Fall is here, which means the kids are back in school, Halloween and Thanksgiving are on the horizon—and if you’re planning to put your home on the market before the end of the year, you only have a few months left.
The good news?
Fall’s moderate weather is the ideal time to tackle those home-maintenance projects that got away from you in the spring. You’ll not only make your home cozy for the winter months but increase your home’s value for potential buyers, says the National Association of Realtors and seasoned experts like Tommy Mack, a real estate agent in the top 1% of agents in Key West, Fla., for six years.
Florida’s tropical climate might seem to have little in common with, say, New England’s array of foliage, but fall maintenance here is no less vital, Mack said.
“It’s leading into winter, which is our peak season for sales and rentals. So it’s very important to prep in the fall and in the summer to have your house in as tip-top shape as it can be.”
Here are the top 10 items consistently recommended by real estate experts that you should put on your fall home maintenance checklist, regardless of where you live:
Landscape the yard, and prune as needed
Pressure wash and treat the exterior
Seal the deck, fix gates, and store or cover outdoor furniture and equipment
Clean gutters and downspouts
Inspect windows, doors, weatherstripping, and trim
Check the heating system, chimney, and fireplace
Prep the plumbing and drainage systems
Inspect the insulation and ventilation
Guard against unwanted pests
Handle minor repairs
Let’s dive into each of these as a youngster might a pile of fresh leaves.
1. Landscape the yard, and prune as needed
Landscaping is a huge factor in fall preparations—and it also happens to get you the maximum appraisal value if you’re trying to sell your house during the fall. A study from the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Landscape Professionals found that a standard lawn care program is the number-one project that appeals to buyers, recovering an estimated 303% of the cost—and that’s even before upgrades such as a patio or deck.
“That appraiser pulls up and sees a yard immaculately taken care of, that adds to the value,” Mack said. “There’s no peeling paint, no wood rot, no evidence of any sort of wear and tear or deferred maintenance … that adds up thousands of dollars quickly.”
Late fall is a great time to prune trees and shrubs, so limbs don’t scrape against roofs and siding, trap moisture near the house, or drop on your roof during severe weather. Pruning now allows plants to recover before they bloom again in the spring.
Cut the grass as long as you can so that you run your lawn mower until it’s out of gas. Gas left in the tank for months can degrade or form deposits that block the fuel line or affect the mower’s performance.
2. Pressure wash and treat the exterior
You might not need to pick up a paintbrush to freshen the outside of your home. A good pressure wash or power wash can take years off the exterior without much hassle.
“You don’t want buyers or renters coming to look at the house with six inches of road dust on your front porch. If it’s in good shape paint-wise and construction-wise, a good power wash makes all the difference on that first impression,” Mack said.
Pressure wash the sidewalks and gutters to remove leaves and other debris that can cause landscaping issues, added one of the top contractors in Key West, Heath Finley of P2 Squared Construction.
For instance, the Royal Poinciana tree in South Florida produces gorgeous red blooms and a canopy of about 50 feet in diameter. However, “the leaves are very acidic. They leave a red dye on decks,” Finley said.
If you live in an area prone to moss, such as the Northwest, put “apply moss-killing granules or a liquid solution to your roof” on your fall home maintenance checklist, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Use the granules especially made for roofs, which do not contain iron, and apply them in a bead along each side of the ridge. Once it rains, the granules will dissolve, spreading the moss-killing agent uniformly.
3. Seal the deck, fix gates, and store or cover outdoor furniture and equipment
Outdoor furniture and equipment tends to take a beating once the temperatures drop, so use the fall’s mild weather to your advantage. Seal your deck, and fasten any loose boards with galvanized deck screws.
If you have a wooden fence, check its alignment and how the gate works. Wood shrinks and expands as the humidity changes, creating loose hinges and slants.
Pick up and put away any furniture or lawn equipment that could be damaged by cold or snow.
Disconnect any hoses from outside faucets, allowing the pipes to drain completely, preventing a slow leak in the wall, and keeping the hose from splitting.
(If you have an older home that doesn’t have a self-draining spigot, you may have to turn off a valve in the basement or crawl space near the pipe that goes outside.)
4. Clean gutters and downspouts
No matter where you live, cleaning out the gutter is a must. Gutter debris traps standing water, which in colder climates can freeze and seep under the shingles or into the eaves. Ice and frozen debris can bend gutters so they don’t drain properly.
Even in places with milder winters, such as the South or Southwest, gutter debris can lead to costly roof hazards and repairs. If you have a flat roof, trapped water can cause sagging and rotting. Water that can’t drain properly also can breed mold and affect shingles and paint. “The water backs up and gets underneath the shingles,” Finley said.
5. Inspect windows, doors, weatherstripping, and trim
Gaps where the trim meets the siding and drafty doors or windows mean higher heating costs. But they don’t just allow cold air inside. Water and moisture can seep into cracks in caulk, causing mold and rot.
“Before you know it, you’re looking at a $5,000 repair that could have been prevented by a $4 tube of caulk and a half hour of your time,” according to Frank Lesh of Home Sweet Home Inspection Co. in Chicago.
6. Check the heating system, chimney, and fireplace
Regardless of the type of heating system you have—gas furnace versus electric heat pump, for instance—the fall is the prime time to have an HVAC professional check all connections.
With a gas furnace: check the pressure, burner combustion, and the heat exchanger.
With a heat pump: some moving parts might need to be lubricated, and you need to inspect the condensate drain and trap.
If you have a fireplace, test the flue. Change your furnace filter, and vacuum floor grates and return ducts. Check and clean the exhaust fans in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room.
If you have a swimming pool, make sure the heater is operable, Mack added. Especially when you’re listing the house, “renters or buyers will want to know that they can enjoy a heated pool.”
Incidentally, if you use an evaporative cooler instead of an air conditioner, you’ll want to turn off the water supply, drain the water lines completely, clean the tank of mineral buildup, and unplug the pump to avoid freezing and keep it in peak shape for the warmer temperatures. Cover it with canvas or plastic and secure the cover with bungee cords.
7. Prep the plumbing and drainage systems
Depending on the age of your home and where you live, you may need to insulate your water pipes to prevent them from freezing in the upcoming cold weather. Regardless, take a walk outside on a rainy day to watch for standing water, especially running alongside or toward the foundation, which can lead to mold, rot, and other problems.
Residents who have surface or sub-surface draining systems that carry water away from the foundation should check the pipes for blockages during the fall and look for pooling water when it rains.
People who use a sump pump should test that the pump activates either manually or automatically, depending on its design.
8. Inspect the insulation and ventilation
Similar to checking your windows and doors, you’ll want to look for gaps where there shouldn’t be any and double check that there’s adequate ventilation. For instance, some Midwestern homes have a whole-house fan, which should be covered with an insulated box or other cover when not in use.
9. Guard against unwanted pests
If you have an attic fan, some critters might try to force their way through the screen covering the vent once the temperatures drop. Make sure that screen is intact, and check for cracks and other openings in the exterior that might entice unwanted guests.
Store firewood away from the house so that bugs and other vermin aren’t tempted to nest in the warmth and work their way into the house.
“We have our handyman go out and plug any raceways for mice or palmetto bugs,” Mack said.
10. Handle minor repairs
If you can tackle in the fall what seems like a small issue, like a crack in an asphalt driveway, you’ll save yourself an expensive repair later, as well as improve your home’s value. Water can freeze in these cracks, widening them, so it’s wise to apply an asphalt crack filler and a coat of sealant every two to three years at the cost of about $100.
If all this seems like a lot, consider it preventive maintenance—and an investment in your home’s value. While spring cleaning is associated with a fresh start, these fall preparations can shield you from costly problems, ultimately enabling you to sell your home at the price you want.
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