he buyer of a historic Victorian home in upstate New York fell in love with the gigantic antique mirror in the foyer. The mirror looked as if it were made for the space; it fit perfectly on the wall, and the frame matched the surrounding woodwork. In fact, the mirror was so large, the buyer said she “couldn’t imagine it going anywhere.”
And yet, when she bought the house and went inside, the mirror was gone. All that was left were some holes in the wall and the wallpaper behind it ripped and discolored where it was previously mounted. The buyer promptly called her agent, who told her the mirror was personal property and didn’t transfer with the house.
This scenario plays out in some form or another all the time. In real estate transactions, there are gray areas when it comes to personal property. Some contracts spell out exactly what’s to be left behind for the new owner, while others are vague.
Don’t assume anything you see on the property comes with the house. If you intend to buy a home and there’s something in particular you want, speak up early. Put your request in writing so that nobody is disappointed when the deal closes.
Here are five things that are often overlooked or not covered in a real estate transaction and that can lead to a dispute.
There are norms and customs in every market, which is why it’s important to work with a local real estate agent who knows the ins and outs. And surprisingly, it’s not the norm everywhere to include all major household appliances, such as a refrigerator or dishwasher, with the property. Worse, even if appliances are included, they might not be what you bargained for.
For example, a buyer was purchasing a home with top-of-the-line kitchen appliances. In the property’s marketing brochure, the real estate agent had highlighted the high-end stainless steel appliances. Even though the contract stated that “appliances included in the sale,” however, the buyers were shocked when they discovered, upon taking ownership, that the seller had replaced the high-end stainless steel appliances with low-end models. This led to arbitration, and the seller had to return the appliances.
The lesson learned: Find out when making your offer if including appliances is customary in your market. If there’s any doubt, be sure to put it in writing — and be specific. Make sure that “existing” appliances are included, or even go as far as to spell out the specific appliances, such as Bosch Dishwasher and Wolf Range.
2. Window Coverings
Window coverings are another issue that often results in some nasty email exchanges after a sale.
In nearly every market, the custom is that if there are window coverings present, they stay with the new owner. Sometimes, there are shades and there are drapes. The shades may be fully fitted for the window and attached. But the drapes may be decorative. Sometimes the seller, who had the drapes custom made to match the furniture, will want to exclude the drapes from the sale. If you don’t see it written anywhere or haven’t heard about it, get the inclusion of window coverings in writing. Along with the appliances, specify that you want the “existing window coverings.”
3. Personal Property
As with the drapes or the gigantic mirror noted above, the seller may have a specialty light fixture or a piece of art that appears to be designed to fit into that space. Or there may be furniture that fits so perfectly into a room, nobody could imagine anything else going there. Here again, these items are personal property, and the seller may have no intention of letting them go, no matter how obvious it seems to the buyer that they should stay. Always assume that any personal property, much like the beds and furniture, will not transfer to the new owner.
4. Flat Screen TVs and Mounting Materials
Often, a seller may have had a high-def, flat-screen TV professionally mounted above the fireplace or on the wall like a piece of art, with the wires running through the walls. As a result, TVs — long considered personal property — are showing up more and more in real estate negotiations. But given the history of TVs as personal property, buyers shouldn’t assume that a flat-screen TV, its wires or mounting brackets would stay behind after the sale.
5. Kitchen or Bath Hardware
Hardware — in the form of doorknobs, kitchen cabinet pulls, bed and bath fixtures, and so on — should always transfer to the new owner. This is just common sense. These items are permanently attached to and therefore should stay with the property. In fact, it used to be understood that “anything attached to the property stays with the property.” During the height of the foreclosure drama, however, it wasn’t uncommon for a seller to remove nearly all fixtures and finishes from the home before it was foreclosed on. This was their last chance to salvage some part of the house or even make a quick buck selling these items on the side. If you’re considering buying a home in foreclosure, just be aware that it is sold “as-is,” meaning how you see the home.
Items to be Sold Separately
Sometimes sellers will decide that they want to keep something, or that they aren’t interested in parting with it for free. What is common is for the buyer to separately make an offer to purchase some of the seller’s stuff.
Advice to Sellers
If you plan to take something with you, document it in all of the marketing materials (both print and online) so that there’s no doubt in the buyer’s mind what stays and what goes. When a buyer makes an offer, they can factor any exclusion of property into their price.
Advice to Buyers
Be as detailed as possible from the beginning. If there’s something in particular you like and want to be sure stays, ask the listing agent during the open house. If they tell you yes, get it in writing.
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Brendon DeSimone is a Realtor & HGTV real estate expert. He has collaborated on multiple real estate books and his expert advice is regularly sought out by print, online and television media outlets like FOX News, CNBC and Forbes. An avid investor, Brendon owns real estate around the US and abroad and is licensed to sell in two states. You can find Brendon online or follow him on Twitter.