An Asheville area Real Estate Agent and Home Inspector tackle the question
Author: Jason Bellamy
Should I buy this house?
Author: Suzanne Devane
Jason the Home Inspector
Hey Suzanne, as a real estate agent at Asheville Realty Group, do you ever get the question, “Would you buy this house?” It’s a question that I get all the time and sometimes dread. On the one hand, helping to answer this question is exactly why people are hiring me. When I bought my first house I wanted my home inspector to look me in the eye and tell me that the house was okay and that I was making a good purchase. I was disappointed when he didn’t.
On the other hand, how could someone ever answer this question for anyone else? People buy houses for different reasons. Some people love renovating, other buyers can’t stand the thought of basic maintenance. Home buying is very personal and people have distinct reasons for selecting the house that they do.
Home inspectors only hold a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to home selection process. We don’t consider location, schools, charm, or value when we perform an inspection. Our job is to seek and find defects and report them. Having said that there are a few rare cases when I am tempted to say something above and beyond my home inspection. Before I get into one of those cases, do you ever get this question? What are your thoughts?
Suzanne the Real Estate Agent
Jason – I know that question well, and I’ll always start by saying there’s a buyer for just about every home!
As a real estate agent, my top job is to understand my buyer’s needs and circumstances. Otherwise, it’s just a case of the blind leading the blind. Let me give you an example of a home that can demonstrate an ‘iffy’ situation and how an agent can ultimately help buyers answer that question in a way that makes sense for them.
Here’s the example: Vintage charmer in a desirable and central neighborhood with good schools nearby. Surrounded by grand old homes, great yard space, three levels of finished living, great price. On the flip side, it’s been on and off the market for about two years, the main level floor plan is a bit weird, and it appears that a support beam may have been removed from the lower level if the sagging first floor indicates anything.
Let’s say my buyers are a young couple with a toddler and this is the first time they’re buying a home. The wife LOVES the charm of the place and its location, and is willing to overlook the floor plan. Here’s how I’d proceed: dig, Dig, DIG!! First, I’m going to have a frank talk with the listing agent. In NC, we are lucky to live in a state where agents must disclose “material facts” that can influence whether someone would put an offer on the home. So, yeah, I’m going to sound like the Spanish Inquisition to make sure my buyers will not be surprised by any issues AFTER they close on the home. I will ask the listing agent specific questions about the home’s condition and background and expect specific responses. If I don’t get them, the red flags start waving!! I’m also a firm believer in talking to the neighbors – it’s amazing how much they know and how much they’re willing to tell you. Finally, I’m looking at the public records to see what permits have been pulled and when. Once I have this information assembled, it’s time for me to present the information to the potential buyers and see how they wish to proceed. If they want to make an offer and end up with a contract, then Jason, I’m bringing you in to do the most detailed inspection you’ve ever done. Based on what you say, I might even suggest bringing in a structural engineer. Sure, it’s an optional investment for the buyers to make, but it’s preferable to making a big-ticket repair down the line. Now, that entire scenario might play out quite differently if my buyer is a contractor who wants to flip the house, or an experienced homeowner who loves undertaking gut rehabs. BTW, in this situation I personally wouldn’t buy the home. As a busy real estate agent, I’d become an alcoholic having to deal with the known unknowns that come with that property!! So, what would you recommend for my first time buyers if they brought you in to look at the home I’ve just described?
“Would you buy this house? (Continued) Jason the Home Inspector Great response Suzanne! It may sound evasive but in this case if your clients asked me “Would you buy this house?” I would punt the question back to you by saying something like, “These are good conversations to have with your real estate agent.” Here’s why I would duck behind you even with a structural issue. As the real estate agent you know the asking price, the offer, the comps, and have a good idea of whether or not your buyers are getting a good value compared to the market. You also know your client’s budget, goals and have a feel for their financial and emotional tolerances for repairs and renovations. You're also there from beginning to end while I am involved only briefly. For example, if I find a ‘missing beam’ I may direct your clients to consult an engineer. By the time they get an engineer’s report, repair plan and an estimate from a general contractor I am already long gone. You as the agent, however, are still at the buyer’s side crunching numbers the whole time. The repair could be cheap or expensive but your buyer may determine that even a $40k structural repair in the big scheme of things is cheap if they are getting the house at a 40% discount. What does the home inspector’s opinion matter in this case? These are just a few reasons why home inspectors should never be asked if they would buy the house! And now that I have taken myself completely off the hook, I will regretfully put myself back on it. There are times when I feel like I should say more. Suzanne what do you say to a single parent with little time, money, or home improvement skills who is stretched thin to buy a fixer upper that needs expensive repairs right away? Suzanne the Real Estate Agent Jason – Your scenario is a great one, as this buyer is starting off on her (or his) first time home buying experience – all the while balancing aspirations with real life. I take great pride in being a real estate educator in cases like this -- you have to walk the buyer through the process from soup to nuts and help them balance the financial and emotional aspects of home buying. But, let’s start with the premise that this is an adult with a child – they don’t need or want me to be their mommy!! (Thankfully, that’s above my pay grade.) In the case you describe, it’s likely not the only home this buyer has seen. (If it is, where do I find one of those quick look-and-buy clients?) That being the case, she’s seen a few properties that interest her. Now, sometimes people get that gut feel that says, “That’s my home!” That happens more than you might think for such a big purchase. Then it can be the end of the story regardless of the consequences. But if there are other options they’ve looked at, I prepare my famous Devane decision grid that helps people weigh the pros and cons. I put in list price, square footage, neighborhood feel, lot size, a column for pluses and minuses. Then I add a column headed “worst case scenario”. I ask my buyer(s) to fill it out with the worst case they can imagine with each home. Sometimes, it’s the possibility that the 29-year old roof springs a leak; the 2-decade heating system goes out. Sometimes, it’s just the statement: “I could lose this home!” Once they’ve filled it out, we discuss the list. People often need to talk things out with their agent to really focus on what’s right for them. That’s part of my job – to listen and ask follow-up questions. In this case, I’d suggest the buyer talk it over frankly with people who really know her. Some people are perpetual dreamers, but others throw themselves into learning new skills! I reassure the buyer that there’s a home out there for them even if they have to walk away from this one. I went into this field because I thought it would be fun to help people find their American Dream, but I know one person’s dream is another’s nightmare.
“Would you buy this house? (Continued)
Jason the Home Inspector Yes it’s impossible to know all the variables and we can’t make the home-buying decision for anyone else which is why I like your first response to the question, ‘Would you buy this home?’ you said you would ‘dig, dig, DIG!’ I whole-heartedly agree. All we can really do in response to this question is work hard to provide as much information as possible so the buyers can make their own decision. I want to add that it’s important that the homebuyer, agent and inspectors all trust each other because we are all working toward the same goal. A homebuyer really needs a competent team of people helping them, which is why my inspection company has a network of trusted partners where my clients can get all their testing and inspections done with one contact and invoice-- pest, water, radon, well, septic, etc.... More information and pricing can be found here at builderbuddyonline.com or 828 335 3930. Suzanne I want to thank you for answering my call to co-blog this article with me. I am glad that your clients are in such good hands. Can you tell our readers who need help buying or selling a house in the Asheville area how they can find you? And do you have any parting thoughts? Suzanne the Real Estate Agent I’d love to help anyone who is interested in the possibility of buying or selling! Reach out to me at Suzanne@AshevileRealtyGroup.com or call me at 828.747.2744. My parting thought for anyone thinking of buying or selling is to make sure you click with your agent and feel comfortable working with her. Both ends of the transaction can be very emotional and stressful, so you need to feel your agent is hearing you. As an example of what shouldn’t happen is a woman I know who purchased her home not wanting to buy it! She felt pressured by her agent to go through with the purchase. She had the house on the market again in two months. That’s insane! (and a story for another day…)
Suzanne Devane is a Real Estate Agent at Asheville Realty Group
Suzanne Devane-- Asheville Realty Group
Jason Bellamy is Home Inspector and owner of Builder Buddy Home Inspections