10 Easy Steps to Prepare Your Home for a Home Inspection
-Checking these ten areas for needed repairs can streamline the home inspection process and save you time (and money) in the negotiation stage
Spring is right around the corner... really, it is! Combine that with a lack of quality homes currently for sale here in Central Maine, and that makes right now a great time to list your home. So, you've made the decision to sell and you have hopefully enlisted the help of a great Real Estate Agent. What can you do to help make a good first impression on potential buyers, justify your sale price and streamline the inevitable home inspection process? These are ten areas of concern I see every day that could easily (and inexpensively) be remedied prior to the buyer's home inspection:
1. Exterior - Head out and enjoy some crisp, clean Maine winter air. Do a perimeter walk around your home to check for overhanging tree branches, dead trees that could fall and overgrown shrubs against the walls of the home. Any trees and shrubs that are impeding on the home now, will certainly be much more evident in a couple months when they begin to fill back in. Also, check on the home's drainage system for blockages. Underground drains still operate even in the winter and you will want to make sure there are no blockages, especially as we are heading to the wet spring season when these drains work overtime.
2. Roof - Take a look up onto the roof (a pair of binoculars might help). Are there any missing or damaged shingles that may need to be patched? Are the gutters in need of repairs? Is there a rain cap on the chimney? The majority of the chimneys I see do not have a cap installed to shield the open flues from rain, snow, leaves and critters. A chimney cap is an inexpensive and easy upgrade, but may require the assistance of a professional or handy-person to install it safely!
3. Doors and Windows - Continue your walk around, checking all storm doors, exterior doors and windows. Most doors and windows require some sort of regular maintenance to help keep the outside out and the inside in. Usually this includes sealant around the edges. Most sealants only last around five years and you want to make sure yours isn't cracked and peeling. Speaking of cracked and peeling...check the wood trim while you are at it for cracked and peeling paint. This is a big hang-up for appraisers of government-backed loans like FHA and VA.
4. Decks and Stairs - As you head back inside, be sure to check over the exterior stairs and decks for areas needing repairs. Missing or broken deck boards and loose stair treads are a safety concern and common problem. Check for a secure, proper and safe handrail/guardrail system. Decks over 30 inches from the ground need to have a guardrail. Steps or stairs requiring four or more steps to climb, need to have a handrail. All of the rails should be enclosed so that a four inch sphere cannot pass through at any point. P.S. These same rules apply for interior stairs and balconies!
One last thing before we head back inside... this will be part of the electrical section later, but while you are still outside... check the exterior electrical receptacles for proper Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protection and a weather-proof cover. Okay, now head inside and get warm!
5. Attic - Let's start at the top. Attics can be a silent "deal-killer" in the home. Many problems in the attic go unnoticed for years, because most people rarely, if ever, go up there. Without adequate ventilation and insulation, warm moist air can get trapped in the attic area and a widespread layer of mold will form on the underside of the roof sheathing. This unsightly phenomena can send even the most love-struck home buyer running, once discovered by the home inspector. However, advances in technology and building science have made this problem relatively easy and inexpensive to mitigate and prevent from happening again. (If only the mental image was so easy to erase from the buyer's mind!) Mold mitigation companies can have it cleaned up in no time and increasing insulation levels and air movement will prevent it from returning. Your Real Estate Professional can help you find a contractor to help with mitigation if you find mold in your attic. See an example of attic mold here
6. Plumbing - Another common hidden problem area is under sinks (and other plumbing appliances). Open up the cabinet and really get in there to see what is happening. Run both the hot and cold water, as high as it will go. Climb under and check for leaks from the water supply lines and the drains. Give everything a good "wiggle" to see if anything is loose. Yeah, you might create a small leak when you start shaking things around, but I am just going to do it once I get there anyway! Better to find it and fix it now. Also, be sure to check toilets. Is there any leaking on the floor around them? How about the water supply to them? Are the toilets secure to the floor? Check dishwashers, washing machines, bathtubs (especially that big garden whirlpool that only gets operated every 3 months) and showers. Go into the basement or crawlspace and look under these appliances for signs of leaking.
7. Electrical - Many electrical defects in the home can easily go unnoticed. And, although a defect may be right there in plain sight, it may not be obvious to an untrained eye. There are, however, some rather easy electrical items to check on prior to listing your home. Operable smoke alarms (combination Smoke/Carbon Monoxide detectors in my opinion) should be installed on each floor of the home including basements and attached garages, in all sleeping areas and near all combustion appliances such as boilers, furnaces, fireplaces, woodstoves and gas heaters. Check all electrical receptacles, switches and junction boxes for cover plates. Make sure that any electrical receptacle within six feet of a plumbing source has GFCI protection (don't forget about the receptacle near the washing machine!). Ensure that the area surrounding the electrical service panel is clear and accessible. There should be a minimum 3 foot "imaginary force-field" around the service panel of clear space. Look at the sides and bottom of the electrical panel and open the door that covers the breakers. Do you see any holes or gaps that could allow a person to put their finger inside the panel? If so, most home improvement stores carry small rubber or plastic covers which can easily be installed to fill the gap. Also remember the exterior GFCI receptacles we checked while outside!
8. Heating System - When was the last time the heating system was serviced, cleaned or repaired? There should be a written record of this information and it should be readily accessible near the heating system. If the heating system is due (or especially if it is overdue) for a service and cleaning, you should have your HVAC technician in prior to putting the house on the market. Most buyers (unless they are "from away") are well aware of heating systems and even an untrained eye will notice a boiler that is corroded and dirty or actively leaking. Have the chimney(s) evaluated and cleaned if necessary. Rinnai, Monitor and other brand room heaters have screen filters in the back that should be cleaned. Also, be sure there is plenty of fuel in the storage tanks so that potential buyers and inspectors can test operate all of the heating sources in the home. You will be compensated for any unused fuel at closing anyway, so filling the tanks won't be money wasted.
9. Appliances - Now is the time to decide which appliances will "convey" (be included with the sale of your home). All of these appliances should be thoroughly cleaned and tested before you list. By "testing", I mean running them through all cycles and really paying attention to what is going on with the appliance. We, as homeowners, can become accustomed to strange noises or "quirks" with our appliances that buyers will be very conscious of. Run the oven and cooktop on all settings, test the range hood exhaust and light, run the dishwasher through a complete cycle (opening it occasionally to look inside at what is happening), check refrigerator door seals, run the washing machine and check for leaking or strange noises, and run the dryer. Does the dryer vent to the exterior and is the warm, moist air actually making it to the outside, or is it clogged? Appliances can be finicky and require maintenance. Nobody wants to postpone a closing or have a deal fall through due to a leaking dishwasher.
10. Basement - Finally, we made it to the other end of the home. Basements, especially here in Maine, can range from a superior selling point with bonus living space and great light to a deep, dank dungeon that you have not been into for years. Mine tends to fall towards the dungeon end of the spectrum, but I am working on that! You HAVE to go down there prior to listing and take a look around, buyers probably will. And I, as the inspector, most certainly will. What are you looking for? Moisture, first and foremost. Some minor moisture in the basement is unavoidable and relatively harmless. But, excessive moisture can lead to damage and mold and can usually be avoided. Check if there is a sump pump installed and if it is working. Check under bathrooms and kitchens for leaks coming from above. Look at the top of the foundation walls for ground level moisture staining. Ground level water is usually due to poor grading around the home or even a leaking gutter or downspout. Check around the base of the chimney... is moisture coming in from the chimney clean out due to that missing rain cap we discovered outside? Or, is it coming from a leaking fitting on the boiler? Look up at the floor framing above... are there any broken or missing framing members? Or, is there any mold developing on the joists, sheathing or insulation due to moisture? Even if you have a beautifully finished basement, you are not off the hook. Check the lower wall areas and ceilings for signs of moisture. Make sure there is proper fire safety and means of egress for any sleeping rooms in the basement. Sleeping rooms should have an operable smoke alarm and two exits for egress, typically a door and at least a 5.7 square foot window that is no more than 44 inches from the floor. Your Real Estate Professional will be able to help you determine if a basement room will qualify as a sleeping room.
In my opinion, most of the issues I see on a daily basis can be avoided by taking a long look around your home with a different mindset than that of day-to-day life. When you take this walk around, and through, your home, put yourself in the shoes of the buyer. What would you be looking at and concerned with if you were looking to purchase your home? Most of the areas listed here can be repaired or remedied inexpensively and without the help of a professional. Other things may not fall into the DIY category, and that is okay. You will reap the rewards of the investment into your home when you start receiving multiple, full price offers and move more smoothly through the inspection process!