Sellers: A pre-listing inspection can prevent worry — and save cash
Knowing about any possible problems with your home before you put it on the market will prepare you to deal with requests from potential buyers.
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A visit from the home inspector can be nerve-wracking for a seller, especially in a market like this, when the potential buyer isn't afraid to demand that a long list of problems be addressed before the sale is finalized.
No matter how much you do to prepare the home, brace yourself. (Bing: How much does a home inspection cost?)
"The first thing for people to realize when selling their house is the inspector is always going to find something wrong," said David Tamny, owner of Professional Property Inspection in Columbus, Ohio.
Often, problems are minor and inexpensive enough for the seller to either fix or allow a credit for in the home price, he said. It's the discovery of major deficiencies — or an unwillingness to negotiate — that can kill a deal, Tamny said.
Still, it's in a seller's best interest to have the home as ready as possible before the inspection. It can cost more to address a problem — by lowering the sale price — once it turns up in an inspection, said Dan Steward, president of Pillar to Post, a home-inspection company.
"For every real dollar of cost, the buyer thinks it's $2 or $3 more," he said.
The thorough way to prepare is to do your own inspection before you list the home on the market. A pre-listing inspection will tell you exactly what needs to be fixed before you begin your search for a buyer.
But sellers often don't spend the money because they a buyers will bring in their own inspector anyway, Tamny said. When problems are identified during a pre-listing inspection, that could also mean the sellers have an obligation to disclose more information to prospective buyers, he added.
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To save money, ask an experienced real-estate agent to give the house a good look-over instead, said Brandi Pearl Thompson, an agent in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area. Such agents might not have the expertise of a home inspector, but often they've been through enough sale negotiations to spot common red flags.
A seller should also inspect the home with a critical eye, Thompson said. Don't stop at eye level; look at walls from floor to ceiling, under sinks, on the floor near the base of appliances — everywhere — to check for signs of water damage, for example. Also check faucets, door handles and other details of the home as you're walking through it.
"Walk out of the house, turn around and walk in with fresh eyes," she said.
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Inspectors will be looking for problems with the home's heating and cooling systems; electrical problems; signs of water damage, mold or leaks; termites; and structural or plumbing problems. They'll also look at do-it-yourself projects, making sure, for instance, that ceiling fans are installed correctly and backyard decks are safe.
As much as you can, get your house ready by fixing the problems or have a plan on how you will address them when the buyer inquires about the issues.
Pay attention to the little things, too. Make sure that everything is clean, that the gutters are clear and that the windows open and close, and take care of any flaking paint, Tamny said. Replace cracked caulking and fix leaky faucets and broken windows, Steward said.
You might also want to have the furnace and air-conditioning systems serviced by a professional to make sure they're in good shape, Thompson said.
Don't kill the deal
Still, even after you prepare your home for the inspection, expect some problems to surface — and for the prospective buyer to present you with a to-do list.
With plenty of inventory to choose from and a desire to get the best deal, today's buyers are driving hard bargains. And while it's often the most expensive problems that could kill a sale, a long list of little issues could also cause a buyer to back off.
Sometimes "buyers get overwhelmed and decide not to pursue a remedy. They're overwhelmed with the stuff that is going wrong," Tamny said.
Also, if big problems that weren't disclosed turn up during an inspection, buyers can get skittish.
"If nothing is disclosed and the buyer's inspector finds stains or an active water leak, there's a red flag," Steward said. "It doesn't always make a deal fall apart; it makes a deal not progress smoothly because the buyer is now worried — 'If I didn't see that, what else didn't the seller tell me?'"
Some buyer requests will be reasonable; in other cases, especially when it's cosmetic in nature, a seller would be justified in declining a request, Thompson said. But even when negotiations get tough, remember the buyer still wants to buy your home.
"Keep in mind they still kept your home in mind over the others," Thompson said. "And once someone falls in love, they do tend to overlook some of the little things."