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Nela Real Estate Ranting About Buyers, Sellers And Requests For Repairs

By Expert Author: Tracy King

I am primarily a listing agent. That is, I mostly represent sellers of residential real estate. But we do work with buyers so we hear their side of it, too. Buyers today are overwhelmed by fear; fear of overpaying, fear of their friends telling them they made a mistake, fear of their parents thinking they weren’t well informed, fear of the market going down after they buy, fear that something will go wrong that they should have known about ... the list goes on about another foot or two.

In our Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods, the market is shifting right now, and it is going in the direction of a seller's market. That means that inventory is very low and prices are beginning to go up. There are fewer Highland Park homes for sale this spring 2014 than all of 2013. There are fewer homes for sale in Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, Hermon, Glendale and Pasadena. There is about half the number of homes in Altadena this year as there were just two years ago.

Buyers do not want to hear this. They are remembering all the bad news of the last four years and think it is still a buyer's market with high inventory and a tidal wave of distressed properties looming on the horizon, ready to flood the market and bring the prices down more.

Then they lose out on a few multiple offer situations and decide they'd better offer more in order to get the deal. Or maybe they find a property that has been on the market awhile and scoop it up. Then it is time for inspections. They pay for every possible inspection and further inspection that is recommended to them. This is good. One should understand the condition of the house one purchases.

This is where it gets complicated. Sometimes an inspection turns up a big problem that no one knew about. If the buyer has paid over market for a house that has a major foundation issue, it might make sense for a seller to negotiate some kind of compromise with the buyer. But to expect that the seller should also repair the sewer line, upgrade the electrical panel, and replace the old but working heating system is questionable. Every situation is different, there are no rules, and the eventual resolution runs the entire spectrum from no concessions to paying for everything, from arriving at an amicable agreement to canceling escrow.

I think it comes down to who is negotiating in good faith and how much experience they have. I find it hard to believe that a first time buyer is re-negotiating the price entirely of their own volition; their agent, friends or family are advising them. In several cases, after clearly and emphatically agreeing to an “as-is” sale where the buyer agrees that the seller will make no repairs, we have heard the buyers’ agent tell the buyer that the next step after the inspection is the request for repairs. Unfortunately, it has become customary for a buyer’s agent to advise negotiating for repairs. They believe that this is their value to the buyer.

If you are buying a home built in the 1920s, you should expect that there will be items that are older but still functioning. There will be items that were up to code when installed, but not up to today’s code. No home is in perfect condition, not even new construction. Yet, many buyers expect sellers to deliver a perfect house or give a discount. Did it occur to anyone that the price was already discounted to cover any defects? Some buyers are convinced that the seller must have known about the issue and is being dishonest about it.

How about looking at it from the seller's point of view? I have sold so many properties in the last couple of years for people who paid more for the house than they are selling it for, who have decided that the best thing for them to do is to take the loss and move on. If it's a short sale, where the seller owes more than they can sell it for, there is no question of repairs--the seller isn't doing any. It's the seller who has equity enough or resources enough to sell it without having to ruin their credit and go through the pain of a short sale who seems to be the magnet for the fearful buyer.

It's time to move on and just live with the loss of $20,000 to $150,000. This could be due to misfortunes like divorce or job loss, or good stuff like marriage or needing a bigger house for their growing family.

Interest rates are shockingly low...much lower than when they bought it in say, 2006. And they cannot refinance into these current rates because they have no equity to qualify for a new mortgage. They did inspections when they bought and spent some money fixing the problems or remodeling because they knew that the house they bought wasn't perfect. They were just glad to get a house that had much of what they wanted.

And now here is a buyer who offered the most to buy their house, just like they had done. And this buyer promised to buy it as-is, just like they had done. But now this buyer is asking for $10,000 to $40,000 back to pay for things that were not played up as issues when they bought. It seems as if the buyer offered a lot to get the house and now is trying to get the price back down.

Does this sound familiar to any of you out there? See how suspicious buyers and sellers are of each other today? But I know these people. These sellers are not intentionally hiding problems or being unreasonable. And I don't think these buyers are really as cunning about re-negotiating price as they seem to be. So what's up?

Standards have changed. With the proliferation of investor "flips" that have freshly updated marble counter tops throughout, dark-stained wood floors, white interiors, and minimal but stylish landscaping, a dated but well-built older home looks tired and in need of lots of repairs. HGTV is another influence that has taught many that original tile and practical, period-appropriate materials like Marmoleum are no good. Liability has changed. Where an inspector 6 years ago might have said that a less than 100-amp electric panel and 60-year old wiring was serviceable, today they will call for an electrician to evaluate. Guess what, the electrician recommends an $8,000 re-wire and updated panel. Chimneys and sewer lines that would be called old but working would now be referred to chimney masons and plumbers for their replacement costs.

But also, here is a seller who has lost a good amount of money being asked to pay out some more so they can move on to the next phase of their life. They see a buyer who is paying less for their house than they did several years ago, obtaining a loan at an interest rate they can't get on the house, trying to get them to pay for repairs or upgrades that they either didn't know were issues, or were things that they hadn't been able to afford to do. And they are being treated as if they are lying about such things, or at least were stupid for paying more for a house that needed so much work.

Is it really any wonder why everyone is unhappy?

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