Home inspectors aren’t the enemy…you tell yourself (unconvincingly) as you wait for the “deal-killer” your buyer hired to arrive. Can’t wait for this guy to rip my impeccable home maintenance habits to smithereens.
Feeling a little on edge about the home inspection? That’s natural. No homeowner loves the idea of having a stranger poke around the house to jot down every little flaw about it. But buyers need to know all the relevant information on a purchase of this size, and home inspectors just want to do their job—they aren’t there to rain on anyone’s parade.
Calm your nerves about this step in the process with a dose of reality straight from the source: The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). They told us all about what home inspectors wish sellers better understood about their work and basic matters of etiquette. You never know…seeing things from their perspective could take your stress levels down a notch or save you from making an angry phone call.
1. Home inspectors perform a ‘visual’ inspection, but expect them to check to see if stuff works.
A home inspector needs to see how the house functions as a whole. “We don’t have any incentive to find problems,” said Frank Lesh, executor director of ASHI. Inspectors don’t earn any money beyond the inspection fee.
That said, a home inspector doesn’t just eyeball each room. He or she might open cabinets to spot leaks under the sinks, use a handheld gadget to check that electrical outlets are wired properly, examine the amps on an electrical panel, turn on appliances to check functionality, and test the water flow from the faucets.
Some residents find this puzzling.
Jesus Cardenas, a top-selling agent in Pembroke Pines, Florida, recalled how one tenant in a rental property for sale sent him a bill for $20 because the inspector had turned on his water, electricity, and air conditioner. Another homeowner kept turning off the water in the bathroom while the inspector was trying to check the flow. Cardenas had to intervene and tell the homeowner this was all part of the home inspector’s job.
A typical home inspection involves a thorough walk-through of your home. The home inspector looks for any issues with the interior and exterior structure; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system; electrical wiring; plumbing; roof and other major components.
Inspectors will not, however, bust down any walls or drill any holes in your house—so take comfort in that.
2. The house doesn’t have to be spotless, but make sure all areas are accessible.
Home inspectors need access to attics, crawl spaces, basements, closets, and circuit breakers. “Cleanliness is nice, but it’s not mandatory,” Lesh said. “The most important thing is for us to have accessibility.”
Sometimes people like to hide a fuse box with shelving or other décor, but inspectors need to take the cover off to take a look inside.
If you reach your attic through a closet, move any clothing or stored items out of the way. The same goes for hatches for crawl spaces. Lesh has found a few in laundry rooms—but beneath the washer or dryer. Inspectors won’t move those because of the piping and wiring.
Granting easy access means fewer delays and less time on the market. If an inspector can’t examine places that you’re supposed to report on, time that could be spent negotiating with buyers gets eaten up by arranging for another inspection appointment.
3. Hovering makes things awkward.
Inspectors anticipate that buyers will want to hang around while they work, but these professionals still need elbow room—as part of the process, they might suddenly stop and crouch down to examine something. So it’s best not to hover: “If there’s anything I want to show them, I’ll bring them over,” says Lesh.
It’s wise for sellers to leave during the home inspection because, let’s face it, it’s easy to be emotional and protective of your own home, especially if you’ve lived there for years.
Lesh had one situation where every time he mentioned something to the prospective buyer, the seller would contradict it. “Finally, my client looked at the seller and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m paying the inspector to look at the house, and I want to hear what the inspector has to say.’”
Trust your agent to be on site during the inspection instead. “I have situations where the seller is not home, and I just give him the rundown when I get the inspection report,” Cardenas said.
A home inspection report often notes minor things, such as how a window doesn’t open properly, but your agent can put this into perspective as far as what’s necessary to fix before a sale. “Even with brand-new construction, you’re going to have issues because every house has an issue,” Cardenas said.
4. Covering up a problem usually backfires.
Some sellers don’t realize how serious an issue is, but there are some who try to cut corners with a quick cosmetic fix.
Cardenas had one client who noticed mold on his air conditioner and told the agent that he’d just paint it white to cover it. Knowing that would mask a greater problem that could cause structural damage down the line, Cardenas told the seller, “’No, you can’t do that. You have to get someone out here,’” who cut out the drywall and cleaned the AC.
Lesh has been inspecting homes for so long that certain touches, such as plug-in diffusers in every room, raise red flags: “It gives me an idea that maybe there’s an issue with odors, whether it’s pet odors or mold and mildew.”
Fresh paint certainly looks nice, but in the basement or attic, this also causes suspicion. It raises the question of whether you’re trying to hide moisture or staining, especially in these areas where moisture and mold tend to grow.
Expect the home inspector to investigate these spaces and red flags more thoroughly. And know that it’s better to deep clean the house, address foul odors by attacking the root cause, and if anything, give the space a natural citrus aroma, than try to hide anything.
5. It’s polite (and necessary) to keep pets at bay.
Pets get stressed during the selling process, too. That’s why the experts recommend taking your pets to a friend’s or relative’s home for the few hours a home inspection lasts.
“I love dogs—I love animals—but they’re protecting the house; that’s what they do,” Lesh said. “Sometimes people will move a dog from inside to outside or one room to another. But sometimes we have to go back in a room, so that doesn’t really work out.”
Cats can be “escape artists” who can dart out from a closet or other hiding spot while the inspector is doing his or her job. “We hate for any animal to get lost or hurt,” he said.
Relocating your pets, even temporarily, also can cut down on odors that might be off-putting. “The worst [inspection] I ever had, people had a room full of snakes. They were in enclosures, but the room was very hot, and the odor was horrendous,” Lesh said.
6. Proper home maintenance over time takes the pressure off.
Your home needs a tune-up just like an automobile, so it’s a good idea to schedule regular maintenance inspections every few years to gauge the wear and tear on your roof and other components. That way, you’re not surprised by any major repairs once you try to sell.
If you’re curious about how long your home’s materials and systems should last, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors of Boulder, Colorado, has a detailed chart of guidelines for the predicted life expectancy of items such as interior paint (10 to 15 years), exterior paint (7 to 10 years), a gas range (15 to 17 years), an electric range (13 to 15 years), wood paneling (20 to 50 years), and other items.
(High humidity, the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and saltwater can shorten these life spans significantly, so the association has a separate chart for homes in Florida and similar climates.)
7. Consider a pre-listing inspection.
Some agents incorporate a pre-listing inspection into their services because of community trends. Cardenas said his area has a lot of Spanish tile roofs, which last about 25 years, so he expects that roofs built in the 1990s are reaching the end of that life expectancy.
“I’d rather know the problems upfront,” Cardenas said. “It gives less headaches, and that way you can negotiate,” such as by reducing the price, providing credit for the potential repair, or having both parties contribute to the cost.
Agents also must disclose anything that’s a potential health and safety issue, such as an electrical problem.
Of course, some sellers don’t want to pour money into a home when they’re only going to sell it to someone else. “They feel like ignorance is bliss, and let’s leave well enough alone,” Lesh said.
“But if you’re a seller, why not take care of things before they become an issue? It’s a good idea for the seller to get a handle on what’s potentially wrong with the house.”
Whether you opt for a home inspection before you list your home or to gauge regular maintenance, be aware that an inspection report isn’t set in stone. Your home might pass inspection on the date of the report, but “a month later, things can change,” Lesh said. “It’s not foolproof.”
Regardless, if you make sure that the process has fewer bumps for the inspector, you’re liable to be less stressed, too.