Ontario’s hot housing market continues to spark bidding wars and, in many cases, buyers are being advised by agents to make “clean” offers to get the house they want.
By “clean”, the agent means an offer without any conditions in order to make it more acceptable to the seller. Big mistake. I constantly hear stories from ‘successful’ home buyers, who bought without an inspection. They later uncovered major problems, many of which could have been identified with a proper inspection. This meant large repair bills and unfortunate lawsuits involving unhappy buyers, sellers and real estate agents.
In a column last September, I wrote about the issue and offered a simple 20-item home inspection checklist for buyers. The home inspection system is far from perfect, but it is the best way to safeguard your interest.
Inspections are imperfect because in most cases the inspector is not permitted to look behind walls or under floors which means many potential problems are hidden. But Andrew Radomski of Pillar to Post, a professional home inspection company, tells me that inspection firms can identify plenty of potential trouble spots. These include:
• Obsolete knob and tube wiring. This is found in homes built prior to the 1950s in most of the original City of Toronto. It is hard to get insurance if your home has knob and tube wiring.
• A 60-amp electrical service when the norm today is either 100 or 200. Again this will lead to higher insurance premiums.
• Old galvanized plumbing. It rusts, can leak and plug up, slowing water flow. Old lead pipes are a health risk.
• Any roof over 20 years old should probably be partially or completely replaced.
• Old foundations will gradually deteriorate, causing leaks, and are expensive to repair.
• Windows can be expensive to replace, if in poor condition.
Some firms use thermal imaging technology and, for an additional fee, can identify problems with the structure, moisture leakage or air leakage in a home. They can also better identify when there is insufficient insulation, plumbing leaks or poor construction, which can lead to problems down the road.
In some cases the seller will conduct a pre-listing inspection and make a summary of the results available to any interested buyer. A good idea, but as a buyer, you cannot rely just on this and should still conduct your own inspection. You do not know how thorough the inspection was and, more important, what qualifications the inspector had.
Some sellers try and create the atmosphere for bidding wars by saying that they will not accept any offers for a four- or five-day period. They hope that buyers will come in early, pay for a home inspection in advance and then be in a position to make an offer without any conditions. While this is better than doing no inspection at all, the disadvantage is that you may pay for this inspection but still not win the bidding war.
And if you try and buy a home by yourself, without an agent, you had better find a home inspection company first and determine how much time they might need to do an inspection for you. Real estate agents work with many home inspection firms, so they can normally arrange for an inspection for buyers within forty-eight hours.
In Ontario, the home inspection industry needs to be licensed, as there are many inspectors today who do not have insurance in the event they make errors. British Columbia and Alberta have licensed inspectors.
Sellers, consider getting your home inspected before putting it up for sale and fix any problems that are identified. Don’t cover them up or you will face a lawsuit after closing.
Buyers, do not get pressured into making an offer without a home inspection condition, especially for older homes. I know the process can be frustrating, but it is better to be frustrated and lose a bidding war than to win a bidding war and pay more for it after closing.