Fix It or Risk It? Your DIY Home Inspection Checklist

A home inspection is a lot like the report your doctor gives you after your annual physical. It’s a record of your status—health concerns, things to watch and changes you can make to improve your current state. In fact, if you get the paperwork mixed up, you might be pretty confused—”structural issues” and “drainage problems” could really apply to either.

We’ve spoken with agents who’ve helped hundreds of clients get ready for the home inspection, plus we got the lowdown from experienced home inspectors themselves. With their expertise, we’ve created this handy DIY home inspection checklist, organized by the top things home inspectors look for before a home can close, so you can be ahead of the game.

Plus, we’ll walk you the types of issues you should fix versus leave be.

As far as your physical goes—vegetables and exercise?

DIY Home Inspection Checklist for Homeowners

Feeling ambitious? Feel free to use this home inspection checklist as you go around you house checking for issues. The thing is, after you go under contract, the buyer will order a home inspection on your house anyway, so this is totally optional. But it’s never a bad idea to make sure all the nuts and bolts of your house are in good working order.

HomeLight Home Inspection Checklist

Fix these or get dinged on the home inspection

If there’s a major project that pertains to structural problems, code violations or safety issues, fix it before you put your house on the market or prepare to be dinged.

Structural problems
Example: There’s a crack in the foundation or you have termites.

Code violations
Example: None of your kitchen outlets are GFI-equipped.

Safety issues
Example: Your upstairs tub leaks and now there is black mold growing in the walls.

An inspection is optional and buyers are technically responsible for repairs, so why should you fix this stuff before you’re asked to? For a few reasons…

  • You’re getting in front of it.
    You can’t put the home inspection back in the bag. Once you know about any issues, you have to disclose them to the buyer. These issues are big enough most home inspectors could identify them blindfolded, so don’t wait for someone to point them out. Deal with them before they’re problems.
  • You could scare your buyer away.
    Say you have an offer in hand, you’re done with the inspection and all these structural and safety issues turn up. You’ve already come a long way with this buyer, so it’s not ideal to have to start over with someone else.
  • Sometimes lenders won’t release funds.
    Some mortgage loans are dependent on certain big issues being rectified before they’ll allow money to go through.
  • Fixing is often better than a discount.
    If a few easy fixes cost you less than taking several thousand dollars off the offer price to make up for repairs, better to do the work beforehand and not hold things up.

Fix cosmetics because you’re nice

Remember when you were moving out of the dorm in college, you filled the holes in your walls with toothpaste instead of spackling because you were living off a “Top-Ramen” budget, but also because you didn’t really think about the consequences for the next person who lived there.

Now, you are an older and more considerate adult (or at least pretend to be). Fix the small stuff before listing. Not because you have to, but because it’s nice. These are easy to spot, will only cost you a few bucks to fix and mean it won’t be a distraction for the viewer.

Tackle 90% of cosmetic projects in these five steps:

  1. Go through your home with painter’s tape and place a small piece next to every scuff, handprint, nail hole, nick, stain or “other.”
  2. Use a Magic Eraser to remove scuffs and handprints from the walls.
  3. Fill any nail holes with spackling (and after it dries, sand).
  4. Treat stains with carpet cleaner or Dawn.
  5. Use your jar of touch-up paint to address any nicks, and paint over your filled nail holes.

Skip these—they won’t hurt your home inspection

It seems counterintuitive to spend a bunch of money on a house you’re about to move out of. If you’re not going to be able to enjoy that luxury bathroom, why put it all the effort and money to make it happen?

This is where you must pay very specific attention to the Cost Vs. Value Report, an annual study which details what projects provide your best return on investment.

If you’re considering a major kitchen reno just for resale value, stop. The return on investment for this large-scale project is only 53.5% and doesn’t necessarily fix anything (except maybe offer some redemption for the 1990s).

On the other hand, if your garage door is broken and you’re thinking of installing a new one, go for it. It almost pays for itself entirely. (You’ll make back 98% of what you spent.) The broken garage door is likely to come up on the inspection, so fixing it before you even list is proactive. In addition, it’ll help with curb appeal. If you wait to fix it until after an offer comes in and after the inspection, a buyer may use the project as leverage to drive down your price.

Skippable home improvement projects include:

  • An upscale bathroom remodel: about 56% ROI
  • An upscale kitchen remodel: about 54% ROI
  • A back patio: less than 48% ROI
  • A master bedroom addition: about 48% ROI

The Cost vs Value Report analyzes the data for 20 projects but if yours isn’t on the list, you can use the same formula to figure out your own project’s return on investment. Look through past years’ reports and find projects that are similar to yours. Since numbers differ from place to place and from year to year, factor in those differences. To get the return on investment divide the value of the project by the cost of the project.

Don’t be surprised if you see these issues in your home inspection

HomeGauge shares an example of what an inspection report looks like. A handful of issues turn up on inspection reports over and over. They seem big but don’t be surprised by them. These include:

  • Old electrical
    Example: Your house was built in the 1920s before hair dryers were a thing.
  • Grading/Drainage problems
    Example: Your sprinklers drain toward your house instead of away from it.
  • Old pipes
    Example: A plumber snakes your pipes and finds they have erosion.

Sure, old pipes could eventually be a problem, but they’re not considered structural or safety hazards; they’re simply maintenance. If you’re selling a never-renovated house built in the 1930s, it’s no surprise it’s going to need some plumbing and electrical love eventually. The buyer can expect that, and can expect to pay for it.

How to respond to surprising issues in your home inspection

There’s bound to be surprises, especially if you’re selling an older home.

Here’s a surprise for the books: A couple was about to move into their new home in Arizona. They loaded up the moving truck in Ohio and drove across the country to sign the final papers.

The next day the couple’s Realtor pointed out a big mess up — the house once relied on a septic tank for plumbing. Now, the plumbing was connected to the sewer but the tank had been abandoned without proper certification. It would be illegal to close escrow with such a gaffe on the seller’s part.

The sellers recognized their error, put in place the steps to fix it and got to work the next week. It cost the sellers between $15,000-$20,000, held up escrow by 10 days, meant the buyers had to figure out accomodations for a week and a half and re-sign all the closing loan paperwork, all while their stuff sat on the truck.

This was a great catch for the couple and their Realtor and a major fail for the seller and his agent. Everyone would have saved a lot of time and money if a septic tank certification had already been done beforehand, something an inspector and real estate agent should have questioned.

Get a pre-inspection for your home?

Though surprises in the home inspection can’t always be prevented, avoid big ones by getting a pre-inspection. It costs you a few hundred dollars (depending on the size of your home) and at the end you’ll have a list to work from. Say the report details about 30 items, most of which are small fixes. You hire a handyman who fixes 24 of these 30 in the course of a few hours. You have time to either fix or decide not to fix the other six before putting the home up for sale.

You’re asking… Why would anyone pass on a pre-inspection? It does have a few cons.

Whatever your pre-inspection turns up has to be disclosed to the buyer. So, for example, if your pre-inspector says your roof is 20 years old and it’s time for a new one, you can’t just cross your fingers and home the buyer’s inspector doesn’t notice. Even if the buyer’s inspector doesn’t find the roof to be in need of replacement, you are legally required to tell the buyer what your inspection found.

The other risk you take is that a buyer’s inspection could turn up a whole new list of completely different things your pre-inspector never found. Though inspectors are looking for the same types of issues during all home inspections, they’re naturally going to notice different details. While one might skip right over the wonky electrical mast on the roof, another might call it out as a code violation. Inspectors are people, not machines, so they sometimes miss stuff.

Use the home inspection to negotiate

Anything that shows up on the buyer’s inspection (or that you disclosed about your pre-inspection) can be used as fuel for negotiation. Anything they noticed before the inspection shouldn’t be part of the negotiation though, as they knew the problem before making their offer.

For example, say the buyer’s inspection dug up poorly maintained pipes in need of replacement. The buyer couldn’t have known this before the inspection. As the seller, you could offer to fix or replace these pipes, or as the alternative, you could lower your price to make up for the work they will need to put into the home for this project once they own it.

Inspections seem scary. They could turn up any number of nightmare scenarios, but use them as a way to present the best version of your home. When fixes need to happen, make a phone call to your real estate agent.

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