You’ve accepted an offer on your house. Great! Now what?
In my area (Southeastern Michigan), one of the first things that will usually follow the acceptance of an offer is the home inspection. In almost all cases the home inspection will precede the mortgage appraisal.
For many sellers, both the home inspection and the appraisal are “hold your breath and hope” kinds of things. They really don’t have any idea about the things in their home that might be found in an inspection or what the appraiser might consider when doing the appraisal. Nether Inspections or appraisals need to be traumatic and there are things that the homeowner can do to assist in both. I’ll focus upon the home inspection in this post.
For many it’s probably been years since they were the least bit concerned about things on the roof or in the basement; but now they are. Most sellers probably are already aware of many of the small things that will be found; they just never got around to fixing them until now. It’s usually too late to do anything about things that you may have been neglecting for a long time when you get to this point; however, there are things that the seller can do to at least accommodate the processes and perhaps shed a better light upon the house.
Most Realtors will advise the homeowner not to be present while the inspection is going on. That’s good advice. The homeowner has already fulfilled his/her duty of sharing the pertinent information about the property when they filled out the Seller’s Disclosure for the property. If the seller sticks around there is a tendency to follow the inspector around trying to point out all of the good things and trying to explain some of the bad things that he might find. It can really slow the process down and be distracting to the inspector, not to mention perhaps being uncomfortable for the buyer. The home inspection is supposed to be a time when the buyer finds out about the house by having open conversations about what the inspector finds. That is not easy or comfortable to do if the seller is hovering around during the inspection.
Sellers who walk around with the buyer and inspector during the inspection have the opportunity to (the listing agent might say danger of) blurt out even more than was required by the Seller’s Disclosure. Sometimes those unsolicited little extra bits of information about the house can expose something that can queer the deal. A well-meaning seller who might share an innocent story about the rumors when he/she bought the house that it was haunted. While he/she might laughingly dismiss that rumor, some buyers might not and could be frightened off by even the rumor of a haunting. Stranger things have happened.
There is no way around the fact that a home inspection is a very intrusive event. The inspector needs to go places and do things that you might feel are a bit of an invasion of your privacy and are not comfortable with; but, the inspection is not being done for your comfort, but for the comfort of the buyer. The inspector is not going to look through your chest of drawers or your medicine cabinet, but he will be going places where no other guest in your house has likely ever been.
So, what should the seller do to get the house ready, so that the inspection goes smoothly? For one, the seller needs to understand the inspection process and what things and areas of the house the inspector needs to have access to, in order to do a thorough inspection. Here are just a few things to be aware of:
· Most inspectors will start outside first. If there are areas like crawl spaces that they may need to access those should be cleared of any obstructions including snow. If there are sheds or other storage areas that may need to be inspected, leave them open or provide keys for the inspection. The inspector will try all exterior faucets unless they are obviously winterized. Make sure that they are all accessible.
· The inspector will need to get on the roof (assuming that it is not snow covered) and should be given any instructions needed about where he can and should not place the ladder (think flower beds or other areas that a ladder might damage) to access the roof. Also, if the homeowner is aware of any soft spots on the roof that should be avoided, he should forewarn the inspector.
· Inside, the inspector will need access to all of the attic areas that provide for access. Attic scuttles are often located in closets and the seller should remove all items from the closet that has the scuttle in the ceiling. It is likely that some insulation will fall out of the scuttle when it is opened and they don’t want that getting all over their stuff. If there is more than one scuttle, the sellers will need to clear them all for access and to avoid getting insulation droppings on their personal items. If the scuttles are sealed, the inspector will need to cut that seal and it is the seller’s responsibility to reseal it, not the inspector.
· A good inspector will test to see if all of the functions of the appliances that are staying with the house are working. That will mean cycling the dishwasher all the way through and running all of the burners and oven of the stove. For the homeowner that means making sure that the oven is unloaded and that the dishwasher is ready with a load of dishes (with detergent), if they want to make use of that cycle. He/she will run the garbage disposal and test any other appliances that are staying – trash compactor, microwave, etc. If the washer and dryer are staying the inspector may put them through a full cycle too, it test their conditions.
· The inspector will also want to fill the bathtub(s) and run it if it is a jetted tub or just fill and drain it if it is a regular soaker tub. Showers will be run also. All of the sinks and other faucets will also be run to test the plumbing for both fill and empty rates. All toilets will be flushed. A secondary reason for all of this water being run is to test the septic system, if the house is on a septic, to see how it handles a big water load.
· The inspector will need to run the furnace and the air conditioning (assuming that the weather permits) and will measure for efficiency of both. He will also pull the furnace filter to check its condition and open the humidifier to see if it has build-ups of deposits. The furnace heat exchanger will be tested for any evidence of carbon monoxide, which would indicate a cracked heat exchanger that is letting in combustion gases to be circulated into the house (a bad thing). The seller should make sure that there is ready access to the furnace on all asides. The inspector will also look at the hot water heater and may test its pressure relief value and its drain faucet. Make sure that he can get to those, too. He will also test all of the joints on the gas piping leading to the furnace and water heater for any leaks. If there is a water softener the inspector may cycle it to test that it is operating properly, so make sure that there is salt in the softener salt tank. If the house is on a well the inspector will test the pressure tank and force the well to cycle a few times by running water in the house (that’s another reason why all of those tubs and sinks were being filled).
· The inspector will survey the walls and ceilings from the basement to the top floor, looking for any evidence of water intrusion. If the seller knows about something that will show up, he should share that information and what was done about the leak that caused the damage. A short written explanation can save everyone lots of time. Basement walls and floors may have cracks in them and the inspector will try to determine if they are normal settling cracks or an indication of foundation issues and if there are any accompanying water intrusion issues.
· The inspector will be opening the electrical panel to look at the wiring. He will be looking for any circuit breakers that have been doubled up (two sets of circuit wires run to a single breaker), any mismatched breakers with wire sizes that are not correct for the break amperage and in general how the box is wired (Professionally or DIY), as well as checking for any overloaded circuits, usually with a thermal hot spot detector. The inspector will have also been looking for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) plugs or circuits where they are required, in the kitchen, baths, basement and garage. If there are circuits that are protected by GFCI breakers in the circuit box the homeowner should label those both in the box and at the outlets.
· Some other tips or advice –
o Leave notes or write-ups about anything that you feel may need to be explained –a water spot on the ceiling, missing or cracked wall or floor tiles or a mismatched door or cover on an appliance.
o Leave out any owner’s manuals that you thing might be helpful for eh inspector
o Take your pets with you (or cage them) when you leave, unless they are fish or birds.
o If you’ve had recent repairs or replaced any major items (roof, windows, furnace, water heater, etc.) in the last few years, leave out paperwork and a note for those, too.
Understand that the inspector will be trying his best not to make any messes or to break anything, but things can happen during the process. Most inspectors are insured and bonded; however, they are not responsible for accidents that happen during the inspection. Accidental damage would have to be covered under the home owner’s home insurance policy. The inspector will try to leave things as he found them, but sometimes something will not be reset to the original state. Don’t get upset. It’s just part of the process that you need to get through in order to sell the house. Just deal with it and move on.
In general, Purchase Agreements are written with provisions for feedback about anything that is found to be unsatisfactory from the inspection to be transmitted to the seller in writing within 1-2 days. The key with that is not to get offended or defensive. The inspector didn’t make those things up. They exist and need to be dealt with. I some cases the inspector will probably be pointing out things that are dangerous to the seller’s family as well and that of the buyer, such as missing switch or plug plates, bare or dangling wires or maybe a stairway without a handrail; so, the inspector should be thanked and not denigrated for reporting those items.
If there are no big, show-stopper issues reported that cause the buyer to want to back out, everything else is negotiable; so, the seller should be prepared to negotiate with the buyer on which items they will fix and which items they’d rather not deal with and might want to cover with an offer of a sale price concession. Any negotiation that affects the sale price should take place, if possible, before the appraisal, since it will lower the sale price and may make it easier for the house to appraise at the sale price.