The process of buying a house can be long and grueling, so when the day comes for the final walk-through, it's a reason to celebrate. The final walk-through occurs one or two days before the closing date of your new home, which is when you sign the papers and commit to a mortgage you'll be paying off for the foreseeable future, and it can even occur on the closing day itself. The name "walk-through" makes this vital part of the purchase process sound like little more than a cursory inspection, but it's wise to take it more seriously than that to avoid inheriting surprise repairs and expenses when you assume ownership.
What Is the Final Walk-Through?
Although you want the final walk-through to be thorough, it isn't a second home inspection. It's the last chance for the homebuyer to confirm that all repairs specified in the home inspection have been made and that no new issues have cropped up since the inspection. It's akin to road testing a car before you buy it. You want to make sure everything is as promised before you fork over the cash.
The final walk-though can take a few minutes to several hours depending on the size of the property and its condition. Typically, only the buyer and the buyer's real estate agent are present at the walk-through, which gives the buyer a pressure-free environment in which to make a final evaluation of the property and discuss how to handle any problems that turn up. If there are problems, the buyer's agent contacts the seller's agent so the problems can be resolved before closing.
One of the main things to verify during the final walk-through is that the seller has done all agreed-upon repairs specified by the home inspector, but it's also the last chance to identify new problems that have arisen since the inspection, which may have occurred months ago. You might notice a broken window, a new mold colony or a leak not listed in the inspection report, particularly if you do the walk-through after a recent spell of bad weather. This is your opportunity to make a list and negotiate a resolution before the house goes out of escrow, and you assume ownership.
What to Look for Outside
You need to bring a copy of the inspection report to the final walk-through because your first job is to ensure that all the repairs the seller has agreed to make have been completed. While you're verifying those, there are a number of other items inside and outside the house that you should note. While you're outside, check the following:
- Roof and gutters: Are any shingles missing? Do you see any signs of gutter leaks, such as water tracks on the siding? Have the gutters been cleaned? If you can see debris hanging out of them, they probably haven't been cleaned.
- Cleanliness of the property: Do you see any piles of trash in the backyard that you'll have to clear away when you move in? Are the fences and walkways in reasonable repair and safe?
- Pest damage: Is there any evidence of pests, such as rats, termites or ants? Look for droppings, rotted posts or siding or visible ant trails.
- Septic system: Do you notice any odors that could signify septic problems?
- Exterior lights and outlets: Do all the exterior lights and electrical outlets work? You should have an outlet tester, a cellphone charger or something else to plug into each outlet to make sure it's working.
- Pool and spa: If there is a swimming pool or spa, make sure it's in the condition you agreed upon with the seller.
- Garage doors: Are the garage door openers working? If they are manual, do they operate smoothly?
The Indoor Walk-Through
When you go indoors, note any odors that could signify problems that need immediate attention, such as gas leaks or new mold growth. Also note any furniture or personal property that the seller should have removed. If the interior is odor-free and reasonably clean (it doesn't necessarily have to be spotless), walk through the home room by room to conduct a thorough inspection, which should include:
- The lights and electrical outlets: Use your tester to check each outlet, particularly any that were noted in the inspection report. Turn on each light fixture to make sure it works.
- The bathroom fixtures: Flush each toilet and turn on each faucet, letting the hot water run long enough to make sure it gets hot. Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan and make sure it runs.
- The kitchen appliances: Turn on the garbage disposal. Turn on the stove burners and the oven and verify that they get hot. Open the refrigerator and freezer doors and check for mold. Plug in the refrigerator if it isn't already plugged in and make sure it runs. Turn on the exhaust fan over the stove. Open and close the cabinet doors to ensure they swing freely and latch shut.
- The doors and windows: Open and close all the doors and windows to make sure none are jammed and they swing or slide freely.
- The central air system: Turn on the heating and air conditioning system and note the temperature of the air coming through the vents as you adjust the thermostat. You might want to check the heating system at the beginning of the walk-though and the air conditioning at the end to allow the system time to respond to the thermostat changes.
- The laundry room: Open the washing machine and dryer and check for mold. Turn on the dryer. You may also want to run the washing machine through a washing cycle, and if so, turn it on at the beginning of the walk-through.
What Happens if You Find Problems?
In the best-case scenario, the seller has acted with due diligence, and the final walk-through is just a formality, but it isn't unusual for something to turn up that needs to be addressed. The vacant house may have been vandalized between completion of repairs noted in the home inspection and the walk-through, or perhaps a pipe burst in the upstairs bathroom. It's also possible that the seller neglected to complete agreed-upon repairs or damaged the house while moving out.
When issues are discovered during the walk-through, the buyer has to decide whether they are serious enough to warrant action. Many aren't, such as dings and nicks on floors and walls, and it may be more convenient to ignore them. If the seller neglected an agreed-upon repair, though, or the needed repair will take time, the closing date may have to be postponed. That's just a few days away, however, and everyone involved has an interest in ensuring that closing happens on time.
There are alternatives to postponing the closing, such as holding an amount of money due to the seller in escrow until the repair is completed. If the repairs are major, though, many banks will insist on postponement until they are completed. Postponement is also warranted if the needed repairs are not just incidental or cosmetic but affect quality of life and safety. A burst pipe in the upstairs bathroom causing a minor flood and floor and ceiling damage, for example, would make the house uninhabitable, and the closing date would probably have to be put off.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.