- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

One of the most exciting things about owning a new home is moving day. That’s the moment when you finally get to start putting your own stamp on things. The seller has moved out, and the way is clear, or at least broom-clean, for your own furniture, paintings and other paraphernalia.

Or is it?

What happens when you don’t want what conveys?

“Buyers are in terrible shape most of the time,” says Joan Habib, a real estate broker with Long & Foster’s Foxhall office in Northwest. “Frequently, they just throw up their hands and accept all kinds of terrible things.”

Through the years, she has seen buyers grudgingly accept storage sheds, radiators, 1970s-era NuTone intercoms and even built-in vacuuming systems from the ‘20s in an effort to not alienate the seller.

Items that normally convey include fixtures, or pieces that are actually attached in some way to the house and can’t be removed without damage. In addition, something that is custom-made for the space, such as drapes or some other window treatment, is likely to stay as well. Even that furnace from 1903 will be there for the buyer to deal with.

But then there are the items that are just, well, left. That’s why it’s important to be aware of what you might end up with from the very beginning.

“Prevention is the best cure,” says Blanche Evans, editor of Realty Times, an online magazine of real estate news and advice. “If a home is not well maintained, the higher the likelihood that things will be left behind.”

Don’t just depend on the seller or seller’s agent to tell you what will stay and what will go. Any good real estate agent should make sure all conveyable items are duly noted in the sales contract.

Many agents use a standard form, or check-off list, of conveyable items. Problems can come, however, with those pieces not on the regular list, such as a second refrigerator or even a hot tub.

“Don’t be surprised,” Mrs. Habib says. “A good agent never lets the client be surprised.”

One way to ensure that what you’re left with is closer to what you really want is to compile your own list during the walk-through. That will allow you to note all questionable pieces, as well as those that are regularly conveyed. List the items, such as that old car on blocks in the garage, that you want the seller to take away.

“Look at areas that are crowded with things that have been left for a really long time,” Mrs. Evans says. “Be sure to put into your contract that all personal belongings, paint cans and building materials will be removed before final closing. You want to work to make sure that everything is gone.”

Because so many homes in the Washington metropolitan area are sold “as is,” the walk-through is crucial to staving off your own surprises.

“People tend to look and see as far as the light will go,” Mrs. Evans says, “but you need to take a flashlight and look beyond.”

In today’s seller’s market, however, what the seller wants to leave and what he wants to take may hardly be negotiable. The seller is in a commanding position; if the buyer doesn’t want to take that jungle gym or basketball hoop, the seller can easily find a buyer who will.

But don’t be afraid to try.

“It can be a matter for negotiation,” Mrs. Habib says. “If you are giving them everything else that they want, they may move an item.”

Despite your best intentions, there can still be a few surprises. Some items are left behind unwittingly, such as the set of golf clubs that Mrs. Evans found pushed to the back of the rafters in a little-used attic when she bought her new house.

“People will leave things that have been there for decades,” Mrs. Evans says.

Lou Steadwell, a real estate salesman with the New Washington Land Co. in Dupont Circle, says sellers will often leave behind cars that haven’t run for a while and other big-ticket items that are not quite in working order.

“Sometimes things like that can be donated for a tax credit to Goodwill or some other agency,” he says. “We’ll try to arrange that before move-in so the seller will get a tax credit and the buyer won’t have to deal with it.”

Of course, there are certain items that can convey that may become expensive for the buyer to remove. Removal of a disused oil tank, for example, needs to follow local and state codes. A 19th-century safe can cost thousands of dollars to be unscrewed, disassembled and carted away.

In one case, a dining room table left behind in an apartment had been there for so long that it was too wide to fit in the elevators, which had been replaced in the interim.

One solution is for buyers to arrange for an escrow account from which the expenses related to getting rid of an unwanted conveyance can be deducted.

“Setting up an escrow account ensures that if anything has to be removed, it’s covered,” says Mrs. Evans, who also suggests having your agent work with the seller’s agent to set up a timeline for picking up unwanted items that are found unexpectedly.

Sometimes buyers and sellers can also negotiate cash payments in lieu of removal.

“It’s not uncommon for us to do that,” Mr. Steadwell says.

Of course, there are those folks who just don’t want to use someone else’s stove or refrigerator, in which cases what would normally convey becomes a liability. Normal conveyances can also be problematic for people with young children.

“I frequently find that people with young children don’t want that second refrigerator or hot tub,” Mr. Steadwell says. “They will very commonly ask that those be removed.”

Indeed, that left-behind item can become a piece of serendipity, especially when new homeowners remodel an old space.

“It can become a centerpiece,” says Bruce Wentworth of Wentworth Inc., an architect and licensed contractor who specializes in remodeling. For example, the lines of an addition can echo those found in the original item.

“A lot of my clients end up with pianos,” he says. “Some of them will even take lessons.”

Mr. Steadwell remembers a client who brought a property with a “magnificent” treehouse but was uncertain about whether to leave it up or take it down.

“I told them if they didn’t want it, I’d take it,” he says, “but they decided to keep it and ended up having children in a very short time. Years later, they told me how delighted they were that they had opted to keep that treehouse.”

And there’s another possibility. You can use the item to make something else.

In one case, Mr. Wentworth recalls, the home buyer cut down the dining room table that had been left by the previous owner and used the wood as headboards in the guest room. He also finds that homeowners frequently want to remodel those unwanted storage sheds as playhouses for their children.

“I had a client in Palisades who used an old kitchen hutch in the breakfast room,” he says. “And I had one on Capitol Hill who ended up reglazing and reinstalling the old porcelain kitchen sink that was left. It ended up costing her about as much as a new stainless-steel sink would have.”

So you don’t always have to remove what you don’t like. Sometimes all you have to do is cover it up.

“A brass plate can cover up a lot of things,” Mr. Wentworth says.

Mr. Wentworth even has a number of clients who have been inspired enough by a pre-existing vacuum system to resurrect it with new machinery.

“I find that frequently,” he says. “People keep the tubes and put in up-to-date equipment.”

He also advises clients to hold on to those old radiators.

“These days, I encourage people to keep their system,” he says. “Hot-water heat is a great way to heat your home.”

Of course, if conditions in the market change, then buyers may be able to negotiate a bit more when it comes to removing that harvest gold appliance.

“I’ve seen a few more instances with houses with just one offer,” Mrs. Habib says. “It’s possible that buyers may find themselves back in the catbird seat.”


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