Will the seller clean the home prior to closing?

The vast majority of home buyers are purchasing a house that has been lived in. In many of those transactions, the home is occupied when the offer is accepted, and the sellers don’t move out until the end of the process, which is ~1 month later. As you might guess, many buyers have angst about the condition of the home at closing. What will it look like when it’s vacant? What if something gets damaged right before closing? The sellers are going to clean the house, correct?

Pay attention to your purchase contract

Vacuum CleanerThe purchase & sale agreement for a home is likely to include terms that require the seller to maintain or clean the home. In our market, most agents will include the following two terms to protect the buyer in this instance. It is important to read your contract before it is accepted so that these sorts of protections are there. It the contract doesn’t require it, the seller could leave the place a mess and you’d be stuck with the cleanup.

  1. Property & Grounds Maintained – Seller shall maintain the property in the same condition as when initially viewed by the buyer. If an appliance or system breaks in the interim, the seller has to repair or replace the item. Buyer can reinspect the property within 5 days prior to transfer of possession.
  2. Items Left by Seller – Any personal property left behind by the seller becomes property of the buyer. Seller shall clean the interior and remove all trash, debris and rubbish prior to the buyer taking possession.

Note that the language is pretty vague about what “cleaning” entails. It certainly prevents the seller from leaving piles of trash, but it certainly doesn’t require the carpets be steam cleaned or a deep cleaning of the refrigerator.

How have the sellers lived in the home?

Home owners aren’t renters. They’ve often lived in a home for 5, 10 or more years. While the home might have been spruced up for the sale, it is usually pretty apparent how meticulous and tidy a particular seller is when you are viewing the home. If the home is immaculately kept, it is pretty safe to assume that you are going to get a really nice home once it’s vacant. If a seller is a little more on the sloppy side, the home may be a bit sloppy when you get the keys. There is some level of pride that comes with owning a home, and the vast majority of sellers aren’t going to leave you with nasty surprises. Most homes are going to reasonably clean, but few will be perfect when you get the keys.

Everyone’s definition of clean is different

I have a number of germaphobe friends that would likely sanitize their home like an operating room prior to sale. I have other friends who who view clean as running the vacuum for 15 minutes before handing off the keys. Both parties believe that the home is “clean enough.” Some buyers expect the home in showroom condition, while others know they’ll have to tidy up. It is impossible to craft contract language that satisfies all types of people in this situation, since everyone has a different perspective.

I’ve given this advice to virtually every home buyer that I’ve worked with. If you are concerned about the cleanliness of the home prior to move in, plan to hire your own cleaners/carpet cleaners prior to your move in. You may be pleasantly surprised if the sellers do a great job and be able to call off the cleaners at the last minute, but in most cases, you’ll be happy to move into a sparkling clean home that meets your own personal standards.

When something goes wrong

Every so often, a seller will be in a hurry or lazy during their move out. This is particularly true in distressed home sales like short sales and foreclosures. If they leave you with a pile of trash, a recently broken appliance or something unexpected, hopefully your contract has language that can protect you.

If you are concerned about the appliances/systems, you can often re-inspect them shortly before your closing to make sure everything is in order. If the seller leaves a mound of trash, it is usually incumbent on your agent to go to bat for you.  Usually these disputes are resolved with a stern reminder of what they agreed to in the contract. Yes, you’d likely have legal recourse, but the best course of action is to insist on their performance of the contract terms. It is far easier to figure this out with a little negotiation than to try to pursue legal action.

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