Congratulations! You have won the bid and now the house is yours if you want it. Most contracts used in Tallahassee allow the buyer 15 days to inspect the property and agree to its condition or negotiate repairs, and to make sure the financing is comfortable (this is a shorter time period). This period of time is often called the contingency period or inspection period. During this time, the property is market active-contingent on the MLS and the internet. The seller can still receive other offers during this time. If the buyer finds the property unsatisfactory, FOR ANY REASON, the buyer can terminate the contract and receive their earnest money deposit back. Check out our frequently asked questions about inspections as well.
After Making an Offer
Inspections is just one of the things that happens right after the contract offer is signed by both sides. This is an exciting time and the buyer has 15 days to determine if this house is THE ONE. We have a check list for this for our customers that includes the specific due dates (based on the contract you signed). Contact us for a preview!
1. Research the area.
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. 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. Check for water retention and soggy ground areas. Check for local retention ponds and whether they are a mosquito breeding pool. Check out the local schools, the proximity to your favorite weekend activities, and talk to the neighbors if you can about what they love about the neighborhood. The Tallahassee Police Department keeps a historical record of calls made to a neighborhood publicly available through the city’s website.
2. Research the house.
There are a lot of public records available through the Leon county property appraiser’s website. Include the permits that have been applied for (or not) and whether they had their final city inspection or not. Some buyers want to know whether a murder has taken place 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 file at the address. When buying our first home in Tallahassee, the neighbor let every potential buyer know that the house had been the scene of a murder suicide. We obtained the police reports and purchased the home anyway. We did have our spiritual leader bless the house before we moved in though. Many buyers want to know how much the seller paid for the house (it is public record usually). To be honest, this does not matter as much as what the house down street sold for last month. If you can not 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. If it has not been asked before you wrote the offer, have your agent ask whether the seller has accepted any other offers before yours and what happened to make the offer fall through.
3. Check the cost of homeowners insurance.
The bank has likely already given you an estimate of your monthly payment and closing costs, that include an insurance estimate. The estimates are usually pretty close, but this one of the things that can vary greatly from actual costs. Check your options carefully and make sure you are fully covered. 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 boats or bikes). Your agent will likely provide you with some options. You probably want to have replacement costs should something happen to your home. Also, if you have lots of jewelry or collectibles or tools, ask your agent what it will cost you to make sure those valuables are covered against loss as well.
4. Finish your financing.
If you have not done so before now, finish picking a lender and getting them EVERY document they ask for, whether you feel like they should need it or not. It may feel like they ask for the same documents again and again. If this is the case, call them and ask questions about what they really need. Important note here – DO NOT PICK A FIGHT WITH THE UNDERWRITER. 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.”
5. Talk to a lawyer.
If there is ANYTHING on the contract you are not sure about or do not understand. 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.
6. Get all major systems inspected.
We think inspections are a really good idea. In fact, if you choose not to have an inspection (No, they are not required.) 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 get those systems checked as well.
A general home inspection will cover every major system and area in a house (plumbing, electrical, heating, roof, foundation, crawlspace, attic, etc.). The inspection company may ask you what inspections you would like to order. This is a quick review of the most common inspections and 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.
- 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 $400 and takes 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size and age of the house. Sometimes inspectors will charge extra to crawl under the house, especially the big guy inspectors. (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.) Even if the house is new, considering having your inspector take a look at the systems before the drywall is put up. 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 the 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. They are looking for things in the construction that lower their risk of having to pay an insurance claim. Most common in Tallahassee is the hurricane clips on the roof trusses. These reports can be provided by the general home inspector and he will likely ask you if you want them. Generally, if the pictures include modern construction techniques desired by the insurance providers 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, at which point, you may not want to order them. Most inspectors will take the pictures required for the report and allow you to order it later if you find out you need it.
- Termite Inspections
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.
Radon is a common and dangerous gas that is formed by the natural radioactive decay of uranium in the soil, rock and water. High levels of radon can be found in all 50 states and it is highly carcinogenic. This gas is colorless, ordorless, and tasteless and unless you test for it you will not even know if you are being exposed to it. In Florida, 1 in 5 homes has elevated levels of radon and it is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the US. 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 with the exception of leaving doors or windows open.
- Septic Inspection
If you are considering purchasing a home with a septic system, you should have it emptied and inspected by a licensed septic inspector. They will check the drain field and let you know about how much life you have left in the system. It costs about $150 for the pump out and inspections (has to be emptied in order to be inspected).
- Well Inspection
If the house is on well water, at the very least, collect a sample of the water and make sure it is bacteria free. If you have a VA loan, the water testing company has to go to the house and collect the water themselves. Most of the time, whoever is testing your water will want you to pick up their collection kit. There are a couple 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 have to return to the testing place and pay approximately $30-50.
What to Consider When Hiring an Inspector
Florida is an open records state. Licenses and complaints are all public record. Some inspectors have the bare minimum qualifications and some inspectors have many credentials and initials behind their name. They charge accordingly. Remember that the inspection is a visual one. If there is a hidden wall (behind loads of boxes) something major may be missed. This also applies to some crawlspaces, attics, inside walls, under carpets, etc.
Inspectors in Florida must follow the law or risk losing their license. It also means that there is a minimum standard that inspectors are required to meet. To see more about those qualifications, click here. You can find more information on the myfloridalicense 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 his experience may give you more detailed insight into the home you are buying. He may have been a roofer and be able to give you an experienced inspection of the roof’s wind mitigation, but not be able to tell you much about the air conditioning system. He would be able to tell you if the cooling and heating system was safely operated, but not be able give you a professional opinion of the life left in the condenser or whether regular maintenance had been performed on the unit. If you have concerns about any specific system that is not visual, hire that specialized contractor such as an electrician or HVAC mechanic to conduct a more thorough examination. While this will cost you more up front BEFORE you have purchased your home, it may save you thousands down the road by being able to mitigate problems before they arise or negotiate likely imminent repairs.
2. Prepare Yourself for 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. Often, distressed properties or bank owned properties will not have any disclosures. In those cases, you may want to consider more inspections.
Check out the county property appraisers’ website for more details on the home. Information such as property taxes, permits applied for and inspections conducted will be available. 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 went down. 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. Ask your inspector what they would do. Ask you agent what she would do. Ask your friends for their input. Some detailed reports may have many issues, but none of them substantially impacting your real estate investment.
3. Go to the Inspection.
Even though you will be receiving a written report, ask your inspector questions about what he is finding. We generally do not recommend showing up at the beginning and shadowing him around the house. That distraction may cause the inspector to miss something. We do suggest that you come for the inspection and hang out in the house. This will likely be the longest time you will get to be in the house until you are sleeping in it. At the end of his inspection, ask the inspector to walk you through the house and what he found. What does the insulation look like from a professional’s point of view? How should the systems in the house be maintained for the longest life expectancy? Have the inspector show you where the water shut off value is or any filters that need regularly cleaned or replaced. 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 questions – lots of them.
4. Buying a Vacant Property?
Vacant properties in Florida often suffer from neglect. Shutting the power off in our climate can be devastating to the conditions of a home. The humidity alone can create conditions where the drywall will fall off the wall, or – worse, allow mold to flourish throughout the house. In addition to the conditions, abandoned properties often will NOT have sellers’ disclosures. Who knows what is going on inside that condensing unit.
If the utilities are not on when you see the house, most Tallahassee contracts require the seller to provide utilities. There are few exceptions.
What Inspectors Look For:
The inspector will provide a visual inspection of the major systems of the house. These are the major things that home inspectors look for:
· Water Damage
· Structural Issues – Crooked lines
· Old/Damaged Roof
· Damaged or Outdated Electrical System
· Plumbing Problems
· Insect and Pest Infestation
· Issues with the HVAC System
What Home Inspectors Do Not Look For:
Home inspectors mostly concerned with safety issues and may not report the following:
- Cosmetic issues. For example: peeling wallpaper, scratched floors.
- Unlicensed activity
- Damage under the carpet
Notes About Inspections
Block out several hours for the inspection. It is not a requirement that you attend. It is a requirement that your agent attends. It 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.
Remember, you are not being a pest by asking so many questions! You are doing the best thing you can for your investment. In addition to identifying any potential problems, inspectors will help you understand your home’s systems and give you maintenance tips.
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 things the inspector can see without tearing down walls. The inspector’s insurance will not claim responsibility for problems that are truly hidden, 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.
We have read reviews on the internet that tell buyers to not accept referrals from their real estate agent. The accusation is that the inspector actually works for the agent and not the home buyer. This is a legitimate concern. There are agents out there that do not have buyers interests at the center of their business. This in 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. It is in your best interest to have all the knowledge before you make that house your own. As for us, we want to earn your business for life. While this one commission will help us pay some bills, it is not enough for us to risk your future business and the business of the friends, family and colleagues you will send our way as referrals for trusting us to take care of them. The inspectors we recommend change as their circumstances, training, and experiences change. We can not guarantee they will catch everything, but we can guarantee that if customers are dissatisfied with the inspection work, we will NOT recommend them again in the future, and will advocate on your behalf.
Inspections generally take anywhere from two to four hours. I would recommend asking an inspector for an example of their written reports before you hire them. Reports should not be written during the inspection process and provided while you are still on-site. They should be more detailed than that. Generally, reports take 24-48 (business) hours to compile and will include narratives and photographs to document conditions and issues found during the inspection. Often inspectors will make themselves available for follow-up questions and concerns.
While most inspectors are qualified and professional, even the most experienced inspector has a bad day and can miss something important. Be there and while you are not the professional, you will get an idea of how thorough your inspection and inspector is – be sure to give feedback to your real estate agent. The inspector should be able to estimate the life left on systems based on climate exposure and quality of construction, they cannot predict the future. Ask questions. Inform yourself and ask questions – lots of them. If you are not comfortable with the answer, get a second opinion, or walk away during your 15 day contingency period.