'Broom Clean' Condition: What Does It Mean If You're Moving Out?

Stephanie Booth

"Broom clean" condition: Such a quaint term, isn't it? Often spotted on real estate contracts or rental leases (along with its kissing cousin, "broom swept" condition), anyone who's moving out might wonder what it really means. In other words, how clean should you leave your place for the new inhabitants? More important, what happens if you don’t bother?

While "broom clean" has no exact legal definition (and certainly does not mean you must use an actual broom), the term does come with certain expectations—and consequences—that vary based on whether you rent or own your home. Here's what you need to know.

What 'broom clean' means for renters

The rules for vacating a rental are quite strict: Broom clean means you should leave the place in the same condition as when you moved in, minus reasonable wear and tear. So once you've removed your belongings,  break out a vacuum, broom, Swiffer, or other cleaning weapon of choice and go to town.

"It's important for a tenant to clean the place thoroughly,” says Mike Vraa, managing attorney for HOME Line, a tenant hotline in Minneapolis.

The reason you'll want to bring your A-game to this is that most landlords are holding your security deposit as collateral in case you don't leave the place in great shape—and some might want to play tough guy with you. If you want that money back (and you do, right?), you'll want to give them no wiggle room to find fault with your efforts.

In addition to cleaning, you should fix any alterations you made to the property. For instance, if you nailed a picture on the wall or installed curtains, you should take these down and fill any holes you made with putty.

Vraa even recommends taking photos of the entire rental afterward just in case your landlord tries to withhold your deposit (or a portion of it). If you encounter difficulties with a landlord who just won't give up that deposit, consult a local tenants' rights organization, as regulations vary by state and municipality.

What 'broom clean' means for home sellers

Home sellers who are moving out are also expected to leave their old digs in decent shape. However, in this case, without a security deposit to hold as ransom, broom clean is considered more of a courtesy.

“There’s no real requirement for a home seller to clean a property upon move-out,” says Jane Peters, broker/owner of Home Jane Realty, in Los Angeles.

Buyers do expect, however, that you'll take all your stuff with you. In fact, your contract might state that you must remove certain items, like that ancient (and mysteriously locked) freezer in the basement.

Contractual obligations aside, it might be tempting to leave things you no longer want or need, such as floating shelves you don't want to unscrew or old paint cans in the closet. If you think the buyers might want this stuff, go ahead and ask, but when in doubt, take it out. This is something that the buyer will look for during the final walk-through, so you don't want to derail your sale.

So, declutter, yes. But your home does not need to be immaculate unless a buyer makes a specific request (more on that next).

Can home buyers demand a professional cleaning?

Occasionally, buyers and landlords will try to negotiate for a bit more than broom swept condition and ask that a house be professionally cleaned once you move out, says Bob Gordon, a Realtor® for Berkshire Hathaway in Boulder, CO. Just like you’d expect, that means that they’d like you to pay for a service to come in and scour the house until it shines, maybe even clean the carpets.

But this is by no means customary, and is subject to the tides of the market and where the leverage lies.

“Currently, most of the market is a seller's market," Gordon points out. A buyer "is lucky if the outgoing seller does anything.”

How to broom clean a home

All in all, if you're a home seller who's been asked to leave your place broom clean, remove your clutter and sweep or vacuum the floors, but don’t worry if they’re not mopped and waxed. New owners moving into your place should be prepared to wipe down kitchen cabinets and drawers, clean the floors, and give the bathrooms a good scrub.

“I have known sellers to bring in a cleaning crew, which was a lovely touch and much appreciated,” says Peters, “but cleaning up any clutter and broom sweeping is all that is reasonably expected.”

So as long as you put in a good-faith effort, you can move on and let the home's new inhabitants deal with a little dust.

By Stephanie Booth

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