What House Cleaning Expectations Are When a Seller Moves

Cleaning the House After Selling
••• Broom swept is a common term for cleaning a house after selling. © Big Stock Photo

Question: How Clean is a Seller Required to Leave the House After Moving Out?

A reader asks: "I just sold my home on a short sale rather than let the bank take it in foreclosure. I don't know who bought it, and I don't care; we're just glad to be rid of it. My agent says the house must be "broom swept." What does that mean? Am I required to clean it up after moving out? How clean am I supposed to leave the house for the new home buyers?"

Answer: That's a good question. Stop for a moment to consider the condition of many bank-owned homes. Dirt, filth, and mold are often the least of buyers' worries when they find all the appliances are ripped out, the water heater has been stolen and the front door is boarded up.

Some banks don't clean anything, and they insist that home is sold in "as is" condition. Homes in a seller's possession that are turned over to a new buyer are different. It doesn't matter if that home is a short sale or a regular sale, sellers may have responsibilities to clean the house after moving out.

Legal Responsibilities for Cleaning a Home After a Sale

In some states, real estate purchase contracts stipulate that the home is to be "broom clean," meaning the seller should at least sweep the floor, and leave walls and ceiling bare. The language in some of these contracts is ambiguous.

Standard California real estate contracts don't address the condition of the home apart from stating that the home should be left in essentially the same condition as it was when the offer was accepted.

The CAR Residential Purchase Agreement says the property is sold in its present physical condition as of the date of acceptance, and the seller is to remove all personal property and debris.

To determine the extent of cleaning that you are contractually bound to do upon vacating, you should read your purchase contract.

Customary Ways to Leave a Home After Selling and Moving

In the absence of a legal requirement to clean the house before moving out, most sellers take special steps on their own to present the home in an acceptable condition to buyers. It's understandable that after moving all day, sellers may be too tired to spend a lot of time cleaning.

Hiring a cleaning service can be an excellent solution. Sometimes, listing agents will pay to have the home professionally cleaned. (I don't, but some agents do, usually those who sell in upper-end markets.) The cost for a cleaning service is typically $200 to $500.

When buyers purchased a Sacramento home in the Natomas neighborhood, the listing agent inspected the home upon closing. He decided the carpet wasn't clean enough, so he hired carpet cleaners to shampoo the carpet before the buyers moved in. He paid for the cleaning as a courtesy, not because he was obligated.

While most buyers will clean the home to their own standards before moving in, regardless of a sellers' efforts, following is a list of things a seller can do to leave a home reasonably clean and create goodwill:

Cleaning Inside the Home Before Moving Out

  • Remove all personal property.
  • Vacuum the floors.
  • Clean kitchen appliances, inside the refrigerator and oven, and wipe down counters.
  • Scour sinks and tubs.
  • Wipe down interior cabinets and shelves.
  • Wash tile and vinyl / linoleum flooring.

Cleaning the Garage After Selling

  • Remove personal belongings.
  • Throw away trash.
  • Properly dispose of toxic chemicals.
  • Sweep the floor.
  • Stack items pertaining to the home such as paint cans, roofing materials or extra flooring. Check to make sure the buyer wants your leftover materials, first. Some do not.

In essence, leave the home in the condition that you would like to find your new home. Remember, the new homeowners might receive some of your mail by mistake or packages over the holidays. It's a good idea to stay on pleasant terms with the new buyers. And it's also the right thing to do. Cleaning the house after moving out to your own higher standards is generally acceptable.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.