Why are you selling?

There are many reasons why people move, including job relocation, desire to get into a smaller/larger house, life events (marriage, birth of a child, death of a spouse) and retirement. Asking why the seller is moving can be helpful in determining how much room there is for negotiating.

Depending on the reason for moving, the seller may be willing to accept a lower offer if it means he or she can be out of the home faster. Of course, if the seller is in no hurry to sell, there may be little room for negotiation.

How long has the home been on the market?

One of the factors why a house ends up staying on the market a long time is that it was priced too high to begin with, often a function of a poor pricing strategy. The longer a house stays on the market, the harder it becomes to sell since the listing becomes “stale” and buyers inherently think there must be something wrong with the property (otherwise it would have sold by now, right?). If the home has been on the market for a long time, the seller may be motivated and more willing to negotiate.

What is included in the sale?

Anything that is permanently attached to the home (for example, faucets, cabinets, window blinds and murphy beds) is considered a "fixture" and is generally included in a home sale. Sometimes, legal definitions determine what is – and what is not – included in the sale (i.e., the law of fixtures), but sometimes an item can fall into a gray area.

When in doubt, and to avoid disappointment, ask what’s included in the sale – and get it in writing. Pay close attention to items such as outdoor play equipment, sheds, lighting fixtures, appliances, window treatments, wall-mounted sound systems and anything else you would be upset to find missing if you moved into the home.

Are there any problems with the house?

Disclosure statements provide information on the home’s condition and help protect sellers from future legal action if problems are found. While disclosures vary by state and even county, sellers must make disclosures about such items as existing liens, lead-based paint, natural hazards (e.g., flood plain), termite problems, history of property-line disputes and defects with major systems and/or appliances.

Because there may be problems with the house that the seller knows about – but is not required by law to disclose – it can be helpful to ask point-blank: Are there any problems with the house? You might find out about problems ahead of time and be able to negotiate repair costs. Of course, you should still get a comprehensive inspection before buying the house since there might be issues the seller doesn’t know about or won’t willingly share.

Has the home had any major repairs or renovations? If so, who did the work?

Bad renovations, poor plumbing and “sloppy” construction can end up costing you – financially and emotionally, and even in terms of your health. It’s important to ask if any major repairs and renovations have been done to the home – and who did them: Was it a licensed contractor a DIY (Do It Yourself) project?

See whether the seller can produce a building permit for repairs and renovations that require one. Such improvements include any structural additions, installing a new roof, adding/relocating electrical outlets, adding/relocating plumbing fixtures, and installing/replacing an HVAC (heating, venting and air conditioning) system.

If the seller doesn't have the building permits (perhaps the work was done by an earlier owner), double check with the local building department. If a permit should have been issued – but wasn’t – the building office may have the authority to force the current owner (which could be you, if you buy the house) to obtain the permit and satisfy the current code requirements. This could turn into a very costly project.

The Bottom Line
While the listing and marketing materials include lots of details about a house (the number of bedrooms and baths, and the square footage, for example) – and the showing lets you see it firsthand – talking to the seller can help you learn exactly what you could be getting into.