Things an Owner Can Legally Remove From a Foreclosure Home

What Stays With the House After Foreclosure?

man and woman carrying rug in house
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Ever wonder what you can legally take from a home in foreclosure? Depending on what you remove from a foreclosure home, you could get sued by the bank. Here is how it works: Personal property is that which is not real estate. However, fixtures are real estate because they are not personal property; they are affixed to the land, to the house, which means fixtures stay with the house.

But that doesn't stop some desperate home owners from smashing walls to rip out Romex wiring or copper pipes and selling them for scrap in back alleys. Some misguided home owners, angry at the bank for foreclosing, think it's somehow permissible to turn the home into a total nightmare.

They don't stop to think about the consequences for the next set of first-time home buyers who have pinched, saved and worked hard to qualify to buy a home priced at the bottom of the market, in "as is" condition, from a lender who couldn't sell it on the county courthouse steps because the home was trashed by its previous occupants.

Stripping Assets From a Home in Foreclosure

I look at many homes after foreclosure and cringe at what I might find inside when I put the key into the lock, providing, of course, there is a lock or even a door. The last REO home I toured had the front door boarded up because the door was missing.

The following items are assets, fixtures that should not be removed from a home that is in foreclosure:

  • Cabinets and counter tops
  • Appliances such as stoves, built-in microwaves, dishwashers, etc.
  • Furnaces and air conditioning units
  • Plumbing and copper pipes
  • Romex or other electrical wiring
  • Light fixtures and ceiling fans
  • Doors and hardware
  • Flooring, ceilings and walls
  • Windows and vents
  • Medicine cabinets, sinks, tubs, toilets and showers
  • Sink drains and faucets
  • Built-in shelving / bookcases
  • Landscaping, fencing, built-in pools and spas

Assets Home Owners Can Remove from Foreclosed Homes

If a home owner leaves behind personal belongings, the lender will seize those items. If the lender stores them, the home owner could be charged for storage.

Here are items a home owner can remove without fearing prosecution or legal ramifications from the bank:

  • All personal items that were not converted to fixtures when brought into the home by the owner such as furniture, clothing and common household items such as dishes, pans and silverware
  • Mirrors that are free-hanging
  • Personal artwork and photographs from walls
  • Stationary table and floor lamps
  • Pets and pet-related items such as dog houses, aquariums, bird cages
  • Easily removable (not affixed) window coverings such as drapes or curtains
  • Refrigerators, washers and dryers, televisions, computers and stereo equipment
  • Throw rugs and area rugs
  • Indoor plants
  • Portable fans and heaters

Vandalism of Homes in Foreclosure

It's not all right to spray paint the walls or windows with graphic images or tagging. I've seen homes where every window looked like it had been whopped by a baseball bat. Some previous occupants deposited feces on counter tops or in the middle of the living room floor. One can only imagine where other odors originated from. Sometimes home owners turn on all the water faucets and plug up the drains before departing.

People who vandalize a home they are losing through foreclosure are not harming the bank by their illegal actions. They are harming innocent home buyers who, just like they once were, are hoping to achieve the American dream of home ownership. In short, owners who trash their homes are hurting themselves.

It's senseless, it's stupid and above all, vandalism is against the law.

What Happens to Home Owners Who Strip Their Homes?

According to a representative from Downey Savings and Loan, it's the home owner's insurance companies that are most likely to pursue and prosecute home owners who vandalize or strip their homes while in foreclosure. When the bank receives title to the home through foreclosure proceedings, many banks submit an insurance claim to the existing insurance company to cover damage and missing real property items.

Insurance companies then actively go after the owners because the company has faced a loss due to the home owner's intentional behavior. Believe me, insurance companies are relentless, committed to collection and will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. They can also garnish wages and seize bank accounts after a judgment.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.