Walk throughs in existing properties and walk throughs in new developments are vastly different from one another. In the former, the inspection of “used” properties is scheduled just before closing, but very often, it occurs on the way to a closing. Generally, buyers and their brokers, along with sellers’ brokers, allow twenty minutes to walk through a space to see that the home is delivered “broom clean” as specified in the contract, and that nothing has changed measurably from the time of contract signing. The walk through serves as the buyer’s opportunity to visually inspect that no wear and tear was caused by the seller’s move out and that no damage resulted from fire or leaks. It’s also the time to see whether light fixtures and draperies that were included in the sale are in place, and that original door knobs or other expected details have not been removed. If there are problems, the closing can be postponed, or money can be put in escrow until corrections are made.
For buyers of newly constructed units, there are a host of differences in the walk through before closing. For one thing, many co-brokerage agreements for new developments expressly prohibit brokers from accompanying their buyers on inspections. Additionally, the contract of sale defines when walk throughs are permitted, and the offering plan specifies the details of the product to be delivered. For new construction buyers who have purchased their units from model showrooms and representative floor plans, the walk through is often the first look at a finished or nearly finished product. Few purchasers have opportunities to don hard hats at construction sites to see how work is progressing.
Because of the time lapse between contract signing and closing, in many cases 18-24 months apart, buyers’ reactions run the gamut from being thrilled to deflated when they enter their intended home for the first time. While the inspection is meant to create a factual punch list of what needs to be finished or repaired, the walk through also can be charged with emotion. Brokers can help to manage expectations if they know in advance that the space to be inspected will be dusty, dirty or unfinished. When a long awaited property falls short of buyer expectations, a relapse of “buyer’s remorse” can set in. Unfortunately, because of today’s rush to completion by sponsors, more walk throughs are occurring before they are cleaned thoroughly. When a space doesn’t shine, disappointment can follow.
The sponsor’s obligations to the buyer are governed by the offering plan. On New York State’s website, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo advises, “Buyers must therefore carefully read the "Description of Property" section in the offering plan to determine the sponsor’s obligations and should not rely on advertising brochures, verbal statements from salespeople or beautiful pictures of architect’s renderings.”
If your first walk through produces ill feelings and a laundry list of imperfections, get your attorney to request a follow up inspection. In my most recent new condo walk through, probably the biggest concern was the shut off position of the apartment’s faucets, which were all at 45 degree angles instead of the customary 90 degree horizontal or vertical positions. The sponsor’s rep’s response was that this was a deliberate design decision and would not be changed. I got involved with a couple of well placed phone calls, their attorney wrote a letter, and by the time of our next walk through, the faucets were all pointing downward. Did the offering plan specify which way the faucets should face? No. But the adjustment could be made with a simple allen wrench, and good will was promoted.
On the day of your walk through, leave your children home, but brings lots of patience. Since nearly every inch of space needs to be inspected, it’s important to minimize distractions. While most sponsors allow one hour for walk throughs, it’s reasonable to request more time, depending on the size of the apartment. With blue masking tape and note pad in hand, proceed room by room and inspect everywhere your eye can see to record all that is missing or imperfect. If the property is particularly dirty and dusty, request a follow up appointment since dirt can hide imperfections on surfaces and windows. Following are some tips.
- Bring a hair dryer to test electrical outlets. These should be aligned squarely without visible wall gaps.
- Flush toilets and turn on the taps to check for leaks, proper water flow and drainage.
- Test appliances including stove burners and exhaust fans.
- Make sure doors, including cabinet doors, are aligned properly, open easily and shut tightly.
- Check that drawers glide smoothly.
- Open and close windows and examine window handles.
- Inspect ceilings, walls and floors for stains that can be evidence of a leak.
- Test heating and air conditioning.
- Listen for floors that squeak and plumbing that rattles.
- Examine trim on baseboards and ceilings. Seams should appear gapless, and nail holes should be filled in.
- Inspect grout everywhere, especially at the base of walls or where tile turns a corner or meets an enclosure.
- If there is a fireplace, ask to test that it draws properly by burning a piece of newspaper.
- Check that the shower door gasket seals the enclosure properly.
- Examine the texture of paint finishes, and ask to remove unsightly drips and bubbles. Paint surfaces should be smooth, and colors uniform.
- Make sure counters and floors are sealed properly by testing these with some drops of water.
- Check that AC filters are clean.
The punch list that is created during the walk through survives the closing. Usually the sponsor has two years to address items, according to the offering plan, but, more often than not, corrections are made before or soon after a move-in date. During your pre-closing walk through, be reasonable—but be sure to kick the tires to see that you’re getting what you bargained for.