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  • Writer's pictureJeff Sorg

Distinguishing Fixtures from Personal Property

Updated: Mar 28

Free-standing washer and dryer
It isn't always this easy to distinguish fixtures from personal property.

Distinguishing fixtures from personal property can be tricky, as their status hinges on specific circumstances. All fixtures start as personal property. However, they become fixtures under certain conditions when attached to the real estate they're installed on. Understanding these conditions is crucial for both buyers and sellers to avoid disputes.

Real estate professionals often rely on the MARIA framework, which encompasses what are considered the five critical criteria for determining fixture status:

  • Method of Attachment: Is the item permanently affixed to the real property? Are nails, screws, or bolts used? Or is it simply resting on the surface?

  • Adaptability: Is the item essential for the property's intended use? Could it be easily removed without damaging the property?

  • Relationship of the Parties: Are we dealing with a landlord-tenant, seller-buyer, or owner-creditor situation? Each relationship has its legal nuances.

  • Intention of the Annexor: What was the person's intent when installing the item? Did they intend for it to remain permanently with the property?

  • Agreement between the Parties: Does a written agreement specify whether an item is considered a fixture or personal property?

While MARIA is helpful, it's essential to acknowledge that determining fixture status isn’t always a clear-cut process. Numerous variables can come into play, creating potential gray areas for interpretation. In these cases, legal expertise becomes necessary to navigate the complexities and reach a fair resolution, which buyers and sellers will want to avoid.

Despite the inherent challenges, there are ways to mitigate issues around fixtures. Open communication between buyers and sellers and their brokers, along with explicit language in purchase and sale agreements, can help prevent disputes. When doubts arise about whether an item is a fixture, seek an understanding between the buyer and seller and write into the agreement whether the item is included or excluded from the sale. This will help to ensure a smooth and sound transaction.

Ultimately, understanding fixtures requires a collaborative approach, where open communication and informed decisions pave the way for successful transactions. By acknowledging the issue's complexity and utilizing available resources, buyers, sellers, and their brokers can work together to navigate the complexities surrounding fixtures and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.


(C) 2024 Jeff Sorg


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