Rick BissonIn the early stages of negotiating a real estate transaction, price is often the focal point of discussion. However, many times the spotlight shifts to non-monetary items including fixtures and items of personal property.

Does the chandelier stay with the house? How about the washer and dryer? Will the lawn art remain? And what about the ship’s half hull model? Each of these examples underscore the importance of clearly defining and properly communicating personal property and fixtures that convey when a property is sold.

The importance of this issue is further highlighted by the fact that each year requests are placed before the Maine Association of Realtors, seeking clarification and changes to better define fixtures and personal property in the Purchase and Sale Agreement.

Linda Gifford, legal counsel for the MAR, released a statement with definitions and suggestions designed to improve clarity around this important subject. She defines a fixture as “an item of personal property which becomes affixed or used in such a way as to make it part of the real property.”

A good rule of thumb? An item is a fixture if it’s bolted, nailed or cemented and whose removal would cause damage to the home and/or property. Light fixtures, doors, built-in cabinets, bathroom hooks and even plants all remain with the house unless specifically excluded from the sale as outlined in the the real estate contract.

In contrast, personal property items are not attached or nailed down and therefore can be removed by the seller without consequence to the home and/or property. Personal items include pictures, drapes, curtains, area rugs, furniture or planted pots.

While the sellers’ personal items may look fabulous in the home, they will be removed when the seller moves out. If the drapes or curtains in the home are a must-have, make sure that they are negotiated for in the purchase and sale agreement.

If buying real estate, look at the property and try to anticipate what the seller might remove, identifying all items expected to be left behind. If certain items are to be desired, name those items in the contract.

If selling a home, one way to establish clarity from the beginning is to have a Realtor walk through the home as part of the listing process. Have them identify the fixtures and personal property items as if they were a potential buyer. With this list in hand, it is highly recommended that any heirlooms and/or invaluable items be removed prior to listing the home to avoid confusion or future debate.

For example, a ship’s half hull model above the fireplace that was crafted by a great-grandfather holds tremendous sentimental value. And, while it’s also a period detail for the historic home, it may never be able to leave the family. All the more reason to remove the model and safely pack it away. If a buyer falls in love with the ship’s model, it may become a focal point of negotiations.

Another example would be a butterfly bush given as an anniversary gift. While the bush may possess immense significance, it is attached to the land and removing it would cause consequence to the property.

And, by sheer happenstance, the buyers may have been particularly fond of the bush and crafted their entire vision for the house around it. Best to transplant the bush and replace it before showings to avoid any future disputes.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder rings true here. And, in this case, significance is in the eye of the beholder. Sellers want to protect and retain their sentimental items. Conversely, buyers may feel that part of making an offer was the visualization of the home as they saw it – this visualization may or may not include questionable items.

Clear communications at every step of a real estate transaction are essential in achieving a win-win for both buyer and seller. Consult with your trusted, expert Realtor, allowing their experience and knowledge to guide you toward successfully defining and communicating the items of personal property and fixtures.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.

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