A home sale is stressful for both buyers and sellers, but while a buyer's stress is usually the mortgage loan, for sellers, the source of stress is usually the home inspection. Most mortgage loans require an inspection in order to close -- the lender wants to make sure the home is in good shape -- and depending on the terms of the home sale contract, the homeowner might have to make (or pay for) any required repairs before the transaction can close.
You can do a lot as a seller to make the home inspection process as smooth as possible if you're willing to prepare your house, so concider the following as you gear up for the home inspection.
The inspector will look at the attic, basement or crawl space, electrical outlets, electrical panel, and other areas of your house that you might not have visited in some time. Do your best to clean out storage areas, and ensure the inspector can easily enter and exit every part of the house. In the attic and basement, the inspector needs to look at the rafters and the room perimeter, so don't push items against the wall -- try to make it easy to walk around and see everything.
The inspector will also look at the outside of your home and make sure there are no potential drainage or foundation issues lurking, so do your best to provide easy access to the exterior perimeter of the house. This may mean trimming trees so they don’t brush against the house or removing shrubs so the perimeter is easily seen. It might just mean raking leaves or removing debris. If you insure the inspector has unimpeded access, it will make the inspection go more quickly.
Check the Grading
If puddles collect around your home's foundation, this can lead to serious future problems -- even if you haven't experienced issues yet. Expect the inspector to look at the grading around your home and note whether the soil slopes away from the house (ideal) or toward the house (problematic). Check and fix any grading issues yourself before calling in an inspector if you can; this can save you time and money later on, especially to avoid a rush job during the closing process.
Even if you're almost entirely certain that all your appliances are in perfect working condition, look at all of them and see if there's any way to present them better. An oven might operate perfectly, but that caking of burnt grease at the bottom could give an inspector pause.
Check Windows and Doors
Inspectors see whether all the windows and doors operate properly and they also check weather-stripping. Not only do windows need to open and shut as designed, but screens and windowpanes should be damage-free. Fix cracks in the glass or holes in the screen, it's something you'll be asked to do anyway.
Test the Water Works
All faucets in your home, from the kitchen and bathroom sinks to showers and tubs, will be on the inspector's list, so do your own rundown to ensure everything is operating properly. Fix any drips and get a plumber to look at any faucets that aren't working at all -- that's definitely something you'll have to fix before the house sells, and you might as well get it done before the inspection.
Turn on the Fans
Both ceiling fans and built-in fans will be tested, so check them before the inspection to bypass surprises. The kitchen hood fan particularly important, as a broken hood fan can be a fire hazard, so if there are any problems, fix them now.
Light up Your House
The inspector will check each light switch to ensure it's operating properly and get a sense of how the electrical system is connected. Make sure all the bulbs are operational, especially seldom-used ones, such as porch lights or lights in pantries or crawl spaces. Do a rundown of every switch so you can label it if it connects to an outlet, fan, or something other than a light.
Check Garage Doors
A sticky or non-operational garage door is an inconvenience that many of us will put up with longer than we should, but it's entirely reasonable for a buyer (and an inspector) to take note and ask a seller to fix it before the closing. To that end, double-check your garage door -- whether it uses a remote opener or not -- to make sure it's working perfectly, and if it's not, this is something you can address pretty easily before the inspector arrives.
Examine Ducts, Downspouts, and Gutters
Ducts should be debris-free and operating well according to their nature, and your gutters and downspouts should also be clean and free-flowing, plus any runoff that flows through the downspout should be directed away from the house instead of into the foundation. You may want to hire an AC expert to check your ducts if it’s beyond your own capabilities, and if you can't safely climb a ladder to look at your downspouts and gutters, this is also something you can contract out.
Brush Up On Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Detector Functionality
Another home feature that inspectors examine are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Most of these devices (especially newer ones) alert you if batteries are low or if they aren't functioning properly, but it can't hurt to look at the safety features in your house, including these detectors, and test them to ensure they're working and have sufficient battery power.
Replace Central Air/Heat Filters
If you had an A/C professional come out to check your ducts, they probably took a look at your unit’s filter, but if you decided to skip that expense, then you'll want to take a look at the filter yourself and decide if it needs to be replaced. If you don't remember the last time you changed it, it's probably best to replace it.
Label the Fuse Box
The inspector will look at your fuse box to ensure it's in good working order; you can allow them to complete their job more efficiently if you label it clearly. It may have been awhile since you looked at the fuse box and labels fade, so see how easy it is to read those labels, then act accordingly!
Fix Faulty Cabinets And Drawers
Sticky drawers and cabinet doors that don't shut all the way aren't a big deal once you get used to them, but these are little things inspectors notice and buyers might ask you to repair before they take ownership. Give cabinets and drawers a quick once-over and help them operate smoothly before the inspection, and you could bypass one request.
Get Rid of Pests
Not every inspection includes a pest inspection, but if the inspector sees signs that there's any infestation, they have to write it in the report and you may have to bring in a specialist to eliminate pests. If you suspect (or know) that you've got a spider problem, a snake issue, etc., do yourself (and the buyers) a favor and take care of it.
Fix Water Damage
Inspectors seek out signs of water damage, including stains on ceilings and walls, so get roof leaks or pipe problems managed before the inspection and paint over stains. Water damage can seriously delay a closing -- it can turn into a big deal very quickly -- and if it's possible to handle it before the inspector arrives, you'll possibly save yourself a lot of time and money moving forward.
Look under the Sinks
Small drips under the sinks cause wood or plaster to rot or flake, and inspectors check under every sink – in the kitchen, bathrooms, garage, wet bar, etc. -- to ensure the area is totally dry. Dampness and drips are issues that should be fixed before the closing, and it's in your best interest to eliminate them before the inspector ever sees them.
Ensure the Roof is Good to Go
We're not suggesting you get on your roof yourself, but asking a contractor to take a look -- or getting in the attic to look for leaks or damage -- is a good idea so there aren't any surprises. Replacing a roof is a big expense that can be especially painful if you're about to sell, but go ahead and examine it in advance and save yourself that particular headache.
Leave Garage Door Openers out and Access Doors Unlocked
This seems obvious, but if you forget, the inspector might have to come back later -- and nobody wants that. Make sure the garage door opener is available, if applicable; if the manual garage door is kept locked, leave it open, and if there are any outside access points to the house, ensure the doors are unlocked or the keys are clearly labeled and left where the inspector can easily find them.
Check Pilot Lights
Pilot and utility lights must be operational, so take a look at any pilot or utility lights before leaving the house to make sure they're burning.
Empty Your Appliances (Except the Fridge)
Inspectors need to make sure the stove burners are working, and they'll probably turn on the oven, too. If you make a habit of leaving cookie sheets or other items in your oven or on your stove burners, remove them. Thankfully, you don't need to empty your refrigerator, but you should make sure the other appliances are empty and ready to test.
Make Sure Septic Systems or Wells are Findable
If your house has a septic system or well they'll inspected -- and their location might not be readily apparent. To save time, draw a little map and leave it out to guide the inspector to the septic system or well.
Have Paperwork Available
If you have warranties or other paperwork (such as receipts for recent roofing work), leave it on the kitchen counter, dining table, or somewhere else obvious. Inspectors appreciate having the information they need to make a decision about what needs fixing and what's in good shape. Spare yourself a few rounds of back-and-forth questions and answers down the line.
Vacate -- and Take the Pets
The buyer may walk around with the inspector to hear about issues that might need fixing, and it's tempting for sellers to listen in. But if you might be tempted to argue with the inspector or be unwilling to only observe, do everyone a favor and remove yourself from the equation. You'll see the write-up after the inspection, and it will be over more quickly if you don’t nitpick results.
Also make sure your home is pet-free, or at least that your pets are secured and can't get out. (Don't just stash them behind a closed door; the inspector needs to look everywhere, and if pets are loose in a room and the inspector lets them out, it could cause trouble.) Put them in a kennel or take them with you so they don't appear at the worst possible moment.
Prepare for Surprises
Even if you look at everything and you're certain your house will get a 100% passing grade, it's good to scale back expectations. It's an inspector's job to find anything -- however insignificant -- that could cause a bigger problem down the road, and it doesn't mean you're a neglectful homeowner if they find something that needs to be fixed.
Think of it in terms of avoiding trouble (like a lawsuit!) later on and stifle your impulse to argue. If you think the inspector is wrong, you can ask for a second opinion, but consider if it's worth several hundred dollars for another inspection or whether you'd rather just fix the problem. Sometimes it's easier to prepare yourself that there will be at least a few things to fix, then go ahead and fix them -- it will get your home sold that much more quickly.