It usually happens just after settlement. The buyers move in and discover that the window air conditioners are gone. Surely, they had thought, these items were part of the sale.

In fact, determining what goes with a home is often a complex question. Items that remain with the house unless otherwise indicated are "fixtures." Goods that are personal property are called "chattels."

Almost invariably, debate over what is or is not a fixture arises because the contract between the parties is unclear. Many "simple" contracts explain that the purchaser has bought a given lot "with improvements thereon," an elastic phrase that defies definition.

There are several general tests that can be used to define a fixture:

What was the intention of the parties? Was the basement refrigerator supposed to stay?

How is the item attached to the property? A kitchen disposal, by its nature of attachment, would invariably be considered a fixture.

Who owns the fixture? Personal property of a tenant does not convey. Be certain to ask if any items that appear to be fixtures belong to the tenant.

What is the character of the item? A central heating system should be part of a home.

The one certain method to determine whether an item remains is to list all fixtures on the contract. Unless otherwise stated, or unless not a part of the property, the following items should convey at settlement: built-in heating plant and air conditioning system, awnings, window air conditioners, all plumbing and lighting fixtures, kitchen range and refrigerator.

Also, built-in dishwasher, disposal, wall-to-wall carpeting, cornices, curtain rods, drapery rods, outside antennas, screens, storm windows and doors, venetian blinds, shades, indoor shutters, and all trees, shrubs, and plants.

Other items to be accounted for include clothes washers and dryers, basement refrigerators or freezers, outside sheds, above-ground pools, children's gyms, and any art or sculpture on the grounds.

Specifically determining the fate of fixtures by contract, rather than at settlement, is a process that is fair to all parties. It also assures purchasers that their budgets will not be stretched by replacing goods that they incorrectly assumed were part of the property.