John's Florida Real Estate Blog


Now You See It, Now You Don't - Are You An Honest Seller? Or Are You Unknowingly Playing a Shell Game?

Have you ever seen someone play the shell game? There are three walnut shells and one pea. The shells are moved around rapidly and you have to guess which shell has the pea under it. No matter how hard you try, the pea is never where you thought it would be. Players always end up losing.

Selling a home can sometimes be confusing to both sellers and buyers. But if sellers unintentionally start to run a shell game serious problems can occur.

When you sell your property, you are actually selling three things. The first is the land the home is on.

The second is the home itself along with its FIXTURES. In general, fixtures are those items that are attached physically to the home. Examples of fixtures are ceiling fans, lighting fixtures, kitchen cabinets, bathtubs, sinks, garage door openers, doorknobs, wall-to-wall carpeting, etc. If it is nailed, screwed or glued to the home, it is probably a fixture.

The third items that may, or may not, be included in the sale are the personal items. These are formally called CHATTEL in the real estate industry. Chattel can include the refrigerator, range, dishwasher, tables, chairs, freestanding lamps, rugs, etc. Almost anything that is not nailed down in the home. All, some, or none of these items may convey during the sale of the property. If they are being sold they are usually either listed on the contract or an attached inventory.

Problems occur when a seller decides to take a fixture without notifying the buyer beforehand. Say your grandmother gave you an antique Tiffany light that you had installed in the dining room ceiling. You want to take it to your new home. But no one knows of this plan. The potential buyers come through the home and think it is beautiful, especially the light. They write up a contract that you accept. When closing day arrives they do their walk-through inspection, and low-and-behold, in the dining room a light fixture from Home Depot is now hanging. That is when the fireworks begin. The buyers expected one thing and got something different.

Most purchase contracts have a spot where you can list those fixtures that do not convey with the home. If the light is not on that list, the buyer is expects that he will get it when he closes on the sale. If you really wanted to keep the light, it should have been excluded from the sale on the purchase agreement. Then the buyer is aware that he will not get it. Even better, have your agent mention in the MLS listing that the lamp will not be left with the house. Then everything is out in the open and clear.

Some sellers like leaving things in the home during showings because the home looks so great with these special items, even though they plan on excluding them from the sale. But that is kind of like the old "I Love Lucy" episode where she buys a vaccuum cleaner from a salesman. He sells her "the works" for $10. Then he asks her if she would like the nice shiny metal container to keep the motor in. Of course that cost another $10. She thought the works meant everything she saw, but in reality it meant the motor and nothing more. If you have beautiful antique brass door hardware in your home, don't let its beauty sell your home and then switch it out for stainless steel hardware before the closing. In the case of the Tiffany lamp, it would have been much better to switch it before potential buyers came to tour the home. Then they would never think to ask for it. End of problem. Of course, there is nothing illegal about leaving those items there and taking them with you, as long as you disclose it before the buyer makes his offer. I just feel it is more open to have the buyer see the home as it will be when he takes possession of it.

Chattel can also be a problem. If you agree to sell your refrigerator with the home, that should be noted on the listing in MLS and on the purchase agreement. But then do not play the shell game on the buyer. The refrigerator that he saw when he made his offer should be the one he gets when he moves in. If the buyer does his walk-through and finds a 10 year old avocado colored refrigerator has been moved in to take the place of the stainless steel model he saw when he made his offer, trouble will ensue and you probably will not be closing until this problem (and the shouting) are taken care of. In your MLS listing tell buyers that you will be taking the refrigerator currently in the home. Period. That way the buyer can base his price on the home without the fridge.

Clearly, most sellers are honest and do not intentionally "hide the pea". Problems usually arise due to sincere misunderstandings. My advice is to be VERY clear about what is and what is not included in the sale. Neither the seller or the buyer should change the rules in the middle of the "game". That way everyone involved in the sale will come away feeling satisfied. (PS Oh, and do not take all of the lightbulbs out of all the lighting fixtures when you leave. That is just tacky. But it has really happened in the past!!)

For more information or questions about this topic please call me at: 813-783-4444 or e-mail me at:


John Elwell - REALTOR


Bill Nye Realty, Inc.


Licensed in Florida


Comment balloon 0 commentsJohn Elwell • August 05 2007 02:56PM


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