Fixture vs Chattel
“But my Mom bought us that espresso maker - it cost us a fortune to pipe the water line to it. What do you mean I can’t take it??!!”
“That mirror was my great grandmother’s – there is no way I’m leaving it for the Buyers – they should have asked for it if it was important. It’s a family heirloom and we are taking it!”
Through my real estate career as a producing REALTOR®, an Educator and Managing Broker, I use one test that I have found to be the most reliable in getting the point across to the client, very clearly.
I walk through the house with a screwdriver in my hand..... And simply say, “If you have to use this to take it – it stays – so take it down now - before we list the home or be prepared to leave it behind”
If the property is not affixed to real property it is considered chattel property. Fixtures are treated as a part of real property. A classic example of a fixture is a building, which in the absence of language to the contrary in a contract of sale, is considered to be part of the land itself and not a separate piece of property (a garden shed).
Law students are taught in first-year property courses that chattels are items of moveable or transferable property, unlike land and buildings that are fixed and immoveable. If the items are neither land, nor permanently attached to land or a building, they are, by definition, chattels. (The word chattel dates back to feudal times when cattle were the most valuable item of property — except for land.)
Typically, if an item is attached to land only by its own weight, it is not usually considered part of the land unless the surrounding circumstances make it clear that they were intended to be part of the land.
By the same token, a fixture is a piece of equipment which has been attached to real estate in such a way as to become part of the premises, and its removal would do harm to the building or land.
Using these definitions, a mirror that is hanging on a hook is a chattel and can be removed by the seller.
The same mirror becomes a fixture if it is permanently attached or mounted to a wall in the house.
A furnace delivered to a house, for example, is a chattel or item of moveable personal property when it leaves the store. When it is installed in the owner's house, and permanently connected to the ductwork, floor, electrical and plumbing systems, it becomes a fixture that remains with the building when the owner moves out.
Over the years, courts have attempted in many cases to determine whether an object is a chattel or fixture. Judges will often examine the purpose of the attachment or annexation of the item to the property, and the actual degree or extent of the attachment.
The courts have developed two tests for determining whether an asset is a fixture or a chattel:
- the method and degree of annexation,
- the object and purpose of annexation.
It is human nature that people want what they are told they can’t have – even if they really don’t want it. I bet you would be hard pressed to find a REALTOR® who, at some point in their career, hasn’t replaced a mirror, special light fixture, under mount espresso maker, or similar to keep their seller or their buyer happy.
Buyers and sellers of land — and their agents — should always direct their minds to the question of chattels and fixtures before the agreement of purchase and sale becomes firm.
When the going gets "Tough"... just call me
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