Alastair Woodgate of Rumball Sedgwick, leading Chartered Surveyors in St Albans and Watford, looks at the difference between fixtures and fittings.
“When I moved in to my new house last week I was astounded to find that not only had the previous owner taken all the light fittings with them, but the doorbell had been unscrewed and taken too” said a bemused friend to me the other day. “Not only did I leave curtains, lampshades, mirrors and more” she exclaimed, “but I also left a vase of fresh flowers in the kitchen to welcome my buyers into what’s now their new home.”
My friend’s comments raise an interesting question as to what is reasonable to take and what is not, when moving. There is no law about what should be left in a home, other than you should, of course, expect to leave or find whatever has been itemised on the fixtures and fittings list, prepared during the course of a sale. Generally, fixtures are not removed when a house is sold. Fittings can be removed if the house is sold. But what are ‘fixtures’ and what are ‘fittings’ – and what is the difference between the two terms?
The best way to remember what a fixture is that if it’s attached say by screws, nails, or glue, to the walls, floors or ceilings, it’s a fixture. A fixture is deemed to form part of the land or building. Conversely, a fitting, or chattel, is independent and can be removed and, unless specified otherwise, does not pass onto a buyer when a property is sold. (Chattels are frequently referred to as ‘fittings’ but the term ‘fitting’ has no meaning in a legal context).
Although there is no set definition for fittings, it is generally assumed that free standing items belong to fittings. Beds, sofas, tables, carpets, lampshades, kitchen appliances, are some examples of fittings. Curtains are fittings. Curtain rods however, are considered to be fixtures.
The light fittings and the doorbell removed from my friend’s house are deemed fixtures, as would be say radiators, bathroom suites built-in wardrobes, plugs and sockets – and the kitchen sink. But the dishwasher, and TV aerial that were left behind for her are deemed fittings.
So the greater the degree of annexation or physical connection the more likely an object is to be a fixture. The easier it is to remove the more likely it is to be a chattel, or fitting.
If you’re moving and want to take a particular item, say an antique light fitting, with you be very specific in listing it, at an early stage of the sale process, so that your buyers don’t expect to see it when they move in. But consider replacing it with something else to avoid any possible hassle. In the end, it’s a case of applying a little common sense, making sure everything is properly itemised and maintaining goodwill in your sale and purchase.