The final walk-through: Top tips for homebuyers
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Buying a home in today’s market can come with an overwhelming sense of pressure. Low inventory is leading some buyers to take unusual steps, like waiving home inspections or inserting escalation clauses into their contracts. But there is one essential step everyone should complete before closing: the final walk-through. No matter where you’re buying your home, you should never skip this critical piece of the puzzle.
“You want to make sure the home is in the same condition as when the offer was made,” says Andy Peters, a real estate broker and co-founder of the Peters Company, a Keller Williams Realty team in the Atlanta metro area. “If a seller is doing negotiated repairs or improvements, you want to verify that they were, in fact, done — and done correctly.”
You’re almost at the finish line, when the keys will officially be yours. Before the seller hands them over, follow these final walk-through tips to unlock the door to a bright future in your new home.
Know who attends a final walk-through
Typically, the final walk-through is attended by the buyer and the buyer’s agent, without the seller or seller’s agent present. This gives the buyer the freedom to inspect the property at their leisure, without feeling pressure from the seller.
If the property is a new home, a builder or contractor may attend. “New-build walk-throughs are looking for defects as well as cosmetic issues. A new home is delivered in a more ‘fresh out of the box’ way, so expectations are generally higher,” Peters says.
If the home inspection uncovered significant issues that were fixed prior to closing, you may want to ask your home inspector to re-inspect the home to ensure that agreed-upon repairs were made properly, says Alyse Alonso, a Realtor with eXp Realty in San Antonio, Texas. Keep in mind, though, there will be an additional cost involved for another inspection, and you might have to schedule the re-inspection before your final walk-through.
Schedule it immediately before the closing
In most cases, the final walk-through is scheduled within 24 hours prior to the closing date. Your real estate agent can help you set a time with the seller’s agent when you can be sure the property will be accessible and (hopefully) vacant.
“Ideally, the final walk-through will take place on the way to the closing office or the evening before,” Alonso says. “I have seen them take place a day or two before closing in certain circumstances.”
If a disaster or storm hits before you close
It’s unlikely, but let’s say you scheduled your final walk-through on Thursday afternoon, with the closing on Friday morning. Then, a major thunderstorm moves through the area on Thursday evening with hurricane-force winds. You’ll want to reexamine the property in a second, post-storm walk-through to make sure there is no new damage that will end up on your to-do — and to-pay-for — list. “Water intrusion, damage from fallen trees and sinkholes are all things we’ve discovered at final walk-throughs,” Peters says.
Issues like these could affect a key piece of getting to the finishing line. “In some cases, the bank may not complete the loan until the damage is remedied,” Alonso says. However, she points out that “the buyer and seller may be able to negotiate suitable repairs.
Walk-through vs. home inspection
As you gear up for the final walk-through, it’s important to remember that this is not a home inspection. Instead, this is an opportunity to verify that any issues that turned up during the inspection — which likely occurred just a few days after you signed the initial contract — have been addressed.
With that in mind, your real estate agent should bring along documentation to help confirm that all is as it should be. This includes the seller’s disclosure form you received after signing the purchase agreement, the inspection report and any repair amendments you and the seller agreed on. Your agent should request receipts for any repairs the seller completed after the home inspection, too, and have those on hand during the final walk-through.
Additionally, there is no fee for a final walk-through. It’s just a standard part of the process.
How long a walk-through takes
A final walk-through might take anywhere from 15 minutes for a small home to more than an hour for a larger property. Build in extra time to inspect extra items, such as a pool or a detached shed or garage.
And remember, regardless of what the property looks like, there is no need to set a time limit for your final walk-through. Whether you’re handing over money in an all-cash deal or taking out a 30-year mortgage, this is a major transaction that has implications for your long-term financial well-being. You don’t want to rush it. Simply put, make sure you have checked every nook and cranny. It can help to bring a checklist of what to look for, so you don’t forget anything.
Communicate any issues you find ASAP
Finding a significant problem during the final walk-through can be a hassle. In extreme cases, home sales can be completely derailed at this stage. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, 5 percent of contracts were terminated in January 2022 due to failure to meet the contingencies in the contract.
However, if something does come up in your walk-through, there is no need to panic. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. More than likely, it may simply delay the closing by a few days to resolve the problem, or you’ll need to ask the seller to provide you with a credit at closing so you can handle the repairs after move-in day.
“Most issues can be worked out by negotiating more money. There is some gray area in terms of what you can use to hold up a closing,” Peters says. “Clearly if the home is not in the condition it was when you made the offer, the seller has to cure the issue if they want to sell.”
“I always advise the buyer to review the situation carefully and figure out whether or not it’s worth delaying the closing or mentioning it to the seller,” says Jason Gelios, a Realtor with Community Choice Realty in Southeast Michigan. “However, larger issues like missing appliances or major damage to the property should never be overlooked.”
Gelios notes that most of his buyer clients don’t back out of the deal without holding the seller accountable for things not honored in the purchase agreement. “Most sellers are open to making things right at this stage of the process,” he says.
Can I back out after the final walk-through?
Whether or not you can terminate your real estate contract after the final walkthrough depends on the terms of your agreement.
“In most cases, it would be hard to terminate the purchase agreement as a result of the final walk-through, unless you could point to a major change in the condition of the property,” says real estate attorney Lisa Okasinski, of Detroit’s Okasinski Law PLC. “For smaller items of damage that happened after the purchase agreement was entered, it’s more realistic that the parties would agree to have the buyer withhold from the seller an amount necessary to make the repairs at closing.”
Legally, however, you are allowed to back out if the property does not meet the obligations detailed in your real estate contract, says Elizabeth Grimes, an attorney with Ligris + Associates PC in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Typically, sellers and buyers instead agree to either monetary compensation or other solutions to ensure the transaction moves forward,” she says.