“95% of the time the buyer does take advantage of their contractual right to do a final walkthrough prior to closing,” says Diane Keane, a top-selling Delray Beach, Florida, real estate agent with 14 years of experience.
“It’s in the seller’s best interest to be prepared so that things go smoothly and the closing is not held up.”
You’ll be juggling a lot of details at this point in the home sale process, so we’ll help you understand the purpose of this crucial step toward the end of the road and how to make sure there’s no last-minute hiccups.
What is the final house walkthrough in a real estate transaction?
The buyers of your home need to know that they’ll take possession of the house in the condition you’ve promised to leave it in. That’s why most state real estate contracts give buyers an opportunity to schedule a final walkthrough before closing.
The final walkthrough is not an official inspection, but it is the buyers’ last chance to perform a checkup and make sure there’s no surprises that go against the terms of your contract.
You’re obligated as a seller to leave the house in “broom clean” condition when you move out, which means swept, vacuumed, and free of debris or excess stuff the buyers haven’t agreed to keep.
If you fail to meet these standards, buyers will bring it to attention before the deal can close and you’ll have to come to an agreement to remedy the problem. Ultimately, issues that crop up during the walkthrough could cost you in the form of closing delays or a hit to your bottom line.
When does the final walkthrough occur?
Typically the final walkthrough takes place on closing day or the day before closing. The walkthrough date is a negotiable point between the buyer and seller so it could technically happen a week or two prior to closing, but that’s usually not in a buyer’si best interests.
“A lot can happen, even in a week, if the seller has already moved out and the house is vacant,” explains Keane. “That’s when the toilet leaks and the roof leaks—when no one is there to notice it. It’s Murphy’s Law, but it definitely could happen, and a buyer’s safeguard is to do the walkthrough as close to closing as possible.”
How does a seller avoid problems from cropping up during the final walkthrough?
The best way to avoid closing delays that arise from the final walkthrough is to follow through on the terms of the contract with the buyer and make sure everything in the house is in good working condition.
Follow these pro tips to guarantee this important step in the home sale goes off without a hitch.
Tip #1: Don’t remove any items attached to the house, unless you’ve made an explicit agreement to keep them.
Generally speaking anything that’s attached to the home (big or small) stays with the home when you move.
This includes items such as:
- Window treatments
- Large appliances such as the oven range and refrigerator
- Water heater and HVAC system
- Light fixtures
- Dimmers and switches
- Built-in furniture
- Landscaping—plants and trees
- Toilet paper holders
- Anything else that is bolted, nailed down, or mounted
If you want to take any of these types of items with you, you have to negotiate that directly with the buyer and get it into the contract. Otherwise if the buyer arrives for the final walkthrough to see that the stove is missing, and you haven’t communicated your plans to them and gotten their explicit permission, that’s going to be a closing delay.
During the contract negotiations, your real estate agent will help you understand what stays with the home when you move and what you’ve agreed to in the contract.
“If the seller is supposed to leave something like the curtains or the garage refrigerator, or even a certain piece of furniture which had been negotiated, the agent would speak with the seller just to make sure to do those things so that the walkthrough goes smoothly,” says Keane.
Tip #2: Don’t leave behind anything the buyers haven’t agreed to keep.
“I had a seller who had their attic stuffed to the brim with stuff,” Keane recalls. (The issue had come up on the inspection report as an area that needed to be cleaned out before closing.)
“The seller knew from our discussions about broom clean, and the requirement to clean the house of debris,” she says. “But they were hoping the buyer wouldn’t notice or they were in a rush. Well, the buyer did pull down the attic stairs during the final walkthrough and peek in, and everything was still there. The sellers ended up having to give a credit for the buyer to empty the attic out themselves post-closing.”
Indeed, “broom clean” does not mean that you can sweep stuff under the rug. If the buyer does a thorough walkthrough (as they should) they will notice if you’ve left a mess for them to clean up.
Be prepared for the buyer to check the garage, attic, basement, drawers, and closets to make sure you haven’t left your box of high school yearbooks or 10 years worth of holiday decorations crammed into the crawl space. You also can’t leave behind the La-Z-Boy you couldn’t sell on Craigslist and expect the buyers to just deal with it.
Doing so will cost you, literally—you’ll need to fix the situation by agreeing to leave some cash on the counter or paying to have a contractor come out and deal with the issue post-closing.
Tip #3: Be sure to check the shed for items you forgot to pack.
So you’ve cleared out the inside of the house, but there’s one more thing: Don’t forget to check the outdoor storage shed and make sure all of your lawn tools, firewood, and bags of ice melter are outta there!
You’ll also need to remove any garden furniture or outdoor decorations that you did not explicitly agree to leave behind.
Tip #4: Handle garbage and yard debris pickup a week before the walkthrough.
As you’re cleaning out the house for the big move, you might think to put your bags of trash, compost, recycling, and debris on the side of the lawn for pickup. If those items are there during the final walkthrough, it could present a problem if garbage pickup is still a few days out.
If the city levies a fine for a code violation then as the seller you could be on the hook to cover the cost.
Your best bet is to take care of your garbage pickup the week prior to the final walkthrough.
Tip #5: Take care of any repairs you agreed to in negotiations and have the receipts out to prove it.
If the buyer negotiated certain repairs in light of the home inspection and the seller agreed to fix them, those repairs need to be made before the walkthrough and validated with a proof of receipt showing that the work was taken care of and when.
Make sure to get a receipt detailing each project, keep it in a safe place (don’t lose it or accidentally pack it), and be prepared to have that documentation out for the buyer to review during the walkthrough.
Tip #6: Hold off on cancelling utilities until after closing.
The most common mistake sellers make at this stage of the sale is shutting off the utilities too soon, leaving a home with no electricity and gas during the final walkthrough.
Note that when you cancel utilities, you can request a shut-off day but not a shut-off time. So if you cancel utilities for the day of the walkthrough, you don’t know if the buyers will come through before or after the house is disconnected from gas, electric, etc.
“If you turn off water or electrical and the buyer walks through and the lights aren’t working, they don’t know if it’s simply the power got turned off or if there’s a short circuit, or some kind of other issue which would make the property in a different condition than when they had their inspection,” explains Keane.
In general you should avoid cancelling utilities in advance because you never know if your closing day could get delayed a day or even a week, and you are responsible for keeping up the house until you officially hand over the keys.
The best course of action is to make a 5-minute phone call to the utility company on the same day you plan to cancel, typically right after closing wraps.
Don’t be afraid to lean on your agent to help you keep tabs on everything. Keane supplies the utility contact information to her seller clients so they don’t have to go digging for that information during such a busy time.
Tip #7: Start collecting keys and warranties for the big hand off.
A few weeks before the final walkthrough, a million little things start coming together, so it’s a wise idea to keep organized and make sure you don’t pack stuff that you’ll need later.
Now’s when you should start rounding up stuff like the garage clickers, community pool keys, clubhouse keys, basement keys, keys to the porch, etc. and put them all in a Ziplock bag for safekeeping.
Is your washing machine still under warranty? Does your oven have extra settings that the buyer may be curious about? You should also proactively gather up manuals and warranties without having to worry that you accidentally put them in a box.
Depending on your agreement with the buyer, you likely won’t hand these over until the final paperwork goes through, but you want to have them all in one place.
Sail through the final house walkthrough to closing
The final house walkthrough gives buyers the chance to make sure everything’s in order before the window for negotiations closes for good. Work with your real estate agent to make sure you’ve upheld your end of the bargain in the contract.
Next thing you know, you’ll be signing the closing papers with no last-minute complaints.