After the initial excitement of getting an accepted offer on a home wears off, the real work begins. There is completing the loan application paperwork and submitting all of the required documents to the lender which in and of itself can be a full time job.
Then there is scheduling and attending the inspections and trying to make sense of all the reports to figure out what needs to be addressed by the seller.
If the buyer is lucky to make it this far, then comes the appraisal where everyone is sweating out that process, hoping the appraiser that is assigned is familiar with the area and neighborhood and brings a common sense approach to determining the value. Finally, with all the pieces of the puzzle just about complete, the closing day is in sight.
But, before the buyer crosses the proverbial real estate finish line, they have one more chance to go through the property to make sure all is at it should be. This can be the day of closing, but often one or two days before.
With so much happening, it can be easy to forget about all the pesky details about what something looked like or what was supposed to stay or go.
Here are seven walk-through scenarios that can arise and what to do about them:
1. Scratches on floors
This one is especially apparent on wood floors. Invariably, the agent and their buyer notice all sorts of nicks, dents, and scratches on the wood floors that they never saw before and instantly want to accuse the movers or seller of being the culprit. Many times these imperfections were already there and happened over the life of the seller living in the house.
Sellers should disclose upfront on their seller’s disclosure any flooring issues they are aware of. Best to list the areas where they know there may be some gauges and imperfections vs. waiting for an unpleasant reaction by the buyer and their agent later. By raising the issue and managing expectations upfront, the buyer will likely not raise an issue about them.
2. Missing items
Somehow, the refrigerator, washer and dryer and decorative mirror in the guest bathroom have decided to pull a midnight move. Despite the contract stating that these items were supposed to stay, they are nowhere to be found. A call to the listing agent results in an: “Oh well they accidentally got picked up by the movers,” and are packed on a truck on their way to the seller’s new destination which happens to be Alaska.
As a listing agent, you have to micromanage this process with sellers. Remind them (early and often) as soon as you have moved through the inspection and appraisal process about what items are supposed to stay as well as go. Offer to place labels on things for them so that it is clear to the movers and anyone else helping with the packing not to remove certain items.
Miscommunication or confusion can occur on moving day with all the chaos of packing up the home going on.
3. Household documentation: Building plans, manuals, warranty information, etc.
Even if a buyer never looks at it, nothing gets a buyer more nervous or aggravated when they start opening every cabinet door and fumbling through drawers in search of floor plans, warranties or manuals and cannot find it. Buyers and most selling agents tend to assume that this information has been left in the house.
In some cases, it may be and many times some part of it is, but not all of it. If the home has gone through several owners, it is possible some of this stuff got tossed along the way. As a seller, take stock of what you have before going on the market, and take the time to organize everything at that time.
A week or the night before closing is not the time to be rummaging through drawers trying to figure out where warranty and product manuals are. Also, make sure whatever information you have is current. Don’t leave an appliance manual from the refrigerator you swapped out five years ago.
Communicate what you have or don’t have upfront to the buyer so there won’t be a sense of false expectations as the closing date arrives — i.e . “What do you mean you don’t have your building plans?!“
This way there is time to try to track down any helpful information well in advance. Many product and appliance manuals are available online and the agents involved in the transaction can work on trying to get building plans through the municipality’s building department, contractor or builder (if they are still in business) and provided the home was built within a time-frame that records may still be available. Things do happen and some municipalities have purged or lost old records over time when merging or updating computer systems, for example.
4. Vendor lists and neighborhood contact information
No matter what the listing agent may have emailed to the buyer’s agent with helpful information about the house and what vendors the sellers have used, what days the garbage, yard waste and recycling are picked up, etc. no one seems to have that information on walk-through day.
To avoid this conundrum, have several copies of a detailed list of vendors and pertinent information that a homeowner would need to know upon move in printed out and available on the kitchen counter as well as email it to the selling agent and their transaction coordinator or assistant a few days prior to closing.
5. Dead bugs
You can pretty much guarantee that very large and ugly bugs – spiders, cockroaches, centipedes and whatever else will rear their ugly heads as the home gets emptied of its contents. Of course the buyer will see all of this on their final walk-through and pitch a fit that the home is infested.
Clean up any dead bugs as soon as items are boxed up and moved out of the house. If the seller notices any live activity, it is best to call pest control to do an emergency treatment before closing.
6. Hidden damage
This is every agent and buyer’s worst nightmare. When items are moved from the house, that huge gauge behind the wall where the sectional was is suddenly exposed or the hole in the carpet in the storage closet that had file cabinets sitting on top of it all these years.
While it can be easy to forget all of these imperfections over the span of the years a seller has been in the home (and in some cases they were there when the seller bought the home but they didn’t do anything about them,) sellers should do a thorough walk-through prior to putting their home on the market so they can catch these kinds of issues and decide how to handle.
7. Yard condition and maintenance
The lush green lawn that attracted the buyer to the home in the first place looks overgrown and appears as if maintenance has been lax since the home went under contract. Those pretty flower beds that were blooming with color are now wilted and turning brown.
Sometimes, movers lay furniture items on the lawn during move out which can also cause damage. A recent seller that I worked with had movers that placed a glass top table piece on their precious Zoysia grass in the front yard on a 90 degree plus day with the blazing sun in the middle of July.
You can imagine what happened next. Within minutes the grass underneath quickly turned to straw. I checked on the home a few days before closing and caught this issue and told the seller this would need to be addressed because if the soon-to-be new owners pulled up in front of the home for the walk-through, this dead patch of grass would be the first thing that would be greeting them.
A call to a local sod supply company solved the issue – a couple of pieces of replacement grass were $25 a piece and my handyman came to the rescue.
Impress upon sellers that they need to continue to maintain their yard just like the interior of their home prior to closing.
While most contracts address keeping the home in substantially the same condition required by the purchase agreement, it can be easy for sellers to let some things lapse with the craziness of packing, moving and finding another place to live.
Otherwise, the sellers may have to come out of pocket with a last minute concession for sod replacement or a major landscaping clean-up. These are not things that can necessarily happen within hours. As a listing agent, if you think the seller may be overwhelmed with all that is going on, suggest they hire a lawn service to assist in the final weeks before closing.
With regard to movers, while it can be difficult to manage them and you often don’t know what kind of crew you are going to get, make sure you advise against laying things on the yard, particularly anything like glass that could cause the grass to burn, etc. Putting large notes on certain items as a reminder is always a good idea.
While Murphy’s Law is alive and well and whatever may go wrong often does, if you can anticipate and prepare accordingly. Once you do, you’ll be able to avoid or minimize the impact of whatever arises.