A Tale Of Two Closings


6 minute read

June 22, 2015

I had two deals close last week, and they provided for two very different ends to the real estate journey for two couples.

Both were for single-family houses in the west end, and the houses weren’t actually too far from each other.

But the way the houses were left by the owners, and the way in which my two sets of clients found their new homes, were complete opposites.

You can only do so much to protect yourself from the thoughtlessness of others…


Well, it took almost thirty-five years, but I’m ready to quote my first bible verse!

And something tells me anybody looking through my Internet history would find it more shocking to see www.biblegateway.ca than just about any weird website involving a runaway teens, a tripod, and a lot of lost innocence…

That verse?

Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Whether this has biblical and religious meanings to you, or whether it’s just something that makes sense, I find it to be incredibly logical, reasonable, and simple.

Of course, the world does not work this way, unfortunately.

We’d be naive to think that it’s so simple as to “do unto others as you would have them to do you.”

Wouldn’t that be great though?

In reality, few people live their lives with this in mind.  And I’m not suggesting, in any way, shape, or form, that I’m an angel.  But I do believe, to some extent, that you get out of life what you put into it.  Perhaps that could be the title of today’s blog.  Then again, we could also choose from any of these:

“Pay it forward.”

“What goes around, comes around.”

“Lead by example.”

“Take the high road.”

There’s a lot of sayings to describe simply “doing the right thing,” for the sake of either hoping the same would be done for you, or because the same was done for you.

And I see this a lot in my line of work when people sell their homes, and “let go” as somebody else takes over.

It’s an emotional process, and while you might have only experienced selling your condo, in which you lived for two years before moving on, you have to consider what somebody goes through when they sell their family home of 40-years.

It’s for this reason that many home-owners go above and beyond to welcome the buyers.  And you would think that this mentality would simply be the default for a seller, but unfortunately, not so.

Last week, I had buyers close on a house in the west end, which they purchased by “beating out” nine other buyers on offer night.

They paid pretty penny, but they were ecstatic nonetheless.

During one of our purchaser visits, we actually met the owners, and chatted with them about the house, the neighbourhood, and their children.

So it was rather surprising, after that meeting, to find the house in less-than-stellar condition upon closing.

My buyers got out of their car last week, with the keys in an envelope from their lawyer, and walked up the front steps, only to find that the mailbox was gone.

I’ll be honest – I have never in my career thought to include the mailbox in an Agreement of Purchase & Sale, but then again, it’s a fixture, so it doesn’t need to be included.  Topic for another day, however…

My buyers opened the front door, and the alarm went off.

The alarm.  Really.

For some odd reason, the sellers didn’t discontinue the alarm monitoring, but for an even stranger reason, they set the alarm when they locked up for the last time.

Maybe that was an honest mistake, who knows.  Maybe they actually thought they were doing the buyers a favour…

After the alarm chimed, beeped, then set off, they called the monitoring company and sorted it out.  Thank God the police never showed up, as that would have really capped their Wednesday evening.

They took a walk through the house, and one of the first things they noticed was a massive gouge in the hardwood floor by the door.  Not a scratch, but a gouge.  Like a full centimetre deep, and 3-4 inches long.  It was most likely the movers, and perhaps the sellers never even noticed.  Right?

One of the knobs from a kitchen cabinet – in a newly-renovated kitchen, was sitting on the counter.  My client picked it up, and walked around – looking to find the origin of the knob, and finally found the broken screw from which this knob was pulled.  Just one more thing to fix…

They went downstairs to the basement and found, among other things, four bags of stones – like landscaping rocks, piled in the furnace room, next to three bags of ready-mix.  Again, perhaps the sellers figured that the new buyers wanted……concrete and rocks?  Or perhaps they were just too lazy to move 200 KG worth of garbage.

But there were also some old picture frames, a sewing machine (which was broken), and skis that Stein Eriksen’s grandfather might have used, so unless the sellers thought the buyers were going to cement those skis into a stone-wall in the basement, I’d say they knew they were leaving garbage behind.

Perhaps these items were all minor.

Perhaps everything that was “wrong” with this house, upon closing, was minor.

But the salt in the wound is that the sellers knew what they were doing, especially when they unscrewed all the towel racks in the bathrooms – all three bathrooms.  Who the HELL takes a towel-rack?  What did that cost – maybe $20?

It’s cheap, petty, and thoughtless.

Actually, no, it’s not thoughtless, at least not by definition, since the sellers thought, “I’m going to head to the basement, get out my tool kit, take out my philips-head, and unscrew the toilet-paper-holder in the main floor powder room, then pack it up to take to our new house.”

A broken knob here, a gouge in the floor there – but it’s the fact that the sellers didn’t care, that hurts the most…

Less than two kilometers away, I had another young couple closing on a house, and their “big day” was a lot more favourable.

My clients opened the front door and were met with a banner that read “WELCOME HOME,” hung by the sellers.  It was a nice touch; actually it was an absolutely beautiful and thoughtful thing to do for somebody walking into their new home for the very first time.

My clients said it actually kind of spooked them at first, as they saw something out of the corner of their eye, hanging down!  But it made them smile, and one of my clients said, “It gave me butterflies!  I haven’t felt that in the bottom of my stomach for a long time!”

They went through the house, and on the dining room table was every single user manual, all stacked neatly and labelled.  The fridge, microwave, dishwasher, stove, washer/dryer, flat-screen TV, wireless router (which was not included in the Agreement but was left behind by the sellers), and sump pump.

There was also a list of contact information for everybody who had worked on the house.  The name of the garage door installer, and maintenance guy.  The company who cleaned the eavestroughs.  The kids who painted the front porch.  The custom-closet installers.  The hardwood flooring dude…

There was even a short bio on the neighbours!  The names of the families on both sides of the house, and their contact information.

The entire house had been professionally cleaned before closing, at the seller’s expense.

But the fridge wasn’t totally empty.  There was a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, two chilled champagne glasses, and a hand-written note in an envelope attached to the bottle of bubbly.

The seller filled out just about the entire card with well-wishes.

You know the term “move-in ready?”  And how over-used it is?  Well this house was really, truly, move-in ready, with everything the buyers would need.

All the paint used in the house was sitting in the basement furnace room, with the codes written on top, and an itemized list of which paints were used in which rooms.

The racking and shelving in the storage closet in the basement was left behind.  It could have been packed up and taken, but the sellers thought it just seemed to “work” with the space, and should remain.

You could just feel the warmth and care in this house, and know that the people who lived there were good people, who wanted the new owners to pick up where they left off.

It’s not about a “free” shelving unit or wireless router, but rather the passion of the previous owners for the house that they called home.

It’s basically the opposite of the old salt-shaker routine in the diner.

You know your friend (we all have one…) who unscrews the lid on the salt shaker, after his meal, right before he leaves?  He’s anticipating that the next guest at that table, in that diner, is going to pick up the salt to shake a little on his eggs, and then WHAM!  Instant meal-ruiner, as the salt covers that poor guest’s meal.

But your friend never gets to actually witness that event.  So what’s the point?  Why does he do it when he can’t see it happen?

Well, because he’s the complete opposite of the people who go out of their way to leave a house in amazing, impeccable condition, for new owners who they’ll never see, and never hear from again.  They’ll never get to witness the smile on the new owners’ faces when they see that “WELCOME HOME” banner in the front hall, but they do it anyways, because it’s means something to them.  Or because they’re good people.  Or both.

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

It doesn’t speak to me from a religious standpoint, but it does seem quite logical.

If you believe that “what goes around, comes around,” then you might actually seek to do unto others as you would have them do to you, on a regular basis.

Last weeks’ events were such an incredible juxtaposition – with one client calling me to rave about the previous sellers’ thoughtfulness, and the other client calling me to ask what they were supposed to do about the gouge in the floor – that I couldn’t help but be amazed at the different paths people take.

So the next time you sell your home, and prepare to leave it for the last time, just wonder how you would like to find it…….or find the home that you’re heading to after you leave….

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. Jason H

    at 8:11 am

    When we moved into our house less than a year ago the previous owners were thoughtful enough to take out the mantle above the fireplace and then do a dollar store patch job.

    It just gave me the butterflies…

  2. myeo

    at 8:13 am

    I am always disappointed when I witness anti-social behavior in public or hear about the ridiculous things people pull. This could be because I was raised in a traditional way and the people I dislike the most in the world are sociopaths/narcissists.

    Real estate transactions are an almost perfect situation to bring out the worst in people as the buyer and seller do not need to directly interact (with real estate agents and lawyers creating a buffer between the two parties). If people do not have to directly interact with each other, the anti-socialites will see no value in being a good person (let alone a reasonable person). This is no different to the people who push/elbow to get on the subway in the morning, the coworker who is the first to take credit for good things and the last to take the blame for bad outcomes, or the parent who lets his/her child run around like a crazy monkey in public and then looks down at you for not finding the kid cute.

    1. Joe Q.

      at 9:32 am

      “Anti-socialites” made me LOL. The rest of your post rings true.

      1. myeo

        at 2:22 pm

        I thought it was a great way to summarize people with personality disorders.

  3. Marina

    at 8:51 am

    The second seller definitely went above and beyond. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. When we bought our first home, the seller did not clean it after the move. However, it was more or less tidy. She left the free-standing storage in the bathroom and basement, the paint cans in the garage, labelled with the room, and a shoebox of manuals in the kitchen. Fridge was empty and so was the basement. There were a couple of stray pieces of crap in the garage, but nothing really major.
    Basically a decent job.
    I think that’s what is so galling – it doesn’t take that much work to be decent. You don’t have to go the extra mile, but at least don’t be a tool.

    1. Joe Q.

      at 9:41 am

      Our experience was similar, except there were pretty much no instruction manuals to be found (we later found a few jammed behind the water-heater in the basement furnace room). I like to think it was due to cluelessness (i.e., they had thrown out the manuals when they got the appliance) rather than malice.

  4. Domenica

    at 10:01 am

    It is really too bad for the first family, who in this real estate market, paid top dollar for their new home, that they had to swallow such a bitter pill. We can only hope that wherever those sellers ended up, their place was worse. “What goes around, comes around” or for the biblically inclined, “A man reaps what he sows.”

  5. Izzy Bedibida

    at 10:17 am

    Ex wife bought what was supposed to be the prefect move in ready forever house. Sellers “cleaned” it prior to closing. Their idea of “clean” was very different from what many people think of clean. They were dirty people by nature. Dust balls and pet fur in nooks and crannies. Walls changed shade when they were scrubbed prior to repainting. Ex wife thought that the floor tiles were slate grey (which she loved), but became a light beige when properly cleaned.
    The recurring question was how could the sellers have lived like that. Or was it pay back as a result of the deal nearly falling apart when undisclosed tremolite asbestos was discovered in the attic

    1. Karen Hunt

      at 2:43 pm

      I have pictures of my last house – when we moved in – we were short on cash.. so trying to reuse stuff. I put some curtains in the bathtub to wash – and the photo looks like I’m trying to soak curtains in coffee. We went curtainless for a while 🙂 They were heavy smokers. They were elderly and selling after the wife died – so I can understand it getting to that stage – but man.. if the curtains were that bad – what about the lungs.

  6. Chroscklh

    at 10:34 am

    My experience with recent house mix. Old owner hand me cheque on close, say “we have problem with dishwasher, just came up, no want u have trouble – here cheque for to fix or replace.” – I never have problem with dishwash. Very nice. But on flip side, old owner say “Sorry, i think movers let in fly when keep door propped open” This why 5-10 fly buz around house. Okay, i kill 5-10 fly, but 5-10 more come next day. Week later (no moved in yet, just check on house), 200 fly buz in front window. Passerby outside look at window, for sure think dead body in house. Turn out flies breed. They make nest in basement, I fumegate. Also, old owner tell me reno and addition done ‘top-notch’, ‘no expense spare’ – however addition roof leak and other issue later, I realize they cheap-out and DIY or hire contractor less competant than my cousin Skruzkah – who have only one finger and always drunk and worst electrician in village. Also only electrician. Keep getting work. But I vent. So clean on close, dirty on close whatever – take this over crap reno, demon in walls

  7. Jay

    at 5:45 pm

    Our first house had a crazy seller. After she sold the house (she was very bitter about selling), she let her pets use the floors as a bathroom. The stench in the house when we got there was incredible. She also left tons of useless junk and clothes, much of which was soaked in pet excrement. She took items such as the stair banister and bedroom doors. She was a total wacko! Our last couple of houses had much more pleasant closings!

    1. Marina

      at 7:19 pm

      For bitter sellers, nothing beats foreclosures.
      Used to do analytics for the mortgage department of a US bank smack in the middle of the mortgage crisis.
      There was a legendary story of a house in Utah. They took off the windows and doors and animals bred in the house. They ripped up the carpets, took out the kitchen cabinets. The upstairs bathroom was flooded.
      The icing though was they flushed $20 dollars worth of rice. The rice expanded in the sceptic tank and cracked and flooded the foundation. It was a total write off.

      1. Long Time Realtor

        at 9:07 pm

        @Marina: About twenty years ago I handled a number of “power of sale” listings for a now defunct Ontario-based Trust Company. I too can attest to the level of bitterness and anger that some of the former mortgagors displayed before vacating the premises. One condo owner displayed similar behaviour to the folks in Utah by ripping out the broadloom and taking off all of the interior doors. It was quite a site upon first entering the unit to gaze upon concrete floors with nothing but carpet tack board lining the perimeter of the condo.

        Another townhouse owner in default poured paint down the carpeted staircase and used a metal rod to poke holes into every piece of drywall in the house, including the ceiling. To top it off, he left two cats to fend for themselves inside the now putrid, garbage-filled townhouse, who had eventually taken to drinking from the toilet.

        I had to call the SPCA to remove the felines and brought in a cleaning crew that filled several dumpsters with refuse, before we could even think about putting it on the market.

  8. A. Benning

    at 6:21 pm

    Question: As the agent of record, do you care or do you even comment to your client about how they might want to leave the house for the next owner?
    Or is it just not important to either party because, meh, I’m outta there?

    1. David Fleming

      at 6:57 pm

      @ A. Benning

      I tell my clients to leave the house in the same condition as they would hope to find their new house in.

      I’d like to think that translates as, “Leave the house in great shape.”

      I’d be embarrassed if my clients left the house in poor shape.

      I’ve paid to have houses cleaned in the past, rather than let new owners take possession of a dirty house, and have them, and their agent, think less of me.

  9. Ch.T

    at 8:57 am

    My clients bought a house that was sold due to a nasty divorce. We dealt with one party of the couple who was reasonable… The other (bitter) half took the time to stop by the house before closing to “take the kids to the pool”. And I mean teenage kids! Barf…

  10. Frances

    at 9:56 pm

    It would be wonderful if every seller left behind all the manuals but, given that most people couldn’t find any given manual if it bit them in the ankle, it’s unrealistic. It would also be nice if the sellers cleaned the house after they moved out but most people simply won’t have the time or even the wherewithal to do so. The most sensible thing to do is to plan to do it yourself.

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