A Sellers’ Obligation: from Firm Deal to Closing

When you’ve sold your home, chances are your focus is on the next chapter in your life. It’s exciting to plan your space, to shop, to explore the new neighbourhood and fantasize. But hold on, you still have responsibilities with the place you are leaving.

Maintain, Maintain, Maintain

The first and most basic is maintaining the home and everything being sold with it in the same condition it was when sold, right up until the close. If you have a flood in the basement, you can’t say ‘oh well’ and leave it for the buyer to deal with. You need to have appliances fixed if they should break down, keep cutting the lawn or removing snow and repair any other damage that occurs.

No Substitutes Allowed

Items included in the legal deal, like appliances, must be the same ones that were there at the time of sale. Unless your deal specifies there will be a change, you cannot swap the shiny new fridge in the kitchen with the one you kept in the basement in order to take shiny with you. It can’t even be something very close; legally it has to be the exact item. It used to be a standard practice of many agents to record the serial numbers of appliances to ensure the same ones were there when buyers moved in. We do that less now because we have easier access to photos from the listing, but it would still be a very good practice.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Be careful about any smaller things that were included. A common phrase seen in a deal is ‘ELFs’ which stands for electric light fixtures, and window coverings. ELFs mean your built-ins, like overhead lights and chandeliers, not your floor and table lamps. If you really love a light fixture and want to take it with you, be sure to tell your agent at offer time so they can exclude it. Window coverings may include the California shutters, but not the valance that matches your bedspread – know the difference.

How To Leave the Home on Closing Day

There’s a standard clause in most deals along the lines of, ‘The property is to be left in a clean and broom-swept condition with all garbage and debris removed from the inside of the house, garage and around the property.’ This means you have to remove anything you haven’t specifically discussed leaving behind. Some buyers may want your leftover paint for touch-ups, but you have to ask. I’ve moved buyers in to find 20 year old paint cans sitting there – clearly garbage.

You are supposed to leave the garbage, recycle and compost bins behind, but they should be empty. By closing day there may be odds and ends that need disposal which missed regular pick-up. Arrange with a neighbour to put it out for you on garbage day. You shouldn’t leave it for your buyer to put out.

What About My Mail?

The buyer may write ‘moved’ on it and drop back it in a mailbox, but they aren’t obligated, in any way, to make sure you get your mail. It’s your responsibility to re-direct mail to your new place by doing the proper address changes with government, banks, magazine subscriptions… everything. It’s easy to miss one or two, so the best way to catch everything is to also arrange a mail forwarding service with Canada Post. If you later get mail with the big yellow forward sticker on it, follow up with the sender to change your address or stop receiving the mail.

Should I Share my Contact Info for Questions?

After the deal is done, the buyer may have a number of questions leading up to close – sometimes just for planning renovations, but often related to insurance. Number one: the questions should go through the agents. Number two: be careful how you answer the questions. If you say there’s xx material under the broadloom and it turns out to be something else, you could be liable. The key phrase is ‘to the best of my knowledge.’

I’m not a fan of the buyer having my seller’s contact info because you don’t want them calling endlessly asking questions. However, if they’re negotiating buying/selling additional items like the BBQ, and both sides are okay with it, the agents tend to bow out and let them talk directly.

My Recommendation to Buyers

You are entitled to pre-closing visits. I suggest scheduling one for the day before closing so you can go in and make sure everything is as it should be. Check the appliances are what you believe you bought, do an inventory of ELFs and other items included in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale, and check everywhere for garbage – crawl spaces, garages, attics, cupboards, etc.

Just Ask Your Agent

If either as a buyer or seller you have any confusion whatsoever about what is included, what you should do to prepare or concern about the state of something, just ask your agent. No question is dumb, just ask. Your agent should be the one to contact the other party if needed.

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