Real Estate Fixtures In Upgraded Kitchen With Island And Lighting.

What Is A Fixture In Real Estate, And How Is It Determined?

Sidney Richardson6-minute read

September 30, 2021

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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. Sometimes, however, there is a little gray area – are refrigerators, for instance, fixtures that should be left with the house? The answer is typically no – but they can be. 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 or plants in your yard likely won’t be moving with you and may impact home 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 to 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 a bit of gray area when deciding if something is or isn’t a permanent fixture in a home – so 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 is not always straightforward, (not to mention different states and local governments might have their own rules about what constitutes a fixture) MARIA exists as a process to help real estate agents and other parties to 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, in other words, 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 – making it potentially not 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 an item isn’t necessarily “attached” to the property, like a stove or refrigerator, it may not by default be a fixture – 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: And 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:

  • Chandeliers
  • 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, however, 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, while free-standing mirrors are considered personal property – but, depending on the mirror, it could be seen as either.

  • 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 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 – a basketball hoop that sits aboveground, however, 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 you’ll be buying a home, is to be clear and transparent about what’s planned to stay and leave the home in question. It’s recommended to have (or request) in writing what items will be staying with the house and which won’t prior to the final walkthrough. Constant and clear communication between both parties can usually help clear up any confusion about fixtures before it becomes 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 – but there is some gray area, so it’s always important to ask the seller or consult a purchase agreement if you’re unsure of something.

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Sidney Richardson

Sidney Richardson is an intern writer covering homeownership, mortgage and lifestyle topics. She is a senior at Oakland University pursuing a degree in journalism and advertising.