Don't sell without presale inspection

February 22nd, 2011 3:00am
Sellers can save with alternatives to major fix-up work

Dian Hymer
Inman News™

A successful home sale is one where buyers and sellers experience no after-closing disputes or legal claims. One way to maximize the chance of a happy ending is to have the property well inspected before the sale is consummated.

For decades, buyers have been advised to have a property they are seriously considering buying inspected by professionals. In recent years, many sellers have had presale inspections done before they put their home on the market.

The purpose of a seller inspection is not to preclude buyers from doing their own inspections. A well-inspected property keeps sellers out of trouble by making buyers aware of defects before they close the deal.

Sellers often wonder when they should have presale inspections done. If they are aware of defects they want corrected, they may want to have the work done before inspectors take a look. However, any work done after a report is issued can be disclosed to the buyers along with copies of invoices for work completed.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: One reason for sellers to have their property preinspected is to make full disclosure of defects and to decide if some defects they didn't know about should be corrected before marketing. Before authorizing work, generate a list of all the items that should ideally be completed before showing your home to prospective buyers.

Get cost estimates and compare the total with your budget for "fix up for sale" work. Your real estate agent can help you prioritize the list so that you get the most return from your investment.

For example, if the wood pest ("termite") inspector says there is dry rot under the front porch and the bathroom floor, and you can't afford to repair both before marketing your home, replace the bathroom floor. The bathroom will show better. You can disclose that there is dry rot underneath the front porch, which is out of sight and won't affect buyers' first impressions.

To find good inspectors, ask for references from acquaintances who bought or sold recently. Your real estate agent can provide you with recommendations. Be sure to check references and use contractors who know the local area. Check with the state's contractor licensing department and Better Business Bureau.

Sellers should make sure they use reputable inspectors who are highly regarded within the local real estate community. They should also get written reports that can be made available to buyers before they make an offer. Verbal and checklist reports can work for buyers, if they accompany the inspectors while they're inspecting. But they don't work well for seller preinspections that are intended for buyers' review.

Inspections are somewhat subjective. For example, one roof inspector might feel that the life of the roof can be extended several years with $2,000 of maintenance. Another roofer could bid for an entire roof replacement for $10,000. In this case, it's often best to go ahead and have the roof maintenance work done before marketing the home. The buyers then know that they don't have to immediately replace the roof, and you save $8,000.

Sometimes sellers receive a report they don't like. For example, one seller received a termite (wood pest and organism) inspection report that said the large, wood-frame, stucco-coated stair system was dry rotted and needed to be replaced at a cost of $25,000.

The seller's agent asked the inspector if there was an alternative to completely replacing the steps. The inspector included a secondary recommendation in his report that called for resurfacing the stairs with a sealant and replacing the damaged wood from underneath for about half the price.

THE CLOSING: If you get multiple reports, make sure to make all of them available to the buyers, even the ones you don't like.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."

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