Whether buying or selling, the penultimate step in the transaction is the “walk-through,” and for some, it can bring a host of drama to the closing table if all does not go smoothly. Here I will lay out what you should look for and expect as a buyer, and how to prepare as a seller.
1. Check every nook and cranny:
Sure, many buyers know to look in closets and other obvious places of storage, but often neglected areas of final inspection include the attic and under the deck, and both are areas prone to having a vast amount of long forgotten junk stored. These are just a couple of examples, and different houses may have different hidey-holes that you’ll want to check in addition. Make sure every crevice is checked. Most municipalities will not collect garbage containing certain common household items without a special pick up ordered, such as paint cans, certain cleaners, furniture and pool equipment, and that costs money. The last thing you want to have to do after shelling out for exorbitant closing costs is absorb the cost to remove someone else’s garbage.
To this end, sellers must be sure to clear out all those long forgotten spaces of all unwanted items or be prepared to hold back money in escrow post closing until unwanted trash is removed. I’ve seen sellers leave behind mattresses and bed frames in the attic, bottles of chemical pool cleaner and large broken equipment under the deck, etc. Such items may require the rental of a large trash receptacle, which can cost a few hundred dollars. Most sellers are no stranger to that cost, as they often rent these receptacles for the clean-out of the main house. There is nothing worse than getting to the closing table only to be told that you have to rent yet another expensive bin for all the stuff you missed. It’s an unnecessary waste of money.
2. Kindness will bite you in the rump!
This one is explicitly for sellers. Remove everything that is not appurtenant to the home (not nailed into the walls or custom) besides spare keys, manuals and garage door openers, unless you’ve cleared it with the buyers. If there is anything you might leave as a courtesy to the buyer, like extra tiles or paint cans, run it by the buyers or their agent first. There have been many situations where sellers leave something in the home behind as a gesture of good will, that gets misconstrued, and the buyer requests money withheld in escrow to account for its removal. If you are considering leaving anything in the home that is not nailed down besides spare keys, manuals and garage door openers, please consult with your agent on that. Yes, I also mean paint cans and tiles. In all likelihood, the buyer will want those items, but do not assume. If you don’t check with them first, they may just ask that a special receptacle be ordered for their removal (the towns will not pick up paint cans as part of regular collection). This is especially true if the transaction has been somewhat rocky and you are not on the best terms with the buyers. I’ve witnessed my fair share of angry buyers and a shrewd agent going for the jugular on such items left behind. Many sellers ask, “people aren’t like that, are they?” When their feathers are ruffled and emotions are high, then yes, yes they are.
Having said this, I’ve found that leaving a bottle of wine and a small token, even if it’s just an air freshener (if the house has been vacated for a while) is not only acceptable, it can go a long way to diffuse hard feelings that may have plagued the transaction.
3. Bring Your Inspector:
Buyers, even if you and the sellers have not agreed to any repairs, you still should have a working order clause in the contract, meaning all utilities are functional and the roof free of leaks at the time of closing. It’s prudent to bring the inspector you initially hired back for the walk-through, and they will typically do it for a relatively small fee. You’ll want to check the plumbing for any new leaks, test the heat and/or air conditioning units (note: central air cannot be tested at a time of year in which the outside temperature is consistently below 60 degrees), run all kitchen appliances and washer/dryer, carefully inspect the basement and attic for leaks, etc. Having your inspector there can offer some assurance that you have not overlooked anything, and verify the change in functionality since the time of inspection. If you discover a new leak or a utility that is newly malfunctioning the morning of closing, either you or your agent must alert your attorney immediately. Ideally, if there is enough time before closing, they should hire someone to come and fix it, and it can be retested. However, it’s not always possible to fix and retest due to time constraints and, in that case, money from the seller will be held in escrow until the issue is remedied to the satisfaction of all parties.
4. Vacant and Broom Swept
Sellers, while it is not necessary to have your home professionally cleaned, the contract typically stipulates that the home must be vacant and broom swept, cleared of all personal effects and debris by the morning of closing, often by 9:00am. If it is not so, sellers run the risk of buyers’ requesting money be withheld in escrow to account for cleaning and removal. Please note that this includes the attic, basement and garage. Should this present a challenge for you, please let your agent know in advance of the walkthrough. Do not wait until the morning of the walkthrough to start clearing out and sweeping. Moving into new home that has floors littered with dirt, trash and packing debris is neither pleasant nor inviting for any buyer, and they WILL bring it up at closing. If there is a significant enough amount of it, the buyers may either adjourn the closing until it is cleaned, or request money be held in escrow until it is cleared out.
5. Schedule Pick Up of Dumpsters in Advance
Sellers, it is not just the home that must be free and clear of anything not nailed down. Your property will also be inspected at the walk thru. Any dumpsters, old unattached garden hoses, large pails, garbage bags etc. that are not appurtenant to the home must be removed no later than the morning of closing per your contract. Again, now is not the time to be nice and leave anything as a gesture of good will. Such gestures often result in escrow being withheld until those items are removed. If you intend to leave something behind, please run it by your agent first, so that they can check if it’s ok with the buyers.
Sellers, is not necessary to repair anything that was broken prior to inspection, and the home is stipulated to be in “as is” condition per the contract, however the contract also contains a working order clause rider, which mandates that all utilities, such as heat, must be fully operational at the time of closing, and the basement and roof free of leaks, no holes in the wall larger than a quarter. It would therefore be prudent to make certain that all is as functional as it was prior to contract signing. It is often the case that buyers find new, relatively minor, issues at the walk-through that they demand either be addressed or a credit issued, such as a pilot light that won’t ignite in the oven, burners that don’t turn on, a leaky faucet, broken door hinges, and other damages or defects that were not present at the inspection. While you have no formal obligation under the working order clause to address such matters, the contract stipulates that you cannot forfeit the contract over a matter that can be resolved for a few hundred, or even a few thousand dollars. Ensuring that everything is in the same condition as it was at the inspection will greatly reduce the likelihood of a request from buyers of a credit or repairs. If you know of anything that might be problematic, let your agent know ASAP.
7. Keys, Manuals, Garage Door Openers
Contrary to #2, sellers are encouraged to leave manuals, warranties, etc. in a drawer for the buyer. This is a perfectly acceptable gesture, and actually expected. You’ll want to leave keys and openers handy and accessible for your agent to collect and bring to closing.
Buyers, be sure to ask about these items, as well as any warranty paperwork associated with the house or any utilities.
8. Walk-Through as Close to Closing as Possible
Buyers, while the temptation might be to schedule the walk-through as far in advance as possible to ensure that enough time is provided to resolve any unsatisfactory conditions, it’s prudent to schedule as close to closing as possible. You want to narrow the window of time between walk-through and closing to leave as little opportunity as possible for something to happen to the house that may go undetected. This is especially true if the house is vacant. Let’s say, for example, you are closing Monday but have the walk-through on Saturday. On Sunday, the water heater bursts. The sellers have moved out and have no idea, nor do you, that the basement, which was bone dry on Saturday, is now flooded. You unwittingly sign the papers at closing, return to your brand new home and are greeted with a huge expensive mess that is officially your problem (there is no recourse once you have closed). Ideally, you want to do the walk-through within 24 hours of closing. I usually urge buyers to do it an hour or two before the closing. As I’ve previously mentioned, if any issues are discovered, alert your attorney and request that money be held in escrow until the issue is rectified.