Inspection *before* offer?

thisishishouseNovember 1, 2009

Is it possible, does it ever happen, to have a home inspected *before* putting in an offer? Could we ask for a showing and bring an inspector and/or builder/remodeler with us?

We went to an OH today, saw a ~100 year old house with a 200+ yo barn. Been in the same family for generations. Other than windows and a boiler, nothing's been updated. We know it'd take a lot of attention to modernize, but would want to be sure it's not 'The Money Pit' before we make an offer.


Also, how does one go about finding a "barn inspector"? Not many farms left in these parts, so barns themselves are few and far between. I believe this one is covered by some conservation/preservation covenant and couldn't be neglected or torn down (not that we'd want to. We'd love to renovate that too)

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If I was the seller, I would not allow an inspection of my property before I had an accepted offer?
As a buyer, I would make an offer subject to the inspection.
You of course, can bring the inspector with you to a viewing, but not to do a full inspection.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2009 at 7:37PM
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I don't see an advantage in paying for an inspection before you know if you will get an accepted offer. On the other hand, many offers are written contingent upon a professional inspection satisfactory to the buyers. (except in New York, where the rules are completely different!)

    Bookmark   November 1, 2009 at 8:36PM
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I know we could put in an offer contingent on an inspection, but (a) we don't know how to price the initial offer w/o knowing what needs to be done and (b) if inspection turns up major issues, do we just start deducting from the initial offer?

For an initial offer, we figure we start with the theoretical market price if the house were in perfect modern condition (basically comp'd against most of what's on the market) then deduct the cost of what need to be done to get it there. There's unfortunately not many other properties in the area like it to comp it against.

Given all the problems we can see, we're afraid of what we can't. (We're also at a loss to estimate what some of the fixes cost.) It doesn't have a kitchen to speak of. There a room with a wood stove, cast iron sink, fridge, and some plywood cabinets. Bathroom is a closet with a 4' tub, toilet, & sink. Walls are predominantly peeling lead paint. Beneath that is ice cold plaster, so there can't be a shred of insulation. Pipes in basement wrapped in asbestos. North east facing exterior wall of house is peeling and covered in green algae/mold. Basement is fieldstone foundation, dirt floor, and smells damp. Attic is full of flies. Half of the (push button) light switches don't work. She's a truckload of trouble, but I can't get her out of my head.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2009 at 9:36PM
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Are you working with an agent to help you price the house?

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 12:46AM
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Realize that a home inspector will also not be able to see anything that is hidden or concealed. Also, barns are not considered "homes" and are not included in a home inspection. Therefore finding a home inspector with demonstrated experience in such will be difficult to say the least.

That said, a thorough inspection of a 100 year old house of average size should take a good three hours...generally more if it has not been well maintained. Even the most competent HI will not be able to tell you much more than you can see and know yourself in the half hour or so that would be the norm for viewing the house and the barn combined.

In addition, estimating cost of repair is not part of a home is beyond the scope as it requires thorough knowledge about current cost of building materials, labor costs, and methods of replacment and/or repair. That is a job for a contractor...not a home inspector. You may be able to find one who does both...but that is a bit of a conflict of interest.

It would be a huge liability even for a contractor to try to give you a realisitic idea of cost to repair/replace in the short time he or she would have in the home. I personally would be very leery of anyone willing to give such a figure knowing you would base your offer on it...after all, what if the real cost to renovate ends up being 4 times what was quoted? Kind of makes the whole "inspection before offer" superfluous.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 1:46AM
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This really depends on where you are---in parts of California during the boom (and even today, in some cases) it wasn't uncommon at all for potential buyers to ask for an inspection before submitting an offer. It's also very common for the seller to do an inspection before listing the home and then provide this to potential buyers (often even at an open house). But again, this is in a state with extremely strict disclosure laws, so it's in sellers' interest to disclose anything they know about the property.

A home inspector won't give you an estimate of costs of repairs---but you can certainly ask to have a contractor come out and give a bid (or in this case, maybe just a ballpark figure), either before or after you make an offer. (Again, common in some areas but less common in others; can't hurt to ask.)

For some of the work like lead and asbestos abatement, you can also call a company that specializes in these fields and ask for average costs for projects on houses such as this one; won't be exact, but will give you an order of magnitude, at least.

But yes, it's fair to start deducting from the initial offer for any major problems that come up---though it may still be helpful to have an inspection beforehand in case you decide not to make an offer at all based on the results. The major reason a seller might say no, I imagine, is if you live in a state where they are required to provide any inspection reports to future prospective buyers---in that case, they may want an offer in hand before letting you in, and that wouldn't be unreasonable.

Good luck---sounds like it could be a cool project!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 2:50AM
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Well, it certainly isn't "normal" to do an inspection before an offer, but there is nothing saying you can't ask for that. The worst they can say is no.

When we were looking for houses last year, we were specifically looking for historic rehabs in our city. Basically everything we were looking at was being sold "as is". As such, the whole inspection process wasn't going to follow the normal path where we find a list of issues and then the seller agrees to fix them or credit us. We ended up having 2 homes inspected before offers were made.

In your case, If you make an offer contingent upon inspection, I don't think you would want to make a "pristine condition" offer on a 125 old house that you KNOW is going to have so issues. The sellers would probably accept, but you are likely to have the deal fall through if your great offer gets knocked down 100k for repairs. I'd personally use my best guess at the cost of the work required and then make an offer accordingly. If you find any huge issues, you'll still be able to get out of the deal or request a credit. However, you'll avoid raising the expectations of the seller and then trying to talk them down from a high number.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 9:11AM
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I've done it. The house was an abused and neglected empty rental in a top notch heghborhood. The owner was a builder who we had worked with before. We saw so many things wrong while we were viewing the house that the realtor advised us to not even make an offer. We really loved the neighborhood. We got an inspection before we made our low offer and attached the inspection to the offer. We got the house, fixed it up and made money (before the boom) when we sold it two years later.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 11:53AM
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Not 100% worthless, I don't think you're going to get what you want from a home inspection.

From the condition you are talking about, you have a full gut renovation in mind. You're going to replace all plumbing, electric, insulate and sheetrock the whole house. Either refinish or replace the siding and roof and new kitchen and baths all around.

The only thing of value the inspector will tell you is if the house is structurally sound. whats the point of telling you the house needs to be rewired, if you can tell this already by the malfunctioning switches, or that you have peeling paint etc etc...

Sounds like you need to talk to a contractor, either having them join you on a walkthrough or a frank discussion on the costs.

Especially given the condition of the house I would try and get a feel before you offer. If I owned the house, I wouldn't expect the inspection to impact the process. ie: the condition is what it is, they're not representing that the house is in any kind of decent condition.

I guess in most cases I've viewed the inspection more as a take it or leave it proposition, it shouldn't be telling me anything big that I didn't know about, and if something big comes up, it would most likely be a deal breaker, not an easy fix.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 2:05PM
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The first rule that a smart buyer wants to do when they find a "good deal" is to gain control of the transaction. Having a pre inspection done does not give you this control. A fully executed contract does. You do not want to spend energy and money on an inspection, and then have another buyer make an offer while you are still doing an inspection, getting quotes...
I also agree with chrisk327. Get a contractor to "inspect" the house. He can point out deficiencies and get you a quote all in one.
But first, get the transaction under YOUR control, by getting into a contract contingent upon a Due Diligence Period. If you find more damage than your initial offer was based on, then renegotiate the offer using documented estimates from your GC as leverage.
Good Luck, sounds like a fun project.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 4:38PM
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I had no problem getting permission to have an old house inspected before I ever made an offer. They asked me to put pen to paper but I refused, saying exactly what you have said - that I wanted to know what I was stepping into before I started talking money. Luckily I found an inspector that had been in the construction business and I told him what I wanted to know. He couldn't give me price quotes on repairs but he could inform me on what sort of repairs were needed. I then got a contractor to walk through and put a ball park figure on the list of repairs.

It still ended up being a money pit but in the end I believe I will be very happy with the place (if it ever gets done!).

One thing to keep in mind, you can use the cost of professional repair work but then do some of it yourself. It is cheaper for me as a homeowner to deal with asbestos and lead paint then it is to call in a professional (but I am not dealing with asbestos insulation, just siding).

    Bookmark   November 3, 2009 at 9:52AM
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I have asked to see the seller's disclosure before submitting an offer. That can give you idea of what is going on with the house. Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2009 at 9:35PM
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