Fixtures Vs. Personal Property In Real Estate Sales – What Is The Difference And How Can They Affect Your Closing?
Say that you’ve found the home of your dreams – complete with state-of-the-art appliances, an antique stained glass window in the doorway, and mahogany bookshelves on the walls of the study. You assume without double-checking that these items are part of the real estate sale as well. However, you get to closing day only to find that these items are gone – taken by the seller and claimed as “personal property”. Naturally you’ll wonder – is this what I signed up for, and is this legal?
The answers to these questions lie in the distinction between personal property and what are known as “fixtures” in real estate transactions.
What is considered “personal property” in real estate?
Personal property includes items like chairs, couches, dressers, microwaves, or grills – essentially anything that is not bolted to the walls or floors. For example, a rug on the floor would be personal property, but a carpet that is attached to the floor is a fixture. In general, personal property is not included in a real estate sale.
On closing day, these personal items are expected to be removed from the home. Sometimes, a buyer may fall in love with a particular item and negotiate that with the seller as part of the sale – either at no added cost, or as part of a separate agreement. It is generally understood by both buyer and seller what items constitute personal property.
What is considered a “fixture” in real estate?
Disputes and confusion can arise when it comes to fixtures, and what constitutes an item that should transfer with the property, no questions asked. A real estate fixture is any object permanently attached within the property by bolts, screws, nails, cement, glue, or other means.
To determine whether something is personal property or a fixture, realtors and courts alike will refer to the “MARIA Test”. MARIA is an acronym meaning the following:
M = Method of attachment. How is the item attached to the property? If it is attached by something where somebody would need tools to remove it, this is more likely to be a fixture. Exceptions may include picture frames or decorative items.
A = Adaptability of the item. If it is an integral part of a room, or built specifically for the property, this item is likely a fixture. Examples are built-in bookcases, window frames, flooring and shelving.
R = Relationship between the parties. This looks at the relationship between buyer and seller. When disputes arise over an item, it is more likely that a court would favor the buyer and their impression that a piece was a fixture rather than personal property.
I = Intention of the owner. What was the intent when the item was installed or attached? Was it planned to be a permanent part of the property? A picture frame or piece of art was not likely to be a permanent fixture, but a new mailbox, fence, or sink, probably was.
A = Agreement. Is there a written contract or agreement between the buyer and seller? Parties are free to negotiate whether a particular item stays or goes. If there is a disagreement later, courts would turn to any type of written agreement if there was one.
Many items in a home are clearly fixtures, leaving little to debate. Chandeliers on ceilings or trees in the yard are meant to stay, for example.
Common disputes about fixtures, however, can involve:
- Unattached refrigerators, washers, or dryers may be thought to be fixtures by a buyer, but personal property by a seller.
- Playgrounds, swing sets, gazebos, and patio furniture. Large outdoor items that are free standing and not cemented to the ground can easily be misinterpreted as personal property by one party but fixtures by another.
- Light fixtures. A seller might have some personal attachment to a light fixture in the home, and intend to take it with them. The buyer, in turn, would be surprised to see it gone when they move in.
To avoid disputes, it is best to be clear at the outset as to what is what, and which items will stay or go. Buyers and sellers may negotiate these questions, but should clearly indicate their goals and get them in writing. Having an experienced New York real estate attorney at their side during this part of the process can be invaluable in some cases.
Our Bronx and New Rochelle Real Estate Attorneys Can Help Safeguard Your Goals When Closing on a Home
Once the “big picture” questions about a real estate sale are figured out, new issues can crop up when it comes to the smaller details of the home. Surprise disputes over whether a particular item or furnishing is included in the sale can sometimes derail a closing altogether. To avoid these problems, it helps to have somebody to help that has been there before. Contact our Bronx & Westchester real estate lawyers at Cavallo & Cavallo and we will be glad to discuss any concerns, big or small, you may have.