Sellers - think about the way your home should be conveyed

Real Estate Agent with Compass

"It takes less time to do a thing right than to explain why you did it wrong."

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When you sell your house in Northern Virginia, there is a clause in our standard contract that says it should be conveyed on settlement day in substantially the same condition as either contract date or inspection date or other date (buyer chooses which one to check when filling out the offer) broom clean with trash and debris removed.   Although ambiguity in a contract is generally frowned upon and rarely found, this one of a few ambiguous clauses in our standard contract.   What exactly does "substantially the same condition" mean?  To me it means, if something wasn't broken on that date chosen, then it is not to be broken on closing date.  Seems simple for obvious things, but not all aspects of a house are so obvious.

Not EVERYTHING is that simple.

For example a home viewed only fully furnished could be hiding a defect or flaw that the buyer is not aware of - like a hole in the wall behind art or a stain on the floor under furniture.  Surely it is safe for a buyer to assume there are not gigantic holes under the art or carpeting.

Say a buyer finds a hold or stain on walk through once the house is empty.   Is this the same condition?  "Well NO" says the buyer, "I was not able to see that flaw and the seller hid a defect."  And this is exactly why a buyer should always do a final walk through AFTER the sellers moved out.

"Well YES" says the seller, "It was there all along, not my fault if you forgot to look behind the art!" 

Who is right?  I'm not a lawyer and not going to say for sure. And I'll be if you ask 5 different lawyers you'll likely get 5 different answers.  I will say I don't think this the way a contract should be written.  However, it has not come up that often in over 100 transactions I've done.   I've only had a defect pop up at walk through once or twice.  Both times buyers and sellers worked out a deal at the closing table.  One time it got very ugly, one time it was fine until the seller did not pay the whole bill to cure the defect, but as usual, it got worked out.  I think the reason why is because most sellers just naturally want to respectfully convey their property.  It's the most expensive purchase most people make, so shouldn't it convey the right way?  (Please note, I rarely work REOs, and when the bank owns the property none of this applies.)

So forget the ambiguous contract for a second.  Sellers, think about it - how should you convey your property?  We all sell lots of things throughout our lives.  Give away clothes to charity, sell your car or piano or couch.  Do you sell it filthy?  Do you put your dirty clothes in the charity bag?  Well I don't. I wash them before I send them off.  I vacuum my area rug and steam clean the couch before selling it on Craigslist.  Do you take your car the the dealer to exchange full of garbage and expect them to clean it out?  Probably not because you know they will give you less money for it.

"Free of trash and debris" - I think means "Don't leave a bunch of your old stuff."  Yet sellers still sometimes leave things like an old treadmill, boxes, furniture, even clothing, in the house.  Seller, don't assume that the buyer of your house wants your old stuff.  If they want it, they will probably ask via your agent if you would like to leave it or not.  But don't just leave things like that because it essentially is trash if you didn't ask permission.

There's a right way and a wrong way to do things in life.  So sellers, clean up your house, don't leave any of your stuff behind for the buyer to deal with and convey your property in as good as or better shape than you would your car.  When I am your agent, I will discuss this with you before you sell, like when we first meet and many times throughout the process.   Taking advantage of ambiguous language is not doing the right thing.  And having an arm wrestling contest over the settlement table because you did the wrong thing is just not worth it.  

Comments (5)

Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital
Coral, in Virginia most agents and sellers think its perfectly fine to conceal known defects. This is one reason I use Jay Marchanick for the home inspection, and look behind pictures and under the rugs for any secrets the seller might be hiding.
Apr 20, 2013 12:58 AM
Coral Gundlach
Compass - Arlington, VA
Real Lives. Not Just Real Estate.

Pat, you really pull up rugs? Do you move furniture too?  I would think you could risk breaking something by moving a bunch of art.  

Apr 20, 2013 01:14 AM
Melanie Narducci
Hillscape Properties, Inc. - San Francisco, CA
Your San FranciscoBay Area Real Estate Expert
What a great post, Coral! Moving is a stressful event, with some sellers becoming overwhelmed in vacating a property. Preparing your home for sale prior to putting it on the market, by making minor repairs, doing a deep cleaning, and packing away personal items for storage in anticipation of the move, can all go toward alleviating any last minute glitches. But glitches happen. I sometimes think houses know they are being sold and act up like petchulant children, or old folks, do in the face of change; the furnace will go on the fritz two days before closing, or the dryer stops working properly, perhaps a toilet handle breaks, or a skunk has nested under the back deck. Realtors have recommended resources to help with last minute challenges.
Apr 20, 2013 01:33 AM
Coral Gundlach
Compass - Arlington, VA
Real Lives. Not Just Real Estate.

Yes Melanie. I do think the stress of moving can sometimes make people lose the ability to think clearly. And of course, things do break on closing day.  But hiding a hole in the wall and expecting the buyer to just deal with it is different.  So are stains on the floor.  Or a bunch of junk.   Disclose, disclose, disclose.  Remove, remove, remove!

Apr 20, 2013 01:48 AM
Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster Real Estate - Gainesville, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

This is actually reminding me of a post I wanted to do on Friday about broom clean and what that means.  Thanks for the inspiration.

Apr 20, 2013 04:00 AM