The One Question You’ll Regret Not Asking After a Home Inspection (Even If It’s Awkward)

published Jul 6, 2024
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Indoor damp & air quality (IAQ) testing. A close up view on environmental home quality inspector at work, filling in a form as he inspects the exterior of a cellar window, with room for copy.
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My fiancé and I recently closed on our first home together, and, at multiple points during the process, I had waves of anxiety about what would come next. Will they accept our offer? What will come up in the home inspection? The house will appraise, right? 

The anxiety was warranted. As cliché as it may sound, the house we bought was our dream home. We were the first to tour it when showings began, and we put in a full price offer and agreed to a fast, 25-day close when our offer was accepted. But the Denver-area home was also hovering at the top of our budget, so we didn’t have much wiggle room in our home buying budget to cover any major repairs, should they come up.

When the inspection report came back, there were no major issues in the newly constructed home, but the renovated 450-square-foot carriage house on the property that was originally built in 1930 did need an entirely new roof as it had been damaged by hail. 

We had some decisions to make, and some uncomfortable, and potentially awkward, questions to ask of the seller: Should we press the seller to pay for a new roof? And, if so, should we ask that the repair be made before we move in, or should we accept a credit — when the seller agrees to pay for all, or some, necessary repairs — from the seller instead? If the sellers don’t agree to make the repair, do we walk away or dip into our savings to pay for it? 

Our dance (however awkward it may be) is fairly common. Issues are bound to pop up in the inspection, and buyers have several options when they do. The most common resolutions are to request repairs be made by the seller, ask for a credit to cover repair costs, negotiate a pierce reduction in the sale price, accept the property as-is, or, walk away from the deal if the issues are too significant, says Madison Sutton, a New York City real estate agent. But negotiating can be a stressful process.

What to know about credits vs. fixes

During the inspection resolution phase, the best option depends on the specific situation, the severity of the issues, and the preferences of both the buyer and seller, Sutton says. 

“It’s crucial to approach this process strategically,” she says. “I always advise my clients to carefully review the inspection report with me and their contractor, prioritizing issues based on safety, functionality, and cost. This helps us determine which route to take and how to best approach negotiations with the seller.”

Negotiating credits or fixes also depends on the market.

In most places, the market is fairly neutral at the moment, not favoring buyers or sellers too strongly. Being on both the buy side and sale side recently, it seems like, in Denver, at least, buyers have a slight advantage at the moment. If we were in this same situation in 2021, when interest rates were below 3% and buyers were going so far as to waive property inspections to stay competitive, we wouldn’t have even thought about asking for a new roof for the accessory dwelling unit.

In our scenario, we had a roofing contractor come out to give us an estimate, which came back lower than expected at $5,000. We decided to request a new roof instead of asking for a credit because I was concerned that once the roof was popped off, there could be additional issues that wouldn’t be covered by the credit — problems like mold or structural issues. We were lucky that our sellers, who had worked closely with contractors on the project, agreed to replace the roof entirely before we moved in and did so quickly.

When is it good to ask for repairs and when is it better to take a credit? 

Certain loan types — Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Affairs (VA) particularly — require the home to be in a certain condition and will sometimes reject the loan if the house does not meet standards, says Mikala Ewald, a Dallas-based real estate agent with Compass. 

That means that if the seller doesn’t handle the necessary repair prior to closing, financing could fall through, and the seller would need to relist the home, she points out. Other prospective buyers could be weary if they saw a home sale fall through. 

“Many buyers don’t want to have to deal with repairs post-closing and prefer to have the seller handle it,” she says. “If it’s a repair that doesn’t require immediate attention, many buyers opt to take a credit to save themselves money at closing.”

An inspection report, of course, won’t flag an out-of-date style or bad paint job. But if something comes up in the inspection report, and you, the buyer, want to make design decisions in the process, a credit can be a great solution, experts say. 

As an example, one of Sutton’s client’s was recently able to negotiate a credit for replacing tile in a bathroom because there were problems with the sealant that affected the grout. The credit was the obvious solution, she says, because it was less of a headache for the seller and it allowed the buyer some time to decide on how they wanted to renovate and retile the bathroom.

Credits can also be great if the repair timeline would slow down the sale, the buyer has a DIY background or simply wants control over choosing contractors and overseeing the project. She often pushes for credits rather than repairs because “no one will put more care and attention into fixing a new home than the buyers themselves. For sellers, repairs are often just another task to check off their list.” 

How to properly negotiate credits and fixes without losing out on your dream home

When it came to renegotiating our new roof for the accessory dwelling unit (ADU), our Realtor worked closely with the seller’s Realtor to make sure we didn’t fall out of contract over the repair, and we did have an edge since we offered the full list price, agreed to a fast close by asking my fiance’s buyers to move up their close, and opted against putting a home sale contingency for my recently listed home. 

Some other ways to work with sellers on the inspection resolution without losing a dream house include prioritizing repair requests, and only focusing on major issues, Sutton says. 

Be willing to take on minor repairs yourself, Sutton suggests. Be flexible and open to compromises, too, like splitting the costs or combining credits. You’ve also got to consider the current market conditions and the seller’s motivation, she says. 

Ewald recommends that buyers not be too nitpicky on small items, especially when they’re buying a resale home because “there will absolutely be wear and tear.” 

“Inspectors are very thorough and are typically comparing the home to the standards of a brand-new build, so some of the things they call out may not actually have that big of an impact on the home and don’t require immediate attention,” she says.