What Items are Included in a Home Sale
When buying or selling a home, it is usually safe to assume that the "real property" being sold includes the land and all firmly attached structures. But what exactly is included in the definition of "firmly attached structures"? Are the washer and dryer included? Dishwasher? What about your heirloom chandelier?
Chattels vs Fixtures
This grey area revolves around the difference between "chattels" and "fixtures." Chattels are moveable items of property which are neither land nor permanently attached to the land or a building, either directly or vicariously through attachment to real property. A fixture is a chattel which has become real property by having been affixed to it.
Clear as mud?? Some clear-cut examples may help. Some examples of chattels include washers; dryers; fridges; and stoves. The key is that they are not permanently attached to the house in any meaningful way. They are simply sitting on the floor and plugged into the wall, much like your television set or vacuum cleaner.
Some examples of fixtures include built-in dishwashers; light fixtures that are hard-wired to the home and mounted to the wall or ceiling; bathroom tubs, sinks and toilets. The key difference is that fixtures are affixed, and chattels are not.
Unfortunately, it is not a black or white line. Washing machines (a chattel) use power and water, much the same as dishwashers (a fixture). The difference is how they attach to that power and water supply. Televisions are obviously chattels, right? What if they are mounted to the wall??
Practical Tips for Smooth Transactions: Anticipating Potential Issues
My goal is not to confuse you but rather to get you thinking about which items are automatically part of the sale of a home and which are not. The key is that when there is any doubt, put it in writing. The listing paperwork and the Contract of Purchase and Sale both have designated areas in them for listing Included Items and Excluded items. If there is ever a dispute over an item, it will be up to a Judge to decide on which side of the fixture/chattel line the item lies. As they say in boxing - never leave it with the judges. If you have any doubt, put it in writing ahead of time.
When putting it in writing, be specific. Use brand names and model numbers whenever possible. As a person selling a home, swapping out a fridge and stove the day before the property changes hands is unacceptable. On the other side, a person buying a home can avoid that possibility by taking photos and including details about the chattels in the Contract of Purchase and Sale.
Finally, here is a practical piece of advice from my experience as a Realtor. If you want to take a light fixture with you, or the lawn mower in the shed doesn't belong to you, note it in the listing paperwork and Contract of Purchase and Sale. Too often, I have seen the sale of property become more complicated than it has to be because one party has dug their heels in about a particular chattel. Save yourself the grief and put it in writing!