“Where Did the Chandelier Go?”

“Where Did the Chandelier Go?”

The buyer thought that it was included. The seller thought it was clear that it wasn’t.  But where the beautiful crystal chandelier once was, now there are just a couple of small crooked wires.  The closing being just hours away, this is now an unpleasant situation for everyone involved.  It could have been avoided.

The real estate law recognizes two types of property: real and personal.  Simply put, real property is the land and everything permanently attached to it.  This would include the house, trees, fence, etc. Personal property is anything not permanently attached. This would include the furniture, houseplants, personal belongings, etc.  Unless the contract specifies differently, all real property is included in the sale, and all personal property is excluded.  So, which category does that chandelier fall into?  It is considered a fixture.

Before it was first installed in the home, it was sitting in a box on a shelf of the local home improvement store. Because it was not attached to anything, it was personal property in the eyes of the law.  Once the homeowner bought it, and installed it in the ceiling with nuts and bolts, the law considers it permanently attached to the home, and thus a part of the real property.  Therefore, if the contract did not specifically mention it, the chandelier would be included in the sale.  The same is true for all other fixtures.  If something is attached to the house with screws, nails, glue, cement, etc., it is treated as a part of the real property.

While this may seem pretty straightforward, it can be tricky.  Some things can appear to be permanently attached when they are really not.  A microwave can appear to be built into the cabinet, when it’s actually just sitting on a tight fitting shelf.  The window coverings are usually not permanently attached to the home either (the hardware that is installed on the wall is, but the drapes are usually not).  And which appliances are included and which are excluded can also be confusing.  Of course, there is no law that says personal property cannot be included in the sale or that fixtures cannot be excluded.  Buyers and sellers just have to write it into the contract.

If you are a buyer, and are not sure whether something is a fixture or not, ask.  If you want it included, have your Realtor write it in your offer.  If you are a seller and want a fixture excluded, in order to avoid any confusion it is best to remove the item from the property before you even put the house up for sale.  If that is not possible, make sure that the listing agreement specifically states that it is excluded from the sale.  When an offer is received on your house remember to make sure that the fixture is again excluded on the contract. If the buyer has not specifically excluded that fixture in the offer they expect it to remain. Having clear communication between the parties involved, and having everything in writing, is the best way to avoid unpleasant situations at closing.