So you’ve conquered your fears and made the leap into rehabbing. You did your due diligence, found a distressed property in one of your target neighborhoods, negotiated a good price and bought it. Now what?
Well, if you’ve watched enough home improvement shows, you know that all you have to do is put in the latest design elements (shiplap and open concept, right?) and sell your house for top dollar! While these design elements certainly attract people to your house, they are not the whole story. Your house has to be a good fit for the buyer and it needs to be a quality product. Most buyers will request a home inspection as part of the sale, and this inspection can easily derail a sale if the inspector finds poor quality workmanship.
As you are planning out your renovation and creating your scope of work, you need to wear two hats. First you need to look at your project through the eyes of your end buyer and second, through the more critical eyes of the home inspector.
So, who is your buyer? Based primarily on the neighborhood and the size of the house, you can make an educated guess – Is your buyer a young professional who likes the idea of being able to walk to neighborhood amenities, someone who may bring in a roommate to help offset the cost of the mortgage? Is your buyer a young family, just starting out, looking for a safe comfortable space to raise their kids? Is your buyer an empty nester, ready to downsize? Your final product should be geared toward your end buyer. If you think you’ll be marketing to young families, you will want to be sure to include separate family room space and adult space. You will also want to be keeping an eye on potential safety issues – i.e. no open riser stairs in a house with young children. If you’ll be marketing to young professionals, think about ways to incorporate a roommate – perhaps create a 2nd master bedroom suite. More and more people are working from home, perhaps find a way to incorporate an office into your design. Empty nesters may appreciate having a master suite on the first floor and a low maintenance yard.
While still keeping your end buyer in mind, you can plan out your finishes. Would your target market prefer more modern, current styles and finishes or more traditional finishes? There is no set right answer here, and you don’t want to over personalize the house, but you can incorporate some unique touches that will appeal to buyers. One of the advantages of being a small developer is that we have the flexibility to add these unique and interesting touches to our houses, we don’t create “cookie cutter” houses.
OK, your buyer fell in love with the look, style and location of your house and now it’s time for the home inspection. I always attend the home inspection. Remember, at this point this is still your house and you have the right to be there when someone is going into your house. Do not approach this as an adversarial relationship, truly by being there you can help the inspector, you can answer questions about the scope of work and share any information you have about the history of the house. While the inspector will be judging the quality of the work, the safety of the home and the life expectancy of the various components of the house; he/she is not your enemy. Relax, if you’ve done your job well, you have nothing to worry about.
Generally, the inspector will start with the exterior then move to the interior. First items are the roof and exterior of the home – bricks, siding, whatever material is covering the building. I always have a roofer look at my roof. If it is in good shape, I ask for a two year roof certification that will transfer to the buyer. If any repairs are needed, do them so you can get the certification. Share this certification with the buyer and the inspector. Also check to be sure your gutters are in good shape. Gutters are extremely important; keeping water flowing away from the house is the best way to ensure that the interior of the house stays dry.
Next is the exterior of the building, again if there are any issues here, resolve them. The exterior of the building is the homes first line of defense against the elements. You need to be sure the house is properly sealed and protected from rain, wind, cold and heat. Properly address any issues you have – repair damaged siding, repoint bricks, whatever needs to be done.
The final piece outside is the landscaping and hardscaping. I’m not talking about aesthetics here, the home inspector won’t care what color geraniums you plant, but he/she will be looking to make sure that your landscaping and hardscaping are not created in such a way that you are directing water toward your house or encouraging pests to move in. The bottom line is that everything needs to slope away from your house. If your driveway is next to the house, make sure there is a slight slope away from the building. The same thing applies with any plantings near your house.
The inspector will then head inside. The big items inside your home are the hvac, plumbing and electrical systems. The home inspector will be evaluating the efficiency, safety and remaining life span of these systems. The level of repair/replacement here really depends on the age of the systems and how well they have been cared for. If you are renovating a 100 year old house that has only been haphazardly updated by previous owners, plan to replace everything. If you are renovating a 20 year old house that has been well maintained, you may only need to complete some minor updates. I find it worthwhile to have a trusted contractor help with this decision. How many years are left on the existing furnace? Is the plumbing supply line large enough to bring in the amount of water needed by today’s homeowners? Is the sewer line clear and intact? Is the electrical system safe and up to today’s codes? If you do replace any systems, be sure to have the work permitted and inspected by your local municipality, then keep the inspection stickers on display for the buyer and home inspector to see. If you only repair the existing systems, include documentation/certification from a licensed contractor detailing the work that was completed. Again, have this on hand for the both the buyer and the home inspector.
If you make any changes to the layout of the house you will have done some framing and drywall work. Good framing is invisible to the inspector, but poor quality framing can be seen. If the framing was not perfectly level, the drywall will be wavy. This may not be something that your buyer noticed when they toured the house, but a good home inspector will see it. If your drywall was not well installed, taped and mudded, screws and seams will be visible. Neither of these things are huge problems, but they show an overall lack of care and may cause the buyer to question the quality of the rest of the job.
Finally, the finishes. Again, the home inspector won’t care what color you paint the walls, if you install hardwood or carpet, or if you chose white or black cabinets. He/she will care about the quality of those items. This doesn’t mean you have to use top of the line finishes, but know what the inspector will be looking for. Whatever level of finishes you choose, make sure that they are properly installed. You want the inspector to be able to say that these items will function properly for the near future. You don’t want to have an inspector look at your poorly laid carpet and tell the buyers they should anticipate having to replace the carpet in the next year.
The home inspector will create a repair list for the buyer. The buyer will then decide which items they want you to repair/replace. If you’ve done your job well, the list will be short and easy. Examples of some things that I have had to repair after a home inspection include: moving a stair railing that was installed too close to the wall, not allowing room for your hand to fully grasp it; installing additional weather stripping around an exterior door to ensure it is properly sealed against the elements; reversing hot and cold water supply lines in a bathroom vanity that were installed backwards (my bad, I should have found that prior to the home inspection); and repairing a cracked exterior concrete step. None of these items were difficult and none of them caused any undue level of concern for the buyers.
With each home inspection I attend I learn something new that I am able to apply to my next project.
Keeping in mind both the design of your house and the quality of the renovation, you will be able to create a beautiful, safe and functional home that will serve your buyers well for years to come.