Real Estate News & Commentary

Finding Great Stuff – Another Perk to Buying Houses

Expertise: Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
23 Articles Written
Junk

Why do sellers leave things, I’m talking really nice things, in houses when they sell?

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I have no idea.

Perhaps they conjure bad memories, maybe it belonged to distant family members, could be their tastes have changed so they’re leaving it in their past, maybe the move is their fresh start. I have no idea why sellers leave great stuff, but they do, and it’s another advantage to you when you buy real estate.

Here’s a photo of my latest garden project – making a rock walkway out of gorgeous rock left at a property we recently purchased.

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I’m an avid gardener (like I need another hobby), and have a 2 acre yard which gives me plenty to do outside. We have a very large area in the back that I lovingly named my “rescue” garden as it is filled with plantings, bird baths, fountains, stones, trellis, trees, benches, etc. all “rescued” from houses we have purchased.

One of my favorite finds is my piano. Such a beautiful, perfect instrument and piece of furniture that inspired me to take piano lessons at this late stage in life. Why would anyone leave such a beautiful thing? Why, indeed.

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I continue to be thrilled at the opportunity to scavenge, not just the house, but also the yards every time we make a purchase. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t take plants from properties where the yard is in good shape, only the ones where the plants will be removed to make way for improved landscaping. And who knows, anyway, if the next owner would appreciate the bird baths and fountains like I will..?

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We’ve been left tons of tools and yard equipment (mowers, edgers, leaf blowers, etc.), ladders, dishes, vases, indoor plants (our sunroom is filled quite nicely), dressers, desks, lots of upholstery, TVs, VCRs and DVD players, on and on. I don’t think we’ve gotten a car, boat, or motorcycle yet though some of our investor friends have. Nice score there!

And, I have friends who love when I call and say, “Wanna go check out the house we just purchased?” Let the treasure hunt begin!

Having a seller leave great stuff is no longer a surprise, but still always thrilling. What continues to surprise me, however, is how many properties we purchase where the owners simply pack a suitcase and leave. Truly! We have purchased multiple houses (I don’t even know how many anymore) that were completely filled and in tact after closing. Then, what do you do?

We have had yard sales (way too much effort), literally left “open houses”, sold to salvage and/or resellers, and/or spent thousands at the dump. In one house, 48 tires – very used – were left in the attic………

Related: BP Radio Podcast 002: Starting Out with Karen Rittenhouse – Subject To, Direct Mail, and Investing from a Woman’s Perspective

Years ago, we purchased a property and the seller left a lot of decent furniture and larger things, no clothes or items left in the closets. Not knowing a better plan, I posted an ad on Craigslist including photos:

Moving. Multiple-furnishings, etc. FREE to a new home. Come and get it. Bring a truck. House will be open from noon to 2pm.

We weren’t there. Didn’t want to be. We went to the house about 2:30pm. It was completely empty. We were thrilled. Nope, no damage to the house – nothing stolen like hardware or fixtures. Only the “stuff” left by the sellers was gone. Hooray!

Once we had an “open house yard sale” and many came through to buy – cheap! After the sale, a flea market person paid for what was left and had it all hauled off. They should have made a fortune off everything that was there – furnishings, clothing, dishes, bookshelves, TONS of tools, you name it. Almost 2000 square feet of “stuff” for about $400. Win/win.

We purchase anywhere from 5-10 houses a month so, I’m telling you, we get a lot of stuff. A friend suggested I open a salvage store. Hah! So-not-interested.

So, I’m curious, what’s some of the great stuff you’ve found in your purchases? And how do you get rid of all the excess you don’t want? Maybe we should start a BiggerPockets Flea Market!

Photo: Hani Amir

Karen Rittenhouse has been investing in real estate full time since January 2005. In that time, she has purchased hundreds of single family properties, opened a full-service real estate company, a ...
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    Glenn Schworm
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Karen, first off nice article, next, you’re killing me as that was my next topic! LOL We too have a ton of items from houses including a Piano from the mid 1800’s, a moped from the 1970’s in perfect condition, tons of lawn decorations (nice ones), a hot tub, and so much more. The best one however was cleaning out a mess of a home and on the floor was a white paper bag. Wrapped up in 3 additional bags we found over $8000.00 in cash! We could have very easily just thrown it out as garbage! Glad we didn’t!! That was a nice day! Has never happened since but that sure was a fun day!
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Oh, my gosh, Glenn!! So we can now assume those bills weren’t marked? How amazing! I forgot to mention the hot tubs. So many! And we have 2 at one house we are in the process of renovating right now. I usually just give them to any of the workers who want them. I’m never sure how well they work. Thanks for the comment and I’m sorry for stealing your thunder. I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again…. 🙂
    Kevin Yeats
    Replied over 6 years ago
    New reality show? American Pickers – Real Estate Investors finds?
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Great idea Kevin! Sharon
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Wow! I’m so there, Kevin! Every week, they could feature a different one of us from BiggerPockets finding amazing treasure! Such a great idea!
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Wow! I’m so there, Kevin! Every week, they could feature a different one of us from BiggerPockets finding amazing treasure! Such a great idea!
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Hey Karen – I need better quality “stuff” left behind. LOL. I haven’t had anything nearly that good. I am envious! Sharon Reply Report comment
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Well, Sharon, I have plenty to share. Come on down! 🙂
    Sharon Vornholt
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Hey Karen – I need better quality “stuff” left behind. LOL. I haven’t had anything nearly that good. I am envious! Sharon
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Well, Sharon, I have plenty to share. Come on down! 🙂 Reply Report comment
    Mike McKinzie
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Great article. I never run into this these days but many years ago I did. The two reasons I don’t run into this now is that I have not ever seen the last ten houses I bought, plus the fact that every one of them already had a tenant living there. They were not turnkey rentals, they were desperate investors that one of my PMs referred to me. (another great advantage to having a PM). But back when my father and I had a Real Estate brokerage, we ran into everything imaginable, even cars and boats. We just donated whatever we found or hauled it to the dump. Maybe I need to start checking out some vacated properties to buy!?
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Well, the properties aren’t vacated – before or after we buy! Naturally, most of them do come empty, but plenty are not! Keep looking for cars and boats!
    adam
    Replied over 6 years ago
    You better hope the IRS isn’t monitoring this blog…Unreported Income they will say! LOL
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Oh, so you’re assuming it’s unreported?!? 😉
    Dan Nolen
    Replied over 6 years ago
    We have a house under contract right now and it has lots of stuff in it. It’s supposed to be cleared out before we buy it, but I’m not convinced that’s going to happen. Thanks for the great ideas about what to do!
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Hope you get some great stuff, Dan!
    Dennis
    Replied over 6 years ago
    So far lots of money, I found an old change purse with 4 Morgan silver dollars. A few guns, a sterling silver knife and fork set, a stuffed armadillo, and a very realistic but made of fiber glass Rhino head. The last wholesale buy and then re-wholesale (too far gone for my budget) was completely furnished with antique furniture and Oriental carpets. I sold the lot for $2000 which is what I paid for the house. There was an urban legend the owner had lots of money from $10k to by some accounts $100k hidden in the house. I can tell you the way the guy was living he had nothing to his name. This didn’t stop the locals from breaking in 3 times just to make sure, but they got it out of their system and left the next owner alone.
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Dennis: We’re all waiting to hear, do you still have the armadillo and rhino head? And, maybe the locals stopped breaking in because they found the $100,000? What a great story. Reply Report comment
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Dennis: We’re all waiting to hear, do you still have the armadillo and rhino head? And, maybe the locals stopped breaking in because they found the $100,000? What a great story.
    Michael
    Replied over 6 years ago
    The hunt is on. I am still waiting to find the gold coins under the floorboards in the attic. When there is scrap metal we call the junk guys but require them to take it all not just the copper and other metals. The craigslist thing works as well for furniture and such….. I have a piano now but they painted it and trying to figure if there is any value to it. Let you know what we find if any. I have a warehouse full of stuff now that I have to deal with soon so trying not to collect things anymore. LOL
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Michael: We had a storage building for a while but it was so much hassle getting things there and back that we’ve pretty much abandoned that habit… Now, we let everyone run get what they want and let scavengers come take the rest! Keep me posted on your successes!
    Michael
    Replied over 6 years ago
    LOL. Great minds think alike. Gone with the warehouse storage very soon!
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Michael: It’s just not worth the time and hassle, as a rule, is it?!? 🙂
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Michael: It’s just not worth the time and hassle, as a rule, is it?!? 🙂
    Frank
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Sorry for my delayed response. Congrats on all the new finds you have come across. I have yet to purchase my first property, but I would be eager to find anything useful, functional left behind by the seller. 5-10 house a month?… How much [wo]manpower do you have behind your business? That’s impressive
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Hi Frank: haha!! Yeah, we have a full time staff of 12 which includes our real estate agents, bookkeepers, and our property management team as well as our acquisition team. Certainly couldn’t do those numbers alone! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
    Karen Rittenhouse
    Replied over 6 years ago
    Hi Frank: haha!! Yeah, we have a full time staff of 12 which includes our real estate agents, bookkeepers, and our property management team as well as our acquisition team. Certainly couldn’t do those numbers alone! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
    Chris L. Investor from New York, NY
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Have you considered having people bid on all the possessions pawn-star style? That way you can actually make money off the possessions and have one person responsible for clearing everything out. Or maybe you could build relationships with certain auctioneers/antique collectors/movers etc and have them pay a flat fee for everything in the house with the stipulation that it’s cleared out by a certain time?
    Karen Rittenhouse Flipper/Rehabber from Greensboro, NC
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great ideas, Chris. We have had people from flea market type establishments come take it all, or be responsible for trying to sell it. We do so many, that we don’t want to take the time or get bogged down with an auction type event, but it would be fun and worth it if I was only doing 1 or 2 a year! Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation.