- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

If you are a homeowner, you’ve probably heard one or more horror stories like this one: An excited home buyer goes on the final walk-through just before settlement, only to find that the special chandelier he liked so much has been ripped out. It’s enough to make any potential home buyer ask a pretty simple question: What conveys?

The answer, area Realtors say, is not quite that easy.

“It used to be rule that anything that fastened permanently has to stay,” says Paul Keller, an owner and broker at EP Associates, which works exclusively with buyers. “But the old rules don’t always work anymore.”

That’s especially true in today’s seller’s market.

“These days, things are strictly custom,” says Dale Mattison of Long & Foster’s Mattison group in Northwest.

Of course, there are a few general rules of thumb to take into account when it comes to what will stay in the house and what will go with the owner.

“In the metro area, anything that is wired in or screwed in conveys unless otherwise noted,” says Linda Low, a real estate agent with Long & Foster’s office in Northwest.

That means things such as chandeliers, built-ins and doors generally convey. In addition, things such as washers and dryers or microwaves may or may not.

“In the close-in Washington area [suburbs], appliances like washers and dryers generally convey,” Mrs. Low says. “Microwaves that are built in would also generally convey.”

Following this rule, a microwave that simply sat on the kitchen counter wouldn’t convey. So it’s important to figure out how portable an item actually is.

Suppose for example, the house you buy contains a large mirror. If the mirror is screwed into the wall, it’s probably yours. But if it hangs from a hook, forget about it. It will most likely go with the owner to a new home.

Things such as window treatments and lighting fixtures can also raise some conveyance issues. If you apply the wired-in-or-screwed-in rule to that chandelier hanging in the hallway, you might assume that it would convey to you as the new owner.

But suppose that chandelier was an antique that had been in the family for years.

“Write it down,” Mr. Keller says. “Things like that can become a problem because a lot of people don’t write everything down.”

This is one reason many area Realtors use a checklist form, called the Regional Sales Contract, that spells out the items to stay or go. Things that usually stay include wall-to-wall carpeting, stoves and sconces, as well as exterior trees and shrubs.

“The things that stay are the ones that are truly attached to the property,” says Charlie Plymire of McEnearney Associates’ Arlington office. “A built-in cabinet in a 75-year-old house would generally convey because it cannot be moved without taking the house apart.”

The form also includes room for items that might be up for debate, such as an air-conditioning unit or a dining room cabinet that is hooked onto the wall for stability’s sake.

“Sellers need to be careful,” Mr. Plymire says. “The perception that something conveys could be a problem.”

In fact, the Regional Sales Contract even includes items that your house may or may not have, such as a garbage disposal or trash compactor. Even if you don’t have some of these appliances, you should still note that they don’t convey. It could save you headaches later on, Realtors advise.

Even without the Regional Sales Contract, most agents use an inclusion list that is an addendum to the regular contract that specifies the items to convey.

“If a home is listed with a real estate agency, then you have to follow the rules,” Mrs. Low says. “If it’s not mentioned either way, then you go with the wired-in-or-screwed-in rule.”

In Maryland, says Paul Biciocchi of Forum Properties in Potomac, Realtors may opt to use the Maryland form instead, which is even longer than the Regional Sales Contract.

According to the Maryland form, everything defined as a fixture conveys in absence of any indication to the contrary.

“In Maryland, appliances do convey unless otherwise noted,” Mr. Biciocchi says.

But if you, as the seller, are planning to leave that old, broken refrigerator because you don’t want to have to deal with it, you should think twice before including “refrigerator” on that list of items to convey.

“Paragraph three of the Regional Sales [Contract] form says that the purchaser accepts appliances, heating and cooling systems, and plumbing are in ‘normal working order’ as of the possession date,” Mr. Plymire says.

Normal working order means that an item is expected to be in a condition in which it can be used by the new owner.

Of course, there’s always a chance that something can break down.

“Breaks prior to settlement are the seller’s responsibility,” Mr. Mattison says.

Some things still have to be taken on trust. Air conditioners, for example, can’t always be checked in the wintertime. So home buyers will have to assume that the seller is acting in good faith and supplying an air conditioner in normal working order.

However, if you still want to get rid of that refrigerator, you can mark it “as is.”

“If you know something isn’t working properly, then you say it conveys ‘as is,’” Mrs. Low says. “You want to give people a heads up if something isn’t working.”

If the seller is in a hurry or doesn’t want to be bothered later on, he or she may convey the entire house “as is.”

“In those situations, it’s buyer beware,” Mrs. Low says. “It means that your seller is not going to fix anything.”

In the greater Washington area, the fact that certain items are clearly expected to convey may present challenges when dealing with some home buyers.

“When you walk into a home, it’s a pretty emotional experience,” Mr. Plymire says. “You can be quite taken with things like doorknobs or lighting fixtures. If you are planning to take them away with you, it’s better to remove them first so you won’t have debates.”

Mr. Mattison agrees.

“Take them down if you want to take them with you,” he says. “You can give the buyer credit for a dollar amount or replace it with something else.”

But you can’t assume that every potential buyer is familiar with our local conveyance customs.

That’s why it’s important to clearly indicate what conveys even before you are ready to draw up a contract.

“Put exactly what is conveying and is not conveying in writing,” Mr. Biciocchi says. “Note that brand name and the age.”

That means labeling the items in your home before potential home buyers even walk through.

Want to keep that antique chandelier? Make sure that it is clearly marked “Does not convey.” Don’t want to be bothered with that old safe in the basement? Mark that as well, so potential buyers know that it is something that they will have to deal with.

Of course, removing chandeliers, sconces, and other fixtures may leave some gaping holes and exposed wires that could put off a potential home buyer. That’s why many sellers replace items such as these that they want to take with them with a similar item “in like kind.”

“You may not want your stainless-steel refrigerator to convey, but you will give them a refrigerator,” Mr. Plymire says. “You need to clearly indicate what kind of refrigerator will convey with the house.”

So, you can replace that chandelier hanging in the hallway with another one without its sentimental value.

Replacing items in like kind can produce its own pitfalls, however. Suppose, for example, you have an expensive six-burner stove that you would like to take with you. You are hardly going to run out and buy another $7,000 Viking range. But you are willing to replace it with a $400 General Electric one.

That’s not exactly “in like kind,” but it’s the kind of stove a buyer might expect if he or she were walking through a home owned by someone without your culinary inclinations.

Typically, the items that are in the house on the day the contract is written are expected to convey, Mr. Plymire says.

The best way to avoid confusion and recriminations at either walk-through or settlement is to carefully spell out exactly what items will convey. If you are planning to take your Sub-Zero refrigerator with you but leave a less expensive one in its place, note that. If you don’t plan to take the drapes, let them know.

And if you are planning to take away the doorknobs of your 1920s-era cottage, you’ll need to note that, too.

“The worst thing that can happen are situations that produce a ‘he said, she said’ atmosphere,” Mr. Plymire says. “If things are not written into the contract, then the buyer doesn’t have a whole lot of leg to stand on.”

Of course, in today’s market, it’s usually the seller with the leverage.

“Right now, I tell buyers not to assume that the seller is going to leave anything,” Mr. Keller says.

Bottom line: Don’t rely on convention when it comes to what will or will not convey. Note everything in writing.

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