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The Expert Witness – House Rules

Buying a new place in which to speand your non-dental hours? Avoid these three common errors to ensure you keep the home fires burning.

By B. Casey Crafton and Stephen Kaufman

HOME IS WHERE the heart is — and, for an unfortunate number of purchasers, it’s where the headaches are, too. Inexperienced homebuyers often fall prey to a trio of mistakes in particular. Here are the top troubles to avoid when you’re looking to cross the threshold as painlessly (and economically) as possible.

Not having the place inspected by a true pro. Too often, buyers trust their seller or real-estate broker to tell the straight truth about a home’s deficiencies. That can be an expensive misjudgment. Even honest owners might not realize they have hidden problems — such as termites, radon or a water heater in need of last rites — that will soon become unhidden. And, sadly, not all sellers are honest.

Don’t take chances: Fixing a leaky roof will be costly, but suing over a leaky roof will be very costly. If you get a complete ledger of a house’s problems before you buy, you can walk away from the deal, have the seller fix things or negotiate a concomitant reduction in the sale price.

Choose an inspector who will be comprehensive and stand behind the determinations he makes. Too many charge a modest fee and deliver equivalent results. Hire an experienced, hard-nosed inspector and instruct him to check everything — the roof, walls and foundation; the plumbing, heating and air conditioning. Soup to nuts, top to bottom. After the deal is closed, even an unusually scrupulous seller will be  highly unlikely to pay to fix a defect, and absent outright fraud, a buyer will typically have little recourse. When it comes to home inspectors, an ounce of precaution is worth a ton of cure.

Paying excessive closing costs. Some loan fees, such as document production or delivery costs, can be bargained down or eliminated outright. You can often choose your own title company, which might be substantially less pricey than your banker or broker’s first choice. (Imagine that.) You might also be entitled to a discount on title insurance if the person you’re buying from holds an owner’s title-insurance policy. Be sure to ask about this early in the process.

Mis-timing the sale of your current house. Sell the joint you live in now before you’re able to buy the new one, and you might need to become a tenant and lease it back from your buyer — or find storage for your furniture and a hotel for yourself. That’s a double move, effectively, with double expenses.

On the other hand, if you sell too late you might not have a needed down payment for the new place, or you might find yourself shouldering, heaven forfend, two separate mortgage payments while you wait for your old house to sell.

Sound advance planning and definitive closing dates can help mitigate such situations. Keep all this in mind and you’ll increase your chance of living — what’s the phrase again? — happily ever after.

Next issue: Some tips on contracting for home improvements.


STEPHEN KAUFMAN, Esq., is chair of the Health Care Group at the Wright, Constable & Skeen law firm, serving doctors throughout the country. B. CASEY CRAFTON, DDS, Esq., is a practicing dentist and a lawyer. Submit queries to skaufman@wcslaw.com.