How to Prepare for Potential Disasters While Your House Is on the Market

Get your house ready for sale while also protecting your property from bad weather and theft.

U.S. News & World Report

Disasters That Can Derail Your Home Sale

exterior shot of house with for sale sign in front yard

Performing regular maintenance on your home can ensure a smooth sale.(Getty Images)

You can expect the lead-up to putting your home on the market to be a hectic period that includes everything from making minor updates to moving out furniture to staging rooms in hopes of enticing buyers. And once the property is officially on the market, things don’t get any less hectic when you have to be prepared to leave on short notice and keep the house in pristine condition at all times.

The last thing you need is for something to go wrong with your house before a buyer takes possession. But unfortunately, it happens.

While big problems may not be common – especially if you keep up on maintenance and properly lock up regularly – they can pop up. When they do, consulting your real estate agent can help get you moving quickly to avoid causing any problems affecting the sale of your house.

“If there’s something that happens, we definitely step in and recommend a contractor to help them remedy whatever the situation is,” says Ashley Spencer, co-owner and principal broker for Selling Virginia Real Estate & Property Management in Woodbridge, Virginia.

A key method for preventing a possible problem from turning into a bigger one is to continue to live in the house while your property is on the market. A lived-in or staged house is likely to sell faster than a vacant one because it helps buyers envision someone living there, and it’s also more likely that you’ll catch a problem when it occurs as opposed to days later. Here are two of the most common types of disasters you’ll encounter while your property is on the market, plus how to ensure they don't become a bigger problem for the sale of your home.

Something Breaks

A major issue at home always seems to happen at the worst possible moment – and the period leading up to closing on the sale of your house probably qualifies as the worst possible moment. Heavy rains may reveal a leak in the roof you were unaware of, your aging dishwasher may give up on you before you expected or your busy schedule while prepping to sell could lead you to forget regular tasks like cleaning out the lint trap and dryer vent, creating a major fire hazard.

The best thing you can do is be financially prepared to take on an emergency fix. Unfortunately, there’s a strong chance you’re not prepared. A Liberty Mutual Insurance study released earlier this month reveals one-third of Americans have no money saved for necessary home upkeep, and 48 percent have less than $1,000 saved.

You may find yourself in an even worse financial situation when you’ve paid a home stager, brought in a cleaning crew and repainted the living room, among other costs that come with listing a home.

While the sale of your home is meant to make you money, you typically have to put some into the house to prepare it for the market before you can cash out. And until your property sells, you’re on the hook for any needed maintenance.

Depending on the time of year you’re listing your home, your home may also be subject to violent storms that can easily cause property damage – hurricanes, tornadoes or thunderstorms that lead to flooding. If you’re not there, you’re less likely to be able to prepare before a storm hits.

Here are three things you should do to decrease your chances of needing emergency work on your house while it’s on the market:

Perform regular maintenance. Like a car, your home needs consistent work in order to function properly and for a long time. Most likely, your house is much larger than a car and it’s not necessarily easy to pinpoint a clank or drip that doesn’t sound right. Keep up with regular maintenance, including cleaning out gutters and dryer vents and hiring a professional to perform annual service for your furnace.

Get a prelisting inspection. “If it’s a concern of [the seller’s] going onto the market that something may pop up, I recommend a home inspection before it goes on the market,” Spencer says. A report on the status of your property is recommended by many industry professionals prior to listing your property because it gives you a chance to fix problems, catch maintenance issues and be aware of less urgent defects prior to listing.

Check in regularly. Even if you’ve moved out of the property already, keep up on maintenance and regularly visit the property to make sure everything looks right, or send someone who can do so for you if you’re far away. Regular check-ins are also the perfect opportunity to ensure windows are secured and patio furniture is put away in case a storm occurs before the next visit.

Someone Breaks In

Allowing strangers to enter your home while you’re not there isn’t an easy thing to do. You may realize you’re missing valuables, prescription medications or even random knickknacks after a house showing or open house. And for professional burglars, a house with a sale sign out front can be high on the list, if only for the increased chance that no one will be home for extended periods of time.

Your homeowners insurance policy should cover theft, though the total value of items stolen will determine whether the claim will exceed your deductible. The best way to protect your belongings is to put them away, and remove items from the property that you’re worried may appeal to sticky-fingered strangers.

In both scenarios, installing security cameras may be a big help to deter any would-be thieves and help you identify anyone that does choose to steal something. Herman Yau, CEO of home security company Tend, says technology in security cameras is evolving to help in each case.

Installing weather-durable cameras at entry points to the home can be particularly helpful in the event of a theft, with a recording of anyone who entered the home at the time in question.

Here are three things you should do to decrease your chances of theft while your home is on the market:

Get a security system. With wireless, affordable security options available these days, it’s a small price to pay for “more awareness and more peace of mind,” which Yau says is the focus on Tend’s products. However, Spencer notes that real estate agents will often recommend not turning on the alarm itself when the property’s on the market because of the increased chance of a false alarm when a potential buyer and agent arrive for a showing. And if you set up security cameras, you’ll need to include in the listing information that there are recording devices on the property, she says.

Put your valuables away. In preparing your home for the market, your agent likely told you to declutter your house, so why not take the opportunity to pack away the items you cherish most during that project? It may even be best to send them elsewhere for safe keeping while the property is welcoming strangers. This happened for a recent client of Spencer’s: “They had millions and millions of dollars’ worth of art from all over the world, so I recommended that they pack all of that up,” she says. Additionally, you should inventory all your belongings with photos and estimated value for your insurance policy in case anything does go missing.

Make sure showings are registered. An open house is a great way to get people in the door, but if your house is popular, your agent may not be able to keep track of where everyone is while they’re in the house. Most houses are shown through a lockbox system, where buyer agents register with the listing agent for a showing, then receive the code to the lockbox that has a key inside. As long as everyone follows protocol, “There shouldn’t be anybody in the house that we didn’t know about prior,” Spencer says. If you’re worried about professional thieves targeting a house with a lockbox on it, consider placing it somewhere on your property that an agent can still easily find but isn’t in plain view of the street.

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