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What do ceiling fans and planted trees have in common? In the context of a home sale, at least, they’re both “fixtures.” A fixture is something that’s permanently attached to the home or the land it’s on, and therefore is legally considered a part of the property. 

That means that if you’re a buyer who fell in love with the antique crystal chandelier in the entryway of the house you made an offer on, you’re in luck: That chandelier is a fixture, and fixtures typically sell with the house in a home sale. 

But if you’re a seller who wants to take some of your fixtures with you to your new home, you have some options too. You can specify that the items will be excluded from the sale in the purchase agreement, or you can remove the fixtures before you list the property in the first place.

Are fixtures included in home sales?

It’s in the name: A fixture is physical property that’s affixed to the home. A good rule of thumb is that if the item isn’t movable, or if you need tools of some kind to detach it from the home or property, it’s probably a fixture and typically isn't included in the sale. For example, while chandeliers and pendant lights are fixtures — because they’re permanently attached to the house itself — table and floor lamps are not. 

Other common examples of fixtures include: 

  • Built-in shelving
  • Garden features
  • Mantels
  • Curtain rods
  • Custom curtains

These are all items that, once installed, become integral parts of the property. 

What’s not a fixture?

In real estate terms, non-fixtures are called “chattels.” These are movable objects that aren’t permanently attached and therefore aren’t a part of the property. Imagine flipping your home upside down: Everything that falls out are chattels, and thus yours to take with you when you sell your home. 

Though the difference may seem clear enough, there are some tricky gray areas when it comes to distinguishing between fixtures and chattels. While most appliances — such as washers, dryers, and refrigerators — are chattels and therefore fair game for the seller to take with them, if the appliance has been customized for the house, it might actually be a fixture.

For example, if the refrigerator has been built into the kitchen with doors that match the kitchen cabinets, it probably counts as a fixture. 

→ Learn more about whether or not appliances come with the house

Another common source of confusion is the mount used to attach a flat-screen TV to the wall—these technically are permanently attached to the house, so they are fixtures and should stay, even though the televisions themselves are not.

Other examples of non-fixtures include:

  • Curtains and drapes
  • Furniture
  • Mirrors that aren't bolted to the wall
  • Potted plants

Why is the difference between fixtures and chattels important?

Different legal codes govern the sale of fixtures and chattels. Legally, fixtures are real property and so their sale happens through the transfer of a deed and is dictated by certain state real-estate laws, just as all real-estate transactions are. 

Meanwhile, chattels are personal property, and so their sale is governed by commercial law. Real property and personal property also have different applicable tax laws, and their transfer after death is regulated by different kinds of law. 

Technically, a fixture is a piece of personal property that, by being affixed to land or a structure on that land, has become real property. If you buy a door at a hardware store, it’s personal property until you install it in a door frame in your home; then it has transformed into real property.

How to tell the difference 

Fixtures have a fundamentally hybrid nature—like that door you bought at the hardware store, they often start out as personal property and then become real property. Because of this, confusion about what constitutes a fixture is common, as are disputes about fixtures in real-estate transactions. 

Many real estate agents and lawyers use the acronym MARIA to represent the kinds of assessments that courts use to decide disputes about real property and personal property:

  • Method of attachment: How is the item attached? Is it screwed, glued, or otherwise attached using screws, pipes, nails, or the like? Even if you can technically detach it somehow, the method of attachment can indicate that the attachment was meant to be permanent.
  • Adaptability: How has the item been adapted to the property? If an item isn’t necessarily physically attached to the property but is still an integral part of it, such as a floating floor, it might be considered real property despite the fact that it wouldn’t pass the turn-the-house-upside-down test mentioned above.
  • Relationship of parties: Who are the parties involved? Typically, in a dispute over fixtures in a home sale, a court will favor the buyer.
  • Intentionality: What was the installer’s intention?
  • Agreement: What does the purchase agreement say? Is there an inclusion/exclusion list in the contract? This is usually the deciding factor and points to the importance of being intentional about what you want to keep.

Though, of course, you will want to avoid a fixture dispute that goes all the way to court, if you do end up negotiating about fixtures it can be helpful to know the lens through which a court looks at them.

What if you want to keep a fixture when you sell your house? 

If you’re a seller who is as strongly attached to your sconces as they are to your walls, don’t worry: You do have some options. 

The easiest way to make sure that you can keep the fixtures that you want to hold on to is to remove them from the house prior to listing, so that the buyer never sees it in the first place. They’ll never know what they’re missing. 

→ Learn how to get your home ready to sell

Otherwise, you just need to be sure that you address the fixtures you want to keep in the purchase agreement.

How to add inclusions and exclusions to your purchase agreement

If you’re a seller:

  • As indicated by the A in MARIA, you can specify exclusions — things that are not included in the sale — in your listing agreement and in your purchase contract. Before you list your home, do a walk-through with your real estate agent and decide if you’d like to keep any of the fixtures. Your real estate agent can help you communicate these exclusions to any potential buyers, and will make sure they are listed in the purchase agreement.
  • You can also decide if you want to include things in the sale that are technically chattels, like kitchen appliances or a swing set. These will also be listed in the purchase agreement.
  • Specify inclusions and exclusions in the contract itself. This may be a checklist or a fill-in list; your real-estate agent can help you fill it out for your needs.

→ Learn how to include furniture in your home sale

If you’re a buyer: 

  • You can request items that wouldn’t normally come with the house — chattels like above-ground hot tubs or pieces of furniture. In a buyer’s market, the seller might be more willing to part with these kinds of items, especially if they’re large or difficult to move (like, say, a pool table). In a market where you have less leverage as a buyer, you might need to increase your offer in order to persuade the seller to include them. 
  • You can also negotiate terms for the seller’s exclusion list. If the seller wants to take items that would normally be considered fixtures, you can request that they patch up any damage that removing the fixtures might do to the home, or even that they replace the fixture with another one — maybe that antique chandelier in the entryway has some sentimental value to the seller, but that doesn’t mean you need to move into a house without a light fixture in that space at all.

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