Fixtures vs. Personal Property

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

In this lesson we will define the difference between fixtures and personal property in real estate transactions and show how to avoid any conflicts surrounding what is included in the sale.

Fixtures and Personal Property

Jenny and Tom have found the house of their dreams and love nearly everything about it. From the appliance-stocked kitchen and laundry room to the windows, they are happy to pay what the sellers are asking. While putting together the offer their agent tells them that they need to include a part about fixtures and personal property to make sure they get exactly what they want. Let's make sure that Jenny and Tom understand these terms and properly go about completing the offer to avoid any misunderstanding about what is included in the sale.

Definitions

In real estate transactions, every physical part of the property for sale is classified as different kinds of property. The house itself and the land is real property, while nearly everything else is considered personal property. Why the distinction? In a real estate transaction, the default assumption is that the sale is for the real property. Transactions involving personal property are a separate matter.

An important third classification is fixtures, which include the items that exists in the gray area between the other two. A fixture is an item that is physically attached to the house, while personal property is an item which can be removed without making changes to the physical structure of the house. Ceiling fans, built-in bookshelves, and kitchen counter tops cannot be removed without physically taking apart these structures at their attachment points.

For example, Jenny loves the curtains in the dining room. The curtains are hung on curtain rods which are screwed onto the wall. When the sellers leave, the rods will remain with the property as fixtures while they are free to take the curtains as personal property. A microwave oven that sits on the counter and is plugged into the wall is a piece of personal property. A microwave that is bolted to the wall above the stove is a fixture and would be expected to be left behind. A carpet is a fixture since it is stapled or glued to the floor, while a rug just sits on the floor and can be easily rolled up.

How to Avoid Problems

Buyers and sellers can use a couple of best practices to clear up any confusion. When listing the property, the seller and the agent should be sure to mention whatever fixtures are explicitly excluded from the sale. For example, if the seller intends to take those curtain rods, then that should be mentioned up front in the listing.

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