What Is a Real Estate Fixture?

What Is a Real Estate Fixture?

As you browse real estate listings while looking for your next house, you’ve likely noticed that some home features are referred to as “fixtures.” It’s important to know that this word isn’t just used as a turn of phrase; it has a concrete meaning in real estate that creates requirements for both buyers and sellers in a transaction.

“The legal implications of including or excluding fixtures in a real estate listing are significant,” says broker Tate Kelly of Coldwell Banker Warburg. “If there is a misrepresentation, it can lead to disputes, legal actions, or even a failed sale.”

In this quick explainer, we’ll take a look at the definition and provide some insight from experts on what to keep in mind, for buyers and sellers both.


What Exactly Is a Fixture?

According to Shannon Smith of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Palmetto, a fixture in real estate is any object that is permanently attached to a property.

“Some common examples of fixtures pertaining to real estate are window blindsmirrors in bathroomslighting fixtures, and kitchen cabinets,” she says.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, not always. It’s important to get the definition down, because it often causes confusion when people go to buy or sell. Knowing the difference between the personal property of the previous owner and a fixture can impact buyers’ expectations of a home, and its overall value.

“It keeps things clear on what’s part of the deal, and avoids those awkward, ‘Wait, you're taking the ceiling fan?’ moments,” says Smith.

While it might seem obvious that a light fixture would stay with the house and continue on to the new owner, you might run into gray areas when it comes to things like kitchen appliancescustom built-ins, or that water feature you installed on the patio.

“Top of mind is the refrigerator,” says Smith. “Most buyers would assume that it comes with the home. However, if it's not permanently affixed to a wall, it's technically not a fixture, and the sellers do not have to leave it.”

Fixtures are different from your dishes, upholstery, or furniture in this way. And, in most real estate transactions, fixtures are automatically included in the sale unless explicitly stated otherwise. Personal property, however, may need a separate agreement.

Real estate agent Karen Kostiw, also of Coldwell Banker Warburg, uses the acronym “M.A.R.I.A.” to determine whether something is a fixture.

For starters, “M” is for method: How is the item affixed? Is it nailed to the wall or can it be more easily removed? “A” stands for adaptability—take for example the custom-size pool cover you purchased. Even though it doesn’t perfectly fit the definition of a fixture, it would be expected to be a part of the sale since it protects the pool.

“R” is for relationship: Who installed the item? As an example, an item such a curtain rod purchased and installed by a tenant may not be considered a fixture, but if the owner installed it, it would. “I” is for intention: Why was the object was installed? And finally, “A” is the agreement written in the offer and contract.


Look Out for Gray Areas

If you fail to ask about each individual item in your home before the purchase is complete, you could run into misunderstandings on closing day. Of course, there are ways to remedy that, but it’s best to be certain beforehand.

“You could go to small claims court over a dispute,” says Smith. “However, if you did not specify in the contract that you wanted an item and the item doesn't pass the ‘fixture’ test of being permanently attached to the property—you more than likely won't win.”

Smith recalled a real estate deal in which she wrote "refrigerator to convey” to indicate that the kitchen fridge would remain there. When the clients moved into the home they noticed that the fridge wasn’t the one they had seen in the kitchen, but an old fridge that had been in the garage. Smith said she learned that day to put all fixture requests in writing, and to be extremely specific.

“Even if you feel like that pretty light fixture in the foyer would definitely remain with the house because it's screwed into the ceiling, put it in your offer!” she says. “The seller may have had that fixture specially designed and handmade and is not willing to part with it.” 

Of course, you won’t always get what you want, but at least you’ll avoid an unpleasant surprise by checking in ahead of time.

Kelly says that most disputes he’s seen take place over light fixtures.

“Whenever I see custom lighting, I always make sure it is clear what would stay and what would leave,” he says. “Light fixtures are considered part of the property. However, a seller has the option to remove those and replace them with generic light fixtures—but that must be made clear, so there is no dispute at closing.”

Other types of fixtures to look out for include custom mounted mirrors, gardens with rare plants, gazebos and pergolas, appliances, and window treatments such as curtain rods and drapes.

“Landscaping, including plants, can be subjective,” says Kelly. “While trees and large bushes are typically considered fixtures, smaller plants may be disputed.”


Tips for Avoiding Conflict

Fixtures don’t have to cause problems when it comes to the sale or purchase of your home. If you’re working with an agent to buy or sell your home, you can discuss any concerns you have with them.

“Real estate professionals may also play a crucial role in helping both parties reach a consensus,” says Kelly. “Including a detailed inventory of fixtures, specifying what is included and excluded during negotiation and included in the contract can mitigate potential conflicts.”

Standard practices also vary from region to region. Kostiw says it’s important to find out about the typical inclusions and exclusions in your area.

“There are some jurisdictions when purchasing new development that appliances are not included,” says Kostiw. “You need to purchase your washer-dryerstovemicrowavedishwasher, and oven.”

Knowing this, during showings, she is careful to ask questions about every type of custom fixture or built-in appliance that she sees in a home. If something is misrepresented, the deal can fall apart, she says.

“Buyers and sellers are very emotional, so even something that may seem like a small issue can wreck a deal,” says Kostiw. “Also, if something is misrepresented, the broker and agent can be liable. Even if unintended, providing inaccurate information about a property is a ‘breach of duty’ and can [lead to] legal and financial consequences.”


Source: What Is a Real Estate Fixture? Better Homes & Gardens (December 30, 2023) Kristine Gill