Fixtures, Finishes and Furniture | What’s the Difference in Real Estate?
Staging is the standard
Staging has become the standard in many real estate markets. It makes the house look its best and can distract the eye from things that may be less than perfect. So what you see is not always what you get. If a house is vacant a professional stager can make it look like a movie set - everything in every room matches and a consistent style flows throughout the house. Staged homes can lull buyers into forgetting to look at the difference between fixtures, finishes and furniture in their home purchase.
Now the problem is that the house looks amazing and that’s what the home buyers want. They want everything it took to make the house look fantastic, which is sort of the point. As a home seller you want the house to look fantastic and entice someone - or a few someones - to fall in love with it. That scenario does have a downside.
A fixture is defined in real estate as n.
- Something securely fixed in place.
- Something attached as a permanent appendage, apparatus, or appliance.
- An item of personal property that is physically attached to a property and becomes part of it, as a machine that is installed.
More simply, a fixture in real estate is defined as something attached to the property and removing it will cause some type of damage.
It could have been personal property at one time but once it becomes secured, it becomes a fixture. If that explanation didn’t help, you’re not alone. This is one of the most contentious topics in home sales. The confusion over what stays with the house and what goes with the seller is a regular argument between the parties. A few tips can help you avoid this argument.
What about your market?
I don’t know all of the purchase agreements across the country obviously, but I’m imagining that most have something about fixtures in them. However, it’s up to the parties to define the items further to ensure there’s no confusion. Any realtor who’s been in the business for a while has dealt with this and hopefully learned their lesson. I did!
I was a very new realtor when the curtain conversation between the seller and the homebuyer fell to me and the seller’s agent to resolve. Fixtures in real estate were not defined in the contract at that time. So it was even less likely that the seller’s agent had this conversation with his clients.
I have talked to other agents across the country who say that the curtains are not included; it’s just the window covering hardware. I think you’re seeing the problem: everybody has a different definition or understanding of what a fixture in real estate actually is.
Grandma had made the curtains and they were very important to the seller. There was no question they were taking those curtains with them. Well, my client decided those curtains were staying right where they were. She was pregnant and had already decided that that room was going to be for the new baby.
The last thing any good realtor wants to do is give their client a negative story to talk about to everyone they know - friends, family and coworkers - for the rest of their life. So we tried to figure out what to do. They had agreed on everything else. We were able to come to an amicable decision after lots of conversations trying to talk them out of walking away from a house they love because of the curtains. The homebuyer and new mom got the curtains. Grandma would make some more.
The wife did what?
When I was a court reporter, just prior to real estate, I was in a deposition with a husband and wife who were discussing the sale of their home. “Discussing” is probably not the right word for what they were doing. It was contentious - really loudly contentious. I had to interrupt them a few times because they were yelling over each other so much that I couldn’t catch what anybody was saying - including the attorneys who were trying to diffuse the arguing.
Well, the wife had taken the definition of fixtures and thrown it out the window. She took everything from the cabinets to the faucets to the doorknobs and dug out or pulled out all of the landscaping. It was a mess. Now that I’m a realtor, I have a lot of empathy for their agent. Because it was so volatile in that situation they probably each had their own agent.
Examples of fixtures
Examples of fixtures in real estate include: electrical, mechanical, lighting, plumbing and heating fixtures, ceiling fans, fireplace inserts, gas logs and grates, solar power systems, built-in appliances, window and door screens, awnings, shutters, window coverings, attached floor coverings, television antennas, satellite dishes, air coolers/conditioners, pool/spa equipment, garage door openers/remote controls, mailbox, in-ground landscaping, trees/shrubs, water features and fountains, water softeners, water purifiers, security systems/alarms.
I took the language above out of the purchase agreement used in California. Agents and clients still have arguments over what's included in the sale and what isn't. It doesn't always help but the contract is structured to help make it more obvious. Questions like: Is a Ring considered a security system? What about TVs and the brackets that are mounted on walls? Or stereo speakers that are installed in ceilings? There’s always going to be confusion over fixtures.
The best way to eliminate that confusion is to be abundantly clear in the purchase agreement. Take your time going through the Docusigned agreement. Don't leave it to your realtor to remember everything you said about the chandelier.
Tips for Home Sellers
You and your agent should be on the same page when it comes to the fixtures. You should have an in-depth conversation about what fixtures are in real estate and how that will affect the sale of your property. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
Look at it from the perspective of the homebuyer for just a minute. They have dreamed about buying a home, talked to every friend and family member, sacrificed and saved, maybe even begged for money from their parents. They come into your home and decide this is it! This is the home of their dreams! Everything is just the way they want it.
You’ve done your job well when your house is dressed to the nines, everything is placed perfectly, and it’s so clean it sparkles. All the prep work is now worth it. The buyers are pretty much star-struck. They’re not necessarily thinking, "Gee I wonder if that is a fixture?" They’re looking at the house as a whole, not bit by bit.
The best advice you can follow is to take those must-have questionable items out of the house. If you spent a fortune having your curtains custom made and you plan to take them with you, take them out of the house and replace them with something suitable. Lighting can not only set a mood it can make a room. Great lighting can define the space and the style from French Country to traditional Empire and Mid-Century Modern Sputnik fixtures.
As a matter of fact, nothing can spark a fight like a seller who wants the chandelier but forgot to mention it. I have seen sellers agree to leave it to stop the arguing and then take it with them when they moved. Boy, that’s always fun. Again, take that light fixture out and replace it with something suitable so you’re not battling it out over something - that in the big picture - is a small thing.
Well, you may say, "I’ll just put a note on it that says I’m taking it with me." Or "I’ll make sure it’s written in the contract." Again, homebuyers will fall in love with your home. They want that style and taste - your style and your taste. If you try to take it away from them after they’ve made it their own in their minds, it could lead to disaster.
Tips for Homebuyers
There are a couple of things you can do to avoid confusion and disappointment.
There are a couple of things you can do to avoid confusion and disappointment.
- Talk with your realtor. There are private comments in the multiple listing service that only other agents can read. Ask if there’s anything in there about a fixture that the seller is excluding from the sale.
- When you decide that you want to make an offer on a home, either go back and look at it again or thoroughly review the pictures to see if there’s anything that you think may become an issue later.
- Just prior to close you’ll have an opportunity to walk through the house again. More on that later. When you do, bring your purchase agreement with you to make sure that the things that were supposed to stay are still there. Things like the refrigerator, washer and dryer.
What are finishes in a real estate transaction?
Tasha of Kaleidoscope Living describes finishes as jewelry for your home - they improve the appearance. I really like the word "jewelry" to describe finishes. It's what completes an outfit and a room.
The list of finishes available for the interior of a home is extensive and comprises a variety of materials. In addition, there is electrical, cabinetry and countertops, plumbing fixtures, appliances, towel bars, etc.
There are floor finishes which is the type of flooring: hardwood, carpet or Terrazzo would be flooring options.
Wall finishes would include paint, wallpaper, tile and molding.
Ceiling tiles, spray plaster, and shiplap are just a few of the ceiling finishes available for ceilings.
Corrugated steel, composition shingle, wood shingles and concrete tiles are some of the roof finishes available. The type of roof finish often reflects the area in which the home is located. For example, a home located in an area that has a lot of snow may have a fiberglass roof.
For both buyers and sellers
The Final Walk-Through
Realtors tend to get lazy on this one. Homebuyers have a chance to look at the house again just prior to closing/settling and getting the keys. It’s not an opportunity to ask for new things. The walk-through is to verify that the house is in the same general condition it was in when you started.
As a homebuyer, bring your purchase agreement with you and walk through the house to check the things that the seller agreed to leave you: Personal property like the refrigerator, washer and dryer.
Things That Shouldn’t Be There
The things you leave behind are just as important to pay attention to as the things you're taking with you. As the seller, you have agreed to leave the house in a particular condition, which your contract with the buyer will explain. California requires the house to be “broom swept.” Leave the house fairly clean and remove any personal property unless you agreed to leave it for the new owner. You don't have to do a massive cleaning. It's one of those situations where you do unto others.
It’s common for home sellers to leave things they don’t want. It never fails that they’ll leave paint for the house claiming that it will be useful. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
Please be sure to have your agent ask the buyer if they want what you’re planning to leave. Generally, buyers don’t want your half-used jug of pesticides, broken yard tools, or that partially dried-up old paint. Find the nearest household hazardous waste drop-off and leave it with them to manage safely.