What is a cosmetic defect in a home inspection?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Defining what is a “cosmetic” defect, and what is not, can be a point of disagreement between buyer and seller after a home inspection, primarily because sellers are not required to fix cosmetic defects (according to the FARBAR contract used in Florida and similar real estate contracts around the country), and buyers would like to have as many things as possible fixed or replaced by the seller as part of the purchase price.

   The FARBAR contract lists the following items as required to be repaired:

    Torn screens (including pool and patio screens), fogged windows, and missing roof tiles or shingles shall be repaired or replaced by Seller prior to Closing.

    Then it defines “working condition” and “cosmetic conditions,” with a list of some of the defects that are considered cosmetic:

     Seller is not required to repair or replace "Cosmetic Conditions" (defined below), unless the Cosmetic Conditions resulted from a defect in an item Seller is obligated to repair or replace. "Working Condition" means operating in the manner in which the item was designed to operate. "Cosmetic Conditions" means aesthetic imperfections that do not affect Working Condition of the item, including, but not limited to: pitted marcite; tears, worn spots and discoloration of floor coverings, wallpapers, or window treatments; nail holes, scrapes, scratches, dents, chips or caulking in ceilings, walls, flooring, tile, fixtures, or mirrors; and minor cracks in walls, floor tiles, windows, driveways, sidewalks, pool decks, and garage and patio floors. Cracked roof tiles, curling or worn shingles, or limited roof life shall not be considered defects Seller must repair or replace, so long as there is no evidence of actual leaks, leakage or structural damage.

   Home inspectors typically do not note defects like dirty carpet, damaged window treatments or nail holes in the wall, but do report on items such as pitted marcite (plaster finish on pool shell), cracked window panes, and damaged hard flooring. Although they are listed as cosmetic items in the real estate contract, the buyer needs be aware of these items since they represent a future repair expense for them. Also, we do not specify which defects are cosmetic.

    Brand new homes are a little different. The buyers expect that everything, including the cosmetic items, are perfect when they receive their newly built home. So we report on paint defects, chips, and scratches that would not be noted for a resale home.

    One of the cosmetic items that sometimes becomes necessary for either the seller or buyer to repair before the sale is a roof that is at the end of its life—but is not leaking. Many insurance companies want verification that a home that is 15 years old or more has a roof with a minimum of 5 years of life remaining before they will insure it. Curling shingles, although listed as cosmetic, is a definitive sign that a roof is at the end of its lifespan, and an inspector cannot give the roof much additional life at that point. So the buyer can’t get reasonably-priced insurance, and something has to be worked out. 

    Also, as some cosmetic defects deteriorate further, they slide out of the cosmetic category. Pitted marcite, for example, that has advanced to the point where there are rust stains at the pitted areas means that water has gotten to the steel reinforcing bars inside the concrete pool shell, and chunks of concrete will begin popping off soon. It becomes a structural problem.

   Local realtor Barbara Vineyard, of Green Tree Realty, likes to get pricing for repair of cosmetic items that worry the buyer as a way to make sure they don’t become an overblown issue. Cosmetic repairs do not, by definition, affect the functionality of a home, so they can usually be postponed for a while.

    Also, see our blog post What does "serviceable" mean in a home inspection report?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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