Purchase contracts often include a provision for the buyers to walk through the property with their real estate agent about five days or so before closing. This is not a contingency of the contract.
It provides the buyers an opportunity to confirm that the property is in substantially the same condition it was when their offer to purchase was accepted by the sellers, and to confirm that any repairs the sellers agreed to do have been completed.
If you do a walk-through and discover that repair items haven’t been done per the contract or that the sellers’ possessions haven’t been completely removed from the property, ask your agent to put the findings in writing. Your agent can then deliver the "to do" list to the sellers so that there is no question about what remains to be done before closing.
Some buyers feel they’ve visited the property often enough during and after the contingency time period that they don’t need to do a walk-through to confirm the property’s condition.
Before you waive this opportunity, consider that some buyers have moved into their new home and found it littered with personal property and debris. It’s not a bad idea to exercise your right to do a walk-through even though you have no concerns about how the property will look at closing.
One flaw with the final walk-through process is that buyers can’t confirm that the sellers have moved out and taken all their stuff with them or have taken more than they’re contractually entitled to if the sellers aren’t moving until the transaction closes. In this situation, it’s still a good idea to do a walk-through to make sure that the sellers are making progress.
Sometimes sellers move out and take items that are included in the sale with them. Let’s say your contract says that the washer and dryer are included in the sale, but when you move in, they are gone.
Or perhaps, the contract says that all attached light fixtures are included, but when you take occupancy, the entry hall chandelier is gone and bare wires are hanging in its place.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: In cases like these, you should report what happened to your agent who can inform the listing agent. Hopefully, the items were moved out by mistake and will be promptly returned. Sometimes there is a miscommunication between the sellers and their movers.
One buyer couldn’t move into her new home at closing because the movers had inadvertently packed the garage door openers. The only way the buyer’s furniture could be moved into the house was through the garage.
Make sure the listing agent notifies the sellers to put the garage door openers, house keys, appliance manuals and architectural plans, if applicable, in a safe place like a kitchen drawer or cabinet so that they aren’t moved out by mistake.
Buyers who do a walk-through and find the sellers have neglected their contractual duties have a few options. The first step is to consult with a knowledgeable local real estate attorney.
One possibility is to delay closing until the sellers comply with the contract and (1) move out their unwanted personal property and debris; (2) return the property to the condition it was in when they signed the purchase contract; and (3) complete repairs they agreed to do.
Delaying the close may be inconvenient or impossible. If so, let the sellers or their agent know that you will have the sellers’ personal property and debris hauled away within so many days and send the hauling bill to them. The same goes for agreed to repairs the sellers left undone.
THE CLOSING: If the sellers don’t reimburse you for the cost of cleaning up after them, consult with your real estate attorney.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."
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