Last updateTue, 19 Sep 2017 5pm

Business & Real Estate

'Law of Fixtures' may be changing with buyers' market

There is a change in the buyer/seller attitude today when it comes to personal property that has been converted into real property. An ornate dining room chandelier or drapes offer great examples.

"Last year, the seller kept whatever he wanted in the way of personal property," said Biadra Prochnow, a realtor with Mary Prochnow Realtors Inc. "This year, buyers can ask for a fixture they want and with negotiation, they might be able to get it."

Fixtures are parts of homes that are permanently in place which cannot be removed without damage to the house. The plumbing system, for instance, is considered part of the real property.

Items that are not attached, or easily removed, are considered to be personal property. Office equipment is an example. In general, personal property is not included when you buy a house unless specifically listed in the sales contract.

Some items (like a window air conditioner) might fall into either category. To avoid disputes, it is a good idea to specify in the sales contract how such items are to be dealt with.

"Discussion of personal property is not a last-minute deal. It is indicated in the listing of the property," said Bob Morton, Coldwell Banker Realtor. "Questionable items should be included in two places. In the listing and in the print-out. It can then become a negotiation factor."

Robert J. Bruss, a national columnist on real estate, says that for some reason, the most troublesome fixture in any house being sold is the dining-room chandelier. Sellers feel entitled to take their chandeliers with them.

Legally, cites Bruss, these sellers are wrong. Dining room chandeliers that are permanently attached to the ceiling by bolts or screws have been converted from personal property into real property. They should be automatically included in the sale.

Most experienced real estate agents advise sellers who want the chandelier or any property to be excluded from the sale to remove the item before showing the home. A less-expensive chandelier should be substituted before the first buyer looks at the house.

Morton said a precisely written home-sales contract can help sellers avoid most fixture problems.

Window coverings often cause problems, since drapes can easily be unhooked. They remain personal property which the seller can remove, unless it is in the sales contract. The drapery rods, which are screwed into the walls, must remain, because they have become fixtures by means of permanent attachment.

Many Los Altos agents agree that the "Law of Fixtures," as it is called, will arise in numerous negotiations in future contracts, the result of a change from a sellers' to a buyers' market.

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