5 Rules to Make the Walkthrough Much Smoother
The final inspection — or walk through — should simply be one more pleasant meeting with the buyer to welcome them to their new home, before heading over to the closing to finish the deal and convey title. But too often, the walk through can be the source of dispute, and fodder for the buyer and seller to lock horns over the “condition” of the apartment (or house) that is about to close. So let’s work on some ground rules and suggestions to make things go much smoother and, hopefully, lead to more successful closings.
- Educate The Seller Here is what I tell my sellers before they arrange for the move-out and prepare for the closing. “Seller’s obligation is to empty the apartment of personal belongings, with appliances remaining, and window treatments remaining, and to deliver the unit empty and broom clean and in the same condition it was in at contract signing, subject to ordinary wear and tear.” That’s it. The seller is not obligated to engage professional cleaners, or to repair cracked windows or reglaze tubs unless such repair was bargained for in the contract, or unless the damage occurred after the contract was signed, and exceeds normal “wear and tear.” No fixtures can be removed by the seller, unless the same was in the contract. For example, if the parties agreed that the seller would remove the chandelier in the dining room and replace it with a “builder’s standard,” then the seller can (and must) do so. On the other hand, if the buyer complains that there is a cracked tile in the bathroom, the question is “was the tile cracked when the contract was signed?” If it was, that is what the buyer purchased, as there is no repair obligation in the contract for the seller to fix this. If, on the other hand, the seller broke it when moving out, then this likely is more than ordinary wear and tear, and as such, the seller should repair.
- Do a Pre Walk Through Let’s face it, most walk through issues can be addressed relatively easily, given enough time. So if the closing is Friday, and the seller moves out Monday, why not visit the apartment Tuesday and test the appliances, plumbing and heating to make sure things look good. This way, if there is an issue, you have time to get it fixed before bringing the buyer in and — possibly — having the closing delayed.
- Avoid Holdbacks Yes, true, the lawyers can always agree to hold back some money post-closing to ensure the repair is done by the seller after the closing, but these agreements run the risk of post-closing disputes dragging you into the middle. It is always better to get the item repaired in advance and avoid an escrow if possible.
- Defects “Revealed” Unless the contract says otherwise, typically the “reveal” of a defect resulting from the move out does not excuse the buyer’s failure to bargain for its repair in the contract. For example, suppose the seller moves a large planter from the wood floor during the move out, “revealing” a water stain on the wood that was not otherwise visible during the inspection of the apartment prior to the contract signing. Does the seller have an obligation to repair it since the buyer could not have “reasonably” seen it when the pot was in position prior to the move and before the contract was signed? Likely no, unless there is a provision to the contrary in the contract. The Buyer is required to carefully inspect the apartment before signing the contract.
- Keep Things In Perspective When I get calls complaining that a toilet seat is loose, or a closet door is off the track, it reminds me that we all have to keep our clients on a reasonable ground. This is not a perfect business, and we are often dealing in very high stakes transfers of property worth a lot of money. The day of the closing is typically busy for the lawyers working on finalizing numbers, and paperwork, to ensure a smooth closing. So when a client wants to engage on such a minor issue, let’s remind them that everyone’s time is valuable and it really is too minor an item to be addressed. Nail holes from picture hooks are no big deal. The buyer is almost certainly going to paint, and adding a little spackle to the wall before doing so addresses this problem and there really is no need to get the lawyers involved.