We might fancy ourselves having the skills of former HGTV contractor Chip Gaines (Fixer Upper), but we laypeople tend to be more like Clark Griswald, the overconfident but clumsy dad Chevy Chase portrayed in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. (Remember how he hung outdoor Christmas lights and stapled his sleeve under the eave?)
When it comes time to sell the house, anything even remotely out of your comfort zone should be left to the professionals. Let’s dig into why DIY jobs are especially hazardous for sellers and the top 9 home maintenances services you should plan to hire out to get the house in marketable condition.
Selling the house? Time to get your favorite contractors lined up
Painting, patching nail holes in drywall, improving or changing landscaping, and changing cabinet hardware are some common home maintenance services that top-selling Detroit-area real estate agent Jeff Glover has known homeowners to handle without much trouble.
“A lot of consumers end up changing out their own light fixtures,” said Glover. “To do a light fixture is just a matter of switching it off at the box; [but] you’ve gotta be somewhat handy to do it.”
Anything beyond that, you’re better off calling a professional.
Beyond the obvious reason of not hurting yourself, having a skilled handyman or licensed contractor protects you from getting in over your head with a project.
A handyman is an economical and perfectly acceptable option for fixing loose boards on a fence or other small repairs, though you’ll still want to check references, according to Resolve, a partnership between Lowe’s and Alacrity Services, a professional home repair and remediation company.
Working with a licensed contractor (also called a general contractor) also protects you in several ways. These professionals are licensed by the state and carry an insurance policy for any damages during a project. Some states, such as California, require using a licensed contractor if the project, including labor and materials, exceeds $500, Resolve notes. Otherwise, the state could force you to remove the project without compensation, or issue a fine.
A licensed contractor or professional in a specialized trade, such as plumbing, electrical work, or roofing, typically has an installation warranty or workmanship warranty to guarantee they’ve done the job correctly. Because they’re licensed, these professionals also will make sure that the issue meets code requirements, so you don’t have pay more to fix it again later.
If the issue is anything where a home inspector will want to see receipts and warranties, hire a contractor or a specialist, Glover said.
“Chances are, if it’s going to come up in an inspection … they’re going to ask for it to be taken care of by a licensed contractor.”
The following are 9 home maintenance issues where you’ll want to bring in a pro before you sell your home.
1) Repair a damaged or dated roof
Roofing projects comprised 5,851 out of 93,558 home improvement projects from 2011 to 2013, or about 6%, and cost about $36 million nationwide, according to the 2013 American Housing Survey. A professional handled the majority of roofing improvements, or 83%, these statistics show.
“Everything starts from the roof down. If there’s a leak or an issue with the roof, that leads to mold in the attic and mold in other places,” Glover said. “The roof is one area where, wherever there’s concern, we always recommend … having a roofing contractor look at the roof from the outside and of course from inside the attic as well.”
The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends inspecting your roof twice a year, especially if it’s more than 10 years old. If you live in a seasonal climate, the best time to inspect is in the spring, after snow has melted; in a warmer area prone to tropical storms and hurricanes, such as Florida, take a look at the roof in early summer.
Some roofing companies provide free estimates. Other professional roof inspection companies charge from $200 to $400 for a full report on all parts of your roof (shingles, trusses, vent caps, drip edges), including any potential problems.
The cost of repairing a roof depends on the type of roof (flat or sloping, roofing material), the problem, and contractors in your area. The home improvement pricing database CostOwl.com lists a few basic average costs nationwide.
- Replacing 1 square foot (10 feet x 10 feet) of asphalt or wood shingles can cost from $250 to $1,000.
- Repairing flashing can cost from $50 to $100 around a vent or pipe and from $250 to $500 around a chimney or single skylight.
- Replacing the decking (the materials between trusses and joints that hold up the roof and any insulated or waterproof layer) can run about $2.50 to $7.50 per square foot.
2) Change the grade or slope of a lawn
A lawn’s grade or slope is meant to prevent water from flowing toward the home’s foundation, or to direct water toward a particular area (like a garden, waterfall, or other outdoor feature). Over time, the grade can change, causing a swampy lawn or water seeping into the house.
“I would say that in my experience, 80% of the issues of water in the basement are from improper grading,” Glover said. “A lot of homeowners think they can tackle that on their own by just going to Home Depot or something and bringing in some dirt, but there’s a proper way to do that.”
Because the type of soil plays a huge role in how easy this is, a landscaping company usually handles this issue, which may take more than just supplies.
The average national cost of lawn grading is about $1,500 to $2,500, but that involves several variables. For starters, this job can requires earthmoving equipment, even for a small lawn, which may cost $175 to $350 per day to rent, plus hiring an operator. (If you have a lawn or an area of the lawn that earthmoving machinery can’t access, expect to pay about $35 to $70 per hour for manual labor.)
Depending on your property, a landscaper can recommend plants or a bracing system to hold the new soil in place, or a retaining wall, which can cost about $750 to $1,500 to build. For a lawn with especially tough drainage issues, you may need to have a solution such as French drains installed, which can run from $5,000 to $10,000.
3) Trim up overgrown trees
It may seem economical to trim tree branches yourself, but it also requires time, effort, and the proper equipment. Some homeowners may not have a handheld lopper or pruner, which costs about $40 to $50.
There’s also an element of danger. “Lot of times we see trees hanging over power lines. That’s certainly something you don’t want to get involved in,” Glover said.
A tree’s height and size affects the cost of pruning, says TreeRemoval.com, an online network of tree trimming services. Trees that are up to 30 feet high, such as dogwood trees and Russian olive trees, can cost from $75 to $450 to trim. Trimming a crab apple or similar tree about 30 to 60 feet tall costs about $150 to $875. For exceptionally tall trees, such as pine or red oak, expect to pay about $200 to $1,000.
4) Check for and eradicate pests
A pest inspector is trained to look for signs of infestations and egress, such as cracks or holes that mice, insects, and other critters might find inviting. Real estate agents often have pest companies they recommend, but you can also find one on your own through an online resource such as Angie’s List or the National Pest Management Association.
A pest inspection can cost about $100, although depending on the company you use, this can range from $30 to $200 or more.
5) Scope out the sewer system
If you don’t have a septic system, you might assume everything is flowing just fine. But if you live in an older home or have noticed slow-flowing toilets, a scope of your home’s sewer line is probably wise.
Soil Solutions Environmental Services of Portland, Oregon, says that sewer scope inspections are a standard component of the pre-purchase inspection period. This involves inserting a mini video camera into your home’s sewer line, showing the condition of the pipes, any leaks, and any infiltrating tree roots.
The Portland company says the inspection takes about one hour to complete for a single-family home and costs $125. Other companies, such as Sweetwater Plumbing Company of Alvin, Texas, charge $300.
6) Repairing a slow drain or leaky faucet
Any drains that are slow or faucets that leak could indicate a larger problem, so real estate agents such as Glover recommend a plumbing inspection.
A plumbing inspection involves more than just looking at the connections under the sink. A licensed plumber will check that all appliances and fixtures are installed to code and that there are no safety issues with your water heater. A plumber also can confirm that your water pressure is within the normal range of 50 to 65 pounds per square inch (psi).
The cost of repairing plumbing issues varies depending, of course, on what the work entails, but basic services—snaking a clogged drain, tightening a leaky faucet—start at about $130 on average nationwide.
7) Service the HVAC
Keeping the HVAC (or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) running well is another must. The American Housing Survey notes that 7,250 (or about 8%) of the 93,558 home improvement projects nationwide from 2011 to 2013 involved HVAC units. Of these projects, professionals handled 6,340, or 87%.
A typical service tuneup involves removing dirt and debris, cleaning filters, flushing drain lines, filling refrigerant, measuring amp draw and electrical current, and other tasks.
This can range from $79 to about $140, including chemicals for the system. Some companies offer specials to new customers and off-season starting at about $59.
8) Test for radon
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends testing for radon, a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in the soil. The EPA estimates nearly one out of every 15 homes in the United States has an elevated radon level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or more.
Although you can do a radon test yourself with a home kit, the EPA notes that certain conditions can interfere with the test results (for instance, if the device is not placed away from drafts or exterior walls and at least 20 inches above the floor). That’s why the agency recommends using a professional, especially if the last radon test was more than two years ago or you’ve renovated your home.
Radon Technologies Inc. of Troy, N.Y., charges $165 for radon gas testing and about $1,200 to $1,600 for radon mitigation. On average, radon mitigation nationwide costs about $958, with most mitigation systems not exceeding $1,500.
9) Upgrade your electrical system
If your home’s current electrical panel is so old (think glass fuses) that it can’t supply the amount of power you need, an electrician can upgrade the amps.
Because of the dangers involved in this type of project, you’ll also need to obtain a permit from your county. An electrical contractor can procure one for an average cost nationwide of about $300 to $400; but you can save about $100 to $200 and legwork for the contractor if you fill out the application yourself. Here’s a look at one such application form.
The current minimum requirement for an electric breaker panel is 100 amps. Panels come in capacities up to 400 amps.
You can have an electrical subpanel installed to supplement your existing panel, provided it’s a newer model, for about $800 to $1,300. Replacing an old-style fuse box with a new electrical panel can cost as high as $2,500 for 100 amps.
Even though it’s understandable to want to handle home maintenance services yourself, now’s not the time to allow for error. Research local contractors in your area online, or ask neighbors, friends, or your real estate agent for recommendations to find the right professional to get your house into top-selling shape.