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What stays with a house when you sell it — and what can you take with you?

What must stay with a house when you sell it
Zia Soleil/Getty Images
What must stay with a house when you sell it
Zia Soleil/Getty Images

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Selling a house can be a tricky business. With real estate remaining hot in spite of recent interest rate hikes, sellers are still in the driver’s seat. But when it comes time to move out, they don’t exactly get free rein to take whatever they want. What can sellers bring with them to their next home, and what must stay behind for the new owners?

What must stay with a house when it’s sold?

Deciding what must stay with your home after it’s sold can be difficult. Some things are obvious — of course your furniture will come with you when you move — but what about the mailbox with your children’s handprints? Or the fancy showerhead in the master bath?

“As a general rule, if it’s attached and will require a tool to remove it, it stays,” says Edina, Minnesota–based Realtor Krista Forsberg, of the Forsberg Property Group with Keller Williams.

“It’s fairly common to see sellers who want to keep special window treatments or dining room chandeliers,” Forsberg says. If there’s something you specifically want or need to take with you to your next home, it’s smart to spell it out plainly in the sale contract — or better yet, remove it before you even list your home for sale. “It’s best for all parties to be specific in the purchase agreement about what they would like included or excluded, so there is no confusion when the sale closes.”

Here are some general rules of thumb for what needs to stay with a house when you sell it (unless otherwise specified in the contract):

These items stay with the house when you sell: Blinds, chandelier, oven, backyard swing set
  1. Anything bolted down: Any item that is physically bolted down or permanently installed in the home should not leave it. Think things like major kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, cabinets, bathroom vanities and built-in bookshelves.
  2. Light fixtures: It’s OK to bring that fancy chandelier with you — just switch it out for a different one before you start showing the home, or write it specifically into the sale agreement. There needs to be a working fixture in place — you can’t just leave electrical wires hanging out of a hole in the ceiling.
  3. Window treatments: Blinds, shutters, shades, Levolors: All window treatments need to stay. Even curtain rods shouldn’t be removed. The curtains themselves are generally seen as OK to take, if they just slide off the rod, but it’s best to check with your Realtor first to make sure.
  4. Landscaping: The rules apply to a home’s exterior, as well — your peach tree, raised garden bed and tulip bulbs all must stay behind unless otherwise stated. The strangest thing Forsberg has seen a seller exclude from a sale? Grandma’s peonies from the garden.
  5. Outdoor fixtures anchored into the ground: Your gazebo, backyard swing set and basketball hoop may be the site of many family memories, but you can’t take them with you when you sell your home.

Often, buyers can be forgiving about items that hold sentimental value, but it’s best not to depend on that. When in doubt, ask your real estate agent — it can save you major headaches later on.

What happens if you take something that was supposed to stay?

If you take something that was considered part of the home, what happens next depends largely on your buyers. “It can be a surprise for buyers when they complete their final walk-through and an item that was expected to be there isn’t,” says Forsberg.

In this situation, hopefully the item can be returned or an agreement can be reached wherein the seller compensates the buyer for the missing item. But taking something you were supposed to leave might delay your closing or, worst-case scenario, even lead to a lawsuit. Don’t risk the potentially biggest transaction of your life for the sake of an item that’s easily replaced.

What else can you leave?

When you turn over your keys at closing, the home should be effectively empty. Passing things on to the next owner that you think could be useful might seem like a nice way to pay it forward, but always double check with your Realtor first. You want to make extra-sure that the items won’t be considered trash. If stuff is left there that should have been cleared away, there might even be legal implications.

That said, with your agent’s OK, things like appliance manuals, extra light bulbs for oddly shaped light fixtures, extra pieces of tile and cans of paint, or additional HVAC filters might be welcomed by the new owners. It might also be a thoughtful gesture to leave some toilet paper and soap in at least one bathroom.

Bottom line

When in doubt about whether or not you can take something along when you sell your home, always ask your agent. They can communicate with the buyer’s agent and work out an agreement in advance. If there’s something that you desperately want to take with you, it’s best to get that excluded from the sale as soon as possible. Don’t wait until your buyer’s final walk-through to find out you have to ship those curtains back across the country so your sale can close!

Written by
Rae Hartley Beck
Contributing writer
Rae Hartley Beck is a writer and editor with over eight years of experience in personal finance. Her work has most recently appeared in Bankrate, MoneyWise and Investopedia. Rae specializes in credit card rewards, investing, real estate, home improvement, lending and financial advice for millennials, Gen Z, Gen Alpha and their parents.
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Senior real estate editor