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Dear Monty column: Afraid of hidden home defects?

Richard Montgomery
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This week our readers are afraid of hidden defects in a home they want to buy. If you like the house, it may pay to take a closer look at what's behind the fear and poke around before writing the house off.

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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Reader Question: We like a home and want to make an offer. The seller is offering the home in "as is" condition and did not complete a seller condition report. While we do see conditions that will require repair or replacements, those repairs do not seem severe enough to go "as is" on us. Our agent says that the seller will not permit an inspection. We are afraid of hidden home defects. What can we do, short of walking away, to solve this problem?

Monty's Answer: Here are some examples of information that may help better understand what is driving the seller's thinking. Is the seller a senior citizen? Did they ever live in the house? Is the seller a house flipper? Is the seller’s agent competent? Have you ever spoken to the seller? Most buyers will be on high alert or not even look at the home. This link adds an “as is ” seller perspective.  

There are a variety of reasons certain home sellers object to providing condition information. Some do not have the money to make repairs. Others had legal advice not to cooperate. And, some individuals see all this paperwork as government-directed overreach. I have also seen sellers who are hiding something.

  1. First, try to set up a face-to-face meeting with the seller. Turn yourself from a name to a person. The reason for a meeting is to share some questions you have about the property that no one else can answer. it may not be productive, but it can also be surprisingly positive. You may learn the reason for their reluctance, take the mystery out of the situation and agree on a solution.
  2. Make an offer with two prices - with and without an inspection. Sometimes, putting a price tag on the financial impact of denying a buyer the ability to have an independent check will jar a seller into a different frame of mind. Sometimes not, but even then, the seller may be getting the idea you are serious about buying the property.
  3. If you still want to buy the property, knock on the neighbors' doors. "Hi, do you have a minute? We are interested in buying the (seller name) house. They are not allowing us to have a home inspection. Still, we love the house, so we are doing a little detective work. Are you aware of any loud sounds, unpleasant odors, or earth tremors? Anything that you can think of?" They may know something. If they do, there is a chance they will give you a clue. An example: "They have the sewer company over there every week."  
  4. You must decide to eliminate the house or offer without an inspection contingency. Think about things that can go wrong that are hard to see or hidden. Some examples are: a.) Insect or vermin infestations somewhere in the house or on the property; b.) Foundation issues like water penetration or house sinking; c.) Septic or sewer issues include a blockage in the line to the street, a failing leach bed or a leak in a holding tank. 

Then think of what it would cost to repair when deciding what to offer.

Richard Montgomery is the author of "House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home." He advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Follow him on Twitter at @dearmonty, or at DearMonty.com

St. James Plaindealer