The Challenges of Chattels and Fixtures

by Howard Oldham

When purchasing a property (other than vacant land) you need to take care in understanding the difference between chattels and fixtures to make sure that what you think is included in the deal is actually included.  Fixtures are things that are fastened or otherwise attached to the property in some way such as furnaces, garage door openers and lighting fixtures.  The law is that unless the agreement specifies otherwise, then fixtures are included in the purchase price.  Chattels are items that are not fastened or otherwise attached to the premises such as refrigerators, stoves, furniture, personal items and the like.  The law is that chattels are excluded from the purchase price unless the agreement specifies otherwise.  This is why the standard real estate agreement ask for a list of chattels to be included and a list of fixtures to be excluded.

Rarely are  fixtures excluded from the agreement as these items are usually required for the typical use of the property.  Chattels are a whole different matter.

The proper way to make sure that you know what you are purchasing is to have a thorough and complete list of chattels included in the agreement.  The list would include whatever appliances, furniture, tools etc. that you want as part of the deal.  This is important because if they are not included in the agreement then the law is that you are not entitled to them.  You can also forget trying to argue that you had some sort of side deal or verbal agreement because the standard real estate agreements contain a clause which says only the written agreement governs and that no other side deals or verbal agreements have any merit.

Unfortunately, in the rush of reaching a deal, often Chattels are described without much detail.  For instance, we often see Chattels described as “… all chattels as seen when visiting the property”.  Obviously, that can cause many disputes when the purchaser arrives and less is there than what they expected.  Another common description we see is “… all chattels excluding any personal items.”  What is personal to one person may be quite different to another person.  For this reason, we see many disputes over what was intended by this language.

Ideally, it is a good idea to do an inspection as close to the closing date as you can.  This is something that you should have inserted into the agreement  - that you have the right to attend the premises to inspect before closing.  That way you can ascertain whether the chattels that you bargained for have been left behind.  If Chattels are missing, you can ask your lawyer to try and negotiate a holdback from the purchase price until the Chattels are returned or a reduction of the purchase price. 

Unfortunately, if you don’t find out that the Chattels are missing until after closing, the options for getting compensated are not great.  Essentially, you would have to sue the vendor for breaching the contract/agreement.  That is not a very practical option given the cost and time required to pursue litigation. 

For these reasons, it is best to take the time and make the effort to outline the Chattels included in the deal.