What Is a Fixture in Real Estate? What I Can and Can’t Take

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Written By Justin McGill

DealBloom aims to share the latest tips and strategies to help realtors, brokers, loan officers, and investors navigate the world of real estate.

If you’re a real estate professional, then you know that fixtures can often be one of the most troublesome aspects of a property. What is a fixture in real estate?

A fixture is anything that is permanently attached to the property. This could include things like light fixtures, ceiling fans, or even built-in shelving units. At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward. However, there are many gray areas when it comes to defining what is considered a fixture.

For example, are appliances like air conditioners considered a fixture?

In this blog post, we’ll define what is a fixture in real estate and discuss some of the most common issues that arise with them.

What is a Fixture in Real Estate?

To understand if a fixture is real estate, it helps to first understand what a “fixture” is.

In the real estate industry, fixtures are any personal items that have become physically attached to or integrated with a property.

According to this definition, a garbage disposal unit is considered personal property upon purchase. But once it is installed under the sink and connected to the electrical and plumbing systems, then it becomes a “fixture” of that real property.

This would apply to any pipes or wiring that have been installed on the property permanently.

Fixtures of real estate include lighting fixtures, bathtubs, and anything else that has been purposefully and permanently installed in a building.

Real estate is real property, which is different from personal property.

Real estate is any piece of land with all of its buildings and everything attached to it.

Personal property is movable so it remains with its owner no matter where they are.

A house and a dishwashing machine are both considered fixtures, or permanent property, of a home.

A television that is simply plugged into the wall is not attached to anything and can be taken with you when you move. Therefore, it is personal property.

When the dishwasher was purchased, it was the personal property of the tenant. But after the dishwasher’s installation, the dishwasher becomes a fixture of the house and is now real property that belongs to the landlord.

When a tenant leaves, the dishwasher stays with the property. If the landlord decides to sell the home, the dishwasher is included in the value of the home.

What is a Fixture in a Real Estate Transaction?

Built-in appliances and chandeliers are considered fixtures because they meet two requirements: 1) they are permanently attached to the property, and 2) removing them could cause significant damage to the property.

Here’s an easier way for lawyers to explain to clients what is a fixture in real estate: if they turn the house upside down, any item that falls is NOT a fixture.

This of course is an oversimplification because some items like flat-screen TVs mounted on walls fall into a gray area.

When drawing up a sales contract for a house, it is important to be very clear about which items are included in the deal and which aren’t. This will prevent any misunderstandings later.

If certain additional items such as appliances or furniture are to be included in the purchase, they should be specified clearly in the agreement.

If you’re a buyer and you wish to add specific items, be as detailed as possible to minimize any chances of misunderstandings.

If you’re working with a real estate agent, they may provide a list of the items that will be included in the sale. This list of items will be passed on to the lawyers handling the purchase.

In the commercial real estate world, many tenants prefer to take all fixtures with them when the lease ends.

On a similar note, courts have held that telecommunications equipment such as antennae, coaxial cables, and communications sheds are “permanent fixtures, notwithstanding that they could be removed within two to five days.”

Having an attorney review your contract can help you avoid unpleasant and costly issues at closing.

What is an Exclusion in Real Estate?

An exclusion in home sales is when you want to take something that is considered a fixture. Given that it is a fixture and assumed to stay with the house, you must exclude it to take it with you.

An exclusion in real estate is an item or feature that will not be included in the sale of a property. Exclusions are typically listed in the MLS by the seller’s agent.

As a home seller, it’s important to think through what you don’t want to be included in the sale. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a dispute with the buyer.

Some of the most common exclusions in real estate sales are:

  • Light fixtures
  • Ceiling fans
  • Wall-mounted speakers
  • Ceiling lights
  • Fixed wall mirrors
  • Built-in shelving
  • Special landscape plantings
  • A fireplace insert

These are all fixtures because these are all tangible items that are attached to the house.

Personal Property vs. Fixtures

It is easy to see how the line between fixtures and property can become blurry.

If a buyer saw an above-stove nook with an expensive-looking microwave oven, they may assume that it’s part of the house. Especially if it matches the style and color of the kitchen appliances.

But, the seller may have bought the microwave oven just yesterday. It’s sitting alone in its designated space, not attached to anything.

When he is ready to leave, all he has to do is unplug the microwave and take it with him.

A few years ago, a seller in Southborough, Mass decided to take the control box for an underground dog fence with them when they sold the home. Unfortunately, this wasn’t excluded from the sale and the buyer was stressed about it.

To avoid any confusion or heartbreak, be sure to clearly identify any item that you’d like to keep before finalizing the sale of your home.

If there are items that could possibly cause a complication during a home purchase, it’s best to discuss them beforehand.

A realtor can note any exemptions in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and then make sure that those exceptions are mentioned in the purchase offer. It is crucial to notify property lawyers of any exclusion so they can address the issue in the sales agreement.

Common Fixtures That Fall in The Gray Area

You expect issues on real estate deals to be the ones with gray areas like what’s included and excluded in the deal.

These are things that can be considered either real property or personal property.

  • Window Treatments: Drapes and curtains are personal items that should not be listed as exclusions in a home sale. However, curtain rods, valances, and other window treatment hardware are permanently attached to the house.
  • Swing Set: A backyard playset can be either considered personal or real property. If it’s sitting on the ground, it can be considered personal property. If it’s attached to the ground, it could be considered a fixture in real estate.
  • Basketball Hoop: If the basketball hoop is cemented into the driveway, it will stay with the home unless excluded from the home sale. A movable hoop, however, would be considered personal property.
  • Wall-Mounted Mirror: If the bathroom mirror is screwed into the wall, it will stay. If it is hanging by hooks, then it goes.
  • Wall-Mounted TV: A flat-screen TV should be excluded if the seller wants to keep it. Remember, anything that is attached to a wall is considered part of the house. In this case, the mounting bracket is attached to the wall, not the TV itself. Therefore, the TV is considered personal property but the bracket is not. Another common issue with TV installations is who fixes the holes left behind on the wall. If the buyer wants the holes covered, then this should be in writing.
  • Lights: If a seller wants to take the lights with them, they should add this to the exclusion list. Some sellers will switch out light bulbs in a property without telling buyers, thinking that they won’t notice. This is not a good idea, but it can happen.
  • Dog Fence: Some home sellers think it’s okay to take the actual wire that supplies electricity to the fence. This should definitely be an excluded item.
  • Yard Features: Items like benches, fountains, and statues are usually considered part of the property. However, if they are not permanently attached to the ground, they are considered to be personal property.

Conclusion

All in all, fixtures can be a tricky aspect of selling a home. But as long as you know what is a fixture in real estate and keep an eye out for common issues, you should be able to navigate them without any problems. And if you ever have any doubts, just remember: when in doubt, ask your broker!

Justin McGill