As a listing agent or a seller, you are often busy getting documents together and signed, setting up open houses and showings, and hopefully receiving multiple offers, but another important duty is to relay to your sellers the need to make their home under contract “inspectable”. By that, I mean getting a home inspection ready so that a home inspector can get to anywhere he needs to get in the home with no hassle. Many sellers have no idea what a home inspection is nor all of the places that an inspector needs to go to provide a thorough home inspection for his client. A properly prepared seller and his agent can help make the process go smoothly.
I recently had a seller who was quite unprepared for the home inspection. I politely informed her of the inspection’s scope and the Standard of Practice that I must follow, but she had no idea that I needed to enter and inspect the attic. She also had no idea that the major kitchen appliances (dishwasher, range, etc.) needed to be tested. Due to this unpreparedness, the seller actually started screaming at me, my client (the home buyer), and the buyer’s agent. Of course, this put extra unneeded stress on the home inspection process, put all involved in an odd situation, and, I believe, gave the buyer a very bad first impression of the seller.
There are times that the buyer and myself begin the home inspection and we soon realize that the home is not in an “inspectable” condition. This can unnecessarily present a red flag to a buyer without anyone saying a word. Remember, first impressions are lasting ones. A home inspector does not move or disassemble shelving, personal items, furniture, etc. to perform the non-invasive inspection. The more clutter in the home, the tougher it is to inspect, and as you know, clutter makes the home less attractive for the prospective buyer.
Some of the most common things that make a home more difficult to inspect:
- Shelving/stored items preventing safe attic or crawl space access;
- Stored items blocking safe access to the the HVAC system, water heater, gas/water meters, fuel tank, or electrical panels;
- ‘Stuff’ under bathroom/kitchen sinks make it difficult to inspect plumbing and look for possible leaks;
- Utilities, appliances, or water/gas valves not being turned on;
- Overgrown vegetation blocking visual access to the home;
Sellers are generally not home for the buyer's inspection, so that is why preparation prior to the inspection is important. It can be difficult to access an attic through a bedroom closet if there are shelves and lots of clothes or boxes stored in the closet. Of course, I don’t want to break anything. An inspector can not visually inspect what he can not see. Some common sense needs to be used when getting a home ready for a home inspection. I even once had a seller tell me “I didn’t know you had to test the furnace”.
Another important thing to do when getting the home ready for inspection is to make sure all of the utilities and appliances are turned on and active before the inspection. An inspector can’t perform a proper inspection if there are utilities (electric, water, gas, etc.) or appliances turned off. The inspector may have no idea why a specific circuit breaker is turned off (and it may be safety reasons!), so if it is off, it remains off. All too often, a vacant home has a few circuit breakers turned off and this leads to an incomplete inspection. A home inspector should not assume he knows why a circuit breaker or gas valve is turned off and take it upon himself to turn it on.
The more that the inspector can’t inspect, the more doubt a prospective home buyer may have about proceeding with the purchase. Also, if the buyer or their lender requires a re-inspection due to inaccessible or non-functioning systems, the seller may be asked (or expected) to pay for the re-inspection. Any area or system that the home inspector can't inspect should also be clearly documented in the inspection report including a recommendation that the area/system be inspected prior to closing once the area is accessible or the system is again operational.
Some other things that a seller can do to make a home more attractive to a buyer include:
- Cutting the grass, pulling weeds, and trimming vegetation away from the home and roof;
- Repainting exterior wood, repairing rotted wood, and painting/staining a deck or porch;
- Caulking around doors and windows as well as in bathrooms;
- Provide recent (within the past 12 months) professional service records for the heating and cooling systems and change air filters regularly;
- Replacing or repairing damaged doors, windows, and screens;
- Clean and service fireplaces and/or chimneys. Chimneys tend to rarely get attention (especially when only exhausting a water heater, boiler, or furnace);
- Cleaning the gutters and extending downspouts away from the home;
- Install or replace smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and their batteries;
- Test and replace non-functioning Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) and installing where currently lacking near water sources;
- This may seem trivial, but also replace any dead light bulbs at interior and exterior lighting.
If a qualified or licensed professional performs any of these tasks, the seller should keep a paid receipt to show the buyer when and by whom the work was performed. Regular maintenance can prevent costly repairs down the road. A seller who can provide proof of regular maintenance on the home’s major systems really does stand out with their well-maintained home.
Also, if a particular system or component is not working or should not be turned on during the inspection, the buyer’s agent and the inspector should be notified prior to the inspection. Recently, I inspected a home and ran the dishwasher. Approximately 10 minutes later, the dishwasher started leaking onto the kitchen floor. I noted this fact in the report and turned off the unit. A few hours after the inspection, I received a phone call from an angry seller asking why I ran the dishwasher. I explained that the dishwasher was part of the inspection and that I was not informed that it didn’t work or should not be operated.
At another recent inspection, I found a garage GFCI that was already tripped and would not reset. I noted this in the inspection report and recommended repair. A few days later, the seller called to tell me that all of the meat in his garage freezer had thawed and expected me to pay for it. I informed him that the GFCI was already tripped once I arrived and I had no idea how long there had been no power to this circuit prior to the inspection. The tripped GFCI was a pre-existing condition prior to the home inspection even starting.
You never know when a simple to repair issue may prevent a prospective buyer from proceeding with the home purchase after the home inspection. The less the buyer has to do after closing, the more attractive the home becomes and the easier and smoother the process becomes for everyone involved.
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© 2014 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.