dcsimg
We research, you save.
Got Questions On Rates? (855) 610-2972

What stays, what goes when you buy a home?

By   |  Posted in First-Time Homebuyers

If you're buying a home, you might well be concerned about what's included in the sale and what's not. Do you get the brand-new refrigerator? The potted plants? The area rugs? The crystal chandelier?

The answer: maybe.

Generally speaking, anything that's attached to the property is considered a "fixture," and all fixtures are sold with the property. Examples include window shutters, ceiling fans, track lighting and built-in shelving systems.

"If it's bolted in," says Jim Walker, a realty agent with 1st American Realty in Carmichael, Calif., "it's pretty obvious that it's supposed to stay."

Anything that's not attached can be removed by the seller. Examples include furniture, decorative accessories and most artwork hung on the walls.

It can get complicated

While the fixture rules might seem straightforward, it can get complicated. Items like appliances, playground equipment, window coverings and big-screen TVs could be fixtures if they're attached or not fixtures if they're freestanding.

By way of example, Harvey Jacobs, a real estate attorney with Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, a law firm in Rockville, Md., recalls a case in which sellers removed mature plants from large planters in a backyard. The planters, cemented down, were fixtures. The plants, not in the ground, were personal property.

But Jacobs adds an important caveat, which is that local laws and customs can be part of the fixture-or-not-fixture determination. Those same planters and plants might be categorized differently in other places.

Buyers should ask, verify

What's more, fixtures can be contractually excluded from the sale and personal property can be contractually included. For example, if the sellers want to take the chandelier, they can exclude it in the contract. If you want to get the window drapes, you can include those in the contract. The catch: the other side has to agree.

"Everything is subject to negotiation," and that's why "you should sweat the details," Jacob says.

If you want specific items, it's best to ask for them upfront, says Mark Fleysher, a realty broker at Sellstate Deluxe Realty in Las Vegas.

"If the buyers want something to stay and may be concerned that it's not staying, they should disclose that in their offer notes: 'we want the chandelier' or 'chandelier included as part of sale.'"

Brokers' MLS printouts and open-house flyers and seller's disclosures may include lists of items that, according to the seller, are included or excluded. But Jacobs says these marketing materials aren't legally binding and can include small-print disclaimers. Always confirm that these inclusions and exclusions are incorporated into the contract, as agreed.

The pre-closing walk-through

A pre-closing walk-through can help protect you from the seller removing items before you get possession of the property.

"The buyer's agent, whether or not the buyers are present, should verify that the condition of the property, including any fixtures, is the same as it was when they signed the contract," Fleysher says.

Sellers in short sales are notorious for illegally removing fixtures.

"If there's an occupant and they're in a distressed sale, it's good to emphasize with the contract that the stove stays, the chandelier stays, things of value that could be removed stay," Walker says.

You may have little recourse

If the seller violates the contract, you'll likely have little recourse, short of a lawsuit, to recover items that were removed or their cash value.

"The seller may have moved on and may be difficult to trace," Walker says. "And the listing agent isn't necessarily going to help the buyer's agent satisfy the buyer. The type of seller who takes something they're not supposed to probably isn't on good terms with the listing agent. People who do bad things count on their victims not pursuing them because of the hassle factor."

Sometimes the Realtors end up eating the loss.

"When you're buying a $300,000 house, $30 worth of light bulbs and (smoke-detector) batteries is an annoyance for the buyers," Walker says. "The agent might buy them a pack of light bulbs or batteries as a matter of the customer relationship, to make them happy."

The bottom line is to pay close attention to the fixtures, note what stays and what goes, double-check prior to closing and be aware that most, though not all sellers do play fair.

As Walker says, it's uncommon for them to remove fixtures, but buyers should be aware and prepared because it can happen.

More help from HSH.com

  • HSH.com on the latest move by the Federal Reserve

    The Federal Reserve concluded a meeting today with no change to the federal funds rate and no changes to other monetary policy tools.
  • Mortgage Rates Radar 07/26/2016: Mortgage rates tick higher again this week

    HSH.com releases its latest Weekly Mortgage Rates Radar showing a third small uptick in mortgage rates during the seven-day period ending July 26, as markets wait for data to further assess the repercussions of last month's "Brexit" vote. The Weekly Mortgage Rates Radar reports the average rates and points offered by lenders for the two most popular types of mortgages, the conforming 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and the conforming 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).
  • Mortgage Rates Radar 07/19/2016: Mortgage rates firm slightly

    HSH.com releases its latest Weekly Mortgage Rates Radar revealing a slight increase in popular mortgage rates during the seven-day period ending July 19, as warmer economic data and more-stable financial markets have formed as the tumult of the Brexit vote falls away. The Weekly Mortgage Rates Radar reports the average rates and points offered by lenders for the two most popular types of mortgages, the conforming 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and the conforming 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).
  • I’m in the National Guard, am I eligible for VA benefits?

    Yes. National Guard and Reserve members may qualify for a VA home loan. According to VA.gov, National Guard and Reserve members must meet one of the following conditions...
  • Mortgage Rates Radar 07/12/2016: Fixed mortgage rates creep toward record lows

    HSH.com releases its latest Weekly Mortgage Rates Radar showing still-declining mortgage rates during the seven-day period ending July 12, as global investors continue to try to find safe and positive returns in uncertain markets. The Weekly Mortgage Rates Radar reports the average rates and points offered by lenders for the two most popular types of mortgages, the conforming 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and the conforming 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).