Personal property becomes a house fixture when it's affixed or fastened to real estate in some way. House fixtures generally become part of the property when they're attached to the home, and ownership of these fixtures transfers with the property when it's sold. What are and aren't house fixtures has been the basis for many real estate disputes.
It's not required that a fixture exist inside the house. All landscaping—or any type of plant with roots firmly in the ground—is often considered a fixture.
What Is a House Fixture?
Property laws vary from state to state, so there's no single, universal definition of a house fixture. It can vary by state law, but California, for example, defines a fixture this way:
“A thing is deemed to be affixed to land when it is attached to it by roots, as in the case of trees, vines, or shrubs; or embedded in it, as in the case of walls; or permanently resting upon it, as in the case of buildings; or permanently attached to what is thus permanent, as by means of cement, plaster, nails, bolts, or screws.”
If something takes a screwdriver or other tool remove, it’s likely considered to be a house fixture.
How House Fixtures Work
California courts apply five tests to determine what is a fixture and what is not. These standards are referred to by the acronym M-A-R-I-A.
- Method of attachment: Is the item permanently affixed to the wall, ceiling, or flooring by the use of nails, glue, cement, pipes, or screws? The method used to attach it might make it a fixture, even if you can remove it relatively easily. Ceiling lights can be removed although they're attached by wires, and they're a house fixture.
- Adaptability: The item becomes an integral part of the home when it can't be removed. A floating laminate floor is a fixture, even though it's snapped together. A built-in Sub-Zero refrigerator is considered a fixture because it fits inside a specified space even though it can be unplugged. Removing it could damage the area surrounding it.
- Relationship of the parties: A tenant is likely to win the dispute is if it's between a tenant and landlord. The buyer is most likely to prevail when the dispute is between a buyer and seller.
- Intention of the party when the item was attached: The item is a fixture if the intent was to make the item a permanent attachment when the installation took place. A built-in bookcase would be an example.
- Agreement between the parties: Read your purchase contract. Most contain a clause that expressly defines what items are included in the sale. It ordinarily states, "all existing fixtures and fittings that are attached to the property."
House Fixtures vs. Non-Fixtures
Not all of the five M-A-R-I-A tests must be met, so individual items can often be left open to interpretation. Some household items that commonly fall into each category include:
TV wall mounts
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Blinds and shades
Garage door openers
Shrubs and planted landscaping
Window A/C units
Built-in shelves and bookcases
Freestanding washers and dryers
Potted plants and flowers
Keeping House Fixtures
Many real estate agents will suggest that sellers remove fixtures that they have a certain affection for and replace them if necessary. Buyers can negotiate for items and include them in the sales contract if they want to be sure they're included in the sale of a property they’re purchasing.
The fixture must be cited in the sales agreement if you want it to stay with the home.
Sellers and buyers should specifically state in the purchase offer which items will stay with the property and which will go, especially if there could be confusion or debate over fixtures. Items such as kitchen appliances, bookshelves, portable spas, water fountains, and washers and dryers should be noted in the contract as included or excluded from sale.
Excluded items are usually included in an addendum called a “Seller’s Exclusion List.” You can add a "Non-Realty Addendum" to your contract if you’re a buyer and want to ensure that something stays with the home.
Consult a real estate lawyer or agent for guidance if you have questions about whether something can or cannot be removed before a home's sale.
- House fixtures are typically permanently and physically attached to the property in some way. They can’t easily be removed.
- Televisions, some appliances, and televisions aren’t fixtures. Landscaping and built-in shelving would be.
- House fixtures commonly transfer with the property when it’s sold.
- Buyers can identify fixtures they want when they draw up a purchase offer.
- Sellers can provide an addendum to the deal, specifically delineating house fixtures that aren’t included in the sale.