What can I learn from talking with the seller?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Quite a lot, especially if you plan your questions in advance, based on the seller’s disclosure paperwork and any concerns you have about the home. Most states require the seller to disclose any known defects that affect the value of the property on a standardized form. We suggest that you review it in advance of meeting the seller, make notes and be ready.

   Realtors typically advise the seller to leave the house for the duration of the inspection, and with good reason: if they are there, then they are available for questions. But, at about half of the inspections we do, the seller can’t resist sticking around and is happy talk about the house. Also, if your are buying a “for sale by owner” home (called a “fizz-bo” by real estate professionals, from the acronym FSBO) without a realtor, the seller will definitely be available for a conversation. 

   Starting off with a little friendly banter and a compliment or two about the house can get the conversation rolling. Also, try to avoid rapid-fire questions that seem like an interrogation. Generalized requests for more information and opinions work best, especially if they are open-ended and leave room for the seller to make comments and suggestions.

    Also, be sure to review the seller’s property disclosure statement beforehand, so you can also cover any issues that were noted. See our article Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement? for more on disclosure statements.

  The one situation that leaves you with minimal information about the condition of the home is a foreclosure. Banks specifically disclaim any knowledge about the home or any responsibility for undisclosed defects.

   But you have another option: visit with the neighbors. They are often thrilled at the prospect of meeting the new homeowner, and can provide plenty of information you will never get anywhere else. Yes, you may meet a stone-faced type that is irritated at your knock on the door, but just move on to the next house and and you will find someone glad to talk with you. Be sure to also ask for their thoughts about the neighborhood, what they remember about the previous owners, any recent crimes in the area, and whether they they are happy living there. Much of the history of the home can be gathered from a long-time neighbor, and your detective work will often be rewarded with a better understanding of the property. 

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

 Does the seller get a copy of the home inspection report?

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?

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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