How Much Cleaning Is Necessary When Selling a Home?

owner cleaning a house before selling

How Much Cleaning Is Necessary When Selling a Home?

Buyers expect to move into a house that is clean and empty. And those selling a home often add a thorough cleaning to their to-do list. Most get a head start on cleaning to get the home ready to put on the market.

It is up to the seller whether to clean the home themselves, hire a cleaning service, or not do anything at all. There is no law against selling a dirty house and no standard definition of what “clean” means, but it can be worthwhile for the seller to make the effort – especially since a clean house could result in better offers from buyers.  

There are some ways buyers can ensure that they will be moving into a spotless home. And some good reasons for sellers to want the house to be grime-free when they hand over the keys. 

Why Sellers Should WANT to Clean Their Home

According to a Top Agent Insights study by Homelight, a deep cleaning could add on average, about $3,700 to the sale of a home. Decluttering could add as much as $6,500!

If that isn’t enough incentive, also consider how much better a neat and tidy home looks in the photos that will appear online. Realtors typically insist that the seller clean and declutter before they schedule any showings or open houses. 

Staging a home that’s for sale has become common too, with 81% of buyers agents agreeing that it makes it easier for buyers to see themselves living in the house. If buyers prefer to see houses staged and not filled with the homeowners’ furniture and belongings, it’s a safe bet that they don’t want to see dirt, dust, and grime either! 

Pre-cleaning could possibly sell a house quicker and for more money. Getting it ready to go on the market and then keeping it ship-shape will also make final cleaning much easier when moving day arrives. Leaving the house as clean as possible is also just a thoughtful and considerate thing to do for the people who eventually buy the home. 

clean house ready for sale
Image by Curtis Adams by

Do Sellers Have to Clean Before Selling a Home?

A contract for a home sale will often require that a seller deliver the premises in “broom-clean” or “broom-swept” condition. Exactly what this means, though, is a matter of interpretation. There is no legal definition for the term, but it is generally understood to mean the house is cleared of garbage, debris, and dirt. To most people this would include at the very least, removing all of the seller’s belongings, taking out the trash, wiping surfaces, sweeping, and vacuuming. 

Still, clean is in the eye of the beholder. A seller might do what they think is enough, while the buyer might disagree. Buyers should also realize that a home inspection will not cover matters of cleanliness. They are meant to look for large, structural issues such as the condition of the roof, gutters, foundation, HVAC system, appliances, and windows. An inspector will point out damage to walls, floors, and countertops, but they will not indicate whether they are clean or dirty.

Typical Chores for a Move-In Ready Home

Sellers should imagine what they would consider move-in ready and will hopefully clean accordingly. A list of chores when moving out should include:

  • Removing all belongings including from the attic, basement, and garage
  • Dusting and wiping down all surfaces
  • Sweeping and vacuuming
  • Taking out the trash
  • A final mow of the grass

There are a few additional chores that are optional, but common, especially when getting ready to show the property:

  • Steam cleaning carpets
  • Washing windows
  • Power-washing the siding and driveway
  • Cleaning under and behind major appliances

Hiring a cleaning service can ensure a deep clean from floor to ceiling, with an average cost of $360. As an alternative, the seller can tackle the jobs themselves, renting or borrowing equipment as necessary.

Cleaning Expectations for an “As-Is” Home

An exception to “broom-clean” requirements would be selling a home as is. Buyers of as-is homes typically understand that the home may be filthy or filled with the former owner’s belongings. They are responsible for cleaning it themselves. The trade-off is getting a bargain at a very low selling price. 

What Can Buyers Do?

A buyer may want to put an offer on a house, but have some concerns about the home’s cleanliness. For instance, if a seller has cats and the buyer is severely allergic, the buyer may want assurance that the carpets are steam cleaned. Or if the garage is filled to the ceiling with old junk during a showing, a buyer will want to make sure it is not left behind when the seller moves out.

The buyer’s first step should be to bring such concerns up to their realtor. The agent can talk to the seller or the seller’s agent to find out the extent of cleaning they are planning to do. They may be able to get some assurance.  

The other option is to write the request into the contract. When a buyer adds contingencies to a contract, they typically cover things like inspections, financing, and waiting for their old home to sell. But adding a cleaning contingency is possible too. Since there is no legal standard for what “clean” means, this gives the buyer an opportunity to ensure that the house is cleaned to their standards. 

The contract language when it comes to cleaning should be as specific as possible. Insisting sellers “clean the carpets” is not as direct as saying “professionally steam clean the carpets.” The consequences of not complying should be spelled out. For example, requiring reimbursement from the seller if the buyer needs to hire a professional carpet cleaner themselves. Or making the seller pay the bill to haul away stuff they leave behind. By adding these items to the contract, the buyer can rest assured that the seller will keep their promise, and have some recourse if they don’t.

Negotiating Who Cleans or Pays for Cleaning

As with any contract, there can be a negotiation of the terms regarding who does the cleaning and who pays for it. Ordinary cleaning like mopping and vacuuming won’t typically require negotiations, but there could be larger issues that could take considerable time and money to clean. When that is the case, buyers and sellers should consider these possible scenarios:

  1. The buyer can offer to pay for big cleaning jobs, but they might want the asking price lowered to reflect the expense.
  2. The seller might offer to pay for the cleaning but expect a bump in the asking price. The buyer’s decision could depend on how much they really want the house. 
  3. The buyer takes on the cleaning themselves. If they feel the seller has broken the “broom-swept” rule and left a truly filthy house, they could try taking them to court. It could be a difficult case to win, however.
  4. The seller cleans the house themselves, simply because it is a decent thing to do.

In all of these scenarios, both buyers and sellers can look to their real estate agent for guidance. Buyers can get advice on how to get the clean, move-in-ready home they want, and sellers can learn how to leave their house clean without spending time and money on requests that cross the line of reasonable cleaning standards.

If you are buying or selling a home and have questions about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to upkeep and cleanliness, contact Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Properties. Our agents’ experience and expertise will help you get the results you want.

Cover photo by merovingian at

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