After all the stress, the fighting, the planning, the paperwork and the screaming at the Universe to please, please, just don’t throw one more roadblock up, you’ve almost made it to closing. It’s time for your final walk-through. It feels a little like the kind of event you should be dressed up for — I won’t tell anybody if you want to feel a little fancy on this special day. Your Realtor definitely feels a little fancy, I can promise you that.
Regardless of what you wear, do your walk-through. Do it. You can close without a walk-through, but skipping it means that you’ll accept the house in whatever condition the former owners chose to leave it and there’s no recourse. By doing a walk-through close to your closing day, you get one last chance to make sure everything is in the condition you expected it to be in.
Make sure to take two things, if nothing else: a tape measure and your time. This isn’t the sort of thing you want to rush. Let’s walk through your walk-through, shall we?
Step 1. Meet Your Agent
I generally met clients at their soon to be home to do the final walk-through. This way they didn’t have to wait for me if they needed to head home if I got a late night call or something. You’re not going to get keys or a garage door opener tonight, unless that was previously agreed to, so there’s not much to worry about as far as things for you to keep track of. Your agent will put the key to the house back into the lockbox hanging on or near the front door and the listing agent will be around before closing to collect them both.
Hopefully the seller has already finished moving out so you can see the condition of everything, from the carpet and hardwoods to the wall plates that were formerly hidden by their couch. In a vacant house, you can pretty safely assume that everything left behind, from appliances to garbage, is going to be yours very soon. It’s not so cut and dry if the former owner hasn’t finished moving.
Step 2: Look Around Outside
Your agent will have a copy of your contract or home inspection, along with notes on what was supposed to be fixed prior to closing. Your home inspector would have come by for a recheck by now, but they’re only human, so it doesn’t hurt to do a visual recheck. Does everything look like it did the day you first saw this house?
This is also the right time to check for missing items that should have been considered appurtenant (click here for a refresher on that bag of angry cats). Is the Dish Network antennae where you saw it last? Has anything vital to the functioning of that pool been removed? Make good notes and make sure your agent calls the Seller’s Agent right now if you find a problem.
Step 3: Check Out The Inside
Just like you took a long gander outside, go slowly and methodically through the house interior, from top to bottom. Are all of your repairs made? Is the condition the same or better than it was when you wrote your offer? When people move out, they often skin up walls and can scratch or tear flooring, keep an eye out for damage of that nature.
If you do find an issue, stop and ask yourself: is this worth never closing over? Once you open that can of worms, it’s all yours. You may create an impasse. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say something if there are major repairs left undone or if the Sellers did serious damage when they were moving out. It’s just that you should consider if it’s worth holding up closing and all the ripples that will be created from that.
It’s the difference between the trim on the front door being very slightly scratched and the light fixtures being removed and taken for whatever random reason. Just so we’re clear, definitely say something about the light fixtures. You need those (plus, they’re appurtenant!).
Step 4: Measure It
Once you’ve decided what to do about any damage you’ve found, you might as well get room dimensions and window sizes (you did bring your tape measure, didn’t you?). Armed with these figures, you can stop by your favorite home improvement store AFTER (I cannot stress this word enough) you’ve closed. Remember, you’re in “credit suspended animation” until after you have those keys in hand. Don’t even spend cash you don’t have to, since your lender will check your reserves, too.
Figure out where to put your bed, which room will belong to which child and so on. Make a plan so your move won’t be a nightmare. Oh, and measure your car and your garage space. Trust me on this.
My husband owns a Mercury Grand Marquis, a boat of a car that’s no longer in production. He loves this car because it’s giant, it’s completely loaded and it still doesn’t have 100,000 miles on it as far as I know (we got a great deal on it from an older lady who didn’t really drive). The bigness of this car cannot be exaggerated.
When he was in Texas looking at rentals, I told him to make sure the garage would hold his behemoth. I told him they don’t make garages for his car by default in newer homes. He did not take this friendly advice that I’m offering you and now, every day when he leaves for work or comes home, he has about three inches in which to squeeze between his car’s bumper and the wall so he can shimmy into the laundry room.
My car, on the other hand, is parked outside because it’s basically a station wagon (Chevy HHR, I wish they still made them).
I’m not foolish enough to believe it’ll fit in the garage. It won’t. Being able to shut the garage door with the car inside isn’t the same as the car actually fitting. If you can’t get out of the car when it’s inside, it doesn’t fit.
Anyway, that’s my garage story. So measure everything. Write down numbers.
Step 5: Saying Goodbye One Last Time
Soon, you’ll be the legal owner of that house, so this “goodbye” is definitely a “see ya later!” unless you’ve done something foolish like opened three credit cards and maxed them out in the last couple of weeks. Don’t do that. Be patient, go to closing, get your keys and go be a homeowner.
What Happens if There’s an Issue?
If you did happen across an issue during your walk-through, you have a few options, most of them aren’t pretty, so hold on to your hat:
- Establish an escrow fund for repairs. Doing this on the fly is a bit tricky and will try everyone’s patience. However, some closing companies will do it in order to get homeowners into their homes, especially if the repairs are already in progress or scheduled. Instead of giving the Seller their entire check with the proceeds of the closing, the closer will take said check and deposit a certain amount of money in an escrow fund. When the repairs are finished and certified, the money that’s left will be returned to the Seller. Even if they claim to have pre-paid their workers, closing companies will often withhold the entire cost of the repair plus an additional margin to cover any overages.
- Postpone or refuse to close. Yes. You can go to closing and say, “I’m calling the whole thing off.” It doesn’t happen very often because most Buyers have a lot of money and energy already sunk into the property, but once in a while it’s the only option. For example, if you had done your walk-through and all the light fixtures were gone, that’s a pretty good reason to refuse to close (this actually happened to one of my partners’ Buyers when I was an agent). Sometimes your Seller will plead with the closer to setup an escrow account like the one mentioned above, but generally what happens is that the closing is delayed at the very least so that a pro can go out and estimate the cost of the repair, new fixtures can be procured and installed and a second walk-through be performed. This can get really ugly, but you also can’t let the Sellers walk all over you.
- Arbitration. Often the standardized forms many agents use for writing contracts include language that says that all parties will agree to arbitration should a major issue arise. This is usually a good solution because more times than not, people simply don’t realize that whatever they did to hold up closing was a thing they weren’t allowed to do. Once it’s explained to them, they’re a bit embarrassed and apologetic and have learned a valuable lesson. Is it a pain? Definitely. But it’s better than the last option.
- Legal action. There are always several ways to sue and to get sued built into a real estate contract. In the forms provided by my Board of Realtors, the standard language said that if either party failed to perform (they mean close, no circus acts allowed), they could be sued for up to 10 percent of the transaction’s value. Buying a $300k house and the Seller backs out at the last minute? You can take them to court for $30k. But it works the other way, too — they can sue you for refusing to close without cause. Suing people is a really bad way to make friends, so it rarely came to that, but when it did, it was a nightmare. The property can be tied up (meaning no buying, no selling) and so will your life until the case is settled. Because these are non-violent, civil matters, they literally sit on dockets for years in some cases. Don’t do this unless you have literally no other option. You might win and you might even feel pretty smug, but your financial life will be on hold until everything is resolved.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Skip Your Walk-Through
Although your walk-through can be a new source of all kinds of drama, it’s usually not. This is your last chance to look at your home through the eyes of an excited buyer and not someone who now is in charge of the care and feeding of a building that’s aging and breaking down every day.
Hold on to that feeling, hold it so, so tight. In the days and weeks and months after you’ve closed, you may discover things you really don’t like about the place. Or you may simply have buyer’s remorse because you had no idea the commute would be so long. Whatever the reason, it’s very common for buyers to have regrets shortly after closing.
I’ve done it, your mom has done it, most people you know have moved into a new place and found themselves wondering why they made the choices they did. It will be ok, though. Especially if you held on to that hope and eagerness you had at your walk-through. It’s just the feeling of things changing.
You just bought a house! Everything is changing, and likely for the better!