One reason sellers prepare and stage their homes for sale is so buyers can imagine themselves living there. It can be difficult for buyers who are emotionally involved with the home to picture what the place will look like after the sellers move out.
To avoid after-closing problems, make sure that your purchase contract is clear about what stays with the house and what does not. Real estate law and custom vary from one area to the next. Ask your agent for help if you have any question about what’s included in the sale and what is not.
The multiple listing service (MLS) can provide some information. For instance, if there are washer and dryer hookups only, then the washer and dryer are not included in the sale unless otherwise specified in writing in the purchase agreement.
To be enforceable, real estate contracts must be in writing. Verbal agreements to sell real estate aren’t binding. The MLS is the Realtors’ listings of homes for sale and an offer to cooperate with other agents in procuring a buyer. It is not a contract between the buyers and seller.
So, even if the MLS information on a listing says the washer and dryer are included, you should write this into the contract so there’s not confusion when the sellers move out.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Typically, items that are permanently attached to the property, such as built-in appliances, tacked-down floor coverings, window coverings, light fixtures and bookcases, are included in the sale unless they are specifically excluded in writing by the sellers.
For example, the dining room chandelier might have been in the sellers’ family for years. It has sentimental value. The best approach would be for the sellers to remove and replace the fixture before the home goes on the market. Otherwise, ask the sellers to replace the fixture before they leave so that you’re not left without light if this is the only source of light in the room.
Satellite dishes and wall mounts for flat-screen TVs can create ambiguity. In some contracts, they are included. If you don’t want them to be included, ask the sellers in writing to remove the wall mount and satellite dish and to make necessary repairs before they leave.
If the sellers are taking these items with them, be sure to require in writing that they make necessary repairs. Special attention should be paid to the roof covering where a satellite dish is removed to avoid leakage into the home.
Buyers are often taken by items of personal property that belongs to the sellers. They are a perfect fit for the house, like a fountain in the front courtyard, outdoor furniture or potted plants that enhance the garden, or a table that fits the breakfast nook perfectly. These items, unless permanently attached, are usually not included in the sale.
Just because the sellers haven’t offered to include a piece of personal property you covet doesn’t mean you can’t ask for them. Again, to ensure that they are included, write it into the contract, or an addendum to the contract.
When should you ask for personal property that’s not included in the sale? If you’re in competition, postpone the request until the sellers accept your offer. When you remove contingencies might be a good time to bring up the subject. If the sellers can’t part with the item you want, ask where they bought it.
Even if the sellers have specifically said they are not leaving items like the washer and dryer, they might be willing to do so if your offer is good enough.
THE CLOSING: If the sellers offer to include items of personal property you don’t want, specify in writing in the purchase contract that those items be removed.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."
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