Many a sale has been killed by an independent home inspector's report.
But these days, an inspection is such a common requirement that there's just no way around it. So the best thing sellers can do is prepare for a top-to-bottom property examination -- and help their home obtain as clean a bill of health as possible.
For starters, it's wise to hire your own inspector to give your house a once-over prior to putting the place on the market. That way, you can identify any problems that could become bones of contention with your buyer, and repair them ahead of time.
After that, savvy sellers will prepare their properties for the inevitable inspection by performing all those maintenance tasks they've been putting off -- fixing those items they know full well are not working properly, but have been ignoring. This also generally makes it easier for the examiner to do his job.
Inspectors are not supposed to be lulled into complacence by a clean and well-maintained house. But some professionals in the field confide that just as an organized house makes a better impression on would-be buyers, so, too, does appearance have an impact on inspectors.
"A well-maintained home does not necessarily cause the inspector to 'go lightly'," a president of the American Society of Home Inspectors once told me, "but most will look with more vigor at houses that are not so well maintained."
Not all inspectors agree. Some say that a good professional will give every house the same thorough examination, no matter what shape the house appears to be in. They say a clean, organized house will make it easier for them to do their jobs, but it won't change how they do their jobs.
Either way, it's a good idea to clear the property from all debris and obstacles so the inspector can move around easily. Remember, he or she is going to want to walk all the way around the exterior.
Many examiners will provide sellers with a pre-inspection checklist so they can be sure the house is ready. These lists contain a slew of things you can do, from repairing cracked concrete sidewalks to fixing loose deck railings.
Inside, provide clear access to the attic and the crawl space. Often, these entrances are found in closets, so be sure to move out whatever clothes, shelves or shoes necessary to allow the inspector to do his thing.
If you have a basement, clear a path around the perimeter so the inspector can check out all the walls. Ditto for a path around the furnace, air conditioner and water heater, wherever they may be located in your house. While you're at it, replace the furnace and A/C filters.
In addition, make sure all electrical outlets and switches are in good working order. If you are not getting power from an outlet, have it fixed. If a lightbulb is burned out, change it.
Take care of those little things you've learned to live with -- a drippy faucet, for example, or a small hole in the wall that one of your little darlings put there with an errant toy. Typically, these are easy to fix. But if ignored, both the inspector and the buyer will wonder what else you've disregarded.
Proper maintenance reduces the number of flaws an inspector is likely to find, which in turn reduces the impact of his or her report to the buyer. "Lots of comments" on an inspection report -- even minor comments -- equals "bad house" in many buyers' minds. But a short list will lessen your exposure to nitpicking, nickle-and-diming and low-balling.
At the same time, some examiners don't like to see too much evidence of fresh repairs. A slew of fixes and recently performed maintenance tasks suggests that the house has been poorly maintained over the long haul, one inspector told me. A typical inspection takes about three hours, during which time more than 1,600 items, inside and out, are evaluated. But the examiner can't see behind walls or under roof shingles, so recent repairs may set the inspectors' antennae to wiggling.
For example, he's obligated to report that small hairline cracks in the foundation have recently been caulked and painted over. That could be insignificant. But since the degree of risk is unknown, it could be an indication that more expensive repairs are warranted. And that could turn your buyer off.
It's never a good idea to conceal defects, major or not. Not only is it illegal in most states, it is difficult to fool the expert eye of a trained inspector. Attempting to hide house problems is just about as effective as brushing and flossing for the first time in months just before going to the dentist. Inspectors are just too good at spotting clues.
If you are not adept at significant or complicated repairs, hire a reputable contractor. It's well worth the money, inspectors maintain. It's too easy to spot amateurish, sub-par work. And by using a professional, you can provide paid receipts and warranties to prove the work has been done properly.