5 Tests to Determine What a Fixture Is and Is Not in Real Estate

A young couple packing boxes after selling their home

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A fixture is a permanent part of a house or apartment. A fixture is real property and conveys with the transfer of real estate. It is not personal property. This means it is something that will be sold with the house. It will not be removed by the seller before the house is transferred to the buyer.

Guidelines for Fixtures

Every state has its own guidelines for what constitutes a fixture. For example, in some states, refrigerators commonly are considered fixtures. But in other states, they are taken out by the seller and the buyer provides their own.

Here are the five tests, called M-A-R-I-A., California courts use to determine what is a fixture and what is not. Not every test needs to be met, however.

  • Method of Attachment: Is the item permanently affixed to the wall, ceiling, or flooring by using nails, glue, cement, pipes, or screws? You may be able to unscrew and remove a light fixture, but it was affixed and will probably be considered to be a fixture, as implied by the very name.
  • Adaptability: If the item becomes an integral part of the home, it cannot be removed. Flooring is an example, even if you could remove it such as with a floating laminate floor. A built-in refrigerator could be unplugged and removed, but it is considered to be a fixture because it fits inside a specified space.
  • Relationship of the Parties: If the dispute is between tenant and landlord, the tenant is likely to win. If the dispute is between the buyer and seller, the buyer is likely to prevail.
  • The Intention of the Party: When the item was attached. When the item was installed, if you intended it to be permanent, it is a fixture. If you installed a built-in bookcase or planted rose bushes, they were intended to be permanent.
  • Agreement Between the Parties: Purchase contracts usually contain a clause that defines the items that will be included in the sale, such as, "All existing fixtures and fittings that are attached to the property." It may further list specific items.

Discuss Fixtures With Your Real Estate Agent

As a home seller, it is wise to go through your house with your real estate agent and discuss what is and isn't a fixture, so you have a clear understanding. In the case of a light fixture that you love and want to use in your next home, you could replace it before you list the house for sale. If you have expensive appliances you want to transfer to a new home, you could replace them with standard fixtures before you list the home.

As a buyer, you may wish to list items that you consider fixtures and specify them in the purchase offer. Does the house have appliances, shelving, landscaping, window dressings, and light fixtures that you want to ensure remain after the sale? List them in the offer.