- We had to waive our inspection to make a competitive offer on a house, but our realtor told us about pre-offer inspections.
- While an inspection would take place after your offer is accepted, a pre-offer inspection happens before.
- A pre-offer inspection will alert you to any major problems so you can decide whether you want to make an offer.
When my husband and I had the first meeting with our realtor in February, they ripped off the band-aid with some bad news: To make a competitive offer in today’s market, we’d probably have to waive an inspection.
This isn’t the case in every housing market in the US right now. In fact, I have two friends in other parts of the country who bought houses and scheduled inspections the old-fashioned way. That’s just not the case in some areas, including where I live, about an hour outside of Seattle.
I am what some might describe as “overly responsible,” so the idea of skipping an inspection made my stomach turn. What if we borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a house, only to find out after the fact that there were major foundation issues, or that we’d need a new roof on day one?
But my realtor calmed my fears when they said we had another option: a pre-offer inspection.
A pre-offer inspection takes place before you make an offer
In a “regular” housing market, you’d have an inspection contingency in your contract. This means that after the seller accepts your offer, a professional inspects the house. If any major problems come back, you can either negotiate the cost of repairs with the seller or pull out completely. If you decide not to buy a house due to problems found in the inspection, you don’t lose the earnest money deposit you’ve already put down.
Without an inspection contingency, you’re in a tougher spot. You would lose your earnest money if you backed out due to problems found in the inspection.
But with a pre-offer inspection (sometimes referred to as a pre-inspection for the buyer), you can still find out about any potential issues before buying the house. The process is similar to a regular inspection, except everything happens before you make the offer, and it helps you decide upfront whether you want to buy the home. The inspector will still write up a report and may offer warranties on things like the furnace or oven.
Sometimes, the seller will schedule their own pre-inspection and provide it to any prospective buyers who request it. That’s what happened with the house we ended up buying, which saved us a step. However, the seller’s pre-inspection didn’t come with the same warranties that our own inspection would have included.
The cost of pre-offer inspections
A pre-offer inspection is often better than no inspection at all, but it does have its drawbacks.
With a regular inspection, you only have to pay for one inspection, because you’ve made an offer on the house. (Unless you back out due to problems revealed in the inspection, then have to go through the process all over again with a different house.) With pre-offer inspections, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the house, so you could end up paying for pre-offer inspections on multiple houses before an offer is accepted. Considering an inspection costs several hundred dollars, the costs can add up fast.
We tried to buy six homes before we had an offer accepted, and after paying $525 for a pre-offer inspection on a house we didn’t get, we started to spiral about how much money we could end up spending. So we started scheduling walk-and-talk pre-offer inspections instead. These are about half the price of a regular pre-offer inspection, but you don’t get a full written report or any warranties. Instead, you walk with an inspector and they show you things like the attic, crawl space, and HVAC system.
There isn’t always time for a pre-offer inspection
Timing can be another issue with pre-offer inspections. Houses are flying off the market right now, and we lost out on two houses because the seller accepted early offers within 48 hours of listing. If you want to move fast, sometimes there just isn’t time for a pre-offer inspection.
Some listing agents don’t allow pre-offer inspections, either. If a house is listed Thursday and the seller reviews offers Monday, they expect there to be constant showings over the weekend. They don’t want to take up a potential buyer’s time slot with a pre-offer inspection time slot.
Thankfully, our realtor’s speediness was on our side. They knew we always wanted a pre-offer inspection, so as soon as we’d say we wanted to see a house, they texted the listing agent about scheduling a pre-offer inspection. This tactic once allowed us to get a pre-offer inspection even though the listing agent eventually banned pre-offer inspections for other people. (We still didn’t get that house, though. Hey, we weren’t willing to go $100,000 over asking for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom!)
In our case, listing agents also set a strict time limit on pre-offer inspections — typically one hour. This was usually because we were working in between two scheduled private tours of a house. Regular inspections often take up to a few hours, so I was nervous that this time limit wouldn’t suffice. However, we worked with experienced inspectors that our realtor trusted, so I always ended up leaving the appointment feeling well-informed.
A pre-offer inspection isn’t the perfect solution to waiving the inspection contingency, but it was a helpful option I didn’t know I had. If I hadn’t had access to pre-offer inspections, I don’t know that I would have felt confident in our decision to buy a home right now.
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