What it Means to be a Good Seller

A few years back, during the pandemic, I had a particularly memorable closing. Unfortunately, it was not memorable for any good reason.  Every single thing was going wrong. My paralegal had an emergency and was not in the office.  My clients, the buyers, had gone to do their walk-through that morning. They found rats in the house. Additionally, built-in shelving that was included in the purchase had been removed from two different rooms in the house, including an entire wall of mudroom built-ins.  The seller was nowhere to be found.  The seller‘s attorney was nowhere to be found. When I finally tracked down his assistant and told her about the rats, she said a few rats should not bother anyone and they certainly wouldn’t bother her.  Gross.

Honestly, I have had so many closings where sellers have pulled these types of stunts that despite all the problems, in a normal situation I may not have remembered many details about the laundry list of problems that occurred at closing. The reason this closing stuck in my head, however, is because I received a call while in the closing and found out my grandmother had just died.

Because my last living grandparent passed during the closing and I was overwhelmed, I oddly remember a lot of details about it, although I would think it should be the other way around. One of the things that stayed with me from that closing was how the buyer’s real estate agent described the sellers.  He said quite simply, “These are not ‘good’ sellers.”  That stuck with me, and ever since then, I notice when someone is a “good” seller or a “bad” seller.  Before then I had never thought of residential sellers in such simplistic terms.

I believe that if you are selling your house, you should strive to be a “good” seller.  What does it mean to be a “good” seller?  Are you selling your house right now?  Are you a good seller?  Ask yourself some of these questions:

  1. Did you fill out your disclosures completely and honestly? Specifically, I am talking about the Illinois Residential Real Property Disclosure Report, the Radon Disclosure, and the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure.  Did you answer every question truthfully, and provide any background information necessary to explain?  A “good” seller is honest when filling out disclosures.  As you read this, you will realize a lot of being a “good” seller is about honesty.
  2. Have you hidden anything from your buyer? Do you know something about your house that you don’t want the buyer to find out? Again, honesty is the best policy.  It’s better to be transparent now than to be at the receiving end of a lawsuit later.
  3. Have you made any large insurance claims on the house that you have not informed the buyer about, even when asked?  As a seller, you should absolutely be honest if asked point-blank about insurance claims. Keep in mind even if you are not honest, the buyer’s insurance agent may uncover this information anyway.  And if that happens, you are not going to look good.
  4. Are you taking care of your home pending closing? Are you doing typical maintenance, cleaning, and upkeep, the way you would as if you were staying in the home and not selling it? Remember, when you are selling your house, you are required to close in the same condition as the house was when it was inspected, normal wear and tear excepted.
  5. Did you answer the questions posed by the buyer‘s attorney during attorney review openly and honestly? One thing I cannot emphasize enough is the importance of honesty and full disclosure from sellers.
  6. If you agreed to complete any repairs, did you have them done timely? Did you use licensed contractors and provide receipts?  Taking care of repair items in a timely manner using experienced contractors is important and helps keep your transaction moving along smoothly.  No buyer wants to hear you had your friend or your uncle who “know about these things” or “used to work for a contractor” fix the electrical in the house.
  7.  Did you pay all the final utility bills?  Especially in towns where there are no transfer stamps required to close, you need to reach out to the town and make sure they are sending you the final water bill and any other final bills. You also need to notify your other utilities of your move.
  8.  Did you wait at least one full day after closing before shutting off all utilities? This is just a courtesy.  First of all, you want to make sure all of the utilities are on when your buyer does his pre-closing walk-through, which is often just before the closing. I have had many occasions where the seller has shut off one or more utilities before closing, so when the buyer arrives to do the walk-through, there is no electricity or no gas or no water.  Of course, then the buyers refuse to close until the utilities are turned back on and they can do a proper walk-through inspection.  Second, give your buyer a moment to catch his breath after the excitement of closing on his new home.  Closing may have ended late, the buyer may have had to go back to work right after, or any number of things could happen. You don’t know what the buyer‘s situation is. Give the buyer at least one day as a courtesy to get the utilities turned on before you shut them off.  Shutting the utilities off before, during, or literally right after closing seems petty.
  9.  Did you make sure to clean the home before tendering possession? You have to leave the home in broom-clean condition, clean out the cabinets, the refrigerator, the freezer, and such. All trash should be disposed of and not left on the property. Unfortunately, the cleanliness of the home comes up constantly at the closing table. Many times, buyers end up getting a credit toward cleaning or towards having large amounts of trash hauled away — probably a lot more than the seller would have actually paid had the seller simply picked up after themselves. Other times, the sellers refuse to provide a credit and then the buyers refuse to close.  These are silly issues that should never come up at all, but unfortunately do.  Note that a professional cleaning is not required, although I am certain the buyers would appreciate it. But at the very least, don’t leave stuff lying around the house.  Recently, I had a transaction where the sellers left miscellaneous garbage and furniture all over the house. The fridge was full of old food; the general condition of the house was filthy.  The most disgusting thing the seller left, however, was a drawer full of fingernail clippings. That is just gross.
  10.  Did you take anything you were supposed to leave? If you promised to leave the patio furniture or backyard grill or pool equipment or any such thing, you should leave it. If you promised to leave the curtains, you should leave them. I had a situation where my client was purchasing a home that had tall two-story, floor to ceiling windows in a couple of rooms.  The curtains were supposed to be included. For some reason, the seller packed them and took them. At the closing table, one of the buyers refused to close.  Custom draperies are very expensive and if they were included in the contract, they should absolutely be left at the property. That goes for inexpensive items also.  Another example: many years ago, I had a situation where the seller took the window air-conditioning units that were included in her condominium sale. She literally removed them while my client (the buyer) and I were at the closing, after he had done his walk-through. When he went to the unit after closing and found the air-conditioning units missing, we tried reaching out to her through her attorney. The seller refused to return the air-conditioners, and my client ended up filing a police complaint against her for theft. The whole thing sort of spiraled out of control after that.
  11.  Did you provide all the keys and codes necessary to access and operate the home? This is an easy one. Remember, after closing, the home is no longer yours. Make sure your buyer is able to access the home and also make sure the buyer is able to use any of the fancy gadgetry you may have installed. like smart thermostats, doorbells and cameras.
  12.  Did you leave a list of your contractors (such as your HVAC technician or your plumber or handyman), your cleaning service, your snow removal service, and your lawn service?  Buyers appreciate this type of guidance, especially if they are moving into an area that is new to them.  Again, this is not necessary by any means.  But a “good” seller typically cares about the house and wants to help the buyers in this way.

Having done this for as many years as I have, I could tell one anecdote after another about good sellers and bad sellers.  I have represented both and also been at the receiving end of both (when representing buyers).  However, I will just leave you with a couple stories about “good” sellers.

The first is from this last month:  My clients purchased a home and the seller retained possession after closing.  A few weeks before the seller was supposed to tender possession to my client, he saw a mouse somewhere in the home.  The seller hired an exterminator, had them come out and set up traps and do whatever it is that exterminators do, and purchased a three month warranty for my client.  He then passed all of this information along and my client was able to call and schedule another follow up using the warranty, just to make sure that any mice are completely gone.  The seller could easily have ignored the situation, as he was moving out soon anyway. But he chose to do the right thing.

The second is from before the pandemic. I represented the buyers and I remember that particular closing was quite the full house. There were so many people there — both parties, both attorneys, and even both agents.  The sellers wanted to make sure the buyers knew every little thing about the house that could help them.  They wanted to make sure the buyers would have no trouble operating anything.  They also wanted the buyers to know who all their various contractors were. The sellers raised their family in the home and told stories about their experiences in the neighborhood and with the neighbors. It was just very genial and friendly.  They were not just “good sellers”,  they were probably some of the best sellers I have ever come across.  Of course, that was before I used terms like “good seller“ or “bad seller“ in my head. It was, after all, long before that closing during which my grandmother passed away.