Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who Cleans for the New Owner?

Whose responsibility is it to ensure a SOLD home is found in a clean and clear manner for a new Buyer?
                                                                                                                      
As a Buyer of a new to you property, have you ever spent an extra day cleaning and scrubbing your home after all your belongings are moved out, leaving your SOLD home pristine for its new occupants, only to find you have two days of work and cost to clean your new purchase before you would ever consider moving in your belongings?

It happens – all too often.  REALTORS® try to protect their Buyer(s) by including a term in their Contract of Purchase and Sale “the seller agrees to have the home and carpets professionally cleaned prior to completion and will provide receipt of work done.  All personal belongings and garbage, inside and out are to be removed.”  

The seller may agree to the term at the time of the offer – and yet not get it done for completion. Perhaps they ran out of time, the moving truck was delayed, cancelled or they were not prepared for the amount of work to be done once their furniture was actually moved out of the way.  Perhaps they rented a steam cleaner from the grocery store and did it themselves at midnight the night before completion, leaving carpets soaking wet – delaying the Buyers ability to move in immediately when they take possession. 

It’s important to remember that everyone measures “satisfactory” levels of cleanliness differently.  It helps to have the work done by an independent professional who will have a consistent standard met.  If hiring out is not affordable, some Sellers may choose to do the work themselves. The Seller’s REALTOR® needs to provide them with the reasonable expectations of the industry – and not allow them to pass their own judgement on what is acceptable or not.

There is an expectation in our market area that the appliances will be cleaned, carpets vacuumed, floors washed, bathrooms and light fixtures cleaned (hopefully NOT stripped of all the light bulbs), windows clean, garbage gone (This is a big one). Most Buyers will still want to do a thorough vacuum ,wipe down of fixtures, switches, and cabinet interiors, to ensure they are not moving in with someone else’s germs, but they should not have to start from scratch.

Can REALTORS® do anything else other than inserting the ‘cleaning’ clause in the contract to ensure their buyers don’t walk into disaster?   YES!  REALTORS® need to educate their Sellers to the industry expectation.  Help the seller to realize how they will feel if they walk into a mess in their new purchase.  A listing REALTOR® should visit their sellers at the property regularly (not just phone them) throughout the two weeks prior to completion.  Most REALTORS® can recommend support services like Junk Removal companies, movers and cleaners. Some Sellers move out days or weeks prior to completion so a yard maintenance company may be necessary to keep the yard in proper condition prior to completion.  


The Buyer’s REALTOR® can certainly drive by the property periodically to see if there are signs of activity towards a move happening.  Check with the listing REALTOR® to express concern if garbage or items on the property don’t seem to be diminishing as completion day approaches.  Request a walk though the property with the Listing REALTOR®  a few days prior to completion.  A good REALTOR® knows their job is not done when the subjects come off.  The period of time between subject removal and completion is critical for both sides.

It’s sad how quickly all the hard work a Buyer’s Agent has done can be forgotten when their Buyer walks into a mess.  

Some of the circumstance we have had to deal with:  

  • Senior seller, not moved, not packed, and no plan for where she would go.  Our buyers had the anxiety of not only having to find temporary accommodations but were left with the feeling of putting a sweet old lady out on the street.  What an awful way to start a life in your new home.
  • Buyers bought a property where they fell in love with the yard. Sellers moved 6 weeks early in the heat of the summer.  What do you think the yard looked like with no care or water by the end of July?
  • Garbage left piled in the garage – rodents decided it was a great place to settle in. 
  • Seller moved and packed and gone but left unwanted furniture, broken appliances and other debris that mounted up to three “Got Junk” truck loads at $200 a load plus cleaning.
  • The contract included all the new stainless steel appliances.  The buyers moved in to find second hand mismatched units.
  • A winter close turned disaster as the seller moved out a month prior and turned off utilities (heat included) – Frozen pipes and water damage resulted.

REALTORS® can’t control what their sellers do but they can take an active part in walking them through the process...the expectations...get family members or outside services involved early if there appears to be issues of ability and relocation.

A Buyer’s REALTOR® can’t affect the seller’s actions but they can stay in communication with their colleague.  If there are any circumstances that they can anticipate ahead of time that will need special attention, the Buyer can be made aware and not blindsided on move-in day.  The Buyer’s REALTOR® can be ready with information on support services and try to negotiate costs with the Seller through the Seller’s REALTOR®.

In my opinion – a REALTOR® who responds to difficult possession issues with “Let the lawyers fight it out” is not doing their job.  A Buyer’s avenue of remedy when a Seller does not fulfill their obligations under the contract is small claims court – find the seller – serve them and try to collect.  As professional REALTORS®, anything you can do to avoid that path should be taken and often, paying attention, communication between REALTORS® and preparation of both Seller and Buyer is all that is needed.

There are always the Good stories too:

  • Our seller’s REALTOR® and the Buyer’s REALTOR® – packing boxes and cleaning until midnight the day prior to possession to help the senior with the last of the overwhelming task she had been faced with.
  • Day of possession the Buyer’s REALTOR® up on the counter, wiping out cupboards to be ready for her clients dishes – right after she ordered pizza to feed the friends that had come to help with the move in.
  • Seller’s REALTOR® sent their son over to give the yard that one last cut and tidy. 
  • Seller away prior to completion so they left funds for their REALTOR® to hire a cleaner.  REALTOR® stored the last of the personal belongs for her seller until she returned months later. 

Do you have some good (or bad) stories to share?  
What’s your opinion on who should be held accountable?


When the going gets "Tough"...just call me.
Susan Tough

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