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What counts as a fixture?

What counts as a fixture

Buying a home can truly be the most exciting time of your life. Part of the thrill is in finding a property that fits your family’s needs, matches your price range and is in the right neighborhood. But as some buyers can attest, it’s also easy to get attached to specific items like a gorgeous dining room chandelier or a lavender bush that acts as a natural fence.

If you’ve ever wondered what counts as a fixture (something that stays with the home once you close) and what sellers can take with them, we have insights you can use.

The fine print is in the purchase agreement

In short, your purchase agreement will lay out the terms for what is considered a fixture. This standard agreement from the Minnesota State Bar Association says that “fixtures are items that are embedded in the land or attached to the building(s) and cannot be removed without real damage to the property.” It goes on to mention the specific fixtures that will be included in the sale, and leaves room for sellers to itemize the fixtures they wish to exclude.

This seems simple enough, but we did additional research to see what may be hidden in the fine print and what the most common disputes involve.

Embedded fixtures

“Embedded fixtures” leaves less of a gray area than interior features, because removing nearly anything from the ground causes “real damage.”

Embedded fixtures typically include:

  • Landscaping and plants, including trees, bushes, shrubs and bulbs
  • Privacy features like fences, retaining walls, gates and security systems
  • Built-in structures like hot tubs, gazebos, sheds, kennels, and trellises
  • In-ground features, such as light poles, flag poles, lightning rods, weathervanes, mail box posts and mail boxes

In some cases, homeowners may have a custom mailbox they want to take with them or a gazebo that holds personal significance. While many would say that it’s up to the seller to itemize that on the purchase agreement, it’s a good idea for the buyer to include in the offer specific exterior features they expect to stay with the home. That way, you won’t show up on moving day to see that the large kennel intended for your dog Pluto was actually a free-standing structure the sellers took with them.

Attached fixtures

In this standard purchase agreement, methods of attachment include “screws, nails, adhesives, or any other mechanical connection which shows the Seller’s intent to make the item a relatively permanent part of the real estate.” In plain language, if you wanted the item to be permanent while you were living there, you shouldn’t take it with you when you go.

Attached fixtures typically include:

  • Doors, countertops, cabinets and their hardware
  • Windows and their attached features, including screens, shades, blinds and curtain rods
  • Lighting features like light fixtures with bulbs, light switches and plates
  • Electrical features including wiring, outlets, switches and plates
  • Plumbing and piping, including plumbing fixtures, sump pumps and water heaters
  • Heating and cooling systems, including heating stoves, fireplace doors and screens, built-in air conditioning units and ceiling fans
  • Kitchen attachments such as built-in dishwashers, garbage disposals, built-in trash compactors, built-in ovens, stoves and hood fans
  • Flooring and installed carpet

This may make it seem like everything is included in the purchase of your home, but fixtures can sometimes be determined by something as small as one nail. For example, if a mirror is mounted to the wall using nails or screws, it would be considered a fixture. But if the same mirror is hung using a picture hanger and one nail, it would be considered personal property that the seller may take with them.

Similarly, window features like shades, blinds and even the curtain rods are considered fixtures, but curtains and drapes are personal property. (We did find this case where the seller took the window drapes, only to sheepishly return them when requested because they were custom-made for the window and rods.)

Custom cabinetry can count as a fixture, especially when it’s built into a certain space. Custom closet organizers are a great example of this, and so are built-in bookcases or shelves.

Last, you may have noticed that free-standing appliances like washers, dryers and refrigerators are not included in the above list. These are commonly disputed items, as they are not usually affixed to anything except an outlet — but they do leave behind a gaping hole when taken! We recommend working with your REALTOR® for insights about including them in your offer.

What comes with a foreclosure or short sale?

In the case of a foreclosure or short sale, the properties generally come “as-is.” The home may be missing common features like faucets or light fixtures, but the (likely) lower price is in part to make up for the property’s condition at the time of purchase.

A few tips for sellers

If you are particularly attached to something in your home that counts as a fixture, you may want to remove it from your home before you list it for sale and replace it with an alternative. You might not run into objections in a sellers’ market, but it’s not worth souring a transaction over the custom-built bar you’re moving to your next man cave.

Need help writing a purchase agreement?

Our team of 2,300 local real estate agents specializes in the fine print. Whether you need to protect your prize-winning roses or hope to keep the stacked washer/dryer unit in your new digs, we can help. Reach out today to get connected with a Realtor in your area. And don’t forget to share your real estate experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ using #BuyerInsights and #SellerInsights.

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