A buyer sees a well-furnished house, falls in love with the place, then comes move-in day… “Wait, where’s the complete set?!”
Prospective buyers of a house or property can sometimes overlook what the seller presents. These may not even be considered fixtures!
Sellers can also get confused about what to pack up as their personal property and what they are selling with the real estate. That being said…
Here’s a guide to what stays and what goes in a home sale.
What Are Fixtures in Land Law?
The question amongst those who study property law or real estate is: What is a Fixture vs a Chattel?
Thankfully, real estate agents have a guide (referred to as MARIA) to legally differentiate the two. We’ll discuss that in a minute.
A Chattel is essentially a term used to refer to personal property, while a fixture is real property.
- Personal property are things that DON’T INVOLVE land or interest in land.
- Real property are general things that involve land or interest in land.
When most people think of real property, they think of houses.
But everything starts in the plot of land itself. The plot of land itself has certain rights associated with that land.
The common law states: any buildings on that land, as well as improvements made to the buildings built on that land, such as fixtures, have those legal rights transferred to them as well as the charges.
That’s why it’s crucial to determine whether an item is a chattel or a fixture.
What Does Fixture Mean?
A fixture is usually an item permanently affixed or attached to the land. A classic example is a kitchen cabinet.
A chattel or non-fixture is something you can easily remove from a certain space. A good example of a chattel is a free-standing TV or any device not bolted to the wall at all.
So, what makes things difficult is when you have a chattel that is attached to the land in some way, but it’s not clear whether or not that item became a fixture.
What Is a “Fixture” in Property?
You may be thinking: “Okay, that’s simple.
If it’s attached and immovable, it’s real property.” Well, not so fast. There are some gray areas in regards to what people consider “attached”.
An oven is considered real property, but not the refrigerator that simply plugs in the wall outlet.
Some sellers are able to detach curtain and light fixtures or attachments before a close.
California courts use the acronym M.A.R.I.A to test whether an item is considered a fixture. This serves as a general guide, but a buyer and seller can negotiate differently in their purchase agreement.
MARIA is an acronym for the 5 tests that help determine whether an item has the characteristics of a fixture. It stands for:
Method of Attachment
How is the item attached to the house?
If it’s screwed in, glued, or otherwise permanently attached to the wall, floor, ceiling using nails, cement, pipes, or screws, it’s considered a fixture.
That means even though you can unscrew a light fixture, ceiling fan, or TV mount, the method of attachment was intended to be permanent and therefore can be contested to be part of the real estate.
Certain fixtures are termed adaptable because they have become an integral part of the home, meaning it was built specifically to be used with the property, then it’s considered a fixture.
Examples include built-in electronics, floating flooring like full carpeting and laminate floor planks, or even the pool cover (because it was made for the pool!).
Sometimes, a seller is attached to a specific item in his/her house, but it’s already considered a fixture due to its adapted importance.
For example, floating flooring isn’t technically attached, but it has become an intrinsic part of the property and generally shouldn’t be removed.
This party can technically take it as personal property, as long as it’s replaced with the same type of fixture.
In the end, if you have fixtures in your home you want to take with you when you move out, you may want to consider replacing those items before any buyers view your real estate and take interest.
Relationship of the Parties
Courts usually favor specific parties when disputes arise regarding the selling of real property and fixtures involved.
It’s commonly observed that if the negotiation regarding specific fixtures is between buyer and seller, the buyer likely has the favor. If it’s between tenant and landlord, the tenant is likely to win.
Intention of the Party
If the seller had the intention of making the item a permanent part of the house when it was initially installed, then the item can be considered a fixture.
For instance, a built-in bookshelf, bushes, or a mailbox are examples of physical property that are installed by the owner to be fixed in place, whether it is ornamental or serves a purpose.
Agreement Between the Parties
This may be the most important test in determining which existing fixtures remain with the property for sale or belong to the seller, and may override technical definitions of what counts as a fixture.
The general rule is that your purchase contract, also gone over with the real estate agent involved, should specify as much as possible what comes with the real estate being sold.
The benefit of this detailed contract is if the seller takes a certain fixture specified in the agreement as belonging to the buyer, the contract is broken and the buyer can choose not to purchase.
What Are Examples of Fixtures?
There are 4 general classifications or types of fixtures: agricultural, domestic, ornamental, and trade fixtures.
- Agricultural – articles annexed for the purpose of farming or gardening
- Domestic/Ornamental – objects a tenant attaches to a unit to make it more habitable
- Trade – articles affixed to rented buildings by merchants to pursue the business for which the premises are occupied.
Here’s a comprehensive list of some examples that are commonly considered as fixtures:
- Air conditioner systems
- Blinds and window coverings
- Beds fastened to walls
- Built-in mirror
- Built-in shelving and cabinets
- Ceiling fans
- Clothes line
- Curtain rods
- Chimney grates
- Garage door opener
- Heating systems
- Light fixtures or equipment
- Landscaping (anything planted on the ground)
- Playground equipment / Swing set
- Security system
- Sprinkler systems
- Smoke detectors
- Towel racks
- Wall sconces
- Washers and dryers
What Aren’t Fixtures?
On the other hand, these chattels or non-fixtures are commonly taken by the owners to go to their next home:
- Detached bookshelves
- Curtains and drapes
- Yard/Garden decorations
We hope you learned how to navigate around the gray areas of the definition of a fixture.
In real estate, everything is negotiable. It’s better to arrange a purchase contract as thoroughly as possible with your real estate agent to ensure a smooth and successful sale.
Leave a comment if you have any questions on what are considered fixtures or what isn’t for your real estate test.