Fixtures—or items physically attached to the home—typically stay with the house. Unfortunately, there’s often confusion as to what qualifies as a fixture, and some buyers may find their favorite items removed from the home upon move-in.
Are you counting on key features on a home you’re purchasing? Here’s how to tell if they’re a fixture—and if it’s included with the sale.
- The sales contract should define fixtures and include them when you buy a home.
- If a fixture is attached to the house when it's listed, you should receive that fixture when you buy the home.
- Appliances, electronics, and other specific items are not considered fixtures.
- Everything is negotiable when buying and selling a house, as long as it is the contract.
What Is a Fixture and What Isn't
Here’s what a typical sales contract says is a fixture and is therefore included in the sale of a property:
Unless specifically excluded by this Agreement the purchase price shall also include the following, as and if now installed, stored in, or located on the Property: all presently existing plumbing, heating, electrical and central air conditioning systems; and all other permanent or attached fixtures including but not limited to, all existing shutters, awnings, wall to wall carpeting, radiator covers, cabinets, shelves, mirrors fixed in place, attic/exhaust fans, lighting and plumbing fixtures, and landscaping.
As a general rule, if removing an item takes a screwdriver or would damage the property, it’s considered a fixture. Items customized to the property are also usually fixtures.
Still not sure if something is included in your sale? You can usually use the MARIA tests to determine what’s a fixture and what isn’t:
- Method of attachment: Permanent or easily removed?
- Adaptability: If readily removable (like a floating floor) is it integral to the home?
- Relationship of parties: In a dispute between buyer and seller, the buyer is likely to prevail.
- Intention of the party: When installed, was it meant to be permanent?
- Agreement between the parties: What does the purchase contract say?
Confusion on Fixtures
You would be amazed to learn what people believe are or are not fixtures (also called “component parts” in some states). For example, many sellers believe any item they’ve personally installed in the home can go with them when they sell, and that's not how it works—not unless it’s disclosed up-front.
Let’s say a new homeowner can't find the aesthetic 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. And fixtures? They stay with the house.
5 Things Not Usually Included in a Home Purchase
Refrigerator, Stove, Wine Fridges, Washers, 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 (and wine fridges) 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. A washer and dryer can be easily unplugged and removed as well. All of these appliances are usually considered personal property.
Fish in the Koi Pond: While the pond or water feature itself is typically a fixture and non-removable, the fish are actually personal property. Many people who raise koi consider the fish their pets. Some of the fish will even have names.
These aren’t considered fixtures, and the sellers are free to take them to their new property unless otherwise stipulated in the sales contract via an exclusion or addendum.
Above-Ground Hot Tub or Swimming Pool: Free-standing hot tubs and swimming pools 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 is personal property. In some instances, sellers might want to leave the pool or tub for the buyer (it could help the home command a higher sales price), but if the buyer doesn't want it, the seller may need to remove it.
If you’re a buyer and don't want the hot tub or pool currently at the home you’re purchasing, you should specify that in your purchase offer.
Window Treatments: Blinds and shades that are 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 mark the window coverings as an excluded item in the purchase contract.
Home Theater Systems: In most states, a home theater system—including its exterior speakers and television—are considered personal property. The brackets and mounts, however, could be considered fixtures unless excluded from the purchase contract.
The Bottom Line
If you’re a buyer and want to make sure any of the above items are included in your purchase, then address them specifically in your offer. If you do not want any of the items (or you’re a seller wanting to keep something you’ve installed in the home), then make sure to note the items as exclusions. These two simple steps remove any doubt or confusion at the closing table.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub is a licensed real estate broker in California, BRE #00697006, at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento.