4 red flags that can ruin a home sale

Problems you shouldn't ignore when buying or selling a house

Published: January 29, 2015 06:00 AM

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Smell is a powerful memory sense, so any funky aromas potential buyers detect in your home will linger for a long time. And remember this: 41 percent of the real estate pros surveyed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center put dirt, smells, and clutter on their list of costliest home-selling mistakes.

Musty odors are the biggest concern because they could be a sign of mildew or even mold. It’s important to eliminate the source of the smell, be it a damp carpet or wet ceiling tiles. Call in a professional for mold outbreaks that are more than 10 square feet. Smaller outbreaks can be scrubbed with water and detergent. Be sure to don gloves, goggles, and an N95 respirator, available at hardware stores and home centers.

It’s also a good idea to air out damp parts of the home with a dehumidifier. The $250 Danby DDR60A3GP topped our recommended list of large-capacity dehumidifiers and should handle the toughest situations, including a wet basement. For smaller, less dank areas, consider the $220 Frigidaire FAD504DWD or the $200 Sunpentown SD-31E, both of which aced our tough tests.

Smelly pets can be another deal breaker. If possible, get them out of the home while it’s on the market. “I had a client who did that with her cats,” says agent Bruce Irving. “They went to summer camp at the neighbor’s.” If that’s not an option, he strongly recommends regular professional cleaning for as long as the home is on the market.

Certain types of cuisine, including those with heavy spices, leave a lingering smell, so try to keep them off the menu while your house is on the market. And forget the Friday-night fish fry prior to weekend open houses. If your home is showing during nice weather, open the windows beforehand to bring in fresh air. Baking bread or cookies before the open house is an old trick that can be effective, but don’t overdo it with air fresheners and deodorizers because people with allergies could react, plus they might give the impression that you’re trying to hide an underlying problem. Here are some other issues that can kill a sale.

Cracks in the foundation

Although hairline cracks in a foundation wall are usually harmless, those wider than 3/16 of an inch can be serious trouble, especially if you notice they’re getting worse over time. Also be on the lookout for bulging or buckling in the wall. Along with expanding cracks, those conditions require the attention of a structural engineer. The longer the problem goes unchecked, the more costly it is likely to be.

Bouncing bathroom floors

Hidden water damage is a common problem in bathrooms. Whether the source is a leaky shower pan or a running toilet, excess moisture can cause the floor to become a little spongy over time—something astute buyers, and certainly their home inspector, will pick up on. Even if it costs $1,000 (more if there’s structural damage), correcting the problem can be a smart investment.

Signs of an infestation

While you’re inspecting your home’s paint job, take a close look at the baseboards and windows. That’s often where signs of pest infestations can be found. For example, termites often shed wings along windowsills, walls, and other entry points in a home’s exterior. Carpenter ants leave behind piles of sawdust along baseboards. Holes as small as a dime can provide entry for mice.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the March 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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