What’s included when you buy a house? It’s a familiar story. The buyer of a Victorian home in a desirable neighborhood falls in love with the antique chandelier that hangs in the dining room. It fits the space beautifully and the crystal drops cascade light across the room. Yet, when she buys the home and moves in, the chandelier is gone. In its place stands a cheap shade, surrounded by discoloration where the chandelier once hung. The seller, it seems, loved the chandelier too; so much that she took it with her when she moved.
Or, perhaps, the buyer is lucky. The chandelier, being wired and bolted to the ceiling, is included in the sale. Replace the chandelier with an antique mirror or an above-ground swimming pool, and the situation is not so clear cut. Here are five common items that often lead to dispute between buyers and sellers.
Legally, anything bolted, nailed, wired, cemented or permanently glued to the property becomes a fixture. Fixtures are included in the sale. Anything that can be removed without causing damage to the property, such as a washing machine that can be unplumbed and unplugged, is personal property. The seller is entitled to remove personal property when he leaves. Thus, a free-standing refrigerator or kitchen stove is not included in the sale. When that same item is built-in, such as a dishwasher, it is included in the sale unless the seller specifically excludes it.
The law aside, everything in a real estate transaction is negotiable. In some areas, sellers customarily leave appliances, whether they are built-in or not. Elsewhere, sellers routinely remove free-standing items. Your real estate agent can help you work out the norms in your neighborhood. If there’s any doubt, put your agreement in writing.
2. Window Dressings
Window coverings often cause problems between buyers and seller, but the situation is clear. Drapes can easily be unhooked, so they remain the seller’s personal property. But the drapery rods and cornices are bolted to the wall, so they must be left. Shutters and shades that are fully fitted and attached to the window should be included in the sale of the house; decorative shades can be taken.
It has become customary in many markets for sellers to leave window coverings for the new owner. If this is the agreement, you must put the inclusion of window coverings in writing. Be sure to specify the “existing” window coverings; otherwise the seller may be entitled to replace the designer drapes with drapes of inferior quality.
A rug lying on the floor obviously is not included with the sale of the home and goes with the seller because it is not attached to the room. But wall-to-wall carpet is nailed or tacked and thus forms part of the realty sale, unless the seller excludes it in the sale contract. Similarly, linoleum tile is glued to the floor and becomes a fixture.
Doorknobs, letter boxes, light switches, kitchen and bathroom fittings all transfer to the new owner. The exception is trade fixtures — hardware used in a business which the seller is entitled to remove when vacating. Examples include kitchen equipment, office equipment and signs. If the seller runs a business from home, check what he intends to take with him and put your agreement in writing.
5. Flat-Screen TVs
Flat-screen TVs are a legal gray area. For years, free-standing TVs were simply plugged into an electricity supply and an aerial point. As such, they were obviously personal property and the seller could take them with him when he moved. Today, many homes display a high-definition, flat-screen TV professionally mounted on the wall. Typically, the wires run through the walls, which, on the face of it, means the TV and its mountings are included in the sale. Indeed, any item that has been specially adapted to the property, such as a built-in stereo in a built-in cabinet, must stay with the new owner.
However, given the history of TVs as personal property, no buyer should assume that a flat-screen TV will stay behind. In fact, in North Carolina, the general rule states that the wall mount included in the sale of the house but that the TV is personal property and seller can take it with them. The only safe course of action is to write in the sale contract whether the flat-screen TV stays or goes. In real estate, the message is clear: don’t assume anything you see on the property comes with the house. Ask about the items you want to keep (or remove) and write your agreement into the contract.
It’s ALWAYS negotiable and ALWAYS in the written contract. Ask for you what you want and get agreement. Do not assume and do not go with anything verbal. Get it in writing.