I’m a Realtor — Here’s What I Wish My Clients Would Inspect More Closely

published Jun 14, 2023
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In my years as a real estate agent, I’m still amazed at how clients don’t pay enough attention to some of the most important things while home shopping. They may have qualified for a loan, found a Realtor, and set a budget, but when it comes time to physically evaluate a house, buyers often miss the due-diligence components of the process.

Buyers usually have a basic checklist in their heads — neighborhood, size, bedrooms, price — but then focus on relatively insignificant items instead of seeing a bigger picture. Eyesores such as scuffed walls, purple bedrooms, and stained carpets can be off-putting but easily remedied.

A recent survey found that 75 percent of homebuyers in 2022 reported buyer’s remorse. Hippo, a home-insurance company, ascertained the primary reason for experiencing regret after a major purchase is feeling that you’ve paid too much. Because home prices and interest rates have soared over the past three years, such second thoughts are understandable. But the next biggest reason given — finding problems with the house — underscores the impetus for my advice.

So, here are my house-shopping suggestions to hopefully mitigate post-sale unhappiness. They are all predicated on buyers stepping up a bit. 

Be hands-on in your inspection.

Don’t just stand in a room without touching anything! Open the drawers. To my surprise, few clients open the kitchen cabinets. If you assess a room without touching the cabinetry, you have no idea of the overall quality. Do the drawers employ dove-tailed joints or are they merely stapled together? Do the drawers have soft-close buffers? Are there slide-out trays? These “hidden” features are indicative of the entire house’s building quality.

Assessing kitchen hardware is even easier. Do the cabinets have knobs or pulls to elevate the overall aesthetic? A lack of helpful hardware denotes builder/owner cheapness and invites cabinet-finish damage where hands touch. Naked fronts, or cabinets without hardware, are one of the first things I notice, and they’re a definite pet peeve. 

I suspect buyers are leery of touching others’ things, but that hesitation isn’t warranted when assessing a home purchase (within reason, of course). At a recent open house I hosted, 10 serious parties came through but only one guy touched anything in the kitchen because he was curious about the roll-up appliance cabinet. Again, the opportunity to assess the underlying quality was missed.

Credit: Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy

Check out the appliances.

Check out the air conditioner and other critical appliances. Robust AC is elemental when you’re living with toasty temps (as I do in the desert), and a new heating/cooling system is hugely expensive. Too often homeowners wait until the system fails before replacing costly parts. Air conditioners have a lifespan of 10 to 25 years in a moderate climate, but only about 15 years where summers are hot.

If you don’t inspect the appliance status upfront and wait until a home inspection takes place, unpleasant facts about aging systems can easily derail the transaction. I’ve seen sales falter on such expensive conflicts between demanding buyers and stubborn sellers.

At the same open house I mentioned, the dual ACs for the 25-year-old home were original equipment and screamed to be replaced. Only one couple ventured outside to inspect the critical appliances. It could easily become a contentious issue during escrow should the buyers hesitate or demand a sizable monetary credit.

Assess the neighborhood.

Because neighborhood dissatisfaction ranks high on the list for new-owner discontent, it behooves buyers to engage with prospective neighbors before committing. People love to give advice and are typically quite happy to share their thoughts about difficult residents, noise issues, HOA management, imminent assessments, and things of that nature. 

I am reminded of one persnickety couple I worked with for some time before finding an acceptable house. Not long after moving in, they complained to me of noxious room odors. I suppose the leftover air fresheners should have tipped us off but the freshly painted house passed the home inspection with no red flags. It was a talkative next-door neighbor who later informed them that the homeowner’s son was a chain smoker. Smoke odors are notoriously difficult to eradicate. If my clients had chatted up the neighbor in advance, they would certainly have passed on the property. 

Take a good look on the outside.

Please take time to walk around outside. It’s startling to me how often clients do just a cursory check of the backyard. You might miss excessive road noise. I was just involved in a home sale where the buyers did not thoroughly vet the ambient vehicle noise on the perimeter-based property, signed the purchase contract, opened escrow, then took another look-see and decided they didn’t care for the noisy location! Escrow was summarily canceled on day two and the many professionals involved were left empty-handed. An utterly preventable situation with basic buyer diligence.

So, add these suggestions to your home-buying checklist and tip the satisfaction odds in your favor.