What Is A Fixture In Real Estate, And How Is It Determined?
August 29, 2023 6-minute read
Author: Sidney Richardson
If you’re moving into or out of a house, you might be wondering what items in the house stay and which ones go when ownership of the property changes hands. Should that fridge stay in the kitchen or get loaded onto the moving truck?
In order to understand what items move with the seller and which stay with the house, you’ll need to understand what a fixture is. Let’s dive into what this term means and go over a few common house fixtures you can expect to stay attached to a home when you leave or move in.
Definition Of A Fixture In Real Estate
A real estate fixture is any object permanently attached to a property by way of bolts, screws, nails, glue, cement or other means. Items like chandeliers, ceiling fans and window treatments are generally seen as fixtures and will stay with the house in a real estate transaction.
That means when you move out of a house, these pieces of property stay behind with the house for the new owner to utilize. For the most part, fixtures in a home are easy to identify since they are often attached to the house itself. However, there are some gray areas. For example, are refrigerators considered fixtures that should be left with the house? Typically, they aren’t fixtures, but sometimes they are.
Confused? Don’t worry, let’s dive deeper into what exactly makes a fixture permanent – and when something impermanent might be considered a fixture.
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Are Fixtures The Same As Real Property?
Since they are permanently affixed to the home, fixtures are typically considered real property. Real property refers to any item that is attached to the property and may be factored into the property value.
For example, landscaping is often considered a home fixture and is real property. The trees and plants in your yard likely won’t be moving with you and may impact property value by increasing your curb appeal – which makes them both real property and likely a home fixture.
Real Vs. Personal Property
You may be wondering if fixtures are typically real property, does that make all of your other furniture and belongings personal property? The short answer is yes, for the most part. All items on your property are either real or personal property.
Items that are attached to the property and contribute to property value are real property while items that are movable and subject to personal ownership are considered personal property, which is also sometimes called “chattel.”
An example of real property would be something like a barn or shed that was built on your property and is permanently “attached” to the land. Personal property, on the other hand, might be something like your couch or a chair, which you’d probably bring with you if you decided to move into a new house.
How To Identify A Fixture
Now that you know what a fixture is, let’s talk about how to identify one. We mentioned earlier that there can sometimes be gray areas when deciding if something is or isn’t a permanent fixture in a home. How do we decide what has to stay in a home and what doesn’t?
One of the easiest ways to solve this problem is by employing the help of MARIA.
What Is MARIA?
MARIA is not a person – it’s an acronym and a sort of “test,” typically used by real estate agents to help identify fixtures. Since identifying fixtures isn't always straightforward, partially due to different state and local rules on what constitutes a fixture, MARIA exists as a process to help real estate agents and other parties in a sale clear up the confusion.
Let’s go over what each letter in “MARIA” stands for.
- M: The “M” in MARIA stands for “method of attachment.” If an item is permanently attached to the house (whether that’s with glue, cement, screws, etc.) it’s usually a fixture.
- A: “A” stands for “adaptability.” If an item has “adapted” to a purpose in the home or has become an integral piece of the house as a whole, it’s also a fixture. A common example of this is a pool cover. Though you could easily pack up a pool cover and bring it with you when moving, it’s intended to cover the pool at that house and is therefore integral to that piece of real property.
- R: “R” stands for “relationship of the parties.” Sometimes, who’s who in a fixture dispute can change the way some items are evaluated. If a buyer and seller are disputing a fixture, say the blinds or curtain rod above a window, it is typically assumed that the item was installed with the intention of being a permanent fixture in the house. If the dispute is between a landlord and a tenant, however, it’s usually assumed that anything a tenant installs is something they intend to remove and bring with them, so it might not be considered a fixture.
- I: “I” stands for “intention.” The reason that an item was installed or attached can also dictate whether it is a true fixture. If items aren’t necessarily “attached” to the property, like stoves or refrigerators, it may not be a fixture by default. But if the homeowner intended to build it into the home as a permanent fixture, it might count as one if both home buyer and seller acknowledge it as such.
- A: Finally, the second “A” stands for “agreement.” The best way to know exactly what is and isn’t going to be included in a home sale is to consult the purchase agreement or purchase contract.
Examples Of House Fixtures
There are some items that are generally expected to be permanent home fixtures if installed. A few examples include:
- Ceiling fans
- Built-in bookshelves
- Landscaping, plants and trees
- Light fixtures
- Curtain rods
- Window blinds
- Towel racks
- Built-in appliances
- Some other appliances, such as washers and dryers
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Common Fixture Disputes In Real Estate Transactions
Some items can go either way in a dispute over whether or not they’re a fixture in a home. Here are a few items commonly debated in real estate transactions:
- Appliances: Built-in appliances, such as sinks and dishwashers, are typically considered fixtures since they won’t move with you, should you sell the house. Some other appliances, such as unattached washers and dryers, fridges and other appliances, can sometimes be argued to be personal property since they aren’t attached.
- Playgrounds and swing sets: Free-standing swing sets and other playsets that aren’t cemented into the ground in a yard are also often debated. A swing set cemented into the ground might be seen as real property and a fixture, but the lines get a little blurry when these structures are not permanently affixed to the ground.
- Mirrors: Wall mirrors can go either way, as well. Typically, if a mirror is bolted or otherwise permanently attached to the wall, it’s seen as a fixture. However, free-standing mirrors are considered personal property. It’s a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of mirror.
- Light fixtures: Since light fixtures are typically attached to the home and considered an integral part, they are usually viewed as fixtures. If you intend to bring a light fixture with you when moving, it should be made clear in the purchase agreement to avoid potential conflict with the buyer.
- Window treatments: While curtains and other detachable window accessories tend to leave with the seller, other more permanent window treatments, such as curtain rods, are often considered fixtures. If you’re unsure whether the curtains or blinds in a home you’re looking to buy are fixtures, it’s always best to ask rather than face disappointment or a surprise later.
- Basketball hoops and courts: If a home has a basketball court, the court itself is almost definitely a fixture – the hoop, however, may be debatable. If a basketball hoop is cemented into the ground, it’s considered a fixture. On the other hand, a basketball hoop that sits above ground could potentially be considered personal property.
How To Avoid Disputes Over Real Estate Fixtures
The best way to avoid disputes over fixtures, whether you’re preparing your home for a sale or buying a home, is to be clear and transparent about which items are going with the seller and which ones will remain in the home for the buyer.
It’s recommended to have (or request) in writing what items will be staying with the house and which items won’t prior to the final walk-through. Constant and clear communication between both parties usually clears up any confusion about fixtures before they become an issue.
The Bottom Line
Usually, anything permanently attached to a property is a fixture and will stay with a home when it’s sold. However, there are gray areas, so it’s always important to ask the seller or consult a purchase agreement if you’re unsure of something.
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