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Who Owns the Items Left Behind in a House After Closing

Sellers leaving some of their possessions in a house after the closing date can lead to conflicts with the buyer. Such a scenario should be avoided as much as possible. But if it does occur, buyers and sellers should take steps to deal with it amicably.
Sellers leaving some of their possessions in a house after the closing date can lead to conflicts with the buyer. Such a scenario should be avoided as much as possible. But if it does occur, buyers and sellers should take steps to deal with it amicably.

Ideally, moving into a new home would be a smooth process. There are, however, many ways in which it could get more complicated than it needs to be. One of the ways that can happen is if the seller fails to clear the house of their personal possessions after closing.

There are steps both buyers and sellers can take to avoid conflicts at such a time. But before we look at how to deal with this situation, let’s look at when a buyer actually gains possession of a house. This will determine how they deal with a seller’s items being left behind on the property.

When Can I Move into a New Home?

A purchase agreement for a home contains more than its proposed purchase price. It will also have details about the closing date and moving date. Those two pieces of information are important for both the seller and the buyer.

The closing date is usually set anywhere between a month and 45 days after the offer is confirmed. There is a reason why buyers choose to have that much wiggle room when confirming the purchase of a home.

That buffer period is the time during which buyers go about getting a mortgage for the home. That is a time-consuming process during which your lender will require a lot of documentation and time to process everything. Any hitch during the process can further extend it by a few days.

The moving date can be the same day as closing or as far as a week after the closing date. This gives the seller enough time to get the last of their possessions out of the house. The moving date is when you’ll actually take possession of the property and transfer your belongings into it.

What if the Seller Leaves Items Behind After Closing?

The best way to deal with this situation is to avoid it in the first place. How can you do that? With the final walkthrough before closing on a home.

One of the contingencies that buyers can put in their contract is the pre-closing inspection. These are usually scheduled around 48 hours before the closing date. The walkthrough is an opportunity for buyers to make sure that any repairs that were promised have been completed and that the home is clean.

Along with those things, the walkthrough is also an opportunity to make sure that the seller has cleared out the house. That includes everything from the TV and stereo to paint cans and tools. If they haven’t done that, you can let the seller know that the house needs to be completely cleared out before the moving date.

The real problem is when sellers don’t collect all their possessions even after the final walkthrough. The way the law sees it is that the buyer becomes the owner of the property after the closing date. The previous owner would be trespassing if they entered the property after that. So legally the power lies with the buyer in this scenario.

The best way to deal with this situation is to have a conversation with the seller about what items they want to retrieve from the property. If these are items included in the sale, then they obviously have no legal claim on them. If they are not, you could give them the opportunity to collect their possessions.

This becomes a little easier if your moving date is a few days from your closing date. You can let the seller know that they can retrieve any personal items from the property during the interim.

If they try to claim anything that is on the property after the moving date, then you should consult an attorney. The general assumption is that anything that is on the property after the buyer has taken possession of it belongs to the buyer. A real estate lawyer will be able to guide you with regards to the laws in your area about the situation.

Both buyers and sellers should work with a real estate agent to find ways to deal with this situation as amicably as possible. Clever Partner Agents ensure that sellers know what their obligations are before the closing date. Buyers who work with a Partner Agent receive guidance on the closing process and how to deal with potential conflicts with the seller.

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Andrew Schmeerbauch

Andrew Schmeerbauch is the Director of Marketing at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you top agents to save on commission. His focus is educating home buyers and sellers on navigating the complex world of real estate with confidence and ease. Andrew has worked on projects for the United Nations and USC and has a particular passion for investing and finance. Andrew's writing has been featured in Mashvisor, L&T, Ideal REI, and Rentometer.

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