Once the ink is dry on your purchase agreement, it’s time to close the deal and bring your belongings into your new home. But what happens when moving day unearths some seriously odd items left behind by the previous residents?
Sellers are supposed to remove everything from the house that wasn’t previously agreed to be part of the sale. Still, many homeowners dish on social media about finding stuff that they’d wished the sellers had packed up, tossed out, or hauled away—including a hyperbaric chamber for small animals, a stash of porn under the floorboards, and a strange self-portrait of the previous resident. (We can’t make this stuff up.)
So we asked irritated buyers and their savvy real estate agents: What do you do when you literally get more than you bargained for?
When Jane Langille and her family moved into their Toronto-area home, they were dismayed to discover that the sellers had left large stacks of old magazines behind, and they hadn’t mowed the lawn or cleaned a toilet in weeks.
And things quickly went from bad to worse.
“They left someone’s old tooth in the bathroom cabinet under the sink, and a bottle of liquid people use to teach dogs where to pee. It had leaked in the kitchen cabinet, and it reeked to high heaven,” Langille recalls.
Stacey Freed’s experience in suburban Rochester, NY, was even stranger.
“I found a weird flesh-toned rubber cone in the wall where the bathtub pipes were. My husband and I had no idea what it was,” says Freed. “My 80-year-old father Googled it and announced it was a sex toy.”
Can sellers do that?!
While some buyers worry about items being taken from the home that were included in the purchase price, it’s much more common that sellers leave stuff behind, says Danielle Stepp, a Realtor® at Foundation Realty in Tecumseh, MI.
“Two of the biggest things I’ve seen left in a house after a seller has moved out are pianos and ashes,” Stepp says. “You have this urn, and you can’t throw out Uncle Billy, but you can ‘accidentally’ forget him. Just as you can say that the piano fits the room so well, we thought we’d leave it for the buyers.”
The thing is, sellers can’t just randomly leave things in the home, even if they weigh a ton and are a huge pain to move, adds Rona Fischman, principal broker at 4 Buyer’s Real Estate in Cambridge, MA.
“Sellers are obligated to leave the house free of all possessions and broom-clean, which means that anything that’s big enough to push with a broom is supposed to be gone,” Fischman explains. She often sees sleeper sofas left behind, because they’re impossibly heavy, along with 1950s-era dead refrigerators in the basement.
“Probably the most disgusting bit I’ve ever seen in my life was a house with a refrigerator that had rotten food in it. When we walked in, we thought somebody had died in there,” she recalls.
Sometimes, sellers honestly just forget things
Moving is exhausting, and sometimes sellers just run out of steam, Fischman says.
For example, she once did a walk-through in a big, old Victorian house that had lots of window seats with storage spaces, so she made sure to peek inside every nook and cranny.
“We found a bag with equipment for a whole hockey team—a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of sticks, pads, and helmets,” she recalls. “The seller came back and got it within a couple of days. Another time, we found four bags of stuffed animals in an eave. The seller didn’t want them, so we asked if we could give them away. She wanted to ask her kids—who were 35. They came back and took their favorites before we gave them away.”
Inspect the property before you get the keys
So how do you keep from having your own disgusting discovery? A final walk-through—before closing day—is the best way to ensure that the house is empty and move-in ready, Stepp says.
“Once the closing is finished, it’s much harder to take care of any issues that have arisen,” she notes.
During your preclosing once-over, take photos of anything that’s not supposed to be there, so your agent can present them at closing, Fischman adds, because all items should be collected at the seller’s cost, not yours.
“When we say, ‘We have an estimate from a mover who will charge us $300 to get rid of all this stuff,’ the seller’s attorney usually says, ‘Fine. Here’s a check for $300,’” she says.
If all else fails, take the sellers to court
If the previous owners won’t cough up some cash to have their things carted away, buyers may go the legal route, says Stepp.
“Many times, the only way to settle things is to go through the court system, but that can take months, with no guarantees,” Stepp says,
Good things get left behind, too
When Vanessa McGrady moved into her Los Angeles condo, it was as if Santa had stopped by first.
“There was a brand-new, boxed KitchenAid mixer, a coffee maker, and four crates of sweet collectible Christmas ornaments,” McGrady recalls. “I kept trying to get hold of the previous owners, and no dice. I donated the coffee maker to hurricane efforts, kept the KitchenAid, and gave away the ornaments at my annual Christmas party.”
Brette Sember’s sellers in Clarence, NY, left two ’50s-style coupe glasses and a split of Champagne for her.
“We also found a can of boiled peanuts and a pack of American cheese in the fridge,” she recalls.
Nothing like a snack after a long moving day!