Fine Tuning Your Offer to Purchase a Home

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Everything about the house you just looked at is perfect. The location is great. The layout is ideal, and the square footage is more than adequate. There's a built-in spa on the back deck and a charming weathervane on the roof. You're ready to make an offer--and you want to do it now before another offer comes in.

Slow down a little and take a deep breath... now get ready, because you have lots of things to think about before you put your offer in writing.

One critical part of your offer involves the items that you expect to find at the property when you take possession. Some of these items are fixtures.

What Are Fixtures?

Fixtures are items that are permanently attached to a house, such as a built-in range, the heating, and cooling system and kitchen cabinets. They are considered part of the real estate and are normally left in place for the new homeowner.

Many common fixtures are listed in the pre-printed forms that are used for real estate transactions, but nearly every house has decorative fixtures, and they're the items that often create disagreements between home buyers and sellers.

The weathervane you saw in the house is a fixture, but it could be a gift the sellers won't part with. And it may seem odd that a seller would go to the trouble and expense of removing a built-in spa, but I've seen it happen, even though it was indeed listed on the contract as a fixture that would stay with the house.

Don't take chances--decide which items should stay or go and make sure the seller agrees with you now, before it becomes an issue when you find it missing at your final walk-through.

Make a List of Items You Want to Stay

Walk through the house, making a list of items you feel should be part of the purchase price. If the property is listed with an agency, the multiple listing sheets your agent gave you should include a list of items that the seller intends to sell with the house.

Be sure to note decorative items. How about a large mirror over a fireplace mantel, or even the mantel itself if it appears to be unique? I was involved in one transaction where the seller made it clear from the beginning that an heirloom mantel would not remain. But what if the seller forgot to mention that to her agent? Or the agent forgot to mention it to potential buyers? Seeing it listed on an offer to purchase would trigger a response from the seller.

Some items you want to remain might be considered personal property, things that are not attached but that complete the home's functionality, such as a refrigerator or microwave. Add them to your offer just to be sure they're covered.

Your list might also include:

  • Outdoor storage buildings
  • Window treatments and hardware
  • Garage door openers
  • Window or portable air conditioning units
  • Ornate chandeliers and other special light fixtures

Use the MLS sheet as a guide, but never depend on it to verify which items the seller is leaving behind because the information is sometimes not accurate. The only way to be sure that you and the seller are in agreement regarding which fixtures and personal property stay are to get an agreement in writing.

List Items You Want to Disappear

Make a list of items you want to make sure the sellers remove, such as an unused oil storage tank or an old car that doesn't appear to run.

Where to Put Your List

There might be space for your list within the offer to purchase. If not, write the list on a separate sheet of paper and attach it as an addendum to the contract. It must be signed by you and the sellers.

An alternative is to highlight the standard, pre-printed items on every person's original copy of the contract. The highlights emphasize your offer and help ensure that the seller understands which items he has agreed to leave.

Make an Offer

Make an offer on the house based on its current condition and with the items you expect to remain (or go). If the seller doesn't agree with your list or any of your terms, he'll cross off items and should initial his changes.

Any change the seller makes to your offer voids it and it becomes a counteroffer back to you--one which you can accept, refuse or change, initialing each change and creating a counteroffer back to the seller. Offers can go back and forth like this several times during negotiations, but the offer does not become a contract until everyone agrees to all changes in writing.

Final Walk-Through Check

Take your contract along for a final walk-through on the day of closing. You'll have more clout to negotiate a price reduction if you bring discrepancies to everyone's attention before the real estate changes hands.

Bottom Line

Even though most sellers are honest, you should never rely on an oral agreement regarding any aspect of a real estate transaction. The contract should state clearly what stays and what goes, leaving no doubts about the terms each party has agreed to.