If you’re selling a home with little flaws like burned-out lightbulbs, holes in the drywall or ceiling, and sticky windows, you’ve got work to do before the home inspector arrives. Since you can’t skip the inspection — 95% of buyers will get one, and it’s a requirement for many mortgage loans — the next best thing is knowing how to prepare for a home inspection.
These tips we’ve gathered from professional home inspectors and real estate experts won’t guarantee a perfect write-up by any means. But clean up your homeowner act with easy fixes around the house and courteous preparations, and you’ll cut down drastically on inspector drama and red flags that make buyers see your house as a lemon.
Understand what inspectors look for
Preparing for a home inspection starts with understanding how an inspector thinks and operates. For example, you wouldn’t want to change out your home’s paint colors or go searching for issues in the walls to please the inspector or try to guess what they’re going to find.
An inspector performs a visual inspection to look for any health, safety, or mechanical issues that don’t meet your state’s standards or a buyer’s loan requirements. “We look for things that are significantly deficient, unsafe, near the end of the service life, or not functioning properly,” says Tim Buell, the president of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
But inspectors don’t have X-Ray vision. They won’t cut into your walls. And they don’t care about your decor.
To test for problems, an inspector will do things like flip on the stove, start the dishwasher, flush toilets, and run faucets. These are just a few examples — an inspector’s work is highly meticulous. In fact the National Association of Home Inspectors has a 1,600-item checklist for inspectors to complete. You can expect an inspection to take a minimum of 2 to 4 hours for an average home, with a general rule of an hour per 1,000 square feet.
Access denied (avoid an inspectors top pet peeve!)
Get the inspector on your good side by helping them do their job effectively. To do so is simple. Go around the house and check to make sure the inspector will have access to all areas of the home that they need to inspect.
That includes the attic, the crawlspace, the garage, the shed, and that quirky storage closet. Any part of the physical structure, make sure someone could reasonably access it without having to move heavy items or do gymnastics to get there. The inspector will also need the remote controls for any equipment being sold with the house, such as lights, fireplaces, or ceiling fans.
Matt Steinhausen, an independent home inspector since 1999 in Lincoln, Nebraska, who holds an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, said some sellers have shelving or laundry appliances in front of the electrical panel, which prevents him from thoroughly examining the panel and wiring.
“I need to be able to enter every room, open every cabinet and closet, and inspect every detached structure. All areas of all structures should be unlocked and accessible,” Steinhausen says. “Many times I’m unable to get to various mechanical components because when people declutter their homes for showing, they pile all their contents in the storage areas, such as utility rooms.”
Some furniture arrangements or types of curtains or shades also can make windows “inaccessible or really tough to inspect, which is really frustrating for an inspector and also for the homebuyer,” he adds. Fail to take this step, and the inspector will have to note which areas of the house they couldn’t access and return to your property for a second visit.
Order a pre-listing inspection
If you’re the type of person who hates the element of surprise, order a pre-listing inspection. With a pre-listing inspection, you obtain an inspection voluntarily before buyers ever come through the home. It’s kind of like a dry run. You find out what’s wrong with your house without the pressure of a buyer telling you to make certain fixes on deadline. At your leisure, you can repair obvious issues likely to delay closing. You can also mark down your price for any issues you don’t want to deal with personally.
There are a few cons to be aware of with the pre-listing inspection, however. Depending on where you live, you may have to disclose any issues that the inspector discovers which could scare buyers away from even touring the home. You’ll also have to foot the bill for the inspection, which costs an average $337 in 2020.
Fix what’s broken
Robert Hussey, a top real estate agent of more than 15 years serving the Huntsville, Alabama, area, is shocked by how many sellers don’t consider minor preparations that have a significant impact on a home’s appearance and the inspector’s impression about general wear and tear.
When in doubt, replace the lightbulb. Patch the holes in the drywall. Make sure the windows open and close. Fix that leaky faucet. If you can’t take care of it yourself, call in a professional, whether that’s a plumber, electrician, or handyman.
It’d be smart to do some preemptive maintenance, too, and set the receipts and warranties out on the kitchen counter or a dining table for the inspector to review. “Before we list a home, I typically recommend people have their HVAC serviced if they haven’t in the last six months. That can take care of a lot of issues,” Hussey says.
And if something isn’t working or needs a repair, such as a major appliance or part of the roof, get an estimate before the inspection. “At least that way the inspector and the buyers have an idea what’s going on,” Hussey says.
Steinhausen says he’s often surprised when sellers don’t know that their home has certain components.
“Many homeowners don’t know if they have a sump pit, or that they might have more than one attic that I need to check out,” he says. They also forget to open outbuildings or leave him a key so he can access them, he adds.
To jog your memory of your home’s systems and layout, check out your property survey or do a quick walk around for this purpose. If someone asks where the electrical box or water shutoff is located, you should know the answer.
Use a checklist to guide your prep
Brian Wetzel, a licensed home inspector serving York County, South Carolina, provides all sellers with a checklist covering the interior, exterior, garage, kitchen, and bathroom so they can prepare for an inspection like a pro. You can download the full checklist to print out and carry around, or review an excerpt from the checklist below:
- Clean out your gutters and downspout
- Check wood trim joints for caulk and softness
- Secure or replace all loose wood or bricks on steps
- Fix nail pops and loose shingles on the roof
- Assess the hose faucet for leaks
- Change out all air filters
- Adjust doors that stick when they open or close
- Look for holes from door handles, and repair if needed
- Replace burned-out lightbulbs
- Check that all outlets have covers
- Inspect the water heater for corrosion and leaks
- Test the stove: Do all the burners work? Are any elements broken?
- Run the dishwasher and garbage disposal
- See if all the toilets flush properly
- Move stored items away from the walls so that the inspector can view the foundation
- Check that the automatic reverse function and the garage door opener work
If you notice anything amiss, let your real estate agent know so you can decide how to proceed. Your agent may know contractors who can offer a professional opinion about whether an issue needs to be fixed before the home inspection, as well as any estimated costs should this become a matter to discuss before closing.
Bring your pets with you during the inspection
Real estate agents generally recommend that a seller not be home during the inspection. Sellers are emotionally attached to their homes, and many become defensive whenever an inspector stops to examine something closely. “It really is best if the homeowner is not there,” Hussey says. “It can be a painful experience for a homeowner if they feel like somebody is nitpicking.”
If you have pets, take them to a friend’s or a relative’s house for a few hours, or secure them in a kennel where they won’t get underfoot or worse, escape.
“Ideally, there shouldn’t be any other people or pets in the house at the time of my inspection. I understand not everyone can accommodate my preferences, and I typically will work around these issues, as long as they don’t affect my ability to do a thorough inspection. If they do, I note it in my report,” Steinhausen says.
Your real estate agent likely has other tips about how to ease your apprehension about a home inspection and present your home in the best light. Hussey boils it down as follows: “If there are any issues you’re aware of, fix them beforehand.”