By Steve Wydler and Hans Wydler
Special to The Washington Post
Home sellers need to understand that buyers today have access to more information and are more educated and savvy than ever before.
As a result, today’s buyers tend to be more cautious. One small issue that they see with the condition of the home could raise red flags about potential major problems lurking behind the walls. They may second-guess their interest in the home, asking themselves: What is my assurance this won’t reoccur in the future? Is this issue indicative that the home has more than its fair share of problems? How much money and aggravation might this issue cause me down the road?
Ultimately, they may talk themselves out of purchasing the home.
It’s best to take extra special care of your home long before you even consider putting it on the market. Here’s how to see your home with a buyer’s eye so you can avoid problems that may scuttle a sale in the future:
Repairs: When you are addressing a home repair issue as a homeowner, anticipate questions in the future and try to resolve the issue in a manner that would give comfort to a prospective buyer. For example, if you are fixing a small crack in your foundation, consult the original builder to see if you can find out what happened and why (you might even find out that it is covered by the builder’s warranty).
When you have the repair corrected, make sure to have the contractor doing the work prepare a detailed (and legible) invoice that explains the issue and the work done to correct it. The “gold standard” is to get a transferable warranty that you can give to the next owner.
Maintenance: Buyers walking through a home are trying to determine (both consciously and unconsciously) if the property has been well-maintained. Even if the buyer doesn’t “catch” a potential issue, their home inspector almost certainly will.
One thing we’ve found over the years is that buyers tend to “horribilize” issues (we borrowed this term from a fellow agent). In other words, the buyer will imagine the worst-case scenario.
For example, let’s say the HVAC filter hasn’t been changed in a while and is dirty. From the seller’s perspective, the cost to replace the filter is only a few dollars. Buyers, however, will think the clogged filter has strained the HVAC system, which will shorten its life, and wonder what other routine maintenance issues have been neglected in the home. We can’t list all the maintenance issues here but suffice it to say regularly and proactively maintaining your home will pay dividends when you decide to sell.
Boundaries: In preparing to list a home for sale, one of the things we ask from our seller clients (townhomes, rowhouses and single-family detached) is a copy of the plat (AKA survey). This is a document that they likely received at the time they purchased the property and is with their original closing papers.
Anytime you or your neighbor put in a fence, driveway or other landscaping/hardscaping feature, make sure it is on the correct property. If there is an encroachment (even a little bit), you will want to consult an attorney. There is often a simple legal solution at the time the encroachment occurs (e.g., recording an easement, sending a simple “permission” letter, etc). Encroachment issues are potentially big deals at settlement causing delays and costs, and in some cases, the deal to fall apart.
Permits: Whether a particular job needs a permit seems to have different interpretations. It’s best to err on the side of caution and get a permit. Certainly, if there is a significant repair or if you are going to advertise something as a feature of your home, the work should have been permitted. Cutting a corner to avoid permitting might sound like an attractive way to save money today, but it will likely cost you more in the long run.
Water: Water issues result in some of the most costly home-inspection items we see. Water issues can result in a whole host of problems, including foundation issues, mold and roof problems. The good news is that water issues can be avoided relatively inexpensively if you are vigilant and proactive. Keep your gutters clean and make sure your downspouts empty away from your foundation. Make sure the ground around the perimeter of your home slopes away from the foundation.
When a home is constructed, the builder will dig out a big hole, pour a foundation and then fill in the empty surrounding space with fill dirt, hopefully with a proper slope away from the foundation. Because that soil is loose, it tends to settle over time creating a negative slope toward the foundation. Since this happens gradually over years, most homeowners don’t notice the problem until they discover they have a water problem in their basement.
Etc.: Make sure your caulking and roof flashing are in good shape. Make sure your air conditioning condensate drain lines are clean and you have a backup system that alerts you when they are activated. Make sure your dryer vent is clean and blows the hot moist air outside and not into your attic or between walls. Make sure all tree limbs, bushes and other foliage are not touching the house (at least a foot clearance is recommended).
Paperwork: As you acquire paperwork related to your home, ask yourself: “Is this something a future owner might want/need?” Whether it be a plat, manual, architectural drawing, irrigation system map, copies of contractor invoices and permits — it’s best to keep it. For tax purposes, you’ll want to keep track of your capital improvements to the property.
Steve and Hans Wydler co-lead the Wydler Brothers real estate team affiliated with Long & Foster in Bethesda, Maryland, and McLean, Virginia, and are authors of “Inside the Sell: Top Agents Reveal Unspoken Secrets and Dangers of Buying and Selling Your Home.”