Personal property is property that is movable. In common law systems, personal property may also be called chattels or personalty. In civil law systems, personal property is often called movable property or movables – any property that can be moved from one location to another.

Personal property can be understood in comparison to real estate, immovable property or real property (such as land and buildings).

Movable property on land (larger livestock, for example) was not automatically sold with the land, it was “personal” to the owner and moved with the owner.

The word cattle is the Old Norman variant of Old French chatel, chattel (derived from Latin capitalis, “of the head”), which was once synonymous with general movable personal property.

What is considered movable property?
When dealing with the sale of your property or purchase of a house, movable property can be described as the seller’s personal property which is not affixed to the property, for example curtains which do not automatically form part of the sale agreement.

What are the characteristics of immovable property?
Immovable property can be described as the land and all buildings on the land as well as all permanent fixtures which are included in the sale of the property. These are items which are glued, cemented or bolted to the property.

The simplest way to determine if an item is a permanent fixture would be to imagine turning the house upside down. The items that would fall down can be seen as movable and those that would remain attached can be seen as part of the immovable property; better known as fixtures in the offer to purchase.

Ownership of movable vs immovable property

The ownership and transfer of immovable property is regulated by the Deeds Registries Act and the Sectional Titles Act, while movable property will be dealt with in terms of our common law.

Sale agreements can include a list of fixtures which may be included or excluded in the agreement of sale. This list will provide clarity on who will be the owner of each item of property after transfer has taken place. Items such as blinds, floating shelves and satellite dishes are typically classified as fixed items as they are bolted to the property, while items such as curtains and paintings are seen as movable items.

Parties can include certain movable property in the offer to purchase which will be taken over by the purchaser, or the parties can even enter into a separate agreement between themselves wherein the purchaser purchases specific moveable items from the seller.

It is important for both the seller and purchaser to understand what is included and what is excluded in the agreement of sale as uncertainty can lead to negative consequences, even litigation.

Certain items may be viewed as fixed by the buyer while the seller sees them as his or her personal items. To avoid this, both the seller and purchaser should request that a detailed list is included in the sale agreement of any and all moveable items included in the purchase of the property.