Thinking ahead is a good thing! #725

#725 in a series of true experiences in real estate

Many years ago it happened that a painter working on one of our listings left in place all the light switch and electrical outlet plates. He just painted around them. It hadn’t occurred to us that we might need to specify what must be removed before painting, but we learned. Now we tell our painters before they begin exactly what to remove, also precisely which surfaces to paint.

If we want the insides of cabinets and closets to be painted, we say so at the start. If all the curtain hardware should be taken off, we say that, too. And, after finding piles of used masking tape, drink cups, and plasterboard left behind by workers, and having to discard them ourselves, we ask that workmen cart away the debris that accumulates in a job.

Live and learn. We’ve got a mental list now, one we constantly add to: Things to Remember for Listings.

Once we had a gas line for a stove moved, a small job that went just fine, we thought, until the cleaners needed hot water for cleaning and there wasn’t any. After the gas had been turned back on, our contractor had re-lighted the furnace but had forgotten the pilot on the hot water heater. He wasn’t immediately available so good old Anet spent time bleeding air out of the line before attempting to light the pilot. New mental note: Remind the person who turns off the gas to re-light all of the pilots.

At every house there are leftover paints and often, garden sprays, ant poison and such. It’s the owner’s responsibility to get rid of these, and it can take some trouble to do so. In Oakland, for instance, there are certain days when a homeowner can take household waste to the disposal station. We’ve learned to talk to sellers about this early in the process of getting a house ready because, depending on the quantity, several cartings-away may be necessary.

Thinking about the furnace early is a good idea, too. Unless it’s been done recently, the furnace should be serviced and the filter changed before any inspections are done. If it can be avoided, there’s no point in having a black mark on the inspection report concerning the furnace. Also, if it’s summer, and the furnace has been turned off for some time, when it’s turned back on, some dust will burn and smell, and this will be noted in the inspector’s report. There’s a simple solution: Remember to turn on the furnace a couple of days before it’s inspected so the dust will burn off.

The utilities must be left on. Maybe this sounds obvious, but it sometimes happens that an owner moves out and has them turned off. Vacant or not, water, gas and electricity in a house will be continuously needed. If it’s cold outside, the heat may be used. Lights, of course, must be on. Hot water, as noted above, is necessary. And when inspections are done, all utilities are tested.

Trying out house keys well ahead of need is important. Sometimes owners will tell us a complicated “secret” to operating a particular lock, a technique they’ve developed over time. But we can’t easily convey this information to workmen and agents who will need to enter the house. Better by far to fix balky locks and, if possible, to find keys to all the locks or have new keys made.

Other small, but potentially big effect items to consider early on include replacing switch plate and electrical outlet covers. They’re very inexpensive, and new, clean ones can make a big difference to the looks of a house.

New caulk around tubs and sinks can vastly improve their appearance and, if newly done, no note about caulking will be included in the inspection report. All light fixtures should have maximum allowed wattage bulbs in them and, when new light fixtures are hung, remember to remove the stickers on them.

It isn’t, of course, always possible for a house to be vacant during marketing, but when it is, it’s easier for work to be done in an unoccupied house, and agents love showing houses they can go to at any time without an appointment. Vacant houses, however, should not be left completely empty. At the very minimum, a table and chairs should be provided, a spot for buyers and agents to sit, to read reports, to soak up the atmosphere. Better still is good staging. It needn’t be extensive, but should provide a glimpse of the house at its prettiest.

Buyers in our market area prefer wood floors. When there is a choice, wood floors should be exposed and refinished rather than carpeted. If there is carpeting, if not new, it should be clean and fresh. When replacing carpet, white is not a good choice because it is too easily marred. And asking visitors to remove their shoes before entering the house should be avoided. Many people will simply choose not to go in.

Discovering title glitches sooner rather than later can save long delays and much hair-pulling. Several times we’ve run into situations where loans paid off years before were still showing as liens against title. Sometimes too, an owner who has died is still on title, and a death certificate must be obtained. Or there is a tax lien that must be cleared. It takes time, and often extensive research or negotiation, to correct such problems.

When there is a dispute with someone, a problem, for example, with a neighbor over a fence or lot line, a resolution should be reached before marketing. Trying to fix things later, after a buyer is in contract, could result in the collapse of the sale.

Thinking ahead is a good thing. It’s definitely worthwhile for both seller and agent to spend the time to prepare, to make a plan, to find the right people to help, to order materials and services early. So many problems can be avoided, and quite a lot of anxiety.

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