Buying a Home in Illinois: Inspection Contingencies in the Contract

Web Admin - Monday, November 18, 2013

A considerable amount of paperwork is involved when buying a home. To begin the process, buyers sign a detailed contract with the sellers which essentially takes the home off the market while other details--including securing financing, appraisals, and inspections--are finalized.

Two particularly important contracts often used in Illinois are the Multi-Board Residential Real Estate Contract (“Multi-Board”), which has now been released in its fifth version and the Chicago Realtors Contract.  These documents get signed by both the buyer and seller, and represent an agreement between them that the buyer will indeed buy the house, and that the seller will sell it for the agreed upon price. However, the contracts also contain sections called “contingencies,” which represent certain things that either must happen, or cannot happen, for the sale to go through.

For example, a critical contingency that the Multi-Board calls for is the Professional Inspections and Inspection Notices section. This contingency allows for the buyer to conduct, at their expense, different types of inspections of the house that they just agreed to purchase. Under the Multi-Board, a buyer may conduct, “home, radon, environmental, lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards, and/or wood destroying insect infestation” inspections.

While most of the names of those inspections provide a good idea of what the inspector will examine, “home” inspections are more general. It is intended and written in the Multi Board that the home inspector goes in to examine the state of the MAJOR components house. The contract  gives some examples of what constitutes a major component:

• Heating and air conditioning

• Plumbing and well systems

• Electrical systems

• Roofs, walls, windows, ceilings, and floors

• Appliances

• Foundation

If the buyer and the seller cannot reach an agreement about how to handle the results of the inspection by ten business days after they signed the contract, then either party may cancel the contract. This makes the inspector’s job particularly important, since it requires someone who can distinguish important issues from minor or cosmetic ones. Since the real estate market changed from an ultra hot Sellers market in the early 2000s to a cold Buyers market the tenor of the home inspection issues has changed significantly. More and more deals are getting terminated over minor inspection issues. The drafters of these two Contracts specifically drafted them to avoid this decision. Often times these issues are being raised as the parties are getting bad advice from the realtor and/or the attorney involved.

But not all defects or problems may automatically allow a buyer to get out of purchasing the home. For example, under the inspection contingency in the Chicago Realtors Contract, “the Buyer agrees that minor repairs and maintenance costing less than $250 shall not constitute defects covered” by the portion of the agreement which allow a buyer to terminate the contract. In other words, squabbles over minor issues which could be solved for little money are rarely should be enough to tank the deal. Many prolonged legal disputes hinge on the exact question of whether a defect is sufficient to allow a buyer to refuse to purchase the home. This is the point when the professionals involved should provide the appropriate guidance to the Buyer(s) regarding what is acceptable to raise under the contract terms and what is not acceptable to raise.

The easy thing for the Realtor and/or attorneys involved to do is to blame the home inspector.  However, the home inspection company has a contract with the client setting forth their obligation to inspect the property in a certain manner regardless what the home inspection contingency states. It is the responsibility of the Realtor and attorney involved to translate the inspection report into the home inspection contingency limitations and set the Buyers expectations on what the Seller should reasonably be asked to repair.

Of course, home inspections represent just one of the many legal complexities surrounding the process of buying or selling a home. If you are considering going through that process, contact an experienced Rolling Meadows real estate attorney today. Our team can help you navigate the process from start to finish. We serve many northwest suburban areas including Palatine, Buffalo Grove, Barrington, and other nearby communities.

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