What Are House Fixtures in Real Estate?
Buying a house? Here's what stays and goes with the property.
Question: What are house fixtures in real estate?
A reader asks: "My husband and I bought a home in Land Park. A six-foot by three-foot rose garden lines the backyard fence. When we did our final home inspection, the roses were there. But when we showed up the following day with our moving truck, we discovered the roses had been dug up and removed. Our agent said the roses are a fixture. What types of things are considered house fixtures? Can the seller legally take the roses?"
Answer: What are and are not house fixtures is the basis for many real estate disputes. Generally speaking, all landscaping—or any type of plant with roots firmly in the ground— is considered a fixture. A fixture is not required to exist inside the house. If the seller won't return the roses, perhaps you can ask the seller to reimburse you so you can buy your own?
When I take a listing, I walk through the home with the seller to discuss fixtures. If personal property is affixed or fastened to real estate, it becomes a fixture. Generally, fixtures become part of the property when they are attached to the home, and ownership of these fixtures transfers with the house.
If the seller has a certain affection for a fixture, I suggest they remove it and, if necessary, replace it. If a buyer wants to be sure a fixture is included in the sale of a property they’re purchasing, then they can negotiate for it and include it in the sales contract. (It must be in the sales agreement if you want it to stay with the home.)
If something takes a screwdriver or other tool remove, it’s likely considered a fixture.
How to Determine if Personal Property Is a Fixture
Every state has its own guidelines for what constitutes a fixture, but here are the five tests California courts use to determine what is a fixture and what is not. I use California standards since often that state leads the nation in terms of trends. Not every test needs to be met.
It's called M-A-R-I-A.
- Method of attachment. Is the item permanently affixed to the wall, ceiling, or flooring by using nails, glue, cement, pipes, or screws? Even if you can easily remove it, the method used to attach it might make it a fixture. For example, ceiling lights, although attached by wires, can be removed, but the lights are a house fixture.
- Adaptability. If the item becomes an integral part of the home, it cannot be removed. For example, a floating laminate floor is a fixture, even though it is snapped together. One could argue that a built-in Sub Zero refrigerator is considered a fixture, although it can be unplugged, because it fits inside a specified space. To remove it could damage the area surrounding it.
- Relationship of the parties. If the dispute is between tenant and landlord, the tenant is likely to win. If the dispute is between buyer and seller, the buyer is likely to prevail.
- Intention of party when the item was attached. When the installation took place, if the intent was to make the item a permanent attachment, for example, a built-in bookcase, the item is a fixture.
- Agreement between the parties. Read your purchase contract. Most contain a clause that expressly defines items included in the sale and ordinarily state." All existing fixtures and fittings that are attached to the property."
Again, because property law varies from state to state, so will what’s considered a “fixture” in your sale. For reference, here’s a snippet of what California defines as a fixture: “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 imbedded 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.”
Common House Fixtures and Non-fixtures
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
How to Ensure That Fixtures Remain With the House
Sellers and buyers should specifically state in the purchase offer which items will stay with the house and which will go, especially if there could be confusion over house 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” or something to that effect. If you’re a buyer and want to ensure something conveys with the house, you’ll need to add a Non-Realty Addendum to your contract.
If you have questions about whether something can or cannot be removed from a home before its sale, make sure to consult a real estate lawyer or agent for more guidance.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.
FindLaw. "California Civil Code 660." Accessed November 14, 2019.
Rattikin Law. "Non-realty Items—What Stays and What Goes?" Accessed November 14, 2019.
Texas Association of Realtors. "Will the Fridge Convey if it Wasn't in the Contract?" Accessed November 14, 2019.
Houston Association of Realtors. "Non-realty Items & Exclusions." Accessed November 14, 2019.
Rockwell Publishing Company. "Principles of California Real Estate," Page 8. Accessed November 14, 2019.