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Real Estate & Home

Moving? When in doubt, spell it out

11/7/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Tom Kelly

Gimme Shelter

I can still see it on the chalkboard.

“Assume nothing. Assume only makes an ASS out of U and ME.”

A man so big and strong had written the capsule philosophy over and over for 30 years in the same classroom.

I remember that man and his mantra on many occasions.

Real estate can be the same way. It’s best to document your expectations and make them known to the seller.

I needed to reflect sooner on that chalkboard when we purchased a home in a downtown neighborhood several years ago. The living room included a fireplace with a new insert.

When moving day arrived and we began to set boxes in the living room, I noticed the insert was gone. How could this be? If this was not a “fixture” that was to stay, what exactly was a fixture?

Through our real estate agent, we learned the seller was an attorney who said he never considered leaving the insert behind, even though he had no place to re-insert it. But he would gladly sell it to us. We bought our own insert. I was shocked, upset and out about $1,500.

The insert was gone because our earnest-money agreement had not included a definitive list of items we expected to find when we took possession of the house.

Multiple listing associations typically review and generally add to their standard items list of “fixtures” included in a residential sale. Here is some standard language:

Any of the following personal property located in or on the property is included in this sale: built-in appliances; wall-to-wall carpeting; curtains, drapes and all other window treatments; window and door screens; awnings; storm doors and windows; installed television antennas; ventilating, air conditioning and heating equipment; woodstoves; fireplace inserts; doors; gas logs and gas log lighters; irrigation fixtures and equipment; electric garage door openers; water heaters; installed electrical fixtures; lights and light bulbs; shrubs, plants and trees; hot tubs; and all bathroom and other fixtures.

The paragraph has come a long way toward clarifying what is typically included in a sale, although the phrase “and other fixtures” still leaves room for dispute. What are other fixtures?

Can there be washing machines attached to the wall by a rubber hose? Typically not. However, consider the case in which a real estate agent who was representing a religious congregation buying a church building assumed that the bolted-to-the-floor pews were included in the sale. A court ruled otherwise.

Stained-glass windows caused another recent dispute. The seller assumed they were art and planned to replace them with the common windows stored in the basement. The buyer said the stained-glass was one of the reasons the home was appealing and assumed they came with the house. After shock and bitterness, the two parties settled on a lower sales price, and the seller took the stained glass.

A third case involved a new appliance. A real estate broker’s son bought a house and pointed out to the seller’s agent he wanted the refrigerator. The agent did not include the request in the purchase-and-sale contract. The son lost the refrigerator, the agent lost credibility with her broker and a tough lesson was learned by all around.

When in doubt, spell it out.


Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.

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