Real estate Q&A: Can seller remove fixtures from house we’re buying?

Q: We are getting ready to close on our new house and discovered that the seller removed several things we thought we were buying, including the bathroom mirrors and a chandelier. Can they do this? –Anonymous

A: Property is divided into two main categories. "Real property" refers to land and everything permanently attached to it, such as your house, driveway, roof, and trees. Everything else is called "personal property." Unfortunately, the law, like life, is never that simple.

Certain items can fall into both categories depending on how they are used. "Fixtures" are items that can be moved but have been attached to a house. Examples of fixtures include appliances, ceiling lights, and window dressing. With other items, it can be even less clear, such as the ones you mentioned. When you buy a house, you also get the fixtures, but determining what is a fixture can be tricky. A bathroom mirror that is glued to the wall is clearly a fixture, but a framed mirror hanging from hooks is questionable. When a dispute occurs, the court will look at the specifics of each situation, along with the intent of the buyer and seller, to decide whether something is a fixture.

It is much better to avoid this issue entirely by listing each questionable item on the purchase contract, along with whether it is staying or going. If the item is being taken by the seller, the contract should also direct whether a standard quality replacement is being made. The contract should specify, for example, that the heirloom chandelier in the hallway will be replaced with a ceiling light that matches the others in the home, or simply that it is excluded from the sale. The standard contracts in circulation have a section just for this purpose ready to be filled in, but sadly, I often see them left blank.

Assuming that your purchase contract is silent on this issue, you will need to communicate with your seller to try to work this out. A small credit at closing may be an appropriate solution.


Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.