This is a question I routinely get asked by both home sellers and buyers. The good news is that generally speaking, the answer to this question is pretty straightforward.
To get things kicked on in addressing this question, a quick vocabulary lesson is in order. The world of real estate, there are essentially two different classes of features to consider:
FIXTURES: objects firmly fixed in place that are considered to be part of the real property or integral to its use or operation
CHATTEL: moveable objects that have not been “annexed” to the property in a legal sense
Why are these terms important? Simply put, if not specified elsewhere, a home must be sold with all fixtures as viewed by the buyer. Any chattels on the premises (even if present when the buyer viewed the property) need not be included with the sale, unless explicitly agreed upon in the Contract of Purchase and Sale. To help simplify things, the standard Contract of Purchase and Sale template for residential property in British Columbia provides specific fields for identifying specific “inclusions” and “exclusions” for a sale.
This sounds all nice and clear-cut, but problems sometimes arise for items that fall into the “grey-zone” zone between fixtures and chattels. Here’s what the strict legal interpretation has been in the past:
A portable/free-standing dishwasher: This is a chattel, because it is not affixed to the property. A built-in dishwasher (e.g., screwed in to the wall or surrounding cabinetry/countertop) conversely, would be identified as a chattel.
Built-in electric light fixtures: The light fixtures would (perhaps obviously) be considered fixtures. Interestingly, the bulbs contained within the fixtures can be construed as chattels that the sellers would be free to remove.
Hanging pictures: Like with the example with the light fixtures, the hooks upon which the pictures were mounted are fixtures, whereas the pictures themselves are chattels. In the unique case where the seller has elected to affix artwork directly to the walls without the use of hooks, technically speaking the pictures become fixtures in that case.
Furnace filters: Although based on the previous examples you might be prone to believe that much like light bulbs a furnace filter should be viewed as a chattel, and free for the seller to remove. However, because the furnace filter is deemed necessary for the regular operation of the furnace (which is itself a fixture), furnace filters are also understood to be fixtures.
Garden sheds: The precedent here indicates that if the shed is securely affixed to the ground, a fence, the house, or another building on the property, it should be regarded as a fixture. However, like the case with the portable dishwasher, if the shed is either entirely freestanding or only modestly secured, it can be treated as a chattel.
In short, the grey area between “fixture” and “chattel” is not always clear. As there is so much potential for confusion, a skilled Realtor will always go the extra mile to ensure determine your needs and then ensure that your interests are protected. At the end of the day, it’s absolutely imperative that what you’re looking to get of a purchase or keep from a sale is well understood by all parties. When in doubt, spell it out!
If you have questions about the market or would like to discuss anything mentioned in this article, feel free to send me an email or drop me a line—I’d love to chat. I’m a Vancouver Realtor who is an expert in residential real estate and sell extensively condominiums, townhomes and detached homes.
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