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. It is real property and conveys with the transfer of real estate; it is not personal property. That means it will be sold with the house, and the seller will not remove it before the house is transferred to the buyer.

While the issue of what's a fixture and what's not might seem straightforward, there are some gray areas. One rule of thumb is that if you need a screwdriver to remove an item, it's a fixture. If it's hung with a nail or attached by a plug, it's not. In the case of a wall-mounted TV, the wall mount is a fixture, but the TV isn't. Curtain rods and blinds are considered fixtures, but drapery isn't. Learn more about what is considered a fixture in real estate.

Key Takeaways

  • Every state has its own guidelines for what is considered a fixture, and you should consult your real estate agent if you are unsure.
  • Method of attachment, adaptability, intention, the relationship between the parties, and any agreements help determine whether something is a fixture.
  • Sellers who want to keep certain fixtures can replace them with different models before listing a property for sale.
  • Buyers should include items they consider fixtures in their purchase offer.

Guidelines for Fixtures

Every state has its own guidelines for what constitutes a fixture. For example, in some states, refrigerators are commonly 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 MARIA, that California courts use to determine what is a fixture and what is not. Not every test needs to be met, however. Although this only applies to California, it can serve as a general guideline as well. For specifics, consult a real estate agent in your state.

MARIA stands for:

  • Method of attachment: Is the item permanently affixed to the wall, ceiling, or flooring using 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 a fixture, as implied by the name.
  • Adaptability: If the item becomes an integral part of the home, it cannot be removed. Flooring is an example. Although technically a floating laminate floor can be removed, it's considered part of the home and is a fixture. A built-in refrigerator could be unplugged and removed, but it is considered 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 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.

Sellers can include an addendum called a "seller's exclusion list" to specify excluded items. Similarly, buyers can add a "non-realty addendum" to ensure that an item will stay with the home.

Discuss Fixtures With Your Real Estate Agent

If you're a home seller, it's 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 listing 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.

If you're selling, and you forget to include something, contact your agent as soon as possible. The buyer may be willing to work with you to resolve the issue.

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. Don't assume what will be included and what won't be; it's best to specify it in the purchase offer and agreement so there's no confusion down the road.