Cleaning your carpets and clearing out clutter in the garage aren't enough to get your house on the market anymore.
Several metro suburbs, including Brooklyn Park, Crystal, New Hope, St. Louis Park and Bloomington, have added home inspections that must be completed before residents may sell their properties.
Columbia Heights is the latest city to consider requiring homeowners to schedule an inspection with the city before they put their house on the market and fix major problems before the house can be sold. The program is likely to receive final approval at Monday's City Council meeting.
The point-of-sale inspection programs, as they're typically called, are becoming more attractive to cities with older housing stocks that don't want to see houses fall into disrepair. The idea is that any hazardous conditions -- rotting wood, broken furnaces or structural issues -- would be identified and repaired before the house sells.
"A community, as it gets older, has to build in some insurance so it can protect itself," said Scott Clark, Columbia Heights' community development director.
But as more cities consider the programs, some homeowners are expressing concern about local governments inserting another level of bureaucracy into real estate transactions. Real estate agents have also spoken up about delays the extra inspection can sometimes cause.
Columbia Heights officials think the program is worth it to ensure that substandard living conditions don't escape notice.
The program has received a mostly positive response, Clark and Mayor Gary Peterson said. The main concern residents have expressed is that they might now have to make large-scale repairs and invest thousands of dollars into their homes before they can sell them.
"People view that the purpose of this ordinance is if you sell your house, we're going to force the house to be modernized, and that's not it," Clark said. "What we're really trying to do is make sure the core of the house is sound."
'We've saved several lives'
In Brooklyn Park, where the point-of-sale program has been in place for almost a year, City Engineer Gary Brown said inspectors have found several houses in which dryer vents, gas water-heater exhausts, bathroom vents or the fresh-air intake of furnaces were hooked up incorrectly, which could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 800 houses have been inspected in Brooklyn Park under the program, with about 97 percent of them needing repairs.
"We have discovered some frightening things," he said. "I'd say we've saved several lives."
The process varies from city to city, but in Columbia Heights the approximately 200 houses that are sold each year would have an initial inspection that would cost the homeowner about $125. If there are any major problems, the homeowner must fix the problem or come up with a plan for completing repairs. There is usually an option that allows the buyer or seller to put money in escrow for repairs and complete them later. If the house passes a second inspection, it is cleared for sale.
The point-of-sale programs typically require the repairs to be made before the house can be sold, which is different from truth-in-housing ordinances that are in place in cities such as St. Paul.
Real estate agents say that the programs can be beneficial but that it is sometimes difficult for buyers to keep track of the different programs in each city. Lynn Frantzen, a real estate agent who works mostly along the Hwy. 169 corridor, said the programs have made it especially hard to deal with the sale of a foreclosed home.
"I don't want something to sneak by that should have been caught, but we just need a more user-friendly way," she said. "I'd like to see something more consistent throughout the metro area."
Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628
CITY COUNCIL MEETING
The Columbia Heights City Council will decide whether to approve the Residential Inspection Before Sale (RIBS) program at Monday's meeting. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 590 40th Ave. NE. For more information about the city's plan, call the community development department at 763-706-3670.