Time well taken does pay off #685

#685 in a series of true experiences in real estate

No matter what your house is like, whether you are selling “as is” or not, by law disclosures must be made. Sellers are often worried about disclosing what is wrong with their houses but, generally, they shouldn’t be. Buyers greatly appreciate knowing the facts about a house and they are far less likely to later complain (or sue) when they know the truth.

If there is something particularly scary about your house (it’s sliding down a hill?), better to have a buyer who knows this up front, someone who understands what he’s taking on. Yes, there will be people who will run away once they know what is wrong. They are not the right buyers, but the right buyer does exist. Believe this; it is true.

So it behooves you, legally and practically, to disclose in writing anything about your house that may give a buyer pause. This includes, but is not limited to, broken and nonfunctional parts of the house, leaning retaining walls, cracked and uneven surfaces and water coming in anywhere.

If you have a mind to, you can also include in your disclosures notes on maintenance and upgrades made during your ownership, also personal comments about your time in the house, what you have enjoyed while living there. Buyers like knowing these things.

You will need, at a minimum, a termite report. It just isn’t good to have your agent say, “No, we don’t have a termite report yet.” A report should be available when the house is first shown. No exceptions.

It is also frequently advisable to have a general physical inspection done before marketing. This inspection is fairly expensive, and it will not substitute for the buyer’s own inspections. But it can be a great assist to buyers (and therefore, to sellers) to know as much as possible about the house before an offer is written.

Also helpful is supplying receipts for major work that the seller has done (earthquake retrofit, new roof, etc.) and, in some cases, bids for repairs that the buyer may want to make (fireplace and chimney, for example).

In some cities, ordinances require that certain work be done when a house is sold. All East Bay cities have a sewer lateral ordinance. Often replacement is required. Whether it is the seller or buyer who pays for the work, the cost should be determined before a house is put on the market.

And the house needs to be cleared of enough belongings that inspections can be made. If the termite (or other) inspector cannot get to the walls of the garage or basement, if he cannot access the attic, you will have an incomplete inspection. This is bad because it leaves open questions.

Perhaps you have a picture-perfect house, well maintained, well furnished, clean, with a pretty garden. Nothing needs to be done to get your house ready. That could be true but often, we find, houses that seem very “together” do still need things done for best presentation.

Often, for instance, there is too much in them. When 50 or 100 people walk through your house, as they do when it is held open, less is definitely more. To show your house to best advantage, it may be advisable to simplify, to remove furniture and collectibles. You want to allow potential buyers to move freely inside the house, and you want them to be able to see the house itself, not be distracted by too many possessions.

Also, you will probably want to have your windows washed, make sure porches are swept, and that your door locks work smoothly. By law, smoke and CO detectors must be operable in certain places in the house and the hot water heater must be strapped to current code.

But maybe your house is in poor shape. You haven’t had the wherewithal to keep up with maintenance. In fact, it’s such a wreck, needing “everything” that you’ve decided to do “nothing”.

It’s not a good idea. No matter how bad the health and appearance of a house, there is prep that should be done. Even if the plaster has fallen from the ceiling leaving holes to the sky, all rubble, waste, and stickiness must go. Windows, walls and floors, bathrooms and kitchen, the front walk, the basement – best to make them clean before marketing.

The seller, the seller’s agent and the house should be ready from the moment the house is first shown. Cleaning, painting, inspections, disclosures should all be completed. It is a big mistake to put a house on the market before all is in place.

The amount of time it will take to get ready psychologically, legally and presentation-wise varies considerably. For some sellers (sometimes out of necessity) everything is ready to go in a few weeks. Most sellers take several months, but we’ve worked with people who needed a year or even two years to get ready.

Time well taken does pay off.

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