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A small package was crammed into our mailbox with the regular assortment of bills and fliers a few weeks ago. As soon as I got into the house, I threw it all on the counter and went immediately for the plump package with a return address from Illinois. Inside was a metal sign that said "EARLS." There was even a small packet enclosed with little matching screws to hang it with. The note inside made me sit down. It was from Chris, my brother-in-law Matt’s partner. Matt, Mark’s youngest brother passed away more than eight years ago. Chris wanted us to put this sign on our home, as it was on theirs. Then someday he hoped we would pass it on to our boys for their home.

Personal property is what makes a house a home. When you are selling your home you should understand the differences between personal property and real property.

Most things screwed into a house are considered fixtures and part of the home being sold, real property. Personal property includes items like curtains and blinds. If you choose to keep fixtures, you must be very specific and let the new buyers know, in writing, what you are taking with you when you sell. Sometimes, it can be hard to discern what is a fixture and what is personal property. In those cases, I suggest that sellers remove them prior to showing their home for sale.

One time, I was representing a buyer on a large home with big decks wrapping around the house. Each time we visited the home we walked out onto the deck, enjoyed the views and the gorgeous flowers growing in the planters built along the railing. On the day of closing, the buyers and I went to the home for a last walk-through to make sure everything looked good. The deck looked unusually bare and it didn’t take us long to realize that the flower boxes were gone. The planters that we thought were part of the bargain, apparently were not, according to the sellers. The buyers were unhappy but easygoing about it. The house was lovely and they would redecorate the deck. You can be sure that now when I see planters, I look to see if they are screwed into the home. Even if they are attached, I still include them as part of the sale if the buyers expect them to stay. Be specific even if something seems quite obvious.

Another time, during the purchase of a large commercial building, there was an electric fireplace that was against the wall in a waiting area. It had nice woodwork and was a warm and welcoming part of the property. Again, at the final walk-through prior to closing, the area looked bare and cold. The soothing, inviting fireplace was gone and the wall barren. In this case, it had never been discussed and was not part of the contract. It looked built in to the entryway but was not. The nonprofit purchasing the property didn’t argue, as the building was the most important factor. But I still think about that when I walk into the building, as I frequently do. It should have been discussed. And I still think the fireplace should have been included.

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Refrigerators, microwaves and stoves can all be moved out and are considered personal property. But what about the heater in the garage that can be unplugged and moved? What about the solar lights greeting guests in the dark? What about sheds? What about garden fences and hose holders? Or the sign heading into the shop specifying “Man Cave, Enter at Your Own Risk”? What’s included and what’s going? Sometimes you may want sellers to take something that they may leave. That could include wood piles and debris around the home. It could mean the huge freezer from 1940 that doesn’t look like it will fit through the door. You don’t want to deal with it when you move in. Have the sellers take it when they go.

When you decide you are going to make an offer on a home carefully walk through the inside and out. Make note of what is part of the house, what is attached and what is not. Then be specific with the sellers. In your contract, write what is included in the sale and what must go. This is the time to negotiate with the sellers so you are all clear on what you are buying. When they are moving, they won’t have questions about what needs to be cleared out. And when you do your walk-through, you won’t be upset about something missing. If there is personal property included in the sale and you are getting a loan, then you will need a separate bill of sale to purchase the items. Lenders only intend to let you borrow money for the real estate and home, not to buy a lawnmower or children's play set in the yard. It makes sense and is easy to write up the transaction if you plan it ahead of time.

The other day I was driving up to my home and saw the sign we had bought online years ago with the address of our house. It is parked between an assortment of flowers that friends have shared with us from their yards over the years. I enjoy it when I pull in and just noticed that it matches the "EARLS" sign perfectly, which Mark attached to the front porch by the door welcoming guests. I don’t plan to sell our home anytime soon, but I know what’s coming with us wherever we are headed.

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Joy Earls is a broker/owner of Joy Earls Real Estate. She can be reached at 531-9811 or at joyearls@joyearls.com.

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