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5 questions every buyer needs to ask before closing day

A hand turning a home water supply safety shutoff valve.

Most prospective buyers ask a tonne of questions before putting in an offer on a home for sale. How long has it been on the market? What are comparable properties selling for in the area? Have there been any major issues with the home, such as floods or fires? But what about after the offer is submitted and accepted and the sale is finalized? Shouldn’t a buyer ask a few more questions before closing day?

The answer is a firm: Yes. Even though a sale is finalized and the offer is firm, a buyer should still ask some key questions. The answers will help ensure a seamless transition into your new home.

1. Since the deal was finalized, have you had any issues with the home?

Repair man fixing pipes in a home

Sellers are obligated by law to disclose known issues with a property but quite often this obligation is front and centre during the offer and negotiation process, but forgotten when the deal is finalized. As the buyer, don’t let it be forgotten.

Ask the seller — either directly, or through your Realtor or legal representative — whether or not there have been any issues with the home since the purchase contract was finalized. The answer to this question may surprise you — as Nelson Martins found out. A week before the Martins were due to move into their Vaughan, Ontario home, there was a flood. “The sellers found their basement filled with about two-feet of putrid water,” explains Nelson Martins, a licensed electrician. “From what they said over the phone, I knew it would be a big problem.” Rather then scupper the deal, Martins worked with the previous owners to file an insurance claim. While it took a bit of time, and some goodwill on the Martins’ side, the claim was finalized and the basement was cleaned up and rebuilt. The best part? The Martins’ got to modify the rebuild to suit their family’s needs.

The key questions to ask between the contract signing date and the closing date are:

  • Have any major systems broken down?
  • How has the place been maintained?
  • Was there ever any damage from natural disasters, like fires, floods or earthquakes?
  • Do all the appliances and systems (such as heating and A/C) still work?

Ideally, you’ll get honest, detailed answers to these types of questions. Better still, these questions may prompt answers that may alert you to any quirks. For instance, perhaps the front door lock is sticky or the oven light is burnt out — all information that’s nice to have before you move in.

2. Did you make any last minute improvements on the home?

Last minute improvements to home using the drill

As mentioned above, sellers need to provide a disclosure about any issues regarding the property they’re selling, and that includes any last minute improvements. Why? Because even if a problem is fixed, it’s still important to know what the issue was and how it was rectified.

3. Where is … ?

Home water supply hand turn off safety shutoff valve.

Ever move into a home and then start to wonder where all those critical shut-offs were located? Stop wondering. Before moving-in, ask the seller to list where all the important components of a home are located.

For starters, ask where the main water shutoff valve is, which would be helpful to know should a plumbing pipe burst. Ask where the main electrical circuit box is located (and whether or not the circuits are correctly labelled). Ask about sump pumps, gas shutoff valve etc.

And don’t forget to ask if all the smoke alarms and any carbon monoxide detectors work. While you’re at it, ask the age of each alarm. Keep in mind smoke alarms need to be replaced at least once every 10 years, while batteries for each alarm need to be replaced once per year. To be extra safe, review the information provided by the seller then test alarms just before or right after moving in.

4. Will you be leaving anything behind?

Seller leaving stuff behind plant and boxes

Based on contractual rules, sellers cannot leave anything behind that wasn’t already agreed to in the initial terms of sale. However, between the time of signing and the move-out date, the seller may have changed their plans for certain items. As the home’s next owner, you may be happy to learn that the seller no longer wants that custom-made daybed (that fits perfectly in the attic) — and the seller may be happy to hear you don’t mind them leaving these items, as it saves them having to pay to move them out of the house.

On the flip side, this question helps with your due diligence. If a seller moves and doesn’t remove their items before possession day, you may be left to pick up the pieces. While you can always follow up with your agent or legal representative to get reimbursed for this cost, you may be able to avoid the entire situation by just being alert and proactive. .

5. When is garbage/recycling day?

Garbage Collection Truck

Rather than waiting to see when the neighbours put their trash and recycling out, ask the seller. More than likely there’s a calendar or a routine that the seller can share with you.  It will help alleviate the mad dash to the end of the driveway come garbage day.

It may feel awkward approaching the seller or the seller’s agent to ask these questions.  But just remind yourself that it’s part of the process of getting to know a home. By gathering a few key pieces of information, you and your family can settle into the home and the neighbourhood that much faster.   And you can get on with the business of establishing your new home.

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.