Real Estate

Taking a final walk-through
Experts say a thorough inspection is essential – before buyers close on a house
– to ensure there are no surprises

Special to Newsday
April 14, 2006

Lorna Gonzalez, 29, was armed and ready for the final walk-through before closing on her Lindenhurst house. The mother of four, along with husband, Jose, 32, a maintenance porter, did more than just flush the toilets, examine the pool, put on the heat and turn on the lights in the $315,000 three-bedroom Cape Cod they purchased in January.

The couple carefully inspected the garage and basement, only to find discarded kitchen and bathroom cabinets, bottles of spray paint and garbage cans. Upon opening the medicine chests in the bathrooms, they also found over-the-counter items in the medicine chest such as Band-Aids and bottles of Tylenol. They also brought along Lorna’s mother, Grimilda Alarcon, 53, to offer another set of discriminating eyes.

The couple immediately contacted their attorney, who asked that a $500 credit be issued at closing to pay for the cost of renting a Dumpster to remove the items. This was issued, the closing went smoothly, and the Brooklyn couple soon called Long Island their home.

“You need to be very patient and careful during the walk-through,” said Lorna Gonzalez, a homemaker who has four children ages 3 to 9. “There’s no such thing as being too careful or picky. After all, this is the biggest thing you’re going to ever buy.”

Take your time

Although it is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of buying a home, keeping a clear head and doing your due diligence during the final walk-through before closing is essential. Give yourself at least 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending upon the size and condition of the residence, lawyers and real estate agents say.

“You never know what may have changed in the house from the time you went to contract to the time of closing – anything from flood damage to broken appliances to cracked windows,” said Frank DellAccio, president of Century 21 AA Realty in Lindenhurst.

If you worked with an agent to find your home, that individual, as well as the seller in many cases, will be present with you at the walk-through. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions, but do your own thorough inspection as well.

The general rule of thumb is that your attorney would ask for a credit at closing to pay for any damages or the cost of removing items found at the walk-through. Or you can obtain estimates, send the bill to the seller once you have moved in, and have that individual pay directly. It’s a good idea to have the seller put about $5,000 in escrow to cover such expenses, said Salvatore Strazzullo, a Brooklyn-based real estate attorney who handles many Long Island residential closings. The buyer and seller’s attorneys work out the details of such payments. Be as careful as you can, because once you’ve closed, there’s not much recourse short of a lawsuit.

You may even want to hire the engineer who did your original inspection to accompany you on the walk-through – if any damage or problems in the home were noted at the contract signing, Strazzullo recommended.

“Don’t be penny smart and dollar stupid,” Strazzullo said. “It may be very worth your while to spend the extra couple of hundred dollars.”

As with the Gonzalez family, looking through the garage, basement – as well as crawl space and attic – could reveal refuse that you want removed, DellAccio pointed out. Don’t forget the shed as well. “Things like lead-based paint and old tires are hard to get rid of and could be hidden away in a backyard shed,” he said.

You also should look for water damage as evidenced by water stains on the ceiling and walls or wet beams, said Richard Koller, chief operating officer for Tauscher, Cronacher Professional Engineers PC in Rockville Centre. An unusual fuzziness on surfaces inside the home can point to the possible existence of mold. But be realistic as well when it comes to looking for damage and asking for restitution that is reasonable.

“A home that is vacant will show more wear and tear, such as small bits of cracked paint or holes in the wall from photos or artwork that had been hanging,” DellAccio said. “These are things that you should be aware of and are common to discover during the walk-through.”

For instance, Suzanne and Bill Mills knew that the 1938 five-bedroom Colonial in Manhasset they bought in November 2004 for more than $2 million at an estate sale was going to need extensive renovation. They both kept an open mind during the walk-through. But Suzanne Mills, 41, an attorney, was still diligent and noticed there was a water spot in the attic that had not been detected in the engineer’s report. She told the late owner’s son, who agreed to pay for a roofer to come to the house twice to fix a broken shingle. “I had my engineer’s report with me and just kept referring back to that, which was so helpful,” said Mills, who has four children.

Bad weather can be a help

When doing a walk-through, it also can be a positive to have inclement weather. Josephine Guastella, 63, a retired banker, said she was better able to check for any possible leaks when doing the walk-through in March 2005 in her house in Stony Brook because it was raining that day. She found that water wasn’t pooling properly in one of the gutters on the outside, and all it needed was to be popped back in. Also, the rain did not stop Guastella from thoroughly examining the outside of the home, including the backyard and shed.

“Don’t be afraid of rain or snow during your walk-through; they can be your best ways to be alerted to leaks and many other problems in a home,” said Guastella, who paid $417,000 for her three-bedroom house with husband, Philip, a retired insurance executive.

For Tamara Brand, 23, a speech therapist, the walk-through in her Oceanside expanded ranch house with husband, Stu, 24, allowed her to make sure that the sellers were leaving some items in the house that they had agreed to when the two parties went to contract. These included a kitchen table and chairs and some light fixtures.

During the 45-minute visit, they also checked all the appliances, turned on lights and faucets, tested the plumbing and received documented proof from the sellers that a leak found in the roof at the home inspection was fixed.