The Housing Scene

Home inspections are often a major bone of contention between buyers and sellers. Buyers tend to demand that sellers fix every little thing that their examiners find wrong with the house, and sellers sometimes hold firm that they won’t mend items that they believe amount to nothing less than nitpicking.

Worse, though, buyers tend to ascribe the cost to repair everything the inspector discovers at two or even three times what it really might set them back. So they prune their offers by that amount. That leaves sellers stuck having to decide whether to accept a lowball offer or bite the bullet. Let more hard bargaining ensue.

It’s doubtful that this scenario will ever end, no matter how hard the buyer’s agent pleads with her client not to sweat the small stuff -- and no matter how hard the listing agent begs the seller to consider the big picture. But now there are several ways both sides can obtain accurate repair estimates quickly.

If you are familiar with inspection reports, you know they can be lengthy and detailed -- and therefore difficult to decipher. They also offer little, if any, insight into what it might cost to repair what the inspector says needs to be fixed.

Before going any further, it is important to realize that bargaining over every little thing an inspector discovers could be counterproductive. If a buyer dickers too hard, the seller is likely to tell him to take a hike. Existing homes often come with defects, many of which are cosmetic in nature that won’t impact the home’s livability. Even new production houses aren’t perfect, and buyers can take their time making cosmetic fixes after they move in.

For the big-ticket stuff, like an HVAC system that’s on its last legs or an unknown roof leak, new online services like RepairPricer and PunchList can be invaluable.

Based on studies of real-life inspection reports, RepairPricer (repairpricer.com) claims a 98 percent degree of accuracy when it comes to true repair costs. But it does not guarantee its pricing because “there are too many variables and potential underlying issues” of which it may not be aware.

Punchlist (punchlistusa.com) not only provides an estimate of repairs called for by a home inspector but also does the work. The company furnishes its clients with what it says is a quick, but accurate, detailed pricing estimate using a proprietary program that analyzes the inspector’s report.

An estimate is not the same as a price quote, though. Estimates are not contracts and are subject to change based upon actual conditions. A quote, on the other hand, is a contractual offer not to exceed the stated prices. And PunchList, which has a $500 minimum, says it has to see the job in person to be able to firm up the cost enough to produce a quote. Its rates are based on the job, not by the hour, which is how most home repair services work.

At the same time, HouseMaster (housemaster.com) customers can click on the “Estimate Repair Cost” tab on the company’s website, enter the property information and begin generating quotes on items that need to be fixed. The report will build an estimate using data that has been researched and validated by a third-party vendor used by most major insurance companies to build their estimates. One repair estimate comes with every inspection.

Meanwhile, HomeZada (homezada.com), a digital program that helps owners manage maintenance schedules, home improvement projects and even finances, now has an app that allows you to make a digital list of everything you have in your house. All insurance companies recommend creating an inventory of your belongings. That way, if you experience a flood, fire or theft, you won’t have to rely on your memory to determine what was lost.

The technology detects both personal property pieces such as furniture, electronics and collectibles as well as fixed asset items like appliances, fixtures and even building materials. Itemizing both is important because homeowners insurance policies have two different amounts of coverage: one for personal property, and the other for the dwelling itself.

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