When I’m assisting a client with buying real estate, a question I hear a lot is “does this come with the house?” Sometimes, the buyer is asking because they really like an item and sometimes they’re asking because they’re hoping it will be removed. In my experience, most people are already familiar with the term “fixture” and know that fixtures are included in the sale of a home unless expressly excluded. Most everyone seems to recognize the obvious fixtures like chandeliers, cabinets, doors, etc. but not everyone knows exactly what makes a fixture a fixture. Sometimes two items can be similar but one is considered a fixture while the other is not. I’ve certainly seen my share of otherwise smooth real estate transactions take on an entirely different tone when there is a misunderstanding about what items are included in the sale. Before you ever get to the point where you’re making an offer on a home, you should know exactly what you’re paying for (i.e. what comes with the house).
First, I’d like to define exactly what a fixture is (i.e. what is sold with the house). A fixture is typically pretty easy to spot and is basically an item that is affixed to the house. Accessories that go with a fixture should also convey with a house. For example if a house has a central vacuum system, even though the accessories like the hose and the attachments are not affixed to the house, they are considered part of the vacuum system and should be left in the house.
Most people usually refer to the other category as “not a fixture.” In legal parlance, the other category is referred to as chattels (items that aren’t part of the house). Often you’ll hear chattels referred to as “personal items” as well. A chattel is defined as any movable item which is neither land, nor permanently attached to the property, or any buildings.
Determining whether an item is a fixture or a chattel is not always straightforward. Let’s take a category like shelving for example. There are many different types of shelving to consider. A bookshelf affixed to the house with a bracket and screws is of course a fixture as is built-in shelving. Shelving not attached to the house however is a chattel. Then there’s the very tricky category of “floating shelves.” These shelves are hung on the wall using screws. So is it a fixture or a chattel? The answer: CHATTEL. Why? Much like a picture is hung on the wall and not affixed to this house so is this shelf.
Refrigerators can be another tricky category. Many people walk into a house and automatically assume all large appliances are sold with the house. Not true. A refrigerator for example could go either way. If the refrigerator is moveable it’s a chattel. If the refrigerator is “built-in” (ex. most Sub Zero brand units) then it’s a fixture.
One last common area of confusion is blinds/window treatments. Blinds are considered a fixture. Window treatments are chattels. So, you could take your curtains but ironically you would need to leave your curtain rod which is considered a fixture.
In places like Needham, Newton, Natick, and Wellesley wall mounted televisions are also very popular. While the mounting bracket would be considered a fixture. The television itself would be a Chattel.
So, what does this all mean to you?
If you’re buying a house, whether it’s in Newton, Needham, Wellesley, Natick, or another part of Metrowest; it’s important to know what’s included in the sale. Look at the list of exclusions if there is one and know it well. If it’s very important to you to have something that’s not a fixture, ask your real estate agent. Somethings like window treatments are a good idea to write into the offer. Other chattels like furniture are often better dealt with outside of the offer. When touring a house, don’t be afraid to ask your agent “is this included?”
If you’re selling a house, whether it’s in Newton, Needham, Wellesley, Natick, or another part of Metrowest; make sure to list in the exclusions the fixtures you will not be selling with the house. Maybe some plantings or a chandelier have special meaning to you and you want to take them with you to your new home. Then put them on the exclusion list. I also encourage my clients to list items that are chattels but not obviously so to the general public. I often list as exclusions things like floating shelves, window treatments, refrigerators, etc. A real estate transaction is complicated and often delicate enough already. The last thing you want to do is throw a wrench into the works with a simple misunderstanding. When selling ask your agent “do I need to exclude this?” It’s better to be safe than sorry.