A bad first impression, the word "termites" and signs of water leakage are nearly quaranteed to scare potential home buyers.
All that may be needed to make a better impression is a little paint on the front door, sensible pruning of the shrubbery, and clean-sharp windows, something the seller could do in a weekend with an expenditure of about $5. For instance, many houses are completely overgrown with shrubbery that was planted initially to soften and flatter the lines of a house and hide the dirt around the foundation.
With overgrowth, the bushes are tall and ugly, squeezing the front door and making the corners of the house look taller and harsher.
Many times the front door, designed as the focal point of the house, is hidden by overgrown bushes that seem to crowd and almost reject your entry. A good architectural rule-of-thumb for checking the height of the bushes is that shrubbery should stay at or below window sill height, the corner taller shrubs should go about half-way to the roof, with smaller shrubs spreading out beyond the house from the taller bushes.
When it comes to termites, we know that they are happy and thriving in the Washington area. At one time or another termites have visited more than half of our houses, usually causing very little damage. In extreme and exceptional cases where heavy damage has occurred -- heightened by the emotional advertising of termite exterminators -- even mention of these insects freak people out.
What you should know is that termites are the easiest of all household insects to exterminate. Fortunately, termites have a life pattern that returns them to the earth two or three times a week.By injecting a poison into the soil under pressure, the termites absorb enough poison within a week's time to perish. For a house to be really severely damaged there has to have been absolute neglect, or vacancy, for a long period of time.
Most damage costs run in the neighborhood of $100 to $300. The presence of old termite trails does not mean that the termites have necessarily caused structural damage.
That other scare element, water, found in basements, roof leaks or reflected in old ceiling stains below bathrooms, also turns off buyers. But no house ever built is completely waterproof -- if the ground around the house becomes saturated. The cure then is to keep the water away from the house walls. Water problems usually can be corrected by controlling the downspout water and raising the grades next to the walls.
In the very few cases where a high water table or underground water is present, steps other than raising the grade are necessary.
When the potential buyer understands what is needed to control water problems, the approach is often simple. A seller should not try to hide these problems -- they can usually be detected anyway. It is better to take corrective measures before the house is put on the market.
Ceiling stains under the bathrooms are to be expected and are an indication that sometime during the lifetime of a house, water has spilled on an unwaterproofed bathroom floor. Stains may be an indication of more serious problems, of course, but this is rare; the test is rather lengthy to relate here.
Claxton Walker is a former industrial arts teacher, remodeler and builder who is now a construction consultant.