The Housing Scene

Sellers Take More Than Their Furniture

When Paul Henderson's mother took every single light bulb with her when she moved, the Tacoma, Washington, agent was so embarrassed that he went back after she left and replaced them all.

And so began a discussion recently on ActiveRain, the real estate site where Henderson asked about the worst damage his fellow agents have seen sellers do when moving out.

As you might expect, the responses were amazing.

The harm some disgruntled owners have done to their homes when they are forced to leave because of a foreclosure or short sale is legendary. But the destruction Marte Cliff saw after an owner had his house repossessed might just take the prize.

"They took the furnace, the kitchen sink and the range, the pressure tank, all the light fixtures and even the switch plates," said the former Seattle-area agent, who now writes a real estate marketing blog.

But that's not the worst of it, according to Cliff: "Then they threw rocks down the well."

To add insult to injury: When the well driller came to drill a new well, Cliff gave him a map and showed him where the septic tank and drain field were, telling him not to go near them. But the driller paid no heed to her warning, nor to the map.

"He didn't pay any attention," she said, and his rig "fell right into the septic tank."

Likewise, when Mike Alexander of Buyers Broker of Florida in Windermere previewed a luxury short sale, the place was bare to the walls. "No fixtures, no kitchen, no bathroom, no doors, no flooring, no A/C ... They even pulled the electrical wires up into the attic. The home was really stripped to the core."

The backstory: The husband had moved out during the sale, leaving his wife. So she got even by running an ad for contractors to come buy whatever they wanted.

Scott Godzyk of Godzyk Real Estate Services in Manchester, New Hampshire, had a similar experience. "It's one thing to take the whole kitchen and bath with you, but another to (put) a hole in every wall and cement the toilets, sinks and tubs," he said.

Mike Castle of Century 21 M&M Associates in Capitola, California, once saw a house where all the light fixtures and appliances were ripped out. Furthermore, the seller kicked holes in the deck. "This person was not happy about having to sell and move out," he remarked.

But sellers don't have to be angry to do damage. Often it's unintended, but it's destruction nonetheless.

For example, Nancy Holloway of the Regeneration Property Group in Anaheim, California, represented the buyer of a house in which the "moron seller" took a chisel to the kitchen tile to remove the built-in stove.

This, even though the contract clearly stated the stove would remain behind.

Jill Sackler of Charles Rutenberg Realty in Merrick, New York, once bought a house in which the seller removed the refrigerator, which was supposed to stay, plus the washing machine. The seller also "tried to yank the dryer out of the wall but couldn't ... so it just broke instead."

A few months later, the seller must have had a touch of remorse. She called, offering to return the broiler pan she and her husband had taken from the oven.

Durant Vick of Roanoke, Virginia's The Real Estate Group saw a house in which the seller had placed one of those spiky plastic mats on a hardwood floor. The mats are meant to go on top of carpet, not wood, so it left holes in the floor that had to be filled in.

Lots of times, though, the damage isn't done by the seller: The culprit may be the moving company, or the owner who is moving himself.

In Clarksville, Tennessee, Debbie Reynolds of PenFed Realty, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, saw a house where the seller drove his rental truck too close to the house and tore off the siding. "It looked pretty bad," she said.

Teri Pacitto of RE/MAX Olson & Associates in Westlake Village, California, recalled an incident when "professional" movers scratched the dark wood stair treads and flooring while moving the seller's furniture. The floors had to be completely redone.

And in Stuart, Florida, Gabe Sanders of BlueWater Real Estate Services said he had a case once where the moving van "took out the garage" when it backed into it. The moving company paid for the damages, but the buyer decided to back out of the deal anyway.

One of the most frequent bugaboos in real estate is sellers who leave their homes a mess, failing to clean up behind them when they leave.

But dirt is one thing; filth is another.

Lyn Sims of RE/MAX Suburban in Schaumburg, Illinois, had one house where the seller left the refrigerator full of spoiled food. And Pat and Wayne Harriman of Harriman Real Estate in Wallingford, Connecticut, rented a house to a foreign potentate who left the place in shambles -- cigarette burns in the carpet and floors, walls scratched and dented, food left in the sink and fridge.

The landlord went after the crown prince for damages, but he had diplomatic immunity. So the landlord paid for the repairs.

Often the seller pays for any damages, one way or another. But give credit to these and other realty pros, who sometimes foot the bill out of their own pockets to keep their deals afloat.

Dan Tabit of Northstone Real Estate in Sammamish, Washington, is one such agent. When his seller left some large holes in the drywall where the TV was mounted, the buyer was livid. But Tabit stepped into the breach to fix the damage himself.

"Everyone was happy in the end," he recalled.

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