Purpose, Prep and Process: Understanding the Final Walk Through as a Buyer

Blue checklistThe standard Virginia contract doesn’t say a lot about the ‘final walk through’ process that buyers are entitled to just before closing. As a buyer agent, however, it’s one of the most important parts of the home buying process that I help my clients navigate. Here is a look at what is entailed and how to make the most out of this key final step before closing!

PURPOSE:  Once a deed is recorded at the county courthouse, a new buyer owns the home. Period. Warts and all. For many buyers, it’s weeks between an inspection and the closing date, and a lot can happen in the meantime. Careless sellers can create damage during the moving process; hasty tenants can leave a mess; personal items might get left behind (that you don’t want to keep); or items that were negotiated as part of the sale might be missing. The final walk through is the buyers’ last chance to be sure that when closing documents are signed, surprises are at a minimum.

PREP:  A good walk through should take a little bit of time, depending on the size of the house. This is an active process, not simply a stroll through the home–it’s hands on. If the house was vacant when the contract was written, it can be a little easier. Careful attention should be paid to all the systems (electric, HVAC, plumbing, etc.) and working parts (doors, windows, garage doors, etc.). This is not the time for another complete inspection, but everything should be examined.

Start by scheduling the closing, if possible, during daylight hours. It makes both the inside and outside examinations a lot easier. But don’t forget a flashlight anyway, especially if the electricity has been turned off. If timing allows, try to do the walk through the day of closing, a few hours before your scheduled closing time. Why? Doing it too soon can mean that you miss things that happen between the walk through and signing the closing papers. For example, if you do the walk through the day before closing, and a huge windstorm knocks a tree on the house that night and you close the next morning, you’ll have no recourse. Likewise, if the water heater goes out overnight and you did your walk through the night before closing, you have no recourse. Try to time the walk through and closing as close as practical.

Bring a copy of the contract. This will outline which items, if any, were negotiated to be left behind, and which exceptions to the ‘free of personal possessions,’ might exist. The contract requires that the property be empty of personal items before closing. Also bring a copy of your inspection report, if you had one performed. This will help remind you the condition of items at the time of the inspection. It’s too late to request a repair for something that was noted on the inspection report, but not negotiated as part of the Agreed Repairs Addendum.

PROCESS:  Start on the outside, at the street…look for items in the mailbox; bird feeders and other items left in the trees; flags, lawn decorations, etc. Is there driveway damage from a moving truck? Walk the perimeter of the home, scanning top to bottom for things that are different than when you last saw the home. Is the roof still in the same shape? Did a recent storm cause some shingles to go missing? Is there any sign of damage to either the house, windows, doors, surrounding plants? Once you’re inside, be thorough. A well-prepared buyer agent will have a custom check list to be sure nothing is left out. Use it to go through each room methodically. Open every door, window and drawer. Turn on the lights, and fans. Turn on the water faucets (check for hot water!), flush the toilets and check for leaks or running toilets. Turn on all the appliances again to quickly check that they are operating. You’re searching for items whose status has changed from either the home inspection, or the last time you were at the house. Don’t forget storage areas or parking spaces if you’re buying a condo, outbuildings if you’re buy a large property, pool houses, pump-houses, and the like. If you did not get an inspection, the contract still has provisions for buyers that include items must be in working order.

Sellers often leave things behind on purpose that they believe are of benefit to a new owner (fire extinguishers, hoses, house plans, etc.). For some buyers, these are treasures, for some they are trash. If there are clearly personal items left behind, be sure your buyer agent lets the listing agent know. If there are items left behind that you want, but did not specifically negotiate, these are yours after the closing. If there are items left behind that you do not want, you have the right to delay closing until those items are removed by the sellers, or, you can request a credit at closing to provide compensation for you to remove them yourself.

Be sure that certain things are left behind: garage door openers, keys to padlocks for basements, outbuildings or mailboxes; keys to gas fireplaces, collars for invisible dog fencing. These items are much harder to obtain once closing happens, especially if the sellers are not local, or are moving from the area.

The final walk through deserves a lot of time and attention from you and your buyer agent. If you cannot make the walk through yourself, send a friend of family member. Relocating and can’t make it? Your buyer agent will do the walk through without you for your benefit, and report back anything that is out of the ordinary.

The walk through is the last thing to do before signing closing papers…take advantage of it!

Ready for more real estate insight? Other blogs you might like: Understanding the New Construction Home Market, Which Home Improvements Add the Most Value, and What to Look for When Buying Your First Investment Property

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