As you prepare to finalize a home purchase, there’s an important step to take before the closing: the final walk-through. This personal inspection helps ensure that the home you committed to on paper is in relatively identical condition to when you first visited, and that the seller is compliant with the terms of your real estate contract.

What is the final walk-through?

A final walk-through is an opportunity for you, as the home buyer, to visit and assess the property you’re purchasing before the closing. The goal of the visit is to ensure the home is in the same condition it was when you agreed to buy it.

“It’s also an opportunity for you to ensure that the seller has moved out or substantially moved out, and that the seller did not cause any damage during the move-out,” said Lisa Okasinski, a real estate lawyer and owner of Okasinski Law PLC, based in Detroit.

This visit is important, as it allows you to assess whether the seller has met your interpretation of the purchase agreement and removed all their personal property, said David North, broker/owner of Realtrua in Redmond, Wash.

“This is also the time to confirm that nonsubjective contractual obligations of the seller, such as specific repairs, have been met,” North said.

What to look for

There are several items you should confirm during the final walk-through of the property. Okasinski and Elizabeth Grimes, a lawyer with Ligris + Associates PC in Wellesley, Mass., recommend the following checklist:

  • The seller’s belongings have been fully moved out.

  • Any repairs that the seller promised would be done have been completed.

  • All appliances that the purchase agreement specified would remain are in proper working order.

  • The seller left copies of all manuals and instructions for appliances and fixtures.

  • Door and window locks are fully functioning.

  • The HVAC systems (furnace, air-conditioning, etc.) are working properly.

  • All faucets are working, toilets flush properly, and there are no plumbing leaks.

  • All walls, ceilings and doorways are structurally intact and not damaged from moving.

  • The yard is free of any debris or damage.

  • The seller left the garage door openers and keys in the home or with their agent.

“Cleanliness, completion of repairs, any changes to the condition of the property from the time of the sales contract, presence of all items that are contractually included in the sale, and removal of items not included in the sale should all be checked during your final walk-through,” North said.

When is the walk-through?

The final walk-through commonly take places 24 to 48 hours before closing. The home purchase agreement typically contains a provision allowing for the walk-through, and it might specify the window of time in which it can occur.

“I always suggest to my clients to schedule the final walk-through on the morning of the closing so that they are getting a last look to make sure the property is in good condition prior to signing closing paperwork,” Grimes said.

What to bring

You are not required to bring anything with you to the final walk-through, but you might want to bring a checklist (either on paper or your phone) that you can mark off during your visit. Your real estate agent and/or lawyer might also be present with you during the final walk-through.

“I always suggest buyers bring a flashlight to look in basement and attic areas that have low visibility, too,” Grimes said.

How long will it take?

The duration of the walk-through is up to you — there is no legal maximum or minimum time limit, according to Okasinski. Generally speaking, prepare to take the time necessary to carefully evaluate the home. Rushing through a final walk-through can lead to regret, as you could accidentally overlook flaws or breaches of contract.

“How long it takes is highly dependent on the property, how inclined you are to look at details, what you end up finding and other unpredictable factors,” North said. “I always recommend scheduling at least an hour and a half — sometimes longer. Walk-throughs don’t usually take longer than that, but they can, at times.”

Can a buyer back out?

Whether you can terminate your real estate contract after the final walk-through depends on the terms of your agreement.

“In most cases, it would be hard to terminate the purchase agreement as a result of the final walk-through, unless you could point to a major change in the condition of the property,” Okasinski said. “For smaller items of damage that happened after the purchase agreement was entered, it’s more realistic that the parties would agree to have the buyer withhold from the seller an amount necessary to make the repairs at closing.”

Legally, however, you are allowed to back out if the property does not meet the obligations detailed in your real estate contract, Grimes said.

“Typically, sellers and buyers instead agree to either monetary compensation or other solutions to ensure the transaction moves forward,” she said.

What to do if you find issues

You might discover a problem or violation of your purchase agreement during the final walk-through, but that doesn’t mean it’s a deal-breaker.

“Depending on the problem, there is usually a solution that can be worked out with the seller,” Okasinski said. “For example, if the seller appears that they are not able to move by the scheduled closing date, you could either delay the closing date or enter into a lease with the seller so that you receive rent from them after the scheduled closing date. If there is damage to the property you notice, you could have the seller agree to make the repairs to the property or negotiate to have the purchase price reduced by the cost of repairs.”

“I always advise the buyer to review the situation carefully and figure out whether or not it’s worth delaying the closing or mentioning it to the seller,” said Jason Gelios, a Realtor with Community Choice Realty in southeast Michigan. “However, larger issues like missing appliances or major damage to the property should never be overlooked.”

Gelios noted that most of his buyers don’t back out of the deal without holding the seller accountable for things not honored in the purchase agreement.

“Most sellers are open to making things right at this stage of the process,” Gelios said.