How to impress a home inspector for next to nothing, and why bother!
by Keith Tripp: revised 2021
I have never seen a home inspector’s photo on a bus stop or bench. We are the negative nerds of the real estate industry, and frankly some of us are just not that good looking. We are perceived, at best, as analytical curmudgeons, and unfortunately, often as unqualified. So why bother trying to impress the home inspector?
In the eyes of the inspector, the house is guilty until proven innocent and they would rather not be writing up a long list of defects. The home inspector can only see the tip of the iceberg, so brick and mortar “curb appeal” can have an impact on what they write and what they convey to the buyer. Believe or not, the buyer’s interpretation of the home inspection can kill your deal, sometimes over trivial issues.
Here are some low cost or no cost tips that may keep the inspector’s list of defects shorter. Even if not selling your house, these tips may be worthwhile pursuing.
My #5 tip for home sellers is: Check the basement floor drain.
A floor drain that is concealed and not accessible will be written up as a high priority issue. The floor drain needs to be accessible for maintenance and to be functional as an emergency drain in event of a flood. A floor drain that has been concealed by basement renovations is an indicator of non-professional work. The floor drain will also be checked for a trap primer, that is a system that prevents the water in the trap from drying out and allowing sewer gasses to enter the house. If the floor drain is full of stagnant water or any other debris, flush it with buckets of water. If the floor drain trap appears to be dry, pouring water down the drain will rejuvenate the trap seal water.
If the lid to the drain is badly corroded and stuck in place, break it free to facilitate inspection of the drain, and replace the lid. If there is no floor drain, or the drain is not at the lowest basement level this is also a high risk issue. The type of pipe material and condition of the drain pipe is also of interest to the inspector. Basement floor drains have been installed in new construction since roughly the 1950s.
My #4 tip for home sellers is: Open a few windows!
Window replacements are expensive. In favour of the seller is that the life expectancy of double pane (thermopane) glass is not well understood. These windows became the norm in the 1980’s, and now, almost 40 years later, the glass may still be performing well. Inspectors are looking for an excuse to justify window replacement to protect themselves from what the buyer may discover after they move in.
In this hustle and bustle world it seems many people don’t open windows anymore. It is common to find windows that can’t be opened. They are either painted shut or jammed shut or frozen shut or some combination of those.
If a window is jammed shut and can’t be opened from the interior, I will write it up as a dysfunctional window. In a bedroom, that can be a safety issue because the window is required for emergency exit. Now the issue and cost of window replacement finds its way into the inspection report and discussion. At $1000 and up per window, it might have been a good idea to crack those windows open and free them up before the inspector found them.
My # 3 tip for home sellers is: Don’t lie about the age!
I believe honesty still has a place in the real estate world. I have seen clients walk away from deals because they were lied to probably as much as from physical defects. Most people understand that a real estate listing is embellished and that real estate advertising in general appeals more to the emotions than the wallet. Small lies, like age of furnace, roof and air conditioning may not be deal breakers, but on multiple occasions I have seen buyers walk from deals where the sellers failed to mention that significant parts of the house are older than advertised. A home inspector’s # 1 concern is basement leakage, so when I find a house that is “completely renovated”, that is sitting on an old concrete block foundation I make sure the buyer fully understands what they are looking at.
Old foundations that have not been upgraded with newer dampproofing and foundation drainage will be the highlight of the inspection report. It is common that even professionally renovated houses fail to address the high cost improvements required to reduce the risk of basement leakage, and it is the home inspector’s duty to educate the buyer on the risks associated with the older components. The old sump in the photo was an indicator that the basement slab and foundation walls and foundation drainage system were the original old components on a house being marketed as new. Other old house components such as ungrounded wiring and old duct work are common finds in houses being marketed as “fully renovated”
My # 2 tip for home sellers is: Replace older water heaters
Insurance companies alert homeowners when the water heater reaches 12 years old. Even though the water heater may perform perfectly well beyond that, the 12 years is a good guideline. In areas with high mineral content water the life expectancy may be considerably shorter. Most water heaters are rented, so there is no merit in hanging on to an old water heater.
A really old water heater poses a high risk of leakage and is an indicator of overall poor attention to maintenance and upkeep of the house. Get the water heater replaced. It does not have to be upgraded to a different type, even though that may be a good idea depending on condition and type of the existing vent system. There may be incidental costs for replacing a rental water heater, but in many cases there is no cost, and this gleaming addition to the mechanical room means the inspector has fewer issues to list in his report.
My #1 tip for home sellers is: Have the furnace inspected by a qualified heating company and post the record directly at the furnace.
Tell the heating company that you want a checklist of what they have done, and specifically that you want a safety check, not just the old style clean and vacuum. Make sure the thermostat functions are included in the check. Include any other gas burning heating systems such as a gas fireplace in the check also.
Reading the document ( any document) is not officially part of the inspection, but if it is in the inspector’s face when he is opening the furnace, it won’t get ignored. This will probably cost less than $150 total, and in today’s market that is a next-to-nothing amount well spent.
Why is this #1?
Firstly, because carbon monoxide from faulty heating systems kills people. No inspector will take responsibility (by ignoring) a poorly maintained furnace and vent system. Only a TSSA Gas Technician can fully inspect a gas furnace.
Secondly, it removes, or lowers the priority of the furnace replacement cost in the inspectors reporting or discussion with the buyer.
So don’t let a neglected furnace jeopardize your million dollar deal. Get it checked and documented in advance.
Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada