Home Sellers

On the House: Should seller get inspection?

By Al Heavens

Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist

With today’s wide selection of homes making buyers pickier, some of my readers are again raising questions about the value of pre-inspections by sellers.

Here’s a case in point:

One reader, Kevin, says his mother recently inherited a home in Springfield, Delaware County, from her late sister. The house is in an attractive neighborhood, and Kevin believes that his mother’s primary goal is to sell the house quickly rather than “maximize what she is paid for it.”

The house has some “obvious issues,” he says, including plumbing in disrepair, dog-stained hardwood floors, dated wallpaper, a 55-year-old gas stove, and several stress cracks in ceilings. His mother is correcting some of these issues, and trying to decide which ones are simply cosmetic and “not worth fussing with.”

Yet Kevin points out that “there could be serious hidden problems with a house she does not know well because she has not lived there.” He asks whether there is an advantage to engaging a home inspector and disclosing the findings – and any repairs or corrections – to potential buyers, or whether his mother is better off simply not knowing unless a buyer’s inspection uncovers a problem.

Good question. I posed it to some experts in the Philadelphia market.

In this litigious society, ignorance is not necessarily bliss, and the words “seller should have been aware of the problem” is being heard in a lot of courtrooms these days. Still, says environmental lawyer and educator Joseph Manko, “I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself when talking about litigation.

“With an inspection before the property goes on the market, the seller is better able to control the transaction,” he says. “If you don’t pre-inspect, it could give the buyer all the leverage.”

Manko and his wife relocated to Center City from a Lower Merion house they owned for 41 years. They paid for an inspection before putting it on the market. “We found a few small things and took care of them,” Manko says.

Fred Glick, a Center City real estate and mortgage broker, believes that pre-inspection is more important in a market with a surplus of homes for sale.

“With a pre-inspection, you know the problems, you take care of the problems, and then you are able to price it right for a quicker sale,” Glick says. “It will cost the seller money, and the buyer will probably have an inspection done anyway, but at least you won’t have the aggravation of having to negotiate a lower price for problems of which you were unaware.”

Real estate agents, too, seem much more willing to recommend pre-inspections to sellers.

“The sellers can provide a better disclosure of the condition of their property,” says Michelle Leonard, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Devon. With a pre-inspection available for them to look at, “buyers are not as afraid to make their offer. You remove the stress of renegotiating the agreement of sale after the home inspection.”

Leonard acknowledges that many sellers complain about spending the money for a pre-inspection. But in the long run, she says, “those same sellers end up giving thousands of dollars away to keep a transaction together.”

Noelle Barbone, Delaware Valley operations manager for Weichert Realtors, says that when sellers and buyers negotiate an agreement of sale, “most often a price is agreed upon between the parties contingent upon an inspection.”

“Once the inspection happens, the buyer may come back to the seller to renegotiate the price or terms based on the results of the inspection,” Barbone says, “meaning the seller may walk away with less money after the inspection than what was anticipated.”

Harris Gross, a licensed engineer and home inspector in Voorhees, says a pre-inspection could easily be used as a marketing tool, as well as to reassure buyers that the seller is “on top of things.”

If, on the other hand, the house is in bad condition, a pre-inspection report might scare away buyers, says Gross, owner of Engineers for Home Inspection. “Still, the seller has to disclose, and the pre-inspection will help.”