A buyer's final walk-through should be a joyful time, a chance to view the home they're buying with a fresh perspective, full of possibilities for making that home their own following the final closing. It’s also a good opportunity for sellers to prepare their home for new owners taking over so sellers can feel good about transferring the title to the new owners without loose ends or problems popping up prior to (or after) the closing. Here are a few tips for buyers and sellers to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to what to expect with the final walk-through. Note that once a real estate transaction has closed in the state of Wisconsin it is no longer possible for Realtors to get involved in disputes of any kind. The law says that all that’s permissible is for the Realtor to refer their customer (or client) to a licensed attorney.
When Does the Final Walk-Through Take Place?
The final walk-through typically takes place once the sellers are completely moved out. Bear in mind however that in Wisconsin, a seller does not legally have to be moved out until the start time of the actual closing. Sellers should be advised that it can be problematic to approve a buyer's final walk-through if the seller is not planning to be moved out until a later date. In other words, most buyers who are scheduling a final walk-through are expecting to see the property completely cleared out of the seller’s personal possessions. Buyers typically want to assess the condition of a property without furniture and other personal possessions blocking walls or covering the flooring. After all, they will soon be closing on their new home so they want to see exactly what they’re buying and how it stacks up against everything that was negotiated in their offer to purchase.
Who Attends the Final Walk-Through?
Since a final walk-through is no different from a property showing (except that it is the last showing prior to the closing), sellers should plan on not being present at the final walk-through. Give the buyers (and their agent) the privacy you would ordinarily give them for any other scheduled showing. We recommend that sellers plan on being completely moved out (and not physically present doing last minute moving or cleaning) at the house when the final walk-through takes place. This is often a time when buyers start chatting to their soon-to-be new neighbors as well. So say your goodbyes to the neighbors before the final walk-through rather than hanging out next door. You wouldn't want to run the risk of an awkward situation prior to closing.
What Items Should be Left Behind for Buyers?
Sellers should not plan on leaving unwanted items at the house unless they’re specifically listed as included items in the offer to purchase or listed in a separate bill of sale. The one exception is often spare paint (unless the paint is old & unusable in which case the seller should dispose of it properly). Personal items left behind at a property that is about to close can definitely cause problems just prior to the actual closing (or worse, at the actual closing table), just like newly discovered damage to a property identified at a final walk-through can cause issues to arise at the last minute. Even if the damage to the property is old, if it’s newly discovered (ie was not previously disclosed by the seller because maybe they forgot all about it), it’s likely to cause a problem. The more time prior to closing that such issues arise, the more likely they can be dealt with in a way that everyone feels good about. Moreover, items left in basements & garages such as old cleaning products, chemicals, canned food, wallpaper, supplies, and old containers are generally not appreciated (no matter how useful sellers may perceive these items may be for the new owners). Remember, unless the buyers expressly agreed to the sellers leaving such items behind, it is a risk for sellers to leave items in the hope that buyers will want them or simply won’t mind disposing of them. Based on many years of experience I can assure you this is rarely, if ever, the case. But even obviously undamaged, seemingly useful items such as rakes, shovels, gardening containers, etc. can be unwanted by buyers as well. A good buyer agent (or buyer representative) should always take the initiative to find out from the listing brokerage long before the closing takes place what the seller’s plans are and if the buyers want any items the seller is not planning to sell, donate, or dispose of prior to closing. Also, sellers should remember not to remove items that are considered fixtures such as curtain rods--even if the actual window coverings (curtains or drapes) were excluded from the sale. Removing fixtures can damage walls & lead to problems, including delays, at the closing table. Note that according to the boilerplate language in the Wisconsin offer to purchase contract, fixtures are automatically included in real estate sales even if they are not expressly listed in the purchase agreement.
If sellers plan to discard items at the curb, be sure that a garbage pickup company is hired--and paid--to remove such items no later than closing. Municipalities may refuse to pick up certain items (or may not pick up curb debris in time for the final walk-through). And it should not be up to a buyer to wonder if a seller paid to make arrangements to have items removed after closing or to hope that they (the buyers) won’t be stuck hauling the seller’s debris to the dump. Debris/garbage should not be left piled up and/or blocking access to a driveway, extra parking pad, or garage space(s), either. Similarly, if a seller has rented a POD (movable storage container), arrangements should be made to have that container removed from the driveway prior to the final walk-through or at the very least, have it removed no later than the start of the final closing.
What's Expected in Terms of Cleanliness?
Although many sellers hire professional cleaners and have their carpets professionally shampooed once they're completely moved out, the standard for cleanliness (according to the State of Wisconsin Offer to Purchase) is the very minimalistic term "broom swept". We recommend that sellers hire professional cleaners & have their carpets professionally cleaned so there can be no question that the level of cleanliness attained prior to closing is up to par. If you want to do your own cleaning, don’t forget to vacuum out the kitchen drawers and bathroom vanities. And do give all the appliances a thorough wipe down both inside and out. Bathrooms and kitchens will need the most attention. Basements are the most work to empty out so don’t wait until the last minute to get started down there.
What Can Buyers Expect at a Final Walk-Through
As mentioned, prior to the buyers arriving at the property for their final scheduled walk-through, sellers should ensure that the house & garage are completely empty (except for included items), that the house & garage are at a minimum in "broom-swept" condition, that the lockbox is present at the property so that the buyer's agent can access the property (unless other access arrangements have been made), & that any extra keys & garage door openers are either sitting in plain view on the kitchen counter, are in a kitchen drawer, or are in the seller's possession assuming the seller is planning on bringing extra sets of keys and garage door openers to the closing. If the seller has manuals for their appliances or major mechanicals, those should be gathered together and left them on the kitchen counter (or in a kitchen drawer) for the benefit of the buyers. Unless otherwise agreed to, all appliances, major mechanicals, toilets, faucets, etc should be in working order. Take the time to make sure everything is in good working condition prior to saying goodbye to your house. Most offers have a default clause making the seller responsible for everything being in good working order by the time of closing unless otherwise disclosed or agreed to in the offer to purchase. A good buyer’s agent will encourage their buyers to test the kitchen appliances, flush toilets, and turn on faucets and showers during their final walk-through to ensure they’re in good working condition.
Closing Note (Pun Intended)
Assuming that no damage occurred to the property when the sellers moved out, that the property has been completely emptied out, that the property has been thoroughly cleaned, that all items are in working order and that the sellers are not present at the final walk-through, the final walk-through should be an uneventful occasion for all involved. If that's the case, the closing can be expected to go more smoothly, faster, and to be much more enjoyable for all concerned. In fact, many closings feature a jovial and celebratory atmosphere between buyers and sellers. To best position yourself for a smooth & uneventful closing, take the time to understand any unique circumstances surrounding the sale of the property you're buying or selling, communicate your expectations as the buyer or seller to your Realtor, and plan your final walk-through accordingly. When both buyers & sellers get on the same page in advance as far as expectations for the upcoming final walk-through, there are generally few to no surprises at the closing. Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, what could be more welcome than a smooth hassle-free closing on your big day?