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Do you know what is considered personal property vs fixtures in a home sale? See this guide to help you determine what stays and what goes in a home sale. Personal property does not need to be an exclusion.
Personal Property vs Fixtures in Home Sales
What Can You Take Legally
Occasionally in a home sale, there are
situations that can be very frustrating for a
buyer or a seller, conditions that should be
avoidable. One potentially frustrating
occurrence often arises about “fixtures” in a
home – items that are considered part of
the house and therefore part of the sale.
When a seller removes something that the
buyer expected to get with the house, it can
create significant tension and lead to
resentment, and maybe even legal
In real estate jargon, we call this what is
real property vs. personal property in a
Any good Realtor should be well aware of
the problems that can arise over the
definition of fixtures in a home, and should
prepare appropriately in the sales process.
By getting clear from the start on what
fixtures are versus personal property, the
Realtor can help everyone enjoy a
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”
things in a listing agreement that don’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 being personal property unless they are built-in to 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.
What’s Considered A Fixture?
A fixture is legally considered something like 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.
For instance, if you were to buy a house from a seller and discovered that he had removed all the door knobs 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 it. Fortunately, sellers rarely run off with
doorknobs. They are obviously 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.
There are a few ways to look at fixtures in a home to determine their status, including:
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
The item may also be something that is regarded as part of a home, like a refrigerator (if built in, cooking range, or a
Guidance from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board
The Greater Boston Real Estate Board standard purchase and sale agreement have language that discusses what
is and is not a fixture. The language is very helpful because it outlines in detail for both 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.
“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, hot water heaters, plumbing and bathroom fixtures, garbage disposals, electric and
other lighting fixtures, mantels, outside television antennas, fences, gates, trees, shrubs, plants, and ONLY IF BUILT
IN, refrigerators, air conditioning equipment, ventilators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryer; and but
How Personal Items & Fixtures Can Become Mixed Up
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 property in Southborough Massachusetts, 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.
Items That Cause The Most Problems
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.
Rods and Blinds, however, are
attached and therefore stay with the
A swing set – This 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. A swing set,
however, that is 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 hope. 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
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 stay with the home.
A wall mounted television – this is another one that really can be grey to a lot of people. Wall mounted
televisions should be excluded if an owner desires to take them. Keep in mind anything bolted, screwed in or
attached to a wall is considered part of the house! A sub-issue that often surfaces with wall mounted
televisions is how the holes in the wall that are left behind will be addressed. Do not assume anything here
when buying a home. If you want the holes patched this is something that should be dealt with up front 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 a
lot of 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.
Clarifying What Is What
When a Realtor goes to list a home, he or she 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 that are excluded from the sale. I will repeat when
excluding items from a sale; personal property should not be included as it creates 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 then be referred to later in the Offer to
Purchase. The same information on what is included in the sale and what is excluded in the sale must be made clear
in the offer.
Make Sure You And Your Real Estate Agent 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 in 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, bring up the idea of clarifying what
you consider personal property and what
you think are fixtures, so that 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
confusion might arise and address them
during the sales process with the buyer’s
The last thing you want to be involved in is
a situation where the buyer intends to back
out of the house purchase. This is stress
that can be easily avoided!
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 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
Extra tile – again sometimes people want extra tiles to stay and other times they plan on removing what is
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 major 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.
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 home 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 issues,
looking over what was supposed to be included is important as well.
Over my twenty-nine years of selling real estate, there have been a handful of occasions where something was
taken 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 escrow 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!
Additional Helpful Home Buying and Selling Resources
What is dual agency in real estate
Never trust a Zillow home value