If staging items on a vacant listing are not removed by closing, do they become the property of the buyer?

Asked by Phil Leng, Kirkland, WA Sat Apr 30, 2011

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32
Don Tepper, Agent, Burke, VA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
BEST ANSWER
I'm not a lawyer, so this isn't legal advice. However . . . .

It may depend on who previously owned them. If the items were owned by the sellers and there's no mention of the items in the sales contract, then probably it can be argued that ownership transferred at the time of sale.

However, if the items belonged to a stager--or to a furniture rental company used by whoever staged the property--then that's likely a different matter. The seller didn't have the ability to sell the items--since they didn't belong to the seller. And the buyer may not be able to assert that ownership transferred since no mention was made in the sales contract. (And even if the items had been mentioned in the sales contract--such as "any furniture left behind,"--the seller didn't own the items and thus had no ability to sell them.

Check with a lawyer for more information.
5 votes
Mike Satterl…, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Well there is that old saying that posession is 9/10ths of the law. At first glance this answer was a no brainer 22d notwithstanding. However Don Tepper brings up a good point w/objects belonging to a third party who is not a party to the agreement. I still think the new buyer could make a claim - but why would they. I think it would be more hassle than it's worth. Throw it out on the lawn & tell the stager they've got 24 hours;).
2 votes
Phil Rotondo, Agent, Melbourne, FL
Sat Apr 30, 2011
The nice thing to do would be to somehow contact the stager and give them "X" days to remove the staging items.
Not too difficult, huh??
Web Reference:  http://www.321property.com
2 votes
Come on..we are trying to move our stuff in that day, why should we do their work!
Flag Fri Mar 10, 2017
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Mon May 2, 2011
Mack, once again you've effectively reduced an issue down to a single basic point. Good job!
1 vote
Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Mon May 2, 2011
No matter how you parse it, you can't transfer ownership of property you don't own. Can you?
1 vote
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sun May 1, 2011
BTW, the flip side to this is the seller's side. If you have a client with a restored 1965 Mustang sitting in the garage, you'd better make sure they get it out! Even though it's a titled asset, the buyer could try to claim it was included under Form 22D. I did once have a seller accidentally leave a motorcycle where it was in the third bay of a three car garage and that bay was separated by a partial wall.
1 vote
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sun May 1, 2011
Ardell wrote: "Back to the question...yes, they become the property of the buyer. "

Presumably you've read this thread, and read Form 22d. I can't think of a better example of why agents in Washington state are not allowed to explain contract terms to their client or provide legal advice. Agents simply have no such training.
1 vote
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sun May 1, 2011
Ardell wrote: "But it is clearly the seller's obligation to get everything out of the house, regardless of who it belongs to, prior to closing."

Is anyone contesting that?

Ardell wrote: "We have all seen many cases where the things in the house do not all belong to the owner. Why are the stager's things any different from that? "

Ding, ding, ding, they're not! Which is why you should reconsider this position: "But the [Form 22D] provision is there to be sure that the buyer can dispose of whatever the seller leaves in the house, regardless of who owns it. "
1 vote
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Ardell wrote: "I know what your saying, Kary. But the provision is there to be sure that the buyer can dispose of whatever the seller leaves in the house, regardless of who owns it. The person who owned it would have to go after the seller vs the buyer."

What piece of paper do you think the owner of the property signed that says they have to go after the seller rather than the party that disposed of the goods? That contract is only between the buyer and the seller, not the stager.

I'm not saying that they have a claim against the buyer, but the contract language clearly has no impact on the stager.
1 vote
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Ardell, who owns the property is important, as Don noted below. Typically you can only buy things from the owner, although there are some exceptions. Just as example, if you bought a stolen car from a party off Craigslist, your bill of sale would be meaningless. But the exception would be if you bought a stolen car from an auto dealer. If memory serves correct, because they are a merchant in that type of product, you can assume they have title.
1 vote
Ruth and Per…, Agent, Los Gatos, CA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Hi Phil

Thanks for the question. Clearly the staging items belonged to the stager or the agent.
As it was not mentioned in the Sales Contract it does not automatically become
Part of a closed transaction.

Good luck.
Perry
1 vote
Bill Eckler, Agent, Venice, FL
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Phil,

The best approach is to try to do whatever possible to try to avoid having to make a decision like this. Granted, all personal property should be removed prior to closing but wouldn't it be nice to take other action before taking possession.

Placing them in the garage/basement/out building and charging for storage may serve as a interim solution before claiming the items.

It often better to find a solution before taking action and running the risk of possibly creating ill will or even bigger problems.

Bill
1 vote
Jenny Dodge, Agent, Lehi, UT
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Hi Phil,

It's normal to feel some doubt on what to do. Let's be REAL, this type of situation doesn't come up every day. I'm not an attorney but I do think you should consult with one. Each states laws and guidelines are so different. Talking with a local attorney should help you stay out of hot water and they should be able to guide you on the appropriate next steps to take.

The situation sounds awkward and sticky....Best of Luck!

Kind Regards,
Jenny D Johnson
1 vote
Carrie, Home Buyer, Kirkland, WA
Wed Mar 1, 2017
This is literally YEARS later, however after searching for my exact issue, this was the thread I came across. Not even sure if these comments still get to the appropriate parties that have commented, however it's a shot.

I am a home stager. I have a contract with the Seller that it is required i receive a 10 days notice to remove my staging inventory. I was notified that the home was under contract on March 27 (two days ago), and notified this morning that the closing was bumped up surprisingly fast (not sure how since typical is 30-45 days escrow, though this must've been a crazy cash offer of the sort!) However, the buyer is taking possession of the home this Friday, March 3rd after it funds and records. MY contract with the seller states 10 days to allow me to remove furniture due to my booked schedule and my movers booked schedule. The new homeowners are now saying that if my furniture is not removed on Friday, they will charge me a daily rate of an absurd amount for the time my furniture is still in the home. At this time the earliest I could remove furniture would be next Tuesday, March 7th. Still within my 10 days notice (March 9th) if I count February 27th being my starting notice. I have a contract with the seller. Isn't it the sellers responsibility AND the realtors responsibility to know and acknowledge be signed contract? How would the closing and funding override my signed contract that was still standing? I'm a service provider and I understand that if these items/contracts are terminated (via my 10 day rider) that the home is not able to transfer to the new buyers, since there is technically a standing contract with the homeowner having possession. Please advise.
0 votes
Tonya Brobeck, , Everett, WA
Wed May 4, 2011
Phil have you run across this? Or is this just a random question?
0 votes
True story, with a happy ending. But it did give me pause...
Flag Thu May 24, 2012
Ardell Della…, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sun May 1, 2011
Back to the question...yes, they become the property of the buyer. Yes, the buyer is free to make any and all reasonable arrangements necessary to dispose of items left behind so that they can occupy the property.

If there is a can of coffee in the refrigerator, the buyer is under no obligation to determine who it belongs to. The fact that these are "staging" items seems to be clouding the issue.

That said, most people are able to work these things out amicably with the buyer PRIOR TO CLOSING. On a recent closing I found a watch left in the house by the seller inadvertently. Contacted the agent for the seller and made arrangements for it to be returned to the seller. As the agent for the buyer or for the seller, I walk through the property just prior to closing to make sure it is vacant and empty and there are no problems.

I'm sure most agents do that and deal with whatever is necessary to convey the property to the buyer. If all agents don't do that (and Kary and I have had this argument before) then they should.
Web Reference:  http://www.raincityguide.com
0 votes
Dp2, , Virginia
Sun May 1, 2011
Don articulated pretty much the same response that several attorneys (licensed in other areas) told me. Additionally, one of my mentors (an attorney licensed in CA) recommended that I explicitly include a clause like the one Don mentioned, and that I include one that requires the seller to identify any personal property that he/she/they don't own that's on the premise. He also directed me to get the seller to assign any leases, and to get something in writing from the seller--before that deal closes--to shows that the seller made arrangements for lessor to retrieve any personal property by a certain date.

Even with all of that in place, that still wouldn't prevent a seller from filing a lawsuit to go after any of that personal property.
0 votes
Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Sun May 1, 2011
I'm sure the stager's contract doesn't waive their right to damages if they leave something behind.

I'm with Kary on this. I don't think the buyer and seller can agree to determine ownership of a third-party's stuff. The cable box, the stuff the Seller rented from Cort . . . nah. I think the seller can only transfer ownership of items that they actually own, and that the buyer should be cautious about disposing of stuff left behind.
0 votes
Ardell Della…, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sun May 1, 2011
Kary asks: "What piece of paper do you think the owner of the property signed that says they have to go after the seller rather than the party that disposed of the goods?"

The stager contracted with the seller, I'm sure there's a "piece of paper" between the stager and the seller, and not the buyer of the home. What if the stager didn't come back for a month and the home was fully furnished with staging? What if the stager went out of business and couldn't be located?

Luckily in Phil's case the stager was only a day late. But it is clearly the seller's obligation to get everything out of the house, regardless of who it belongs to, prior to closing. Sometimes the things belong to the adult son now out on his own. Sometimes the things belong to an ex-husband.

We have all seen many cases where the things in the house do not all belong to the owner. Why are the stager's things any different from that? Still the seller's obligation to remove them prior to closing or date of possession unless they can make satisfactory arrangements with the buyer of the home.
Web Reference:  http://www.raincityguide.com
0 votes
Jirius Isaac, Agent, Kenmore, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
It is hard for me to believe that all of these things actually happen to you as you have told me before. Why on earth would a stager leave their furniture in the house after closing. Sounds like a big mess to me no matter what the outcome.
0 votes
Ardell Della…, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
I know what your saying, Kary. But the provision is there to be sure that the buyer can dispose of whatever the seller leaves in the house, regardless of who owns it. The person who owned it would have to go after the seller vs the buyer. As the listing agent, I make sure it is gone. That's really the best answer, unless other arrangements have been made with the buyer prior to closing.

I just had one where some things had to be removed after closing and the arrangements were made with the buyer prior to closing.
Web Reference:  http://www.raincityguide.com
0 votes
Ardell Della…, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Ruth and Perry, Our contracts provide that "any items remaining on the property" become the property of the buyer, without distinction as to whom they belong to when left there. Could be the wife's brother or the next door neighbor's. We don't determine who "owns" it and that is not a provision of the contract.

The harder part of me is that all curtains go with the property in our contracts (vs just blinds or rods) which makes it a little harder to stage a property with curtains, unless you are willing to give them to the buyer when you represent the seller. You can exclude them as part of the listing and contract, but I don't like saying "you can't have that".
Web Reference:  http://www.raincityguide.com
0 votes
Ardell Della…, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Usually I remove the staging after the appraisal and well before closing and prior to the final walk through. What caused the staging to be there? Was it a last minute early closing? Earlier than expected?
Web Reference:  http://www.raincityguide.com
0 votes
Phil Leng, Agent, Kirkland, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Appreciate all the responses.
This was a real situation, albeit not a contentious one.
Property was staged, and it closed on a Friday.
Stager removed items Saturday morning.
Buyer had not yet taken possession of property.

Thanks again
Phil
0 votes
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Mike, I think I see an emoticon behind your throw it out on the lawn comment, so perhaps you weren't serious.

I'm not sure you couldn't do that, but I'm not sure you could. In landlord/tenant law the landlord does have to hold certain items for the tenant if they leave them. Not sure what the situation would be here, which is why a real estate attorney should be consulted.
0 votes
Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Don usually has the best answer, and Kary's pretty much always right, and that's how I would handle it.

A lot of questions posed by agents are hypothetical, and are raised to encourage understanding of the finer points of our practices.

Personally, there would have to be multiple verifications of a cold day in a famously hot place before I advised a buyer that they could dispose of the items with impunity.
0 votes
Kary Krismer, Agent, Renton, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Don Tepper has the best answer below, notwithstanding the fact that he probably doesn't know the terms of our local Form 22D.
0 votes
Chris Loelig…, Agent, Redmond, WA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Phil, it is clearly spelled out on NWMLS Form 22D, Optional Clauses Addendum, Paragraph 5, that we use here. If the contract has that paragraph checked and included in the contract then if it is in the house at the time of transfer of possession then it is the new buyer's property. That paragraph states that "Anything" left in the house becomes the possession of the new owner (buyer). It doesn't say "anything except what the stager left behind." The new buyer is under no obligation to return those items to the PREVIOUS owner but I have a hard time imagining a situation where the new owner wouldn't be willing to work something out with the stager.
0 votes
HLR, , Oregon
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Hi Phil, I like your questions, I see them as informing the buyers and sellers that might be reading this site. Most professionals know the answer, and it does depend on the state they are in what law to go by, so keep up the general questions, it helps the buyers and sellers that read this site on a regular bases.

Best to you all.

HLR
0 votes
Robert Bates-…, , Owosso, MI
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Absolutely not, personal items (CHATTEL) does not stay with the property unless otherwise specified by the purchase contract, If the staggers fail to remove the items in a timely fashion you should notify them that the items will be disposed of by a certain date, I would do this in writing just to cover my... so as to not be accused of improperly disposing of the property in question, Honesty and integrity are very important in this line of business where people are trusting you. So I wouldn't blow it over furniture
0 votes
Fred Glick, Agent, Mountain View, CA
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Absolutely......but, send the company a letter saying that if they do not get it by a certain date then it would be thrown out, sold, etc.

When someone buys a home, they buy everything in it, under it and over it.
Web Reference:  http://fredglick.com
0 votes
Dallas Texas, Agent, Dallas, TN
Sat Apr 30, 2011
Confused if you are a broker you should know this all ready. Based on executed contract however anything left behind would convey with the new buyer.

If you have questions regards to terms and conditions confer with your sponsoring broker who can assist you

Lynn911 Dallas Realtor & Consultant, Loan Officer, Credit Repair Advisor
The Michael Group - Dallas Business Journal Top Ranked Realtors
972-699-9111
http://www.lynn911.com
0 votes
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