Real Estate Agents Dealing with Foreclosure: What to Do with the Items Left Behind

Most of the home sales you take on as a real estate agent are probably straightforward. The sellers hire you to sell their home, or you get a call from buyers in the market for a new place to live. You have the expectation that if the home your client buys is still occupied, the current owners will remove their personal belongings prior to the closing.

That’s not always the case when you sell a home that’s in foreclosure. In fact, you may be left with an array of personal belongings ranging from valuable to worthless, and you have got to know what to do with them. Here’s how you should handle it.

Coordinate with the Lender

The first thing you will need to do is contact the lender, who may be your client. It’s important to make sure that the lender has complied with all legally mandated notifications and processes. These usually include giving the tenant or owner of the property a chance to claim their personal belongings.

Arizona is a Title Theory state, which means that most foreclosures can be handled without going to court. Once the owner of a property is in default, the lender must record a Notice of Trustee Sale.

Property owners in Arizona have until the sale date of a property to bring their mortgage up to date. If the homeowner is attempting to make good on their debts, they may leave their belongings in place in the hopes that they will be able to move back in.

In California, most foreclosures occur outside of the court system, too. However, lenders must provide both a Notice of Default and a Notice of Sale. Owners have until five days before the sale to redeem the property by bringing their payments up to date.

It’s always a good idea to check with the lender and get copies of relevant paperwork. That way, there won’t be any surprises as you move forward with the sale of the property.

Contacting the Owners

You should make a good-faith effort to contact the owners of any property that has been left behind after a foreclosure. Some real estate agents will agree to rent a storage unit for a specified period – in fact, in some states, such a rental is required by law.

Personal items such as photographs and family heirlooms have sentimental as well as monetary value. While you may see such items as an inconvenience, attempting to contact the owners will give them a chance to reclaim items that are irreplaceable. It will also protect you from any issues and recriminations down the line.

Dispose of Property

If you don’t have any luck contacting the owners – or if they tell you they don’t have the means or desire to reclaim their personal items – then the next step is to dispose of whatever they left behind.

You’ll probably have a collection of items that need to be trashed, recycled, sold, or donated. There are trash removal companies that can handle all of it – and you won’t need to sort through it before they pick it up. They’ll charge you based on how much you need to dispose of. Usually these companies can take trash, electronics, recyclables – pretty much anything you can imagine.

Of course, it’s possible that there might be very valuable items included in the mix. If there is jewelry or valuable artwork, you may want to store it for a time before you sell it, especially if you have not been able to get in touch with the owners.

You’ll need to pay a monthly fee for storage. But, it may be worthwhile to protect yourself from an angry homeowner who shows up after six months wanting to know what you did with their great-grandmother’s locket or their family photos.


Ultimately, when it comes to disposing of personal property after a foreclosure, you’ll want to check your state laws and your personal feelings before you proceed. You might have the right to sell someone’s diamond jewelry, but you also need to be able to live with the choices you make. A temporary storage unit may be your best bet in those cases.

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