Buying a Home in Salt Lake City, UT

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Q&A: Does property left in a home become the Buyer's at closing?

 

Q: One of our acquaintances yesterday mentioned that they were under the impression that when you close on a house technically everything inside the home technically becomes yours as well.  Is that actually how things technically work by default? You close and everything inside the home changes ownership? 

 

A: With regard to your question: if the Seller moves out and delivers possession and they left behind a couch or a barbeque or something like that, then yes, it could become yours. I say could, because obviously a Seller could have left a car in the garage or something else by accident and that wouldn't necessarily "make" it yours just because it was there.

YOU would claim that it is yours because they were to have removed all their personal belongings from the home
THEIR attorney would claim that they did not remove all their personal belongings from the home as per the contract and that your only remedy or complaint is on the breach of that line in the contract.

Another argument is that the contract specifically "includes" items of personal property that are to be conveyed by Bill of Sale to the Buyer. (Section 1.1 "Included Items"). Therefore, articles simply left behind by mistake (say a wedding ring or something) wouldn't necessarily automatically become your property simply because they were left in the home.

In reality, I personally have acquired a barbeque, a workbench, and numerous other things that were left behind by the Seller when I purchased my first home. Other clients have "inherited" other items that have been left behind when a Seller moved. In most of these cases the Seller did not want to take the items with them (for whatever reason) and left them for the Buyer. Not always has there been a bill of sale.

I have also seen where a Seller has left behind some personal property that the Buyer did not want. For that same reason, I have often used the "Excluded Items" section of the contract to specifically exclude something from the Sale, thereby requiring that the Seller remove it from the property. (Just last month we excluded a snowmobile from a sale for that reason. It was obviously not working and the home was a "flip". Fearing the Seller would leave it behind for us to deal with, we excluded it from the sale. It wasn't being offered as part of the sale, but as your friend suggested, it could become yours at possession and then you would have to dispose of it.

At any rate, the simple answer is YES and NO. If the Seller has not yet delivered physical possession to you (which they could also breach) their property doesn't automatically become yours just because the home has closed. Once physical possession has been delivered, in most cases it is assumed and presumed by all parties that anything left in the home is now the Buyer's responsibility (or property).

Still, if you have any particular items in mind, it is best to get them included in writing and conveyed by a Bill of Sale. Going that route saves the ambiguity and makes lawsuits and small claims much less likely.

The confusion comes because many people don't look at Settlement, Closing and Possession as 3 distinct things. They use the terms interchangeably and they are not interchangeable. They are 3 distinct events which only occur when certain requirements are met.

So your friend is both right and wrong depending on what they think they mean. If they think Closing means that you have taken Possession, then they are more right than if they think that Closing only means that the property has recorded as yours.

If you are thinking about moving to the Salt Lake City area, make sure you get an Agent on YOUR side! 

Homebuyer Representation, Inc. is the only Real Estate Brokerage representing Buyers ONLY in Salt Lake City and the Surrounding Area. We do not list any homes. We never represent Sellers.

We work for BUYERS ONLY on the Buyer's side of the transaction.

We work to get BUYERS the Best Price and Terms when they Buy...

We're "The Real Estate Agents on the Buyer's Side" TMreal estate agents on the buyers side

If you have excellent credit and are thinking about buying a $250,000-$500,000 home in the Salt Lake area in the next 60-90 days, call us at (801) 969-8989 or contact us via the link on this page.

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Comment balloon 15 commentsBenjamin Clark • April 12 2008 11:57PM

Comments

Great thought provoking post. I am glad they have attorneys to answer such questions.
Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) over 11 years ago

Benjamin,

Nice post! I always thought in our state of PA possession took place after the new deed was delivered (executed by the seller), proceeds were distributed, and keys were turned over to buyer!!! JMHO, Thanks,   Fran

Posted by Fran Gaspari, "The Title Man" - Title Insurance - PA & NJ (Patriot Land Transfer, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Then there are the sellers who remove the chandelier from the dining room prior to the walk-through and then claim that there never was one.  That plate in the ceiling of the dining room was always there.

Hint.  Take photos of inclusions. 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 11 years ago
Make sure that you document what goes and what stays up front so there are no problems.  What seem like it should stay and by law are part of the real estate are sometimes mistakenly uprooted or removed by sellers who think they can take them.  Sellers will sometimes leave items they no longer want thinking the buyer can use them or get rid of them.  Make sure everything that is left when you do your walk through is mentioned at the closing table so there are no misunderstandings.
Posted by Paddy (Patricia) Pizappi, Real Estate Associate Broker Hudson Valley NY (Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty) over 11 years ago

Benjamin:  I once had some sellers leave a Sanford & Son-like mess of garbage on the curb the night before closing.  They delivered the interior of the home in the broom clean condition that the contract stated.  It just looked like a bomb went off at the curb with all the tables, chairs, lamps, boxes...you name it...it was on the curb.  And trash pick up wasn't coming for three days.

Long story short, the buyer/new homeowner was FURIOUS when she pulled up to the house.  I had already warned her agent, but there was little I could do.  My clients had already conducted their side of settlement, turned off their cell phones and left the state for their new home. (They knew that everyone was going to be angry..including me).  About two hours after the new homeowner took possession I got a call from the buyers agent.  She told me that her client was insisting on at least a thousand dollar credit from the sellers for the trash pickup.  She went on to tell me that her client had taken all the trash back INTO the garage to avoid embarassment.  It was at that point that the buyers agent had to inform her client, "It's yours now.  You took possession.  If you wanted a credit, you should have left it on the curb."  I was so ashamed of my sellers. But the other agent and I had a good laugh over it. It was just too bizarre a situation.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Bristow, VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA) over 11 years ago
Gita - Hopefully we get everything in writing so we don't need the attorneys to answer those questions, right?
Posted by Benjamin Clark, Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert (Homebuyer Representation, Inc.) over 11 years ago
Fran - That is usual and customary around here as well, but, the Buyer and the Seller can contract to do otherwise!
Posted by Benjamin Clark, Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert (Homebuyer Representation, Inc.) over 11 years ago
Paddy - Exactly. If the Seller plans to leave it, they won't have a problem signing a Bill of Sale with everything on it.
Posted by Benjamin Clark, Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert (Homebuyer Representation, Inc.) over 11 years ago
Lenn - I once had a BUILDER switch out refrigerators on my Buyers just before closing. They said the appliances had all been stolen and the low-end model that they put into the house was the model that was in it before. (This was a spec home.) Luckily, we had taken photos of everything and we made them put in the right refrigerator. Can you believe it?
Posted by Benjamin Clark, Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert (Homebuyer Representation, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Chris - This has happened to us a few times as well (not as bad as your story). The best is when the Sellers do it the day AFTER garbage collection. The Buyer has to move in and has no place to put all their trash for the next week!

As you point out, real estate is full of surprises. Our job is to eliminate them, or make them beneficial to our clients!

Posted by Benjamin Clark, Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert (Homebuyer Representation, Inc.) over 11 years ago

The Sellers of this property left the house fully furnished. Most of the items were trashed. Now 3 months later they are demanding, and harassing us for these items. We made settlement in June. They didn't even show up at their lawyers office for closing. He repeatedly ran back and forth calling them on the phone. Nothing was said about the furnishing nor is there anything in the contract stating that they wanted any items they left. Do I have any legal rights? They are demanding $9000 for these items.

Posted by Lani Williams almost 4 years ago

Lani - You don't say if they are demanding the money on any legal ground, but you do suggest there are no contractual obligations on your part. If they have forfeited their right to the property, as might be the case depending on what state you are in and depending on the circumstances by which you became the owner and took possession, a letter from an attorney should do the trick. I'd ask my attorney to address the harrassment issue as well so they know to leave you alone from now on if they have no legal standing. This is not legal advice. The advice would be to check the law in your state and consult an attorney for the best answer. Good luck!

Posted by Benjamin Clark, Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert (Homebuyer Representation, Inc.) almost 4 years ago

is there any recourse when the original signed purchase and sale agreement lists that the grill and outdoor furniture will stay and they dont. If the buyers real estate agent is asked prior to the closing and she insists that it was not in the agreement, but you find it after closing?

Posted by Maria Anderson about 2 years ago

I did a land contract. Paid it off in 2015. Now I have the sellers relation coming for things left behind. I never agreed to store it for the sellers. What legal right do I have in Wisconsin

Posted by Chad over 1 year ago

I sold a home in iowa that closed in Feb. I was unable to remove my garden tractor due to 3 foot of snow on the ground and it being in the back yard. I had mentioned to the closing agent that I would get it after the snow melts but it was not in writing. When I had someone go back to pick it up when the new owner claimed its there's and have it locked in the garage. What's my best course of action?

Posted by Nick 6 months ago

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