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What Qualifies as a Fixture?

Is that chandelier included in the sale?

One aspect of home sales often confuses buyers, sellers, and even some real estate agents. It is called “the law of fixtures.” This law, actually a set of well-established legal rules, determines when personal property is part of the real estate being sold.

A fixture is defined as personal property that has been converted into part of the real property. This transformation usually occurs when the personal property is permanently attached to either the land or a structure built on the land.

To illustrate, pieces of lumber stacked by your house are unattached, easily moveable, personal property. If you sell your residence, your lumber is not included in the sale, and you are entitled to take it with you when you leave. However, after that lumber is used to build a fence around your house, it become a fixture permanently attached to the ground. When you sell your home, that lumber, which is part of the fence, is automatically included in the sales price, even if nothing is said about it in the sales contract.

For some reason, the most troublesome fixture in any house being sold is the dining room chandelier. Sellers feel entitled to take their chandeliers with them.

Legally, these sellers are wrong. Dining room chandeliers that are permanently attached to the ceiling by bolts or screws have been converted from personal property into real property. They are automatically included in the sale.

Inexperienced agents, however, sometimes hang a sign stating, “Chandelier not included in sale.” That is the surest way to get the buyer to insist that the chandelier be included in the sales price.

Most experienced agents advise sellers who want the chandelier to remove it before showing the home. A less-expensive chandelier should be substituted before the first buyer showing.

The major test for determining whether an item has become a fixture is how it is attached to the structure or land. If it is nailed, bolted, glued, wired, built-in or cemented, then the former personal property has become a real property fixture by its method of attachment.

If the item can be easily removed without damage to the structure, however, such as unplugging a refrigerator or disconnecting a gas stove, it remains personal property and the seller can remove it. However, built-in appliances, such as the dishwasher and trash compactor, are automatically included as fixtures.

Window coverings often cause problems. Since drapes can easily be unhooked, they remain personal property, which the seller can remove unless specifically included in the sales contract. But the drapery rods, which are screwed into the walls, must remain because they have become fixture by mean of permanent attachment.

The intent of the parties often becomes important for determining whether an item is a fixture included in the property transfer.

For more information on the law of fixtures, please consult a local real estate attorney.

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