Preparing a House for Sale - is "Staging" or "House Dressing" Enough?
From the home inspector's point of view there is always a VERY different approach to the meaning of this title phrase than from the seller’s position. And for a very simple reason – “we” (the property owners) tend to forget about areas in our homes that don’t (at least not immediately) impact our daily routines.
For as long as we don’t feel any dramatic changes in our surroundings, everything is assumed to be alright. We adjust and fail to notice small, gradual changes, and because, over the years of living in the house, it was decorated (in and out) to please our personal senses, we think that everything is in a good shape, and the property will sell quickly, just because “we” love it so much.
And this approach, or rather this natural human behavior, worked perfectly for the past few years. Unfortunately for the sellers, with the currently unstable real estate market, preparing your house for sale might need that extra ingredient to help successfully complete the entire transaction.
During the recent months, I’ve had several clients using my inspection services 2 or 3 times each (it never happened that often during my 10 years of being in this business). I’m not sure if the sellers of all those properties searched the Internet for home selling tips, or preparing their homes for sale guidelines, but if you’d only look at those houses appeal, most of them were pretty much ready to move-in: clean, de-cluttered, de-personalized (so the buyer could easier picture himself as the owner), rearranged, with a perfect curb appeal ... yet that did not sell. Why?
- Because the current market buyers’ approach (at least my clients) changed dramatically, they seem to be more interested in what they can’t see (behind the wall and under the floor) than how neatly your house has been arranged or how clean it is
- Because the sellers didn’t check the attic and crawlspace area, heavily contaminated with black mold
Don't get me wrong - so called "Staging" or "House dressing" (preparing your house cosmetically so it appeals best to the broadest amount of potential buyers) is still very important, it’s the bait!
And that first impression may give you the signature on a contract, but if your potential buyer brings a home inspector, that signature might start fading extremely fast. You can, of course, keep gambling because not every buyer hires a home inspector, but if he does, it might be already too late to save the deal.
Wouldn't it be better to check a few critical items before you put a property on the market? – recognizing those major issues is simple and you could do it yourself, or have a friend checking it for you. What you might gain, for just a few minutes of your time, is avoid a lot of frustration, aggravation, and eventually, a canceled deal.
If you have a critical issue, it's much better to have it taken care of before listing your property for sale, and even add credibility to your offer by providing a buyer with warranty papers from any performed repairs. During negotiations, you'll often end up paying much more for the repair because it is driven by emotions, time limitations, and just wanting to get it over with.
And even if you fix it, the deal may simply fall through - buyers often loose trust to the sellers because according to the disclosure, the problems discovered during the home inspection should not exist (at this point it doesn't matter for the buyer if you really didn’t know about the problem).
The critical and usually the most expensive issues to correct are: mold, roofs, cracked / leaking foundations, and heating systems.
1. For the house heating system, it would be a good idea to get it checked and certified by a licensed HVAC contractor. Than you can provide a potential buyer with a proof of such service (make sure it is a recent one).
2. Cracked / leaking foundation – don’t mark the disclosure sheet that you don’t know anything about it, unless you’re sure that it is not leaking. Just take a walk along the foundation exterior and interior, look for cracks and stains / discoloration on the finished walls along the base. It’s a mental approach – a lot of the buyers are scared of cracked foundations, they don’t know if a crack, even a small one, could become a disaster in the future.
As a seller, you’re not in the position to make such a guarantee. But, the scenario changes if you hire a professional (it’s a good idea to use an established company like US Waterproofing or Perma Seal) and present the buyer with a warranty documentation – the responsibility for the foundation condition just shifted over to the hired contractor (this works for every type of repair as long as you can provide sufficient paperwork, and believe me, it makes the buyer happy).
3. Crawlspaces – most of the time, they’re not a pleasant place to visit, but are often responsible for many surprises. If you have never been there and are selling a house with one underneath – shine your light under the floor, and at least make sure that is dry, well ventilated, and has no leaking plumbing.
4. Roofs – it is very important and most of the “home selling tips” have it listed as one of the top priorities. A new roof adds value to the house (make sure that you have no more that 2 layers installed), secures everything within your property, but it might be a waste of money if you fail to check what’s underneath.
It seems like nobody does it – if you have an attic under the roof, that short trip to evaluate it might be worth somewhere around $3,000.00 - $10,000.00 … for the mold cleanup – that’s just doubled the roof replacement cost! If you just did the roof without checking what’s underneath, and you do have a mold problem, replacing the contaminated decking (plywood sheets) at the time of the shingles (or other material) replacement could be cheaper than the mold remediation process itself.
5. Check for attic mold; the critical areas are usually located above the bathrooms and bedrooms. Lack of or inadequate attic ventilation is the most common cause. Check the foundation surface for moisture and stains or growth of any type, look inside the basement closets, cabinets on exterior walls, or any other poorly ventilated areas.
Depending on your abilities, checking those few items shouldn’t take you more than 15 – 45 minutes, but it might save you precious time and tons of money when it comes to deal negotiations – Good Luck