Negotiating

We’re officially under contract. In Colorado this means it’s our deal to walk away from. It doesn’t mean that the negotiations are over. After you settle on the price of the home, there’s the inspection, the appraisal, and then closing on your mortgage. There’s also all the unexpected things that can come up between you and the seller between when you agree to a price and close.

Our inspection went really well for a house that’s almost 110 years old. (RSVP now for the house’s 110th birthday in 2018!) Since we’ve told people a little about the house there’ve been a few things people have raised eyebrows at and said will be “fun” to fix. Every house has weird quirks. Some of our friends had a house with a basement that was finished but had low (read: 5′ 6″) ceilings in every room but one. Our house has its furnace in the attic which is weird because the first thing everybody knows about heat is that it rises. Why put your heat ducts in the ceiling if heat rises? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The furnace is also 19 years old, which is nearly the end of life for a furnace, and one of the things our inspection brought up. Furnaces are expected to last about 20 years. Long than that and you’re getting lucky. Shorter than that and you better hope you started saving when your warranty came up.

The sewer is the other issue the inspection raised. Apparently 100 years ago people built pipes out of clay because plastic pipes didn’t exist for another 30 years. That’s not what happens anymore and PVC pipes are better at protecting your sewer against things like tree roots and general wear and tear on yard between your house and the tap — where your water comes in and out from the city. To get a good close look at your sewer — don’t pretend like you haven’t wondered where all that water goes when you flush — you get a sewer scope. A camera attached to a long cord, it looks like a medical scope. Like you’re looking into someone’s heart, except that it’s actually your toilet.

Our sewer scope found a bunch of cracks and breaks in our sewer line. Between that and the retired furnace, we are able to save a bunch of money on our closing costs by insisting that the seller credit us the expense of replacing both.

Apparently sellers used to be able to give buyers cash to replace these things. While that would be amazing, it’s not hard to see how that system was easily exploitable and contributed to the housing crisis. So now they can only pay your closing costs for you. If your inspection throws up a lot of red flags, you can still ask the seller to fix them for you, which is good if there are major problems and you have a willing seller. The risk of doing that is not controlling who gets hired and which product is selected, limiting your ability to correct errors or do market research.

One thing we’ve learned is that everything is negotiable. Our seller asked us to engage in a post-closure occupancy agreement (PCOA) to accommodate their tenants, that was a negotiation point. When they no longer needed the PCOA, that, too, was a negotiation. More time, less time, credits to closing costs, discounts on the sale price: it all gets a little dizzying. It’s hard to know whether and how we might jinx ourselves by telling people we bought a house and harder to decide how to set expectations for our current landlords.

The best lesson we’ve taken away from all of this is that working with a realtor is worth it. They can be a semi-neutral party who can help you make decisions. Granted, they want their commission — the seller pays that when you’re buying — but our realtor has been fair, giving us enough options and enough information to understand how to make a decision. If you’re getting into the market, make sure you’re realtor understands your needs and is your only point of contact.