What Stays and Goes in a Home Sale
Are you wondering what is considered a fixture in real estate sales and what isn’t? Occasionally in a home sale, some situations can be very frustrating for a buyer or a seller, conditions that should be avoidable.
One potentially aggravating occurrence often arises about “fixtures” in a home – items considered part of the house and therefore part of the sale.
When a seller removes something the buyer expected to get with the house, it can create significant tension and lead to resentment and maybe even legal proceedings.
Sometimes sellers can confuse what is a fixture or what is chattel in real estate. Chattel, in case you were wondering, is another name for personal property.
In real estate jargon, we call this real property vs. personal property in a home sale!
By getting clear from the start on what accessories are versus personal property, real estate professionals can help everyone enjoy a smoother transaction.
Part of real estate law is spelling out what is part of the house and what is not in the real estate contract.
By doing this in the purchase agreement, the potential buyer and property owner will legally be on the same page.
Real Estate Agents Confuse Part of The Real Property
Many consumers have no idea what is considered a fixture and what is seen as personal property.
In fact, many real estate agents are to blame for blurring the lines between these two things by “excluding” stuff in a listing agreement that doesn’t need to be excluded!
For example, unless a washer and dryer are “built-in,” it does not need to be excluded as it is considered “personal property” and not part of the home.
Refrigerators are also recognized as personal property unless they are built-in into the cabinetry like a “Sub-Zero.” This creates confusion on the part of the consumer when fixtures and personal property are treated in the same fashion.
Keep reading, and you will see a comprehensive discussion on what is considered “personal” property and what is considered “real estate” or part of the property when selling a home.
When you are done reading, you will know exactly what is a fixture in real estate sales.
What is A Fixture?
A fixture is legally considered something like lights, a ceiling fan, decorations, equipment, or appliances that have been attached to the house. Fixtures are regarded as part of the property, and it is a given that they will go to the buyer along with the rest of the property.
So, for argument’s sake, anything permanently affixed or attached is considered part of the home. Items nailed, screwed, cemented, glued, or bolted to walls and ceilings are considered fixtures.
For instance, if you were to buy a house from a seller and discovered that he had removed all the doorknobs when he moved out, you’d understandably be angry. The doorknobs are part of the house and are something you expected to get when you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on them.
Fortunately, sellers rarely run off with doorknobs. They are fixtures and, obviously, are included in the sale. But there are other things that you as a buyer may consider accessories that the seller does not.
Another example of fixtures in real estate would be all of the lights. Lighting is obviously wired into the home and stays with the property unless otherwise excluded.
There are a few ways to look at fixtures in a home to determine their status, including:
Attachments to The House
As a general rule, when something is screwed, nailed, or glued to the walls, ceiling, or floors, it can be considered an attachment.
Even if you can technically remove the item, it may still be considered an accessory – things like custom cabinets, built-in speakers, etc.
Because they are considered a permanent attachment, the seller cannot remove these items unless excluded in writing.
An Integral Part of The Home
The item may also be regarded as part of a home, like a refrigerator (if built-in), a cooking range, or a porch swing. All of these things qualify as fixtures.
In the case of a porch swing, the method of attachment would become important. Is the swing directly screwed into the porch, or is it hanging from hooks?
How something is attached becomes vital in whether it is part of the real estate or not.
Guidance From The Greater Boston Real Estate Board
Your state’s purchase contract is probably particular about what is a fixture and what is not.
In Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board standard purchase and sale agreement has language that discusses what is and is not a fixture.
The verbiage is very helpful because it outlines in detail the buyer and seller what is and is not part of the property. There is a precise definition of what conveys and what does not. There is a minimal grey area.
“Included in the sale as part of said premises are the buildings, structures, and improvements now thereon, and the fixtures belonging to the SELLER and used in connection therewith, including, if any, all wall-to-wall carpeting, drapery rods, automatic garage doors openers, Venetian blinds, window shades, screens, screen doors, storm windows and doors, awnings, shutters, furnaces, heaters, heating equipment, stoves, ranges, oil and gas burners, and fixtures appurtenant thereto, water heaters, plumbing, and bathroom fixtures, garbage disposals, electric and other lighting fixtures, mantels, outside television antennas, fences, gates, trees, shrubs, plants, sprinkler system, and ONLY IF BUILT-IN, refrigerators, air conditioning equipment, ventilators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryer; and but excluding _______.”
Other states would also have similar language in their purchase agreements too.
How Personal Property And Fixtures Can Become Confused
It is not hard to imagine how the line between a fixture and personal property could become muddled. If a home had an alcove above the stove that contained a high-end microwave, the buyer might imagine that the appliance comes with the house, especially if the microwave looked to be a part of the style of all the appliances in the kitchen.
But the seller might have just bought the microwave to replace an old one. It’s not physically attached to the house, just sitting in its alcove. All he has to do is unplug it and take it when he leaves.
A few years ago, while selling a home in Southborough, Mass, a seller decided to take the control box for an underground dog fence. Needless to say, it was not excluded, and the buyer was heartbroken about it. These are the kind of things that can add quite a bit of stress to a real estate transaction.
When there is a specific item or items that could cause confusion, it is smart to address them upfront. A real estate agent can list an exclusion in the multiple listing service and then make sure the items make their way into the real estate contract.
Real Estate attorneys should be made aware of any exclusions to be addressed in the contract of sale.
Items That Cause The Most Issues When it Comes to Fixtures
You would expect that the things that cause the most issues in a real estate transaction are the ones that have some grey area.
These are the kind of stuff that could be considered real property or personal property.
Some examples are:
- Window treatments – this is one of my biggest pet peeves because it seems so many real estate agents do not grasp the concept. Curtains and drapes are considered personal property and do not stay with a home. Curtain rods and Blinds, however, are attached and therefore remain with the house. Window coverings, therefore, should not be listed as exclusions in the home sale as they are not considered a fixture in real estate but personal property.
- A swing set can go either way because some swing sets are just sitting in the grass. This would be considered personal property as it is not attached to anything. However, a swing set cemented into the ground would be regarded as a fixture or part of the property.
- A basketball hoop – the same can be said for a basketball hoop. It goes without saying that if the hoop is cemented into the driveway, it will stay with the home unless excluded from the sale. A free-standing hoop, however, would be considered personal property. It is a moveable object, just like many other things.
- A mirror – this should be simple, but often it is not. If the mirror is bolted to the wall, it stays. If it is hanging on a hook, it does not remain with the home.
- A wall-mounted television – this is another one that really can be grey to a lot of people. A flat-screen television should be excluded if an owner desires to take them to avoid confusion. Keep in mind anything bolted, screwed in, or attached to a wall is considered part of the house! In this case, the television wall mount is attached, not the flat-screen television itself. The television is considered a piece of personal property, whereas the bracket is considered a piece of equipment attached to the home. A sub-issue that often surfaces with wall-mounted televisions is how the holes in the wall left behind will be addressed. Do not assume anything here when buying a home. If you want the holes patched, this should be dealt with upfront and agreed to in writing by the parties.
- Lights – this one is on my list not because it’s hard to distinguish that they are part of a home but because many homeowners forget to exclude lights they want to take with them. Some sneaky owners will take a light and put another in its place, thinking the buyer will not remember. This is not a good way to conduct yourself in a real estate transaction, but it happens.
- Dog fence – this is an interesting one only because some sellers think it is perfectly acceptable to take the unit that powers the underground wiring. This is something that should become an exclusion.
- Other things in the yard – Personal possessions in the yard quite frequently are assumed to stay by some home buyers. Things like a bench, fountain, or statue are considered personal property. These things would not stay with the home unless they were cemented into the ground. They become part of the land when they are cemented in but not otherwise.
Clarifying What is A Fixture in Real Estate
When a Realtor lists a home, they should be extremely thorough in defining what is included in the home sale. When the listing is put up, it should contain all the fixtures excluded from the sale. I will repeat when excluding items from a sale; personal property should not be included, creating further confusion.
The same attention to detail must be applied when the Offer to Purchase is drafted. When the multiple listing service is thorough and exact in its descriptions of what comes with the house, it can be referred to later in the real estate contract.
The same information on what is included in the sale and what is excluded must be made clear in the offer. Quite often, real estate agents confuse buyers and sellers on what stays and what goes.It is vital for an agent to discuss what is a fixture in real estate with their clients before listing a home for sale!Click To Tweet
What is an Exclusion in Real Estate?
An exclusion in home sales is when you want to take something that is considered a fixture. Given that it is a fixture and assumed to stay with the house, you must exclude it to take it with you. There is a section in the multiple listing service where a home seller can have their real estate agent list the exclusions for the property.
As a seller thinking through what you want to exclude from the property is essential to avoiding disputes with home buyers. Some of the most common exclusions in real estate sales are:
- Light fixtures
- Ceiling fans
- Wall-mounted speakers
- Ceiling lights
- A mirror bolted to a wall
- Built-in shelving
- Special landscape plantings
- A fireplace insert
These are all examples of fixtures because they are all physical property that is affixed to the house.
Make Sure You And Your Realtor Are On The Same Page
If you are going to sell your house, you want to ensure that you and your Realtor are always on the same page.
A good real estate agent should be checking in with you, particularly at the beginning of the sale, to make sure you understand what is going on and that your wishes are being honored in the sales process.
What is included and excluded should be discussed before the home is ever listed and it makes its way to the public.
When you talk to your Realtor about the listing, it is a good idea to clarify what you consider personal property and what you think are fixtures. The Realtor can include all this information in the listing.
After the listing is up, the real estate agent can also keep in mind any areas where the confusion arises and address them with the buyer’s agent. during the sales process.
The last thing you want to be involved in is a situation where the buyer intends to back out of the home sale. This is stress that can be easily avoided!
Other Important Clarifications
One of the other bones of contention that often comes up in a home sale is extraneous things that the seller decides they should leave behind for the prospective buyer to have.
Sometimes the customer loves the fact that these things are left behind, and other times they want them gone. What kind of items am I talking about?
- Paint – some buyers want all the paint left behind to do touch-ups while others have no use for it and want it removed.
- Extra tile – again, sometimes people want extra tiles to stay, and other times they plan on removing what is there.
- Gardening items, pesticides, etc. – some buyers love to have these things, while others don’t.
- Wood – Some sellers see leaving wood for burning in the fireplace or wood stove as a significant plus.
- Miscellaneous items – anything that can be used around the house like garden hoses, garbage cans, household cleaners, etc.
The point here is you should never take anything for granted when it comes to leaving items behind. A buyer should always be asked if they want anything left behind that is considered personal property.
None of these things are considered house fixtures, so they need to be removed if the buyer does not want them. Only if something is part of real property does it stay.
Do a Final Walk-Through
When you are buying a home, it is always advisable to do a final walk-through. One of the primary purposes of doing so is to make sure that everything in the house is the same as when you signed your contract with the seller. While most buyers are looking for issues like a mover dinging a wall or other potential structural or mechanical problems, looking over what was supposed to be included is essential as well.
Over my thirty-four years of selling real estate, there have been a handful of occasions where something was removed that shouldn’t have been. In fact, one time, the seller had already left the state with all of their belongings on a truck and decided they wanted two lights that were not excluded.
The buyer, of course, wanted them and would not settle for what the seller put in their place. It took some wrangling, of course, with the attorneys, but a holdback agreement was made whereby the seller would not get a couple of thousand dollars of their proceeds until the lights were returned to the buyers. This is just another reason that a final walk-through should never be skipped!
Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of what is a fixture in home sales. Learning what is assumed to stay in a home and what is considered personal property is essential to have a smooth sale.
Additional Home Selling Articles Worth Reading
- Top reasons why home sales fall through – do you know some of the most common reasons why a real estate transaction will fall through? Get all of the reasons via The Rochester Real Estate Blog.
- What to check at the final walk-through – The final walk-through is one of the final states in the buy-sell process. See some of the essential things to be concerned about via Tammy Emineth on Massachusetts Real Estate News.
- Top home selling tips – get some of the best advice on how to sell your home quickly and for the most money from multiple real estate bloggers on Sell My Home In Metrowest, Massachusetts.
Use these additional resources for making smart decisions when buying or selling a home.
About the Author: The above Real Estate information on what is a fixture in real estate vs. personal property was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 34+ Years.
Are you thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate Sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Natick, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton, and Uxbridge MA.