Real Estate Corner with Blaine Staat: You Can’t Take It with You

Real Estate Corner with Blaine Staat
Blaine Staat

Of the seven homes I’ve bought in my life, two of them were For Sale By Owner (FSBO). Nothing wrong with that, and for the most part both of the purchases were relatively issue free, however, they both also shared something in common that the other five did not.

In the first case, a home my wife & I bought from friends of my mother-in-law, the sellers came back to the house a week or so after we had moved in and dug up some plants and flowers from the front yard that they wanted to take with them.

Because that’s what friends are for. I guess.

In the second, we arrived at our 100-year-old Victorian home to find that two of the chandeliers were missing. We called the seller to ask about this and he said that they were personal family heirlooms that had belonged to his wife’s grandmother.

Of course, they had belonged to his wife’s grandmother.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that both of these were FSBO’s, but probably not. My guess is that the sellers simply weren’t aware that they can’t legally do what they did.

As the buyer, I could have taken legal recourse in both cases to get those items back, but I didn’t really like the plants that they had taken anyway, and I had no idea what either of the missing chandeliers actually looked like. They were probably ugly.

The difference in what must stay with a property and what can be taken is determined by whether the item in question is considered to be a fixture of the property.

A fixture is an item of personal property that has been affixed to a structure or the land in such a manner that it becomes part of it, and thereby part of the property. In other words, you can’t take it with you.

You purchase a basketball goal, it’s personal property. Bolt the backboard in place above the garage door or cement the post into the ground next to the driveway and it is now a fixture.

You put new window treatments in. The drapes or curtains you can take with you. The rods and mounting hardware that are screwed into the wall you have to leave behind. The mini blinds stay too, for the same reason.

Light fixtures, mailboxes, smoke detectors, ceiling fans – the list goes on – are all considered fixtures that stay with the property and convey to the new owner.

In general, if it is screwed, bolted, or connected to the house or property in a way that is intended to be permanent, it is a fixture; you have to leave it. If it is not connected to anything or is hanging from a nail – like a picture – it’s personal property; pack it up and put it in the truck.

But what if that chandelier really was your grandmother’s and you want to take it with you when you move?

Easy. Just take it down and replace it with another light fixture that will be sold with the house prior to putting your home on the market. Put it in a box and stick it in storage. If a buyer never sees it, they’ll never have a question about it or a claim for it.

But what if you can’t put it in a box, like that Sabo Palm in the front yard that you just can’t part with?

If it’s not feasible to remove the item in question, just make sure that you specifically state in writing, in the sales contract, that it is NOT included in the sale, and make sure that it has been made very clear to the buyers that it will not be conveying with the property.

Usually it’s pretty easy to tell if something is part of the property or not, but if you’re in doubt about a particular item as a buyer or a seller, ask your real estate agent; they’ll steer you in the right direction.

Just remember that ignorance of the law does not excuse you from complying with it, and never assume anything, because . . . well, maybe you should watch “The Bad News Bears” if you need the answer to that. The one with Walter Matthau.

Please let me know if you have any questions by calling 252-876-8267 or sending an email.

By Contribution Author, Blaine Staat, Weichert Realtors At Rivers Edge, 220 Front St., Suite A, New Bern