Picture this: You're driving away in the U-Haul, the old place fading away in the rearview mirror. But you aren't fighting away tears. You're patting yourself on the back for getting through this hellish move like a boss.
Or did you?
And that's when the sinking feeling sets in. Did you remember everything?
You're not alone
That creeping worry we feel when we finally leave a place for the last time might be for a very good reason. Turns out, leaving stuff behind isn't that uncommon.
"We have sold many homes, and the joke for Realtors is that the homes always have something left," says Jerry Koller, broker with International Home Realty in Irvine, CA.
But what are we leaving behind? Soap? A trash can? An old welcome mat? Nope. It's bigger -- and stranger -- than that. Koller says he's seen the following items left behind in homes:
- Assemble-yourself furniture
- Baby items, including clothing, toys, eating utensils and (yuck!) diaper bags
- Potted plants
- Personal massagers (seriously -- not a euphemism)
- Gardening tools
- Cash (specifically, wads of bills stashed between a mattress and bed springs)
"In one very expensive home, there was a complete king bed set left behind, but the seller's Realtor had claimed it on the day it closed," Koller says. "The set was worth at least $5,000."
And the items aren't always painfully impossible to move. Someone once left a car in the driveway.
"The tenant called a month later to ask where his car was," Koller recalls.
Koller has stumbled on to heartbreaking scenes too -- homes where people left behind pet frogs and even cats.
What happens to your stuff
If you left something behind, it probably won't be there for long.
Typically, sellers have to be out by 6 p.m. on the day of closing, unless other arrangements were agreed upon at closing. According to Koller, anything you leave behind after the deadline, the buyer can keep. "Finders keepers" is more than just an annoying kid's refrain -- it's a business policy.
If the buyers don't want what you left behind, either they or their Realtor will get rid of it. Useful or expensive items are usually donated to charities such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but smaller items might just get tossed to the curb.
When pets are left behind, Koller calls in animal control to assist or takes them to the local shelter. This is just sad. Don't leave pets behind, OK?
You could get penalized for it
If you sold your house and left stuff behind, there's a good chance you'll get away with it without penalties. The buyers might get in touch with your Realtor to negotiate a time for you to come and remove the items. If you left a lot behind, or the buyers felt you weren't cooperating, they might seek out legal counsel -- but how far that can go largely depends on where you live and what your closing agreement stated.
Renters don't fare as well.
"If they leave things behind, we can deduct the removal cost from the security deposit," Koller says.
Never leave anything behind again
To avoid forgetting things (and being a jerk!) start by making a room-by-room checklist of what needs to be cleared out -- including closets, cabinets, attic, and basement spaces. Do yourself a favor and triple-check the most commonly forgotten spaces, such as built-in drawers, overhead storage spaces, and balconies. As you finish packing and moving a room, run through your list and mark it off.
It sounds like more work on top of an already busy day, but it will prevent that sinking feeling as you drive away -- and you'll thank us when you find that stack of bills under the mattress.