What Stays and What Goes When You Sell Your Home

Q. What is customarily left in a home when you sell? Is it possible to get more money for expensive things I want to leave behind, like a wooden play set or a crystal chandelier?

A. Generally, whatever is attached to the house stays; whatever isn’t goes. That means that if a bookcase is nailed or screwed to the wall, it’s considered part of the house; if it isn’t, the seller takes it. Similarly, custom-made window treatments like upholstered valances typically stay; store-bought curtains hanging on a rod usually go. Beyond that, however, there’s a lot of grey area. For instance, in some parts of the country, it’s normal to leave behind large appliances; in others, sellers generally take them. Similarly, flat-screen televisions are often placed on brackets that are attached to the wall, but can be readily removed. Whether the television stays or goes can be a matter of dispute between sellers and buyers.

That’s why it’s important to spell out in both the sales literature and the contract exactly what is being sold, because what one buyer covets, another can consider a burden. A play set is a perfect example. If a buyer has children, such an item could be an attraction; for an empty-nester, however, it could be an eyesore.
If you note in the sales literature that the play set or other item is negotiable, you signal to buyers that you do not consider it part of the home sale. But don’t be surprised if they then demand that you include it in the sale; or conversely, demand that you remove it at your expense.
Chandeliers are another matter. Because they are attached to the house, buyers will expect them to stay. They will be very peeved, perhaps to the point of canceling the contract, if they find them missing at their pre-closing walk through.

I did, however, recently see a sales brochure on a home that stipulated that the Waterford crystal chandeliers hanging in the foyer and dining room were negotiable. I understand why the seller would want to take them, since they undoubtedly were expensive. But since they are eye-catching features that most buyers would want, I thought it did not make sense for the seller to quibble over them, especially in a big subdivision where buyers could choose other, nearly identical homes.

So what’s the takeaway here? Assume that buyers could become attracted to anything they see in your home, even things that aren’t usually included in a sale, like your pool table or leather sofa. Assume also that anything they want, they’ll want for free, or at best for a fraction of what you paid for it. And assume that because you bought and love your stuff, you could be so attached to it that your emotions jeopardize the deal.
I know this last part from firsthand experience. When my husband and I got a full-price, all-cash offer for our first home, the buyer asked that the store-bought curtains that coordinated with the wallpaper in our baby’s room be included. We had shopped lovingly for those curtains, and I didn’t want to part with them, until my real estate agent took me aside and made me realize how irrational it was to lose a great deal over something that I could simply purchase again.

The moral to this story is to remove any items that you really want to keep, to a storage unit if necessary, before you list your house for sale. Be prepared to let anything else go if it means you cement the sale.