Reuben's Home Inspection Blog


Houses never need cosmetic updates


Today is going to be a long day.  As I sit here writing this blog post, it's 4:55 am and I just finished doing a little research on the house that I'll be inspecting at 9:00 am.  The online listing for this property says it has lots of square footage and needs some cosmetic updates.

I haven't been to the house yet but already disagree with that description.  Cosmetic updates are never needed. I googled 'cosmetic', and here's what I came up with.  The first two definitions of this word apply to people, and the third applies to objects.  I bolded it.

    adjective /käzˈmetik/ 


    1. Involving or relating to treatment intended to restore or improve a person's appearance
      • cosmetic surgery
    2. Designed or serving to improve the appearance of the body, esp. the face
      • - lens designs can improve the cosmetic effect of your glasses
    3. Affecting only the appearance of something rather than its substance
      • - the reform package was merely a cosmeticexercise

When a property description says it needs cosmetic updates, look out.  The house is probably going to need a lot of serious work.  Here are a few other 'real estate terms' to be wary of:

  • Needs TLC
  • Needs routine maintenance
  • Handyman's dream

I plan to finish writing this blog post after I inspect the house.  I'm sure I'll have some good photos of some "costmetic" updates that are needed ;)

Part Two

There were no big surprises during my inspection; it was about what I expected from the online description.  Here are a few things I found during my inspection of this bank-owned property:

The house was soaked in cat urine, and smelled even worse.  According to the neighbor who came by to chat during the inspection, the previous owner never let the cat out and didn't have a litter box.  The first thing I did upon arrival was to open up every window in the house while breathing through my mouth, lest my nose hairs get burned off.  This only made the yard smell horrible.  The carpets will all need to be replaced, and possibly the subfloors as well.  This isn't a cosmetic update issue, it's a health issue.

Filthy Floor Dirty Floor

The shingles were severely deteriorated and in need of replacement.  There was also a golf-ball sized hole in the roof, most likely from a tree that fell during the recent storms.  This ain't cosmetic.

Deteriorated shingles Hole in roof

The water pipes had freeze damage.  The buyer hired a plumber to de-winterize the house before my inspection, but the plumber had to just cap off several lines that weren't winterized properly and had burst.  Cosmetic freeze damage?

The radiator pipes had freeze damage, and the boiler was a dinosaur.  The plumber said the heating system would need major repair.  I agree, and I'm sure the boiler needs replacement as well.  Notice the discoloration highlighted on the boiler below, right.  This is a problem.  More on this topic another day.  Even if you know nothing about boilers, you can probably guess that these issues aren't costmetic.

Freeze damaged radiator pipe Scorching at boiler

The electric panel was a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel; I recommend replacement of every one of these panels because they present a fire hazard.  There is no such thing as a cosmetic fire hazard.

Again, these were just a few of the things that I found during my inspection.  This house was clearly in need of major repair just to be made habitable.None of these issues were cosmetic.  I knew this house was going to be in very rough shape because I've learned to interpret those euphemistic real estate descriptions that I see so often (and to call them euphemistic is a euphemism).

  • Needs TLC = Needs major renovation
  • Needs routine maintenance = Nothing about the maintenance needed is routine
  • Handyman's dream = Handyman's nightmare
  • Needs cosmetic updates = cosmetic updates are the last thing you should think about.

What do you think?  Are these terms all innocent real estate euphemisms, or something worse than that?  I think that calling a house a 'fixer-upper' is an acceptable way of stretching the truth, but some of these other terms might be pushing it a little too far.


Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Comment balloon 77 commentsReuben Saltzman • June 21 2011 06:29AM


Thank you for the post. It can be describing such a home in the mls. It is important to have a good home inspector.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) over 7 years ago

Money pit might be a better description...hmmmm ?

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben. Sounds like your gut was right and major repairs needed.  And, yes, wow those are euphemisms.  I bet a lot were lured in to look but very few offers.  I do wonder if potential buyers would be more targeted if the descriptions were more honest.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 7 years ago

Boy, you hit the nail on the head this time Reuben.  Cosmetic repairs really can mean just about anything can't they?  I always recommend removing the FP breaker boxes.  They will burn before the trip.  Thanks for posting.

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 7 years ago
Wow, this makes you rethink your reaction when you see those phrases in a listing.
Posted by Cheryl Ritchie, Southern Maryland 301-980-7566 (RE/MAX Leading Edge over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben: Re your list.

  • Needs TLC = Needs major renovation
  • Needs routine maintenance = Nothing about the maintenance needed is routine
  • Handyman's dream = Handyman's nightmare
  • Needs cosmetic updates = cosmetic updates are the last thing you should think about.

It is difficult to accurately describe a house that needs updates without damaging the seller.  I try to use TLC when the home would benefit from paint and carpet.  I try never to use Handyman's Dream or special, way too subjective. 

Balancing being creative to get people in versus representing the house honestly can be very difficult. 

My questions for you:

1.Was this house priced at market, slightly below or substantially below? The pricing can be a warning. If a house is bankowned, priced well below market, that is a sign. We all know the REO agents work on volume and banks are not fixing anything.

2. Were there pictures?

3. (You won't know this) Did the buyer see the house?




Posted by Anne M. Costello (Weidel Realtors) over 7 years ago

Seems to me that when agents use those descriptions, "needs TLC", etc., they are demeaning a property and not serving their seller well.  All they do is invite low offers.

Better to simply price a property based on location, features and condition, and let the buyers decide.

When I see remarks like "needs cosmetic help", I think that the listing agent is making excuses for even listing the property. 

The question is, how is it priced?, and is it accessible????

Let the buyers decide.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I am SO glad I am not the buyer's agent on that one...but at least one of those was known to that buyer. 

It's similar to a bankowned or pre foreclosure...they may look okay but long before those sellers stopped paying their mortgage, they stopped paying for maintenance.  Buyer beware!

Posted by Cindy Marchant, "Cindy in Indy" , Realtor, Fishers Real Estate (Keller Williams Indy NE 317-290-7775 over 7 years ago

Gita - thanks.  I think you left a word out... did you mean to say "it can be tough describing such a home in the mls" ?

Sally & David - that's much more accurate!

Debbie - your last sentence is exactly what I'm getting at.  I don't sell real estate, so I really don't know... but it seems to me that less people would waste their time.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Mike - yeah, you gotta look out for those FP panels.  Replacement every time.

Cheryl- I'm sure that any seasoned real estate agent knows what those terms mean, but do most potential home buyers?

Anne - I hear you.  What would be wrong with just not commenting on the condition of the property, or using different language that accurately describes the condition, such as "needs repairs" ?  There's nothing wrong with saying "needs TLC" if that's the truth, but every house I've inspected that had that description needed a lot more than just paint and carpet.  To answers your questions: 

1. I'm sure this house was priced well below market.  I don't know what the price was, and I don't know what the market value is, but the buyer told me it was a great deal, even with all the repairs needed.

2. No.  There was a single picture of the exterior.

3. Yes.  She knew what she was getting in to, and her agent gave her fair warning.

Lenn - great points.  In this particular case, the buyer knew what she was getting in to, and the deal is still going to proceed, even after the inspection.

Cindy - this house was definitely a bank owned property.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago


I'll describe homes as needed new carpets or a good interior paint job.  To me, those are cosmetic but do spell out what the story is!  Don't think it hurts sales 1 iota.

Posted by Irene Kennedy Realtor® in Northwestern NJ (Weichert) over 7 years ago

Again, went to suggest and was too late.  I am a real snoozer lately...

I can tell you are younger than I!  You "google" definitions of words!  I have a monster Oxford dictionary over my desk (750,000 English words) that I refer to three or four times a day!  I have never "googled" a definition in my life.  Well, at least not yet.  Maybe I am too old?

EVERY time I see the word "cosmetic" I know I am in for a fun inspection.  It appears from your picture that the plumber didn't cap off EVERY break in the pipes.

I wonder about those FP boxes and the "alert."  I note that there is a "warning" out there about them, but we have whole neighborhoods and apartment here with 40 year old, or older, FP boxes, without a single problem.  I lived with one for 15 years!  I never experienced the tripping, or overheating, problems that are suggested.  But CYA demands that we mention it!

Great post.  I enjoyed reading it.

Hey, another inspector who investigates the house BEFORE the inspection!  I didn't know any others were out there!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

cosmetic fire hazard....good one!

Posted by James Lowenstern, Castles Unlimited. Newton MA Real Estate (Castles Unlimited®) over 7 years ago

H Reuben,
This one certainly sounds like a nightmare!  The euphemism descriptions are used all over the MLS and generally do mean "beware - bad things ahead".
While one might not want to put (I thought this was great!) "opening the windows will make the yard smell bad" in the listing notes, a bit more accuracy might take some of the buyer's shock away when viewing the home and actually benefit the seller...
Thank you for sharing!

Posted by Bruce Kunz, REALTOR®, Brick & Howell NJ Homes for Sale (C21 Solid Gold Realty, Brick, NJ, 732-920-2100) over 7 years ago


I love the translations.  Trying to pretend it's a surface issue is pointless to buyers and inspectors.  We take what sellers and their agents say with a grain of salt and check it out for ourselves.  

That's the big challenge to determining value of a home in terms of how well maintained it is?  I've been in some foreclosures that were amazing and then other homes that were just NEVER maintained, but sold by a long term CHEAP as heck owner. 

All the best, Michelle

Posted by Michelle Francis, Realtor, Buckhead Atlanta Homes for Sale & Lease (Tim Francis Realty LLC) over 7 years ago

I think I've seen that house!!  Seriously, "cosmetic" really means that you might want to paint if you don't like the bright red paint color in the dining room - or something similar.  That house needs major work.  Like Lenn said above, price it accordingly & leave those comments out of the description.

Posted by Christine Smith, Exclusive Buyer Agent & Attorney, Canton, MA (Buyers Brokers Only LLC - over 7 years ago

Reuben, cosmetic repairs are just an excuse for trying to cover up major defects. The big cover up.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 7 years ago

The first and most important clue is -  it's a foreclosure - which means it is being sold "As Is" Descriptions are meaningless so why bother reading them! As the old adage goes "Buyer Beware"!

Posted by Cindy Billman, CDPE, SFR, Broker Associate (RE/MAX Unlimited) over 7 years ago

Homes that have been neglected for years will always need some kind of cosmetic repairs

Posted by Harry F. D'Elia, Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR (Real Estate and Beyond, LLC) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben - Yikes! Cosmetic is downright absurd in this case. Congrats on the well-deserved feature!

Posted by Judy Klem, Home Staging, Senior Move Management, Fairfield/New Haven counties (Transition Stage LLC) over 7 years ago

Take heart...there are investors and seasoned pros in the biz that can see past that stuff and transact accordingly. I run into these flippers and they have teams that go in and out remodeling as they go. They got the action down to a science....Good post Reuben

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 7 years ago

I'll dissent a bit, and it might be a regional thing. WE have lots of pre-war hmes in my market and little new construction.  

I have been in homes where the owner didn't care about every new shiny object on the shelf and had excellent mechanicals, great roof, windows etc and was well maintained but the decor was from 1975. My own home was built in 1962 and is a period piece. 

In our area, cosmetic updating suggests the steak is solid but there isn't much sizzle. 

Posted by J. Philip Faranda, Broker-Owner (J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY) over 7 years ago

I would say most listing descriptions are positive optimistic statements and even detractions are phrased to sound good. My burning question is what the heck were you doing up at 4:55 AM? 

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago

Those aren't cosmetic that's for sure, but I disagree that homes don't "need" cosmetic updates.  They may not need them to stay standing, but they need them to sell.  A house that's well cared for and maintained, not abandoned and abused, can have trouble selling if they don't do the cosmetic updating like removing old carpeting or 1970s era wall paper.  Those things can really distract a buyer from a homes true condition and pleasing features.

Posted by Coral Gundlach, Real Lives. Not Just Real Estate. (Compass) over 7 years ago

If a house is in good condition and needs an update, that's one thing but a home that needs major work, as you describe, will get lowballed if the updates are "cosmetic". 

Posted by Bryan Robertson, Broker, Author, Speaker (Intero Real Estate) over 7 years ago

It is just realtors trying to put a positive spin on a bad situation. How about this one 'lipstick on a pig?'

Posted by Sandy Acevedo, RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale (951-290-8588) over 7 years ago

Reuben, reminds me of a home that sold last month for about $200K less than it was marketed for before winter... The pipes burst and the resulting damage caused this dramatic drop in price.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 7 years ago

Good luck today...I can't wait to compare the definition of cosmetic repairs...

Posted by Cory Barbee, Broker (760) 563-4022 over 7 years ago

Irene - I like that approach.  Nobody will ever question your integrity.

Jay - thanks buddy.  I used to have a dictionary, but I've just found 'em too cumbersome, and they become outdated.  Did you know the IRC actually references for the definition of words that aren't defined in the building code?

Those breaks in the copper tubing were actually in the boiler supply lines, not the water distribution pipes.

About the FPE panels - this article is what made me make up mind on recommeding replacement of every one of them .  I grew up in a house with one of those panels, and I finally convinced my dad to have his panel replaced about a year ago.  We never had any fires... but hey, check out that article.  

I love learning whatever I can about a house before going out.  I'm glad you do too!

James - thanks :)

Bruce - yeah, this was definitely a long inspection, and an even longer report.  I know that real estate agents can see right through the clever wording... but really, why should they have to?  Why not call a spade a spade?  It's not as though nobody is ever going to find out.

Michelle - exactly.  The public's opinion of the real estate industry might improve if the descriptions were a little more accurate.  You're definitely right about the difference in maintenance.  I just inspected a townhouse / condo this morning that was a foreclosure, and it was in excellent condition.  I love those.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Christine - I hope you didn't have to go inside that house!  You're right about your comments about paint; that's cosmetic.

Michael - no doubt.

Cindy - well, in this case, the description told me the house would be in horrible shape, so I guess it was somewhat useful ;)

Harry - absolutely.  Even houses that have been well maintained could still use some improvement.

Judy - thanks!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Richie - I just inspected one of those this morning.  It was a pleasure.

J. Philip - you give a perfect example of a house that could benefit from cosmetic updates.  Now if you ask my wife, some houses definitely need cosmetic updates... 

Robert - ever since I became a dad, I've found that I need to get up at about 4:30 am if I want to get in a little computer time and a workout before I start my day.  I used to work out after getting home, but it just doesn't work with little kids.

Coral - price cures everything.  I'm sure that just about any house could benefit from cosmetic updates, and some much more than others, but I really don't think cosmetic updates are ever needed.

Bryan - I'm sure you're right.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Sandi - lipstick on a pig is exactly what any cosmetic updates at this house would have been.   

Chris - I bet they didn't claim it was cosmetic water damage ;)

Cory - "cosmetic repairs" - good one.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago


We Realtors should be careful what we put in the MLS.  I very rarely use the term "needs TLC" because it can be widely interpreted.  If I have a property that is in poor condition I say that.  this can also be interpreted in may ways.  I hope a buyer's agent would call for more information.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Alain Pinel Realtors) over 7 years ago

I am very familiar with Dan and his site.  Very familiar.  Between you, me and the wall I find him to be a very disingenuous fellow.

Also, I seldom, if ever, recommend that someone replace something.  I most often refer to a professional. 

I know Dr. A pretty well too.  He is a good guy and I would defer to him in a link before I would to Dan.

There!  My bias exposed!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Evelyn - you said it. Can't every property use a little TLC?

Jay - disingenuous?  Huh.  I've never met the guy, and don't have any opinions one way or the other.  I'd be interested to hear your take.  

I don't know Dr. A, but I thought that was a fantastic article on FPE panels. 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Reuben: I had to laugh at Phil's comments... it is so true.. cosmetic means to me updating not environmental, structural, etc ... it isn't a turn-off just instructional...Obviously, with regards to the inspection - iot was a tad more than cosmetic!  LOL G

Posted by Gay E. Rosen, As Real as Real Estate Gets! (Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty) over 7 years ago

Reuben, great Blog!

    Adjectives are great until they become Deceptive Advertising.


    Slightly off-topic, but this is similar to Real Estate Agents who use creative words like "Dollhouse" (tiny house), "Lake View" (see that blue speck off in the distance?), "Cozy" (see Dollhouse), and "Charming" (old and out-dated).

Posted by Fred Griffin presently on Leave of Absence, Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker (Fred Griffin Real Estate) over 7 years ago

You are right way to many times I've gone into a property that says "cosmetic" and it needs major work.  However in other cases their are homes that I would say only need a cosmetic fix.  A little fresh paint and they shine.  If an agent is accurate in their description and price the home correctly for the condition then it will sell.

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) over 7 years ago

Well, that was scary!  I can't imagine doing what you do, luckily we have home inspectors like yourself who can can handle it.  Good post!

Posted by Rebecca McArdle (Stunning Staging & Redesign, LLC) over 7 years ago

Reuben - You don't think those are cosmetic updates?? LOL - Seriously, that's a lot of work to get that house back together.

Posted by Christine Donovan, Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M (Donovan Blatt Realty) over 7 years ago

Cosmetic updates to me mean the bathrooms are probably pink and green 1960s tile, from floor to ceiling, and a Brady Bunch kind of kitchen. 

Posted by Erica Ramus, MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate (Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA ) over 7 years ago

Scary place. In looking at properties, I've seen a huge range of actual damage when an ad says "needs TLC" or some such description.


Posted by Mel Ahrens, MBA, Kelly Right Real Estate, Customized Choices for your Real Estate Needs (Kelly Right Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I usually take cosmetic to mean carpet, paint, and appliances, but that the bones are solid.

Posted by Tamara Inzunza, Close-In Alexandria and Arlington Living (RE/MAX Executives) over 7 years ago

The listing agent is a moron making that claim. There ARE actually homes that just need cosmetic updates to bring it up to 2000 standards. This is plain & simple a fixer-upper, handy man be horrified type.

To be honest the cat urine would be the biggest deal killer as far as I know. It's right below a nuclear hazard in the home.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg IL Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) over 7 years ago

Gay - yeah, this house needed a lot more :)

Fred - thanks!  Those other real estate terms you mention aren't off topic at all.  It's the same point.  Those are a little more tame though.

Cindy - you have to ask yourself, does the person who calls this stuff cosmetic actually believe it's cosmetic? 

Rebecca - thankfully those kinds of houses are few and far between.

Christine - ha!  The next time I see bad paint colors I might have to call it a health and safety issue.


Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Erica - your thoughts on cosmetic are exactly what you should think of when you hear that term.

Gretchen - I bet you'll think about this the next time you hear about 'cosmetic updates' :)

Tamara - I used to.

Lyn - ha!  I had the same thought.  I had some friends that bought a home with a bunch of dog pee in the carpets, and they had to replace all of the subfloors throughout the house.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

I know when my husband, the contractor who does rekeys and boardups for our office REO's, comments to me that home needs TLC=Totally Lousy Condition!!

Posted by janine nielsen, Homes For Heroes Realtor (Re/Max Advantage) over 7 years ago

Cosmetic updates?  Are you serious?  Wow.  Real estate agents kind of freeze on marketing a thrashed house. "What do I say?"  And then watch out here come the euphemisms.  LOL.  Cat urine is not cosmetic! 


Posted by Tni LeBlanc, Realtor®, J.D., Tenacious Tni (805) 878-9879 (Mint Properties, Lic. #01871795) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben:

I think those terms could fall under the definition of "puffing" although I think they do more harm than good.  I agree with Lenn it all comes down to price, if its priced right the condition is irrelevant.


I would like to know more about the Federal Pacific Stab Lok panel.  I have never heard anything about them before and have sold many older homes.  Is the name on the panel?


Posted by Jennifer Manchester, GRI, ePRO, ASP - Broker/Home Stager (Suburban Properties of Charlotte, LLC ) over 7 years ago

I think you are right on with your definitions. As for FP panels, like anything we cite, just because it hasn't caused a problem is no reason to dismiss the evidence to the contrary.

I have met Dan, I found him to be witty and quite knowledgeable.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

Wow...Now I will only say "Needs cosmetics" if it really just needs carpet and paint because let's say the carpet is 1970's shag and the walls are psychedelic orange...It is frustrating though when agents blatantly lie and say a property only needs minor repair AND THEN when you get there, there's a 1/2" wide crack clean up and down a wall from foundation issues, copper is stolen, holes in the walls and floors, etc....

Just tell it like it is...

Posted by Chanda Barrick, in referral (Keller Williams Indy Metro Northeast) over 7 years ago

It's a REO property, sold as is, so it's all about the price and the cost of repairs. Those remarks are negative marketing issues and should never be used regardless.

Posted by Kimo Jarrett, Pro Lifestyle Solutions (WikiWiki Realty) over 7 years ago

Cosmetic to me usually means paint & window treatments. Anything more is major work!


Posted by Linda Jandura, Realtor, North Carolina Buyer & Seller Specialist (Raleigh Cary Realty) over 7 years ago

Sounds like a property that should be priced at the value of the lot...

Posted by Tim Bradley, Commercial Real Estate Expert in Jackson Hole, WY (Contour Investment Properties) over 7 years ago

Reuben - While I'm not a Realtor listing or showing property, I too have my own interpretation of so many ridiculous ways that listing agents try and describe their run-down, dilapidated, dumpy listings.  Like Sandi #26 said, putting "lipstick on a pig" isn't going to get the dump sold any faster. 

By doing this, the listing agent is not targeting the right buyers, those who want a total fixer.  What ends up happening is that buyers who are expecting to see old carpet and weird colored wallpaper (true cosmetic updates) get pissed off for wasting their time because the property is a total fixer.

Posted by Donne Knudsen, CalState Realty Services (Los Angeles & Ventura Counties in CA) over 7 years ago

A purchaser I represented recently went into contract on a $2mil condo in Midtown, Manhattan. Residential transactions in the city rarely involve inspections, though in many cases they should.  That being said, the sellers had completed a $300k renovation of the apartment but never moved-in.  We suggested that an inspection be completed.  

Within one minute of entering the apartment (I was still looking for a place to hang my jacket), the fuse box started sparking when the inspector attempted to remove the face.  It was a Federal Pacific model like you mentioned.  Well, the $500 inspection resulted in a new fuse box ($2,220 in parts and labor). We also unearthed some permits for the renovation that hadn't been closed by the seller's architect with the Department of Buildings.  Manhattan needs to get on board with inspections!

Posted by Kate Akerly, Manhattan Beach Residential Sales (Kaminsky Group) over 7 years ago

This ain't cosmetic, this is neglect.  Usually you know what to expect but this home was/is a wreck.  I am surprised it go to the inspection stage without repairs being made and the flooring pulled.  A health issue is a big liablity for the listing Broker and the seller.  State the truth, ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL.

Posted by Ric Mills, Integrity, Honesty, and Vast Real Estate Knowledge (Keller Williams Southern Az) over 7 years ago

Robert, it's one thing to need a little foundation and mascara, and it's another altogether to need a full blown face lift.  And of course, it gets quite dicey when a flipper has come in to do a facelift on a house that needs triple bypass and knee replacement.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 7 years ago

A little duct tape and Febreeze is all that place needs ;). (PLEASE note the sarcasm)

Posted by Julie Babcock -Nook & Cranny Home Inspections (Nook & Cranny Home Inspections Tonawanda, NY) over 7 years ago

HI Ruben- I think this is the way some not so quality rehabbers are working- "cosmetics" means they put something over the defects to make it "look" beautiful and hope and pray the buyer doesn't come close enough or inspect to see what's beyond the concealer.. Range hoods that are hung but not vented or connected to electricity, doors that don't open properly, tile not set properly, gas heaters vented straight into the attic... Oh the stories I could tell :o)

Posted by Deb Espinoza, GRI, Broker, SRS,ABR ePro, SFR, CNE (Stage Presence Homes, San Diego Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I don't want any surprises in the inspection (and neither does the bank). If it is a major fixer, I will put "major fixer" in the listing. Nothing wrong with telling the truth!

Posted by Julie Baldino, Opening Doors to New Chapters... (Front Door Realty) over 7 years ago

Hey Reuben - thanks for clearing those points up - there really is a big difference now that you've explained them...I'm taking out the euphemisms immediately...(lol).  Thanks so much for this post.

Posted by Ruby Lee Sweeting, Your Bahamas Agent for Relocations & Second Homes (Darville Wong Associates Realty Bahamas) over 7 years ago

Janine - I like your husbands acronym :)

Tni - someone was serious.

Jennifer - 'puffiing' is certainly putting it mildly.  As for the Federal Pecific Stab Lok panels, check out this blog that I wrote about them , and for more detailed info, click my link at the end of the blog.  

I don't ever recommend further evaluation of these panels by an electrician, because I think it's a waste of time and money.  I just recommend outright replacement.  Yes, all of these panels say "Stab-Lok" on the front.

James - We're on the same page when it comes to FPE panels :)

Chandra - I feel the same way.  I recently sold a ladder on Craigslist that had a crack in one of the rungs; did I say the ladder was in good condition?  No!  I took a couple close up photos of the crack and displayed them on Craigslist so the buyer would know what they were getting, and so they would know that I've priced my ladder accordingly.  I sold my ladder in less than 30 minutes, and the buyer got exactly what he expected.  

What makes the model for selling homes so different?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Kimo - I agree.

Linda - and maybe new carpet, provided the old stuff isn't a health hazard ;)

Tim - pretty close :).  This house had a solid foundation, so at least there was something to work with.

Donne - exactly.  I know I would.

Mike & Kate - that sounds like a worthwhile inspection!  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Ric - this seems to happen a lot.

Patricia - the person buying this house is going to get a 203k loan and live in it when she's done.  The flippers usually don't get home inspections, and for a lot of the houses that get flipped, I can't say I blame 'em.  

Julie Babcock - Don't forget caulk and spray foam. Those are a couple of my other favorite 'fix-all' substances.

Debbie - range hoods not vented or connected to a power source?  If I saw that, I'd actually be tempted to call someone about it to give 'em a piece of my mind.  Unbelievable.

Julie Baldino - Nobody likes big surprises during inspections.  The best inspections are boring.  I like your marketing style :)

Ruby - thanks for reading.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

My first reaction:  MONEY PIT!!  And LOTS of WORK!  Oh and I am holding my breath as I read the blog imagining the smell.

Posted by Diane Beck, Greater Pittsburgh's Award Winning Home Stager (Vibrant Interiors) over 7 years ago

If it was priced right this sounds like the sort of home some of my investor clients would jump on.  They understand it will take some work,

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I don't understand why agents make it sound better than it is. It's not like the buyer or the inspector isn't going to notice. You are just wasting everones time by not being accurate in the description.  It turns off potential buyers and the agent remembers that you are a little liberal with your MLS description.


Posted by Sherry Swift over 7 years ago

Ok. I was biting into a delicious cookie that turned nasty in my mouth as I read the cat commet, but I have to agree with #7 and #67. Let the price be the description. Everything, EVERYTHING, looks good at the right price, even cat smell.

Posted by Beverly of Bev & Bob Meaux, Where Buying & Selling Works (Keller Williams Suburban Realty) over 7 years ago

My idea of "cosmetic" is carpet and paint! I just went into a HUD house that was just a little more than cosmetic since the put 5 or 6 holes in the sheetrock - nothing like I have seen in other houses!!

Posted by Gerard Gilbers, Your Marketing Master (Higher Authority Markeing) over 7 years ago

Next time I see the phrase, "Bring your hammer," I will tell my buyer, "Bring your bulldozer!"

Posted by Barbara Le Pine, Your agent for the Central Oregon Coast! (Advantage Real Estate, serving Lincoln County) over 7 years ago

Diane - that was my first reaction too!

Gene - price cures all.

Sherry - I totally agree.

Beverly - I should have had a warning at the beginning of my blog to not eat while reading ;)

Gerard - From all the comments received, carpet and paint seems to be the overwhelming definition of cosmetic updates.

Barbara - "Bring your hammer" - love it.  I'll have to look out for that one.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Imagine what you would have found had the need repairs been more than cosmetic? Yeow!!!

Those code words scare me. That is why I don't go on blind dates. I once asked a friend who was setting me up on a date to tell me about the gal I was to meet. The response was; She has a great personality." I knew right then and there, that I was in for a nightmare.

Posted by Steven Turetsky, Building Moisture Analyst (Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants) over 7 years ago

Usage of the terms are more a matter of agent honesty. I expect "cosmetic repairs" when the linoleum is the wrong color, mirrors have age spots or the paint is peeling, i.e. it's a surface defect that most buyers will change anyways. "Needs TLC" is a statement that prepares a buyer to do the house over because nothing has been maintained or cared for in years.

Posted by Sylvia Jonathan, Broker Associate, SFR (Coldwell Banker Platinum Properties) over 7 years ago

Inspections have to be tough these days with all of the distressed properties out there.  The strong odor of cat urine in a home is awful!  I've indicated a home needs work in the MLS so buyers know what to expect before viewing the home.  That house you inspected needs a lot more than cosmetic repairs!

Posted by Patricia Beck, Colorado Springs Realty (RE/MAX Properties, Inc., GRI, CDPE) over 7 years ago

Well, the house did look pretty ugly in the pictures....

What I worry about when I see homes like this one (that are SO much worse than the listing suggests), are the unrepresented, inexperienced buyers who are out there looking for a cheap bank owned home they can fix up.  Some of them think they know more than they do about evaluating the condition of homes and will think it's not necessary to hire an inspector.

While it's possible for a home to be priced so low that it doesn't matter what is wrong with it, I still think buyers are much better off knowing what the issues are and which ones are most critical and need to be addressed right away.

The listing for my own home said "It's time for decorating!"  This was a huge understatement.  Other than the roof, appliances, furnace, A/C and water heater, the home was vintage 1968.  Most of what it "needed" (and unfortunately, still needs 10 years later!) WAS cosmetic, but I know finding this type of home is not all that common.


Posted by Laura Degiovanni, Milford Exclusive Buyer Agent (Home Buyer's Agent of Ann Arbor) over 7 years ago

Steven- ha!  I know exactly what you mean.

Sylia - Needs TLC is at least a vague term.

Patricia - yeah, you said it.  We've been talking about charging more money to inspect bank owned properties, but we haven't done it yet.

Laura - hey, if you're telling the truth about your listing, like saying "it's time for decorating"... no problem!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago