What Stays and What Goes when You Buy a Home?

What’s included when you buy a home?

One constant bone of contention in many housing transactions is what is, and what isn't, included in the sale. Obviously, the property itself and the garden are included. Also just as obviously, family photos and the best set of china aren't. 

But what about fitted kitchens, carpets, curtains, and light fittings? It's a dreadful disappointment to move into a house and find that the marvellous chandelier in the living room has disappeared, or the stylish kitchen cabinets have all gone. Where does the law leave you if the property you've bought has been stripped of all the things that made you want to buy it?

So, what am I buying and what are they taking?

The legal world has a name for "things that should move". They're called chattels. And "things that shouldn't move" are called fixtures.

I often explain it like this to clients, “if you took the house, lifted it up, and tipped it upside down, whatever didn't fall out would be a fixture”.

So, for instance, a fitted carpet that's tacked down to the floor is a fixture. It is fixed to the house. Rugs, on the other hand, are not fixed to anything, so they're chattels. If you're moving house, you can take any of your rugs and kilims with you—but not the fitted carpets, unless you specify them in the contract.

Window coverings are also judged on whether they are actually fixed to the building. Curtain rods are fixtures. So are built-in blinds. But curtains, because you can unpin them and take them down for cleaning, are not fixtures. Those can be taken away. However, it is commonly understood that they do stay.

Light fittings that are wired in are fixtures. So are ceiling fans. But the table and floor lamps that are just plugged into a socket aren't fixed, so they're not fixtures.

Things get a bit trickier when you get to the kitchen. Built-in dishwashers, ovens, rangehoods and cooktops are fixtures, and if you buy a house these are what you'll get. But a freestanding fridge can go walkabout. And a microwave that's housed on wall brackets is not a fixture—though the wall brackets are. So, unless specified differently in the contract, the purchaser could end up with a rather unsightly pair of empty brackets (that's true for wall-mounted TVs as well).

Is a Tree a Fixture? Not Necessarily!

In the garden, a swimming pool together with its plumbed-in pumps and heating system is a fixture. What about trees? Not necessarily. A tree in a pot, however big it is, isn't fixed to the property, so it can take a walk when the property is sold. So can outdoor furniture (unless it's bolted to a concrete floor). A barbecue built of bricks and cement is a fixture, a mobile barbecue, however big, isn't.  

It's fair enough to say, though, that while this division looks pretty solid, the law is not always completely sure. For instance, if something is fixed down simply to make it easier to use, it might still count as a chattel. For instance, if you bolt a pillar drill to a workbench to stop it vibrating, it's a chattel. If something is part of the architecture, even if it's not fixed, it stays. 

These days many people secure their nature to the wall to prevent accidents especially families with young children. It is very important as the buyer that you specify these things in the contract if it is important for you that they are included in the sale. This will save arguments after the fact.

Most homebuyers don't pay too much attention to the details in the contract, and that's a mistake. These particular details are quite important, and a bit of careful work now can make a huge difference later.  

You could, of course, take a seller who has removed the light fittings and dishwasher to court. That would take time and a great deal of money; it's much cheaper to just buy another dishwasher. And you can't rescind the contract—unless what's been removed significantly changes the nature (and value) of the property you've agreed to buy. That might apply if the fitted kitchen, light fittings, and cupboards had all been removed, and the property had been damaged in the process, but it certainly isn't going to apply if you just want those pretty flowered curtains back.

To avoid coming up against problems, it is essential that you deal with an experienced real estate agent. That should eliminate the need for after-sale arguments about personal property and fixtures. Not knowing what is what can lead to tension - and no one needs the additional anxiety, as let’s face it, buying or selling a home is stressful enough as it is.

There Is More to Personal Property Than Meets the Eye

So, you bought a home with a lovely garden and beautifully decorated. In fact, you did not so much fall in love with the property as you did with the decor and garden. As the sale has slowly been going through, you have been dreaming about sitting under that Japanese Pagoda style gazebo, watching the Koi carp splash in the pond and listening to the birds singing.

But, is the gazebo a fixture or a personal property? Before you start dreaming about spending time in the garden admiring the Bonsai trees, both potted and not potted, you need clear up with the seller if he is planning to take his Bonsai trees with him or leave them behind.

Miscellaneous Items at The Property

When you walk through the property for the first time, you may notice items such as paint and extra tiles in the garage. They do not necessarily form part of the sale even though the tiles match the ones in the bathrooms.

But, it is worthwhile asking if the homeowner is going to take them with when they leave the property? This is actually a bit of a negotiating point. Most of the time, it is not cost-effective for the current homeowner to take with them things such as paint etc. However, that should not stop you from asking the question.

The Most Successful Home Sales

The most successful home sales are always achieved when all parties communicate effectively with each other. Remember that there are at least three of you in this relationship – you the buyer, the seller, and the real estate agent. It is important that you are on the same page and know what is going on.

Don’t think of the fixture and personal property issue about something that you should go into battle for. But, as with everything else when it comes to real estate and property, it is worth knowing your rights.

At the end of the day, this is a property transaction. Yes, you have bought yourself a home, but very often what makes a home a home, is all of the small things. Once again, that takes us back to the dividing line between a fixture and personal property. It is not easy to know what is what, and as always, you should ask questions and make sure that you know exactly what you are getting for your money. As they say, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Final Thoughts

Real estate 101, don’t assume anything. If there is something you want to be included in the sale add it to the offer. This way there is no question whether something is a fixture or personal property. Even the smallest thing can turn a smooth transaction into a complete nightmare on the day of closing because the seller took the curtain rods.

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