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Improvement Mistakes Sellers Make when Prepping a House for Sale

The real estate sales and brokerage industry in the United States is worth an estimated $226.8 billion, with the market currently favoring sellers. This may lead some of your clients to believe the process will mean quick profits with little effort. While it is true that homes are selling rapidly, this does not mean selling a home will be problem-free.


Depending on market conditions, the amount a homeowner may spend on improvements can vary significantly, but any such improvements should be done consistent with local requirements. Oftentimes, handymen might be hired to do multiple tasks, such as replacing electrical outlets and covers, replacing a water heater, and other relatively straightforward jobs. When these tasks are performed, the seller (or their agent) often fails to address the issue of whether or not the change they're about to make requires a permit.

When preparing a home for sale, sellers often make mistakes in the areas listed that show up in a home inspection.

  1. Permits Making changes that require permits and inspections are one of the most common mistakes. In most jurisdictions, changes to a home require permits if the system is a potential safety issue. This includes changes to the electrical system, replacement of a gas heating appliance, including water heaters.

  2. GFI’s in kitchens and bathrooms It is very common to see new electrical outlets in a home prepared for sale. Mistakes are often made when replacing outlets in kitchens and bathrooms. It is required that all bathroom circuits must be protected by a GFCI circuit. In order to do so, most contractors will install all bathrooms on one circuit and then install a single GFCI to protect all outlets on the circuit. This principle is often misread as all bathrooms must have a GFCI, resulting in homeowners (and sometimes realtors) installing a GFCI outlet in each bathroom. While there is no safety issue, (its often a nuisance trying to figure out which GFCI outlet needs to be reset) it opens the door to questions as to the whether the person who did the work is a licensed electrician.

  3. Cleaning Gutters Washing gutter debris down the downspout in order to clean it often leads to a choked downspout (the vertical "tube" that carries water from the gutter to the ground), which can go unnoticed. This can cause significant damage to the downspout and the board that holds the gutter in place. In the winter time, if the downspout is choked, the water will accumulate and eventually freeze, resulting in a backup and the freezing water expanding and splitting the downspout open. Cleaning the gutters should first involve physically removing all of the debris, not washing it down. On completion, once it's all removed, it's always a good idea to run a significant amount of water through the gutters and ensure that everything drains through the downspout without backing up.

  4. Exterior Paint A fresh coat of paint does wonders for curb appeal when preparing a house for sale. There are some parts of the house that should not be painted, though, and one of the most common mistakes is painting over the soffit vents. The soffit is the portion of the roof which overhangs the exterior wall. It's typically right behind and below the gutter. The purpose of this soffit is to allow air to enter the attic, which keeps moisture levels in your attic as low as possible and prevents mold buildup. Painters will often paint over these vents, and because the holes in the vents are typically very small (to prevent critters from getting into your attic), the paint ends up sealing the soffit vents, thereby preventing fresh air from entering the attic. This common oversight can lead to significant additional problems and repair costs.

  5. Adding Mulch Most modern homes built in the last 50 years are wood frame structures. That wooden frame must be properly protected from moisture so that the structure is not compromised. In preparing a home for sale, it is quite common to improve landscaping by adding mulch, flowers, and flower beds around the base of the house. Often overlooked in these types of homes, and unknown to most homeowners, is what's called a weep hole. These holes are important in homes with a brick veneer to allow for air traffic behind the brick and any excess moisture to escape the bricks. The brick is not a structural, load-carrying component, because it allows air movement behind the bricks and prevents moisture from getting trapped. When landscapers install excessive amounts of mulch and these weep holes are blocked (as they are typically close to the ground), it can trap moisture and produce long term damage. So if you are mulching your home and you have masonry veneer on all sides, it is very important that you be aware of these holes and not obstruct them.

  6. Replacing Faucets We know without thinking that the cold water is on the right and the hot is on the left. This requirement is built into the building code for safety reasons, particularly for small children. When faucets are being replaced, quite often the person doing the work mistakenly reverse the connections, and you end up with hot and cold switched in your sinks, showers, or bathtubs. If you're replacing faucets it's always a good idea to double check to make sure these pipes are connected correctly.

  7. Rewiring Outlets After a fresh coat of interior paint, replacing outlets, switches, and their covers is very common and achieves the desired effect of giving the house a fresh interior look. This simple action however often creates safety problems. It is required that outlets and switches not move when in use, and oftentimes simply replacing the cover or the outlet itself results in a loose outlet or switch -- a potential electrical short. This is especially so when the outlet covers are replaced with cheaper plastic covers that tend to bend and allow the outlet to move when in use.

  8. Replacing two-prong outlets with three-prong Homes built prior to 1971 typically had two-prong electrical outlets. The earlier versions of these outlets were typically not grounded. It is quite common when preparing a home for sale to have these older two-prong outlets replaced with the modern requirement for three-prong outlets. What is often overlooked here is the absence of properly grounding that electrical outlet. Grounding is a way of ensuring that if an electrical current flow problem would occur, the current has an alternate means of flowing, preventing shock or injury. For this reason, when you replace a two-prong outlet with a three-prong outlet, you are informing the end user that this outlet is a grounded receptacle, and therefore the wiring must be done correctly.

Sellers should consider conducting a pre-listing home inspection after improvements are made and before listing. A sellers inspection will provide the seller with a list of action items that will likely show up on a buyer inspection. With this information the seller can decide what is worth correcting and avoid last minute buyer negotiation. A sellers inspection can also help ensure the contractor has completed the work prior to final payment. Schedule an inspection with us today!

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