How to Handle House Inspectors
Houses in good physical condition sell for top dollar. Fixer-uppers sell at greatly reduced prices because whoever buys them must spend money on repairs to get them back into pristine condition.
Even if you’ve lived in your house for the past 20 years, it may have hidden problems you know nothing about. You probably can’t see, for example, whether your house’s electrical system is shot or whether dry rot is turning the woodwork into sawdust or whether the roof is one rainstorm away from springing a Niagara of leaks.
Invisible defects can be deal breakers because they cost major money to repair. The more you know about your house’s hidden problems, the better you can effectively deal with those problems. For that reason, we recommend that you have your property thoroughly inspected before putting it on the market.
Arranging premarketing property inspections
Count on it. Prudent purchasers will have your property thoroughly inspected before they buy it. Expect inspectors to poke into everything — your house’s roof, chimney, gutters, plumbing, electrical wiring, heating and cooling systems, insulation, smoke detectors, all the permanent appliances and fixtures in your kitchen and bathrooms, and the foundation. They’ll also check for health, safety, and environmental hazards. If you live in a temperate climate, you can bet that they’ll have a structural pest control inspector look for damage from wood-destroying insects (carpenter ants, termites, and powder-post beetles) as well as dry rot and fungus infections. Whew!
Flowers, fragrances, and all that other staging stuff aside, smart buyers know that a house’s physical condition greatly affects its value. No matter how beautifully your property is staged, buyers won’t pay top dollar for a house that needs extensive and expensive repairs.
Exploring the advantages of inspecting before marketing
The best defense is a good offense. Beat buyers to the punch — get your inspections before they get theirs. Discover everything wrong with your house before putting it on the market. Defusing a crisis begins by discovering that a problem exists.
Some real estate agents argue against getting a house inspected before putting it on the market. Many states now require that sellers disclose any known property defects to prospective buyers. These agents point out that you can’t tell buyers about problems if you don’t know the problems exist. Handing buyers a long list of repair problems as they enter your house will turn many of them off. They recommend getting buyers emotionally committed to the property first, before their own inspectors drop the bomb. That line of reasoning is based on an ostrich-like logic: What you don’t know can’t get you in trouble — for a while, anyway.
Agents may use a second argument to convince sellers not to get their own property inspections: Buyers generally won’t believe anything in reports paid for by sellers. According to these agents, buyers suspect you’ll hire a go-easy inspector to falsely report that your house is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Why spend several hundred dollars on an inspection report that buyers won’t believe? Again, you can find a nugget of truth in this argument. Only a suicidal chicken would ask the fox about how things are in the hen house. More than one unscrupulous seller has paid an equally unscrupulous inspector to write a false inspection report.
On the other hand, consider these four reasons to have your property thoroughly inspected before putting it on the market:
- Damage control: Suppose your house needs a new roof. The problem is there whether you know about it or not. Why wait passively for an ultimatum to fix the roof at a cost established by the buyer’s inspection or kiss the deal goodbye? If you discover the problem before marketing the house, you can either disclose it to prospective buyers with a repair estimate, or you can do the work before putting your house up for sale. Your negotiating position is much stronger if you know about problems in advance — and accurately know the cost to correct them.
You can’t lose what you never had. Some buyers won’t want to tour your house if they know it needs a great deal of repair work. Those buyers don’t want a fixer-upper. Even if you paid for all the repairs, they still wouldn’t buy your house. Forget them. Concentrate on buyers who are willing to do corrective work after the close of escrow if your price and terms are fair.
- Financial planning: It’s very important to have a realistic estimate of your present house’s net proceeds of sale before committing to buy a new home. Asking prices aren’t sale prices. If your house needs major repairs, you’ll pay for them one way or another — either by doing the repairs yourself, by reducing your asking price to reflect the cost of repairs, or by giving buyers a credit in escrow to do the work.
Latent defects — flaws hidden out of sight behind walls or concealed in inaccessible areas, such as under your house or up in the attic where you can’t see them — are time bombs. Defects you can’t see and don’t know about (such as faulty wiring, a cracked heat-exchanger in your furnace, asbestos insulation, lead in your water pipes, and so on) are potential deal killers. A good premarketing inspection can reveal all these problems.
- Fine tuning: Professional property inspectors can help you spot minor defects, such as dirty filters in the heating system; ventilation problems in the basement, garage, or crawl space; blocked gutters; loose doorknobs; stuck windows; a missing chimney hood or spark arrester, and so on. Eliminating small maintenance problems like these gives prospective buyers who tour the property a favorable — and correct — impression that your house is extremely well-maintained.
- Peace of mind: The inspector alerts you to health and safety precautions you should take. Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, grounding electrical outlets, clearing a clogged sewer line, and keeping flammable products away from furnaces, heaters, and fireplaces, for example, make your house safer for the next owner and safer for you as long as you continue living in it.
Quite a few so-called house inspectors have neither the background nor the special training required to do premarketing house inspections. Compounding your problem of finding a qualified inspector, few states certify, license, or regulate house inspectors. And, as we all know from personal experience with government regulation, states that do regulate house inspectors don’t always do a good job. Anyone with a clipboard, a pickup truck, and a decent houseside manner can instantly anoint himself a house inspector nearly anywhere in the country.
Avoid contractors who graciously offer to inspect your house and then do repairs that they discover during their inspection. If, like us, you’re mechanically challenged, unscrupulous contractors can use your ignorance to fatten their wallets by billing you for phony corrective work they create themselves.
The best way around this conflict of interest is to hire someone who only performs property inspections — a professional property inspector, not a contractor wearing two hats. Doing property inspections requires special expertise that not all contractors, engineers, and architects have. Good professional property inspectors earn their living solely from inspection fees and don’t do corrective work. This restriction removes any temptation to find unnecessary corrective work during inspections.