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Real Estate Matters | Home seller obliged to clean house for buyers


I sold my home last month, and the buyers agreed to let me stay in the home for free for two days after the closing date.

When I was moving out of the home, one of the buyers asked if I still wanted to sell my refrigerator. I had earlier offered it to the buyers and they had declined to buy it. I agreed to sell it to them for $400, a price quite a bit lower than used refrigerators were advertised on the Web. The buyer didn’t have his checkbook and agreed to pay me the following Saturday.

 On that Saturday, I called him and was told they didn’t feel like they owed me the money because they had to hire cleaners to clean out the home after I moved out. They knew I only had one day to move out of a 2,500-square-foot home and we cleaned the best we could. Can they do this?

They did do that. We generally tell sellers that they should leave a home for a buyer in the condition they would want to receive it. Many real estate contracts require sellers to leave a home in “broom-clean condition.” That means that sellers should sweep up after themselves, clear out closets, shelves and cabinets, take everything out of the refrigerator, throw out all the garbage and leave the home presentable.

We generally go a little further in our advice. For the sake of good will during a purchase-and-sale transaction, the seller should want to make the buyer feel good about the purchase. That good will goes quite a long way to help buyers and sellers during stressful times. And buying, selling and moving into a new home are quite stressful events for both buyers and sellers. Buyers and sellers might be happy to sell or buy, but the logistics and the changes undertaken by the parties often induce tremendous stress.

Up until the last line of your e-mail, we would have said that the buyer has an obligation to pay you the money he owes you — and he probably still does. But that last line in your question seems to imply that they should bear the burden of your move and stress — that they are somehow responsible for you undertaking a move out of your home and your obligation to pack up and be out of the home as you agreed.

And yes, you still had the obligation to clean the home — not make them clean up after you.

You say you cleaned the best you could, but you didn’t say that you actually did clean the home and leave it clean as you should have. You could have hired people to help clean the home for you. You could have called on friends or family to help you out. But you didn’t. Your question seems to imply that you probably didn’t leave the home in the shape you should have left if for them.

And now you have a problem because, thanks to a lack of good will on your part (leaving a clean house), they’re hardly inclined to help you out.

You can sue the buyer in small claims court to get your $400, and the buyer might have the right to sue you back for the cost of cleaning up the mess you left behind. (And it might come up in the proceedings that you were allowed to stay in the home for free for two days after the closing.)

We’d recommend that you apologize to the buyers and ask them what they paid to clean the home. You might suggest that they pay you a portion of the $400 after they deduct that cleaning cost and leave it at that.

Had the buyers not purchased the refrigerator from you, they would have still been quite angry with you for the way you left the home — you just wouldn’t have known it. Some contracts and some post-closing possession agreements that allow sellers to retain possession of a home after the closing give the buyer the right to sue the seller for damage caused to the home by the seller or for the seller’s failure to deliver the home to the buyer in the condition required under the contract.

We wonder if the buyers would have gone down this route if you had not sold the refrigerator to them. If you talk to them and offer to reimburse them for the cost of cleaning the home and offer your sincere apology, the buyers might be willing to give some of the money back to you.

Otherwise, as most people know, you don’t deliver goods to a buyer unless you’ve received payment.

Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In!” If you have questions, you can call her radio show toll-free (800-972-8255) any Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST. Contact Ilyce through her Web site,