The Housing Scene

Sellers: Follow the Golden Rule

Going Above and Beyond Sets Home Apart for Buyers

Lew Sichelman

The manner in which sellers leave their homes for the next owners says a lot about their character. 

Some exit, shall we say, less than gracefully, leaving behind a mess for the new owners to clean up. Maybe those folks went through tough negotiations with the buyer, perhaps giving up more than they felt was fair. So their attitude became something like, “Let them worry about this mess. We’re outta here.” 

Others just don’t give a hoot. But considerate sellers exist, too – and some go far beyond just cleaning their houses from top to bottom. 

One time, a Baltimore seller left behind an amazing log of things the new owner might want to know about the residence. The over-the-top list, which was shared with the buyer a few weeks before settlement, is far too detailed to reprint here. But here are a few of the items it covered: 

  • When to change the furnace filter, and when it was last replaced.  
  • How to change the smoke detector batteries, with a note saying the fire department will do it for free “if you are concerned about climbing a ladder.”  
  • How to clean the floors: avoid soap and water on the wood; use a vinegar-and-water solution on the vinyl.  
  • The names of immediate neighbors, including a note saying one is “handy and helpful!”  
  • Pickup days for trash and recycling. 

You get the picture: way beyond expectations, but certainly welcome information. 

(sub)Save the Manuals 

Here at my house, my bride saves the manuals for anything mechanical that whirs and purrs (and sometimes clanks) – not just for our own edification, but for whoever comes after us, should we ever choose to sell. And as it turns out, we’re not alone. 

For example, a recent seller in Southern California left behind a complete spreadsheet with information about utilities, the security system, the pool and contact numbers for the people who had been handling the landscaping. 

“It made life so much easier for my buyers when they moved in,” said Jeff Dowler of eXp Realty, who represented them. 

“Many of our sellers have left helpful lists like this,” said Anna Kruchten of HomeSmart Real Estate in Phoenix. “They are proud of their homes and want the new owners to love them as much as they did.”  

Some sellers go far beyond what might be expected, like the one who worked with Chris Ann Cleland of Long & Foster in Virginia. Part of the tome of information left behind for the buyer explained how to mow the lawn – the neighbor’s lawn, that is. The binder contained “literally everything” the previous owners had ever done, says Cleland, and mowing the lawn for the guy next door was something they had done. 

 A Good Selling Tool 

Such a binder can be a good selling tool, too. It “can really impress potential buyers,” said retired New Hampshire home stager Sharon Tara, who always recommends this step.  

Illinois agent Linda Metallo DiBenardo of RE/MAX Impact agreed: It “shows the seller loved the home and took pride in maintaining it.”  

Grant Schneider, a sales coach in New York, says leaving such a list is “really the right thing to do.”  

Unfortunately, some sellers don’t think that way. All too often, buyers who are brimming over with excitement about moving into their new homes open the door to confront crusty ovens, stinky refrigerators, dust bunnies big enough to give a Chihuahua pause, and toilets so bad you don’t want to look at them, let alone use them. 

Sure, moving out can be stressful, and there’s always a last-minute scramble. But nobody wants to clean up someone else’s mess. 

Most sales contracts require sellers to leave their properties “broom clean,” so make sure to include that clause in yours. For even greater protection, since the term “broom clean” is open to interpretation, insert your own wording into the deal that requires the seller to have the place cleaned by a professional. 

Just to make sure the seller abides by real estate’s golden rule, have the closing agent withhold a chunk of money at settlement to cover the cost of removing the seller’s stuff and cleaning the place properly, if necessary. If the house is left in good shape, you can release those funds to the seller right away. Otherwise, you claim the money to cover the extra costs. 

One Berkshire Hathaway brokerage advises its clients to make the contract language as specific as possible: “Clean the carpets” is one thing, but “professionally steam-clean the carpets” is more precise.  

By being specific, the firm says, the buyer can rest assured the sellers will keep their promises – and have some recourse if they don’t. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at