Friday, October 27, 2006

Closing: The Punchlist Visit

When you are buying a newly-constructed home, before you close you get a final walkthrough, but before that, you also get to do a punchlist visit. It's called a "punchlist" because after you've completed it, you will want to punch the contractor who built your home.
I had my punchlist visit yesterday. It's both exciting and scary to be inside the place you're buying for the first time. It exists, it's real, and it's great to finally walk around in the space and start to connect it to what you've imagined. But there is a very big gap between imagination and reality. There is also a very big gap between different people's definitions of the word "finished."
That is where the scary part comes in.
I was kind of prepared for this-- I didn't expect to walk into a perfectly polished, completed apartment. But I still have a list a mile long of things that need to be done. There was a leak, a lot of sloppy raggedy holes in the sheetrock around outlets, a broken bathroom mirror, damage to the floor, and then there were just stupid things, like a phone jack installed in a location where you would have to take the phone off the wall every time you wanted to open the fridge. Most importantly, a window is missing. Yes, somehow there is just a gigantic hole where there should be a window. So we're sending the seller a huge list of things that need to be completed in the next week or so, before the closing. It's understood that there may be certain items that the developer is obligated to complete after closing, but I refuse to take ownership of something that is still missing a window! There apparently was a window a couple weeks ago when they did the appraisal but something must have happened. Hopefully it was just broken by accident, not by some neighborhood hoodlum throwing a rock through it!
It's interesting-- normally when you buy a house or apartment, you have an inspection done before you sign the contract. With new construction, there isn't much there for them to inspect that early in the process, so the time for an inspection would be the punchlist visit. My lawyer actually didn't press me to hire an actual engineer-- I was kind of surprised he didn't recommend it. But I happen to have a relative nearby who works in construction, so I decided to save myself a few hundred bucks by having him help me out. Here's a starting point for some things you should look for in a new home inspection, even if you've already hired a professional:
-- Make a checklist of every room in the house/apartment and go through it in order. Don't let anyone rush you.
-- Check floors and wall surfaces for any signs of moisture, uneven finish, screw holes not patched, gaps around switches and outlets
-- Open and close all doors and windows. Do they latch? Stick? Are they hung level and square within the opening?
-- Bring a small nightlight or something else you can easily plug in to check that every outlet works
-- Turn all light switches on and off
--In the kitchen, make sure all the appliances work. Look for dents. Turn on the water-- does it get hot? Run the water in the kitchen and the bathroom and the dishwasher and flush the toilet at the same time to see if you've got plenty of water pressure. Flush the toilet a few times to make sure the tank refills properly.
-- Are appliances set up level? Do appliance doors have enough clearance to open fully?
-- Open all the cabinets and drawers. Make sure they work smoothly, aren't scratched, etc.
-- Test the thermostat to make sure the heat/AC goes on
-- Check to see if grout has been sealed properly (if color changes when wet, it needs to be sealed)
-- Look for any cracks or chips in bathroom fixtures
-- Are towel bars, etc. hung level
-- Do doors have bumpers so walls won't be damaged
-- Look for any signs of leaks, water damage: around windows, under sinks, by hot water tank, etc.
-- Make sure any outdoor areas have proper drainage: they should have a slight slope toward a drain or away from doors/walls of interior.
--Check doors to outside for proper weather-stripping
-- If you're buying a condo, check the common areas of the building too and note anything that seems incomplete or damaged
-- Take careful notes of everything you see, and go over the notes again before you leave.

My lawyer is sending my list off to the seller's lawyers, and hopefully they'll get working on all this stuff. I was kind of depressed to see all these sloppy and stupid little things, and of course there were some fixtures in the condo that were not quite to my taste, so the visit was a bit of a reality check. (This was not the kind of new construction where you get to pick everything out yourself. I got to pick out some paint colors but that was it-- everything else was just whatever was specified in the offering plan: "Brand XYZ Model 123 or equivalent." Luckily the stuff I don't love is easily replaceable or not that noticeable, like the towel bars and ceiling fixtures.) But another part of me was inwardly doing a little happy dance, thinking "this is going to be mine! Mine all mine!"

Anyone else have any ideas to add to my punchlist checklist? Or thoughts on hiring inspectors?


Tired of being broke said...

My question is: what happens in a week when you are ready to close and the list of things is not completed? What happens then?

Debbie said...

Beware of inspectors recommended by people who are biased to want the sale to go through no matter what. I called one recommended by a friend, but he was busy through my closing date. So then I called one recommended by my real estate agent, and he did an exceedingly mediocre job. I read somewhere that an inspection should not consist of a one-page checklist, but mine did. (I lucked out and got a nice, solid house anyway.)

Anonymous said...

Hire a HAV guy, electrician, carpenter and plumber. Despite an initial cost of a couple hundred dollars it could defnintely save you in the long run.

A friend had his house inspected. All was okayed by the inspector only to have his furnace go on him a month after he closed.

Do your homework up front.

chica said...

Thanks for your list. I'm in the process of looking for a home. This list helps me to know what to look for and what to ask.

Madame X said...

Tired of Being Broke-- ummm, I don't know! I hope you were knocking on wood for me when you asked!

Debbie and Anon-- yes, I definitely agree. Hire an inspector who has been recommended by someone who has actually used them. I was going to do this if my relative hadn't been able to help me out. But unfortunately, even people who do these inspections for a living can sometimes miss things. And I suppose sometimes things can be find one day and broken the next... but at least you've covered yourself as best you can.

Anonymous said...

Whatever type of inspectors you hire, you should always be present during the inspection. This allows you to ask followup questions, but more importantly they can point out maintenance tips for the appliances/home which may not be obvious to a non-professional.

Anonymous said...

Assuming the list is for those not hiring an inspector; dont buy a nightlight to check the outlets. Go to an electric supply place and get a plug-in outlet tester. They look like a plug with the three prongs (hotleg, neutral, ground) is small and usually yellow and have three little lights on the end and the sequence of the lights when plugged into an outlet indicate whether the outlet was wired correctly or not and if incorrectly, what is wrong.

Anonymous said...

I suppose this is not technically part of their job, but my home inspector gave me little maintenance tips as he was going through the house. Useful info such as, "your fireplace is in good shape. Have it cleaned every season, but don't let anyone tell you that you need a liner."
Anyhow, I started asking general questions about lots of things, and he was happy to give advice.
Maybe I was lucky.

pismobear said...

When I was a builder, when things were hot, there were people who were unreasonable. When they asked for rediculous things to be done, I just said NO, Take a Hike, in a nice way. A great number of the inspectors today are just looking for another job and end up scaring the buyers away.