The most exciting day for our Buyer clients is of course the day when they get the keys to their new home. While finding and successfully negotiating the purchase is definitely an emotional time, it is when you actually open the door to your new home that you’ve achieved your dream.
We’ve developed a checklist of things for our Buyer clients to make sure they do once they close on their new home. It’s designed to both ensure they get everything they have paid for and also to set the stage for an enjoyable time in the home without problems or expenses that could have been avoided.
While there are a number of specific things to review in the checklist itself, let’s look at the three biggest questions you need to answer once you’ve got your new home.
#1 Is the home safe and secure?
With the purchase completed and keys provided, you now have the right to use and enjoy your new home. At the same time, the responsibility for maintaining the home has also passed on to you, so it is crucial that your first focus is making sure the home is safe and secure.
On the safety side, we always recommend that buyers do a thorough and detailed walk through of their new home. This means finding and locating aspects like the main water shut off valve, the electrical panel and so forth. As you do so, look for any unsafe elements, such as uncovered electrical outlets, dripping pipes, loose stair railings, rotting exterior wood or anything else that could cause problems or injuries.
No home is perfect, but by learning about the home yourself by going through it in detail, you can identify aspects that may need to either be remedied or kept watch on over time to make sure they don’t become problems.
On the security side, it is very important you make sure your new home is secured. There have been some rare occasions when homes have been broken into in the period shortly after a transaction closes, and nothing ruins the joy of having a new home to discover it has been trespassed upon by someone else.
We recommend walking the exterior of the home and making sure that there are no unsecured entrances such as windows without latches, doors with poorly fitting locks and so forth. It is always a good idea to have locks changed at the home shortly after you take possession, as you have no idea how many keys to the existing locks are floating around out there. In one case, homeowners found an emergency key hidden on the property years after they took possession that the sellers forgot to mention. It is quite unsettling to think there was a key hidden somewhere that someone could have used to access your home, so changing the locks is a worthwhile expense in our opinion.
#2 Are the chattels and fixtures in working order?
With steps taken to make sure the home is safe and secure, the next question a buyer needs to answer is whether everything is working as promised.
One of the most common clauses that is included in almost all Agreement of Purchase and Sale documents (the offer) is this one.
The Seller represents and warrants that the chattels and fixtures as included in this Agreement of Purchase and Sale will be in good working order and free from all liens and encumbrances on completion. The parties agree that this representation and warranty shall survive and not merge on completion of the transaction.
Before we get into the implications of this clause, let’s answer an important question, namely, what’s the difference between a chattel and a fixture?
A chattel is property that is not permanently attached to the land or building, and can be moved, whereas a fixture is property that is attached to the land or building in such a way that its removal would damage or harm the land or building. In example, if there is a microwave sitting on a countertop, that’s a chattel. If the microwave is built into the range hood above the stove, that’s a fixture.
There is a section in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale that specifies the fixtures and chattels including in the purchase price, so you’re generally clear on what is staying in the home and what is leaving. In the majority of transactions in Ontario, sellers leave the existing appliances (fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer), existing light fixtures and existing window coverings. If someone wants to take that chandelier from the dining room or the curtains from the living room, they put it down as an exclusion so all parties know they don’t come with the house.
As per the clause above, the seller is not only leaving the chattels and fixtures, they are also saying that they are in good working order. Put simply, this means that not only is the stove there when you walk into your new home for the first time, it also works.
The key wording in the clause above is “on completion”, which means that at the moment the transaction occurs and ownership of the home is transferred from the seller to the buyer, the chattels and fixtures work.
It is not, however, a warranty that they will continue to work. While this can be frustrating from the perspective of a buyer, can you imagine how a seller would feel if three months after the deal has closed, they get a call saying the ice maker on the fridge isn’t working anymore. Sellers have no access or information about how the buyers are using or maintaining any of the chattels or fixtures, so their obligation is merely that they will be providing them in good working order as of the time the deal closes.
As a result, the first question that buyers must answer, as soon after the transaction closes and they get access to the home, is whether everything works. Every minute that passes after ownership is transferred makes that warranty and representation fade. A strict interpretation of the clause would mean the exact time and date of the closing is when this clause is valid. For example, if ownership was transferred at 3:15 PM on August 31st, the warranty expires at 3:16 PM.
A more relaxed but common interpretation is the warranty is good for the day of closing or a 24 hour period following the closing, so that there is a reasonable length of time that a buyer can assess if the clause was followed and the chattels and fixtures were given in good working order.
Make no mistake, the more time that passes after the closing, the less likely it is that a court would side with a buyer if something isn’t working. As such, if you aren’t planning on immediately going to your new home, be aware that discovering later that a fixture or chattel isn’t working will likely mean you’re out of luck. We always recommend to our clients that they or a representative go immediately to the new home and check to make sure all the chattels and fixtures are working. If there are issues, document them and notify your lawyer immediately.
#3 What preventative maintenance tasks need to be done?
Now that you’ve made sure the home is safe and secure and that chattels and fixtures work as promised, it’s time to look to the future.
In a very real sense, every day that passes means wear and tear on your home’s structure, systems and appliances. Nothing lasts forever but proper maintenance can help extend the life of your home and most crucially, prevent expensive and stressful problems from occurring.
Let’s go through some useful ways to keep your home in great shape.
- Replace furnace and HVAC filters
- Clean the grills of your wall heaters
- Vacuum registers and grilles
- Check water softener and replenish salt if necessary
- Check your fire extinguishers
- Clean your range hood filter
- Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
- Vacuum lint ducts and areas around your dryer
- Check for frayed cords on electrical devices and appliances
- Clean out your washing machine inlet filters and check for leaks
- Inspect caulking around sinks, tubs and showers
- Drain and flush out hot water heater
- Clean the filters of your air exchanger
- Clean your air conditioner
- Inspect your roof, flashing, eaves and soffits
- Clean out gutters and downspouts
- Inspect exterior caulking for cracks
- Clean window and door screens
- Inspect and clean siding
- Turn off outdoor faucets in the fall and drain hoses
While it may involve hiring contractors or specialists, maintaining your home is a very cost effective way to make sure you enjoy it for the years to come and to avoid unpleasant and expensive emergencies!