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You've almost sold your home and all that remains is for the buyer's house inspector to visit. Then you panic -- the house looks fine on the surface, but what if

Don't wait for inspection day to review the condition of your home. Act now to remedy any potentially deal-breaking flaws and make minor repairs that will help your house show better. You may want to have a pre-sale home inspection to identify the areas that need attention. Be aware that, if you do commission a qualified inspector to make a report, you must disclose any significant defects that you choose not to correct to prospective purchasers.

You are probably aware of any major problems such as a wet basement, mold and mildew or faulty plumbing. If you maintain your home well and there are no visible signs of trouble, you probably have little reason to fret. The purchaser's inspection report will likely contain some negative statements -- otherwise the inspector would not appear to be doing a good job. But in most cases, only minor repairs are called for.

Moreover, your contract probably specifies which structural components and systems must be in good working order -- not perfect or new -- at closing. An older roof that doesn't leak is just fine.

That said, some buyers use a long wish list of repairs to try to drive down the price of a house. If this happens to you, you may be better off walking away from the deal.

Here are some of the most important things a buyer's home inspector will be looking for:

  • mold, mildew stains, dampness and bad odors. These usually mean your basement has too much moisture. Inspectors are concerned because it's often hard to pinpoint the source of the problem. A wet basement can be one consequence of serious drainage problems that have also caused damage to foundations, floor joists or rafters. But if poor ventilation is to blame, all you may need is a dehumidifier.
  • a damaged roof. Even if there are no visible signs of leakage, such as water stains, inspectors will check the condition of shingles or other roofing materials, as well as the gutters -- which should be clean -- and downspouts. The flashing around the chimney and bricks and mortar will also be checked for leaks. Fixing the flashing is not usually a big expense; a new roof is.
  • leaky windows and doors. The good news is that replacing caulking or weather stripping usually does the trick. But damage caused by leaks is more difficult to fix.
  • plumbing. The inspector will look for corroded pipes by checking water pressure, and test appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. You may want to replace worn fixtures that draw attention to the age of your plumbing.
  • the electrical system. Do the wiring, electrical panels and circuit breakers meet current code standards? Is it a 200-amp service? Sockets must be in working order.
  • heating and cooling systems. These systems don't typically get the same intense scrutiny as the electrical system, partly because it is less disruptive to upgrade your furnace than rewire your house, although both jobs can be expensive.
  • structural problems. Cracks in walls or foundations, uneven floors or a sagging roof are obvious problems that are usually indicative of significant problems.
  • environmental concerns. Is there lead or other contaminants in the water? Is there lead-based paint (common in houses built before 1978)? Is there asbestos or formaldehyde insulation? Some inspectors even test for the presence of radon gas. These defects may require a professional to detect and it's worth having a pre-inspection if you have concerns about them.

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