Hands Off? 5 Rules for What You Can—and Can’t—Take When You Sell Your House

55be79405cb645f309bbab282fe0a85ew-c0xd-w685_h860_q80When stand up comedian Nathan Brannon moved into his newly purchased home in rural Washington state, it seemed the joke was on him: The previous owner had left the pegboard on the garage wall, but had taken all the pegs.

“When I first saw the pegs were missing, I was super confused; I mean, what are you going to do with just pegs?” Brannon recalls. “Now I have a pile of yard tools on the floor in front of the pegboard.”

Brannon isn’t the only home buyer to discover that sellers sometimes take the strangest things with them when they vacate a property. We’ve seen home buyers ranting on social media about missing doorknobs, toilet paper holders, and even trees from the front yard.

But it can be far beyond merely annoying for the buyer. If you take something you haven’t negotiated to keep, you could tank the sale—or even face a lawsuit.

Not sure what you’re allowed to take with you when you move? Here are some rules to keep in mind before—and after—closing the deal.

1. If it’s nailed down, bolted, or mounted, it probably stays behind

When Laurel-Ann Dooley walked through a vacation property she was purchasing, there was a glaring hole where a storage shed had recently stood.

“The previous owner had sold it, even though it was supposed to stay,” recalls Dooley, who’s an attorney and Realtor® at PalmerHouse Properties in Atlanta.

While most buyers and sellers probably know that “fixtures”—immovable elements of a home such as built-in furniture, fences, or, yes, a storage shed—must stay behind, there can still be some confusion, says Bill Gassett, a Realtor® with Re/Max Executive Realty in Hopkinton, MA.

“Probably the No. 1 gray area that I’ve found is the mounting mechanism for big-screen TVs,” Gassett shares. “Obviously, it’s attached, so it’s supposed to stay with the house. But commonsense says, ‘Well, if somebody has a $3,000 TV hanging on the wall, unless they’re including [the TV] with the house, [the mounting mechanism] doesn’t stay.’”

“It becomes a real battling point with buyers and sellers if it’s not specifically referenced,” he adds.

Generally, Dooley says, if a house has been modified for an item, it’s probably a fixture.

“If an air-conditioning unit is placed in a window, it’s arguably personal property and the buyer can take it with them,” she says. “But if a hole has been cut in the wall to accommodate the unit, then it’s most likely a fixture.”

With that said, you want to avoid “arguably”, “probably”, or “most likely” when it comes to selling your home, Dooley cautions. Be specific and firm.

“If you want it, say so upfront,” Dooley advises.

2. Leave Mother Nature alone

Unless the property listing specifically mentions that you intend to take the prized rose patch your Aunt Zelda gave you, sellers cannot remove any landscaping, Gassett says.

“I’ve had sellers with specific requests to take certain things that might have been a special gift,” Gassett says. “Otherwise, you can’t just dig up a plant and take it with you; it’s part of the property.”

3. Hands off anything anchored in the ground

Other backyard items are also potential sources of misunderstanding between buyers and sellers.

“Technically, if a basketball hoop is cemented into the ground, then it’s considered to go with the house. Freestanding ones sitting on the lawn, however, would be something buyers could take with them,” he says.

Ditto for swing sets: If it’s anchored in the ground, it stays.

4. Let go of your lighting fixtures

Even if you’re attached to your show-stopping dining room chandelier, don’t pack it up and leave electrical wires hanging when you leave. And if you’re thinking about swapping out that chandelier right before closing—and hoping the buyer won’t notice? Forget about it, Gassett says.

“When you buy a property, you’re buying what you saw the day you saw the property and wrote the offer on the house, so for sellers to change something out after that date is illegal,” Gassett warns. Yes—illegal. 

You can declare your intention to remove it, Dooley says, but be aware that excluded items often become sticking points between buyers and sellers.

“Instead, take that chandelier out before you list your house, and put something else there,” she suggests.

5. Window treatments stay, too

You may have spent a fortune on those custom blinds in your living room, but technically, you’re supposed to leave ‘em hanging, Gassett says.

“Curtains are always considered personal property, because they just slide off,” he says. “Rods and blinds, on the other hand, are considered part of the house because they’re affixed and attached.”

Mirrors are another murky area, he adds, but pretty easy to figure out: If they’re hung like paintings on a wall, they’re personal property. Bolted to the studs? They’re fixtures.

Don’t be petty—or you might tank the sale

Often, the littlest things cause the most heated debates, or even the derailment of the sale itself.

Sometimes, as in Brannon’s case of the missing pegs, sellers remove things from the house that aren’t worth chasing after, but are incredibly annoying nonetheless, Gassett says. For instance, he recalls a seller who took the control box for an underground dog fence.

“In real estate deals, some people take it out on the buyer by nickel-and-diming on stuff,” he says. “Especially if they don’t feel the sale has gone exactly the way they wanted it to, or they have resentment towards the buyer.”

Dooley heard of a seller who removed all the lightbulbs in the house before moving.

“With the amount of money you’re talking about on the sale of a home, I can’t imagine attaching sentimental value to your 60-watt lightbulbs,” she says. “It’s kind of silly.”

Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist and TV producer who covers real estate, architecture and design, DIY, gardening, and travel. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Metropolis, Costco Connection, Garden Collage, Parenting, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening, and more.
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Don’t Fall Behind! Here Are 5 Essential Home-Selling Moves You Might Not Be Doing

 | Sep 4, 2018

0ce6b2abaaccea4ab01edede6b5bbcfew-c0xd-w685_h860_q80To get your home sold, you have to tackle a rather long to-do list. Some of these tasks are well-known, and some are just good ol’ common sense—like finding a real estate agent and spreading the word that your house is up for grabs. But some other steps in the home-selling process aren’t quite so obvious.

So to keep these less apparent home-selling tactics from falling through the cracks, here we’ve highlighted five things you may not even realize you have to do. Just in time to start prepping for the busy fall selling season!

1. Reach millennial home buyers

In 2017, for the fifth year in a row, Americans aged 20 to 37 were the largest group of home buyers—at 36%, according to the annual Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report from the National Association of Realtors®. So get smart: Find ways to appeal to this (huge) generation when marketing your home.

These tips will help you attract younger home buyers:

  • Promote your listing on social media. As digital natives, many of these would-be buyers are glued to Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media networks. Make sure your real estate agent is marketing your listing on these platforms.
  • Showcase your smart home technology. Millennials love smart home devicesand theyre looking for these products when searching for homes. In a recent Coldwell Banker survey, more than half of homeowners (54%) said they would purchase or install smart home devices if they were selling their homes. Of that group, 72% said they would be willing to pay $1,500 more for a home that was smart.
  • Make your house more energy-efficient. Making even small changes to your house (e.g., installing a programmable thermostat, adding attic insulation, or plugging air leaks around doors and windows) can make your home more appealing to Gen Y buyers. In fact, 84% of millennials say theyre willing to pay up to 2% to 3% more for an energy-efficient home, according to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders.
  • Show off eco-friendly features. It’s no secret that this generation is environmentally aware, but you dont have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on solar paneling to make your home green. Strategically planting trees around your home can reduce your air-conditioning costs by 15% to 50%, according to Energy.gov. They look nice, too.

2. Make your home move-in ready

Unless you’re selling a teardown, you need to do whatever it takes to make your home move-in ready for buyers.

This means tackling not only large home repairs but also small ones like replacing ripped screens, fixing leaky faucets, unclogging gutters, and mending damaged shingles.

Pro tip: If your house is in lousy shape, consider ordering a pre-inspection, where an inspector scrutinizes your property for problems before you put it on the market. This would give you the ability to fix problems ahead of time—while also presenting buyers with a clean bill of health on the property. Buyers love it, and a home inspection costs only about $200 to $500.

3. Order professional listing photos

If you have a good eye and a good camera, you might be tempted to take your own listing photos. But we’re not talking about selfies here. If you’re looking to sell your home quickly, using an experienced professional photographer is a must.

There’s proof. In one case study, real estate photography company IMOTO compared 350 listings using its professional photography with 350 similar listings without professionally done photos in the same ZIP code. According to the company’s data, listings using the professional photography sold 50% faster and 39% closer to the original listing price than those that didn’t.

4. Prepare for open houses

Your agent is hosting the open house, so it’s her job to make sure your house is ready for the big event, right? Wrong! It’s your responsibility to prep your home before strangers show up at the door.

Here’s a handy checklist to get your home ready for an open house:

  • Remove all prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet. This includes even the ones you think are harmless. After all, you don’t want people knowing your identity. Also, you don’t want people stealing your meds,” says home stager Alice T. Chan.
  • Tidy up. Clear clutter, take out the trash, and do a thorough clean. Dont have time to get these things done? Hire a professional cleaning service, which costs $90 to $150 on average, according to HomeAdvisor.com. It’s money well spent.
  • Organize closets. Overstuffed closets can make your home appear to have insufficient storage space.
  • Protect yourself from theft. Secure jewelry, art, heirlooms, and other valuables. (You knew this one already, right?)
  • Open curtains and blinds. Letting natural light in will not only brighten up the space, but it can also make rooms appear larger.
  • Hide family photos. Buyers need to see a neutral field where they can put down their roots. Having your family photos on display can make that a challenge.
  • Prepare refreshments. Its one of the oldest tricks in the book, but buyers love being greeted with a warm cookie or a cold bottle of water. It’s a home-selling cliché because it actually works.

5. Pet-proof your home

If you have pets, be warned—their presence can be a huge turnoff to some home buyers, says Diane Saatchi, an East Hampton, NY, real estate broker with Saunders & Associates. So, take these steps to make sure your furry family members don’t hinder your sale:

  • Clean the yard. Be prepared for buyers to walk around your yarda stroll that will be ruined if they step in poop.
  • Remove odors. To banish traces of cat or dog urine from carpets or rugs, try a bacteria-eating pet odor remover. If the odor lingers, you might have to hire a professional cleaning service.
  • Vacuum up hair. Pet hair can trigger allergies and send potential buyers sneezing and wheezing out the door. So, vacuum and dust to remove any settled hair or dander around the house.
  • Remove pet paraphernalia. Before showings, tuck away any leashes, collars, toys, water bowls, and food.
Daniel Bortz is a Realtor in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. He has written for Money magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, CNNMoney, and more.
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