Don’t sabotage your home purchase by frustrating the seller with minor repairs.
Buying a home can be a precarious business. When money and emotions are involved, things can get dicey (and ugly). So when issues pop up during a home inspection or initial walk-through, it’s important to request some repairs — especially if they’re related to safety concerns or would cost a mint to fix once the property is yours. But when you’re bidding on a prime piece of real estate in a competitive market where multiple offers are the norm, choosing what repairs to ask for can become even more strategic. After all, requesting too many fix-ups could potentially tank the sale if there are less-high-maintenance offers waiting in the wings.
“There is no magic number of repairs, but if you are in a seller’s market or the property is in high demand, you probably want to ask for as little as possible and stick to four-point items such as roof, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC items,” explains Liane Jamason, a broker with Smith & Associates Real Estate in St. Petersburg, FL. When requesting additional repairs, make sure you have realistic expectations, you present your requests in an appealing way (read: not overwhelming), and you’re ready to prioritize and negotiate your requests.
From easy fixes to issues that might give you a reason to walk away, here are eight requests you should never make.
1. What you know you’ll renovate anyway
Every time you request a property repair, you walk a fine line with the seller, who is hoping for an easy, quick sale — and repairs only lengthen the process. If you know a kitchen renovation is at the top of your to-do list, it may not be worth it to bring up the damaged baseboards in the kitchen hallway or the pantry’s warped door. Instead of asking for flat-out repairs, try to negotiate with the seller — they may be willing to give you a credit for these damages that you can use when you do renovate the kitchen.
2. Purely cosmetic issues
It’s tempting to ask a seller to repair a tile that’s cracked or add a fresh coat of paint to a fence, but do so at your own risk. “Most real estate agents recommend buyers overlook cosmetic repairs that they are able to afford fixing after the sale,” explains John Lazenby, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. “It’s important to weigh how much the buyer wants or needs a repair completed by the seller against how much they want the home, and how many other buyers are out there who also want the home.”
An added benefit to addressing cosmetic issues on your dime (and time) is that you can pick the contractor you want to use and repair the issue to your level of taste and quality. “Staining a deck, replacing a window, or similar little items might be better to address afterwards, so the new owners can choose their own company to do the work,” explains Rachel Hillman, founder of Hillman Homes, a real estate firm located in West Newton, MA.
3. Missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Yes, you need them in most every room in your home, but if they’re missing, don’t bring it up. “Depending on where you live, it may be required [of] the seller to replace smoke or carbon monoxide detectors,” says Ross Anthony, a real estate agent with Willis Allen Real Estate in San Diego, CA. But if they don’t, make a mental note to replace them yourself after closing. This is an easy, inexpensive update and in most cases, not worth risking the sale.
These little critters can wreak havoc on a home and even make a house uninhabitable. Plus, if you’re taking out a mortgage, a termite infestation could put your loan at risk. If you encounter this problem, it might be better to walk away than request remediation. “Termites are a big issue,” says Jamason. “Some lenders or insurance companies will not write on a property that does not have a clean termite inspection report. This is one such item that most sellers are going to have to fix for any buyer who needs mortgage financing in most cases. But seek the advice of your real estate agent and lender, because if the property had multiple offers, the seller could easily just say no, put the property back on the market, and sell it to someone else who isn’t asking for repairs.”
5. The $10 repair list
No matter how badly you want that jammed window repaired, if the home inspector doesn’t flag it as a safety concern or code violation, it may not be worth bringing up to the seller. Remember, sellers have real estate agents on their side too. If a seller gets a huge punch list of minor repairs that have to be made in a short time span to meet a closing deadline, their agent may suggest that a better offer could potentially be down the road, with fewer repair requests and with a less-aggressive (read: more affordable) time frame. Keep calm, and remember: You can always hire a contractor or handyman to do some work after you close.
6. Minor electrical issues
A nonworking light switch or faulty electrical socket that pops up in an inspection may seem like a fix you should request — but if it’s truly a minor issue and not a sign of larger problems, skip it, advises Lazenby. “Minor electrical issues can easily be repaired postclosing,” he says.
7. Water damage
This is a tough issue to sort out during the homebuying process, as signs of previous water damage like a water spot on a ceiling could indicate a larger, chronic issue. But it could also simply equate to a spot that’s an unfortunate leftover from a repaired water issue. “With water damage, rely on the expertise of your home inspector,” advises Jamason. “If there is minimal cosmetic damage, that’s probably something that can be repaired postclosing. However, if the damage appears to be deep or is unknown, it may be something you wish to request be fixed prior to closing if you can’t tell how deep the damage goes or whether there is mold behind a wall. Again, some lenders may require that active water damage or wood rot be repaired prior to closing.”
8. Loose railings
The front porch of the home could look as if it’s straight out of the pages of a magazine, but if you take one step up the front stairs and realize the railing is wobbly and loose, it seems like a no-brainer to ask for a fix. But even if it’s not up to code per the inspection, think twice before asking for repairs, says Jamason.
“It may depend on your lender if they will allow closing to proceed with an issue like this,” she says. “If the items are minor, or if the buyer is particular about the way an item is being repaired, it may be advisable to just ask for a credit from the seller in lieu of repairs and do the repair themselves postclosing.”