There's no rule or legal requirement that homebuyers must participate in a final walk-through inspection right before closing. But those who skip it could be making a costly mistake.
Problems at walk-through don't crop up often. But sometimes the ceiling fan is missing, or the refrigerator has been swapped out, or there's a giant hole in the wall. Al Raymondi of the Ocean View Realty Group in Ormond Beach, Florida, and his clients recently discovered a roof leak during a walk-through that the sellers, who had already moved out, didn't even know about.
"Ninty-nine percent of the time, everything is perfect," said Scott Godzyk of Godzyk Real Estate Services in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the ActiveRain real estate community site. But if it isn't, you'll be glad you took the time to check.
Karen Fiddler, a broker and agency owner in Lake Arrowhead, California, tells a story on her blog about a couple purchasing a vacant house. They had visited many times prior to closing, and felt the final walk-through wasn't necessary, because "what could have changed?"
Fortunately, they heeded their agent's advice and made one last tour the day before settlement. They discovered that a heavy rain the weekend before had wiped out the backyard, washing it down the hill.
"This is an extreme example, but a true story," Fiddler posted. "Needless to say, they did not close. Had they not gone for that last look, they would have owned a home with some severe geological issues."
A final walk-through is your last chance to make sure you are getting the house you bargained for. It is usually done a day or so prior to closing, hopefully after the sellers have moved out so you can get one last bare-bones look at the place.
Your final look-see isn't a formal inspection to make sure things work as they should. The home inspector you should have hired to give the house a once-over should have done that. Rather, it is a verification tour, so to speak -- to be certain the side-yard rose bushes haven't been removed, or that the beautiful chandelier that you bargained hard for hasn't been replaced by a cheap builder-grade fixture.
The walk-through also gives you a chance to make sure there are no new damages or problems beyond what your inspector discovered. But again, Fiddler cautions, it is not to approve repairs that were supposed to be made by the seller prior to closing or make sure they were done correctly.
"The seller is responsible for handling the repairs according to the terms (of the contract), and even if everything looks proper during the walk-through, a buyer is not a home inspector," the California agent says. "If a problem occurs later as the result of the work done by the sellers, they remain responsible."
You can find any number of pre-closing checklists on the internet. Most will serve you well. But here are some things to pay particular attention to:
Be sure the a/c cools and the furnace heats. Check all the appliances, including each burner on the stove and the ice-maker in the fridge. Flush all toilets and turn on all faucets to check for water pressure. Let them run long enough to ensure that the water heater is working. Fill the tubs and sinks to make sure they drain properly, and run the whirlpool.
Collect all manuals, warranties and receipts for repairs. You might need them after you move in. Work the garage door opener and sump pump. Run the garbage disposal and trash compactor.
Look for damp, stained or wet places in the attic, basement or crawl space. Flip on all the electric switches, including kitchen and bathroom fans, and check each electrical outlet. Open every window to make certain they work easily and are not painted shut.
If, after you go through all this, you find that something doesn't meet your satisfaction, you can bring it up at settlement. If you still are not happy, you have to be willing to walk. And Lenn Harley, of Washington, D.C.'s Homefinders, has a story about that:
The air conditioning at a Fort Washington, Maryland, house wasn't working at the walk-through, even though the seller had a "certificate" from an a/c company saying that the system had been inspected. So the buyers refused to close unless the seller agreed to set aside $5,000 for another inspection and replacement.
The seller refused, and the buyers walked, according to Harley. "Contract voided, seller refunded earnest money and I sold them another house," she says. "Happy buyers."