Flat Screen TV – Is it "attached"?

Ardell’s Advice:  “When in Doubt – Take it OUT” BEFORE showing your home to prospective buyers!

Over the years the thing that creates the most controversy in a real estate transaction has been something Dining Room Chandelier STAYSthat is attached to the home.  Different parts of the Country deal with these issues in local custom fashion.

When I started in real estate back in 1990, the primary cause of confusion was the dining room chandelier.  Often sellers wanted to take it to their new home, but clearly a light fixture is attached to the home and is sold with the home.

Built-in refrigerator stays with houseAfter “the chandelier” the new attachment item became the “sub-zero” refrigerator.  Up to that point, washers, dryers and refrigerators were NOT considered to be part of the real estate; dishwashers and stoves were.  Rule of thumb being If you can simply unplug an appliance and remove it without any other effort, it goes with the seller.  Refrigerators were like your alarm clock.  Unplug it and take it with you.  Then builders and kitchen remodelers started “building in” the refrigerator with panels that matched the kitchen cabinetry.  The expectation became if it is a “built-in refrigerator” it stayed.  If it was a standard plug-it-in-and-shove-it-into-an-open-space-for-it refrigerator, it went with the seller.  Washer and dryer “hook-ups” were part of the real estate.  The washer and dryer were not.

When the market weakened and became a buyer’s market, sellers of lower priced housing that fit into the category of “first time buyer” started to include the washer, dryer and refrigerator.  When there were 20 of the same type of condo on market, often the seller who listed it with “all appliances” became the most likely to sell.  Higher priced housing was not expected to include the washer, dryer and refrigerator.  “First time buyer” housing was expected to leave the washer, dryer and refrigerator.

Then there’s the curtains.  Most places where I have worked, the rod that is attached to the wall was sold Fabric covered valancewith the home.  The curtain that slipped off the rod went with the seller.  The window treatment that was attached to the wall (usually a fabric covered boxy wood valance) stayed with the house. Blinds and shutters stay with the house. At one point I said to the seller “if you have to go get a screw driver to remove it…you probably shouldn’t be removing it, so call me first.”

Here in the Seattle area, the curtains DO go with the house, unlike most of the Country where only the blinds and rods go with the house.  Here’s what the boilerplate of the contract has to say about this issue:

“Included Items.  …built in appliances, wall to wall carpeting, curtains, drapes and other window treatments, Window and door screens, awnings, storm door and windows, installed television antennas, ventilating, air conditioning and heating fixtures, trash compactor, fireplace doors, gas logs and gas log lighters, irrigation fixtures, electric garage door openers and remotes, water heaters, installed electrical fixtures, lighting fixtures, shrubs, plants and trees planted in the ground, all bathroom and other fixtures and all associated operating equipment…”

I don’t even want to tell you how many times a seller drove out of town with the garage door remote in his car by accident.  Or how many times there is a two or three car garage, but only one remote control.  Most people are surprised that curtains actually stay with the house, when they slip off of the rod quite easily. The one that defies logic is when a buyer expects to get the door knocker with the previous owner’s last name engraved in it, or the sell expects to remove that door knocker without replacing it with a similar one and leaves a hole in the front door.

Flat Screen TV mounted on wallOver time, contracts and local custom worked through these issues.  Today we have the “Wall-mounted Flat Screen TV” to deal with.  Might that now fall under the heading of “installed electrical fixtures”?   If the TV slips out of the mount and unplugs…then there’s “the mount”.  If the flyer and mls said “all appliances included…is the wall mounted TV an “appliance”?

Obviously I just had one of these situations.  The wall mounted TV was not simply “plugged in”.  The cable for the TV came up through the wall via the crawl space and attached directly to the TV.  There was no “cable plate” on the wall.  Of course we really can’t see what is behind that TV, can we?  The seller removed the TV, the Mount AND the cable that went down through the wall and over to the floor type TV connection.

It all boils down to what does this buyer need and expect.  If they don’t have a flat screen TV, well then they probably want the wall to be returned to the condition it was before the TV was there.  If they DO have a flat screen TV to be mounted on the wall…well then they want the cable there with a plate and an electrical outlet with a plate at that spot on the wall.  Do they want the wall mount?  Does their TV fit into that wall mount?

At what point does a wall mounted TV that is hard wired into the wall without outlets become “an installed electrical fixture” per the terms of the contract and included in the sale of the house?  I don’t think anyone expects to get someone else’s TV…or do they?  What about a Theater Room with a mounted projector and screen?  Do you simply remove the projector?  What about all of the wiring that makes it function?  Speakers?  Speaker wires?  Satellite dishes?

From my perspective my advice is the same as it has been for the last 18 years…”If you have to go get a screw driver to remove something (or hire someone to “de-install” something)…CALL ME FIRST!”  Then we work out a “true meeting of the minds” between the buyer and the seller, before creating a bone of contention over a $20 cable connection.

Will the wall mounted flat screen TVs and hardwired projectors in the ceiling go the way of the built-in refrigerators?  How about “under the counter appliances” where you have to unscrew the mounts in the cabinets to get your coffee pot?

Where do YOU draw the line and what exactly is YOUR interpretation of “an installed electrical fixture”?  For sellers:  “When in Doubt – Take it OUT” BEFORE you put your home on the market.  Replace it with what the buyer will actually be getting, before the first buyer steps through the front door and starts believing that “what they SEE is what they GET”.


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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: ardelld@gmail.com cell: 206-910-1000

28 thoughts on “Flat Screen TV – Is it "attached"?

  1. Good post Ardell! You raise some very valid questions here.

    It seems to me that removing items that are not included in the sale before showing flies in the face of good staging techniques.

    If the appliances are not included, having a fully-staged house including furniture and wall treatments, but without a stove and refrigerator in the kitchen, doesn’t seem to make any sense. We all know how ugly those empty appliance spaces look (even if clean) and it really takes the focus away from (how nice) the rest of the space (is). Not having the washer and dryer there is less of a big deal than lacking the kitchen appliances IMO.

    And since media rooms are so common now, having a staged media room with a big empty space on the wall with mounting brackets and cables coming out of the wall where the flat-screen TV used to be just doesn’t make sense either.

    Wouldn’t it be sufficient to specifically list what (gray-area) items shown are not included in the sale in the purchase & sale agreement? Could a flyer be placed in the home also listing these items so potential buyers could know ahead of time to avoid any assumptions about what is and is not included?

  2. redmondjp

    “It seems to me that removing items that are not included in the sale before showing flies in the face of good staging techniques.”

    The big issue for me is at times have wanted to put up window treatments to “dress up” a vacant property, along with other “light staging” items. I even have some that tie on to a 5″ piece of bamboo and hang like a picture on the wall. But who wants to argue that they are not window treatments that go with the house? Stagers who put up window treatments generally don’t expect the buyer to get them. The #1 item I “lose” in a sale are the bar stools 🙂 Everyone always wants my bar stools.

    ” but without a stove and refrigerator in the kitchen,”

    Stoves are “built in” and always go with…Refrigerators are not. Dishwasher’s always go with. Microwaves that are built in DO and microwaves that sit on the counter don’t.

    “Could a flyer be placed in the home also listing these items so potential buyers could know ahead of time to avoid any assumptions about what is and is not included?”

    Then it becomes like the interview with the cleaning lady who has a list of everything she WON’T do. “I don’t do windows, I don’t scrub floors on my hands and knees, I dust blinds, I don’t wash them…negative…negative…”

    When you only have a 500 character allowance for description of home, starting with “chandelier in living room NOT included…” is often a turn off for buyers. Talking about what you DON’T get is not as good as getting rid of it before the property goes up for sale.

    Offers usually focus on price and terms and not a big list of what you do and don’t get as to “personal property” items.

  3. i wouldn’t expect a mounted tv to be included, nor would I expect the mounting hardware. Many mounts are not universal, and sellers will be reluctant to leave them if they paid retail price (which is always way, way more than they’re worth).

    I *would* expect the wall to look like a tv was never mounted there. If power/cable/av wiring was run through the wall it should have a nice mounting plate.

    On the issue of running power through the wall, make sure your inspector takes a good look at that. Often lazy DIY’ers will run just the TV power cord through the wall, which is a big no-no.

  4. I meant that the inspector should check in the situation where the seller would leaves only the wiring- not the mount or the tv.

    I don’t know what protocols inspectors have to follow, but in the case that there was a tv in the way, hopefully they could get a peek from above or underneath to see if the power cord was fished into the wall instead of plugged into a proper outlet.

    Given that possibility I think I’d feel much better buying a home that doesn’t include any of that stuff so I could just do it myself.

  5. jadr,

    When you’re buying a home for over half a million dollars, whether or not the TV cable has a proper $.50 outlet cover is rarely one of the selection criteria 🙂

  6. Ardell,
    Timely post for me. You’re correct in that homes have more “built ins” that need to be dealt with. I listed a home today that “had” an attached big screen. Seller did take it down upon my advice and put a base on it to sit on a table. The wall repair looks as if it had never been there.

    Your point is very clear. These issues can get muddy in real life transactions.

    I do not agree that everything has to be removed. It is definitely the best way, but sometimes it’s not practical. However, if the Seller wants to retain an item that could any way be construed as a built in, it must at the very least be clearly tagged and any restorations must be professional. (It’s amazing how many times a Seller wants to tag “special” garden plants or trees!).

    For some a big screen TV is easier to give up than a yard plant passed on from a beloved grandmother.

    If the Seller (or agent) thinks there might be a gray area at the time of offer, it should be addressed in the purchase and sale in “excluded items”. (Same goes for the buyer…..if they want something, it should go on the purchase and sale as “included” items.)

    Agents, Sellers and Buyers have to work to make sure everyone is on the same page.

    FWIW, often a portion of an agents commission is used to put a transaction back in order after such misunderstandings.

  7. Hi Ardell,

    I totally agree with you. The issue about what is attached and not is a big conundrum. With the change in housing styles and finish work, the preprinted language in the purchase and sale agreement regarding included items should be updated. Many things that were not built in are now built in, other things are not. It can be really confusing.

    I go through a home with a seller prior to listing to make sure they understand what stays and what does not stay. You are totally right, however, if the seller wants it, they should remove it PRIOR to listing.

    I had a problem last year with a mirror in a bathroom. The mirror was hanging on a hook, like a picture, so the seller took it. The buyer was furious. But it was not attached. Soon the buyer may go after those detached toilet paper holders!

    By the way, I wrote about this situation recently on the Seattle P-I blog as I agree with you, it is a real problem.


  8. Ardell,

    Love the post! Love the title!

    I understand what you are saying and I am only wondering if it stops being a fixture when it starts being a concession. Or am I just thinking too much like a builder now? 🙂

    Yep I think that your board really might want to draft something up for the tv thing.

    Great post!

  9. Debra,

    I can’t open that link. It wants me to “log in” to see the article. If you need me to replace it with a different link, just send me an email.

  10. Greg,

    Just as a seller should replace the fancy chandelier with the one the buyer will be getting, putting that flat screen in a stand resolves the issue as to it being “attached”.

    In my case, however, the buyer did have a flat screen TV and so wanted the wall to NOT be put back as if there never was a TV there. They didn’t expect to get the TV or the mount. Just the cable connection and outlet to plug it in.

  11. My 2 cents ; What about custom fitted closet shevling that can be shifted closet to closet. Leave the basics or all sections showing on a wllk through?

  12. I’m assuming the buyer gets it all and the seller isn’t taking it away. Show it the way the buyer is going to get it and have a notation on the closet that the arrangement of shelving is adjustable. If there is any literature fromt he custom design company, leave it in the closets someplace visible.

  13. what I love is when you’re showing a $2m listing and there’s a nasty pot or light fixture that says “NOT INCLUDED IN SALE!” You’d think that for $2m you’d get the home depot chandelier. (forgiven of course are those who hold true sentimental value to those fixtures…”my grandfather made that from the antlers of the deer he shot back in ’21”)

    Flat screens though, definitely a new item. Look for a modified forms announcment soon.

  14. Just as often tho, I see a nasty old flat screen that the seller wants to leave (and considers it the highlight of his perfect home!), that the buyer would much rather not have there at all!

    But, I definitely agree. We’re all selling homes that in hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the sellers shouldn’t nickle-dime the buyers by removing petty things that cost $200 or even $2000. If you want to take it with you, remove it before the home goes on the market. If it is a plant in the ground, well that one is understandable that it should wait to be moved, and a nice bright tag can identify that special plant.

    As to curtains, most of the time, the buyers really don’t want those ugly things anyway … -), no matter how loverly they are, and how nice that they match the sellers bedding that isn’t going to stay …!

  15. I can understand taking the TV and the mount, but ripping out the cord from the wall? Of course, some “cable cords” these days, especially for fancy screens, are HDMI cords that are very expensive. Still that should be included and I’d be pissed.

  16. Flat-screen TV tech is changing so rapidly that an old one is not worth much.

    FWIW as a current condo-shopper I would prefer to make my own choices. I’d prefer quieter and more energy-efficient washers, dryers, and fridges than the ones I see in most for-sale condos. The chandeliers I see are hideous. Half the places I see, I mentally start ripping stuff out.

  17. Rich,

    What happened is that the wall did not have outlets originally. The house was builit in 1986. So when the current owner had the flat screen TV installed, the installer didn’t bother with a plate for the cable. Just hooked it right to the TV.

    The original cable was on a plate in the corner of the room for a stand up TV over by the fireplace and not for a flat screeen on a wall. So if the buyer has no flat scree TV, it would be appropriate to remove all of it and put the wall back to the way it was when the house was built.

    The owner simply called the same guy back to come and de-install the flat screen on the wall leaving the cable back in the corner by the fireplace the way it was before they bought the flat screen.

    An important thing to remember is that most people do what they do with really good reason and no intent to harm. That they didn’t do what the buyer wanted, is no reason to be “pissed”. People are just doing the best they can with these details.

    Leaving a home you have lived in for 16 years in 3 weeks time is no easy feat!

    People should not be quick to get upset with sellers. They really are doing the best they can most times. Buyers who only think of themselves and don’t put themselves in the other person’s shoes can get unreasonable.

    I once had a buyer of my own home who wanted to come back in my house every time the temperature when up 2 degrees as to weather to check the air temp in the home from the air conditioner. I had theree kids. I had to pack. Finally I said enough is enough already. Go obsess about something else please and leave me alone.

    He did this because I said I never used the air conditioner. I just don’t use them much. With three kids runing in and out of the yard, it’s easier to not run the air conditioner than to keep telling them to close the door. Plus I liked to hear what the kids were doing out there.

    I find that buyers are way to suspicious of a seller’s motivation for every little thing. Particularly first time buyers. It ain’t gonna be perfect. No house is. That doesn’t mean the seller is concealing something. They just don’t feel the same way about things needing to be so perfect. Nor does the buyer after they have lived there for a few years.

    I went off topic there…

  18. Colin,

    It’s great to put your own stamp on a place. Reality is that many people buying condos, especially cheap ones, can barely afford the cash they need to close and move in. They can’t afford super efficient and quiet appliances before they move in.

    So if you don’t want them, let the seller know that when you make the offer. You might get the place cheaper with no appliances depending on whether or not the seller can use them where they are going.

    Agents almost always tell the seller of a condo that they have to leave the appliances, especially if it is at a first time buyer price.

  19. i just really think it’s rediculous for people to have to snivel over such things when a half million dollar house is involved. i like the idea of the list at opens so the buyer knows up front what they’re getting, as a buyer i would not be offended at all at something like that and would welcome the clarity, i also believe that WSYWIG –the seller should remove items they want before listing. i ALSO believe that the buyer should be able to get most things like a mounted tv, curtains, all appliances (if they want them), the works. it’s the buyer who’s forking out the money, the buyer should sacrifice and just buy new stuff for their new house so they don’t lose the sale. this is ofcourse coming from a buyers market perspective from a “buyer” person who has a wonderful 1914 home which they will NEVER sell ha ha

  20. Like earlier stated, timely post for me as well. We are listing a home with a flat screen in just about every room in the house (even the bathroom). We will definitely have a conversation with the seller prior to listing the home.

  21. Coming from a buyer, I think this entire topic is ridiculous, and I always have. Just because something is attached to a wall, doesn’t mean it is part of house. If so, why doesn’t the buyer get all of the wall mounted pictures of my family? I bought a house and the seller asked if I wanted the curtains and a bookcase that was attached to the wall for earthquake safety. I said, “No, those are your items.”, even though I had to go out and buy almost the same curtains, as they matched the carpet. A house is the structure and any appliances that are required for it to be used in its intended function, (keeping you sheltered, warm and with hot water) and hot water heater, furnace, and roof should stay. Negotiate fridge, stove, washer, dryer if they are fairly new; therefore, bought by the seller. Built ins like cabinets and closets are now part of the wall, a required structure, so they would stay. Something like a wall mounted TV and bookshelf attached to the wall are part of the owners possessions, (maybe the rule is that if the item can possibly not be attached to be used for its intended function, meaning TV on shelf and bookshelf that is not attached for earthquake purposes are not part of the house). It is silly to have to remove them to show a house. A TV is not required for a house to be used in its intended function; t is a minor repair to fix holes left by a mount, or don’t do it if you can’t afford it. Put a picture over it if you want. How anyone can think they would get someone’s TV baffles me – and it is just an indication of selfish tendencies if they push that issue. You are buying a house – get your own curtains, TV and bookshelf that match your decor. Don’t use these concepts to swindle someone out of $1000 of their possessions. If the buyer can’t afford to fully furnish their own house, don’t buy curtains, bookshelves, TV, washer/dryer, until you can. Maybe if you don’t have enough equity to buy cheap thrift shop curtains, you shouldn’t consider buying a house and leaving yourself with such small margin – translation: situation ripe for mortgage default. 21. Guests remarks are typical – even admitting that they were made for his/her benefit. The ha-ha at the end is a sure sign of maturity. I mean, I hear lots of intelligent people say ha-ha, so we should definitely take that as gospel. Oh, wait, no that was the Simpsons, not a talk show host on CNN. My comments are made from a buyer’s perspective and for the most part benefit the seller. I did not keep anything that were obviously theirs. If the fridge, stove/oven , washer/dryer were new, they would have been theirs unless not wanted or negotiated.

  22. Guest,

    I agree with you on curtains, but the Purchase and Sale contracts in the Seattle Area do not. Curtains go with the house here. I thought that was quite odd, but unless you write an exclusion in the contract here (the same as you would for a chandelier) the boilerplate transfers curtains with the house. In most other areas the rods are attached and a curtain that slips off a rod is not included.

    I have never seen a stove not be automatically included…anywhere. I have never seen a seller leave with his stove/oven in the moving truck.

    Bookshelves, if built into the wall, are clearly part of the house.

    Optional appliances are usually washers, dryers and refrigerators, unless the refrigerator is built in, not stove or dishwasher.

    But the real test of “is it attached” is INTENT at time of attachment. Generally, if you have to go get tools to get it off, that action causes you to pause. If you can lift it up off of the nail or picture hanger, then the nail is attached and the picture is not. The arguments I’ve seen regarding this are not pictures, but mirrors. “Seller took the mirror over the bathroom sink”.

    What if you bought a house boasting “a theater room”. Might you expect it to still be “a theater” with the projector and screen in place? More and more, people are creating “theater rooms” on the basement level and promoting that as a selling feature of the home.

    If “theater room” is noted on the flyer as a selling feature of the home, I would think the buyer would be right to think the room would be “a theater” when they took possession. But then is a bedroom not a bedroom without a bed 🙂

    Every buyer and seller will have differences of opinion on various items. The contract pins down the specifics. Ours says “curtains, drapes and all other window treatments”. It also says “installed television antennas (Direct TV?) “installed electrical fixtures” is the vague one. If you can unplug it and walk out with it (like a refrigerator) it is not an installed electrical fixture. If you have to call a serviceman to de-install it, then it is installed. If you have to turn the power off in the house to “un-plug” it, then it’s likely attached.

    In the case of the flat screen TV noted in this post, a serviceman was called to “de-install” it and it was wired throught the walls and not simply plugged in. One might not have to remove it before putting the house on market, but they should “de-install” it and create a method of use where it is simply “plugged in” by creating the appropriate plug-in outlets.

    Don’t tell me you’ve ever bought a house where the seller took the stove with him. I’ve never, ever seen that. Though I’m told that in Europe, people leave with their kitchen cabinets.

  23. One last consideration…….Buyer wants the flat screen tv’s, Seller agrees, a few days after closing one goes out of service. Buyer (we all know the type) claims Seller sold a defective appliance and demands Seller replace the flat screen….yikes. These items should be disclosed as “not included in the sale” if not they should be included or excluded at the first offer or counter offer. Then there is no question, later with both sides angry. And if included they are sold in “as is” condition without rep or warranty from Seller.

  24. That is true for washers, dryers and refrigerators as well. “as-is, not guaranteed to be in working order at time of possession”. Not so for heaters, stoves, and items considered as part of the real estate transfer. Those must be in working condition at time of possession. The worst I’ve had, and it was many years ago, was the toilet not working in a one toilet house. We had that fixed immediately at seller’s expense.

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