Do I really have to give my speakers back?
February 2, 2007 11:11 AM   Subscribe

We just sold our house and moved out. I dismounted my front and rear surround speakers from the ceiling and packed them up. The realtor called to apologise for not going through this properly but I have to give them back. Recourse?

Note that my speakers are part of a Sony system comprising a DVD / Surround Sound unit with 5 speakers and one sub woofer. Only the 4 front and rear speakers were mounted so I only have to give those to the buyer -- but that means breaking up the system. (I could, of course, buy new speakers for the buyer but he remembered them being Bose(!) so that would probably be more expensive and lead to confrontation.)

I had no idea that the speakers would have to go with the house otherwise I would have taken them down before we showed -- there's no markings or holes where they were. What irks me is that our realtor should have mentioned this - they have apologised and admitted they should have been more thorough in going over exclusions with us.

Our realtor's slice of the sale was 10k - so they haven't done that badly from us. (The buyer's realtor got 13k.) Do I have any recourse with them -- or should I stop whining. (I'm just a bit pissed right now.)
posted by NailsTheCat to Home & Garden (51 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Uh, what does the contract say?

Somewhere there will be a section about electric light fixtures (built-in ones like chandeliers) and appliances.

Unless there's specific wording that say the speakers were sold with the house, they're yours.
posted by jellicle at 11:18 AM on February 2, 2007

I'm surprised that your t included your speakers in the purchase agreement, without asking you first. Seems odd to me, especially because they are part of an entertainment system that was not included and shouldn't be broken apart.

Was this in Denver?
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:20 AM on February 2, 2007

t=realtor. I don't know how that happened.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:21 AM on February 2, 2007

On the one hand, this is outrageous. I can't even imagine thinking that if I bought a house I would also be buying the owner's expensive stereo system, and I can't imagine your realtor not taking one look at the proposal and saying "What the fuck? You want his stereo? Would you like his wife and kids, too? Let's just strike this right now."

On the other hand, you really should have gone over the contract to make sure exactly what was being sold; this is a frequent cause of trouble. But I guess you know that now.

Anyway, if it were me I'd tell my real estate guy to work something out with the buyers. It's his fault, let him deal with it. Don't give them the damn speakers.
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on February 2, 2007

There is a section in the contract that states what "stuff" is included. If no one spelled out what is included you can indeed keep your speakers.

I was looking in the rental property market and sellers would take everything! Lamp fixtures, wall plates, knobs, anything they could get loose.

We had this issue the other way around when we bought our house. They had advertised "beautiful stainless steel kitchen" then attempted to take all the stainless steel appliances out. We rewrote the contract with the appliances put in, however, he still wanted to take the washer and dryer which we wanted and our realtor bought us a 500 dollar lowes gift card rather than them wrangling with the seller.

So long story short, you have options. They are your speakers, they don't neccessarily "go" with the house. Take them with you.
posted by stormygrey at 11:23 AM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

The speakers must have been considered "fixtures", like an overhead fan or whatever, if they weren't specifically mentioned in the documentation. Tell your realtor that if s/he's really sorry, s/he'll buy you new speakers.
Then again, if it was written out in a contract where you could have read it for yourself before signing, it's more a case of seller beware.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2007

Since when are sound systems included in home sales? They figure that anything attached to the walls gets sold as well? Paintings, photos, posters, plants? Come on.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2007

We're trying to sell our house and our realtor told us, "If it's glued or screwed to the walls, it's sold with the house."
posted by orangemiles at 11:26 AM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Were the speakers built into the room? Unless the contract explicitly mentions the speakers, keep them.
posted by Marky at 11:29 AM on February 2, 2007

If the realtor was stupid enough to sell parts of the expensive sound system, the realtor should pay for it themselves.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 11:31 AM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Talk to the lawyer who handled this transaction on your behalf.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:34 AM on February 2, 2007

'Fixtures' are included in most real estate contracts.

'Fixtures' == physically fixed to the fabric of the house.

The speakers are probably in unless you excluded them.

Why not just negotiate a quid pro quo with the buyers?
posted by sweet mister at 11:34 AM on February 2, 2007

Here in Massachusetts anything permanently attached to the structure (e.g. light fixtures, speakers, even flat panel TVs) are considered part of the house being sold unless specifically excluded. Your realtor had a professional obligation to tell you that. Whether they had a legal obligation depends on the laws in your jurisdiction.

I don't see you having much recourse, though, since proving that the realtor didn't tell you something would be very difficult. Threatening them that you'll file a complaint would probably just entice them to ignore you.

OTOH, if you pour on the charm, you may be able to convince the agency that they should get you or the buyer new speakers. Agents and agencies, after all, depend primarily on referals from happy customers for new business.
posted by dchase at 11:36 AM on February 2, 2007

Second talking to your lawyers. That sounds really bizarre. If you left with the washing machine that'd be one thing, but speakers?
posted by chunking express at 11:40 AM on February 2, 2007

They are fixtures.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:42 AM on February 2, 2007

You have one thing that you can use to your advantage - that the 5th speaker wasn't installed. Unless it would be easy to replace that one speaker alone without buying new set, I think this puts you in a strong bargaining position. Tell them you'll install a new system (at a cost of your choosing) or give them some money towards the cost of a new system, but you will not give them the complete BOSE system.

In my opinion, a GOOD realtor is one that makes all terms of the sale clear to you up front, and can resolve any hiccups like this when they inevitably arise. Your realtor really needs to prove their worth in a situation like this and mediate a compromise. It would be stupid to break up the system, and all parties are presumably interested in making a deal.
posted by daser at 11:57 AM on February 2, 2007

Have to nth that they are fixtures.

When we sold our condo, we wrote OUT of the contract some specific things that we fixed to the walls (a hanging pot rack we received as a wedding gift, some antique shelf brackets, etc.) and the potential sellers threw a little fit. They also wanted our freestanding antique fireplace screen and some other things. We specifically excluded all of those things in the contract.

Sorry. I know it sucks. But your agent did not advise you well. If it is fixed to the house, yup. Fixtures.
posted by jeanmari at 11:57 AM on February 2, 2007

Sounds like you and your realtor are on the wrong side of MA law on this one. Since your realtor is getting paid to help guide you through an unfamiliar transaction, he should eat at least part of the cost of the mistake.

Point out that you paid him to help you through this process, and that the speaker issue is a unwanted surprise. Ask him what he'd can do to to put things right. Let him talk. If you don't get an answer you like, stay silent. If he's going in completely the wrong direction, suggest that you would be satisfied with paying the cost of replacement speakers. Then stay silent until he says something you are comfortable with. Smile, shake his hand, and say that you are happy to come to a mutual agreement on the matter and that you've appreciated working with him.

Once you have that agreement, you should have the realtor deal with the buyers and explain that the speakers are part of a bundle with other AV components, and offer them cash instead.
posted by Good Brain at 12:01 PM on February 2, 2007

I think this all depends on how they were affixed to the walls. If the speakers were hanging on a nail/screw, ie. they can be removed without removing a screw from the wall, they are more like a picture frame and not fixtures. If you had to remove screws/nails/glue to remove them, they were fixtures (part of the fabric of the wall, so to speak). This was a key distinction when we bought our house.
posted by jmgorman at 12:20 PM on February 2, 2007

The deal will not come apart based on the speakers. If you hold strong the real estate agents will solve it themselves.
posted by crhanson at 12:21 PM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice hive mind.

I'll doublecheck the paperwork but essentially I think that they do qualify as fixtures. I need to take this up with realtor.

JeremiahBritt: This was in Dallas... just moved to Denver.

As an additional question. Do you think I have to return the speaker cables? Note that the cables ran from my amp to the wall, where I connected them (twisted 'em) to the in-wall wiring (it's pre-wired for surround sound). The speak cables are bare wires at one end but have a little plug (presumably Sony proprietary?) at the other end so I'm loath to return them too (if that ends up being the result) since I'll need 'em to plug into my Sony amp.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:25 PM on February 2, 2007

Well, how much did you net from the sale, lots of % commission in that deal what like 23K?? So the sale price was??

You should not care unless you are super cheap. I plan to toss in anything a buyer wants IF he comes across with the ASKING price.

My condo sale contract will have a conditonal section, I have a grand in adjustable closet wire racks and a flat panel system with a 3 grand leather sofa, pay full price and I leave it, dicker and it goes away, that sort of thing.

But the real estate guy should have worked for you, basic stuff.
posted by Freedomboy at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: jmgorman: Nice point. OK...

The house was pre-wired. Each outlet for the wires was originally covered with one of those plastic outlet plates. So I just bought new outlet plates with a central hole for the wire and then screwed my speaker bracket onto the plastic cover. So when I removed them I just unscrewed the plate and put a (shiny new) plastic plate on. So they weren't screwed onto the wall/ceiling. They were screwed onto the plate. Does that make a difference do you think?
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:28 PM on February 2, 2007

Leave the fixtures. You can do far better than Bose anyway. I would try to seek payment from the realtor though. See what these things go for used on eBay.
posted by caddis at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2007

Best answer: Here's a good definition of fixtures. Usually agreements are pretty specific about what is and isn't included to avoid any disagreement.

If it was screwed or nailed to the wall, it's a fixture. However, if it was only plugged in or otherwise temporarily attached, it isn't. It may be, for example, that the brackets which hold the speakers were screwed to the wall, and then the speakers were placed in the brackets. In that case, the brackets would be fixtures but the speakers would not be. I think it's pretty clear that your cables are not fixtures.

I agree with previous posters that this is something that the two real estate agents will solve themselves if you put it on them. They don't want unhappy customers, and it's not like the speakers are irreplaceable or excessively valuable in any way.
posted by jellicle at 12:46 PM on February 2, 2007

Best answer: I'm guessing your house sold for $400Kish based on the commission payout. The Realtors will not let the deal go south over the cost of the speakers. Be polite but firm with your agent. The speakers were not permanently attached to the house in your view and it never occurred to you that anybody would believe they came with the house. The are a matched set and not individually replaceable blah blah blah. Somebody will get paid off - either you for new speakers, or the buyers to shut up about it.
posted by COD at 12:46 PM on February 2, 2007

My concern wouldn't be with "returning" the speakers, but that they thought they were Bose when you are stating that they are Sony. Look through photos of the house and see if any show the speakers in question, send them the photo and matching speakers and call it a day. We're talking less than $100 and good karma.
posted by blackkar at 12:49 PM on February 2, 2007

Just because he thought they were Bose doesn't mean he's entitled to Bose.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:58 PM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: jellicle: Thanks for the links - interesting reading. Particularly:
1. METHOD OF ATTACHMENT. The most important fixture rule is the method of attachment...
However, if an item can be removed without damage to the structure, such as draperies, it is not a fixture. Examples include unscrewing light bulbs and unplugging a refrigerator because both are personal property not permanently attached to the building.

Freedomboy: House sold for 375, we bought it for 350. So we've netted a cool 2k. Oh no wait that all went on closing costs... and then some. So maybe that's why I'm so bitter about forking over them over. Everyone made a profit except for us! Our realtor dropped commission to 5% which I suppose is very nice... but I'm British and these high percentages irk me -- my UK friend is currently selling his house with his agent and is being charged 0.8%. I should just get over it....
posted by NailsTheCat at 1:05 PM on February 2, 2007

I would just like to add that RandlePatrickMcMurphy and COD makes a very good point. The agents will be loathe to have the deal fall through, since they don't want to loose their commission. Just tell them that your speakers are part of a set and you're not giving them up -- you need them.

Are the speakers attached to mounts? If so, maybe you can give them the mounts, sans the speakers?
posted by chunking express at 1:05 PM on February 2, 2007

Are the speakers attached to mounts? If so, maybe you can give them the mounts, sans the speakers?

That actually sort of makes sense to me. Custom drapery fixtures (fancy rods and such) are generally left because removing them would leave holes, but no one leaves the actual drapes.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:12 PM on February 2, 2007

Still, talk to your lawyer.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:13 PM on February 2, 2007

I'm going to second caddis here: leave the stupid speakers. Any hack with a soldering iron and some paper cones could build you a set of Bose surround-sound 'speakers' for a total cost of about $300. You do not want the crap you're leaving behind. Sincerely. Bose builds overpriced shit. Here's a starting point for reading up on why.

My advice? Mention that you're upset by what's happened, but that you'd like to be reasonable about it. Tell them you'd be happy to have the Realtor's fee reduced by half the retail price of the Bose speakers you're leaving behind. Take the money you've saved, do some research and some reading, and buy yourself a set of speakers. I guarantee that they'll be a hundred times better, even at half the price.

Let's all say it together, one more time, repeating after me: Bose is overpriced crap that no real lover of sound would waste her/his money on. I will never pour my money down that oozing hole again.
posted by koeselitz at 1:14 PM on February 2, 2007

When we bought our house, in Georgia, our realtor told us that if we wanted particular things to stay, we needed to make sure we asked about them. So we said we wanted the curtain rods, which she seemed to think might otherwise have gone, and a few other things. It was your agent's responsibility, and frankly the other guy's too, to spell out what would and wouldn't be left in the house when it was all said and done. Make them fix it. You moved your personal property in good faith.

It would never have occurred to me that the speakers are considered fixtures, particularly in that they are part of a set. If you installed the brackets and hung the speakers there, and the cables were run to your stereo or whatever, I think you have a good argument that they are not features. But you could offer to give them back the brackets.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:16 PM on February 2, 2007

Keep the speakers and let your realtor deal with his or her incompetence. It's a matter of principle.
posted by Krrrlson at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2007

Best answer: Realtor's fault - he should have mentioned this during the listing - since he didn't you can say you had no intention of leaving them so they are not included in the sale. I'm a Realtor and when I screw up like that, I pay for it.
posted by thilmony at 1:42 PM on February 2, 2007

I'd be pissed that the realtor didn't help you get this specified properly on the contract, and I'd let the realtor know. They get a hefty commission because they are supposed to be professionals who take of exactly these details. You may be able to get them to cover part (all?) of the cost of some speakers.

Personally, I wouldn't expect speakers to stay with a house, but the above comments make sense.
posted by theora55 at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2007

Talk to his broker in charge.
posted by konolia at 1:46 PM on February 2, 2007

When I bought my house, I did a "final walkthrough" with my agent the morning that I signed the paperwork. Anything I wanted had to be mentioned then. You're saying the house is "sold". If ownership has transferred, they missed their chance to claim the speakers, I believe.

If ownership hasn't transferred, this is your realtor's problem to solve with the other realtor. My realtor messed up something about the termite inspection, and ended up paying for the treatment out of her commission.
posted by donnagirl at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2007

I'm in the leave the brackets, keep the speakers camp.
posted by DonnieSticks at 2:00 PM on February 2, 2007

Leave brackets, keep speakers. They're part of your home theater for goodness sake! If I had my tv mounted to the wall I sure as hell wouldn't leave it. The only way I would think they were entitled to them would be if it was outlined in the contract or if they were flush mount speakers (made into the wall/ceiling). I'd be kinda pissed if my house I was in the process of purchasing all of a sudden had gaping holes in the walls/ceilings. ;)
posted by CwgrlUp at 2:59 PM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: My realtor had this to say:

trust me....don't fight this....the verbage in the contract is: and all other property owned by Seller and attached to the above described Condominium Unit. Does not read permanently attached....
Just send them back to him and it will save you time and money in taken to mediation and having to buy him new speakers....
Remember I am on your side....

On my side? Yeah right. Easy life more like. I'm not that bothered about it. It's more the principle. So I'm going to push for giving back the brackets.

It's the chain of communication that's a problem I think. Me > realtor > realtor to buyer (we've already moved to a different state). I can't believe the buyer would want me to break up my set and bet that either my or his realtor hasn't passed on the message that it's a set -- not separate expensive (no matter how crap) Bose speakers. He'll just get them and throw them in the bin -- which would be a shame.
posted by NailsTheCat at 3:36 PM on February 2, 2007

Best answer: You could try saying something like this to your realtor after checking to see that your threats aren't 100% bullshit and that complaints would go to the right places. You might also thumb through the Texas Realtor Code of Ethics to see if your realtor broke any of them by not telling you that you would lose your speakers ahead of time.
Frankly, this is your problem unless you insist on making it mine. Your fee reflects in no small measure your status as a professional. This status means that it is your job and obligation to inform your client of all of the relevant factors involved in a sale. This clearly includes warning him that any items "attached" to the condominium will be lost to him when the sale is concluded and helping him to make sure that he does not lose valuable property that he did not intend to sell. A professional status also includes accepting the consequences of your own business errors rather than pushing them onto your client.

At the same time, your business surely depends in large part upon recommendations of former clients and upon your unsullied business reputation. At present, I am happy to recommend you to potential clients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If you insist on foisting this problem, which is due to your own relatively low performance in my sale, onto me, I would feel unable to recommend your services and would advise my friends to seek another, more professional realtor. Further, I would inquire with the local board of realtors about possible disciplinary measures, and file a complaint with the local chamber of commerce.

On the other hand, if you make enough that you had a $350K condo in Dallas, your time has to be worth something. You've probably already spent more time-value worrying about this than even a very nice set of speakers would cost, so just send the damn speakers and move on already.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:12 PM on February 2, 2007

Eww, I hate the way your realtor speaks to you.

I know it's a cheese saying, but trustworthy people generally don't need to assert themselves as such, "Trust me. Remember I am on your side." That gave me the icks. Ask him to demonstrate that trust, as opposed to speak to it.

I'm not qualified in any respect to advise you, but it seems to me that the only time and money in question here is the realtor's, and he's trying to shift it onto you. I'm with the folks who feel that the realtors were paid a great deal to sort out and fix situations like this.

If the buyer were inclined to take you to mediation and you lost, perhaps you'd feel less screwed by the whole situation. It'd confirm that the contract was on his side. There's no shame in being wrong, so long as you're willing to make things right.

However, I'm willing to bet that giving the buyer and his agent the facts (personal property, mounted to brackets, part of a set that he wouldn't even be able to use without the other pieces) would cause them to back down. I'm also willing to bet that this mention of mediation might just be a ploy to keep either of the agents from having to pay for the speakers.

Ask to speak to the buyer's agent. Get things out in the open. Something smells fishy with all of the reassuring words your agent is using.

Good luck, and give us an update. I'm inexplicably fascinated by this.
posted by cior at 5:24 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The following sounds good, except for one thing (emphasis mine)..

The Realtors will not let the deal go south over the cost of the speakers. Be polite but firm with your agent. The speakers were not permanently attached to the house in your view and it never occurred to you that anybody would believe they came with the house. The are a matched set and not individually replaceable blah blah blah. Somebody will get paid off - either you for new speakers, or the buyers to shut up about it.

Don't say that part!

You are arguing ignorance and professional responsibility, you are not arguing over mode of attachment. It is for the agents and lawyers to settle the legal technicality.
posted by Chuckles at 6:34 PM on February 2, 2007

Which is not to say you should ignore the legal technicalities. Certainly important for you to understand them, and the discussion here is very interesting. But, for the purpose of negotiation, you want to emphasize the customer service and professional obligation aspects, you do not want to be drawn into the legal argument with your agent.
posted by Chuckles at 6:39 PM on February 2, 2007

Just a point:

Someone above said "Custom drapery fixtures (fancy rods and such) are generally left because removing them would leave holes, but no one leaves the actual drapes."

Thats not true, at least not in PA.

In the past year I have sold a house and bought another. All window treatments stay, including drapes. That is the opinion of the 3 realtors and 2 lawyers that were involved in the 2 sales. Unless it is spelled out specifically in the contract that you intend to keep them.
posted by sandra_s at 4:01 AM on February 3, 2007

Doesn't happen like that in MA, sandra_s. Every transaction I've been involved in, you leave the hardware, but take the actual curtains. If the curtains were upholstered to the room/decor (say matches wallpaper) that's different.
posted by jerseygirl at 6:40 AM on February 3, 2007

Response by poster: No update yet. I'm not going to take the hardline suggested by ROU_Xenophobe although it's tempting. Not my style -- cos I'm a coward.

I've (a) intimated that I don't particularly want to go into mediation but nor do I think I would necessarily lose (i.e. I'm not scared off) and (b) asked whether she is sure the other realtor has explained to the buyer that they are part of a set.

Basically, I can't believe that, if the buyer is at all reasonable and is informed that the speakers are just Sonys that are part of a set, he would still want them. If he does... then I think he's a jackass but he can have them. I want to be sure the realtors are passing on the information though and not just taking the easy route. (And by keeping up the pressure I'm hoping that she may just say... "ok... we'll pay for them... it was our mistake." )

It's this attitude really:
I am so sorry about the mix up....hate things like this but they do happen....I should
have been more thorough in going over with you what the contract states that stays
unless is excluded in the contract.... Oh well....thanks

"Oh well..." that gets my goat.
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:57 AM on February 3, 2007

I should
have been more thorough in going over with you what the contract states that stays
unless is excluded in the contract

OMG ADMISSION OF FAULT? If so, then jackpot.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2007

Response by poster: Indeed Sprout... indeed. And it's all worked out now anyway. The realtor made the fatal mistake of thinking I was being hard and my wife would be easier so she didn't reply to my email and called my wife (from whom I was hiding the issue cos she's stressed enough)... Big mistake -- realtor now has freshly torn new one. Just got this:

Hi....don't worry about the speaker thing...I am going to figure this out and how to satisfy this guy....
I should have noticed that you had ceiling speakers and I overlooked it so I will work on this....

Thanks for all your support and info, metatoes. I probably would have given up without it. Free speakers for EVERYBODY!
posted by NailsTheCat at 5:24 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

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