The very idea of a home inspection can strike fear in the hearts of sellers but for buyers it’s a good way to learn everything you can about the home you are about to buy. The buyer pays for the home inspection and it is the inspector’s job is to discover all the flaws and faults of a home (real or perceived) then neatly detail them with pictures and descriptions in a written report for the buyer. It’s a great idea, in theory, but sometimes an inspection report can create controversy and cause unnecessary problems between a buyer and a seller. With a proactive seller and a fair-minded buyer, though, both parties can come through the process and head towards the closing table without too much drama.
What do sellers need to know?
As a seller, no matter how diligent you are, there is no way you will ever know everything about your home so you may as well anticipate that the inspector is going to find things. That’s what they are paid to do. Sometimes, those “things” are significant like termite damage, water intrusion, faulty wiring, leaky plumbing, structural issues, or a high radon reading. Other “things” you will likely see are a lot less scary like a door that sticks, a loose railing on a deck, a missing face plate on an electrical plug, or a light that doesn’t work. Big or small, the more things that show up on an inspection report the greater the anxiety level for the buyer. They are looking for some degree of assurance that they are buying a home that isn’t going need a lot of repairs right away and if the report shows a long list of things that need to be done, it can cause them to second guess their decision and no one wants that to happen. Sometimes, though a buyer’s expectation can be unreasonable and that’s when a good buyer’s agent should step in and help guide their client. Sellers can short circuit this anxiety, though, by making sure the home has as few defects as possible and it begins with a note pad and a walk around your home.
2. Check your plumbing. Do any faucets drip? Do you notice any clogged or slow draining sinks? Do all your outside faucets work? You may consider paying for a plumbing company to come inspect your home for you in advance to look for any damaged pipes, leaks, and especially water intrusion and get any problem areas taken care of before the home inspection.
3. Change all your air conditioning filters. If it’s been a while since you’ve turned your A/C or heat on, give it a test. Does everything heat and cool as it should? Like your plumbing, if it’s been a while since you have had your HVAC system serviced, now would be a good time to do that so you can take care of anything that might show up on the report.
4. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace the batteries and make sure they work.
5. Check for burned out light bulbs. Sounds simple, but if a light doesn’t work, it will show up on the inspection report even if it is nothing more than a burned out bulb. The inspector’s report won’t indicate why a light doesn’t work, only that it doesn’t.
6. The tougher things to detect on your own are on the exterior and found in places you probably don’t visit often like the crawl space or the attic. On the exterior you want to look for any soft wood, a damaged shingle or a roofing nail that has popped up, a loose gutter, a loose flange around the chimney. If you have a good handy man handy, do a preemptive inspection for those things and repair them. Structural issues are a little different. We recently had a seller who was required to install squash blocks in his floor joists. If you aren’t a builder you probably would not know what those are or why they are important, but it’s the kind of thing a home inspector will point out and something a buyer will likely expect you to repair.
7. Look for any potential pests like ants, termites, bees, hornet nest. Treat if in doubt.
8. Look for any signs of water intrusion. Water can come from a number of sources and it’s never good. If you don’t know what to look for or if you don’t like poking around in your crawl space, add it to the list of things for a handy man or your plumber to look for.
Whatever repairs you decide to make be sure to keep receipts so you can demonstrate that the work has been done. Not every job requires a licensed professional, but if the repair involves a roof, plumbing, or anything structural, it’s a good practice to hire someone who is.
A word or two for buyers
Home inspection reports were created to give the buyer an opinion on the overall condition of the home and help them identify potential problems. They were never intended to be a big stick that you use to beat up a seller over every defect in a home. Unfortunately that is how some buyers approach it. Yes, a buyer can ask a seller to repair anything or everything on the report but a seller is under no obligation to repair anything. This is where it gets a little tricky because in North Carolina a buyer can bail out on a contract during the due diligence period for any reason at all and a inspection report with a lot of recommended repairs can be just the ticket out. It is certainly reasonable to ask a seller to make certain repairs or ask for a credit so you can make those repairs yourself but if a seller has agreed to a buyer’s offer that is far below the home’s real value, it’s reasonable to expect that a seller may be less inclined to be generous with what they will repair.
The bottom line?
Sellers, be proactive. Prepare for the inspection by identifying as many issues as you can and addressing them before the inspection. Buyers, be reasonable. Every home has issues. Even a brand new home. So as my mother used to say “pick your battles”. If there is a significant repair that is needed, work with the seller to determine the best way to deal with it and don’t sweat the small stuff. With a proactive seller and a reasonable buyer, there is no reason why both parties can’t meet at the closing table with little or no drama.