Every home buyer knows hiring a home inspector to check out a property before closing is a good idea. In fact, a home inspection is often a requirement for a mortgage. The trickier question is this: Should home sellers also hire a home inspector to conduct a pre-inspection? That's where you have an inspector scrutinize your property for problems before it's even listed.
Is a pre-inspection worthwhile? Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
Pro: A pre-inspection means fewer surprises
Regardless of who's doing the hiring, a certified home inspector evaluates about 1,600 items that make up the property's foundation, structure, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. The purpose is to uncover hidden and potentially expensive problems that could affect the value of the home.
For buyers, the results of a home inspection contingency in a sales contract can empower them to request repairs, reopen price negotiations, or abandon the deal without forfeiting their earnest money.
For sellers, the benefits of a pre-inspection are less clear-cut. At the very least, it offers some peace of mind: Identifying problems, or lack thereof, can soften the suspense of waiting to hear back from the buyer's home inspector about possibly pricey repairs that might be deemed necessary.
Con: A pre-inspection costs money
Still, only 10% of home inspectors are hired by sellers, says Claude McGavic, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors. And one reason for this may be simply money.
On average, a home inspection will cost about $200 to $500. Because pre-inspections aren't required, that's cash you could put toward other things such as home improvements or repairs that you know will help sell your home.
Pro: A pre-inspection gives you time to fix problems
However, pre-inspections give sellers the ability to fix problems ahead of time -- and present buyers with a clean bill of health on the property.
"If the seller knows what an inspector thinks is wrong with the house, they can fix it before the buyer's inspector shows up," says McGavic. This also presents a strong first impression to buyers, who may see your house in a more positive light and boost their offer.
Con: A pre-inspection doesn't mean you're in the clear
Just because you hired a home inspector doesn't mean the buyers won't hire their own -- and their results won't necessarily be the same.
"If you had 10 different inspectors out to the home, you would very likely get 10 completely different reports," says Atlanta real estate agent Bill Golden. "Some of the issues that the seller addressed may not have come up at all. All in all, I think it's a waste of time and money."
In other words, even if you spring for a pre-inspection and address the issues that come up, the buyer's inspector might have overlooked those problems -- instead identifying new problems that require more repairs. And because buyers will typically trust their inspector more than yours, they may demand that these other issues get fixed, too.
Con: A pre-inspection could obligate you to disclose these problems
Another downside to pre-inspections is that once home sellers are aware of a problem, they may be required by law to disclose them to buyers. These laws vary by state, so ask your listing agent for more specifics. Generally, bad history -- flooding, sewage backups -- must be disclosed if you know about it. And because this could perhaps scare off buyers or complicate negotiations, it's no wonder that some sellers may prefer to stay blissfully ignorant.
"Not that you want to hide anything," Golden says, "but you may be shining a light on things that may not have ever become issues if you hadn't hired an inspector. It creates mountains out of molehills and prolongs the process."
That said, McGavic thinks a seller has a "moral if not legal" obligation "to find out if there's anything wrong with their house."
In other words, it might be the right thing to do. So, is a pre-inspection right for you? There is no right or wrong answer, so it pretty much boils down to whether you prefer to nip potential problems in the bud, or wait and see if they develop.
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