Brett Hodgdon, PE
How to Prepare your Home Prior to Listing it For Sale.
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
First of all, there is no such thing as a perfect home. Clients of mine often question me about how perfect my own home must be. I can assure you as I have them, my 35 year old home is not much different than my 35 year old body. It has built-in, inherent defects, lumps and bruises from my 2 and 5 year old children, and, of course, the items of deferred maintenance that I may eventually get around to dealing with. My goal with this article is to give you some information and actionable steps that will hopefully lead to a smoother, more efficient transaction when you sell your home while hopefully saving you time and money and reducing your level of stress during the process.
More often than not, home inspections are performed on behalf of the buyer in that short 30 to 45 day window between the time the house goes into contract and the day of closing. Since inspections are typically performed 5 to 10 days after the contract is signed, the window for repair and negotiation is even smaller. In some cases, there is simply not enough time to deal with some conditions that are discovered and the buyer walks or the homeowner is simply stuck writing a check at the closing table.
I am of the opinion we are performing home inspections on the wrong side of the transaction. Trust me, I get it. Why would you want to pay for an inspection when it’s the buyer’s responsibility to protect their interests? All too often, home inspection reports are used as a negotiating tool by the buyer to further reduce the sales price of the home when, in all actuality, the purpose of a home inspection and the accompanying report is to give the reader the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. This is true for you, the homeowner, as well as a home buyer. As the seller, arming yourself with the information from a Prelist Inspection is invaluable and may eliminate this second phase of negotiation that seems to becoming the trend.
Some additional advantages of performing a Prelist Inspection are…
The report can be used as an effective marketing tool in many cases. Imagine a buyer standing in your kitchen reviewing your inspection report during their initial walk through. They will have greater confidence in the condition of your home and may be more willing to make an offer knowing there are no unresolved major issues. This document also provides a medium for you to write in hand written notes of items that have been corrected an are no longer of concern.
Providing documentation from a third party inspector makes you seem more trustworthy to potential home buyers.
Reduces the likelihood of any last minute surprises.
Assists your Realtor in accurately pricing your home.
Gives you time to perform any additional investigations and make any desired improvements before listing the home or before the buyer’s home inspection.
Selling a home (and buying another one at the same time) can be a busy and stressful process. Having all the information up front should reduce your stress levels.
The buyer may rely on the Prelist Inspection potentially eliminating one or more steps in the process.
In the months leading up to listing your home for sale, there are many tasks that you can perform that are relatively simple and inexpensive. If your house is currently on the market, it’s never too late to start knocking items off a punch list that would otherwise be included in your buyer’s home inspection report. In addition, many of these same improvements will help your home show better. If you do not engage a certified home inspector to perform a Prelist Inspection, here are some areas you may want to inspect or have a friend or family member inspect on your behalf and improve in hopes of reducing the number of items identified in the buyer’s inspection report.
1. Foundation. Evaluate the foundation on both the interior and exterior of the house for cracks, signs of displacement, and water entry. Please remember that most residential foundations in our region have undergone some movement and contain some cracks. Not all cracks are the end of the world and, in some cases, are not even a result of foundation movement. If cracking or displacement is observed that is considered questionable, it would be prudent to engage the services of a Professional Engineer (PE) to determine the severity of the situation. Home inspectors and appraisers often recommend further evaluation by a PE when cracking is observed. In some cases, it can be difficult for a structural inspection to be completed after a home inspection or appraisal have been performed and within the time constraints of a typical purchase contract.
2. Framing. Evaluate the interior of the home for signs of sagging floors, drywall cracking, and doors that do not close and latch. These conditions suggest the presence of framing deficiencies and, if present, will likely be discovered during a home inspection and deferred to a PE for further evaluation. Again, time may work against you when you are up against closing. If there is a concern, the sooner a PE is engaged the better.
3. Roof Coverings. Evaluate the shingles and flashing and repair any damaged, missing, or improperly installed components. If the shingles are at the end of their service life, consider replacing the roof as this will improve the marketability of the home.
4. Roof Drainage. Clean gutters and remove debris from the roof surface. Extend downspouts so they discharge a minimum of 5 feet from and to an area that conveys water away from the foundation.
5. Decks. Evaluate the top and bottom of the structure for signs of decay, splitting wood, or loose boards. Where decay is suspected, probe the area with a flat head screw driver. If the wood is soft, decay may be present. Pay special attention to and around metal fastener and anchors for decay and signs of corrosion. Some wood preservatives can actually cause metal components to corroded and fail. Verify that flashing has been provided for the ledger board, that the ledger board is anchored to the house with bolts or lags, and that joist hangers have been provided for the floor joists. Lightly power washing and staining the wood components will not only beautify the deck but also help to extend its service life.
6. Steps & Railings. Verify that all platforms and walking surfaces that are elevated 30 inches or more are protected with a guard railing and that a handrail is provided for all stairways that contain 3 or more risers. Check stairs and railings to make sure they are secure and do not contain openings greater than 4 inches or horizontal members that can be used as a ladder by small children. These recommendations also apply to interior steps, balconies, and railings.
7. Windows. Paint and repair windows that show signs of decay, peeling paint, or chipped glazing or caulking. All openings and seams between windows and trim or wall claddings that do not contain flashing should be sealed. Repair screens that are damaged or worn. If screens are in storage, make sure your potential buyers are aware that they are present as screens are a selling feature to many buyers.
8. Siding, Soffit, and Fascia. Paint and repair wood components that are cracked, show signs of decay, or have peeling paint. Secure loose components and seal all openings and seams.
9. Lot and Grounds. Trim vegetation away from the house, walking surfaces, and exterior air conditioning equipment. Verify the yard, flower beds, and hard surfaces are sloped so that water will drain away from the foundation.
10. Garage Door. Confirm that the springs are not damaged and that the springs contain safety cables. In addition, test both automatic safety reverse features for the garage door.
(1) While the door is closing, wave your foot in front of the safety sensor located on the garage door tracks near the floor. The door should automatically reverse.
(2) While the door is closing, place approximately 15 pounds of pressure up on the bottom of the door with both hands near the center of the door. Be careful not to apply to much pressure as this can cause damage to the door and opener. If the top panel of the door is cracked or damaged, do not test this feature as you risk causing additional damage. If the door does not reverse, repair is typically as simple as making a quick adjustment to the opener. Refer to the owner’s manual for additional information and guidance.
11. Service Entrance. Evaluate the main electric service cable from the point where it attaches to the house to where it enters the house for cracks or excessive weathering. Damaged service cables will be noted on a home inspection report and should be addressed for safety reasons.
12. Breakers. Verify that all of the breakers are properly labeled.
13. Switches. Operate all switches making sure they function properly and are not loose. It is helpful to label switches that do not control something that is readily apparent. This also creates goodwill with potential buyers.
14. Lights. Replace dead light bulbs.
15. Outlets. For around $10, you can purchase a circuit tester that can test whether an outlet is grounded, contains proper polarity, and if it is protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GCFI). Test all of the readily accessible outlets to verify their polarity and the presence of a ground. Determine if the outlets on the exterior of the house, the whirlpool bathtub, and the outlets in the garage, kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, and any unfinished areas are protected by a GFCI. If a GFCI is present, test it by depressing the test button on the outlet. It is also a good practice to test all outlets in these “wet” areas with an external GFCI test device to confirm they are actually protected by a GFCI. If a GFCI is not present, consider adding GFCI protection as some home inspectors suggest this is a necessary upgrade. Have a licensed electrician repair or replace any damaged, loose, inoperative, or improperly wired outlets that are discovered.
16. Wiring. Evaluate the electrical distribution system for connections that lack junction boxes or junction boxes that lack cover plates. These are commonly found in attics, crawl spaces, and above drop ceilings in basements. Again, an electrician should be engaged to address any improperly installed electrical components.
Heat & Cooling Equipment
17. Air Filters. Replace air filters.
18. Aging Equipment. Have equipment that is 10 years old or older serviced and cleaned by a licensed professional. Documentation from this service call will help to market the home and should eliminate any potential concerns that a home inspector may have otherwise had.
19. Plumbing Fixtures. Operate all faucets and fixtures. Make sure fixtures are draining at an appropriate rate. Check below sinks, behind toilets, and in any plumbing access panels for signs of leakage. Any leaks or loose components should be repaired by a plumber or handyman.
20. Doors & Windows. Operate all doors and windows making sure they open and close smoothly and latch properly. Windows should be capable of holding their own weight when open. From the interior of the home, some exterior window components will be visible that were not previously visible from the ground on the exterior of the house. This is especially true for windows that are elevated above the ground on the exterior of the house.
21. Drawers & Cabinets. Open and close all drawers and cabinets in the house. Secure or repair any loose or damaged hardware.
22. Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarms. Review the location and age of the smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms and test the devices to confirm their operation. Most devices have a date of manufacture on their backside. Ideally, smoke alarms would be present inside each bedroom, outside of each sleeping area and on each floor and they would be interconnected so that all alarms sound if one is activated. At least one CO alarm should be provided on each floor in homes that contain gas fired appliances, a fireplace, or an attached garage. If your smoke or CO alarms are older than 10 years, they should be replaced. Additional information about smoke alarms can be found at the WV State Fire Marshal’s web page by clicking here.
23. Declutter. Follow the advice given to you by
your Realtor about staging your house to make it more appealing and seam larger. Take care where you store boxes and items that are packed and ready to be moved. The home inspector will need access to all attic and crawl space hatches, electrical panels, water heaters, and mechanical equipment.
24. Clean. Probably the most important thing you can do throughout the sales process is keep your house clean. This can be difficult considering life must continue and there will likely be more foot traffic than normal. There are a lot of emotions and feelings that go into buying a home. Walking into a clean house helps sell the idea of turn-key which is, of course, a buyers dream.
25. Appliances. All built-in appliances will be tested during a home inspection. Have any appliances that are not functioning properly repaired by a qualified appliance repair technician.