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By the time my husband and I put in an offer on a home (for the third time) in August, we were exhausted by the home-buying process—and we hadn’t even bought a home yet.
Even in the midsize town in northern Alabama where we wanted to buy, the real estate market was nuts. Homes were going under contract the same day they were listed, making it nearly impossible to see the house and feel confident enough to submit an offer before we were beaten to the punch by another buyer.
When we finally did go under contract on this third home, we learned of another issue: Home inspectors in the area were booked for two weeks and up, but our contract stated that we had only seven days to get an inspection done.
Up against a tight deadline, we considered an option that seemed like real estate suicide: Should we waive our home inspection?
While house hunting during this crazy time, we’d heard that many buyers were indeed waiving their right to a home inspection. Thankfully, our real estate agent was able to find a local inspector who had a last-minute opening. We got lucky, but it left me wondering: Is it ever OK to waive a home inspection?
Here’s what the experts have to say.
The problem we experienced with overbooked inspectors is a trend being seen on a larger scale across the country. From March through May, due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, many states weren’t allowing home inspections to happen, says Mike Wagner, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of RAL Inspection Services, based in Indiana. Since then, in areas with low COVID-19 infection rates, home inspections have resumed—and the pent-up demand for their work has resulted in a backlog that’s slowing down real estate deals. This was especially problematic given home purchase contracts typically require an inspection be done within a week of the contract being signed by both parties. If you’re in a hot real estate market where homes are getting multiple offers, there might be a temptation to skip an inspection when you really want the house. But waiving a home inspection comes with sizable risks.
A home inspection is something that protects your financial interest in what will likely be the largest purchase you make in your life—one in which you need as much information as possible. For example, learning that a home needs repairs costing $20,000 or more could change your mind about wanting to buy it, or the amount you’re willing to spend. Considering the health and safety of your family is also important. Home inspections can uncover potentially hazardous items in a home—such as bad wiring, unsafe heating or cooling equipment, or even structural issues—that the average person won’t likely notice with a quick look around. A home inspection “is a few hundred dollars for your peace of mind,” says Jean Rosalia, a residential and commercial real estate agent based in Virginia Beach, VA. “As opposed to maybe tens of thousands of dollars down the road for something that you could not detect on your own.”
Offers that waive a home inspection contingency can be more attractive to home sellers since there’s less likelihood that the buyers will find some expensive problem that they’ll demand is fixed before they move forward. Generally, waiving a home inspection is done to speed up the closing process. While Rosalia personally doesn’t recommend waiving a home inspection, one option you have is to include a home inspection “for informational purposes” in your contract. This means that you won’t hold home sellers responsible for making repairs, or fronting the money for them. This could make sellers more likely to accept your offer. This way, “the buyer will still be afforded the inspection, and the seller will know that there will be no negotiations or requests for repairs,” Rosalia says. In this case, if there are major issues that arise from the home inspection, you can still back out of buying the home. You might have to forfeit the earnest money deposit you’ve put down with your offer, but not necessarily if you’ve worded your contract right. And even if you do lose your deposit, it might pale in comparison to paying for whatever required repairs the home inspection brings to light. Just know that the more safeguards you place for yourself that might put the sale in question, the less likely sellers might be to play ball with you if they have alternative offers with fewer strings attached. Still, the main point is that an information-only inspection means you can go into the deal with your eyes open to the potential costs, and back out if you find flaws that feel like too much for you to handle.
What about condos? Since they’re often part of a larger building, a home inspection might not seem as important. Same with new construction, since it hasn’t had time for wear and tear to accumulate. “Even in a condo, there are things that can go wrong,” says Rosalia. For instance, many items such as water heaters and HVAC units are still the responsibility of individual owners, warranting a home inspection to make sure these items are up to par. You should always get a home inspection in a new-build home, too, because you never know what problems might come up. Rosalia says she had a buyer who’d bought a new-construction home and, upon inspection, they discovered the stove had been wired into a ground-fault circuit, meaning that every time it reached a certain temperature, it flipped the circuit breaker. The builder “fixed it before they moved in,” she says. “But we wouldn’t have known about it” without an inspection.
Kelli Griggs, a real estate agent with Navigate Realty in San Francisco, says that if the home you’re buying is new construction and under builder warranty, or if the seller had existing reports within the past year, she might “potentially” be OK with waiving the right to an inspection if it was the only way to get your offer accepted.
But again, it comes down to the risk you’re willing to take.
“I look at it like a car: I’d never buy a used car simply on the word of the seller that it runs well,” she explains. “I’d have my mechanic look at it.”
Jennie Caterinacci, a real estate agent with HomeSmart in Scottsdale, AZ, says it might also be acceptable to skip a home inspection if you’re an experienced real estate investor or home flipper with $20,000 to $50,000 set aside in an emergency fund in case there are things wrong with major components of the home. But regardless of what you’re planning to do to a home, she says, “no one wants to buy a money pit.
”Bottom line: Spending a few hundred dollars on a home inspection is almost always money well-spent.
“If nothing else, it’s a mini lesson in home maintenance and a convenient honey-do list for the buyers if they decide to purchase the home,” says Caterinacci.