Appraiser’s website when buying a home.
Most of the time, the buyers have already checked out the public records before making an offer. We always start with the Leon county property appraiser’s website. Search for the address, and you will find a lot of information available and linked on this page. Other than the neighborhood sales details on the MLS, it is the best source of information when investigating a home. Included on this website are the owner’s name, last sale and amount, date built, square footage, and footprint of the house. There is also a link to permits and taxes paid. The property info link will provide voting locations and elected officials. If you cannot find the house in the public records, the house may be owned by someone in law enforcement. Those records are excluded from the open record law of Florida for their safety.
Many buyers want to know how much the seller paid for the house (usually a public record). Honestly, this does not matter as much as what the house down the street sold for last month. When you write your home offer, have your agent ask whether the seller has accepted any other offers before yours and what happened to make the offer fall through. In one of the last homes we sold in the Lakeshore area, the buyer was fussing that she was paying over $350,000 for a home the seller had purchased for $80,000. That sale was in 1970. The home had multiple offers, indicating the market LOVED that price.
Some buyers want to know whether a murder has occurred at the house. This is not a required disclosure. A seller does not have to tell a buyer that a murder occurred at the property. The seller may not even know if it happened before they owned it. If this is important to you, Florida has a very liberal open records policy. You can go to the Tallahassee Police Department on Seventh Street or the Leon County Sherriff’s office off Appleyard Rd and submit a request for any police reports filed at the address.
The last home we bought in Tallahassee was on the market for a long time before we requested a showing through our agent. We found out why it had sat when the neighbor stopped us during our house tour to tell us the torrid details of a murder-suicide. Fortunately for us, he let every potential buyer know this information. He had driven away many buyers. Having worked in the criminal justice system, this stigma did not bother us. We obtained a copy of the police reports and purchased the home anyway.
Here’s the websites we start with when researching a home before we list it or before we help someone make an offer on it.
LEON COUNTY PROPERTY APPRAISERS
This is the most useful sight when doing a public records search in Leon County. Unfortunately, the surrounding counties are more rural, and their websites are not as robust as Leon County’s site. This website also provides a link to the permits pulled on this location, the date built and size of the home and the yard, the last sale date and amount, owners’ name, etc. There is even a link to gather local sales. The property info link on the bottom left will provide a PDF of the details including voting locations and elected officials. The link at the bottom of the page will also take you to the tax records.
TAX COLLECTOR FOR LEON COUNTY
This website provides the current level of taxes and whether they were paid. Homes with tax liens often have another hoop to jump through in order to qualify for new financing.
LEON COUNTY CLERK OF COURTS
Liens on the property are part of the court’s public recording of important documents. When you close your home and transfer ownership, you may sign a paper acknowledging this. Not all title or closing agents make this obvious, so here is a fair warning. When you record your ownership, the lien of the mortgage will also be recorded. If the bank forecloses or begins the process, it will also be recorded with the Clerk of Courts. By the way, there is a ton of useful information on the clerk of court’s website!
TALLAHASSEE ONLINE POLICE ACTIVITY
The Tallahassee Police Department post their criminal activity for the public. When in your home buying inspection period, it is a good idea to take a look at the historical criminal reports. If you are curious, you can go to TPD’s office on Seventh Street and ask for a records search of the address.
Investigate the neighborhood before you buy the home.
Neighbors can be your best friends or worse enemies, but that is not the only reason to check out the neighborhood. Often buyers will see a home for 15 minutes or half an hour during a tour with several other homes. They may not remember every detail of the house or the neighborhood clearly. After only a handful of homes, they all start to look the same. It is common to hear a buyer exclaim that they thought the layout or colors were different. When touring the home, take lots of pictures so you can refer to them later. Also, it helps you recall the state the home was in when you wrote the offer, that matters during the final walkthrough before you sign the papers making it yours.
We recommend you drive the route from the house to your office at your regular commuting time to check out what traffic will look like to you on a regular basis. There is nothing quite like a Tallahassee afternoon rain shower, when about 3pm the Gulf of Mexico in the form of dark clouds dumps its contents on your roof. If you are not prepared, it can sound like your roof is coming down. Worry not. This too will pass in about 20 minutes. It will be a sauna until the sun goes down and this weather can be hard on a house. Drive by and check for water runoff and retention. During your tour, check for areas of soggy ground. If you have children, check for local retention ponds and whether they are mosquito breeding pools.
Reports and other resources
As Realtors, we have access to marketing information broken down to neighborhoods. Considering who is being marketed to in that neighborhood will tell you quite a bit about who lives there. Ask your Realtor to run a consumer trade report. Also, many neighborhoods have Facebook pages dedicated to community needs and worries. Reach out to the admins and ask to become a temporary member while you are considering your move.
Check the cost of homeowners insurance during your home buying inspection period.
The bank has already given you an estimate of your monthly payment and closing costs. Included in those estimates is a homeowners insurance estimate. Hazard insurance is another name for homeowners insurance. The estimates are usually pretty close, but they can be hundreds of dollars too low! Depending on the age of the home, the insurance agent will ask for inspection reports. Older homes will require a four-point inspection, which looks at the major systems of the home. This includes the structure (foundation and roof), wiring, heating and ventilation system, and plumbing. The inspector will look for things like hurricane clips in the attic and include those in a wind mitigation report. If you choose not to send these reports to your agent from your inspector, the insurance company will hire their own and may require you to pay for them.
Check your homeowners’ insurance options carefully and make sure you are fully covered. You can lower your premium by agreeing to pay more in case of a loss or by covering items at a lower costs. If the home has outbuildings (like a barn), you may want to add an additional rider to your policy to cover the building or its contents (like tractors, boats, or bikes). Your agent will provide you with some options. You want to have replacement costs should something happen to your home. Also, if you have lots of jewelry, collectibles, or tools, ask your agent what it will cost you to ensure those valuables are covered against loss.
If you are looking for recommendations, we can help. Download the PDF below for contact information for the insurance agents we use most often:
Insurance Agent Options
Here’s what you do not want to happen during your home buying experience. We helped a buyer purchase a home in the northeast corner of Tallahassee. The home was being sold by the original builder, who had kept the model home and used it for a parent and then a rental. They had maintained the home well. They had even put a new roof on just before they listed it on the market. Unfortunately, they had used leftover shingles from another project in the back of the house. They had assumed that no one would care that the shingles were slightly darker in some places. No one even noticed until the insurance company sent their own inspector out.
It was over three months since they had closed before the insurance company sent an inspector to the property. That was followed by a cancellation letter to the owner. The insurance company stated they were canceling the homeowners’ insurance because of the roof’s age. Fortunately, we were able to provide an explanation, the closed (inspected) permit, and an affidavit from the contractor that in spite of the discoloration, the roof was new.
During your inspection period, finalize your financing.
If you have not done so before now, finish picking a lender. Get them EVERY document they ask for, whether you feel like they need it, or you have already sent it, or not. It may feel like they ask for the same documents repeatedly. If this is the case, call them and ask questions about what they really need. An important note here – DO NOT PICK A FIGHT WITH THE UNDERWRITER. In a decade of doing this, I have only seen the buyer win once. Just for the record, she was a Harvard lawyer. You may win the fight and lose the financing. It is not worth it. Be Thumper from Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuttin’ at all.”
Do NOT be afraid to talk to a lawyer.
If you are unsure about anything or do not understand the wording of the contract, talk to an attorney. Do not rely on your Realtor’s interpretation. They are not attorneys (well, most of them are not anyway) and are not allowed to answer those questions anyway. This is a very important legal document, if you have any questions, consult a professional litigator.
Most loans do not require inspections, but you should still get all major systems inspected.
We think inspections are an excellent idea. In fact, if you choose not to have an inspection, we will ask you to sign a waiver that says we get to tell you ‘I told you so’ later. It does not really say that, but we do ask you to sign a waiver holding us harmless for not having a professional inspection. If you are buying a home with a septic system or a well, be prepared to spend a little more to check those systems. We are going to cover the inspections below in more detail. We will cover costs, and which ones we recommend. Plan to budget at least $600 for a home inspection, more if you are buying a rural home.
Home-buying inspections! What inspections do we order? What inspections are required?
A general home inspection will cover every major system and area in a house (plumbing, electrical, heating, roof, foundation, crawlspace, attic, etc.). Some inspectors are certified to inspect pools and/or complete radon or lead tests. The inspection company may ask you what inspections you would like to order. This is a quick review of the most common inspections and approximate costs. If the inspector finds something that concerns him/her, they may suggest you hire another specialist for a more in-depth look. Usually, the specialists are not as expensive as the whole house inspector.
These are the most commonly ordered inspections during the home buying contingency period.
General Home Inspection
A general home inspection by a professional (licensed) inspector has standards set by the American Society of Home Inspectors. In Tallahassee, these inspections cost about $500 and take 2 to 3 hours to complete. Of course, bigger houses take longer. Inspectors will charge extra to crawl under the house. (The extra expense is worth it to have eyeballs on the space down there – and the entertainment factor of watching the inspector squeeze through the scuttle hole is bonus.) Just because something is newly built does not mean it is flawless or code-compliant. In fact, the plumbing system may not even have water in it yet. We’ve gotten many calls from new homeowners wondering where the water on the kitchen floor came from (probably the dishwasher – it’s easy to miss the plug). Even the best contractor can miss something! Do not let it be on your home!
Wind Mitigation and/or 4-Point Inspection
We often refer to these as insurance reports. These are the reports your insurance agent is most likely to ask for when you call for a quote. Independently, they cost somewhere between $100 and $150 each. Bundled with a home inspection, they run between $75 – 100 each. Insurance agents and underwriters are measuring risk. They look for construction techniques that lower their risk of having to pay an insurance claim. The home inspector can provide these reports for you. If the pictures include modern construction techniques, you will receive a discount on your insurance premium! The year-over-year addition of the discount is usually more than the costs of the inspections. However, the pictures may not be good news for the insurance company’s risk. Most inspectors will take the pictures required for the report and allow you to order it later if you find out you need it.
Radon is a common and dangerous gas found in approximately 25% of Florida homes. Being responsible for 21,000 deaths yearly, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon is formed by the natural radioactive decay of uranium in the soil, rock, and water. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless and unless you test for it you will not even know if you are being exposed to it. The test costs about $150 for the entire home and takes several days to complete. While the test is going on, the seller must continue to live normally except for leaving doors or windows open.
Considering ordering these reports too – especially if you are purchasing a rural home.
In Tallahassee, we call them WDO reports. That stands for Wood Destroying Organism and includes more than just the termites. We most commonly see termites, dry rot, and wood post beetles in our area. The costs run around $200 for the inspection and report. Some lenders do require a ‘clear’ WDO report in order to close. That means if the inspector finds wood damage during his inspection, the seller will be required to repair that damage. After the seller replaces the wood, the termite inspector will be required to return to verify that all damaged wood has been removed. The second report that shows no damaged wood is the one the lender will want. These reports can be done by most pest control companies.
When you are considering purchasing a home with a septic system, you should have it emptied and inspected by a licensed septic inspector. Some loans require proof that this was completed. They will check the drain field and let you know about how much life you have left in the system. It costs about $325 for the pump out and inspection of the tank. There may be an additional charge for the drain field inspection. If the system is failing, it is a process to have it replaced.
The process includes having a soil engineer test the ground and design a system to handle the needs of the home and occupants. Once the soil engineer completes the lab work, they will apply for the permit. The Department of Health will review the information and approve it. Once this is complete, contact septic companies and ask them for quotes. Some companies have their own engineers.
If the house is on well water, you may want to have the well looked at by a professional. Especially if you hear the well come on and it sounds loud or hollow. When in doubt – have it inspected. There are not a lot of plumbers out there who also are experienced with well. The ones that will inspect the system charge approximately $300-500 per visit.
Rural homes often have wells. To test the well water, collect a sample of the water and have the laboratory make sure it is bacteria free. If you have a VA loan, the water testing company must go to the house and collect the water. Most of the time, whoever tests your water will want you to pick up their collection kit. There are several private companies in Tallahassee, or you can have the Department of Health test it for a smaller fee. Once you have collected the water, you must return to the testing place and pay approximately $30-50.
Some other comments and notes about the home buying inspection period
Show up on the day of home buying inspections, if you can.
Block out several hours for the inspection. We try to coordinate a time for all the inspectors to be at the home at the same time. It is not a requirement that you attend. This is the best time to hang out in the space and pretend to live there. Sometimes the seller stays for the inspection. It’s cool. It is still their house.
Inspections generally take anywhere from two to four hours. Generally, reports are emailed 24-48 (business) hours after the inspection. It will include narratives and photographs to document conditions and issues found during the inspection. The inspector will estimate the life left on systems based on climate exposure and the quality of construction. In addition to identifying any potential problems, inspectors will help you understand your home’s systems and give you maintenance tips. Often inspectors will make themselves available for follow-up questions and concerns.
The downsides that can happen with bad inspectors.
Inspectors are human and thus not perfect. What happens if your inspection comes back clean, but you find problems after you move in? It depends. First, the inspection will only cover what the inspector can see without tearing down walls, moving boxes, vinyl siding, etc. The inspector’s insurance will not claim responsibility for truly hidden problems unless the inspector missed something that should have been obvious signs of a potential hidden problem, there is not much the inspector can do. Look carefully at your contract to understand whether the inspection company will pay for repairs related to issues they should have caught but did not. Most likely, they will only agree to refund your inspection fee.
So, what inspector do you hire?
We have read reviews on the internet that tell buyers not to accept inspection referrals from their real estate agent. The accusation is that the inspector works for the agent, not the home buyer. This is a legitimate concern. Agents out there do not have customers’ interests at the center of their business. This is an unfortunate truth in many areas of customer service. The inspectors we recommend work for you and will tell YOU the truth. At the end of the day, we are not going to be sleeping in that house.
While most inspectors are qualified and professional, even the most experienced inspector has a bad day and can miss something important. Attend the inspection and ask questions. You will get an idea of how thorough of a job your inspector is doing. Ask questions. Inform yourself and ask questions – lots of them. If you are not comfortable with the answer, get a second opinion. Remember, you are not being a pest by asking so many questions! You are doing the best thing you can for your investment.
What to consider when hiring an inspector during the home buying inspection period
Check the home inspector’s credentials.
Some inspectors have the bare minimum qualifications, and some have many credentials and initials behind their names. They charge accordingly. Remember that the inspection is a visual one. Something significant can be missed if there is a hidden part of the house. This applies to some crawlspaces, attics, inside walls, under carpets, where moving boxes are stored, etc.
You can check for their license on the Department of Business and Professional Regulation website. Many home inspectors are generalists and may not be able to give you a detailed estimate of repairs or ways to mitigate issues. Some inspectors come from one of the construction trades, and their experience may give you a more detailed insight into the home you are buying.
Do your ‘homework’ before the inspection.
Read the seller’s property disclosure if it is available. Your Realtor should have already provided this to you, if not, ask if one is available. Distressed, abandoned, or bank-owned properties will often have no disclosures. In those cases, you may want to consider more inspections. Also, you may want to consider asking the neighbors for any information they may have. A friend of mine bought a new townhome and only a few days after she moved in the air conditioner system died. The seller had not disclosed any known issues, but the neighbors reported a local air conditioning contractor’s vans had been parked in the driveway several times in the preceding months. That was information she wished she knew before inspections ended.
Write down questions you have for the inspector prior to the inspection so you do not forget to ask. Have a friend or family member go with you and rely on his/her objectivity in viewing the home. They know you and may be able to spot something you have missed in the excitement of buying a home. There may be things that concern you about the home you have picked, but do not despair. You can ask your inspector what they would do. Even ask your agent what she would do. If it helps you, ask your friends for their input too. In the end, every house has issues. (Don’t we all?) The inspections will let you know if you can live with them or not.
What happens if the seller will not turn on the power for the home buying inspections?
If the utilities are not on when you see the house, most Tallahassee contracts require the seller to provide utilities. If not stated directly, you can add that as a requirement of the seller. Vacant properties in Florida often suffer from neglect. Our environment is brutal to a home with no air conditioning. The humidity alone can create conditions where the drywall will fall off the wall, or – worse, allow mold to flourish throughout the house. If close to the coast, the salt in the air will eat the finish off all metal outside. In addition to the conditions, abandoned properties often will NOT have sellers’ disclosures. If the utilities have been turned off, check the property soon after they are turned on. We have found flowing showers and sinks that would flood an unattended house.
If available, attend the end of the inspection. This is the most extended period you will have access to the home during the home-buying process.
Even though we want you to ask lots of questions, give the inspector time to inspect first. We suggest you come for the inspection and hang out in the house. This will be the longest time you will get to be in the house until you sleep in it. Give the inspector space to do his thing. At the end of his inspection, ask the inspector to walk you through the house and see what he found. Have the inspector show you where the water shut-off valve is and the water lines in the yard. You don’t want to drive over them and break them with the moving truck. He will also be able to point out areas of concern in the future. That fruit tree next to the house may be small now but may grow large enough to deposit rotting fruit on your roof. Ask lots of questions.