Getting your home under contract can bring a huge sigh of relief, but one of the most important steps that soon follows is the home inspection. Most sellers worry about what might be found on the inspection, nervous that a buyer will walk away or that they will be faced with unexpected additional expenses. While the steps below won’t address major issues that will show up on an inspection, many of the issues reported are ones that could easily have been remedied during a weekend spent with a few tools, light bulbs and cleaning supplies. For many buyers, the sheer number of minor items on the report may cause unnecessary concern.
Following these ten steps to prepare for a home inspection may mean the difference between placing a “Back on the Market” or a “SOLD” sign in the yard.
ONE – CLEAN, PACK AND THROW AWAY
Clean the house. While this may seem obvious, its importance cannot be over-stressed. Cleaning involves more than running a vacuum cleaner through the open pathways around furniture. Although the home should have been prepared for showings by de-cluttering and removing unnecessary pieces of furniture, it is especially important to do this before the home inspector arrives. Areas around the furnace or water heater tend to collect seldom used items. Not only do these items present a possible safety and fire hazard, they also make a nice home for unwanted pests. Don’t stop with the house, but prepare for your move by cleaning and getting rid of things you no longer need from the attic and garage. The garage can become a pre-staging point for the move with mountains of boxes, but this prevents the inspector from being able to do a thorough pest and termite inspection. After removing items and packing them away, or tossing them, clean these areas and remove spider-webs. Making areas of the garage, attic and mechanical areas accessible will allow the inspector access to do a quality inspection, and it will likely improve his mood.
TWO – BRIGHTEN UP THE PLACE
If the home inspector flips the switch and the light doesn’t come on, they likely won’t take the time to replace the bulb. Instead, they may note that the light wasn’t operational at the time of the inspection and may not work. Go throughout your house and replace bulbs that are out. Don’t just look in the rooms, but check closets, the refrigerator, the attic, and the vent hood. Sometimes owners grow accustomed to a room that gradually dims, so check all multi-bulb fixtures, such as chandeliers and bathroom fixtures, to make sure that every bulb works. Before you leave for the inspection, turn all the lights on.
THREE – LIGHT A FLAME
Make sure all the pilot lights are ignited, especially a gas fireplace or pool heater that may have been turned off for the winter. Again, the inspector will likely not take the time to light them, but will instead make a note that they are not operational. If your home is vacant, it is especially important to make sure that the gas heat or gas range are ready to light up. If you have an induction cooktop, make sure to leave a pot on the cooktop with a note that the pot needs to be on the burner for it to be operational.
FOUR – CLEAR THE AIR
If you pay for a twice-yearly HVAC service, schedule your service technician to come out prior to the home inspection. During the routine service, the HVAC technician will be able to identify and correct any minor issues and make sure all switches are on. Leave a copy of the report on the table for the home inspector to see. Clean all return air filters by removing the metal grate and spraying it off with a water hose, replacing the filter with a fresh one.
FIVE – WATER WAYS
Many reports contain descriptions of leaky faucets or toilets that run. Do a careful inspection of each faucet, making sure that the handles are tight and the faucets don’t drip. Look under the sinks or cabinets for signs of condensation or water, which can be an indication that there is a leak. Check the showers to make sure that water comes from the shower head itself and not the connection between the pipe and the shower head. Flush all toilets and make sure that they fill correctly. Clean the bowls of the toilets to remove any rings or stains. Make sure that toilets aren’t leaking by flushing and then wiping the floor around them with a paper towel. If it is damp, or if you suspect the toilet may be leaking, you can flush a can of colored soda down the toilet to see if it spreads to the floor area around the seal. Check all bathtubs and sinks to make sure they drain easily, and run the disposal to make sure that it works and sounds right. A loud or irregular sound can cause the buyer to ask for a new disposal when it only requires the removal of a small item of debris. Check the irrigation system to make sure there are no loose or broken heads. These are often easy to fix yourself. Just unscrew the head and take it to a home improvement store for help finding a replacement. While replacing a toilet seal or disposal may be a task for many DIY-ers, if it puts you out of your comfort zone, it’s better to call a plumber to address any issues before the inspection, instead of after.
SIX – LET THE AIR IN
Check garage door openers to make sure that the safety sensor (which prevents the garage door from closing on a car or person) works properly. Often, a loose wire or pile of boxes can make the sensor fail to operate. Open all windows three times each to provide for smooth operation. Windows may be flagged as difficult to operate simply because they haven’t been opened in years. If windows have a tilt feature, make sure they operate correctly. Replace any torn or missing weatherstripping. You can buy this by the roll or strip at a home improvement store, and it is usually easy to push in or install. Make sure that all sliding doors glide open easily.
SEVEN – CRACK OUT THE CAULK
Inspect all crown and trim for separation from the wall. Recaulk all the cracks and touch-up the caulked areas with paint. Inspect the caulk in showers and tiled areas in the bathroom. Check the grout and caulk for signs of mildew, and use a mildew removing cleanser or grout cleaner to bring back a fresh appearance to grouted area. Check the walls for noticeable gouges or dents and smooth them over with a repair compound or mud and apply touch-up paint. Step outside and look for exterior wood that shows initial signs of rot. If you find it, caulk and repaint with an exterior paint. If the rot has progressed, you may need to call a handyman to replace the wood. Rotting exterior wood will not only show up on a home inspection, but it may also be flagged by the appraiser, who will require it to be fixed prior to closing.
EIGHT – TIGHTEN THINGS UP
Grab a screwdriver and wrench and tighten up things that are loose, including door knobs, cabinet knobs and toilet seats. Make sure that all doors open smoothly without dragging the carpet. It may be that the screws on the interior hinge are loose or missing. Check all the light switches and plugs for missing or loose plates. While you are flipping switches, make sure that all the exhaust fans work and run smoothly. Don’t forget to check the handles on appliances.
NINE – STEP OUTSIDE
Check the outside of your home for areas that are overgrown by trees or bushes. Home inspectors often suggest that overgrown shrubs or trees that touch the house be trimmed or cut back. Check the exterior faucets to make sure that they are operational and sweep patios or sidewalks to remove leaves and piles of brush. Check the gutters for leaves and debris that may prevent them from being operational. Check any built-in grills or outdoor cooking equipment to make sure they light. Check porches and sidewalks for loose or missing bricks. Safety comes first, so call a professional if you need a tall ladder or help.
TEN – THE KEYS TO SUCCESS
Make sure that you leave the home inspector keys to all items that might be locked, such as attic access doors, storage closets or an electrical panel. Home security or communications panels and irrigation system control boxes may also be keyed. Stick the key in the keyhole or provide a ring of marked keys. Leave keys for all doors so that the deadbolts and knobs may be tested. If you have manuals and repair or maintenance documents for appliances or mechanical systems, place them in a file or a 3-ring notebook. You’ll want to collect these to pass them on to the new owner.
Many of the suggestions above should be followed prior to placing the home on the market as they improve the appearance of the home, attracting buyers. Continuing to maintain these items during the listing period will make the days between going under contract and welcoming the home inspector a bit less stressful.