Fittings and fixtures
What should stay and what should go
Over the years there have been an awful lot of horror stories about people moving into a new house or flat, only to find it stripped bare, with even the light switches removed. Don’t panic, these are extreme examples, but whether you are buying or selling a property you need to be very clear about what is staying and what is going. Arguments over fixtures and fittings can be costly and, in certain circumstances, can adversely affect the sale of a property. Your solicitor should be able to steer you through the process, but to avoid the pitfalls, you need at least a basic understanding of how it works.
The logical starting point is the definition of fixtures and fittings. Fixtures – these are things that are fixed or bolted down, such as a kitchen unit, a fitted wardrobe or a plug socket. Fittings – these are things that can be carried away, such as a hanging mirror, rugs and curtains. The problem is that there are also a lot of things that fall into the grey area between. What about shelves that are not fixed? A seller may wish to take them, but a buyer may assume they are staying. A freestanding cooker is by definition, a fitting, not a fixture. Sheds are another common problem area - if they don't have foundations, they are not considered to be fixtures. Hanging lights are technically fixtures, although it is normal practice to replace them with hanging bulb fittings during the course of a house sale.
The general rule of thumb is that if there is no agreement, fixtures remain and fittings are removed. However, almost all vendors will provide a fairly comprehensive inventory of what is staying and what is going. You can, in theory, put what you want on the list. The vendor has the right to take any fitting not specified in the inventory, which can sometimes come as a surprise to the buyer. Conversely, if you take something with you that was included in the sale or, for that matter, if you leave anything behind that is not, in extreme circumstances you can be taken to the Small Claims Court.
Most problems occur when a buyer fails to check the list properly, distracted by other, more pressing issues. If something untoward does happen during the moving process, before you let the matter go to court, you should be aware that the cost of it will almost certainly be more than replacing, say, a set of shelves or some door handles.
The best way of dealing with the issue of fittings and fixtures is to do some preparation. Before you sell, go through each room carefully and make a note of all the things that you are taking with you, especially if they are fixed elements. Then hand the over list to your solicitor. If you are buying - check the house to see if there are any specific items that you would like to have included in the sale. If they’re not listed on the inventory, you may want to offer to purchase them. It is very important that this part of the process is handled with tact. What you may consider to be a piece of old tat may be a prized family possession and it is not uncommon for one or other party to take offence during the process. Another point to note is that most vendors consider anything under 12 months old to be priced almost as new, regardless of its true value.
For anyone buying a rental property, you could save yourself quite a lot of money if you buy some of the existing fittings. And, don’t forget to check to if anything you’re taking with you will actually fit in in your new place. If your Welsh dresser is higher than your new kitchen ceiling, it's the perfect opportunity to offer it to your buyer. Again, don’t be offended if they don’t want it – everyone has different ideas and taste.
Finally, always keep in mind you are selling a house, not a wardrobe or some flowerpots from the garden. Don’t let negotiations over minor issues sour the whole process.
The information is for general guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Should you need legal advice please contact an appropriate professional.