Fixtures and fittings agreements key to avoiding disputes between parties post-completion

After a near decade-long legal battle, magistrates finally ordered the return of fixtures and fittings stripped from a £1.5m manor house by the seller after completion of the sale. The seller had, in the magistrates’ opinion, “systematically” removed any object that he could from the property ahead of handing it over to the buyers, including stripping it of doors, windows, fireplaces and floors. As such, he was instructed to hand back all of the missing items, including those recovered by police during their involvement in the case.

While an extreme example of disputes that can arise over what fixtures and fittings belong to which party in a property transaction, the situation serves as a cautionary tale to buyers and sellers alike when negotiating terms ahead of completion. To avoid anything like the situation the buyers found themselves in after the gutting of their new home in the aforementioned dispute, both parties should be open and upfront about fixtures and fittings during the early stages of the transaction and preferably at the point of offer.

While there are no specific laws or legislation stipulating what should be left or removed when selling a property, the Law Society Fitting and Contents Form (TA10) should be used under the Law Society Conveyancing Protocol. If any items fall outside the scope of this form, it is strongly recommended that a separate inventory of items to include their respective values be created to form part of the sale contract.

The TA10 form is annexed to the contract and forms part of the contract of sale. It is therefore legally binding on the buyer and the seller. If the seller removes anything listed as included in the purchase price from the property on completion, they may find themselves in breach of contract and liable to be sued.

Fixtures are defined as the items in a property that are attached to the building or the land, for example integrated appliances, kitchen units and worktops. They also include carpets, doors, built-in wardrobes, radiators, boilers and central heating systems.

Fittings are those items that are not attached to the property unless by a screw or a nail such as pictures and mirrors. Other examples include freestanding goods like fridges, freezers, washing machines and dishwashers that are not built in or fully integrated, furniture, beds and tables.

More often than not, sellers tend to include white goods in the purchase price, although they are not bound to do so, and can remove them if they have stipulated that they are going to do so. Buyers should always check the TA10 form to make sure this is the case. Depending on the age and value of these goods, the seller does on occasion offer them for sale to the buyer.

Items that should be generally left in situ and which a buyer would not ordinarily expect to be removed from the property are fixtures such as the doorbell, carpets, plug and light sockets, curtain poles and light fittings.

If, however, a seller wishes to remove a light fitting, they are required when completing the Property Information Form to confirm that they will replace such light fittings with a ceiling rose, flex, bulb holder and bulb. Buyers should check that the seller has confirmed this if they are expecting light fittings to be removed.

Another important factor to consider is Stamp Duty, which does not apply to removable fittings and contents. Any fittings attached to the property will be chargeable to Stamp Duty but, in most cases, Stamp Duty is attributable to the consideration (that is, the purchase price) without any apportionment to the attached fittings.

If both parties are agreeable, it is possible to negotiate a price for more valuable items that the seller may not wish to include in the purchase price in order to avoid disappointment for the buyer and ensure that when they move into their new home, they don’t find themselves short-changed.

The seller also avoids being in breach of contract if they have an understanding from the outset of what items need to be removed from the property on completion. If a seller has an onward purchase, it also helps them manage negotiations on what should be included in their related purchase property.

As such, the seller must be reasonable and transparent about exactly what is to stay and what is to go, and the buyer should also be open and frank about their expectations in this regard.

Written by Laura Gill, Associate at Lawrence Stephens.

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