The age old debate of what is a fixture and what is a chattel is alive and well in today’s real estate market. Almost nothing puts a real estate transaction at risk more than someone removing something from the property that the Buyer thought would be included. It happens more often than you think.
First let’s start with definitions. A fixture is as item that has been fixed or attached to the property and cannot be easily moved. A chattel is an item that can be easily moved from the property. For example, a mirror that has been glued and drilled into a wall is a fixture whereas furniture or an appliance is a chattel. Generally speaking a Seller must leave all fixtures and remove all chattels unless of course something stating otherwise is in the agreement.
You might be wondering that given the above definition there should never be an issue concerning fixtures and chattels. However, people see things differently and I have heard of million dollar deals falling through due to a $100 item being removed when it was supposed to stay with the property. The listing Realtor should have a conversation with the Seller and explain what has to stay and what has to go when it comes to chattels and fixtures but unfortunately not all Realtors are built equal. Further to that a Seller may just ignore the Realtor completely. The best thing to do is to put everything in writing and specify it explicitly in the offer if the item is up for debate.
One might counter the definition above by saying that a light fixture is a chattel because it is easily moved. In fact many items can be removed with a simple screwdriver. However such is not the case. Anything that requires you to use a tool or effort to remove it from the property is a fixture and should remain. A picture or clock simply hanging on a nail is a chattel. Again most people don’t have an issue with this. Two items that cause a lot of grief for most reasonable people are televisions and large items such as hot tubs.
It used to be that televisions would simply sit on a stand or on the floor and there would be no question that it is a chattel. But nowadays many of us are hanging our televisions by way of a bracket on the wall. Because the television is affixed to the bracket some may argue that the television should stay with the home. So what do you do? Clarify it in the offer, problem solved. I find many Sellers leave the bracket with the property because if it is removed than the wall must be repaired and painted.
Hot tubs, while less prevalent than wall-mounted televisions, can cause disagreements in offers as well and this can apply to any large object on the property. While not permanently attached to a patio you’ll need a forklift to remove it so some may deem it a fixture. Easiest solution again, is to clarify it in the offer.
I’ve heard stories of Sellers removing all light bulbs from a property which can be deemed permissible according to the definition of a chattel. In this case, the Seller will be perceived as “penny-pinching” and rightfully so. At the end of the day you do not want to risk killing a deal for a 50 cent light bulb or a $10 towel bar. The alternative of involving lawyers and the time and effort that may be required by you to return those items is not worth it.
Have a question about an item being a chattel or a fixture? Leave a comment below and I’ll respond.