How clean should my house be on a sale?

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Clare WatersParalegal & Executive of Completions Team

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How clean should my house be on a sale?

This is a common question and one that I would usually answer with another question; how clean would you like the house to be that you are moving into?

It is, after all, good manners and a courtesy to leave the property in a clean condition so that your buyers can move straight in. Moving day is an extremely busy and tiring day without having to clean before you can put the kettle on or make up your bed.

The legal point here is that in accordance with the contract for your sale, you are required to empty the property of all your belongings from all parts of the property which include the garden, sheds and garages. The legal term for this is “vacant possession” and you are required by law to leave the property completely vacant, meaning empty of all belongings (as well as occupiers!).

You may only leave items that you have agreed with the buyer to leave and which have been set out in the fittings and contents form that you will have completed before exchange of Contracts. You may think that certain items might be “useful” for the buyer (such as log piles or matching wallpaper or paint) but unless you have agreed in advance with the buyers to leave these, you are technically not giving vacant possession.

If possessions are left at the property, the buyers are entitled to arrange for removal and claim the costs of removal from the sellers. Solicitors will pass on any information from the buyers about items left to the sellers to give the sellers an opportunity to collect the possessions. Failure to collect the possessions could lead to a claim by the buyers in the small claims court to recover these costs (assuming costs will be under £10,000).

As an aside, if you are buying a property which you think may not be left as clean and empty as you would like it to be then you could ask your conveyancer to insert a clause in the contract allowing you to inspect the property on the day of completion, and before completion takes place, so that you can be certain that all property has been cleared.  A note of warning though, in practice the logistics of this might be difficult.

So, that is the legal position. Customarily, most sellers take steps on their own to present their home in an acceptable condition to the buyers on completion, sometimes having the home professionally cleaned. The professional cleaners arrive on the morning of completion and clean the property before the buyers arrive to move in.

Generally, cleaning inside the property should include cleaning windows, wiping down surfaces and cupboards, wiping skirting boards, cleaning bathrooms and toilets and hoovering throughout. The garden, sheds and garages should all be swept and any windows cleaned.

Leaving a clean fridge and oven is a very important. Buyers generally do not want the leftovers from your fridge or burnt crumbs at the bottom of the oven!

Cleaning should also include wiping down paintwork to a reasonable degree and where removal of picture hooks or curtain rails have left holes in the walls, these holes should be filled in and painted over.

Bear in mind that sometimes the period between exchange of contracts and completion is only a matter of days so whilst you should not book removals until your completion date is confirmed by your solicitor, prior steps to start the “clear out” process will reap rewards when it comes to the pressures of removal day.

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Clare Waters Paralegal & Executive of Completions Team

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