Where Negotiations Get Messy: What to Leave vs. Take When Selling a House

The smallest of items can become contentious in a real estate deal and ignite a war between buyers and sellers over who gets what. Some of the most common instigators include the dining room chandelier, high-end appliances, and window treatments. Take this buyer who posted to Reddit in frustration after move-in:

The seller took the curtains / blinds from every room and curtain rods from the bedroom, all the bathroom mirrors, wall sconces from the bedroom, the mini fridge in the basement bar and they even removed the chandelier from the dining room.

Which of these complaints does this buyer have the right to be angry about?

“The general rule is that anything that’s bolted down should be left in a house, even if it’s a built-in handcrafted by a family member,” says top-selling Huntsville, Alabama agent Susan Chipman, who works with 70% more single-family homes than the local average. “But agents cannot assume that sellers know what items should be left, especially if they’ve been in their home for 20 or 30 years.”

To avoid a situation where you fight with the buyer like siblings claiming “mine!”, use this guide that covers what to leave when selling your house vs. what stays. Our goal is to help you navigate those gray-area items most likely to trigger buyers for a peaceful transfer of the home.

It's not common to take major appliances when negotiating what to leave when selling a house
Source: (Joseph Ngabo / Unsplash)

1. Disclose if you plan to take any major appliances

In the typical home sale, you can assume that all major appliances, including the stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, and clothes dryer will need to stay with the home. In fact, some lenders, like those providing FHA loans, require that operational appliances convey with the house, or they will not approve the loan.

Taking appliances you promised to leave also lowers your home’s value. So, if your buyer’s loan was approved with appliances in place, it may not close if they aren’t present at the final walkthrough. That doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate taking your expensive designer appliances with you. But it must happen before the buyers sign the purchase agreement.

For example, let’s say you’ve recently installed a pricey Viking range in your newly remodeled kitchen that you’re determined to take with you to your new house. You can pre-disclose in your listing that the sale does not include the stove. Your buyers can try to negotiate to keep the stove, but you have every right to refuse.

However, the stove can’t just be missing on the buyer’s move-in day — you need to put in writing when you accept their offer that the stove wasn’t included in the price of the home.

Keep in mind that decisions like these may limit which buyers are able to make offers on your house that doesn’t include an appliance or two. Those with FHA loans will either need you to purchase replacements before the sale goes through, or they’ll be unable to make an offer.

2. Replace light fixtures and don’t let them see the chandelier

Some home sellers who love their custom light fixtures decide to take them along to their next home without letting anyone know. Unfortunately, a few have taken their lighting and just left the wires dangling — and again, that can lead to problems with the appraisal.

If you want to keep your existing light fixtures, you’ll need to provide a decent replacement. One strategy is to replace any special lighting with generic fixtures you don’t care about. But you’d be wise to make the swap before your house ever hits the market.

“One seller wanted to leave up a beautiful chandelier that had been in their family for generations. I told them that swapping it out after accepting an offer will only lead to their buyers being disappointed in the replacement,” recalls Chipman.

“It’s better to replace the heirloom chandelier so that the buyers only see the light fixture that they’re going to get.”

Repair the damage from wall mounts when negotiating what to leave when selling a house
Source: (Monkey Business Images / ShutterStock)

3. Repair damage created by removing wall mounts

The “bolted down” rule can be difficult to interpret with wall-mounted items. Some items, like bathroom mirrors affixed to the wall, will need to stay put while wall-hung family photos need to go. Other items are less clear-cut.

Take wall-mounted flat-screen televisions. No reasonable buyer would expect you to leave the TV, but some are ready to go to war over whether or not the TV mounting mechanism stays with the house or goes with you. This is in part because of the damage it does to the house when you take it down.

“It’s not fair if you take a flat-screen TV and its mounting down after accepting an offer, and leave holes in the wall. If you choose to take it with you, then you need to fix that wall,” advises Chipman.

Any items that are physically attached to the house — or items that resulted in house modifications upon installation — should technically convey upon the home sale.

If you intend to take any of these wall-mounted possessions with you, it’s best to take them down before you list the property in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

If that isn’t possible, write out a detailed list of every wall-mounted item that will not convey with the house when it sells. You need to provide this list as soon as possible. Either have it available at showings, or provide it to your buyer when you accept their offer so that it can be discussed during the negotiation period.

This list should include:

  • Flat-screen TV and its mounting
  • Wall-mounted shelving
  • Fireplace mantels
  • Wall-installed air conditioning units
  • Built-in desks, display cases, and entertainment units
  • Kitchen and bathroom cabinet pulls

4. Negotiate window treatments well ahead of closing

Window treatments are one wall-mounted item that causes a lot of contention between buyers and sellers.

“I had one seller that agreed to leave all of the window treatments, but they actually took the master bedroom curtains,” recalls Chipman. “My buyers didn’t notice until after closing, so they called and asked for them back, but it didn’t happen. Once those papers are signed, you’re out of luck.”

Buyers naturally want those privacy screens left in place when they move in, but sellers are just as adamant that the curtains and rods they picked out are personal property that’s rightfully theirs to take.

So who’s right?

Both parties can make a solid case for possession of the window treatments, so this is an item typically negotiated on a case-by-case basis. But the division typically unfolds like this: buyers can rightfully expect to keep any window treatments affixed to the house, such as blinds and rods, however, sellers are free to take the drapes themselves and even the curtain rings.

Decide about outdoor items when negotiating what to leave when selling your house
Source: (Lindsey LaMont / Unsplash)

5. Be clear about outdoor items, too

Some buyers may assume that unaffixed outdoor furniture and décor conveys with the house simply because it’s part of the curb appeal that drew them in.

On the flipside, sellers believe they are entitled to take any exterior element that they can move, even if it’s growing in the ground — like grandma’s prized rose bushes.

When it comes to exterior items, expect that buyers will assume that anything permanently or semi-permanently fixed to the ground will stay. So if you intend to take them with you, get them out before you sell. This includes:

  • In-ground planted foliage
  • Sheds
  • Play structures
  • Fountains (even portable, outlet powered ones)
  • Garden statuary (including stone benches, rock gardens and landscaping boulders)
  • Built-in grills and firepits
  • Hot tubs (even free-standing, non-built-in models)

6. Ask buyers about anything you plan to leave behind

Most homeowners have a stash of leftover paint, extra parts and brackets from installed fixtures, and other odds-and-ends they’ve been saving just in case something around the house gets damaged or broken.

For sellers, it just makes sense to leave those things with the house, but you can’t assume buyers want your old paint cans and other home repair supplies. Some buyers will be grateful to have fix-it items on hand and ready to go when they move in, while others will look at your collection as a bunch of junk.

If you’re not sure what your buyers would prefer, just ask. Or if nothing else, collect it all in one box and leave it out for the buyers to see during their final walkthrough. That way, if they want it out before they sign the closing papers, it’s easy for you to get it out of the house.

Make sure to leave the keys and codes when negotiating what to leave when selling your house
Source: (Maryia_K / ShutterStock)

Help buyers settle in with keys, openers, and access codes

While your buyers may or may not want your backup repair supplies, there are a handful of items that they need to take ownership of the house. But in the midst of a hectic move, sellers often forget to leave these items behind.

So, as you’re packing up your house, create a gathering spot of all of these must-have items to turn over to your buyers at closing time, including:

  • All copies of all house keys (including sheds, gates, back doors, etc.)
  • Repair and maintenance records
  • Garage door openers
  • Appliance manuals and warranties
  • Alarm codes and contact numbers
  • Home warranty information
  • HOA documents

What’s the harm, really?

What you leave behind or choose to take with you when selling your home has implications beyond your temporary relationship with this buyer. A bad final walkthrough or rocky closing hurts your real estate agent, too. In real estate, an agent’s reputation is everything, and the last thing you want to do is hurt the standing of the one who went to bat for you.

“I once went to an uncomfortable closing where the buyers were very quiet. I called their agent and learned that my seller left a mess in the house. She just took what she wanted and left everything else,” recalls Chipman.

“I feel very responsible for my sellers’ behavior, so I definitely try to make it right for the buyer at my expense. I don’t like to do it, but it’s the right thing to do. So in this situation, I ended up paying a house cleaner to remove everything and clean it up.”

When in doubt, be courteous, communicate clearly, and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes before you act rashly.

Header Image Source: (Denny Lako / ShutterStock)