When a house is being sold, the prevailing notion is that the seller is still entitled to everything not screwed or embedded into the property upon final walk through. For decades, an emptied house looks roughly the same no matter where you are: empty walls, while plugs and light switches remain. Today, more and more houses feature embedded technology; and therefore the legal interpretations of movables vs. immovables is evolving.
What happens when you buy a new home and find the garage door opener is still connected to the previous owner's mobile device? Problems like this will become more commonplace as people continue to embrace smart technology in their homes. In recent years, everything from smart light bulbs and switches to digital assistants have become fixtures in houses.
Smart technology often requires multiple devices to work properly. For example, Google Home App can utilize Chromecast to communicate with specific fixtures connected to electrical sockets in order to sync and enable voice command light switch capabilities. No matter the make or model, all smart technology generally connects to a “hub,” which in turn connects to the home's WiFi. Electrical elements through out the house can then be controlled from anywhere. However, it always requires specific devices to function, such as a mobile device.
The hub and WiFi router would not be considered fixtures and would normally be removed in the sale of the property. In contrast, the "smart" switch would remain for the new buyer who is not connected to it. Such devices are becoming common for things such as door locks (Schlage), thermostats (Hive), power strips and even appliances.
As technology integrates more seamlessly into our everyday life, these devices will be commonplace and easier to overlook. A light switch that controlled multiple lights during an open house could end up not controlling the bulbs it previously did if the main "hub" is removed, the account disconnected, or a standard light bulb is inserted instead. There is the possibility overlooking these things during the inspection phase, resulting in problems following the final walk through. Realtors must become more aware of not just the increased value a smart house has, but additionally of the disputes that can erupt from these smart factors inherent to the property as well.
For the time being, the majority of these items are fairly easy to reset by the buyer. However, the how to do so is not always obvious if the buyer is unaware of the original hardware and software that was in place. If a client mentions any of these fixtures or appliances, it needs to be brought to the purchaser’s attention, with instructions and tests that resolve any technical hiccups that could occur after the closing.