When you're about to close on your new home, few things can bring your mood down from the clouds. One exception, of course, is when your new home is left in a subpar state.
"Nothing can dampen a buyer's enthusiasm for the sale like walking in and seeing it empty and dirty," says Donna Cox, a real estate associate broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Rand Realty in Nyack, New York.
When sellers move out of a property, it may be a bit of a mystery as to how neat they'll leave each room, whether there will be marks on the walls and if they'll surprise you with an empty nook where the refrigerator used to be.
Fortunately, a typical part of real estate transactions is the final walk-through, which typically occurs within 24 hours of the scheduled real estate closing and serves as a final check to ensure the property has been vacated and left in proper condition.
To avoid letting your emotions get the best of you, it's important to manage your expectations and take all steps possible ahead of time to boost your chances of a positive walk-through and a smooth closing.
Clarify what's attached. When you tour a home, take note of window treatments, appliances and movable storage that may be unclear as to whether it stays with the property. Kim Wirtz, a Realtor for Century 21 Affiliated in Lockport, Illinois, says she frequently sees buyers surprised by what they didn't purchase or hadn't thought to ask about.
"It's a really gray area. I've seen buyers get so upset because in, say, one of the children's bedrooms they had a shelf where the little boy had trophies, and that shelf is now gone," Wirtz says.
To reduce the possibility for disappointment, Wirtz says she gets proactive about shelving in particular from the original tour.
"If there's a decorative shelf that my client wants, there's a section in my contract that's called 'other personal property' or 'additional personal property at no charge,' and I'll write that in," she says.
Confirm you'll be getting the usual items. Not everything is up in the air, of course. It may vary by market, but many home sales include standard appliances that go with the property. "In my market area, it's customary to leave stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, et cetera – and that's listed in the listing paperwork right upfront, as well as maybe anything they may be excluding, like a light fixture or window treatments," Cox says.
Communication won't always be clear on the seller's end, either. Wirtz says she's seen the washer and dryer taken by the seller when it was supposed to remain behind. When that happens, it's simply a matter of clarifying that the pieces will be returned before closing. Depending on where you live, this may be include communication between the real estate agents, or possibly the attorneys, who oversee the closing procedure.
Ask about things early on. Some of the less obvious items, like wall-mounted TVs, should be discussed and included in the contract from the start, as they could affect the final sale price.
A particularly beautiful chandelier can create some debate between buyer and seller, says Tim Elmes, a luxury property specialist with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He recommends sellers remove any light fixtures they intend to take with them to avoid it becoming a point of contention in negotiations.
"We recommend they replace it now, before the home gets shown, with something appropriate so that you don't get egos involved in an argument down the road," Elmes says.
Know the rules. Most contracts establish the expected minimal level of cleanliness for a home is "broom-swept" clean, which means all personal items not included in the sale are gone, and each room has been swept.
Of course, any level of cleanliness is relative, and "obviously varies significantly depending on the people," Elmes says.
Ask for the extras to go. When it comes time for you to conduct the final walk-through, it would be fair to expect some unwanted goodies to be left behind, Cox says.
"What's most common in a walk-through is for well-intentioned sellers to leave items that they think the buyer may want – extra cans of paint, bathroom tiles, garden equipment, patio furniture and the like," she says. "So when the buyer walks into the walk-through, it is not clear of personal belongings. They see these things they may not want."
It's typically a pretty easy request to have the seller, listing agent or someone affiliated with them to come and clear the property of those extra items.
Talk about where you find issue. When the problem manifests itself in the form of recent damage, occurring since you last visited the property, don't be afraid to point out the problem and discuss options.
Elmes recalls a client who purchased a home, only to discover during the walk-through that the seller had rather haphazardly removed a TV from the wall, leaving a large hole with wires sticking out.
"You can't leave defaced walls," Elmes says. He adds that the buyer wasn't fazed by the damage, having planned to redo the room anyway. But in this kind of situation expecting the seller to repair to the wall would be warranted, and the buyer could delay the closing until expectations are met or compensation for the damage has been paid.
Postpone in the event of big problems. When you discover damage from the seller's move out or issues that have arisen since the initial home inspection – a suddenly leaking roof, for example – you may need to push the closing date back while repairs and payment are negotiated.
"Usually, if there's a really big problem, the closing will be postponed," Wirtz says.
In Illinois, where Wirtz is based, attorneys handle negotiations once the contract is official, and if the problem requires more discussion than simply issuing a payment, waiting to take possession of the house may be your safest bet to ensure proper repairs are made.
Use your agent. A good real estate agent will always act as an advocate for you to ensure problems are fixed, but he or she will also help you manage your expectations along every step of the deal.
Elmes says he works to curb buyers' expectations when they go for the final walk-through, since the property isn't quite the same as when it was all dolled up for the market.
"When you go in there and it's empty … it's a big shock. We try to prepare buyers for that," Elmes says.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.