Q. Utilities Weren’t Turned On for My Inspection

Q. Hey Mark,

I’m purchasing a home that is currently owned by a bank. The inspector stated that we had to make sure that the bank had all the utilities turned on. We thought they had but when we got there, there were signs all over saying the home was winterized. My inspector really couldn’t inspect everything. What should we do?

Frustrated.

A. Hey Frustrated,

I feel your frustration because I was that inspector just last week. I showed up to inspect a bank-owned home, which was supposed to be ready for inspection. However, there were winterization signs all over, and the water and the water heater were both turned off. Unfortunately, my client was frustrated with me because I refused to turn the water on.

However, to understand this scenario better, put yourself into the shoes of the homeowner. Imagine that you owned a home, and you had signs in the home stating that certain appliances may not be operated. It is still your home and no one has the right to violate your wishes regarding your home. And if someone does violate your instructions, and something bad happens, you would hold that person responsible for any damages.

For that reason, most Home Inspectors do NOT turn on utilities, nor do they de-winterize homes. In these situations, the seller (in my example, the bank) should have the home de-winterized and the utilities turned on in preparation for the inspection. There are literally hundreds of horror stories about inspectors, Realtors, or their clients turning on a utility with disastrous results. There may be a safety issue, a water leak, or a host of other problems that could occur. Someone who takes it upon themselves to turn on a utility or ignore instructional signs and notes, has opened themselves up to tremendous liability.

So that leads to your question… “What should we do?”

Typically, it is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure that the home is ready for your inspection. Depending on your real estate contract, the responsibility to have the utilities turned on still falls to the property owner. Once they are turned on, you can ask your inspector to return to complete the inspection, however be aware that there will probably be an return inspection fee. Your inspector’s time is valuable, and your second inspection is taking up one of his time slots. Many buyers successfully negotiate with the sellers to pay this return fee, if it was the seller’s fault that the inspection couldn’t be completed. This depends on your contract, and who was responsible for making sure the utilities were turned on.

Here is one of those horror stories I mentioned above …. : Warning to Realtors

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