Nearly all buyers will hire a professional home inspector to take a close look at their new home before closing. In some areas home inspections are even done before the home goes under contract.
Home inspections cover numerous systems within the house, but there are a handful of hot-spots that worry buyers the most. Don't wait for inspection day to assess the condition of your home and make necessary home repairs. Small problems can turn into big headaches more quickly than you might imagine, requiring a chunk of cash to fix and perhaps lowering the home's market value.
Mold & Mildew
Mildew stains and odors scare buyers, especially now that toxic black mold is such a hot topic. Chances are you won't even get an acceptable offer if mold and mildew are present. Even if the mold in your house is the normal variety--and not stachybotrys chartarum--take care of it immediately. Kill the mold and mildew and fix the source of the problem.
Wet Basements & Crawlspaces
Mildew odors signal that a basement is too moist. Buyers and inspectors will look closely at the walls and floors for patches of mildew and signs of dampness. The home inspector will use a meter to determine how much moisture is present in these spaces, because moisture deteriorates building materials and attracts insects. Cover exposed earth in basements and crawl spaces with plastic to help keep moisture levels down.
Leaking walls in the basement may be expensive to repair. If problems exist you can consider lowering the price of the house upfront, with the understanding that the price reflects an existing problem, or give the buyers an allowance to make repairs after closing. Ask your agent or real estate attorney for advice.
The Roof & Its Neighbors
Deteriorated shingles or other roof coverings are one of the first things a home buyer or home inspector notices. If the elements underneath the shingles are moist or rotted, you can bet repairs will be requested. Fixing small leaks immediately is a number one priority.
- Clean the gutters and make sure downspouts are positioned so that water runs away from the house.
- Flashing around the base of chimneys should be watertight. Mortar and bricks should be in good condition.
Fix leaks and clogs long before the home inspection takes place. The home inspector will check water pressure by turning on multiple faucets and flushing toilets at the same time. Appliances such as dishwashers and clothes washers will be tested, too. Leaks and clogs will be apparent during these checks.
The home inspector may check the septic system. During one method dyes are flushed down a stool. The inspector waits to see if the dye surfaces on the drainfield, indicating a drainage problem.
Inadequate or Inferior Electrical Systems
The electrical panel and circuit breaker configuration should be adequate for the needs of the house. A 125 amp electrical panel works for most homes. Individual circuits should not be overloaded.
- The inspector will look for receptacles with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI) in bathrooms and kitchens. These receptacles have little test-reset buttons on them. The home inspector will likely make sure the receptacles are what they appear to be, and not "dummies" that aren't truly wired to work.
- A portion of the grounded receptacles (with 3-pronged plugs) will be checked too.
- The home inspector will be looking for safety issues, problems that exist with the current system.
- Heating and cooling systems will be checked. The home inspector will make sure they work and may make statements regarding their efficiency.
- The inspector will take a close look at the structure and foundation.
- All appliances will be checked. The inspection report may include details about smoke detectors.
Your Bottom Line
Do everything you can to get the house in good condition before you list it, but don't be discouraged if the inspection report contains negative statements. Home inspectors make note of everything they see. No home is perfect. The home inspection report is not a wish-list for buyers. Read your contract carefully - it probably states which systems should be in good working order at closing. For instance, if the roof is older, but doesn't leak, it is in good working order. If there's a leak, and fixing just the leak is possible, the roof will be in good working order. Your contract may also state that you are under no obligation to make any repairs (although the buyers can then likely withdraw from the contract). Don't feel you must comply with unreasonable demands for repairs.