BY CARA AMEER
April 01, 2021
In the mad dash that’s buying a home these days, important details can slip through the cracks. That’s why listing agents need to help sellers transition out of their homes in an organized fashion — without leaving out any critical information buyers might need
With so many sellers negotiating to stay in their homes well past closing these days, the buyer walkthrough might happen before closing, and it might also occur before or after the seller has moved out.
Given that inspections might occur a few months before a seller vacates, many homes are being sold “as is,” with sellers occupying a property post-closing at little to no cost to them, details can get fuzzy for everyone involved. Like, how various components of the home work and all the logistical details critical to the new owners’ access, use and enjoyment of the home.
Once the buyers move in, the back-and-forth can become endless between them, their agent, the listing agent and the sellers with numerous questions about how things work. Sometimes, they don’t have answers. Other times, they are ignored.
The sellers have mentally moved on, knowing they got far above what their home would typically sell for, and the buyers are increasingly frustrated, having potentially overpaid and risked it all just to have this home in the first place.
That does not excuse sellers for leaving everything for the buyer to figure out — despite the crazy market conditions. Although there might be some exceptions in the case of inherited properties or investor specials that sellers might not know much about, here is the ultimate checklist for buyers, sellers and agents before moving out, moving on and moving in.
Let’s start with the basics. The best is when the only key given to the buyers is the one in the lockbox, and there is a drawer or plastic bag full of keys in the house that no one knows what to do with. Some look the same, and others are entirely different. In any case, it becomes one hot mess.
Remind your sellers to take time to label which keys open which doors. I realize this takes time, but sellers have a few months to take care of this and then kick back, relax and laugh all the way to the bank.
A label machine is a great way to identify and label keys. It’s also worth considering organizing keys on a few key rings, so nothing gets misplaced.
Have sellers round up those keys they gave to neighbors, friends, kids, etc. It might seem like none of this matters because the buyers should get a locksmith after close (and they might eventually do so or change everything to smart locks).
In the meantime, it would be nice if buyers knew what’s what. There’s always the possibility that they might have some work done before moving in and decide to change the locks out afterward.
2. Codes and passwords
Sellers frequently move out, and listing agents often forget to gather information about any codes that provide access to the home, garage, gates or other security devices. Oftentimes, agents have to chase down the listing agents for this information.
Sellers, be sure to provide a list of garage door, front door (if keyless entry) and security system codes and passwords. How many times does a new owner contact the prior security vendor, and have to go through hoops and circles to get equipment disabled, removed or monitoring set up if they’re using the existing equipment in place, and the company is asking for the prior owner’s username and password?
Sellers should also notify their security vendor, advise their property’s sale and authorize the new buyer to communicate with them once they move in to get whatever needed set up or removed.
3. Access denied
If the property is located in a gated community — whether that’s by a security guard, an electronic gate with or without call box, key fob or remote control — please make sure the buyers have complete instructions on how to get in.
If there is a security guard, instructions need to be provided to the buyer’s agent ahead of time so the buyer can coordinate with the guardhouse, HOA, etc.
If buyers need to have their names and phone numbers added to a call box, please provide them with instructions to coordinate with the property manager and set this up for an effective date.
If there is a key fob or remote, please ensure all is working — check batteries and everything else before handing it off to the new owner.
4. Smart home technology
Having a home with smart home technology is great — until the new buyer moves in and tries to figure it out. Having to flip through an instruction manual (if there is one) can be extremely frustrating when a buyer is trying to get settled in.
Sellers should leave user-friendly instructions (or manuals) on how to set everything up and any passwords currently in use. Buyers will greatly appreciate this.
A note to sellers: Smart locks require batteries. If you can’t remember when you last changed the batteries or have rarely used your front door, please change them for the new buyer. Sellers should make a note of how many batteries and what types are needed.
Murphy’s Law says that two weeks after closing, the buyers will go to use the door and not be able to get in because the batteries have died.
5. Amenity access cards, fobs, keys, etc.
This is another area that often gets overlooked by everyone involved when sellers are vacating. The chances of getting amenity access cards, fobs and keys are usually 50-50. Sellers will often say they don’t know if they ever had keys because they “never really used” the pool, clubhouse, tennis court or whatever else. This information is often not disclosed upfront.
Given the frenetic pace of numerous showings and multiple offers in such a short period of time, the reality is: No one really concerns themselves with keys to the community pool or clubhouse when the listing agent and seller has 30-plus offers to review.
What’s more, buyers often don’t want to rock the boat with these kinds of details when they’re trying to get their offer accepted. That said, once the drama dies down, the transaction closes and the seller moves out, it all becomes a different story.
6. Mailbox location and keys
While most purchase agreements list these as conveying unless otherwise noted under the personal property paragraph, again, they often get overlooked until the end. This is particularly true if the seller hasn’t occupied the property or if it was a second home, vacation rental or investment property with tenants over the years.
There isn’t anything more frustrating than not being able to get your mail. Mailbox clusters can be confusing, and sometimes the actual box is not in the cluster closest to the home. Trying to find the correct mailbox number can feel like going on a scavenger hunt.
Sellers, if your property has a cluster mailbox or another special location for getting mail, please leave the buyers with detailed instructions on how to find it, including the mailbox number.
Though these details might be buried in an addendum executed three months ago, it’s always best to keep them on your master move-out checklist. That way, you’ll avoid having everyone’s phones blow up with the urgency of the situation.
If the seller never received mail at the property’s address or the tenant simply went MIA with the mailbox key, please let the buyers know early on in the process so they can coordinate with the local post office on getting a new one.
I have seen so much confusion on whom to contact and where to go to obtain this between seller, listing agent, HOA and the U.S. Postal Service — and the issue often goes around in circles.
7. Audio-visual components
I’m talking about mounted TVs (both indoor and outdoor), built-in or mounted speakers, surround sound, etc. While it is fabulous that the property comes with all of these extras (and the buyers likely paid a premium for them), let’s make sure they have complete instructions on how to operate everything, along with remote controls that actually work.
Labeling the remotes and what each one does would be helpful. We all know there is nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out what remotes go with various televisions, sound bars and other devices.
If the seller can take some time to flesh all this out, this will reduce the 11th-hour phone call or text to your agent at 9 p.m. because the buyers can’t turn the TV on and have now kicked the entire thing out of whack.
8. Gas fireplaces
This feature typically causes frustration and confusion with buyers when figuring out how to turn them on. Sometimes, the problem is the remote itself (no batteries or old ones in use). It could also be about figuring out how to turn on the pilot light. There may be an empty gas tank (if not piped into the community, etc.)
Sellers may state “unknown” or “never used” on a disclosure document when it comes to the functionality of their gas fireplace, and while an inspector may get it working during an inspection, it may be a different story a few months later.
Perhaps the weather warms up between inspection and the seller vacating, and buyers forget about using it until the next cold snap.
Sellers, leave some information for the new owners about how your gas fireplace works. If you have a remote, please make sure the batteries are working. Otherwise, replace them. A little bit of guidance will go along way in avoiding numerous unproductive texts being sent back and forth between all parties.
It may seem obvious, but sellers, please make sure you have all the manuals needed for these items. If you have any smart appliances, please leave some instructions with tips, tricks, shortcuts and any other essential details on how they work.
You know, the quirks that are not painfully obvious and took the specialty appliance technicians some time to demonstrate when they came to do the install. Because baking chocolate chip cookies really shouldn’t be so hard, and I’m not sure the buyers’ agent will be much help to them here.
If you’ve had your Viking or La Cornue stove only for appearances and don’t have the slightest idea how to operate it, perhaps you can share the number for appliance tech support the buyers can call.
10. Heating and cooling systems
Sellers need to provide any special instructions needed to operate the system, and relay current temperature settings when they move out. This is especially important if the buyers aren’t coming to the house in the near future.
Sellers, when it comes to filters, be a good citizen and change them out if needed before moving out. If you have extra ones on hand, make sure to tell the buyers where you store them.
Also, note the size and where you obtain them. Some filters are custom sizes and must be special-ordered or brought by the HVAC technician. If there are any warranties or service contracts in place, be sure to include all the documentation and contact information for the new owners. Relaying the vendor who’s been providing service is also important. They typically have a history of maintenance on the unit and know what’s been done.
11. Pool equipment
Ah, the buyers finally have that pool home they have always dreamed about. Never again will they have to spend a quarantine or lockdown without their own pool to enjoy. If only they knew how the equipment worked!
That said, any buyer who’s never owned a home with a pool needs “Pool School 101” to get an overview of how it all works. But in the meantime, if the seller can leave some basic information about how the equipment works, that would be very helpful.
Consider having valves labeled as well. Please leave instructions for how to operate any indoor or outdoor keypads that can control various components to the pool, from the pump to turning on fountains, lights and more.
Be sure to provide the name of the seller’s pool service (if applicable) so the buyer can contact them with questions. If the pool is salt water, and there is a particular brand of salt you recommend buying, please share this information — along with where to get it. If the pool is typically covered during certain times of year (fall or winter), that’s also important to note for the buyer.
12. Maintenance schedule
Owner-occupied homes typically undertake routine maintenance that they do during certain times of the year. Consider providing the buyer with a recommended schedule — like when you bring in fresh mulch or pine straw, change out flowers, pressure-wash and clean the windows or roof, among other things.
13. Termites and pest control
Depending on where the property is located, knowing who the seller used for termite and pest control is important information to have on hand.
Again, it is very easy to overlook this information in the madness of putting the transaction together under chaotic circumstances. Sometimes, some level of information is provided on the seller’s disclosure. However, no one is drilling into the details in the offer phase (given current market conditions), and only an inspection may bring attention to these services.
In Florida, where termite bonds (which is a protection plan on the home) are quite popular, it’s critically important that the buyers receive information on the seller’s termite policy before closing. That way, they can make arrangements to have the bond put in their name as soon as they own the home, even if the seller remains in possession for a few months.
Some termite companies are extremely unforgiving, and if the new buyers don’t contact them within a few days of closing, they won’t transfer the bond to the new owner. They’ll often require them to start over with a brand new policy — which can be costly.
Although this tactic can be a racket for sure, to avoid the 11th-hour panicked phone calls, make sure the buyer has this information before the closing takes place.
14. Lawn, landscaping and tree-trimming
Buyers will appreciate having information about the seller’s lawn service (if applicable) who has taken care of these items over the years and how to best care for the landscaping that is currently on the property (like, how often they need to be watered, trimmed and changed out).
If there is a sprinkler system, sellers need to share current settings and any special instructions that would be good for the buyer to know. It’s also good to leave the instruction manual for reference.
If sellers have their trees regularly trimmed (particularly in storm-prone areas), it would be extremely helpful for the buyers to get the vendors’ names that the sellers have used in the past.
15. Vendor list
Although everyone may have the best of intentions with providing a list of various service providers the sellers have used on the home, this can also get lost in the craziness.
Remind the sellers during their post-closing and pre-move “downtime” to put together a list of the various service providers they have used on the home. The buyers will be very appreciative to have this resource to plug into a list of people and companies already familiar with the house.
16. Additional components
Any helpful information and manuals that the seller can provide for these kinds of things will also be very helpful to buyers:
• Water softener or whole-house filtration system: Who services it and how often, when salt needs to be purchased and the recommended kind.
• Under-sink filtration system: When was the filter last changed out? How often does it need to be changed? List the make, model, brand of filter and where to purchase it.
• Instant hot/cold water dispensers.
• Refrigerator water filter: Same information needed as under-sink filtration system.
• Central vacuum.
• Satellite dishes.
17. Garbage and recycling pick-up
Buyers don’t want to stress over guessing when they can put the garbage and recycling out — particularly if they are not living in the home and are having work done.
Leave the buyer with a specific list as to what day(s) garbage collection is as well as recycling and yard waste. If there are any particular nuances that buyer needs to be aware of when it comes to these things — like if yard debris needs to go in certain kinds of bags — please share that with them as well.
No one has time to dig through a pile of HOA documents or contact a property manager who is already very busy to get this answer.
18. Other quirks
Lastly, every home has its own quirks and various idiosyncrasies regarding how things work that are not apparent from a manual or a home inspection. The more information you can share with the buyer, the easier the transition to their new home will be.
Although this checklist was designed to cover the basics, every property is unique, and some may have more or fewer components than what’s listed here — like outdoor firepits and extensive outdoor kitchens, to name a few.
The more proactive you can be in working with the seller to transition out of the home in an organized fashion while providing these critical pieces of information, the more everyone can focus on their next endeavor.
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