Question: What obligations does a seller have on the condition and cleanliness of a home when it transfers ownership?
Answer: Many sellers apply The Golden Rule of treating others how you wish to be treated and convey their home in the condition they’d like to move into a home. Unfortunately, this rule isn’t a contractual obligation so let’s take a look at what the contract states and some common points of contention.
Contract Language on Property Condition
The Northern Virginia contract states that the “Seller will deliver Property free and clear of trash and debris, broom clean and in substantially the same physical condition to be determined as of [Select One] Date of Offer, Date of Home Inspection, or Other [as defined in contract].” If you’re doing a home inspection, use the home inspection as the date of determination because there’s a documented property condition report.
All systems, finishes, and fixtures convey in as-is condition as of the time period selected in the previous statement, unless otherwise noted in the contract. Electronic components/devices don’t convey, but all related mounts and hardware do (e.g. TV goes, the wall mount does not).
Your Final Walk-Thru
The final walk-thru is your opportunity to catch any property condition issues before they become your problem. Once you sign the paperwork any leaks, holes in the wall, or faulty systems are yours to deal with. While the contract allows you to do a walk-thru as early as seven days before settlement, I recommend doing it just before you sign the paperwork to reduce risk.
Common Points of Contention
Pre-Existing Condition: During the final walk-thru you find a hole in the wall that was previously covered up by a large piece of furniture. If the hole existed prior to the contract, the seller has no contractual obligation to address it. If a faulty water heater leaks and causes damage in the basement, the seller must clean-up the leak and repair any damage the leak caused, but likely won’t be obligated to replace the faulty water heater.
Get it? The seller’s obligations revert back to the as-is condition at the point in time stated in the contract (date of offer, date of inspection, or some other defined time), unless a separate addendum is created that provides other direction.
Clean or Dirty: Broom clean doesn’t mean “clean” in the way most buyers want to arrive to their new home, so plan to hire professional cleaners prior to moving in. On the other hand, it’s normal for sellers to leave behind paint, lawn tools, and cleaning supplies. You should confirm the buyer wants these prior to leaving them behind or you may be scrambling to clear them out at the last minute to remove “trash and debris.”
Nails and Screws: Do you have a bunch of nails and screws left in the wall after removing photos, art, and shelving? Leave those in place otherwise buyers can make a case that the physical condition of the home changed due to all the new holes.
Contractual obligations are not what most of us would consider the right way of doing business. That’s why I stress maintaining a positive relationship between all parties during negotiations so that when something unexpected comes up, it’s handled with care and consideration instead of contractual force. For those who subscribe to the business practice of brute force [ahem Roger Stone], I suggest picking up a copy of Ron Shapiro’s “The Power of Nice”.