Buy my house, but I'm taking the toilet

Published Tue, Jul 27, 2021 · 05:50 AM

New York

IN a housing market desperately short on inventory, with prices spiraling towards the heavens, sellers can demand almost anything these days. They can even take the toilets.

Toilets, particularly expensive self-cleaning ones with bidets, are among the hot items ending up on moving vans, as sellers flex their muscle to squeeze the most out of a sale. Sellers are taking their appliances, too, and not just high-end Viking stoves. They are claiming midrange refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers to avoid shopping for new ones at a time when such items can be back-ordered for months.

Then there are sentimental demands, like fireplace mantels and backyard fruit trees; one Manhattan couple insisted on keeping the sink where their daughter learned to brush her teeth 50 years ago.

Buyers, beaten down from relentless bidding wars, shrug and slog along. What else can they do? This is a seller's world and we're all just living in it.

"Look, sellers have become more greedy," said Chase Landow, a salesperson for Serhant in Manhattan. "Good inventory is rather tight and they know that they can control the show."

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In June, the nationwide median home sale price was up 25 per cent year over year to US$386,888, while the number of homes for sale was down 28 per cent from 2020, according to Redfin. The homes that hit the market last month moved fast - a typical one sold in 14 days - and 56 per cent of them sold above the asking price.

In any market, it is not uncommon for buyers and sellers to spar over light fixtures, window treatments and appliances, with million-dollar deals sometimes unravelling over items that cost a few thousand. Generally, anything affixed to the walls - cabinets, sinks and toilets - is considered part of the sale, with removable items like light fixtures and mounted flat-screen televisions falling into a grey area that gets hammered out during contract negotiations. If an item goes, it is usually replaced with a contractor-grade equivalent. But ultimately, a contract can include whatever terms a buyer and seller agree to.

And this year, buyers are agreeing to some doozies.

In East Hampton, the sellers of a US$2.2 million house decided they wanted to keep a pair of fruit trees, even though removing them left two gaping holes by the swimming pool.

Even the sellers' agent was confused. "Where did that come from? The buyer freaks out, it's going to ruin the landscaping," said Yorgos Tsibiridis, an associate broker for Compass, who represented the sellers in the deal. The trees, about six feet tall, were a gift to the sellers' children from a grandparent and, it turned out, a deal breaker. "She said, 'Nope, if they don't allow me to take them with me I'm cancelling the contract,'" Mr Tsibiridis recounted.

And so, a landscaper showed up recently and dug up the trees in time for the closing.

There are other factors at play beyond power grabs. Housing is in short supply, but so too are appliances, furnishings and building materials, as the global supply chain continues to sputter through the pandemic recovery. As sellers part with their homes, some of them look around and realise that they may not be able to replace the items they're leaving. So, why not take them?

During the negotiations for a two-bedroom co-op in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, the sellers insisted on keeping the kitchen appliances and the washer and dryer. If the buyers wanted them, they could pay US$10,000, a premium for secondhand Samsung appliances. The buyers were livid, as the demand was not mentioned in the listing for the US$430,000 apartment.

"They felt it was very petty and cheap to throw it in there at the last minute," said Jack Chiu, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman representing the buyers. He said they would have altered their offer had they known the appliances were excluded. "It hit them from left field."

The buyers considered other apartments, but had gotten this one after winning an eight-way bidding war, following eight months of disappointments. "They were just so tired because they were outbid so many times," Mr Chiu said. They agreed to let the sellers take the appliances, and signed the contract. NYTIMES

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