Have switch covers, will travel?
Julie Garton-Good, GRI

Q:We just moved out of a house we sold and the buyer called screaming that we shouldn't have taken the fancy light switch covers, the ornate overhead lamps nor changed the appliance fronts. We didn't think this would matter since we replaced the items with substitutes (just not quite so expensive). What should we do now? Do we have any responsibility to make amends with the buyers? (They say the items we took were easily worth $1,000; we say more like $500.)

A:Depending on how the purchase agreement and/or listing agreement was worded, you may very well owe compensation to the buyers. Most agreements would specify "fixtures" as improvements to the real estate that remain with the property. Personal property can be listed on a contract "as viewed on April 2, 1998," or the date the property was last viewed by the buyer. These would include lights, appliance fronts and switch plate covers. Unless you specified in the purchase agreement that you would be replacing fixtures in the home with other items, buyers would assume that the ones they saw would remain.

Put yourself in the buyer's position. If you had just paid a premium for extras you saw in a home, wouldn't you be upset if they disappeared before you moved in?

The easiest way to prevent this type of situation from happening is to remove all fixtures you plan on keeping before the house is put on the market and replace them with the substitutes. That way potential buyers won't be expecting to receive items other than what they see and the items won't be part of any financial negotiation.

To make amends, you could either return the items to the buyers (and ask for the replacements back), or make a financial settlement between what the replacement items cost you and the value of the original fixtures. If you feel they're worth $500, and the buyers feel they're worth $1,000, why not split the difference at $750? If the buyers decide to take you to task, it may end up costing you much more than a few fixtures by the time you're through with the matter.

Seller comes back for more

Q:I closed on a home several months ago. The seller left behind several portable sprinklers and watering hoses, but now wants them back. Are these usually considered real or personal property and don't they usually go with the home when it's sold?

A:The phrase "left behind" makes it sound like you already know the answer to your question! Sprinklers and hoses which are not permanently affixed are typically personal property. And, like the seller's other personal property, would usually leave with the seller. But since each seller and buyer can negotiate their own terms and conditions regarding what's left behind and what's taken, consult your purchase agreement for clarification. Absent any written agreement, you don't have much of a leg to stand on and would be best advised to give the items to the seller.