Writer: Allison Landa
Home inspections have a reputation for being deal killers. In fact, one out of every 20 real estate transactions hits a fatal snag along the way, and nearly a third of the ones that don’t make it to closing fall apart because of issues that turned up during the inspection, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
Although real estate is an appreciating asset, a property’s physical structure naturally deteriorates over time and requires significant upkeep. Although some problems that arise will be apparent—like a burst pipe or deep crack in the driveway—not all of the wear and tear on a home’s inner workings are visible to the naked eye.
That’s why when the time comes to sell your house, the inspection could yield surprises even if you’ve kept to a routine home maintenance schedule. It’s a nerve-wracking position to be in as a homeowner, so we’ve asked experts in the field for their top home inspection tips to help sellers prepare mentally and logistically for this step on the road to closing.
Tip #1: Trust your real estate agent to help you navigate home inspection preparations and negotiations.
After you’ve accepted an offer on your house, the buyers of the home will schedule the home inspection within about a 10-day time frame. Depending on how many times you’ve sold a house before, you may have little to no experience preparing for the home inspection and the negotiations that will follow.
Now’s the time to put your trust in your real estate agent, who, if they’re like top-selling Weston, Florida, real estate pro David Magua, have been through this time and again—approximately 391 home inspections, to be exact.
Your real estate agent should help you:
- Understand the types of home maintenance issues that are common in your area, whether it’s signs of water leakage in a region where every home has a basement, improper electrical wiring in a neighborhood of historic homes, or pest issues in warm climates.
- Craft a game plan for any repair requests—to think about whether you have time to hire contractors to fix issues yourself or offer repair credits in the event that problems do arise.
- Take the pulse of your real estate market to determine how much leverage you have as the homeowner depending on if you’re in a buyer’s market or seller’s market, and how eager prospective buyers will be to snatch up your house.
- Differentiate between minor and major home inspection findings and what constitutes grounds for negotiations (cosmetic repairs versus issues that pose a health or safety threat).
“A good listing agent’s top priority shouldn’t be to simply sell houses”, says Magua. “Yes, we’re a great concierge, but we should (also) be a wealth of information, not just in marketing the house, but in what the market does and how to get that property being marketed out of market and sold.”
Tip #2: Allow the inspector the necessary time to do their job thoroughly.
Rushing the home inspector isn’t going to do you any favors. You should expect that the process will take a minimum of 2 to 4 hours for an average home, with a general rule of an hour per 1,000 square feet. The inspection may last longer if your home is particularly old or has additional features to inspect such as a pool, shed, attic, or crawl space.
The buyer and the buyer’s agent are typically at the house during the inspection, but in most cases it’s best for the seller to leave. Have your agent communicate with the buyer’s agent about scheduling. Perhaps you can arrange for the appointment to be while you’re at work or can get everyone (including the kids) out of the house for a few hours. If you want to be present for the inspection, talk to your agent about the pros and cons. Be aware that being there may make the buyer uncomfortable.
Tip #3: Don’t leave pets behind to “help” during the inspection.
Make sure that all pets are out of the house during the time of the home inspection. Your aged Golden Retriever may be as sweet as pie, but the inspector needs the space to do the most thorough job possible. Putting pets in a kennel or bedroom and closing the door isn’t enough—they need to be completely out of the house for the duration of the inspection.
Tip #4: Leave the house in fully operational condition for the inspection.
Make sure that all utilities—gas, water, and electricity—are on, and provide the remote controls for any associated equipment such as lights or ceiling fans. This is particularly important when you’re selling a vacant home or if you’ve already moved out of the property. The inspector will want to make sure that all appliances function properly and the utilities must be on for this to happen! All this will make it much easier for the inspector to do their job as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Tip #5: Declutter to give the inspector clear access to where they need to be.
Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, points to clutter as a primary barrier between your home and an inspector’s ability to examine it.
“When things are piled up, it’s hard to see areas that the inspector needs to get to,” says Lesh. “If there’s something blocking, say, the electrical panel, like a china cabinet or a washing machine, we can’t move that stuff.”
In order to get to what inspectors call readily accessible areas—and to complete what the National Association of Home Inspectors says is a 1,600-item checklist —the inspectors first need to be able to get to those areas. “We have to be able to get the areas we need to inspect. If we can’t find it, we can’t inspect it,” Lesh said. “That’s never good because it leaves a bad feeling on the buyer’s part.”
Lesh estimated that limited access to key spaces happens “fairly often,” as frequently as one out of every five inspections. Sometimes that means the inspector can’t assess basement walls when they are blocked by stored items and stacked boxes; other times clutter prevents inspectors from accessing the home’s foundation.
Whatever the situation, the fact is that if the things that are stacked and packed in your home are keeping inspectors from doing their jobs, that’s not going to reflect well in their home inspection report.
Tip #6: Get familiar with the types of things home inspectors look for—and mentally prepare for a laundry list of issues.
Home inspection reports, which document the home inspector’s findings, are long and detailed—and (if you get your hands on a copy as the seller) will likely make you feel like your house is falling apart. The reality is many of the things on the report won’t ruffle any feathers—like cobwebs in the crawl space. The things that you should be prepared to remedy or negotiate on are the big ticket items that pose a safety or health issue or constitute a building code violation.
Review our complete guide on what home inspectors look for, which at a high level includes:
- Signs of water damage
- Issues that threaten the home’s structural integrity
- Damage to the roof
- Problems with the home’s electrical system such as faulty wiring
- Plumbing issues whether it be corroded or leaking pipes
- HVAC age and functionality
Tip #7: Weigh the pros and cons of a pre-inspection.
A pre-inspection is a home inspection arranged for by the seller before listing the house for sale.
The pre-inspection allows the seller to fix-up issues that would come up in the buyer’s inspection at closing, putting them in a position of strength during negotiations. “If you can solve a lot of the inspection negotiation up front, it just solves a whole gamut of problems,” Magua said.
“Don’t wait. You need to start addressing possible issues (early). … I actually send out my inspectors and do a pre-inspection prior to us even getting a contract.”
The things that sellers often get ahead on the pre-inspection include corroded plumbing—a major issue for older homes in the U.S.—as well as the use of polybutylene piping in homes built between 1992 and 1998. While this material was popular at the time of construction, it is now believed to react poorly with oxidants in the public water supply, resulting in flaking, scaling, brittleness, and the eventual failure of the pipes.
Magua estimated that the polybutylene problem arises in 10% of the transactions that make up his client load, which in turns affects the buyer’s ability to obtain home insurance as well as the overall salability of the property.
“So we make them aware of these things (through a pre-inspection) so that they don’t become issues,” he said, adding that any work that is done prior to the final inspection must be well permitted and documented to allay buyer fears.
However, there are also drawbacks that come along with a pre-inspection. First, they can open up a Pandora’s Box of problems and potentially cause you to spend money on things buyers would have let go. Keep in mind that if you do get a pre-inspection, you are legally required to disclose these results to your buyer’s agent.
Lack of standardization is also an issue here—one inspector may find things that another inspector might not and the remedies offered are also not standard. There’s no way to tell if your pre-inspection will uncover the same things as an inspection later down the road, or if it will uncover more issues than a later inspection might find.
If you do decide on a pre-inspection, make sure you leave out a copy during open houses so that buyers can see you’ve done your due diligence in finding issues. Also, only do a pre-inspection if you’re willing to fix what an inspector finds, you don’t want to uncover issues only to place them in a buyer’s lap.
The cost of a pre-inspection is also covered by a seller, whereas the buyer’s inspection is the responsibility of the buyer. The national average cost of a home inspection is $315, though fees can range depending on home’s location and size, among other factors.
Tip #8: Understand how prior remodeling may affect the inspection.
Unfortunately, not everything that is revealed during a pre-inspection is easily fixed. This applies to prior work that has been done on the property.
“Sometimes everything will be accessible, but someone comes and remodels,” Magua said, adding that basements can be particularly problematic. “They’ll put in some paneling or something, but we need to remove the front cover … and if they framed around it, where you could open the door to check the circuit breakers, that’s okay for the homeowner, but not for the inspector.”
Lesh added that when these issues arise, they are not the fault of the seller, but the seller will need to deal with it nevertheless.
“That happens a lot,” Lesh said. “It’s the guy who did the remodeling, but they don’t look at it that way. They do it and they’re gone. … Nobody’s going to know until the inspector gets there, and if the inspector has to come back, there’s going to be a second charge.”
Tip #9: Don’t try to conceal known issues.
Seller resistance can be an issue when it comes to finding and fixing potential problems prior to a home inspection. “We’ve got guys who maintain things very well. Everything looks perfect,” Magua said. “They think their home is perfect and then there are things that come up.”
Instead, he said, it’s better to face facts and deal with known issues before they are uncovered by a professional home inspector. This is especially important in a balanced or buyer’s market. Instead of jumping at the first opportunity to purchase a property, Magua is seeing buyers paying for multiple inspections at different homes—and if the seller refuses to negotiate, the buyers move on.
In the interim, Lesh said, proper maintenance on a home before it even goes on the market is one of the best ways to prevent snags come inspection time. Primary amongst routine maintenance is changing the furnace filter, cleaning gutters, and making sure that the downspouts that come from the gutters extend away from the home.
“Maintenance of a home is really important,” he said. “And unfortunately, a home does not have a check-engine light. It has to be checked and conscientious things have to be done.”