How to prepare your house for a buyer’s inspection

Unprofessional Structural Work in Crawlspace - Williamsville, NY


Have you accepted a purchase offer on your home?  Congrats!  Now it’s time to finalize your preparations for the buyer’s home inspection.  Home inspectors in Buffalo, Hamburg, Amherst and throughout Western New York spend time looking for the big and small problems.  Spending time preparing your home for an inspection may lead to a shorter home inspection report for the buyer, and may build confidence in the buyer’s mind that they have made a good decision in buying your home.  Time is short – where should you focus your time and money? Our home inspection checklist may help you focus your efforts.  

If you would like to schedule a pre-listing home inspection in Buffalo, Amherst, Hamburg or anywhere in Western NY, contact us to schedule. Pre-listing inspections let you get ahead of the buyer’s inspector and provide you with an actionable punch list of safety and other issues of concern with the home.

Look in your basement or crawlspace

If you have not taken a look around in your basement or crawlspace recently – or ever – go down there and look around at the foundation walls, support piers or posts and other structural elements.  Examine the foundation walls, support piers or posts, overhead structure and floor for anything that looks unprofessional or broken.

If any of these items look wonky or otherwise wrong to you, then they are going to land on the front page of the buyer’s inspection report.  Real estate agents know the potential consequences of problems in these areas, and they include problems with the buyer obtaining financing and insurance.  Buyers tend to get nervous when defects in the basement are discovered, simply because they are the supporting structure of the house and literally represent a threat to the stability of the home.  

Other critical problems to look for in basements include:

  • Standing water
  • Does the basement have a sump pump?
  • Dangerous or unprotected electrical wiring – if your breaker box is missing its cover then replace it
  • Repair work that looks like an amateur did it

I inspect homes for sellers on a regular basis and recommend to them that they make sure to move back any personal items from the foundation or areas where plumbing passes through.  The buyer’s home inspector will want to inspect these areas, and if he or she is unable to because of personal items, then it may raise a red flag in the mind of the buyer.  

If you basement has a strong odor, investigate the cause.  Possibilities include natural gas leaks, broken drain or sewer pipes, standing water, mold and mildew.  Read more about what can cause a basement to stink.

I also advise sellers to install a sump pump if one is not present.  They are relatively affordable, inspire confidence in buyers and are required in several towns and cities in Western New York in order for a house closing to complete.

Inspect plumbing under sinks and vanities

How to prepare your house for a buyer's inspection 1
An OK plumbing installation

Another common area where I find problems is under kitchen sinks and bathroom vanities.  

These areas are often so filled with junk that small (or even large) leaks aren’t caught by the home owners.  My advice is to remove all of your stuff from under the sink and store it elsewhere until the buyer’s inspector has completed their work.  Just as in the basement, items blocking view make inspectors nervous.  I always move things out of the way, at least items under sinks.  I don’t know if this is case for all home inspectors, however.

What to look for under sinks:
  1. Signs of water leaks
  2. Plumbing that looks like an amateur did the work

Check wall outlets

By far the most common defect that finds its way into my home inspection reports for buyers is un-grounded 3-prong electrical outlets.  

This condition can be a safety risk, and so I always report it as one.  

In the buyer’s mind, a report with fewer problems reported represents a house that is in better condition.  

You can buy a simple outlet tester for about $5.  Take this tester and plug it into every outlet in the home.  Make notes about any outlet that shows as being mis-wired, and have an electrician repair those outlets. 

I discuss other electrical problems in our article Home Inspection Electrical Nightmares.

An outlet with an open ground wire
A kitchen outlet without the required GFCI protection

Find any holes or openings in your siding

The exterior of a home should be water-tight, with siding that moves water and moisture all the way to the ground.  It should not have unsealed holes from screws, nails or old plumbing or other lines that were removed long ago. 

Siding should not be cracked or broken, either.  Unfortunately many, many home exteriors are simply not maintained over time and develop this type of problem.  It’s understandable that home owners and property investors do not want to pour money into replacing siding.  But, there are creative and affordable ways to at least make it water tight. 

Any small holes that you find can be sealed with a 100% silicone caulk.  Do the same for any nail heads that you see.  These will allow water behind the siding if left unsealed, and will be listed as a concern on the buyer’s inspection report.

 Vinyl siding, especially, is easy and inexpensive to repair.  If a section is cracked or broken, a good handyman can find matching pieces and blend them into your existing siding. 

Take the time to patch up any siding issues.  It might save you time and money if the buyer chooses to negotiate with on the price because of any exterior concerns.

Look in your attic!

This probably doesn’t sound like the most rewarding experience ever, but your buyer’s home inspector should do whatever it takes to get into the attic, regardless if it’s -10 or 120 degrees up there.  

From the home inspectors point of view, the attic is a portal into the health of the roof.  It’s also a way to learn something about the condition of the structure of the house, energy efficiency and electrical safety. 

Take time to examine the underside of the roof itself.  Leaks in the roof may be visible, and there’s a chance that you may see what appears to be mold. If you think it may be mold, hire a mold tester licensed in New York State to assess and determine how to remove it. 

Also take note of any vents that are installed on the gable walls, the roof surface or the ridge of the roof.  They should be open and not blocked by insulation or other material.  Blocked vents are one of the main causes of mold in attics.

Unprofessional electrical work in attics is extremely common, particularly when it comes to recessed light installations.  For some reason, people often install these lights in a manner that looks like spaghetti.

If you see signs of rodents in an attic, get rid of them.  Rodents damage insulation and electrical wiring, putting homes at risk for fire.  Block off any openings that mice or other animals may be using.  If you see or suspect bats, hire a professional bat exclusion company.  Bats are protected in New York, and it’s important to take special measures to avoid trapping them in your attic.

Turn all of the lights on in the house immediately under the attic.  If you see light shining through while you are up there, then you have an opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of the home, and also to keep the buyer’s home inspector from finding something else to report on.

Don't forget the roof

Aging roofs are the #1 big money item that home buyers and their real estate agents are concerned with during a home inspection.  According to, “most roofing contractors (and many insurance companies) will price their roof replacement services within $3.50 to $5.50 per square foot or $350 to $550 per square of architectural shingles installed“.

There are minor roof problems that can turn into nasty water and mold issues that I would advise you to look for.  Items such as exposed nail heads, brittle vent flashings and missing shingles are a few items that are easy and affordable to repair. 

Roofing consists of not just shingles, but also the material under them, including roofing paper, ice shield and wooden roof sheathing.  If a roof is allowed to disintegrate from the shingles inward, most of all of these layers may be completely ruined.

On the other hand, if the shingles are nearing the end of their useful life, you may be able to just replace the shingles and underlayment. 

From a buyer’s perspective, it’s probably better for them to see a newer roof than an old one, even if the shingles are on the lower end of the cost and quality spectrum.

As you get ready to sell your house, keep in mind that it may take up to three days for a complete roof replacement to wrap up.

Inspect Stairways

From the perspective of safety experts and some mortgage underwriting guidelines, stairways that have at least three steps should always have handrails.  I’ve noticed over time that handrails seem to disappear from stairways, leaving behind empty screw holes as evidence of their prior existence.  

If your home has suffered from this mysterious fate, then replace your handrails before you list your home for sale.  It will make the home safer for elderly and those who can’t move as easily as others, and it might make your home closing go more smoothly.  

Stairway accidents affect all age groups.  You may think that only the elderly fall, trip or otherwise harm themselves on stairs, but this is not the case.  

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About the Author:

Bradley Beck

Bradley is owner of Alto Home Inspection, LLC.  He lives just south of Orchard Park, in Western New York’s Southtowns, and inspects homes throughout the Buffalo area, and is NY Licensed Home Inspector #16000086029, NY Certified Mold Assessor #MA01313.