There Are No Magic Fairies Coming To Clean Your House

How clean is clean enough?  More often than you think, I get questions about this.  And, since there are no magic fairies coming to clean your house, whether you’re planning to buy or sell, you should understand what the obligation is and plan accordingly.

I suspect the confusion is because before we are property owners most of us rent an apartment somewhere, and the “move in”, “move out” definition is very different.  When you’re renting, the landlord tells you to clean the entire place, white glove clean, every time.  But most of us don’t do that, and in fact we leave stuff behind and just hope that the place is “clean enough”.  Most professionally managed communities have staff on board and are used to dealing with us.  They haul our stuff to the dumpster, send in the painters and maintenance guys and then the janitor crew.  After a few days the place looks as good as new and is ready for the next tenant.  As a result of these experiences, we seem to think that we don’t have to get everything quite that clean when we move out – because we’re used to little magic fairies coming behind us and cleaning our mess.  AND, we think that when we move IN to a place, the magic fairies should have already been there and made the place sparkle.  I am here to tell you this just isn’t what happens when you’re buying a house.  The standard is quite different, and there are no magic fairies. There are options like the CleanBee cleaning services that one can rely on as well.

So what is the standard?  In our area, and most I believe, the standard contracts require a home to be free of trash and debris and “broom clean” when the sellers move out and possession transfers to buyers (which is usually at closing).

What is “Free of trash and debris” and “broom clean”?  Simply put it means that all the sellers “stuff” should be removed and that any dirt that can be swept up should be.

Specifically, sellers must remove all furniture, clothes, boxes, appliances, all the “stuff”  unless there was an agreement to the contrary in the contract.  Even more specifically, sellers must, by the closing date:

  • Remove the filing cabinet that no one can open anymore, and the couch that you must saw into pieces to get out of the basement.  (Yes, even if you don’t want it anymore and you’re sure the buyers could use it.)
  • Remove all the trash.  All of it.  From all of the property.  Even the garage.  Even the curb.  Even if the junk hauler is coming tomorrow.  Even if the trash company will pick it up on Thursday.
  • Remove the pool table, extra fridge, deep freezer in the basement, and the hot tub.  It doesn’t matter that you offered it in the listing, if the buyers said they don’t want them, sellers have to move them.
  • Remove all the paint cans – and these are hazardous waste, so be sure to dispose of them properly.  If the house is freshly painted and the paint in the cans are less than a couple months old, it is reasonable to ask the buyers if they want you to leave it.  But they may be completely redecorating, so don’t expect them to want your old paint cans, especially if they are smart.  If the paint is more than 6 months old, it needs to be removed from the property.
  • Remove the lawn equipment and tools.
  • Clean the ashes out of the fireplace and wood stove.
  • Empty the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer.
  • Sweep the floors clean.

Technically old house parts should also be removed, so check with the buyer before you assume it should be left… this includes flooring remnants and the like.  And don’t be insulted if they don’t want your stuff…. they may be planning to completely redecorate and not find those items useful, even though you have very generous intentions.

In addition to this, sellers are required to maintain the home in the condition it was in at the time of contract, so that means continuing to mow the lawn and things of this nature.

And DO NOT take anything that was promised in the contract.  This typically includes window treatments, appliances, water treatment systems, and light fixtures. Remember that anything that is “installed” at the property is generally presumed to convey.  This includes mantles,  chandeliers and shelving…yes, even garage shelving.  As a general rule, if you’d have to use a tool to remove it, then it stays.  Be careful about things like flat screen TVs that are affixed to the wall and make sure that is clear when the contract is signed and definitely before the closing date.

But, sellers, wait… it’s not that bad.  Check out what you don’t have to do: SCRUB.  You don’t have to scrub anything….  not the floors, toilets, sinks, fridge or anything else. You do not have to wash the windows, clean the blinds, have the carpets steam cleaned, repair the wall where you removed your pictures or clean the oil spill from the driveway (assuming it was there when the contract was ratified). Buyers need to know this.  Unless otherwise agreed to, the sellers have no obligation to improve the house when they leave.

Sellers sometimes do hire a cleaning company to come behind them… but there is no requirement to do this.  Unless they have a crew of magic fairies themselves, buyers should plan on spending a day scrubbing the house or, better yet, plan to hire a cleaning company – think of it as a cost of purchasing a home.  Even though sellers often plan on cleaning from top to bottom before the buyers arrive for their final walk through, most people are shocked about how hard moving really is and they simply run out of time, so don’t expect it.

As the hour closes in and your transaction is about to be consummated it’s funny what questions tend to arise for the first time.  Every word in this post is based on a real situation that I have seen…sometimes many times over.  Remember, your contract is what outlines what you both thought was fair in the beginning, and it’s still what is fair even later when you’re tired.

Moving is rough stuff for sure, so it is now that it becomes more grueling to figure out what to do with the paint cans and carpet scraps and the like, so plan ahead, read and understand your contract, and do not expect the other party to “understand” your circumstances and make an exception.  They are dealing with the same stuff on the other side of the transaction.

So, what happens if you don’t get the place cleaned up?  Buyers can refuse to settle, or they can ask for money to be held in escrow to cover the cost of the junk hauler and cleaners.  On the other hand, depending on how the property is being financed, this may require the lender to approve the new arrangement.  It will be trickier than you think to get this cleared up, so the best thing to do is to fulfill your end of the bargain and to make sure your expectations are spot on early in the process.

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