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10 Things to Look for in a Home Inspection: The Seller’s Edition

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

“The home inspection can be like going on a date with someone and then finding out all of the bad stuff they’ve ever done,” explains Kelly Allen, a top-selling agent in Marietta, Georgia. “Then, you have to decide, are you going to keep dating this person and maybe get married or are you going to go ahead and break it off?”

While your home won’t be the perfect match for everyone, some sellers opt to get a pre-listing inspection to mitigate the risk of getting dumped before closing. The catch? You’ll either have to fix any issues that come up…or disclose them to buyers, sorry!

Either way—with your home’s bill of health in hand, you’ll need to take your next steps like a doctor rather than an amateur surfing WebMD. So we asked experienced agents and home inspectors in the field to weigh in those top things to look for in a home inspection and how to best handle them as a seller.

Source: (Matthew Addington/ Death to the Stock Photo)

Is a pre-listing inspection the right move for your house?

A pre-listing inspection is the same as the buyer’s inspection when it comes to procedure. The inspector will visually examine everything from the roof down to the foundation, check all of the home’s systems and components, and document issues and defects.

The only notable exception to a pre-listing inspection is that the seller, rather than the buyer, foots the bill for the service prior to the house hitting the market. The national average cost of a home inspection is $315, but it’s not typically the cost that keeps sellers from doing a pre-listing inspection.

For many sellers, “ignorance is bliss,” says American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) ambassador Frank Lesh.

“If the inspector does find a problem, a serious problem, a lot of state laws require the seller to list that or to fix it. So there may be a tendency for owners to hope for the best, and not bring up trouble.”

Some of the defects you could be required to disclose in a real estate deal include structural issues like foundation cracks, water damage like a leak in the basement, or hazardous cracks in the driveway. The disclosure factor could tempt you to skip the pre-listing inspection (and some top agents advise you to avoid opening a can of worms before your house even goes up for sale).

In other cases, it’s only a matter of time before these issues come up so you might as well deal with them head-on. 95% of buyers elect for a home inspection, so it’s unlikely that your home will sell without at least one professional taking a fine-toothed comb over your home.

A pre-listing inspection gets out in front of the issues a buyer might have with your home, making the sales process smoother, explains Allen. It highlights “What would be the deal killers? What would prevent offers initially?” and gives sellers a chance to fix the issues before the house even hits the market, without the stress of negotiations and a limited timeline.

A roof of a home that will be inspected .
Source: (Teddy/ Rawpixel)

10 issues worth addressing from the pre-listing inspection

During the pre-inspection, the home inspector will look for significant defects in the four key systems of your home: HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and roof. Below, we outline common issues, and what steps, if any a seller should take to fix them before listing the home.

Issue #1: It’s electric

After living in a home for 20 odd years, you get used to its quirks and oddities, explains Lesh: “But a new family is going to move in, and a system that was adequate for just two people may not be adequate for four or six people. And so the system would be overloaded, and there could be circuit breakers that trip, or wiring that just can’t hold up to all of the hair dryers and curling irons and your computers and things that use a fair amount of power.”

Electrical repairs have a wide range of costs, but it’s worth looking into before putting your home on the market. Fixing issues with wiring can run from $100 to several thousand dollars depending on the issue.

Inspectors pay close attention to electrical problems so this will come up again in the buyer’s inspection. It’s also likely to be something the buyer will ask to be repaired in negotiations, explains Allen.

Issue #2: Got rot?

“I keep talking about wood rot because I can just tell you that is a freaking deal killer,” warns Allen. “When a buyer walks up to the house and the trim, it looks bad, or there are obvious problems around windows and things like that, that stuff needs to be fixed.”

Rot, specifically around the window and trim on the exterior of your home can lead to a bad first impression for buyers and inspectors will no doubt take note of it in their report (with photo evidence!)

Depending on how bad the rot is, you can update the trim on your home with some epoxy-based wood filler—but most homeowners will want to call in their handyman for this job.

Issue #3: Don’t trip

While home inspectors are focused on the large systems of the house, they’ll also call out smaller issues, like unsecured banisters, or smaller trip hazards—things a seller might not even notice anymore.

“If somebody has lived in a house for years and years, they know that this one step is a little bit uneven, and they’re used to it,” says Lesh.

Safety is often front of mind for home buyers, so fixing a small issue that makes the house less hazardous means less anxiety for them. Solving trip hazards might mean that you need to sand down a step, reinforce a banister to the wall, or resecure or replace bunched up carpeting in the hallway.

Issue #4: Water you going to do about that plumbing issue?

When an inspector examines your plumbing, they’ll be taking note of slow, or clogged drains, especially if it persists throughout the entire home.

This is also something a buyer can easily observe during their home inspection process. Instead of leading to panic around plumbing, see what you can do to prevent slow drainage. It might be as simple as getting a plunger or snaking a severe blockage for $300.

When in doubt, hire a plumber to confirm a diagnosis and go from there.

Issue #5: HVAC woes

Your HVAC might be humming along, but does it need a new filter? Small fixes like these mean less concern for the buyer during the home inspection. “Sure, the HVAC is working, but maybe the filter super dirty, so we’ll add and replace the filter,” says Allen.

A clean filter means a cared for HVAC system. This affordable fix signals to your buyer that you’re an attentive homeowner.

Issue #6: Pardon the intrusion

Water intrusion or signs of water intrusion can send up red flags for home buyers. Don’t try to hide issues with water intrusion in the home, it happens to the best of us—a whopping 98% of homeowners deal with water issues in their basement.

The average cost of cleaning up water damage is around $2,500, and many sellers are hesitant to take on the cost of repairs. If that’s the case, at the very least, clean up the area, try to remove any smells (no one likes a musty basement), and get an estimate from a professional. Knowing about an intrusion before the buyer discovers it means you’ll disclose the issue, but can reflect the cost of repairs in the asking price if you decide against fixing it yourself.

Issue #7: Nicks and sticks

It’s far from a dealbreaker for homebuyers, but make it a point to fix small nicks, scrapes, and sticking doors highlighted in a pre-inspection.

Fill nail holes with spackling, remove scuff marks with a Magic Eraser, and touch up any paint nicks or blemishes on the wall.

Yes, this task can be tedious for sellers, but addressing these small issues will show buyers you have an attention to detail, and gives them less to nitpick on down the line.

Issue #8: Raise the (fire) alarm

It goes without saying, and yet we’re saying it—make sure your fire and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.

You can guarantee these systems will be checked in your pre-inspection, and if you run into any issues, like a dead battery or improper placement, make sure you take the time to amend it before the listing.

Issue #9: Gutter stutter

Dirty and debris-filled gutters can lead to leaky roofs and water intrusion.

Crowded, saggy gutters can also detract from curb appeal for the potential buyer. If your home inspector calls out your gutters, give them a good cleaning, repair what you can, and replace sagging or rusted portions.

Issue #10: Critter control

There’s an “ick” factor associated with critters in your crawl spaces, but the problem is more common than you think.

“Not a whole lot of people climb up into their attic and go into every corner to look for problems, but you know, an ASHI inspector is going to do that,” Lesh explains. “We may find that there’s mold or animals that are living there and the owner’s not even aware of it at all just because they don’t go up there.”

Allen even recommends sellers cleaning up their crawl spaces and attics before pre-inspection: “I don’t know if this is just Georgia or what, but almost every home has some amount of rodent activity in the attic. One of the things that I’ve started telling sellers is, please get up to the attic and take care of it up front,” she says.

If an inspector sees droppings or a mousetrap, they’ll recommend an additional professional pest inspection. That could turn into having to seal up entry points and possibly replace the insulation. “You’ve gone from what could be totally prevented to something that costs several thousand dollars,” says Allen of taking care of pest problems preventively.

A radiator in a home that will be inspected.
Source: (Brodie Vissers/ Burst)

Repair not required: What to leave be for the buyer to (potentially) see

Even if your house is in good shape, your pre-listing inspection will leave you with a seemingly endless amount of things to improve, replace, or redo.

This can feel overwhelming, and even make you second guess getting the inspection at all, but remember that knowledge is power.

These issues would’ve likely come up in the buyer’s inspection anyway. With a pre-inspection under your belt, you’ll probably disclose some issues to the buyer, but since they knew it upon first viewing, it won’t really be fodder for the negotiation table.

At least this way, you can get in front of any issues, fix them, or price your home accordingly.

Allen explains that after the pre-inspection, “We’ll sit down with the pre-inspection and we’ll go through each defect that was found. We’ll go ahead and let [the seller] know what could stop buyers from making offers or what could basically prevent a buyer from moving forward once we’re under contract.”

Buyers tend to focus on water problems, safety, and mechanical problems, recommends Allen.

It’s a safe bet to take care of these issues upfront. However, there are some big-ticket items and repairs that most sellers would prefer to list as is:

  • Raise the roof?
    Roofing issues can get pricey, and while you’ll need to disclose an aging roof to a buyer, Lesh says many sellers opt to leave it be, and instead reflect some cost of the repairs in the listing price: “You may just say, ‘Look, we know the roof is getting old, but the sale price reflects that, and we’re not going to fix it.’”
  • A pause for polybutylene plumbing.
    Polybutylene is a plastic made from the ‘70s to mid-90s that can be found in the plumbing of some homes. Most inspectors will recommend, but not require, that you replace any polybutylene plumbing found in your home, which can cost several thousand dollars.“That’s typically something that people really have to think to sit and think, ‘Are we going to replace all of this?’” explains Allen. The benefit of the pre-inspection is knowing this issue up front, and deciding if you can spare the cost of repairs. Otherwise, you’ll want to reflect this issue in the price of your listing.
  • HVAC replacement.
    If your HVAC is getting up in years but is still functional, don’t worry about replacing it. Inspectors will note age and expected lifespan of the system during the process, but that doesn’t mean you have to part with the estimated $5,000 to please the buyer.
  • Beauty’s only skin deep.
    Your inspector may point out a purely cosmetic issue or two during the inspection, but you don’t have to fix this. Buyers might ask you to fix cosmetic flaws, but typically that’s not standard in the negotiation process. Leave the personal cosmetic choices to the buyer once the offer is accepted.

Let the home inspection guide you, not derail you

Ordered an inspection on your own house before putting it on the market? Kudos, because that was brave.

But you ripped the Band-Aid off and have a much better idea of where the points of tension in your home sale will be. Whether you decide to tackle them proactively or wait and see what happens is up to you. When in doubt, consult your real estate agent on what they would do. Chances are, you aren’t the first seller who’s been there!

Article Image Source: (Matthew Addington/Death to the Stock Photo)