Disclaimer: While your Realtor may draft a repair request for you, or you may do it yourself, I strongly recommend seeking competent guidance from an attorney who specializes in real estate matters. Real estate agents cannot give legal advice unless specifically qualified to do so.
One of the major components of any quality real estate sales and purchase contract is the inspection contingencies. Once you have agreed to the basic terms and conditions with a seller, you should have allowed yourself a reasonable time period to fully inspect the property using any resource you see fit. It is very typical to find numerous items that may need attention during this period and you must decide what should be repaired and what you can deal with later.
The sales and purchase contract should have detailed instructions on how to handle any requests for repairs, and you should review these instructions with your Realtor before drafting a repair request. Failing to follow these instructions can be just a bad as failing to adequately express your expectations. Make sure you understand what you must do and what your recourse could be or you may end up purchasing a property with significant defects.
Let’s develop a scenario to use as an example of the many possible solutions to finding problems and getting them satisfactorily resolved. One situation I recently observed a friend go through with the sale of her home was the repair of a ceiling with water damage from a previous water leak. The buyers noticed the stain on the ceiling and the seller had disclosed the fact the roof had leaked and was repaired. The seller had sufficient documentation to prove this fact and provided it to the buyers.
The buyers took issue with the condition of the ceiling during the inspection phase and make a request to have the ceiling repaired. The exact wording of the repair request was “seller to repair ceiling in the living room”. This request was properly presented to the seller according to the contract and was agreed upon by both parties. At this point, all parties involved were content with the the status of the transaction.
Obviously, for this to be a good example for our discussion, something has to go wrong, right? Well, something did go wrong, and it led to some very heated arguments and accusations. The buyers’ intentions with the repair request was to have the ceiling opened up, inspected for further water damage and mold, and then repaired and painted to match the surrounding ceiling. The seller’s intention was to replace the affected area on the ceiling with new drywall and mud, but not repaint or inspect for other damage.
Now, re-read the exact wording of the repair request. Who has the correct interpretation of the intent of the request? The seller or the buyer? In my opinion, both viewed the extremely vague wording of the request to their advantage and failed to recognize the other party’s intentions. Both could be correct, but since money and time are involved, neither side wished to give in to the other.
The seller did exactly as I stated and had the stain removed from the ceiling and did not repaint. When the buyers came through the house on their 24 hour prior to close walk-through, they saw the ceiling and immediately protested. This led to an escalating argument that culminated with a war at the closing table over the meaning of the repair request. It was ultimately determined that the seller had complied with the letter of the request and the buyers were left with no further recourse.
What can we learn from this specific transaction? I hope the first and most important thing you learn is to write extremely detailed, well though-out repair requests. My personal suggestion in this case would be to have written… “Seller to repair stain on the ceiling in the living room. Seller to have repair made by a reputable company with a successful history in this sort of repair. Seller to have the ceiling inspected for further damage caused by the previous roof leak and to inform the buyer immediately if any water damage or mold is present. Buyer shall have the right to make further requests for repairs should other damage be found. Seller to have repair completely and accurately documented and shall transfer any warranties that accompany the repair. Seller shall repaint the ceiling to match the surrounding ceiling.”
I don’t claim to have the perfect request for repairs in this situation, but I think both parties would have had a much better understanding of the intentions of the buyers and it is possible to have alleviated some of the contention at closing if wording more similar to this had been used. When you need to make a request for repairs in a real estate transaction, make sure you have considered all of the details and it is very explicitly and clearly written on paper. I would even consider consulting with a home inspector and attorney to help with the language.
I hope you find this information helpful and will be very careful when making requests for repairs in your next real estate transaction…