Ask Val: Dirty House

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: How clean do I have to leave my home before closing?

Answer: There’s a moral and a legal answer. Sellers have a responsibility to clean the home after they move. The question is, how clean is clean enough? The golden rule is to leave the home in the condition you would hope to find it in if you were moving in. Unfortunately for the buyers, this rule isn’t a contractual obligation so let’s take a look at what the contract states.

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 the buyers are doing a home inspection, they can 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).

The Final Walk-Through

The final walk-thru is for the buyers to inspect any property condition issues before they become their problem. While the contract allows buyers to do a walk-thru as early as seven days before settlement, agents usually recommend doing it just before they sign the paperwork to reduce risk.

Most buyers will clean the home to their own standards before moving in. There are a few things a seller can do to leave the house reasonably clean and to create goodwill.

Here’s a to-do list for sellers before the buyer’s final walk through:

Remove all personal property, even patio furniture (unless previously agreed with buyers)
Vacuum the carpets & floors
Clean kitchen appliances, inside the refrigerator and oven, and wipe down all surfaces – Wipe down interior cabinets and shelves
Throw away trash
Stack items pertaining to the home such as paint cans, roofing materials or extra flooring and leave them for the new buyer, if they want them

Common Points of Contention

Pre-Existing Condition — During the final walk-thru the buyer finds 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.

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 they should 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.

Moving day is always busy, so if you think you won’t have time to clean your home properly before you leave, ask your realtor to recommend a house cleaning service. Hiring a cleaning service can be an excellent solution. This is typically a courtesy, not an obligation but it will create a positive relationship between all parties.

I hope you found this article informative and interesting! If you are considering buying, selling or investing in the Northern Virginia market in 2020 (or beyond), or if you have any real estate questions, don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected].

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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