5 Things That Don't Stay With the Home You Are Buying

new home owners

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The five things that don't stay with the home you are buying are items most people take for granted and assume they will remain. This is the stuff that is the cause of much unhappiness after closing when home buyers discover the seller removed things that buyers believed were fixtures.

What's a Fixture and What Isn't

You would be amazed to learn what people believe are or are not fixtures. For example, many sellers believe any personal item the seller has installed in the home can go with them when they sell, and that's not how it works. Not unless it is disclosed up front.

Say, a new homeowner can't find the atheistic beauty in the ugly and dirt cheap ceiling fan installed by the builder. To fix that annoyance, she buys an expensive whisper-quiet ceiling fan with an upgraded finish to match her accent furniture. She figures the fan belongs to her and not to the house, so she can take it and install her beloved ceiling fan in her new home.

If the seller's heart is attached to that ceiling fan, she should remove it and reinstall the ugly ceiling fan before listing her home for sale, because otherwise, her ceiling fan installation remains a fixture. Fixtures stay with the house.

5 Things Not Necessarily Included in a Buyer's Purchase Offer

Refrigerator, Stove or Washer and Dryer: While it might be customary for a seller to leave a refrigerator or stove in the kitchen, it is not required. Even though the appliances are large, heavy and difficult to move, if they are not permanently affixed to the property, they are not a fixture and can be removed. Refrigerators can be unplugged and removed. If there is an automatic icemaker, it is easily detached, and the water system can be turned off by a shut-off valve.

A seller can shut off the gas valve and remove a gas stove or, in the case of an electric stove, one can simply unplug it. An exception is when selling a home with certain types of financing. Most lender conditions will call for a stove to be installed. A washer and dryer can be easily unplugged and removed as well. All of these appliances can be considered personal property.

Fish in the Koi Pond: While the pond itself or water feature is typically a fixture and non-removable, the fish are personal property. Many people who raise koi consider the fish as pets. Some of the fish will have names, and the sellers will insist the fish have a personality, too. Asking the seller to leave a fish could be like asking the seller to give away a child.

Above Ground Spa or Swimming Pool: Pundits will argue that a spa is typically attached to an electrical source, which generates heat and pumps the jets, but a free-standing spa can be easily disconnected and removed. If it is located in the yard and not inside the house, it is most likely not a fixture and personal property. In some instances, sellers might want to leave a spa for the buyer, but if the buyer doesn't want it, the seller may need to remove it.

If you don't want a spa in the yard and expect the seller to take it, you should specify in the purchase offer that the spa needs to go by closing. Ditto for an above ground swimming pool.

Window Treatments: Blinds and shades attached to the window are typically considered fixtures. However, drapes or curtains that can easily slide off a rod are generally considered personal property. The confusion often begins in the master suite when a seller has a bedspread or duvet cover that matches the window treatments. Understandably, the seller might want to take the window treatments.

The truth is the window treatments probably will not fit any of the windows in the new home. If window coverings are not specified in the purchase contract, and the seller plans to take them, it's a good idea to include the window coverings as an excluded item in the purchase contract.

Home Theater Systems: In most states, a home theater system—its exterior speakers and television—are considered personal property. The brackets, however, could be considered fixtures unless excluded from the purchase contract.

The Bottom Line 

If you are a buyer and want to make sure any of these items are included in the purchase offer, make sure they are specifically addressed in the offer. If you do not want any of the items, again, make sure to exclude these things from the offer. These two simple steps remove any doubt or confusion at closing.

Of course, this doesn't mean the seller's movers will forget to ask if they stay and might just take them when nobody is looking. This is when you'll be happy you have a realtor.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub is a licensed real estate broker in California, BRE #00697006, at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento.