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Stuff that stays, stuff that goes: What can – and can’t – you take from the house you’re selling?

photo of three yellow light fixtures hanging from a ceiling

    Let’s pretend you just bought your dream home: all the bells and whistles you want, the specs you want, in your budget and ready for move-in. But when you show up for the walk-through, it looks ... different. All of the window treatments are gone. So are the lighting fixtures. There are no doorknobs on the doors, and in some cases no doors on the doorframes. The stainless steel appliances from the showing have been replaced with an old microwave and a dorm fridge, and there are giant holes in the yard where trees used to be.

    Yikes, right? Well the good (if annoying) news is that that kind of switcheroo is illegal, and you’d most likely get to sue your seller for the value of all that stuff. Because when it comes to fixtures, you can’t take it with you when you sell your house. Of course, you can take almost anything you want with you (and you can try to leave anything you want!) – provided that you disclose your plans way up front to any potential buyers. 

     

    The basics
    A fixture, when it comes to real estate, is anything fixed to a house or the grounds of its property. And a fixture stays with the house. Hung up like a painting? Not a fixture. Bolted to the studs? That’s a fixture. Plugged into the wall? Nah, probably not. Wired in with gas or plumbing? Fixture.

    To start off simple, here’s a quick list of things that are usually assumed to be fixtures:

    • Built-in shelves
    • Doors and door knobs
    • Pulls on built-in drawers
    • Wired-in alarm systems, as well as nailed or stuck-up fire and CO2 alarms
    • Window treatments, including blinds, shades and curtain rods
    • Radiators and thermostats
    • Light fixtures, including sconces and chandeliers
    • Washers and dryers
    • Solar panels
    • In the kitchen: appliances like ovens, fridges and dishwashers
    • In the bathroom: sinks, toilets, lighting fixtures and tubs
    • Outside: mailboxes, plants, sheds, porch swings, birdhouses (screwed to trees/posts), fire pits, gazebos and pergolas

    Another way of thinking about fixtures: will it be a pain in the neck to remove a thing in your house? Then that thing is probably a fixture.

     

    The not-so-basics
    Just as in life, home fixtures have some gray areas. These are some of the most common items that you’ll want to note, whether you’re buying or selling, just so everyone involved knows what to expect. And if you’re working with a realtor, you can always rely on them for expert advice and local expertise on these:

    • Microwaves on counters (as in, not hung with cabinets or the under-counter drawer kind) might not be considered fixtures, and may be expected to depart with the sellers.
    • Backyard swing sets always require a conversation, because homebuyers likely really want to have one or really do not. And if they really do not, both parties may need to negotiate which party will cover the set’s removal.
    • Wall-mounted TVs are always a question when it comes to fixtures. Technically, and legally because they are mounted, they (and their mounting hardware) have crossed the rubicon from “normal, earthly possession” to “immovable fixture, attached forever to their foundations.” This also goes for wall-mounted soundbars and speakers.

    So what’s a home seller or buyer to do about these gray areas, or about the handcrafted drawer pulls it took eight months to source from Albania for your artisanal kitchen, or about the bay tree your late grandfather planted in your yard for you?

     

    The answer: Be transparent
    When it comes to making exceptions with your fixtures, there is a wide and blurry line between reasonable expectations and being petty AF. There are a few relatively easy ways you can notify potential buyers about any fixtures you want to either take with you or negotiate leaving in place:

    • Sticky notes. If it feels right to you and your realtor (if you’re using one) says it isn’t obnoxious (in some markets, this is the norm, while in others, it is decidedly not), you can adhere a polite notification to any objects in question. A note on an antique chandelier here or a porch swing there identifying it as “not included” won’t obstruct a future homeowner’s view of the place. But be aware of too many notes – they can be off-putting to buyers.
    • Put it in the marketing materials. If you or your realtor is preparing brochures or flyers for open houses or showings, make a note there if there’s a fixture that won’t be staying put or a large item you’d like to leave (like a piano). Buyers’ realtors will spot this info and keep their clients informed.
    • Just don’t show it at all. If you want to keep your chandelier, the best way to avoid a potential disagreement with your buyer is to simply take it down before your home hits the market. Don’t even leave it up for the photos. No one else will fall in love with it, and it will be yours, all yours, forever and ever. Do, however, buy a nice-looking replacement to hang in its place – nobody wants to see loose wires in their potential future home! The same goes for kitchen appliances or anything else you want to keep.

     

    A few more tips 
    If you’re the seller, don’t be a jerk! It is helpful and polite to leave:

    • Manuals and warranties for appliances
    • Remotes or access/edit codes to any wired-in smart home devices
    • Leftover cans of the paint and rolls/pieces of wall paper you’ve used. The buyers may need them for repairs or touch-ups!
    • Any info you have on the plants and trees on the property, such as any maintenance you’ve had done on them or specifications about certain species that they need to know

    And if you’re the buyer, don’t be shy! You’ll never get something you don’t ask for – that piano, that entrance hall mirror, that vintage encyclopedia set taking up a whole shelf. And the worst they can say is no.

     

    Everything’s for sale
    In the end, someone might walk into your house, love your style and offer to buy your furniture and art and books and thimble collection. It happens! Or they might have plans to trash all of your sconces and window treatments the day you close. What matters as you approach your home sale is that you know what’s the norm for fixtures and what you want to leave or keep, and that your realtor knows, too. It’s amazing what open communication and reasonable expectations can do!

    The ZebraResource Center