Q: We recently bought our first home. We were so excited! But when we got the keys, we discovered the property was dirty and in disarray. It was not professionally cleaned, the carpeting was dirty, and there were nail holes in the wall that were not patched. What is our recourse? Sandy in Dublin
A: Sandy that is a great question. There are lots of misconceptions about what the obligation is for sellers when they turn over possession. Often the seller’s contractual obligation does not match the buyer’s expectations. The contract, in fact, is intentionally vague with respect to the condition at close. It merely stipulates that the property to be maintained in substantially the same condition as of the date of acceptance, and that all furniture and personal property to be removed by close of escrow. There is no standard language that requires the property be professionally cleaned, or the carpets cleaned, or nail holes patched.
Most of the time good sense prevails, as most sellers want to turn over the property in neat and clean condition, and will often have the house cleaned and sometimes even have the carpets cleaned, and nail holes patched & painted. But they are not contractually obligated to do so. Indeed, it is very hard to prove that the seller DID NOT live up to the minimal contractual obligation that the property be maintained in the present condition as of the date of acceptance, unless there is damage to the property or issues that were not disclosed (such as a hole in the carpet or damage to flooring hidden by a couch or area rug).
If you are concerned about it you can add language to the contract that the seller have the property professionally cleaned at move out, or have the carpet cleaned, or patch all nail holes. Otherwise, it might be best to arrange for your own cleaners to clean the house and carpeting before you move in, and your own painter/handyman to patch any nail holes.