Seller Beware: 58% of People Wouldn’t Report Money They Found Hidden in Their Home [Survey]
By Hanna Kielar
Imagine this: You searched through many homes for sale and finally found and purchased the house of your dreams. Okay, maybe it’s not perfect yet, but knock down a wall here and change some flooring there and you’ll be set. Demolition day comes and as you’re knocking down that wall in between the dining room and kitchen you come across a surprise — someone stashed stacks of cash in the walls.
As all the money falls out from behind the drywall you’re left with a dilemma — what do you do next? Do you report the money so it can be returned to the person? We wanted to see what the consensus was, so we sought answers: would Americans return the money or claim “finders keepers losers weepers?”
Nearly 60% Would Not Report Discovered Money, But 15% of Respondents Would Donate the Money
It may or may not surprise you that the majority of people would not report money they found in their home that didn’t belong to them. The survey showed that 58% of people claimed “finders keepers” and would not report it.
It appears that honesty, like fine wine, improves with age. When comparing generations, Gen X and Baby Boomers are more likely to report hidden money:
- 64% of Gen Z and Millenials would not report money they found in their home
- 53% of Gen X and Baby Boomers would not report money found in their home
The Charitable Silver Lining
Finding hidden money might feel like hitting the jackpot, but there’s an obvious moral dilemma of who the rightful owner is. A Robin Hood-esque silver lining was that out of the 58% that said they would not report the money, about one quarter said they would donate the money rather than keep it.
The older age groups may be more honest, but it appears that the younger groups may have a more charitable mindset. Of the respondents who said they would not report money found inside their home:
- 29% of Gen Z and Millenials would donate the money
- 22% of Gen X and Baby Boomers would donate the money
There are a lot of examples of honesty winning over selfishness, like back in 2012 when a man found $20,000 in a discarded book. He went on a mission to find the owner and planned to donate the money if he couldn’t. When a father from Utah found money hiding in the ceiling of the garage in a house he’d recently purchased, he returned the money to the rightful owners. When asked why, he said, “I’ve got two boys and we teach them to be honest and to do what is right and I knew this was a teachable moment that I would never get back again.”
Across the globe, people’s civic responsibility was tested in a study published in Science Mag. Wallets with return emails were planted across various cities and countries — some with no money, some with just under $20 and others with just under $100. The wallets with no money were reported at a rate of 46%, wallets with $13.45 were reported at 61% and wallets with $94.15 were returned at a rate of 72%.
So where does civic duty end? Does it end when the money is found in your home?
68% of People Think They Are Not Required By Law to Report the Money — Are They Right?
68% of Americans don’t believe that they’re required by law to report money they find in their home while 32% believe they’re required to do so. As for the respondents who believe that they aren’t required by law to report any money they find hidden in their home, are they right or wrong?
According to HG Legal Resources, if the owner is easily identifiable, every state has laws requiring that you return the money (or property) to the rightful owner. Even if the owner isn’t easily identifiable, most states have laws that you report the money to law enforcement so that the rightful owner has the opportunity to claim it. The laws start to vary by state when the rightful owner can’t be found or there are other complicating circumstances.
But not reporting the money is equivalent to theft in the eyes of the law — as explained by HG Legal Resources, “everyone ever accused of theft would just claim that they found the stolen property if there was not this legal obligation to try to return lost things to their owners.” The bottom line is reporting the money is your legal obligation and then courts and other laws will decide whether the money belongs to you.
Once found money is reported, laws around this scenario vary slightly on a case-by-case basis and different courts have made different rulings on similar situations. One common story is a homeowner hides cash in their home, and once they pass away, the estate often sells the home without knowing about the hidden cash. The new homeowners discover the cash and then the case goes to the court to decide whether it belongs to the estate or belongs to the new homeowners.
Since cases vary by situation, it does take legal counsel to determine who the money belongs to. Some factors that could come into play include if the money was left there knowingly, any specifications made in paperwork and legal agreements, whether or not valuables can be traced back to an owner and many other factors.
Don’t Lose Valuables: Clean Out Your Property Before Selling
In addition to hidden money, many people have found surprisingly valuable items hidden in their homes. Even old newspapers and posters can be staggeringly valuable. A man in England found vintage posters under his floor that sold for nearly $30,000. There are many stories of paintings found behind walls, priceless baseball cards discovered in attics and comic book collections recovered from closets. Keep an eye out for potentially special items and get them appraised when you prepare to sell your home.
It’s fairly clear that getting your hidden treasures back from new homeowners is unlikely, so it’s imperative you properly clean out your property. Don’t leave behind your family heirlooms or funds — check the property thoroughly for items of sentimental and monetary value. Some of the most common places where riches get left behind include:
- Crawl spaces
- In the walls or ceiling
- Behind appliances
- Under carpets
- Furniture compartments
For those hard-to-reach places like ceilings and walls, you don’t need to demolish your home. You can unscrew light switches and fixtures to take a peek inside walls, and some ceilings have easily moveable tiles that can be lifted out. Attics and crawl spaces are a lot easier to access and can help you get a better view of any potential items above the ceiling too. They are also prime hiding spots for valuable items. Keep an eye out for furniture with false bottoms or removable panels since they could hide family treasures as well.
If you find money or valuables hidden in your home, it’s best to seek legal counsel as specifics vary by state and situation. While the moral and legal dilemma of this situation stands, there are steps you can take to avoid this situation completely. While you take the time to price the value of your home, consider getting your possessions valued as well — it could keep you from making a costly mistake. And most importantly, make sure you clean your house out well before you sell your home so you don’t become another victim of “finders keepers.”
This study was conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The survey ran during August 2019.