Real Estate Education for Sellers: What is a Fixture?
This is the article in a series written for those of you selling your home in Hingham, Cohasset, Hull or any of our Beautiful South Shore towns.
Brought to you by top Hingham Realtor Alice Pierce of Coldwell Banker in Hingham
A fixture is a piece of personal property that has become attached to or used in conjunction with a property in such a way that it is more a part of the house than it is part of the current home owner’s personal belongings. One way an object becomes a fixture is when it is firmly attached to the property so it cannot be removed without damage. But there are many variations on this definition depending on each individual real estate transaction and the parties involved.
In a perfect world, and on a perfect day, everybody knows what comes with a home when it is sold because ideally, our values are the same. But in reality, one person’s everyday, replaceable object is another person’s treasure. This is one of many reasons why the relationship between home buyer or seller and Realtor is such an important one. It is only through knowing someone that we can hear what is of value to them.
Listening to what is important to the real estate customer without interjecting bias or subjectivity is a key skill when it comes to Realtor professionalism. Alongside being able to listen well, is the experience of seeing hundreds or thousands of homes, and accompanying individuals as they buy or sell a home. This sharpens one’s attention to detail so that nothing is overlooked, and that there are no surprises.
Definition of the word fixture
You will undoubtedly hear the word “fixture” come up at some point while listing your home with a Realtor, or while purchasing a new house. This word will usually be in regards to a lighting fixture such as a glimmering chandelier hanging from the dining room ceiling. But there are numerous other fixtures in any house, including yours, and just as many conditions that define whether that fixture stays or goes.
The formal, legal definition of property falls into two categories; real and personal properties. Things that do not fall into either in an obvious way are in the category of fixtures. This is because these items are somewhere in between and affixed or adapted in some way.
For instance, something is considered to be affixed to land when it is attached to it by roots. Things like trees, vines, and shrubs fit this qualifier. Also consider those things that are imbedded, like walls, stonework, ,or the less obvious ceramic house number tiles you brought back from Florence and had affixed to your stone pillars at the front of the driveway. Another description or criteria are the things described as “permanently resting on” in the case of buildings, sheds and the like. By saying something is permanently attached, one is describing the quality of installation. Materials like cement, construction adhesive and anchored screws fit neatly into this description.
Personal property is easy to define when you think of movable things like furniture, clothing, cash and cars. By definition, personal property becomes real property when it is attached and has lost its movable status. However, it is not uncommon for us to enjoy Great Aunt Mary’s dining room chandelier while residing in our home with every intention of keeping it when we move again. But the chandelier is firmly attached to the ceiling with heavy anchor bolts and connected to the electrical wiring, making it part of the house, and not a personal belonging.
What is considered a fixture?
While reading this, you can probably think of many items that qualify as fixtures. Things like drapes and window treatments, refrigerators, washers and dryers. But there is an endless subset of everyday and not-so-everyday items that must be considered by the seller and discussed with their Realtor before a home goes on the market.
A good example of a fixture decision has to do with utility rather than nostalgia. Many people have landscaped pools in the Hingham area and most of those have pool covers of one variety or another. A solar pool cover contributes to the heated temperature of the pool water and serves to decrease the summertime heating bill. A protective or nuisance cover is made of a fine, durable mesh and will keep leaves out. A winter cover is made of heavy duty material and tied down after the pool is winterized. Would these pool covers be considered fixtures?
Because the winter cover is tied down to metal fittings that are set into the cement or stone patio that surrounds a pool, most people would say that this comes with the house when it is sold. However, one could argue that a pool cover such as this is like drapes where the fabric can be removed form the rod. All three cover types are not, by definition, affixed. The two covers besides the winter cover are not dependent on affixed holds, and they are more often a negotiable item.
If the pool has an unusual shape or dimensions, this brings into question adaptability. Things that are carefully measured and customized for use within a specific space have long been considered fixtures. Another example of this are built-in stereo speakers in a custom built cabinet. Both the speakers and the cabinet have become fixtures but the receiver and CD player that plugs into the wiring remains personal property.
Trade fixtures are in different category altogether. These are the fixtures used in a business like a restaurant or retail store. In this genre, the exiting tenant or owner is allowed to remove business operations fixtures when vacating the property. Included are things like kitchen equipment, restaurant booths, bars, outdoor business signs, racks, shelves, and display fittings. Like a residential real estate sale, the premises are required to be restored to their original condition.
It is not always a chandelier
Recently, a home seller decided to take his hose racks with him when he moved. This is a fairly reasonable, albeit unconscious decision to make, especially while in the midst of all the packing, moving and closing timelines. The seller honestly did not stop to consider these to be part of the home sale. When the buyer made the final walk through, brought the issue to the attention of both Realtors.
“Everything was great,” said the person buying the house.
Both Realtors breathed a small sigh of relief and smiled at each other.
“But,” continued the buyer, “where did those hose racks go? There was one in the back of the house and one on the side over there, near the front of the house.”
The Realtors looked at each other and then the home seller, who overheard the question replied, “Oh! They are right over there. Did you want them?” He was pointing to a heap of garage and shed items ready to be packed into his moving truck.
The buyer replied in the affirmative and the person selling the home quickly apologized and made sure the hose racks were promptly reinstalled.
Occasionally, as the real estate transaction moves ahead, individuals reconsider certain items or more commonly, include things while packing without realizing the “fixture status” of these things. Everyday items are often a part of everyday routines and habits, and as such, don’t register consciously.
Exclusions define what is, and is not included when you sell your home. Exclusions in the real estate transaction are to protect those items of meaning that we intend to bring with us when we move. When listing an exclusion, it is important to describe the item clearly and spell out the terms in detail. This becomes part of the MLS listing and the eventual sales agreement. Some real estate agents recommend placing a small note or sign near the item, or on the showing log that says the item is not included in the home sale.
Another way to proactively avoid discussions about that chandelier, or outdoor speaker set up, is to remove the items and repair the attachment locations prior to selling your home on the active market. Replacing Great Aunt Mary’s chandelier with a ceiling cap or a reasonably priced lighting fixture can put this out of your mind.
One of the many ways a Realtor is important
Realtors are taught to notice every possible fixture during a listing appointment and ask the home owner whether or not they intend to leave them with the house. They also explain that things attached by any means are considered part of the property, and that exceptions need to be spelled out. This information becomes part of a formal set of documents used while the home is on the active real estate market. Every home sale is different, and all of the specifications are detailed so that qualified home buyers know the conditions of the sale.
Professional real estate agents are keenly focused on the hundreds of fine details in a real estate transaction and work with a preventative philosophy. This is why actively listening, sharply observing and then using a well-worded sales agreement addendum or section is one best practice.
An example of one such clause is written similarly to this:
“Any items that are permanently attached to the property, including attached floor coverings, drapes and window treatments with hardware, shades and window blinds, window and door screens, storm sashes, awnings, light fixtures, television or satellite antennas, electric garage door openers and code pads, outdoor plants, and trees are included in the sales price of 55 Main Street USA unless otherwise specified in this agreement.”
This way, anything that is an exception to what is stated above must be part of the formal, legally binding agreement that both parties read, agree to and sign.
Sometimes a buyer will initiate a request for a specific item when making an offer on a house. In the following example, there are other objects that can be substituted for window treatments. Maybe there is a home buyer whose curtains at their current residence will not fit the windows in the house they want. In this case, the buyer can include the drapes in the initial offer. The home seller can of course say no, or can suggest that the buyer add money to the final sale for the curtains.
In conclusion, the real estate term fixture is not so easily defined. Most of the articles on the internet discuss a fixture as something simple and clear cut. But when you look at the items used as examples, the waters get muddy. A good Realtor will know to be very specific about fixtures and exclusions, thus protecting you from unwanted surprises up the road.
If you are looking for a home to buy, it is best to assume that nothing at all comes with the home. This way you might feel pleasantly surprised when you learn that the sellers are leaving their refrigerator behind.
The most important thing to remember about fixtures is that everything truly is negotiable and that there is no hard and fast rule. What is legally binding is the agreement between two parties once both clearly understand the terms of the real estate sale.
Here are some of the fixture contradictions that might confuse you when thinking about what stays, and what goes when you sell your home.
1) A refrigerator is not a fixture, but the dishwasher is. Both use plumbing (if your fridge has an ice maker), both are plugged in, and neither are bolted to the floor.
2) That stunning perennial garden is a fixture, but the rose bushes planted in pots are not.
3) Custom made draperies are not considered a fixture; shades, blinds and shutters are.
4) The artwork hanging on the walls is not a fixture, but the hanger is.
5) A satellite dish on top of the roof is an interesting dilemma. Dish companies state that this becomes part of the property as a fixture, however, they also say that home owners should remove it, or call someone to do it for them! Most people don’t want these on their roof unless they are subscribers.
6) The surround sound system in the home theatre is considered a fixture, but the free standing sub woofer that gives the bass its power is personal property.
7) An above-ground pool is not a fixture, an in-ground pool is.
Enjoy all the positives of the coastal towns located on the South Shore of Boston. Feel free to contact Coldwell Banker Realtor Alice Pierce through her website, email or telephone 781-724-7622 about articles, community information for Hingham, MA, Cohasset, MA, Hull, MA, Norwell, MA and any other South Shore towns.