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Details make the deal: Tips for buyers and sellers

Living room of the Thompson home in Ferndale shows clean lines, neutral tones and white ceilings - all details that attract home buyers.
Living room of the Thompson home in Ferndale shows clean lines, neutral tones and white ceilings - all details that attract home buyers. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Here are factors for home buyers and sellers to consider:

WINDOWS

Tips for buyers

Check wooden windowsills for rot — as well as for new paint or pieces of sheet metal that might be covering disintegrating wood.

Condensation between glass panels is typically an indication of a broken window seal that needs replacement.

Look for double-paned glass. Aluminum-framed, single-paned windows are almost always inefficient.

Tall shrubs covering areas around the window can help retain moisture around windows.

Consider using new federal tax credits to replace outdated windows.

Look for signs of lubricants on sliding glass doors. The rollers should instead be adjusted with a screwdriver rather than allow the door to slide against the metal frame.

Tips for sellers

Make sure windows are cleaned.

Replace caulk on both the interior and exterior of the window. It helps with energy efficiency as well as improves the appearance of aging windows.

Replace any broken window seals.

Cut back shrubbery that might be touching a window or blocking window views.

Make sure flashing around windows is intact.

Check the bottom corners of windows – where water collects – to make sure wood underneath is not rotting.

APPLIANCES

Tips for buyers

Check disclosure statements to ensure appliances are included in the sale.

Look for certain brand name appliances such as Whirlpool and Maytag. Some off-brands and even some known name-brand appliances are notorious for not having available replacement parts.

Open the oven and push down lightly on the door. If the oven pulls forward, it does not have an anti-tip device and could pose a danger, particularly for children.

Look for an “air gap” along the top of a kitchen faucet. Air gaps ensure wastewater does not enter the dishwasher during the wash cycle.

Staining and rust inside a plastic-lined dishwasher could be an indication of hard or dirty water in the home.

Tips for sellers

Have an appliance repair company inspect all appliances before putting the house on the market. The receipt can be noted when the home is shown to ensure appliances are in good working order.

Buyers expect matching kitchen appliances, if not always stainless.

If you need a new appliance, look for deals at “scratch and dent” sales, where the savings can be significant.

Some real estate agents say brand new appliances aren’t always necessary for a sale.

Clean dryer vents to ensure the appliances, and therefore the rest of the home, look well maintained.

WOOD-BURNING FIREPLACES AND CHIMNEYS

Tips for buyers

Ask the seller for documents on last time the chimney was cleaned and/or inspected, ensuring the fireplace is certified for use.

Cracks along the entire length of a chimney or loose motor joints are a sign of potentially serious chimney problems.

Look for a cap on top of the chimney, which keeps out water. Rainwater that gets into a chimney can allow mold growth and mortar damage.

Many home inspectors don’t specialize in fireplace safety, so consider getting a full safety inspection from a fireplace professional before purchase.

A dirty fireplace and chimney can hide cracks and other problems, blocking a good inspection even from a professional.

Tips for sellers

Clean the ashes from a fireplace and place logs inside.

Have a professional safety inspection of the fireplace and chimney. This generally comes free with a chimney cleaning. The safety report can be included with the disclosure statement shown to potential buyers.

Replace rusting dampers.

Replace old fireplace doors with tight-fitting glass doors, which keep the home’s heated air from going up the chimney in the winter.

Make sure if you’ve installed a fireplace insert in a former wood burning fireplace that the damper is secured open to prevent carbon monoxide infiltration.

DECKS

Tips for buyers

Spindles on deck railings should be no wider than four inches. And any deck higher than 30 inches in height should have railings and stairs.

Four steps or more up to a deck requires a hand railing.

Look for lag bolts and screws attached to exterior walls of the home, as well as metal flashing to prevent water damage between the house and the deck.

A "springy" feeling as you walk across a deck can be a sign of wood rot.

Look for deck footings set in concrete or set on top of concrete. Avoid decks where footings are placed directly in the soil, which can lead to rot of the structural parts of the deck.

Tips for sellers

If you have an unsafe deck, find fixes before putting a house on the market or hire a decking contractor to inspect the deck for problems.

Resist simply staining over rotten wood in an attempt to conceal problems. A home inspector is likely to find the problem, throwing a wrench into a potential sale.

Properly clean the deck and remove moss. Look for alkaline strippers and acidic brightener cleaners if you’re going to restain the deck. If not, get a good deck cleaner and shrub brush.

Even if your deck is constructed of treated wood, ensure that cut ends of the wood are sealed.

If a deck is in very poor condition, consider removing it entirely before the sale.

PAINT

Tips for buyers

Don't let strong, bold colors of paint distract you from the home’s appeal.

Don't like the paint? And don't want to spend the time and money to paint after you move in? Ask for a painting allowance in the sale contract.

Look for bubbles of paint on the interior and exterior walls of a home, which could be a sign of water damage.

Paint from the 1970s or earlier could be contaminated with lead. If it was painted over, it is typically considered sealed and therefore safe.

Investigate newly painted areas closer. Paint is the most common way to hide wood rot and other problems in a home.

Tips for sellers

Use neutral paints that won't turn off buyers. Beiges, light browns and taupes work in most homes right now.

Stark white is not considered a "neutral." In fact, some realtors say stark white is often as bad of a color choice as a dark, garish color.

Check out the "neutrals" selections in paint stores and online at places like benjaminmoore.com and marthastewart.com.

Paint all ceilings a flat white. Buyers often like to paint inside homes, but may only see "work" if ceilings aren't freshly painted a neutral color that reflects light.

Check out the paint color first by painting it on a large poster board and look at the color in different lights throughout the day.

YARDS AND GARDEN

Tips for buyers

Consider how landscaping will change throughout the seasons – particularly if it could block a spectacular view in summer.

Look for drains in the backyard as well as downspouts off the gutter that direct water away from the home.

Look for areas where no grass is growing in dry weather – it could indicate where standing water sits during the wet season.

Pay attention to large shrubs or trees planted too close to house that may be damaging foundations and basement walls.

Newly installed landscaping is easy to change, but established landscaping can more difficult and expensive to dig out and grind down.

Tips for sellers

Hire a professional landscaper for a one-time trimming and pruning of overgrown shrubs and trees.

The easiest freshen up for a front yard is a few bags of mulch.

Make sure there’s a spot of color in the front yard or near the front door. Use a hanging basket or planter or dress up a flowerbed. Even in the winter, ferns can bring color and life to the front yard.

Clean up after pets.

Determine if a fence or small tree can add privacy to the yard. Or remove obstructions to great views.

FIXTURES AND LIGHTING

Tips for buyers

Lighting and fixtures are the easiest and less costly replacements to make. So don’t let some outdated fixtures turn you off, but also don’t buy based on these easy fixes.

Don't let a dark windowless bathroom turn you off. An easy, inexpensive fix is a solar tube, which allows daylight in and lights a room without the use of electricity.

Flush the toilets and turn on the tap on the sinks to check water pressure.

For homes built in the 1970s and older, check the interior of the fuse box for a Washington Department of Labor green sticker which should indicate the last time the electrical box was updated.

Look for overhead lighting in rooms, but also sconces and other lighting that help fill in shadows in room corners. Consider the freestanding lighting that you will bring in to the rooms for a "layered" lighting effect.

Tips for sellers

Be consistent with lighting on at least the main floor of the house. Purchase lighting from the same line or company and use the same metal finishes in fixtures for a more professionally designed look.

Modern-styled lighting will appeal to most buyers, but consider the age and style of your home when choosing fixtures.

Install the highest wattage bulb allowed in each light to ensure the home is well lit when buyers view the home, particularly on cloudy days.

All lighting and bulbs should be thoroughly dusted.

Shorten hanging lights if they obstruct views to gardens or water through picture windows.

COUNTERTOPS

Tips for buyers

On stone countertops check areas around sinks and seams, where chipping and cracks are most likely.

Ask about past upkeep and sealants on granite countertops.

Look for backsplashes that prevent water from damaging drywall.

Check caulking around bathroom and kitchen sinks where it meets the countertop. Poor caulking can allow water damage of the counter materials and cabinetry.

If the countertops are heavy granite, look under sinks where extra support with plywood is typically needed to prevent cracks and damage.

Tips for sellers

Granite might be king, but it’s not always in the budget. There are plenty of less, expensive countertop materials such as solid-surface and even Marmoleum.

If you consider designing and remodeling a kitchen stick with neutrals and consider hiring a designer to consult on the choices.

Clear countertops of most small appliances and clutter so potential buyers see usable work surfaces.

Ask your real estate agent what kind of countertop is expected in your level of home. For example, high-end homes almost always require granite or other high-end counters to be competitive in price.

If you've got a crack in a stone countertop, bring in a professional to repair damage and rebuff the surface.

ENTRY DOORS

Tips for buyers

Look for daylight coming in around an entry door. Where light comes in, cold air will too.

Check the stoop for water damage and rot.

Check for locks and ask for changes if there is a doubled-keyed deadbolt. Such locks require a key to open from the interior and could pose safety risks during a fire.

Look for burn ratings on doors to attached garages.

Wood doors look great, but often change size and shape in Whatcom County's damp climate.

Tips for sellers

If you live near a wet, windblown area near the beach, consider replacing a worn out entry door with a fiberglass multi-lock door that prevents warping.

Consider making an impression by replacing and old worn out sliding glass door with French doors in a dining room.

If it’s a wood door, make sure the door is freshly painted and opens and closes properly.

Replace hardware and hinges on doors that have trouble opening for a quick fix that also updates the look of an older door.

A great looking front door can add to the curb appeal of a home and can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.

PATIOS

Tips for buyers

Look for poured concrete patios that direct water away from a home, rather than funnel water towards a foundation.

Even paver patios built on sand need a slight incline directed away from a home.

Look for tight joints between pavers in a patio.

Even if a paver patio needs work, it is easier to fix than a poured concrete patio or even a wooden deck.

Cracks on paved concrete patios are easy to fix, but a crack that shows shifting of a portion of the concrete might require the entire patio to be removed.

Tips for sellers

Even if you can’t afford expensive patio furniture, invest in a few plastic Adirondack chairs that match the color of the house or trim.

Sweep the patio and remove all fallen leaves and other debris.

Remove moss build up with special chemicals that remove moss easily.

Stage patio furniture with brightly colored plates and glasses to show off the patio as an entertainment area.

Patch surface cracks on paved concrete patios.

FLOORING AND CARPETS

Tips for buyers

Outdated tile that a buyer wants to replace is typically the toughest flooring to remove and is likely to involve the most expense to change.

Look for cupping in wood laminate flooring, which can indicate previous water damage.

Bumps and creases in carpeting are easy, inexpensive fixes with carpet stretching by a flooring professional.

Vinyl flooring should be flat, with no humps, bumps or divots.

Check for slopes in interior floors. It could indicate normal settling in an older home or foretell costly foundation damage.

Tips for sellers

Old hardwoods can be "freshened" with a professional screening and coating, a fix that’s less costly than a full refinishing.

Consider professional grout cleaning and sealing on tile.

Steam clean carpets no matter how old they are.

If the carpets have any pet or smoke smell, remove and replace them.

Use a vinyl refresher product to spruce up aging kitchen and bathroom floors.

INSULATION

Tips for buyers

Homes built before 1980 typically do not have insulation in exterior walls unless the owner has added blown-in insulation.

Water stains along the outside of ducts is an indication of condensation and leaks.

Ask for utility bills, as well as averages for the year, to get an indication of any insulation problems in the house.

After sale, consider an energy audit by a trained professional. The audit will determine where insulation, caulking and other fixes can seal up a house and lower energy bills.

Look for banks that offer loans with additional cash to improve energy efficiency in a house. Although rarely used by banks, some regional banks are considering using the existing federal rules.

Tips for sellers

Never use duct tape on ductwork! The cloth material degrades over time. Instead use duct mastic, which doesn't become brittle.

Make sure heating ducts and hot water pipes are insulated.

Investigate new tax credits for energy efficiency products if you want to add insulation before a sale.

Also check for rebates available for attic, wall and crawlspace insulation through your natural gas company.

Advertise your insulation work on the home. Insulation that can decrease energy bills in a home is considered a selling point.

ROOFING

Tips for buyers

Don't be embarrassed to bring binoculars, since you won't be able to bring a ladder and get up on a roof during a home showing. Or, bring a digital camera, take pictures at a good angle and blow them up on your computer at home to get a view of the shingles.

Walk down or across the street to get a good view of the roof singles.

Look for curling, uneven or missing roof tiles as well as the number of roof layers. A roof should have no more than two layers.

If the shingles look new, but the flashings are still rusted and bent, the work might not have been professionally done.

Look for roof vents. Typically you should see one vent for every 300 square feet of roof surface.

Tips for sellers

Remove all moss from the roof. Roofs are designed to remove water, but moss acts as a sponge, keeping water on the roof all the time.

If there is a problem with a newer roof, check if the roof’s warranty will save the cost of repair.

Use a stiff broom or chemical product to remove moss.

Remove and replace cupping or curling shingles.

If you can't afford to replace a roof before a sale, get an estimate and consider a deal with the buyer to pay for the roof after sale. It’s usually in your interest to get your own estimates for a new roof.

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