A lot of real estate sales contracts and even some for-sale listings talk about real and personal property when describing property for sale, but a lot of would-be buyers have no idea what those terms mean. The concept of real property vs. personal property is pretty straightforward – but not completely.
In simplest terms, real property is the land and buildings you’re purchasing – generally speaking, things that can’t be moved. Real property usually also includes the rights that go along with the land you’re purchasing – for instance, mineral rights (you know, just in case you dig up a diamond mine or something). Personal property includes things like appliances, light fixtures and even the kids’ swingset in the back yard – in essence, any object that can be moved with relative ease.
OK, now here’s where it gets kind of weird. Say you buy a house that was in the middle of being renovated and the new bathroom sink is sitting in the middle of the living room. You may think, “Oh. There’s the bathroom sink. I’ll have that installed once I move in.” The seller, however, may be thinking, “I never got around to installing that sink. I guess I’ll take it with me.” Now technically, that sink is personal property. However, if it had been installed it would be considered an “annexed” fixture and would generally be considered part of the real property you’re buying. Similarly, light fixtures that are hooked up to the electric would typically be considered real property because they’re attached to the home.
There are other items of personal property that you might assume would go with a property – like the kids’ swingset mentioned earlier, or even an above-ground pool – but unless these things are specified within your real estate purchase contract, the seller usually has every right to take them to their next home. Likewise for sheds. Most people would assume that a shed on the property would be real property, but a portable shed that isn’t attached to footings may well be excluded from real property. Most real estate contracts will spell out any items like fixtures that are not included, just as they’ll include a list of personal property (like appliances) that are included in the sale.
Generally, if you have any concerns about any item being included in a sale, you have two options: Ask your real estate agent about real and personal property rules in your state and ask to have specific items – like that swingset – included in your contract. Spelling it all out clearly is the best way to make sure you don’t wind up with an unexpected – and potentially unpleasant – surprise following the closing.