Want the fridge? Put it in the contract

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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I am buying a home, and the sellers agreed in our contract that all the curtains and appliances, including a nice, new refrigerator, and washer and dryer, would remain with the place as part of the deal. But last week, we discovered they had taken them all out! What is my recourse?
— Norman B.

Dear Norman,
Your recourse, assuming you have not already closed the deal, is you could back out of the transaction because of the seller’s violation of the purchase contract.

Unfortunately, it’s not terribly unusual for sellers these days to make off with anything that isn’t nailed down following the buyers’ final walk-through. There’s also a slight chance they planned to replace those spiffy new appliances and drapes with inferior ones right before you came aboard.

We’ve seen bait-and-switch scenarios where sellers remove high-end items that were present during a home inspection or walk-through and replace them with cheaper ones, pointing to vaguely worded purchase-contract language that merely stated “all appliances and window treatments included.”

There’s a lesson in all this: Buyers should itemize what they expect to be included in the purchase and use specific language — for example, white, GE Profile, 25.8 cubic-foot refrigerator/freezer with French doors — to reinforce their claim. Some agents even suggest that buyers take photos of everything that’s promised contractually, including ceiling fans, shelving, lighting and other appliances to support those potential claims.

Most purchase contracts state that all existing fittings and fixtures permanently attached to the property, or “real property,” come with the house. However, the goods removed from your soon-to-be residence are considered “personal property” items, which are readily detachable items that can be picked up and moved, such as the fridge and curtains.

So first, be sure the purchase contract specifically mentions the appliances and window coverings. Then ask your agent to contact the sellers to rectify the situation.

Make sure your agent mentions your purchase contract was invalidated by the seller’s action, and you have the right not to close if the items aren’t replaced or an equivalent cash credit isn’t offered. Of course, the thought of losing the house might be heartbreaking.

If you’ve already closed on the deal or still plan to close despite the “fast one” that was apparently pulled on you, know that small-claims courts tend to favor buyers over sellers in such cases.

I sure hope you get everything back or at least commensurate compensation. Good luck pursuing it!

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