Selling a home can be stressful, and putting your house on the market can also feel remarkably personal. After all, potential buyers and their real estate agents will be walking through and criticizing everything from the square footage to your taste in paint.
And of course, you want to get as much money from your sale as you can. For most people, a house is their single biggest investment, so it’s crucial that the property rewards all the time and effort you put into it.
One way to make sure you have all the information you need to best negotiate with buyers? A pre-listing home inspection. Hiring a qualified home inspector to take a look at everything from the roof to the foundation will arm you with critical information—and help you decide what fixes to invest in before putting your house on the market.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting a pre-listing inspection report and putting it to work for you.
What is a pre-listing home inspection?
As a homeowner, odds are good that you worked with a home inspector when you bought your house: some 8 in 10 buyers hire an inspector to look over a home before they finalize the sale. Most real estate agents encourage a home inspection so that buyers go into a sale with a full understanding of any issues they may need to address with the house. Knowing rough estimates of how much those improvements will cost also helps a REALTOR® negotiate a better price.
A pre-listing home inspection is just like a buyer’s inspection—in fact, the inspection report will cover all the same items. The only difference is who hires the inspector. In the case of a pre-listing inspection, the seller hires the inspector and pays for the report to get an insider’s look at exactly what’s going on “under the hood” of the house they plan to sell.
What’s involved in a pre-listing inspection?
A pre-listing inspection covers all of the standard items that any conscientious home inspector reviews during a site visit, including the following areas:
- Electrical: including service box, surge protection, fixtures, receptacles, and switches
- Exterior: including siding, decks, driveways, drainage, and vegetation
- Fireplaces: includes fuel-burning appliances and ventilation
- HVAC: including furnaces, ductwork, and air conditioners
- Insulation and ventilation: including vapor barriers, dryer vents, and air leaks
- Interior: including walls, stairs, built-in cabinetry, doors, and appliances
- Plumbing: including water, sewer, venting, and fuel systems
- Roofing: including coverings, flashing, chimneys, and drainage
- Structure: including walls, floors, and framing
It’s important to understand that the inspection report is purely informational for home sellers. You are never required to fix anything that turns up in the report—there’s no such thing as a mandatory repair before you put your home on the market.
What you decide to make repairs or improvements is completely up to you. The inspection report is a great starting point for a conversation with your real estate agent about pricing, and you may also discuss whether certain investments could help you get more for your house or help to sell it more quickly. An excellent REALTOR® will know what sells—and what you can skip.
The one thing you are legally obligated to do is to disclose any defects that you know about the property. Sellers do this through a disclosure statement, the details of which vary by state. In general, you’ll be responsible for revealing major defects that you know about, such as pests, leaks, unpermitted improvements, and problems with home systems such as the furnace or wiring.
If your inspection report outlines major problems, you’ll have a chance to fix them—but if you don’t, you’ll still have to disclose them to the buyer when asked. If this sounds risky, remember that any potential buyer is very likely to conduct their own inspection to find out those details anyway. A seller’s inspection just gives you the information you need to plan ahead.
The benefits of pre-listing inspections for sellers
According to market research conducted by ZIllow, a home inspection is one of the top three pre-listing activities sellers do to get their homes ready for the market. Here’s what they get out of working with a reliable inspector:
- An actionable to-do list: A detailed home inspection report can serve as a ready-made list of home repairs to tackle before putting the house up for sale. If you have limited funds to invest in pre-sale projects, addressing the most pressing issues from the home inspection will help you spend that money wisely. For serious buyers, knowing that the roof is in good shape will be much more important than temporary curb appeal from paint or foundation plantings.
- Control over repairs: When you take the reins to fix major issues before selling, you get to decide how much to spend and who to hire to do the work. You can even take care of smaller issues on your own if you’re handy. Doing the work ahead of time gives you much more flexibility, as opposed to waiting for a potential buyer to dictate the terms of repairs later.
- More accurate pricing: Real estate professionals put a lot of work into pricing homes to sell, and for good reason. Price too high, and you’ll have fewer offers in all but the hottest markets—and a house that lingers on the market too long is less attractive. Price too low, and you lose out on thousands in profit. Knowing exactly what work needs to be done on the house is crucial information for your real estate agent so he or she can anticipate buyer’s counteroffers and help you negotiate from a position of strength.
- Better advertising: Your real estate agent can also use the glowing parts of your home inspection report to help sell your house. For example, if your ductwork is new and your electrical system exceeds code requirements, these will be featured selling points in the listing. Even just mentioning a pre-listing home inspection can inspire greater buyer confidence and drum up interest in that open house.
- More offers: Budget-conscious buyers may be more likely to make an offer on your house if there’s an existing inspection report, since they have additional information about the home that they didn’t have to pay for. Getting lots of offers is always a good thing, and they can even help drive up the price a bit if buyers feel the pressure of competition.
- More confident buyers: Many buyers specifically look for homes with a pre-listing inspection, because they know major issues have been disclosed and the chance for buyer’s remorse has been significantly reduced. Confident buyers are less likely to get cold feet and back out of a deal, which is an agonizing waste of time that extends the period your house is on the market as you search for back-up offers.
- Faster closing: In some cases, eager buyers may accept your recent home inspection report as the final word on the house and forgo hiring their own inspector. Sharing inspections like this can speed up the closing process, and you won’t have to wait to schedule a separate buyer’s inspection and get the report before finalizing the sale. This is a big benefit if you need a quick sale to move into your next home right away.
If you choose not to have a pre-listing inspection done, you give up a good deal of control over negotiations to the buyer. That’s because most offers are written with a contingency about the inspection report—if it comes back with major issues, the buyer can walk away from the sale or renegotiate the price. When you already know what they’ll find, you and your REALTOR® can be prepared for the moment instead of blindsided and left to scramble to make the sale.
How to prepare your home for a pre-listing inspection
Most sellers are relieved to know that inviting a home inspector over is nothing like staging a home for prospective buyers. Inspectors want to see your home exactly as it is, and there’s no fooling an eagle-eyed professional into thinking your home looks better than it really is. The key is to make sure your inspector can easily see everything on the home inspection checklist so he or she can complete a thorough report.
Specifically, you’ll want to:
- Consider temporarily crating or relocating pets
- Clear all paths and doorways for easy access
- Declutter for easy movement around the house
- Make sure all access hatches and doorways are uncovered and open
- Replace any broken or missing light bulbs
- Plug in appliances
- Check carbon monoxide and smoke detector batteries
- Clear gutters
- Trim away overhanging branches and foundation plantings
For extra credit, you may want to complete some basic repairs ahead of time. This will lead to a more positive report to impress potential buyers and help you and your inspector focus on the things that really matter.
Some low-hanging fruit to take care of before your inspector arrives:
- Replace all HVAC filters, including those for exhaust fans
- Clean and empty appliances
- Repair or replace weatherstripping
- Recaulk showers, tubs, and sinks
- Repair or replace torn screens
- Replace missing roof shingles
- Power wash exterior siding and decks
- Clean clogged drains
- Call an exterminator if you have an insect or pest problem
Find a qualified home inspector near you
Once you’ve decided to go with a pre-listing inspection, you’ll need a professional home inspector to get the job done right. HomeGauge can help! We work with excellent home inspectors in every state and even in Canada and other countries, and our handy search tool makes it easy to find the perfect inspector in your area.