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John Souerbry's Blog

By John Souerbry | Broker in Palo Alto, CA

Real Estate Jargon: Buyer Beware - “Personal Property”

Real Estate Jargon: Buyer Beware - “Personal Property” Buyers, sellers, investors, welcome back to another installment of Real Estate Jargon, aka, simple explanations of often confusing real estate terms.  Today, we’re going to look at the meaning of “personal property” as it relates to a real estate sale.

Items found on a piece of land are most commonly referred to as either “real property” or “personal property.”  Real property is the land itself and the improvements built on it, such as a house, garage, barn, swimming pool, or anything considered “attached.”  Personal property is, therefore, anything “not attached.”  Or is it?  More than one buyer has been burned by a bad assumption regarding what is real or personal property and what is or is not included in a sale.  So, let’s look at some examples of items that could go either way.  Let’s also look how we can protect ourselves from bad assumptions regarding personal property.

Here are examples of just a few items that commonly straddle the line between real and personal property:

· Book shelves.  Most shelves are attached using bolts and are therefore considered part of the structure, same as built-in kitchen cabinets.  Some sellers, however, want to take the shelves with them since they can be easily removed, leaving only minor holes in the walls that can be spackled and painted.

· Dishwasher.  Since dishwashers are most often installed in tight spaces that support standard 24” or 30” appliances, buyers often assume that the dishwasher comes with the property.  But dishwashers can be removed just as easily as a clothes washer – remove a couple front mounting screws, unplug the electric, disconnect the water lines, and disconnect the drain.  Since clothes washers and dryers are most often considered personal property, it’s not a good idea to assume that the dishwasher comes with the house, either.  Same with similar kitchen devices such as trash compactors and refrigerators with ice makers.

· Lighting fixtures.  This is one of the most common “switcheroos” in home sales.  At final inspection or on move-in day, it’s common to discover that the ornate chandelier you observed gracing the dining room when you made your purchase offer has been exchanged with a $100 knock-off.

· Faucets and Shower Heads.  It’s hard to find a shower head that has the right water pressure and dispersion.  After years trying to find just the right shower head to wake up to in the morning, would we leave that shower head behind when we move?  Not me – and not most sellers.  Same with kitchen faucets that we’ve become accustomed to.  With a quick twist of a wrench they are free to accompany us to our new home.  Like light fixtures, many high-end faucets and shower heads are replaced with cheaper, less attractive models between when an offer is accepted and escrow closing.

· Garden Tools and Supplies.  Just because the seller is moving to a retirement condo in Palm Beach doesn’t mean he’s going to leave those bags of lawn fertilizer and boxes of rose dust in the garage.  These are obviously personal property, but many buyers assume the seller will leave them behind on moving day.  Often, garden tools are donated to charity or given away to family or neighbors.

So, what can buyers do to protect themselves when they believe they are buying not only a nice piece of real estate, but also several items that might be considered personal property?  Here are some simple steps to do just that.

1.    Prepare a property inventory to submit with your purchase offer.  If you need to visit the property several times to complete the inventory, do it.  The purchase offer – once signed – becomes the purchase contract and therefore needs to list everything you are buying.  If the seller responds with a counter offer that includes taking the kitchen faucet with him, negotiate a reasonable price adjustment.

2.    Take detailed photos of every inch of the property to document not only the presence of items in your inventory, but also the condition.  Since digital photography is cheap, take lots of pictures, including close ups of identification plates and stickers that show the model number and serial number of appliances you want included in the deal.  You may also wish to make a video that highlights certain high value items.

3.    Refer to the photos during your final walk-through to identify anything that might have been damaged or replaced.  If anything is changed or missing, have your broker inform the seller immediately and request in writing either return of the item or replacement using a mutually-agreeable item.

I hope you found this information helpful.  If you have questions about real estate jargon or buy/sell/investment strategies, drop me a line!  john@jsrealproperty.com


John A. Souerbry & Associates   DRE 01370983


By Connie Fitzgerald,  Sun Mar 3 2013, 09:03
Great info John! Thanks for sharing :)
By Ken Allen,  Sun Mar 3 2013, 10:18
Interesting. Thanks.
By Laurie Fisher,  Sun Mar 3 2013, 17:07
John, Great info for Buyers!

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