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The final walkthrough. A time of anticipation, excitement and nervousness. It all comes down to this.
- Is the home in presentable condition?
- Will it be how the buyers remembered it?
- Will it look better or worse?
- What about repairs? Were they made properly?
- Is all that is supposed to be staying, in fact, in the home or did it walk away in the middle of the night?
These are the thoughts that run through the buyer and both agents’ minds.
After all buyers have had to go through to get a home, they are already nervous and are likely unsure about what is considered acceptable and unacceptable as far as the condition a home should be left in. Here are six things buyers like to call out in the final walkthrough and what you can do to help manage their expectations and their experience so that they go into the closing in a positive frame of mind.
Discolorations and flaws in flooring
Once the furniture is moved, it is very common to see floors that have scratches and potentially gouges that weren’t seen before. Carpets will show indents from furniture sitting on them and may show some discoloration from where carpet was shaded due to a large couch or sectional sitting on the space.
Wood floors may reveal two different tones if a large area rug was over the space. Once that is pulled up the floor could appear darker in the area covered by the rug compared to the spaces that were exposed, especially if they were closer to windows where lots of natural light came in.
Prepare buyers on what they might expect to see here. You may want to pull back an area rug or look under furniture with the flashlight on your phone to try to get a sense of this on a home the buyer is seriously interested in, so they can be prepared ahead of time.
The inspection is an ideal time to check for these kinds of issues so if there is a concern with buyers this can be worked out with the seller in some way. Explain that an inspector does not move rugs or furniture during an inspection, therefore these kinds of things may appear once a home is vacant, but they cannot really be fixed. There are various remedies for taking indents out of carpet including putting ice cubes on the affected areas.
Walls with imperfections
Once the mirrors and the pictures come down, suddenly things don’t look so welcoming, including the now exposed walls. Discolorations often appear in the shape of what was previously there.
There may also be holes from where there were things hanging on the walls with hooks or nails. TV brackets can also pose another issue if those were removed by the seller.
Depending on what is negotiated and/or contractual requirements, a buyer can ask a seller to patch all holes as well as have those areas painted. It is critically important that the buyer understand that any areas that are painted are likely not to match exactly to the color on the wall. The reason for this is that paint absorbs into the walls and fades over time, so it will be nearly impossible to have an area that was patched and painted match up perfectly with the rest of the wall.
If the seller is using older paint, there is also a risk that it won’t match up well. And if the seller has to try to buy some new paint? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. The same color the seller put on the wall five years ago may have a slightly different tint when they go to buy it. This is especially true with varying shades of cream or white paints. And of course, the color may mismatch entirely.
Prepare the buyer for less than perfection here and explain there are likely to be some discolorations. Repainting entire rooms or the entire home by the seller will not be something that will likely be done prior to closing unless that was negotiated, and the chances of that are not likely.
Buyers should plan on repainting rooms or the entire interior if these kinds of things will bother them. There is a good chance they’ll want to repaint it to their taste and style in any case.
What stays and what goes
It’s always a good idea to recap and review what stays and what does not as you march towards closing. Memories are short and blurred and there can often be confusion where no one remembers what the contract said. The seller may inadvertently forget as well, so it pays to review with the listing agent several weeks before closing what is conveying and what is not.
Buyers can walk in a home and get freaked out about something that was supposed to stay but is not there. Decorative bathroom mirrors and dining room light fixtures are two items that often seem to walk away in the middle of the night.
While managing how to handle the invisible chandelier is never fun, having a plan in place to deal with these kinds of situations ahead of time can reduce stress if the worst-case scenario comes up.
Yard and landscaping matters
Those beautiful potted plants are suddenly gone, leaving dirty marks on the patio or front entrance where they sat for years. Blooming flowers and lush landscaping may look less than if the seller has backed off taking care of their yard in the weeks prior to closing.
Some sellers think they can take their foot off the gas pedal with yard maintenance once they find a buyer. Depending on the time of year, there could be more leaves and general debris vs. other times.
While going under contract does not relieve a seller of their obligations with regard to yard upkeep and maintenance, remind the buyer of what stays or is excluded as far as any potted plants or other bushes or trees.
Some sellers feel very strongly about taking a prized bush with them. If the buyer is closing in the fall or winter, it can be very difficult to keep yards and the driveways clear at all times given a snowstorm of leaves that fall day and night.
It is possible the seller had their yard cleaned up the day before the final walkthrough, only for the buyer to come and it looks like nothing was done. The same applies to the pool. Keeping that continually clean in anticipation of a buyer’s walkthrough may be a challenge, especially if seller is not home and pool and lawn service comes just once a week.
Buyers should be educated on what to expect and agents should discuss the yard condition ahead of time so that expectations and obligations can be communicated and taken care of. Good agents know that coming to a walkthrough before the actual walkthrough with a blower, rake and yard waste bags in hand can be a lifesaver in case of any issues.
Some sellers are quite proactive and have their home professionally cleaned upon move out without even having to be asked. Some don’t plan to do a thing unless their agent prods them to do so (or pays for it), and others say they’ll “sweep up” after they move out.
Review the language in the purchase agreement with the buyer as to what the contractual expectation is, for example, “broom swept” condition. It is always a good idea to request that the home be professionally cleaned as well as the carpets upon the seller vacating as part of an offer.
The problem with property condition after the seller moves out is that what constitutes “clean” can be quite subjective. A seller may think that simply sweeping up dust and debris after the furniture has been moved is more than satisfactory, while another person might be appalled at that and would never leave their home that way for the new owner.
For some people, the idea of “clean” means professionally cleaned down to the cabinets all being wiped down along with the refrigerator, inside of the oven cleaned, etc. Although all may be “broom swept” clean, a buyer may not really find the home in an acceptable condition prior to closing and take issue with how it appears during the final walkthrough.
It is always best to clarify with the listing agent what the plan is for cleaning and review with the buyer ahead of time to head off any surprises. If any issues arise, it is best to devise a plan to address this – perhaps offering to have the home professionally cleaned for the buyer once they close as a closing gift, etc.
Trash, debris and unwanted items
It should go without saying that a seller should never leave unwanted items behind, however the reality is many do. Seeing these left on a walkthrough can get the best of any buyer, as well as their agent.
Discovering unwanted trash or items lingering in the house can translate as a very lazy gesture on behalf of a seller as well as their listing agent who did not proactively manage this. Review this concern with the listing agent ahead of time, rather than hoping all unwanted items and trash will magically disappear.
Often, the listing agent has no idea. Otherwise, it may take a miracle to haul off whatever was left behind if it was more than a few unused moving boxes or a couple of garbage bags. Sometimes, a seller inadvertently leaves things in the dishwasher and totally forgets they were there. Prepare the buyer that sometimes you run into these issues, but have a solution at the ready in case they occur.
Keys, fobs, garage door openers, security codes, gate clickers and access cards
While all of these things are typically turned over to the buyer at closing, buyers may get nervous if all of these things have not been located and assembled, or at least communicated about, by the time of the walkthrough. The same goes for front door codes as well as any instructions for accessing smart home devices such as video doorbells and thermostats.
Walkthroughs can be stressful for all involved. The parties are at arm’s length and so no one knows quite what to expect. Seasoned agents often temper their expectations, having likely run into unpleasant surprises by sellers in the past.
Continual communication and coordination are key along with proactive management of the process by the listing agent with their seller. Potential issues occur when people make assumptions without adequate communication.
Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.