Sellers have a responsibility to clean the home after they move. The question becomes: how clean is clean enough? It can depend on numerous factors, and exactly who is selling the house is usually key among them.
Filth and mold are often the least of your worries when you purchase a bank-owned home. Appliances might be ripped out and maybe the water heater has been stolen. Some banks don't clean anything. They sell foreclosed properties in "as is" condition.
But homes in a seller's possession are different. It doesn't matter if it's a short sale or a regular sale.
Do Sellers Have to Clean the House?
Real estate purchase contracts often stipulate that the house is to be "broom clean." This is generally accepted to mean that the seller should at least sweep the floor and leave the walls and ceiling bare. The language in some of these contracts is admittedly ambiguous, however, and some states are vaguer than others.
For example, standard California real estate contracts don't address the condition of the home at all except for stating that it should be left in essentially the same condition as it was when the offer was accepted. The property is sold in its physical condition as of the date of acceptance, and the seller is to remove all personal property and debris.
Read your purchase contract to determine the extent of any cleaning you're contractually bound to do upon vacating. Hopefully, it will be concise and not leave the issue open to interpretation.
Consult with your real estate agent if you think your purchase contract is unclear. An agent can tell you what the norm is in your particular area.
Customary Ways to Leave a Home
Most sellers take special steps on their own to present the home in acceptable condition if there's no legal requirement to clean the property before moving out. Yet it's understandable that sellers might be too tired to spend a lot of time cleaning after moving all day.
Hiring a cleaning service can be an excellent solution. Listing agents will even sometimes pay to have the home professionally cleaned, but this is typically a courtesy, not an obligation.
Most buyers will clean the home to their own standards before moving in regardless of the sellers' efforts. There are nonetheless a few things a seller can do to leave the house reasonably clean and to create goodwill.
You'll want to remove all personal property—including items that you're just going to throw out—and vacuum and sweep the floors. Clean the kitchen appliances, the insides of the refrigerator and oven, and wipe down the counters. Scour the sinks and tubs. Wipe down interior cabinets and shelves. Wash all tile and vinyl or linoleum flooring.
What About the Garage?
The garage should be clean, too, because you're selling it as part of your home. Of course, you'll remove all your personal belongings here, too, and take care to throw trash away as well. Sweep the floor. Above all, properly dispose of any toxic chemicals.
Items pertaining to the property such as paint cans, roofing materials, or extra flooring should be stacked neatly, but check first to make sure the buyer wants your leftover materials. Some won't.
Start as Early as Possible
This falls into the category of being kind to yourself. Give yourself ample time so you don't feel frantic and pressured. Moving day is going to be crazy enough, so get as much of a head start on cleaning as possible. You might even want to give the place a good, thorough scrubbing before you list it for sale. It can only help the place show better.
It can be an overwhelming challenge if you have a large home. Consider tackling one room at a time, maybe one each weekend. You'll get there eventually, and moving day will be a cinch if you can keep up with each room after it's spotless.
What Would You Expect If You Were the Buyer?
The best rule of thumb is to leave the property in the condition you'd like to be greeted by if you were stepping into a home you'd just purchased. Remember, the new homeowners might receive some of your mail by mistake or packages over the holidays. It's always a good idea to stay on pleasant terms with them, and it's the right thing to do.