You’ve got a contract on your home for sale—congratulations! But before you pop the cork on the champagne, you’ve got to go through an ordeal that could make or break that sweet deal: a home inspection.
The home inspection is a contingency written into most offers, meaning that if the buyers aren’t happy with the result, they can cancel the sale without losing their earnest money deposit, or reopen negotiations and ask for a price reduction.
So it’s important to prepare yourself and your home for this important step of the process. How? Hey, we’re glad you asked! Let’s start at the beginning.
Will there always be a home inspection?
If your buyers are planning to tear down your home and build their own dream house, you might feel a pang of regret, but at least you won’t need to worry about the quality and condition of your property. These buyers are trying to get the lowest price possible and, if they think a clean contract without an inspection contingency will make them an attractive buyer in a competitive market, they’ll often forgo an inspection contingency.
But most buyers who are planning to live in your home want to know what they’re getting into. They want to know which systems work, and which don’t. They want to know how much money they’ll need to plow into the purchase, and which items you, dear seller, are willing to fix or replace to seal the deal.
The results of home inspections can give buyers peace of mind, or a tool they can use to bargain down the price. In the worst case, people with buyer’s remorse will use results of a home inspection to back out of the deal without penalty.
Sound scary? Don’t fret just yet. That first home inspection will let you know everything that’s wrong with your home. Armed with that information, you can fix problems before the next buyer shows up, adjust the price to reflect necessary repairs, or simply have a ready response when the issue comes up again.
Inspectors will look at everything
A home inspection is no quick once-over. Inspectors have a 1,600-item checklist, according to the National Association of Home Inspectors. Yep, you read that right—1,600.
“If we can get to it, we’ll inspect it,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
Here are just some of the areas of the home your inspector is checking, and what a home inspector is looking for:
- Grounds: Standing water, faulty grading, sick or dying trees and shrubs, crumbling paths and walls
- Structure: Foundation integrity, rotting or out-of-plumb window and door frames
- Roof: Defects in shingles, flashing, and fascia; loose and hanging gutters; defects in chimneys and skylights
- Exterior: Cracks or rot; dents or bowing in vinyl; blistering or flaking paint; adequate clearing between siding and earth
- Window, doors, trim: Rotting frames, peeling caulk, damaged glass
- Interior rooms: Water-stained ceilings, adequate insulation, and sufficient heating vents
- Kitchen: Proper venting, no leaks under the sink, and cabinet doors and drawers operate properly
- Bathrooms: Toilets flush properly, showers spray, and tubs are securely fastened
- Plumbing: Drains flow properly; water has proper temperature and pressure
- Electrical: Proper electrical panels and working light switches and outlets
How can you prepare?
The home inspection isn’t a test that you need to study for. But there are some things you can do before a home inspection to make the process go more smoothly.
- Clean and de-clutter your home: Yes, inspectors will look way beyond the superficial sparkle of a clean home. But you want to make sure they have easy access to attics, basements, and electrical panels—and aren’t tripping over your kids’ toys while trying to do their job. Think of it as an early start to your packing.
- Get your paperwork together: You should create a file with documentation of all maintenance and repairs you’ve done on your home. If you’ve had an insurance claim on your house, keep those papers together, too, so you can prove that you took care of the problem.
- Provide complete access to your home: Make sure you unlock gates and doors to a shed or garage that doesn’t have lockbox access.
You could consider getting a pre-inspection to eliminate any surprises; some sellers choose to hire their own inspector to give the house a once-over and point out any problems, so they can fix them before the buyer’s home inspector arrives on the scene.
But be careful with this tactic.
“It’s not a good idea,” says Bill Golden, an Atlanta-area real estate agent. “If you have five different inspectors inspect the home, you’ll get five different lists of items they’re concerned about. Just because your inspector didn’t have a problem with something doesn’t mean the buyer’s inspector won’t.”
More important, if your inspector points out a problem, you’re obligated to disclose it to buyers.
“This could be a potential turn-off to buyers,” Golden says.
Do yourself a favor, and leave
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, give the inspector your cellphone number, grab your car keys, and go to a movie or out to lunch when the home inspector shows up. Your anxiety will only make everyone uncomfortable, which isn’t a productive atmosphere during an inspection.
“Inspectors and buyers are not at all comfortable with the seller being present during an inspection,” Golden says. “They need to be able to freely inspect and discuss any and everything they come across. You may think you are being helpful by being present, but you are not; you are impeding the process.”
And don’t play eager hostess. You don’t need to set out cookies and drinks; or provide ladders and other tools the inspector needs. He’ll bring his own.
Check your ego at your own door
Buying and selling a house is a competition: Sellers want to get the highest price, and buyers want the lowest. It’s not personal—it’s business. Remember that when a home inspector presents list of problems with your home as long as your arm.
“A home inspector’s job is to point out each and every deficiency and safety violation they see,” Golden says. “Arguing with the buyers about an inspector’s findings is not helpful.”
Keep your head in the game, and solve the problem with the buyer.
“It may be agreeing to fix an item, it may mean giving them some money toward a repair, or it may simply be providing documentation,” Golden says.
And that’s where an experienced real estate agent earns his or her commission. Agents know how to interpret inspection reports, which issues are vital to address, and which are red herrings designed to reopen price negotiations.