Why you should not try to buy — or sell — furniture with the house


By Diane Saatchi

Let me give you some advice: Don’t complicate the sale of your home with the sale of furniture.

And don’t try to buy it, either.

I know it seems benign. The seller doesn’t need or want some or all of their furniture, and the buyer can use some things to get started, so why not sell it? This way, instead of dragging their unwanted furniture to the next place or moving and storing it, the seller gets to leave it where it is, and score some cash with the convenience.

What could go wrong?

Everything and anything can, and frequently does.

It’s a total head scratcher, but nothing destroys a deal faster than furniture.

A Case in Point

In almost no time the parties reached an amicable deal on the real estate. Seller was leaving the area; buyer loved everything about the house and offered a reasonable sum for most of the contents. An inventory was presented, each item photographed and a separate sale contract was agreed to. In the time from signing to closing, the seller became increasingly emotional and little by little offered to swap out some of the agreed items for others. The reluctant purchasers agreed. At the walk-through, the purchasers came upon a note from the seller explaining that their children could not part with a particular item and that she was sure the purchaser would understand. The item had been moved out. They understood but expected compensation. … It was a long day, the sale closed but with an escrow agreement and bad feelings.

Real estate is personal, and furniture and furnishings are much more so

The sellers are reminded of when they shopped for it, how much they paid for it, how they used it, and how much they love it… whereas the buyer sees it as being worth a small fraction of the original price. The seller sees prized, carefully selected and much-loved possessions laden with memories and the buyer sees used, worn, stained, discolored and convenient-to-have stuff.

Remember Linus — Charlie Brown’s blanket-carrying friend? In clinical parlance, that blanket is what’s called a transitional object. Most of us had and maybe still have the same need to hold on to something tangible. Psychologists understand the so-called transitional object as necessary to quell anxiety.

To many of us, our smartphone serves the same purpose. (Admit it. What feeling comes to mind when you misplace your iPhone?)

Holding on to something special and wanting to keep it close by is very primitive. Ever notice that your dog may grab a toy before heading outside? Mostly, it’s normal and does not require medicine or therapy. But at times of high anxiety, like selling a home, moving or changing jobs, we are especially inclined to reach for a familiar object. At the most extreme, hoarders keep objects to deal with a debilitating degree of anxiety.

It can be that to many sellers, furniture and furnishings are transitional objects. Therefore, the struggle to price and to sell those items isn’t logical. It’s emotional. The irony is that the owners of the likely overvalued items no longer want or need what the buyer must have. The relative values are totally opposite to who wants and needs the very same goods. That is probably reason enough for the exchange to create conflicts.

There are no easy or simple guidelines for managing orderly real estate transactions even when they are not further complicated by furniture and furnishings. Real estate contracts try to do this by detailing what is included in the sale. Those items are usually (but not always) physically attached to the “real property.” Examples are bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets, major appliances, built-in bookcases, etc.

Tables, couches and vases don’t make the cut.

The home seller is usually best served by engaging a professional to sell the contents. If you aren’t taking your furniture to your next home, call in one of the companies that do this, let the buyers know ahead of time, and let them buy the furniture from the person operating the estate sale, if they so choose. The seller usually gets about two-thirds of the money the sale brings in. It will probably end up close to what the purchaser would have paid you but without the hassle and your home will be left ready for the closing in “broom clean” condition.

But if the parties insist on including contents, agents and attorneys [Why you want to use local attorneys] generally encourage the parties to hold off on discussion of furniture and furnishings until the contract is fully executed, and then advise that the parties come to a separate agreement for the exchange of any contents. Combining real estate and furniture complicates more than emotions: The relative values must be identified for tax, recording, mortgage, and appraisal purposes.  

© 2017 Diane Saatchi