Home inspectors for better or worse

Home inspectors are not licensed in Minnesota.  A person can buy a franchise or go out on his own and become a home inspector. I say this because most home inspectors are men. I am referring to the complete home inspection requested and paid for by home buyers.

There are some wonderful inspectors out there. There are also some who really don’t know what they are doing and over the years I have seen it all.

Sometimes, buyers, have friends or family members conduct the inspection. That can work but only if the person doing the inspection knows what to inspect and have a system so that they don’t miss something vital.

One of the worst things an inspector can do is give advice outside his area of expertise. For example, an inspector should not say that a boiler needs to be replaced. He should recommend that the buyer have a licensed HVAC contractor inspect the boiler. He can also state his findings like ‘rust” or “leaking” etc.

Sometimes an inspection will lead to another inspection this is especially true in the case of heating plants, chimneys, and main sewer lines.

An inspector should never tell the buyer what the seller should repair. It is up to the buyer and seller to work that out. In most cases are no rules about who is responsible for repairs.

The inspector should not tell the buyer that the HOA is or is not responsible for a repair, or that they are not responsible for it. The condo documents will outline what the association is and is not responsible for. Generally, if an item that needs repair is inside the condo and if it is used exclusively by the condo then the condo owner is responsible for repairs and maintenance.  Always consult the condo documents.

Mold always means trouble and is often mislabeled by well-meaning inspectors.  I have seen requests to have entire foundations replaced due to “toxic black mold”.  I often refer home buyers and sellers to the Minnesota Department of Health website. They have excellent information about mold. Not all mold is harmful. Penicillin is an example of a helpful mold.

Realtors usually know several good inspectors but should always be recommending at least three inspectors. The buyer’s agent should not choose the inspector that choice is an important part of the buyer’s due diligence.

I’ll always recommend a complete home inspection before committing to buying a house. The inspection also protects the sellers who may not know about a repair issue that they can be accused of hiding.


Ideas for real estate agents representing home buyers

living room
vacant house

I was going to call this “Throw Back Thursday for buyers’ agents”.   Negotiating has come back. It is still a seller’s market but it is getting a little harder to sell a house because of the high prices and high-interest rates. Sometimes homeowners need to make some concessions to speed up the sale.

The best way to get a seller concession is to ask for it. Here are some things that can be put into an offer on a house. The seller might say no but they might say yes:

  1. Ask for repairs – within reason. Make sure buyers understand the difference between a needed repair and an upgrade.
  2. If the buyer is a little short of cash for a downpayment go ahead and ask the seller for help with closing costs.
  3. Some houses are overpriced. Go ahead and offer less than the asking price.
  4. Yes, you can ask for new appliances.
  5. Ask to have the home professionally cleaned.
  6. Have the seller hire a pro to shampoo the carpet before the closing.
  7. It used to be common to ask to have the furnace or boiler certified.
  8. The sellers may agree to pay to have the chimney cleaned.

Buyers and their agents will need to use their imaginations.

Remember, it never hurts to ask and sometimes the answer is yes. There are many other things that can be negotiated into a purchase agreement. It is as if buyer’s agents have forgotten how to negotiate.

Interest rates in the news, February 2023

Interest rates are in the news again because they went up and so did mortgage interest rates. I think the sweet spot that makes purchasing a home doable is about a percentage point lower than what we are seeing today.

I can’t see myself borrowing money to buy a car, and I definitely wouldn’t use one of my credit cards for anything that I could not pay for in the next 30 days or so. As for housing, I suppose if I could buy a house for less than what I was paying for rent I would buy one. If not I would wait until rates get at or below 6% but 5.5% would be much better.

If you look at the chart below, it shows that rates were recently higher. They were over 7% last November. When the rates got closer to 6% there was some cheering but if you ask me, which you didn’t they were too high at 6% considering the price of housing and everything else.

Higher interest rates are driving up housing costs when housing is already unaffordable for many.  This might be a good time for consumers to put a hold on any discretionary spending.

mortgage interest rate chart

You found a house on the internet

porchFor the last 25 years or so people have been able to search the internet and find houses that are for sale. There are people who believe that because of this real estate agents are no longer needed.

Finding a house that is for sale is just one step in the home-buying process. It is the easiest step because in most cases all a buyer has to do is search the internet to find a home for sale.

Most of the houses were put on the internet by real estate agents.

When I want to help a buyer find a house I search the MLS (multiple listing service) through the internet.

In most cases, after a potential home buyer finds a house on the internet they want to see it in person. If they decide they want to buy it they need to figure out how much to offer. There also need to decide on the rest of the terms that will go into their offer.

The offer needs to be written. We call that a purchase agreement. The agreement could be drawn up on almost any piece of paper but usually, that won’t be enough space for all of the details.

People who have purchased real estate in the past have an easier time of it but the laws and rules changed often. No two properties are the same and each homeowner and buyer are unique too. I have helped hundreds of people buy and sell real estate and it is a little different each time. That is what keeps it all interesting.

Real estate agents also help people get ready so that if they do find that perfect house that they want to buy they can buy it.

Sevice has changed

Turret collage

The meaning of the word service has changed. It used to be all about helping clients and responding to client or customer needs.

I don’t believe that giving clients a questionnaire prior to meeting with them is a service. They do that before medical appointments so the doctor can set the tone and show how little they care about patients as humans.

I think that asking questions that are tailored to the situation is a much better use of my client’s time. Asking each question once should suffice.

I never ask anyone to download an app onto their phone so that they can work with me. For people who want to work with an app, I can make that happen but it isn’t required.

Customer satisfaction surveys are crap. Many businesses state that they are performing a great service when they ask us to fill out a satisfaction survey. The surveys often miss the point or fail to allow us to highlight our extreme dissatisfaction, or are so ridiculously long that I feel as though people should be paid for their time.

There are aspects of customer service that can be automated, like voice mail and autoresponders for email. They both help small companies like mine. I can not always answer the phone or an email immediately but it doesn’t take me long to get back to the people who contact me.

Sometimes I think that businesses believe that they will appear to be more professional if they use a lot of forms and processes. Often when people call with a question the very first thing they get is a series of questions. The processes create unnecessary friction that makes it harder for people to use a service or buy a product.

Nothing says I don’t care about you or have any empathy for your situation like a generic questionnaire. I think that is why doctors’ offices use them so much.

Customer service isn’t about putting people on hold and letting them know that their call may be recorded for quality purposes.

I don’t have any generic clients. Each one is unique and so is each property that I represent or sell.  You can call or write and I’ll do my best to provide professional help with your real estate needs.

The heating bill cometh

St. Paul

Just a heads up. Natural gas prices have quadrupled in the last two years.  I just got our utility bill for December. I just want to say “ouch”. The prices are up because demand is high, partly because natural gas is being exported. The natural gas market is global. Low production, sanctions, and war drive prices up.

Natural gas is literally sold to the highest bidder.

Going forward we may need to change to solar-powered heat pumps to heat our homes and businesses. For now setting the thermostat lower, wearing extra layers, and perhaps a part-time job will get us through the heating season.

It might also be fun to research heating from solar-powered heat pumps.

For those who qualify there is an energy assistance program through the Minnesota Department of Commerce.  There is also a federal program, Low Income Energy Assistance Program.

Let’s not forget the Minnesota cold weather rule: Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule (CWR) is a state law that protects residential utility customers from having electric or natural gas service shut off between October 1 and April 30. To protect your service from disconnection you must make and keep a payment plan that you and your utility agree on. The utility must offer a payment plan that is reasonable for your household’s financial circumstances. You can set up a CWR payment plan at any time during the CWR season.