A story has recently hit the news of a property buyer, Mr Declan Curran, who bought a studio flat in Pimlico to rent out, thinking from his viewing that it would only need a lick of paint. When he opened the door to his new purchase, having already exchanged contracts, he saw something he was not expecting.
The oven, washing machine, hob, kitchen sink, cupboard doors, laminate flooring, carpet, shelving and even a built-in bed had all disappeared. With some dismay, he was forced to embark on a serious project of renovations to get the property up to lettable standard – spending far more than he had anticipated.
Declan isn’t alone. Almost 43% of Britons have moved into a new home with no light fittings or bulbs, 23% have found toilet roll holders gone and 14% were missing doorknobs. Perhaps most amazingly, the research (carried out by auction site Anyvan) found that 8% had found radiators missing.
The technical legal position revolves around the terms ‘chattels’ and ‘fixtures’. Chattels are items of personal property, ie. assets that are clearly identifiable and movable. Fixtures have been installed in or fixed to the property, therefore becoming part of the building.
An example might be found in a length of timber. If laid on the ground in the garden, it is a chattel. If used as part of a fence and fixed to the land, it is a fixture.
Unfortunately, no comprehensive list exists to categorise items as one or the other. Instead, a Court will apply a test to determine the intention of the attachment, in cases where a dispute arises as to the nature of the item.
Generally speaking, if the purpose of the affixation was to enhance the land, it is a fixture. If it was to enhance the use of the chattel itself, it is likely still a chattel. Furthermore, it is often taken into consideration whether the removal of the item will either damage the item or the land to which it is attached.
Chattels are not factored in to the purchase price, and buyers should not assume that items like tables and chairs, rugs, pictures and so on are included in the sale. That said, items like wallpaper are considered fixtures and should transfer with the sale, on account of the difficulty of removal without damage. If contracts have already been exchanged and the wallpaper or other fixtures are thereafter removed, the buyer may have a legitimate case in the small claims courts.
It remains to be seen whether the actions of the seller in the case of Mr Curran were entirely legal, and in the absence of any legal action we will never know, but avoiding the disruption Declan went through is at least a simple process.
All buyers should be provided with a ‘fixtures and fittings’ list (sometimes known as a Home Contents list), completed by the seller, which forms part of the contract of sale. It is legally binding and should be viewed carefully by the buyer before sale.
If something listed as transferring with the sale then goes missing, the seller is liable for breach of contract and the buyer can start communications with his or her conveyancer and, ultimately, pursue a claim in the small claims court.
If the item was substantial, for example kitchen or bathroom fittings, this might even constitute a fundamental breach of contract, in which case the buyer could have the agreement rescinded and pull out of the purchase.
The advice therefore is to be cautious, read all of the conveyancing documents carefully and confirm very clearly with your seller precisely what you expect to be included with the purchase.