Dear PoPville – Having Trouble Getting a pre-drywall inspection

Photo by PoPville flickr user Vileinist

“Dear PoPville,

I am a first-time homebuyer in the process of purchasing a newly constructed townhome in DC. As the process nears completion, I requested that the developers allow me to do a pre-drywall inspection. Such an inspection is crucial in identifying problems with the foundation, framework, electrical work, and plumbing that can be easily hidden with drywall and insulation. The developers flat out denied my request for the pre-drywall inspection. They stated that they’d allow me to do a walkthrough of the property before the drywall and insulation was installed but that I could not bring an inspector with me. I know nothing about DC building code or proper craftsmanship so having me simply walkthrough the property and look around would be utterly useless.

When I mentioned this to the developer’s realtor and expressed my concern about having this inspection denied, he got snarky with me and said he doesn’t understand what I’m worried about; shoddy construction? That’s exactly what I’m worried about! He then goes on to tell me that the District of Columbia will inspect the property and that the developer would be offering me a home warranty, so I really shouldn’t be overly concerned. While he may put all the faith in the world in DC inspectors, I don’t and the last time I checked, home warranties don’t cover structural issues.

I’m now reevaluating whether or not I want to continue with this purchase. Has anyone else in PoPville dealt with something like this? What recourse would I have if something goes wrong that could have been discovered during the pre-drywall inspection?”

Anyone ever have trouble getting a pre-drywall inspection before? Is a pre-drywall inspection common? Is the developer or the buyer being unreasonable?

51 Comment


  • Do NOT depend on DC. I once requested an inspection and we passed- even though the inspector did not even show up. I was there waiting for him.

  • Sounds sketchy.

  • You have to wonder what they are hiding. They are right that DC will inspect, but I suspect that DCRA inspectors are not entirely clean.

  • The developer can not forbid an inspector coming to a drywall inspection. INSIST on an inspector. If they’ve done a good job, they have nothing to fear. If it’s EYA, it’s not against their policy. I just had clients buy from them in VA and we did a dry wall inspection. We did not find anything but it gave my clients peace of mind.

  • It’s a hot market, and they don’t want to deal with the headaches that an inspector can cause. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the construction, although it’s certainly not a good sign.

    Buying a house in DC is effing hard, and you have to play hardball. Consider canceling the contract. Unfortunately, making the seller/developer fear that the deal might really fall apart is sometimes the only way to get what you want.

    • Sounds like good advice. In other words, you want to negotiate like Mitch McConnell, not Barack Obama.

      • Exactly.

        Sometimes in real estate, be it buying a house or working with contractors, you have to remind the parties involved who’s working for whom and who has the money.

        Nobody is your friend. It’s a business transaction, there’s an incredible amount of money at stake, and while you should strive to keep it cordial sometimes you’ve just got to push back beyond the comfort point.

  • Just show up with your best friend ‘Bob’ who just happens to be an independent inspector.

    • Agreed. I doubt they’d seriously turn away “Bob” if you don’t mention he’s an inspector. Inspectors can tell a lot from a visual inspection, even if they don’t answer his questions.

  • +1 to Gonzo… just show up with your inspector. You are not being unreasonable.

  • You’re buying it, you should be able to inspect it as you please. If you can’t exercise your rights and walk away, there’s always a sucker in this town who will fall for it.

    • Agree completely. Learn to take a hint and walk away. Why would they allow you to do a walk through but not bring a professional inspector along? Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with the property but is that a gamble you want to take?

  • +1 to Gonzo. Get that inspection done – formally or informally.

    If this was a reasonable city, the plumbing, electrical (etc) inspectors would have to sign-off before drywall goes up (and you’d get copies of their ok), but it’s not and it’s easy to circumvent. It’ll be your place and your problems when you buy the place so I’d want to know now. Even with a home warrenty, good luck getting them to come back and fix it if a problem later manifests itself…

    • The inspectors do have to sign off before drywall goes up. This is absolutely required by the city.

      The issue is that the potential buyer wants to stage his own inspection, and the builder isn’t biting.

      • Considering the wiring I found when I cut a hole in the drywall of my new apartment to condo conversion, I can tell you with certainty that just because inspectors have to “sign off” on the work doesn’t mean anyone from the city actually looks at it.

        They are so understaffed, that it is supposedly common to accept the word of the developer or builder that they’ve done it all correctly.

        I would strongly advise, at the very least, that the OP do a walk through. Even better if it is with his/her friend Bob the Inspector.

        • I helped a friend with some minor remodeling work he was doing in his brand new condo. While everything was done pretty well I did find one electrical issue that an inspector should have red flagged for certain.

          I’m not novice either. I’ve worked as an electrician and my father has over 40 years in the business as both an electrician and electrical inspector.

          Point I’m making is, I wouldn’t put too much faith in DCRA inspectors keeping builders honest.

  • Dont you have a Realtor to speak for you ? If you have one you will not have to deal with the snarky builder or HIS/HER Realtor.
    For a small Administrative fee ( normaly less than $ 300)
    Hire a Realtor and let them get down and dirty with the builder.

  • i would threaten to walk if they don’t allow an inspection.

    You are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on something, do your due diligence.

  • at the end of the day, you have a contract and the terms of the contract control. you don’t own the house yet and until you do, they can give or deny access as they see fit unless the contract speaks to it. If I were them I would do the same thing and I’d keep your deposit. You’ll get a lot of populist cheerleeding in blog comment rooms but thet’s not going to expand your legal rights. If you didn’t neogtiate for a pre-drywall inspection, you don’t get one. Also, I don’t think it’s shady for them to deny you, particularly if they are a big developer. Big companies read their contracts and don’t waste time babysitting overly nervous homebuyers.

    • Assuming it’s a typical contract, either party can walk away for pretty much any reason (and the buyer can almost always get the deposit back), so… nice try with the big developer bullying language.

      • Is this true? I’ve never bought new construction, but it seems really hard to believe, since the contract is written by the lawyers for the construction company.

        In my experience, when a company hands me a contract they’ve written that includes a deposit, I can’t get out of it on whim.

        • Sure. The deal is entered by the agent for the buyer, so you can put in whatever terms you want; it’s up to the seller to agree or not. But there are a million ways for the buyer to back out, including rejecting the HOA documents or rejecting the results of an inspection.

        • You might not get your deposit back, but you can back out before closing. Regardless of who is in the right, if OP isn’t comfortable with buying a newly-built house without a drywall inspection, OP should back out. There will be many other opportunities to buy a house. Waiting is an inconvenience, but it’s not as bad as risking dealing with serious construction quality issues in the future.

          • Im not sure about the DC code BUT I have lived and worked in the construction industry in several cities. I would find it very terrifying If DC didnt REQUIRE this type of inspection before drywall. I have seen many homes built only to have to have teh walls torn out so the inspector can approve the behind the wall electric, plumbing, etc.

          • ah

            DC does require such an inspection for construction. Either DCRA does it or, more likely, a third-party inspector. But it’s for permit purposes/compliance, not for actual safety/construction issues (although, yes, the two should be one and the same, but as a practical matter they are not).

  • austindc

    Get an inspector in there no matter what. I too just bought my first home, and I realize now that no matter what, there’s going to be stuff wrong with it. I had an incompetent home inspector, so if you can get a competent one, even better. But future you will thank current you (he will call you “past me”) for doing everything you could to minimize the list of headaches you will be dealing with. In short, it is better to catch the problems now while the walls are open than to have to cut open walls and fix stuff once all your furniture is in the house. The warranty is nice, but it’s even nicer to not have to fix stuff if you can help it.

  • I’ve bought a new house, and we agreed (we=my Realtor, wife and I) that we wouldn’t need a formal inspection (at all) since the city would be inspecting everything. This wasn’t in DC, and the builder had a solid reputation locally. It worked out fine, but I think that I might have been overly trusting back then.

    If I was in this situation now in DC, or even elsewhere with my 3 additional house sales under my belt, I would probably insist on inspecting everything too.

  • I believe in full disclosure in life. If you asked to see the bones and are told you may not, you acn only assume there is a reason for it. NEVER trust a big-builder, they know they aren’t trustwrothy, therefore no pre-drywall inspection!

    Try to do what gonzo said, if that doens’t work run while you still can. Better off out a few thousand than stuck with a lemon.

  • Get the inspection. It doesn’t matter if it is new construction – these contractors cut corners all the time and every problem down the road is just one zero after another. If they don’t agree, pull that contract.

    I’ll 2nd what others have said – if they are on the up and up, this won’t be a big deal. When I bought my house in DC 6 years ago, I had to fight to get the inspection – every seller swore that I would not find any problems….right…..

  • Better than a DCRA inspector (who I don’t think are very competent), would be a top notch GC. Any GC that’s been around the block will not only see the code violations (and know where to look) but could also give you a pretty good qualitative opinion on construction quality.

    There’s tons of stuff that “passes code” that’s pretty shoddy in terms of quality.

    So pay a good GC to do a walk through with you. It may reduce the fear on the construction firm’s part that they get nailed (fear of the unknown is a pretty normal reaction). It could be a win-win as it reduces their DCRA risk, while still providing you peace of mind.

  • Highly recommend Tim at Sentry. We had him do our home inspection when we bought our condo, and he was incredibly thorough — even crawling under the sink and pointing out where there should be extra hardware to protect the disposal feed wires. I don’t know how much crawling under the sink an informal inspection would afford, but pre-drywall a lot of it can probably be done in the open. I would also bring your camera and take lots of pictures in case there are problems later.

    Tim Bills
    Sentry Home Inspections, LLC
    [email protected]

    But to echo what folks have said, this is all kinds of sketchy but probably not unusual for a DC developer.

  • Do your homework with whatever inspector you choose to hire.

    We bought our first house a few years ago and were totally new to the process, so we didn’t know what to expect. Our inspector caught minor things, like, they should put a screen on this window. But he missed MAJOR things, like the fact that our a/c was hooked up all wrong, which lead to water damage and a big repair bill 18 months later.

    So make sure the dude/dudette is reputable and yeah, just bring him along as a friend. Good luck!

  • Thanks to everyone for the sound advice. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one that finds this behavior sketchy.

    In reference to my purchase contract: I reviewed it and there is a paragraph that states that the purchaser may request one inspection prior to closing and in addition to the final home inspection, so long as advance notice is given to the seller. Being that I orignally requested this pre-drywall inspection over two weeks ago, I think that constitutes advanced notice! Therefore, wouldn’t denying me this inspection mean they’ve breached the contract? My realtor pointed this out to the seller’s realtor, but we have yet to here word back about this.

    Lastly, my realtor suggested what so many of you have, to just show up at the “walkthrough” with my inspector!

    • let’s make it a pop happy hour! we’ll all show up.

    • So, I just recieved word back from the seller’s realtor. He said he’s willing to provide me an inspection of the property prior to the final inspection but AFTER the walls are up! For whatever reason, they are fighting tooth and nail not to allow an inspector in there prior to the drywaill being installed!

      I’d have to agree that it’s definitely time I consider pulling out of this contract.

      • yeah, FUCK THAT. something is wrong.

      • Very fishy. As you seem to know, there is all kinds of shoddiness that can be covered up with drywall. Unless you’ve got a ton of money tied up in the deposit I’d tell them “pre-drywall or the contract is void.”

  • Your the one who is going to be living in it and dealing with it day in and out. Fuck that. If your buying it you damn well have a right to inspect every single inch of it especially if the drywall isn’t up yet. THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. Contractors ALWAYS cover shit up. Even the good ones.
    We just renovated our entire house and ended up firing one and hiring another. The good one still tried to cut corners. DC is shady and DCRA is mostly incompetent and backwards in many matters. They are very inconsistent. Sometimes contractors are also in bed with the “Third Party Inspectors” so beware of that as well.

    I say show up with your inspector and demand to check it out, if they refuse then tell them “my money and I are walking”.

  • OP — Can you share the seller/developer’s name with us? And, if possible, which project it is? Thanks.

  • I think what the contractor is trying to tell you is, “You can get a good look at a butcher’s ass by sticking your head up there. But, wouldn’t you rather to take his word for it?”

    Kidding, get the inspection yourself or walk.

  • Err, it’s gotta be your bull.

    “I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.”

  • Who is the developer?

  • This is why you hire a Realtor to represent you, even in a new construction/development. You don’t pay them a dime (or usually no more than a small admin fee), the developer does, and they represent YOUR interests. Of course the dev doesn’t want you poking about before settlement.

  • Options:

    Insist on having the option of an independent inspector who is looking after your interest but be ready to maybe loose your deposit. Walk away from this if they don’t agree.

    DC inspection is not thorough – they will likely miss important things and you will find out later.

    I guess you can get a realtor to represent you but that will cost you some funds and i am not sure if it is a guarantee that the contractor will agree to an independent inspection. You have to make a cost/benefit analysis (ie.probability of loosing your deposit x amount of deposit vs. proability of realtor sucessfully negotiatin an independent inspection X fee of realtor). Of course the probabilities are going to be guestimates on your part…
    The suggestion of going with “a friend” – i am not supportive because if your “friend” provides you a full inspector report and has some serious issues but u did not disclose or got their agreement to the inspection they may question the validity of the inspection or just complicate things.

  • Are you buying without a Realtor? Usually as a buyer, you pay no fees to a Realtor so I don’t see a downside to having a buyer’s agent. They will likely be able to deal with the developer’s realtor a lot better than you can…not to mention identifying anything else suspicious in your contract. I’m sure the developer has realtors and attorneys working for them…to me it would be scary to buy without a professional to represent your interests.

  • Third Party DCRA inspections are a joke. They’re supplemental to DCRA inspectors (so in theory working on behalf of the city) but paid by the developer. When the chips are down, which side do you think they end up on?

  • That is very strange that you can’t have a dry wall inspection. You need to ask the listing agent why you can’t have an dry wall inspection. I’m suspicious about why they’re fighting so hard on this one. I have to agree Petworth Res and should use a buyers agent for any transaction. I know I’m biased but I’ve heard a lot of stories from people who didn’t use agents and had poor outcomes. Buyer agents represent your best interests not the developer, which is what you want. Good luck!

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