But what about the spaces that the general public doesn't always get to see first-hand, but that their home inspector checks out? I think it's equally important (if not more so) to make sure that these areas are in good shape, as they indicate to your prospective buyers how well your home has been maintained. Here are a few examples:
- If your home has a crawl space or basement area, make sure that it is free from debris. Contractors are not always the best about cleaning up after themselves, often leaving behind old galvanized pipes, scraps of new pipes being installed and/or of the old pipes being discarded. Wood scraps under the house are also not a good sign, as termite inspectors will call them out as cellulose debris, or "Section 2" items -- items that may lead to termite issues in the future (what termite doesn't want to chomp on some loose wood in a protected environment!).
- In crawl spaces, also make sure that there is no moisture on the ground from leaking pipes (either drain or supply lines), a shower stall, or from a leaking AC condensation pump. If wet after a rain, check around the foundation, and make certain that downspouts are functioning properly and draining away from the house/foundation.
- In both the crawl space and the attic, make certain that all electrical junction boxes have covers. It is very common for inspectors to call this item out, and it's a simple and inexpensive fix. Not having them is an indicator to a buyer that the seller hasn't paid attention to these types of details. Also, there shouldn't be any electrical or low-voltage (TV cable/phone) laying in the dirt -- all wires should be properly affixed to the floor joists or ceiling joists/rafters if in the attic.
- Likewise, in both the attic and the crawl space, check that any visible flexible ducting is not touching the ground (if underneath) and that there are no visible holes/tears in the ducting insulation. If so, have repaired/replaced by a skilled HVAC professional. If it appears to be older, asbestos-covered ductwork, then best to leave to a licensed professional. It's about $1,000 to have the asbestos covered ducts removed from a typical 1950s/1960s tract home, but of course you'll have to have new ducts installed as well.
- Check that bathroom and kitchen vent hood ductwork (generally in the attic, except in the case of downdraft stoves, which may be in the crawl space area) are in good condition, and that they properly exit through the roof (and are flashed properly on the roof so that they don't leak) and don't simply terminate in the attic. While you're on the roof, with a spray can, paint all of the pipes that protrude through the roof the same color as the roof -- makes a subtle yet noticeable difference when driving up to the house.
- Look under all of the sinks for leaks, and/or any flexible, accordian-style flex drains (usually in bathrooms). While convenient, they tend to trap debris and inspectors will always call them out. If the cabinet floor of any of the sinks is decayed or bowed (common, as there may have been small leaks over the years) consider having a handyman remove/replace the bottom of the cabinet.
- The water heater should be properly strapped (top 1/3 and bottom 1/3, with the bottom 1/3 being at least 4" above the controls). There should also be a copper pipe attached to the temperature/pressure relief valve (TPR) that terminates within 6" of the floor. And with all gas appliances, there should be a "T" (sediment trap) in the gas line near the appliance, where any small particles can be trapped. While not critical, inspectors will call the item out, although most buyers aren't too concerned with sediment traps. Wipe the water heater down, and remove all cobwebs, debris, etc.
- Check the furnace area for cobwebs and dust as well, and clean in/around the areas as necessary, assuming that it's accessible. Also replace the air filter (or clean the filter if it is a reusable filter) as this is an often neglected area in many homes. Check that the thermostat works well for both heating and cooling, and that the condensation pump, if any, is operational -- put a little bleach and/or vinegar in the pump reservoir to discourage algae which can clog the float switch. Inspectors also don't like to see gas flex lines passing through the furnace case (they tend to have sharp edges and there is concern that during an earthquake, the flex line could get sawn through by the furnace case). If necessary, installation of a small length of iron gas pipe through the furnace wall is an inexpensive fix.
- Visually inspect all rodent screens and/or bird blocks (under eaves) to confirm that they are not missing, torn, or otherwise broken, which could allow for rodents to enter the structure. Replace or repair as necessary.
- If your home has a brick chimney, there's a good chance that it is missing its chimney cap (generally stainless steel or plain steel). Inspectors will always note a missing chimney cap. Not only will it arrest sparks (for wood-burning fireplaces), but it will also just-as-importantly reduce the amount of moisture entering your chimney, which tends to deteriorate the interior surfaces of the brick/masonry. While the chimney sweep is up there, have them seal any cracks in the cap of the chimney as well.
- Make certain that there is a working, 10-year sealed-battery type (or hardwired with battery backup) smoke detector in each bedroom, and in the hallway outside of each bedroom. For the hallway, you can also use a sealed combination type smoke detector/carbon monoxide detector instead. If not a combination type, then you'll also need a carbon monoxide detector in the hall outside of each sleeping area. For multi-story homes, you'll need a sealed-type smoke detector on each floor of the home, as well as a carbon monoxide detector. If there are no bedrooms on the lower floor of a multi-story home, then I generally suggest placing them near the base of the stairwell leading up to sleeping areas (in addition to the units placed in the hallway(s) outside of bedrooms). If you have a basement or crawl space, it doesn't hurt to place them there as well, especially if your furnace and/or gas-water heater are installed in those areas.
These are just a few examples of areas that can be "staged" at a relatively low cost -- while they won't make any difference in the beautiful photos of your home that result from careful home staging, they'll make a huge difference in keeping the buyer in love with your home, after they've made their offer and are conducting their due diligence! If I'm fortunate enough to be your Realtor when you sell your home, we'll discuss these items and many more to make your home a great deal for prospective buyers!