Cara Ameer, a top-producing broker associate from Northeast Florida, writes about working with buyers and sellers, sticky situations and real estate marketing in her regular Inman column that publishes every other Wednesday.
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It is one of the most heart-stopping moments in real estate. The home inspection. Buyers are nervous about them, agents loathe them and sellers fear them. The mere thought of an inspector crawling around a house for hours sends everyone involved in the transaction into a tailspin.
Worry runs through the buyer’s and listing agent’s heads — what will they find? What if it’s something serious? Are the sellers hiding something? What if I’m buying a money pit?
On the seller side of the aisle, they believe their home is in great shape, and they don’t think there is anything major that should come up (and the listing agent hopes so too). Fingers crossed and lots of “hoping” that all will be OK.
Successful real estate transactions don’t depend on hope and prayers. They are about creating certainty and confidence. There is no reason a seller should be scared about a home inspection.
In fact, they should make it their mission to know and have documented their homes’ condition by their own inspector before any buyer’s home inspector crosses their path.
Nevertheless, the inevitable is going to happen with a buyer’s inspector examining the inside and outside of the home, so here’s how to best prepare sellers for this marathon event.
1. Get a pre-listing inspection
I explained why in “7 reasons pre-listing inspections are an absolute must,” and I’ll explain it again. Knowledge is power. After several weeks or months on the market and all that was involved to procure the buyer and reach agreement, why risk having a home sale fall apart because of unknown inspection issues that could have been easily discovered, disclosed as well as addressed?
For a few pointers on how to talk to sellers about the advantages of pre-listing inspection, click here.
2. Clean and service the HVAC
When was the last time the seller had this done? This is an easy one to take care of. Before putting the home on the market, have the HVAC thoroughly checked, coils cleaned, adjust freon levels if needed, and change the filter.
3. Make the attic, basement and garage accessible
The seller has hopefully done some organizing and cleaning of these areas before putting the home on the market, but if not, these spaces must be accessible to the inspector.
This is not the time to say “oh well,” they’ll figure it out. Guess what? Due to liability reasons, an inspector is not going to touch or move the sellers’ belongings in any way.
If they can’t get to the items they need to check, the inspection cannot be completed, and there will be frustrated buyers and selling agents. The inspector will have to return once those things are done and might charge for an additional trip to do so. This means scheduling another appointment with the seller and the listing agent might need to be present for access.
Ditto for the buyer if they wish to be there, but that might not be possible if they don’t live nearby or are trying to juggle with work schedules.
4. Flip every light and fan switch
This one is pretty basic, but it always amazes me how often lights and ceiling fans don’t work. Check to make sure all ceiling and wall lights are operational and any fans turn on from either the wall switch or the remotes (if applicable).
Make sure all remotes are accessible and operational and have new batteries in them so the inspector can thoroughly check all components. I’d advise labeling anything that could be potentially confusing.
If a fan or light only operates by pulling a chain, please make sure that the selling agent and inspector know this.
5. Find all the remotes
If there are other remotes that operate other items in the home — gas fireplace, electric shades, fountains, sound systems, fountains, pools, in-ground spas, jacuzzis, etc., make sure that all are out for the inspection, clearly labeled as to what they go to and with instructions on how to operate them.
Don’t assume that an inspector should or would know.
6. Make sure the fireplace is in working order
If a seller’s fireplace is gas, is it operational, and is there gas available to turn it on? I have seen many a gas fireplace that could not be inspected because the seller never had it hooked up to a propane tank, had never used it, had no idea if there was gas in the tank and couldn’t recall when the last time, if ever, it was filled.
Double-check this before going on the market, and make sure that the seller’s disclosure adequately discloses if the seller has ever used it.
A seller will need to make sure it can be tested during an inspection, which could mean filling up the propane tank when putting the home on the market. Consider bringing in a gas appliance contractor to check it before selling the home.
Also, when was the last time the fireplace was cleaned? The seller should consider having the chimney swept and checked as well. There are often chimney caps that have become rusted over time.
7. Check the pool equipment
If the seller’s home has a pool, have a pool company come out to check, test and service all equipment. Rarely does a pool not have some component that needs attention.
If the pool has a heater, it should be checked as well. Many sellers have never used the pool heater that came with their house when they bought it as the prior seller never did either, thus one non-functioning pool heater gets kicked from one homeowner to the next, who never does anything about it.
The cost to replace one is typically pretty pricey, and it usually turns into money sellers don’t want to spend as there are other things to deal with. If it doesn’t work or never worked, make sure the seller discloses that upfront to avoid any issues with a buyer negotiating a new heater post-inspection.
8. Have the sprinkler system checked
This is another area that is often problematic on inspections. Sellers should check their sprinkler heads to ensure nothing is hitting the house or is broken or damaged from lawn equipment.
Make sure to leave instructions on how to operate and test the sprinkler system for the inspector and what to return the settings to. There is nothing worse than sellers returning home after an inspection who don’t realize that their sprinkler system was not returned to the original settings and wants to dispute potential water bill costs or the lawn condition with the home inspector who last touched it.
9. Open, close and lock every window
When was the last time sellers checked all of their windows to ensure they opened and closed properly? What about opening the blinds or shutters to actually look at the glass? Are any of the panes fogged or cracked? What about the screens? Are they worn, torn or missing?
Lastly, look at the window sills and surrounding drywall for any signs of leaks or moisture. If anything is found, you will need to get to the root cause before going on the market.
Caulking is also important when it comes to windows as with weather and time, caulk can become worn and brittle. With the chaos of everyday life, it can be easy to forget about all of the windows, especially those you don’t notice driving in and out of your home every day.
10. Look at caulking and grout
Speaking of caulking, when was the last time all showers and baths were recaulked? Ditto for regrouting if necessary. All of this should be checked before the home goes on the market so baths appear neat, clean and refreshed.
11. Special instructions
Although inspectors have basic knowledge of how to operate most things in a home, do not assume they know everything no matter how old or modern.
Each home has things specific to each property and some houses are more techno or state-of-the-art than others. If there is something that requires a few steps or is quirky, it’s helpful to leave instructions on how to turn something on and off.
The inspector will appreciate the information, and there will be less chance of something that works just fine being written up because they couldn’t figure it out.
Also, while inspectors are supposed to take note of how certain things were left before they change them, be sure to leave instructions reminding the inspector how you would like things left.
They are not mind readers, and there is a lot going on with documenting numerous items, taking photographs and explaining things to the buyer and agent present, which could leave room for something not being returned to its original state.
Inspectors are typically very cautious when testing or operating something they aren’t sure how to work as they are liable if they aren’t able to return something to its original condition.
By doing a little legwork ahead of time, a seller will be better prepared to take on any inspector no matter how novice or experienced they may be.