Dear Monty: Home seller leaves belongings behind at move-out
By Richard Montgomery
Reader Question: We recently moved into our first home. The contract called for the seller being out on a specific date with all of their possessions. We also contractually agreed to allow them to harvest some outdoor plants after they come up this spring. On the move out date, the seller left some items and he said he was coming back for them in a few days. Additionally, he told us he had promised some neighbors that they could have specific things, and they were to pick them up on their own. Some articles are in the garage, and some are in the house.
It has now been three weeks, and he has not come back. The neighbors have shown no interest in receiving the goods. We do not even know who they are. One day a young woman came over to make sure her promised goods were still there. We made arraignments for her to get her stuff, but she stood us up. We saw the seller at the grocery store and asked about the items, but he never responded. We do not want to be the cranky new neighbors, but we do want our peace of mind. My question is; what is our responsibility for those left behind items? Should I contact seller’s agent?
Monty’s Answer: What you are describing is not uncommon. In most cases, the sellers do come back and collect what was left behind without being reminded. Occasionally, an absent-minded seller or a callous seller will decide they don’t need that stuff and deduce it would just be easier to let you throw it away. Based on what you have shared with me, here are two thoughts to keep alive the idea that you want to be a good neighbor.
When you do not know the identity of the specific neighbors, it is a bit more of a challenge. Consider sending a nice letter to the former owner. Copy any close neighbors that you can identify or tape a copy on their front door. The note could be similar to the sample below, but in your own words:
We hope all is going well for you in your new home. We are enjoying our new home and the neighborhood.
We have a dilemma we are hoping you can help us with concerning the belongings you were coming back to pick up, or you had promised to other people in the neighborhood. No one has stopped by to claim the items.
Because it has been three weeks and we do not want to be responsible for these items on our property, we would like them to be picked up on or before <insert date>. Please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx to arrange a time. I do not know how to reach the other people so I would appreciate you forwarding this message along to them.
If the items are not picked up on or before <insert date again>, we will donate them to <our favorite charity> in your name.
I hope you can appreciate our position, as we want to be relieved of the obligation and no one has come forward. We are hopeful this letter will create a sense of urgency for people to respond so we can complete our home transaction and move on.
An optional plan
Invite the neighbors to a get-acquainted coffee and donut breakfast on a Saturday morning. You probably have ideas on organizing such an event. You do not know whom the seller promised what items to, but whoever they are, they are likely among these neighbors. Use this event as an unusual way to meet the neighbors and rid yourselves of the seller’s leftovers at the same time.
Have a choice of beverages; such as coffee or tea in the garage and a big bag of donuts. Assemble all the items left by the former owner in one spot. After you have greeted the neighbors, point out the collection and mention to them that if the previous owner had promised them something, it would be there. They can pick it up on the way out the door, then discard any leftover items.
The best way to resolve this situation is to turn it into a positive event. It is a bit out-of-the-box, but life is to short to sitting around waiting for people to get back to you. You could be waiting a long, long time.
Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money – An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Ask him questions at DearMonty.com