Closings

ar123517806003655.jpgIs One Better Than The Other?

The first step in the purchase and sale of real estate in Massachusetts is the execution of an Offer to Purchase. Historically, agents and attorneys have used the Offer to Purchase Real Estate form generated by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board which has been around since the 1960’s. Recently, however, I’ve been seeing an increase in the use of the newer and more modern Massachusetts Association of Realtors Contract to Purchase Real Estate Form #501. I don’t think most Realtors, attorneys and consumers realize that these two forms have some critical differences, depending whether you are representing the buyer or seller. I’m going to outline the differences and similarities in this post.

  MAR GBREB
General Buyer Friendly Seller Friendly
Inspections Built-in, No $ Cap Addendum. Only Serious Issues, $ Cap
Mortgage Contingency Yes Yes
Representations Yes with waiver language No.

 

Buyer or Seller Friendly?

Both the MAR and GBREB offer forms are legally binding contracts to purchase and sale residential property in Massachusetts as I’ve written about here. They both have the basic and critical components for a deal:  identification of the property, price, deposits, good-through date, closing date, “good and clear record and marketable title” language, and P&S deadline, among other provisions.

The GBREB is clearly a more seller-friendly form, while the MAR form is definitely more friendly to buyers with some caveats that I’ll discuss below. Does this mean that if you are a buyer agent, you absolutely have to use the MAR form? No, but it may be a good practice to get into. Some agents are more comfortable with the older GBREB form, and that’s fine. They just should be cognizant of the differences in the two forms and how it may help or hurt their clients.

Inspection Contingencies

The first critical difference in the two forms is the inspection contingency. The MAR form has all inspection related contingencies (home inspection, pest, radon, lead paint, septic, water quality and drainage) built into the form, while the GBREB form uses a separate addendum for each type of inspection. The major difference, however, is what will trigger the buyer’s right to terminate the deal based on an inspection issue. The MAR form is extremely buyer-friendly, providing that the buyer may opt out of the deal merely if any of the inspection results are “not satisfactory.” You can drive a Mack truck through that open-ended language. The MAR form also has some often overlooked waiver language — (1) protecting Realtors from getting sued if the buyer does not conduct inspections, and (2) making it more difficult for a buyer to get out of the deal if she doesn’t provide timely notice of termination based on an inspection issue.

The GBREB form is far less buyer favorable, providing for an opt-out only for “serious structural, mechanical or other defects” the cost to repair of which is a dollar amount to be filled in (usually ranging from $500-$2500).

Mortgage Contingency

Both the MAR and GBREB forms give buyers a standard financing contingency, enabling buyers to obtain a firm loan commitment at “prevailing rates, terms and conditions” by an agreed upon date. The contingency language is almost identical in both forms, so there’s no issue here.

Representations/Acknowledgements

The MAR form has a modern provision confirming that the buyer has received all the various disclosures required by law, including the agency disclosure, laid paint, and Home Inspectors Facts for Consumers brochure. The GBREB does not have this provision. The MAR form also has some very agent-friendly waiver of representation/warranty language in this clause, providing that the buyer is not relying upon any of the Realtor’s representations, MLS or advertisting concerning the legal use, zoning, number of units/rooms, building/sanitary code status of the premises. However, I’m not sure this provision would pass legal muster in light of the recent SJC ruling in DeWolfe v. Hingham Centre holding an agent liable for misrepresentations concerning the zoning classification of property. Nevertheless, Realtors can use all the legal protection they can get in this litigious environment!

 Which Form Is Better?

There is no easy answer to this question. All things being equal, if I’m a buyer agent, I would go with the MAR form. (And buyer agents are typically the ones who are writing up the offers). The MAR form is more buyer-friendly while at the same time gives Realtors way more legal protection than the GBREB form. If I’m representing the seller and have the opportunity to select the offer form, I’ll go with the old-standby GBREB form for the simple reason that it will give the seller some more leverage in case of a home inspection battle. But I would still seriously consider trading up to the MAR form. I’ve embedded both forms below.

Agents, attorneys, readers what are your thoughts? Post in the comments below.

Also, if you are interested in joining the Massachusetts Association of Realtors or the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, click on the respective links. Both are great organizations and extremely helpful to new and established agents alike!

501 – Contract to Purchase Real Estate (c) 2012 – ID-WATERMARK

{ 1 comment }

2691601505_c65b897bcc.jpgYou have been eagerly awaiting the closing of your new construction home, but alas, the builder has not been able to complete the landscaping, walkway and driveway by the closing and there is a two page punch-list of other incomplete work. You have already hired a moving company and packed all of your family’s stuff. Anxious thoughts race through your mind…Can we close on time? What will my lender do about the incomplete work? Should I be in panic mode?

Throw Me An Escrow Holdback Agreement!

In this situation, your closing attorney should recommend an escrow holdback agreement which, if approved by your lender, will enable the transaction to close as scheduled. The parties will sign a standard escrow holdback agreement at closing, with an agreed upon portion of the seller sale proceeds held in escrow (usually by the closing attorney) pending completion of the unfinished work. Escrow holdbacks are fairly common in Massachusetts real estate practice. They can be used to address all types of situations which would otherwise delay a closing: approval of a new septic system, unfinished construction/repair work, missing mortgage discharges and title issues, or any other obligation the seller should have completed for the closing.

Lender Approval Often Required

If you are using conventional mortgage financing, you will usually need to get your lender’s approval of the escrow holdback agreement, and it must be shown on the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. Some lenders and some loan programs will not allow an escrow holdback, so your closing may have to be pushed back. For incomplete new construction work, some lenders will require an inspection before allowing for the release of the escrowed funds, and they will typically require that 1.5 times the cost of the work be placed in escrow.

Builders Playing Hardball

Recently, I’ve seen some new construction builders refuse to agree to any escrow holdbacks in their purchase and sale agreements. This is ridiculous in my opinion, and should not be agreed to. Rarely does a new construction building complete a project without some unfinished work or punch list items. I typically counter with a language allowing an escrow holdback if the buyer’s lender insists upon it.

For these situations, “money talks”, and withholding seller funds is often the only way to ensure that the seller does what he or she has agreed to do.

_________________________________________

RDV-profile-picture-larger-150x150.jpgRichard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate closing attorney. If you have any questions about the Massachusetts closing process or escrow holdback agreements, please contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

{ 2 comments }

GMAC-MortgageRejects “In For One, In for All” Theory in Title Insurance Coverage

One little mistake in drafting and recording legal documents during a refinance can result in a huge problem for a lender — such as the lender having no legal ability to enforce the mortgage! (A slight problem..) GMAC Mortgage learned this the hard way last week at the Supreme Judicial Court in GMAC Mortgage v. First American Title Insurance Company (SJC-11161), where the court found in favor of First American Title Insurance Co., in a dispute over coverage under a lender’s title insurance policy.

First-American-Title-Insurance-CompanyA Doozy of a Mistake

As title defects go, this is a doozy, because it was easily preventable, and yet wrecked so much legal havoc in its aftermath. Elizabeth Moore and her husband, Thomas Moore, lived in a home in Billerica, the title to which was in Mr. Moore’s name. In 2001, for the purpose of refinancing the property, Mr. Moore executed a note and a mortgage to GMAC’s predecessor corporation (which obtained a lender’s title insurance policy from an agent of First American). Mr. Moore also signed a deed conveying the property from himself to himself and his wife as tenants by the entirety, as his plan was for both of them to hold title jointly as husband and wife. Under the “first in time” rule, in order for the mortgage to properly attach to the property, it should have been recorded before the deed went on record. However, the closing attorney mistakenly recorded the instruments in the wrong order, so the mortgage only attached to Mr. Moore’s 1/2 interest in the Property. Mr. Moore died in 2007. After his death, record title to the property vested solely in Mrs. Moore, and GMAC was left with no ability to enforce its mortgage against her or the property.

GMAC sued Mrs. Moore to enforce its mortgage rights, and she countersued for a slew of wrongful foreclosure and consumer protection claims. GMAC and Mrs. Moore wound up settling out of court, but GMAC tried to recoup all its legal fees and losses against the lender’s title insurance policy issued by First American.

Court Rejects Complete Defense Doctrine for Title Insurance

Unlike commercial general liability policies, which courts have ruled must provide coverage to all claims in a lawsuit if merely one claim is covered — the “in for one, in for all” theory —  the SJC ruled that title insurance policies do not provide such wide-ranging coverage. Reaffirming the notion that a policy of title insurance is merely an indemnification policy and not a guaranty of perfect title, the justices ruled that First American’s duty was only to cover the aspects of Mrs. Moore’s claims affecting title, and not her wrongful foreclosure and consumer protection claims. This ruling will mostly affect the relationship between the large banks and lenders and title insurance companies, but provides a good reminder about what title insurance does and what it doesn’t cover.

Title Insurance Coverages Often Misunderstood

As a former outside claims counsel for a leading title insurance company, I have found that most insureds and claimants do not fully understand title insurance coverages. And why would they? It’s complicated stuff.

Most regular folks think that title insurance provides a full and complete guaranty and assurance that title to their home is pristine and clean. While title insurance gives an ordinary homebuyer “max coverage” available for title defects, it does not provide a 100% warranty that every conceivable problem affecting legal ownership of a home will be covered.

Subject to various exclusions and exceptions noted on the policy, a title insurance policy provides coverage for loss or damage sustained by reason of a covered risk as of the time of the closing. What are those covered risks? Some risks such as forgeries, improper legal descriptions, and recording errors are covered. Other risks such as certain encroachments, boundary line disputes, wetland issues, and zoning issues are not covered. Defects or liens arising after the issuance of a policy are likewise not covered, unless a new policy is issued. Also, the new enhanced policies provide for more expanded coverages than the older standard policies. It’s best to consult an experienced title insurance attorney for a complete explanation of what a title policy covers.

I’ve written several blog posts on title insurance which can be found by clicking here.

_______________________________________________________

RDV-profile-picture-larger-150x150.jpgRichard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts title insurance claims and coverages attorney who was previously outside claims counsel to a leading title insurance company. You can reach him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

{ 1 comment }

seinfeld-kramerOne of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is the one where Kramer tries to explain to Jerry how tax write-offs work. “It’s all a write-off!” exclaims Kramer who, not surprisingly, had no idea what he was talking about. I’ve embedded the Youtube video below.

With the April 15 tax deadline quickly approaching, let’s talk about some of the taxes, deductions, and “write-offs” arising out of a Massachusetts residential real estate purchase and sale. (Disclaimer: I am neither a CPA nor tax attorney, so consult your own tax professional for specific questions).

Real Estate Property Taxes

Every Massachusetts municipality levies a real estate property tax on residential property. Indeed, the real estate tax is the primary revenue producer for most towns with a limited commercial tax base. The real estate tax rate is set by the local board of assessors and is keyed to the assessed value of your land and home, which is often less than the true market value.

Real estate taxes are generally tax deductible if you itemize your deductions on IRS Form 1040, Schedule A. At closing, the closing attorney will ensure that all real estate taxes are paid up and allocated between buyer and seller as of the closing date. If the end of the fiscal quarter is approaching, most lenders will require that the buyer pay the upcoming real estate tax bill in advance.

Most lenders these days require an escrow account for the payment of real estate taxes, and the mortgage company will actually send the payment to the assessor. However, the homeowner should check the actual property tax bill to calculate the exact amount of real estate taxes paid for the year.

Rich’s AdviceIt’s very important to keep a copy of your HUD-1 Settlement Statement on file (and for your tax preparer). Also, get a copy of your loan amortization schedule for reasons I’ll discuss later.

Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction

The mortgage interest tax deduction is typically the largest tax deduction taken by a typical homeowner. The deduction applies to interest paid on a qualifying mortgage for both a principal residence and a second home. It also applies to home equity lines and second mortgages subject to some limitation, discussed below.

If you paid any points for getting a mortgage, they may also be tax deductible, either the year paid or over the life of the loan. This applies to both purchase loans and refinances. (Check your HUD-1 Settlement Statement). The same is true for PMI — mortgage insurance premiums. They remain tax deductible for 2012 and 2013 thanks to the Fiscal Cliff Bill.

Cash out refinances and equity lines have some special rules. If you use the money for a car, a vacation, college tuition, etc., then you can deduct your interest on loan amounts up to $100,000. If you borrow more than $100,000, the interest on the excess is not deductible. However, if you use the money to make improvements on your home, then the money is treated for tax purposes as though it’s part of your home mortgage … so you can deduct all the interest, along with your mortgage interest, as long as the total amount you’ve borrowed doesn’t exceed $1 million plus $100,000.

Consult IRS Publication 936 for more information on the mortgage interest deduction.

Rich’s Advice:  At closing, I advise new buyers to speak to their accountant about whether they should recalculate their W-4 withholdings in light of their new mortgage and corresponding tax deductions. This is where that loan amortization schedule comes in very handy. New buyers often have substantially more tax deductions than before becoming homeowners, and thus, they can adjust their withholdings so they can keep more of their take home pay every week, instead of giving Uncle Sam an interest free loan!

Massachusetts Property Transfer Tax

Sometimes called deed stamps, transfer tax or excise tax, Massachusetts home sellers must pay a tax on selling their property. For every Massachusetts county except Barnstable and the Islands, the tax is $4.56 per thousand of the purchase price on the deed. So for a $500,000 sale, that’s a whopping $2,280 tax bill. There is considerable debate among tax professionals as to whether this tax is deductible on your federal and state return. It’s best to consult your tax preparer.

Capital Gains On Sale

If you sell your home for more than you paid for it, you have a capital gain, and in theory you have to pay capital gains tax. However, in most cases, you don’t have to pay taxes on the first $500,000 of capital gain on a home (or $250,000 if you’re married and filing separately). To get this special treatment, you have to have owned the home and lived in it as your primary residence for two years out of the last five years prior to the sale. Even if you didn’t own and live in the home for two full years, you might still be able to exclude some or all of your capital gain; you just won’t be eligible for the full $500,000 exception.

Other Closing Costs

Unfortunately, most of the typical real estate closing costs are not tax deductible. This includes lender origination fees, credit report, flood certification, homeowner’s insurance, appraisals, attorney fees, title abstract, title insurance, county recording fees, and real estate commissions.

__________________________________________

RDV-profile-picture-larger-150x150.jpgRichard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney who helps people buy, sell and finance residential real estate. If you need assistance, please contact him at 508-620-5352 or at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

{ 2 comments }

Lara Gordon, Coldwell Banker

Put Your Best Offer Forward & Get Pre-Approved Beforehand, Advise Local Experts

Well, it’s official now. With buyers back in droves, an abnormally low inventory of good properties, and bidding wars popping up all over the place, the Greater Boston real estate market has now made full circle into a seller’s market. As the Boston Globe recently wrote, the market is “desperately seeking sellers.”

images-11For prospective buyers in a seller’s market, the strategies to succeed and find your dream home are very different from just a year or two ago. To help you navigate these unfamiliar waters, I’ve asked Cambridge-Somerville Realtor, Lara Gordon of Coldwell Banker, and Brian Cavanaugh, Senior Mortgage Banker at RMS Mortgage, to join me in this “round-table” discussion about how buyers can succeed in a seller’s market. Lara and Brian were both featured in this month’s Boston Magazine Best Places to Live 2013.

Q: Laura, what are you seeing out there on the streets in terms of inventory, pricing, and respective bargaining power between buyers and sellers? Has the tide really shifted back to sellers?

A: (Lara Gordon) Yes—in a very big way. When sellers have 5-10 offers to choose from, which is typical for most listings in Cambridge & Somerville right now, they are really setting the terms, and some buyers are willing to accommodate just about any request they make, from waiving the inspection to offering a sale-and-lease-back if the seller needs time to find a new place. My listing at 27 Osgood Street, Unit 7 in Somerville (pictures to the right) is a good example — 6 bids.

Q:  Lara, I’m hearing about bidding wars on well-priced, good condition properties. What are you seeing out there, and what’s your best advice on getting that winning bid?

A: (Lara Gordon) I always tell my buyer clients this: if you know you’re going into a multiple offer situation, you should put your best foot forward from the start. Some people feel nervous about coming in high on their offer, thinking they need to leave some room to come up during negotiations, but that is a mistake. If a seller receives one offer that is significantly stronger than the others, they may well accept it without going back for a “best and final” round.

lr-mls

And again, price is just one aspect of the offer, so have a good pre-approval from a respected lender, do the best you can with the downpayment, be willing to work with sellers’ preferred dates, and make sure your agent is “selling” you as a knowledgeable buyer, reasonable to deal with, and committed to seeing the transaction through.

Q:  What do buyers need to do in terms of making their best and most competitive offer? Are we back to buyer’s writing a personal appeal to sellers and that sort of thing? 

A: (Lara Gordon) Some buyers do write letters to sellers, but it’s the list agent’s job to keep them focused on the strengths of the respective offers, so an emotional appeal really only gets a buyer so far. Buyers really need to put their best foot forward. This starts with price, downpayment, a solid pre-approval from a respected lender, tight contingency dates and as much as possible accommodating the sellers’ preferred timeframe for closing. Beyond that, list agents and sellers are looking for a deal that will proceed smoothly and will “stick” through closing, so buyers’ agents really need to “sell” their clients as educated on the market, realistic about the home inspection and committed to seeing the deal through.

Q:  Brian, I hear that buyers are coming to you at all hours and weekends for pre-approvals. When buyers come to you for mortgage approval, what sort of documentation should they have ready to go and how quickly can you close loans these days?

ex-mlsA: (Cavanaugh). Well, I’ll start off by staying that the pendulum has definitely swung around. When the market favored buyers, you would go look for houses, get an offer accepted then go to your mortgage banker for an approval. Now it’s the other way around. You need a mortgager approval in hand when you are out looking for homes. And that means from the start you need a very firm grasp on exactly what you can afford, how much to put down, etc. You need to work with a mortgage banker with a strong grasp of Fannie and Freddie guidelines.

As for the paperwork, you need 2 years of tax return and W2’s, 30 days of pay-stubs, one year of bank statements, statements for your 401ks, IRAs, and investment accounts. A lot of first time buyers use gifts of downpayment from their parents, which are particularly tricky. I tell them to get those monies into your account ASAP. You will need a gift letter executed by all parties involved and verification of funds.

Currently, we can close a single family loan in 45 days, and a condo purchase in about 60 days, since condo mortgages require more extensive FNMA approval.

Q:  How much are sellers looking at buyers’ financing? Are cash buyers winning out over financed buyers? What are the ways to ensure a seller that a financed buyer is of no greater risk that a cash buyer?

A: (Lara Gordon) Cash is definitely an advantage in that it takes one element of risk out of the equation. For sellers in a rush to close, a cash deal is also appealing because it can close a lot faster than when a lender is involved. But if timing isn’t a big deal and there are good comps for the property, there’s no reason a seller shouldn’t consider a good offer from a buyer who will finance. Of course, the size of the downpayment has become increasingly important as bidding wars drive prices up and appraisals become a concern.

Q: How are you dealing with contingencies in a seller’s market? Are buyers waiving inspection or even financing?
A: (Lara Gordon) There are certainly buyers out there waiving both financing and inspection contingencies, but it’s not always a good idea. While it’s fine for buyers to waive the financing contingency if they’re prepared to pay cash, I personally, would never advise someone to forego a home inspection. The key is to approach it as educational and a way out in case of a major issue, and not as a tool for renegotiating the price.

A: (Vetstein) I’m going to weigh in on this topic as it deals with legal issues. I would STRONGLY advise a financed buyer to resist the temptation to waive the financing contingency in the hope that it will make an offer more attractive. In this day and age of strict underwriting and frequent delays, this is simply a recipe for losing your deposit. I don’t care if a handful of lenders have told you that your file is a slam dunk — you could get laid off a few weeks before close and you’d be DOA for the closing. Same goes for the inspection contingency. Sellers know that buyers want to check the home’s bones beforehand. Trust me, it will cost you a lot more money down the line if you wind up buying equivalent of the “Money Pit.” Tightening the deadlines, that’s fine. Waiving them, that’s just asinine.

A: (Cavanaugh) I would echo Rich’s sentiments. In this day and age of tight lending guidelines, I would hate to see a buyer lose his deposit because he was under the assumption that he could qualify for a mortgage he really couldn’t qualify for. Again, talk to your mortgage banker before you make the offer.

Q: Last question guys. I always recommend that my buyers use a Realtor. But please tell the readers exactly why having a Realtor can greatly increase your chances of succeeding in a seller’s market?

A: (Lara Gordon) I’m glad you asked this question, Rich, because some people think that they will do better if they go directly to the list agent, but given the nature of the market right now, it just doesn’t make sense to try to go it alone.

A: (Cavanaugh). When my borrower works with a Realtor, it always makes the transaction run smoothly. I operate under a “team” concept with the agents, so I’m used to constant contact with both the buyer and listing agent to ensure we get access for the appraisal and all the documentation in place for the loan commitment and closing. When there’s a team of professionals involved in a transaction, it’s a win-win for everyone.

A: (Vetstein) A low inventory/seller’s market is precisely why you want a Realtor who knows the market inside out and can be your salesperson/spokesperson on your side. In a market where perception is everything, I think it’s fair to say that a listing agent/seller will take you more seriously if you are working with a top notch Realtor, rather than sauntering solo into an open house in your Bean duck boots. Not to mention that the buyer does not typically pay an agent commission in Massachusetts. Also, selfishly, working with a client with a Realtor is less stressful for the attorney.

Q: Lara and Brian, any final words of wisdom as we head full bore into the busy spring market?

A: (Lara Gordon) I guess I’d just like to acknowledge that this is a tough market for buyers, and I totally understand the stress and frustration many people are feeling. In an ideal world, you’d find a great house, take some time to think things over, maybe visit a few times, then make a fair offer in a non-competitive situation, and you’d have a new home. But buyers need to accept the reality of the market we’re in: we’ve got low inventory and high demand, and you won’t necessarily get the first house you bid on. Maybe not even the second or third. But if you are qualified financially, have realistic expectations, are patient and persistent, and know how to play the game, you will ultimately find a home.

A: (Cavanaugh). I would urge would-be buyers to talk to a mortgage banker as early as possible in the process. We still have near all time mortgage interest rates. Affordability may never be as good as now, so hang in there in terms of bidding wars and a seller’s market. RMS Mortgage is well known brand and people either know me by reputation or have worked with me. So you have some instant credibility with the listing agent who can vouch for a smooth and successful transaction, and that’s very important in this seller’s market.

Thank you to Brian Cavanaugh and Lara Gordon for a great round-table discussion! Lara can be reached at lara.gordon@nemoves.com or 617-245-3939. Lara blogs at Cambridegville. Brian can be reached at brian.cavanaugh@rmsmortgage.com and 617-771-5021. Brian blogs at Smarterborrowing.com.

{ 5 comments }

Electronic-signature1Electronic recording (e-recording) of deeds, mortgages and other title instruments has been available in Massachusetts for almost 5 years now, and is finally gaining widespread acceptance within the conveyancing community. E-recording is now fully operational in Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Hampden, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester North and South registries of deeds. (Suffolk, please hurry up!). Legislation has recently been filed to require that all registries have electronic recording capabilities by July 2014. (Thank you Attorney Hugh Fitzpatrick, a newly appointed member of the Registry of Deeds Modernization and Efficiency Commission, for your efforts!).

E-recording is proving to be less expensive and faster than the traditional method of recording by sending a title examiner down to the registry of deeds. It also eliminates the need to fight traffic and hold closings at Cambridge or other hard-to-get-to registries.

Indeed, if we have the deed, mortgage and homestead signed at the beginning of the closing, we can be “on record” halfway through the closing! Music to seller, buyer and Realtor’s ears…

The process of e-recording is pretty easy.

  • Sign up with one of the registry’s authorized electronic recording vendors (Simplifile, Erxchange,Ingeo/CSC, or New England Title/Escrow)
  • Conduct closing
  • Scan original document to create an electronic image (pdf)
  • Log on to the secure website and enter data about the document and upload the document image
  • Perform a quick online title run-down to ensure no title issues have arisen since the first title exam
  • Press “send to the registry” button
  • The registry verifies the quality of the image and the accuracy of your data
  • Once accepted by the registry, the document is official on record with recording data and document image immediately available on the registry website
  • The filer immediately gets an electronic receipt with all recording information along with an electronic copy of the recorded document.
  • Fees are paid by electronic funds transfer from the closing attorney, and we can avoid the usual $35 rundown fee. E-recording fees run about $4-5 per document.

E-recording is legal and binding, and accepted by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and virtually every major lender. It is a major benefit to all parties involved with a real estate closing, and I’m well-versed in how to use the system to ensure a faster and more convenient closing. Please contact me at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com for more information.

{ 0 comments }

With the economy and housing market on the upswing, builders are finally building again. I’ve seen a definite uptick in new construction purchases. Buying a new construction home, however, is very different and much more involved compared to buying a previously owned property. In this post, I want to cover the various aspects of purchasing a new construction home, from selecting a builder, financing, legal, through construction and to the closing. As the Beatles song goes, I also have a little help from my Realtor friends in this post who have graciously offered some of their expert guidance. Follow our advice, and hopefully you will avoid becoming Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in the hilarious movie, The Money Pit!

Selecting and Working with a Builder

Choosing the right builder is obviously critical. You can search for builder licenses and state disciplinary history at the Mass.gov site here. (Search under Construction Supervisor). If the builder is not a licensed Construction Supervisor, they may be licensed as a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) which can be searched at the Office of Consumer Affairs website here. If they hold neither license type, that’s a red flag. Also, look up the builder’s name in the Mass. Land Records site, and check whether they have any mechanic’s liens filed against them. That is another red flag indicating they may be undercapitalized and don’t pay their subcontractors.

Get a list of the last 5 homes the builder has constructed, and try to talk to those homeowners. Don’t rely on the builder’s list of references as no intelligent builder would give out a bad reference.

Hire A Buyer’s Agent

Besides conducting a town-wide survey, one of the smartest things you can do is hire an independent buyer’s real estate agent, preferably one with lots of experience in new construction. While buyers today can do a lot of their own due diligence and research on prospective builders, an experienced Realtor knows all the local builders in town and knows who builds castles and who builds shanty-shacks. A buyer’s agent will also provide a much-needed buffer between the builder’s sales agents and listing agent, many of whom unfortunately engage in high-pressure sales tactics and fast-talking. As buyer agent, Marilyn Messenger advises,

“Many buyers don’t realize that if they visit a new construction site without a buyer agent, they run the risk of having to work directly with the builder’s agent whose job is to work in the best interest of the builder. A buyer’s agent will watch out for the buyer’s interests.”

Amenities, Allowances & Upgrades

The builder should provide you with a detailed specification sheet with a standard panel of features and options for flooring, appliances, paint, trims, HVAC, and lighting, etc. These will be built into the purchase price. Most builders also have allowances for things like additional recessed lighting, upgraded stainless steel appliances, decking, and fancy hardwood floors. As Cambridge area Realtor Lara Gordon notes, the buyers’ ability to select design elements is one of the major advantages of new construction.

It’s imperative that all allowances be spelled out in writing and attached to the purchase contract documents, which I will discuss later. Change orders are common during the construction process, and these too should be memorialized in writing. They will be added to the purchase price or paid in advance.

Contract Documents

New construction purchases in Massachusetts follow the same basic legal process as already-owned homes. The parties first execute an Offer to Purchase which spells out the very basics of the transaction: down payment and purchase price, closing date, and financing contingency. A lot of builders ask for more than the standard 5% deposit, but I would push back on that in this market.

After the offer is signed, the parties will sign the Purchase and Sale Agreement. As a buyer, the detailed specifications, amenities and agreed upon allowances must be incorporated into the contract, along with the floor and elevation plans, if any.

The proposed purchase and sale agreement will likely track the so-called “standard form,” but the builder will typically add a detailed rider, which is completely different than the usual seller rider seen in existing home contracts. The builder rider will have provisions dealing with how change orders are handled, that the builder is not responsible for cracking due to climatic changes, and may attempt to hold the buyer’s feet to the fire with respect to getting his financing in place. A lot of builders will try to limit the availability of holdbacks at closing. I would push back on this important item of leverage for buyers. Some of the large national builders such as Pulte will even claim that their contracts are “non-negotiable.” This is nonsense. Everything is negotiable these days.

Hiring an experienced real estate attorney will tip the balance back to the buyer, and the attorney should have a comprehensive buyer rider in place to protect you in case there are title issues or you suddenly lose your financing. Because there are often delays with new construction, one of the most important rider provisions for buyers is a clause which will give buyer’s protection in case they lose their rate lock due to a delay.

Mortgage Financing

Most new construction buyers in Massachusetts will take out a conventional mortgage loan, with the builder responsible for financing the actual construction through his own construction loan. Some builders, especially national ones, will have their own mortgage lending for their projects, but they often don’t offer the best rates and terms. Sometimes, buyers will finance the construction through a construction loan under which the borrower pays interest only through the construction process, and is then converted to a conventional mortgage once the home is completed. I would counsel buyers to avoid taking on the financial responsibility of a construction loan. As with all lending, shop around and compare apples to apples.

Inspections & Warranties

For new construction, home inspections must necessarily be delayed from the usual timeframe (7-10 days after accepted offer) where the home is not yet completed, and buyers should absolutely reserve their right to perform the usual comprehensive home inspection prior to closing. (If the home is already done, get in there with the home inspector). During the construction phase, builders don’t want buyers on the construction site, for obvious liability (and annoyance) reasons, so resist the urge to buy your own hard-hat and hang out with the construction guys. Metrowest area agent Heidi Zizza of mdm Realty retells a funny story about a Natick woman who literally broke a window trying to gain entry into her under-construction home.

Contrary to popular belief, Massachusetts law does not require a 1-year builder’s written warranty for new construction, however, most builders will provide one, albeit littered with exceptions to coverage. Fairly recent Massachusetts case law does impose a 3 year “implied warranty of habitability” for certain undiscovered construction defects. Again, selecting a reputable builder in the first place is “the ounce of prevention worth the pound of cure.”

Punch-Lists and Closing

There will inevitably be unfinished items right up to the closing. I’ve rarely seen a new construction transaction without a punch-list at closing. Some unfinished items will be serious enough to warrant an escrow holdback at closing (remember, I had said push back on this during P&S negotiations). Some lenders, however, will not allow a holdback, so the parties will have to negotiate and be creative at closing to ensure that all unfinished work is completed within a reasonable time after closing. If the home is part of a larger project/subdivision, this is usually not an issue. However, for “one-off” single site projects, getting the builder to come back and finish punch-list items after closing can be like pulling teeth. Again, having a real estate lawyer on your side and in control of the funds will give you leverage here.

Once papers are passed, the closing attorney will lastly ensure that there are no outstanding subcontractor liens on the property, which is one of most common hiccup at closings. For this reason and many others, it is imperative that buyers obtain their own owner’s title insurance policy, to ensure that title is clear, marketable and free of undiscovered defects and liens.

Buying new construction is often a long, drawn out, and stressful process for new buyers. Do your research. Be patient. And hire the best professionals on your side. Good luck!

________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney who often handles Massachusetts new construction home purchases. If you need assistance with a new construction purchase or sale, please contact him at 508-620-5352 or at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

{ 10 comments }

Mandatory 3 Business Day Waiting Period Will Delay Closings

Action Needed: Comment On Proposed Rule

While our attention has been diverted from more important issues such as Hurricane Sandy and the election, please be advised that November 6, 2012 is the last day for lenders, settlement agents, Realtors and the public to comment on the controversial new combined Truth and Lending/HUD-1 Disclosure rules proposed by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). For those who don’t know, the CFPB has proposed a major overhaul to closing disclosures, combining the Truth In Lending and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement into a single 5 page disclosure form.

Of paramount concern to the real estate community is the proposed Three Business Day Rule, which would require that lenders provide the final Closing Disclosure (the new HUD-1) at least 3 business days prior to the closing. The major problem with this rule is that if there are changes in settlement and closing figures between the time of disclosure and the closing, the consumer must be provided a new form, and the closing must be delayed for at least 3 business days. ((There is an exception for adjustments between buyer and seller, such as a repair credit and for items under $100.))

In today’s lending environment, last minute changes to settlement numbers are common, and given the crush of underwriting tasks, final closing figures are typically provided 24-48 hours prior to the closing, or even the day of closing. Moreover, there are often delays getting information from outside sources — real estate tax information from municipalities, insurance information from independent agents, final water/sewer readings, oil bills and 6d condo fees from Realtors, and payoffs from sellers — all of which are out of the control of the lender and the closing attorney.

If there are last minute changes to settlement numbers, the proposed rule will delay closings for at least 3 business days, which could be catastrophic. This will have an unintended ripple effect on both the borrower and other parties, especially where the borrower is doing a “sell-buy” on the same day.

The CFPB is out of touch with the real estate industry on this rule. Indeed, at a recent symposium on the new rules, the CFPB’s new general counsel was reported as being very surprised that last-minute changes in settlement figures were relatively common. Delaying closings for 3 business days through delays of no fault of the lender or settlement agent hurts all the parties to the transaction. The rule is regulatory overkill.

CLICK THIS LINK TO COMMENT ON THE NEW CFPB RULE (CLICK SUBMIT A FORMAL COMMENT)

Tell the CFPB that the 3 Business Day Rule is a bad idea, and give anecdotal stories about how delays in closings will affect your business. And please share this post with fellow lenders, mortgage bankers, closing attorneys and Realtors.

________________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate attorney with offices in Framingham and Needham, MA. You can reach him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

{ 2 comments }

Concise Disclosures Aimed At Reducing Borrower Confusion and Helping Comparison Shopping

As part of a continuing overhaul of the home mortgage market, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday issued proposed rules to bolster fairness and clarity in residential lending, including requiring a new good-faith estimate of costs for homebuyers and a new closing settlement statement.

My understanding is that the new “loan estimate” would replace the current Good Faith Estimate (GFE) and the current Truth in Lending Disclosure (TIL). The new closing disclosure would replace the current HUD-1 Settlement Statement. The new disclosures are open to industry and public comment for 120 days, after which they will be finalized and codified as law. For more details on the new disclosures, go to the CFPB site here.

Here is the new Loan Estimate.

201207 Cfpb Loan-estimate

Here is the new Closing Disclosure

201207 Cfpb Closing-disclosure

I’m interesting in hearing comments on the new forms from mortgage professionals, real estate attorneys and borrowers. Please comment below!

_______________________________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate closing attorney who has closed thousands of purchase and refinance transactions. Please contact him if you need legal assistance purchasing residential or commercial real estate.

{ 2 comments }

Real Estate Crash Has Resulted In Many More Forms and Disclosures

These days buyers are leaving closing rooms with not only their keys but a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome! The reason for sore forearms and wrists is the voluminous stack of closing documents which are now required to be signed and notarized at every Massachusetts real estate purchase or refinance closing.

One of my opening “break the ice” lines at closings is to suggest that the buyers start massaging their writing hands. Then I show them the 2 inch stack of documents they must review and sign, and they usually say, “Are you serious? We have to sign all that?” Yep, I reply. You can thank Fannie Mae and the real estate collapse for that! All the new rules and regulations passed in the last 5 years have resulted in, you guessed it, more forms. Do you think the Feds and state ever eliminate old or out-dated forms? Nope.

Let me quickly go over some of the more important — and less important — documents signed at a typical Massachusetts real estate closing.

The Closing Documents

  • HUD-1 Settlement Statement. This is arguably the most important form signed at closing. It breaks down all the closing costs, lender fees, taxes, insurance, escrows and more. We did a full post on the HUD-1 and all the closing costs you can expect to pay here. Under the newer RESPA rules, most closing costs must be within 10% tolerance of the Good Faith Estimate provided by the lender (which you will also re-sign at closing).
  • Promissory Note & Mortgage. These two documents form what I like to call the “mortgage contract.” The promissory note is the lending contract between borrower and lender and sets the interest rate and payment terms of the loan. It is not recorded at the registry of deeds. The Mortgage or Security Instrument is a long (20+ page) document and provides the legal collateral (your house) securing the loan from the lender. The Mortgage gets recorded in the county registry of deeds and is available to public view. Read a full explanation of the Note and Mortgage in this post.
  • Truth in Lending Disclosure (TIL). The Truth in Lending should really be called “Confusion In Lending,” as the federal government has come up with a confusing way to “explain” how your interest rate works. This is a complex form and we’ve written about it extensively in this post. Your closing lawyer will fully explain the TIL form to you at closing.
  • Loan Underwriting Documents. With increased audit risk on loan files, lenders today are requiring that borrowers sign “fresh” copies of almost all the documents they signed when they originally applied for the loan. This includes the loan application, IRS forms W-9 and 4506’s.
  • Fraud Prevention Documents. Again, with the massive mortgage fraud of the last decade, lenders are requiring many more forms to prevent fraud, forgeries, and straw-buyers. The closing attorney will also make a copy of borrowers’ driver’s licenses and other photo i.d. and submit the borrower’s names through the Patriot Act database. They include Occupancy Affidavit (confirming that borrowers will not rent out the mortgaged property), and the Signature Affidavit (confirming buyers are who they say they are or previously used a maiden name or nickname).
  • Escrow Documents. Unless lenders waive the requirement, borrowers must fund an escrow account at closing representing several months of real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance. This provides a cushion in case borrowers default and the taxes and insurance are not paid.
  • Title Documents. For purchase transactions, Massachusetts requires that the closing attorney certify that a 50 year title examination has been performed. Buyers will counter-sign this certification of title, as well as several title insurance affidavits and documents which the seller is required to sign, to ensure that all known title problems have been disclosed and discovered. Of course, we always recommend that buyers obtain their own owner’s title insurance which will provide coverage for unknown title defects such as forgeries, boundary line issues, missing mortgage discharges, etc.
  • Property Safety Disclosures. In Massachusetts, buyers and sellers will sign a smoke/carbon monoxide detector compliance agreement, lead paint disclosure, and UFFI (urea formaldehyde foam insulation) agreement. These ensure that the property has received proper certifications and will absolve the lender from liability for these safety issues.
  • Servicing, EOCA and Affiliated Business Disclosures. Chances are that your lender will assign the servicing rights to your mortgage to a larger servicer, like JP Morgan Chase or CitiMortgage. You will sign forms acknowledging this. You will be notified of the new mortgage holder usually within 30-60 days after closing. In the meantime, the closing attorney will give you a “first payment letter” instructing you where to send your first payment if you don’t hear from the new servicer. You will also sign forms under the federal and state discrimination in lenders laws and forms disclosing who the lender uses for closing services.

Well, those are most of the documents that buyers will sign at the closing. Sellers have a slew of their own documents to be signed at closing, and I’ll cover that in a future post. As I said, at your closing, massage your signature hand, grab a comfy pen, and sign your life away!

_________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. He can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

{ 4 comments }

Bar Assn. Lawsuit Targets Kentucky Based Settlement Service Company Employing Local Contract Attorneys

As first reported today by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, the bar association for Massachusetts real estate attorneys (REBA) has filed a lawsuit against National Loan Closers, Inc., a Kentucky closing services company, and a Holyoke attorney for allegedly conducting illegal “witness-only” real estate closings. REBA was behind last year’s landmark Supreme Judicial Court ruling in REBA v. National Real Estate Information Services, which held that Massachusetts attorneys are legally required to oversee all residential real estate closings in Massachusetts.

REBA’s suit against National Loan Closers is notable because NLC is alleged to have side-swiped the REBA v. NREIS court ruling by contracting with local attorneys to attend real estate closings. According to the suit, NLC’s model is for these contract attorneys to act similarly to the robo-signers who sign foreclosure documents, as they are simply there to witness and notarize documents and are contractually prohibited from giving legal advice to the parties at closing. Thus, this model runs afoul of the REBA ruling’s mandate that attorneys “substantially participate” in the closing process by reviewing the title and ensuring that title passes legally.

REBA argues, and I agree, that such closings put home buyers and mortgage lenders at risk, erode the public’s confidence in the state’s recording and registration system, and deprive the Massachusetts Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts program — IOLTA — of thousands of dollars of revenue.

No home buyer wants to close on the single biggest purchase of their life with a contract attorney who knows nothing about the transaction and cannot answer the most basic of legal questions. In the standard model, a supervisory Massachusetts attorney will examine the title and certify under state law that the title is good, clear and marketable, and often that same attorney (or a junior associate with full familiarity with the file and title) will be the closing attorney.

The complaint filed in The Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts, Inc. v. National Loan Closers Inc., et al. can be found by clicking here.

{ 1 comment }

Massachusetts Real Estate Taxes

The Massachusetts closing attorney is responsible for verifying the correct amount of real estate taxes assessed against the property, collecting sufficient amounts to pay for any outstanding and/or upcoming tax bills, and to adjust between buyer and seller any payments already made by the seller. The way in which Massachusetts real estate tax bills are due and payable, however, often creates confusion for parties at the closing.

For most Massachusetts cities and towns, real estate tax bills are mailed and taxes are collected on a quarterly basis. The fiscal year for property tax is July 1 to June 30. The schedule of mailings, due dates, and the three months each payment covers is outlined on the following chart:

Quarter    Mailed By  Due Date    Payment is For
1st June 30 Aug 1 July, Aug. Sept.
2d Sept. 30 Nov. 1 Oct., Nov, Dec.
3rd Dec. 31 Feb. 1 Jan, Feb., March
4th March 31 May 1 April, May, June

 

 

 

 

The confusion is caused because most folks are not aware that the tax bill which is due on Aug. 1 covers taxes due for the preceding month of July and the following month of September.

So, if you are closing on March 1 and the seller has already paid the tax bill due on Feb. 1, the buyer will be responsible for an adjustment due the seller for the 31 days of March.

Now, here’s the kicker. As part of the mortgage escrow account requirement, explained below, the lender will most likely require the borrower to pay the real estate taxes due May 1 in advance, thereby requiring the borrower to bring a lot more to closing than he or she was expecting. The lender wants to ensure that all real estate taxes are paid in advance so no tax lien gets filed on the property. This is very common, but not often explained by the loan officer ahead of time, thereby falling on the closing attorney to break the “bad news.”

Mortgage Escrows

All lenders are now requiring that borrowers establish an escrow account for the payment of real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and mortgage insurance (if lower than 20% down payment). The escrow account is like an insurance policy to ensure that real estate taxes, insurance and PMI is paid by the homeowner. The escrow account will typically be funded with up to 3-4 months of payments in advance, paid at closing. Some lenders will allow for a waiver of the escrow account, but often with an increase in the interest rate.

____________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. They can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

{ 0 comments }

Tips For Massachusetts Real Estate Cash Buyers & Sellers

As Yogi Berra once humorously said, “cash is just as good as money.”

This is especially true in real estate transactions where a cash buyer is often perceived as better and less risky than a mortgage financed buyer. (Please note that we often encourage buyers to obtain a conventional mortgage where possible given the federal tax benefits through the mortgage interest deduction and also because of the low interest rates available).

What Is A Cash Buyer?

The term cash buyer means a buyer who plans to buy real estate without using a mortgage. The term can also apply to a buyer who plans on using a mortgage, but doesn’t plan on using a mortgage contingency with the purchase contract. (This carries significant financial risk, which we typically do not recommend except for rare instances).

Cash Deals On The Rise In Mass. and U.S.

Massachusetts cash real estate transactions have risen considerably in the last few years, as reported by the Boston Globe. Cash sales accounted for a surprising 34% of all Massachusetts residential real estate transactions in 2011, according to data provided by the Warren Group. According to the Globe, cash buyers include baby boomers downsizing to Boston condominiums with profits from the sales of their suburban houses, well-off parents purchasing homes for college-age children, and investors seeking discounted properties they can rent or sell. They are turning to cash for various reasons, including tighter lending guidelines that have made mortgages less attractive, dwindling bank financing for investment properties, and a volatile stock market that has sent people looking for other places to put their money.

Frequently Asked Questions For Cash Transactions

If you are a cash buyer, or considering selling to one, you may ask whether the transaction will proceed the same way as in a mortgage based transaction and whether there are any other special considerations involved. The short answer is that the transaction, for the most part, will proceed in the same manner, and often with a shorter time-frame than a mortgage financed deal, but there are a few special considerations that a cash buyer needs to be aware of, which I’ll outline below.

Do I Need A Real Estate Agent?

Absolutely. A cash buyer needs a real estate agent for the same reasons a financed buyer needs one. Those reasons include market knowledge and savvy; skilled negotiation; being a critical liaison between the parties; and keeping the transaction and all the players on target for a successful closing. Plus, as with all transactions in Massachusetts, including cash, the seller, not the buyer, pays for the real estate commission.

Do I Need A Real Estate Attorney?

Yes, it’s not only the smart choice but it’s the law. Massachusetts law now provides that only licensed attorneys can conduct real estate closings. In mortgage backed transactions, the lender will assign a closing attorney (who is often the same attorney working for the buyer) to close the transaction. With a cash transaction, however, there’s no lender, and thus, no lender appointed closing attorney to rely on. So a cash buyer must select his or her own attorney to close the transaction.

A cash buyer’s attorney will act as the closing attorney and legal “quarterback” on the deal, having the ultimate responsibility for the vast majority of legal work on the transaction. Here is an outline of all the responsibilities which will fall upon the attorney for a cash buyer:

  • Reviewing and editing the draft Purchase and Sale Agreement (“P&S”)
  • Drafting a “Rider” to the P&S to provide additional protections to the Buyer
  • Negotiating the P&S with the Seller’s attorney
  • Keeping the Buyer updated throughout the negotiations
  • Advising the Buyer about the provisions in the P&S
  • For condominiums, reviewing the condominium documents, including the Master Deed, the Declaration of Trust, and the Operating Budget
  • Conducting a 50 year title exam;
  • Ordering the Municipal Lien Certificate and Seller’s Payoff Statement(s)
  • Reviewing the 6(d) Certificate, Smoke Cert and Unit Deed
  • Preparing the HUD Settlement Statement
  • Procuring an Owner’s Policy of Title Insurance and Declaration of Homestead
  • Preparing Documents for Closing
  • Conducting the Closing;
  • Receiving and Disbursing Funds at Closing
  • Conducting final title run-down then recording the Deed, MLC and Homestead.
  • Post closing issues: mortgage discharge tracking, payment of outstanding real estate taxes

Without an attorney, the cash buyer is simply lost. I would never recommend that the buyer hire the same attorney who is representing the seller. Not only is this a huge conflict of interest, but the seller’s attorney allegiance will rest with the seller, not the buyer.

Do I Need Title Insurance?

As we always recommend, yes! There are two types of title insurance policies: lender’s and owner’s. In a cash transaction, there will be no lender’s policy, and the owner should always opt to obtain an owner’s  owner’s title insurance policy. We’ve written extensively about owner’s title insurance here. It’s especially important in this day of paperwork irregularities with mortgage assignments and discharges, robo-signing, and botched foreclosures.

When Do I Need That Cash Again?

As with all transactions in Massachusetts, a cash buyer will put down between $500 – $1,000 with the Offer and 5% of the purchase price with the signing of the purchase and sale agreement. With no mortgage lender involved, the cash buyer must realize that at the closing they must have liquid funds for the remaining “cash to close” (usually hundreds of thousands) in the form of a cashier’s check or bank check at the closing. Accordingly, the cash buyer must make all investment withdrawals, transfers and receipt of gift funds well in advance of the closing date. Since cash deals proceed much quicker than financed deals, my advice to cash buyers is to have all necessary cash in hand and in a no-risk account when the purchase and sale agreement is signed. Don’t stick your cash in some stock fund which crashes weeks before the closing.

What Happens If I Have Second Thoughts or Don’t Have Enough Cash To Close?

This is where the cash buyer is at more risk than the mortgage financed buyer who has the benefit of a mortgage contingency. If the mortgage buyer cannot obtain financing within the agreed upon deadline, he can opt out of the deal with no penalty. By contrast, after signing the standard purchase and sale agreement, the cash buyer is locked in to going forward with the deal with little, if any, wiggle room to get out. Generally, if the cash buyer has to default, he will lose his deposit (5% of the purchase price). So for any cash buyer, make sure you don’t get any buyer’s remorse!

Best of luck on your Massachusetts cash real estate purchase

_____________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. and Marc Canner, Esq. are experienced Massachusetts real estate cash buyer’s attorneys. They can be reached by email at info@titlehub.com or 508-620-5352.

{ 2 comments }

computer-searchAll of the Massachusetts registries of deeds now offer free online document search capabilities. The main portal for most registries is www.masslandrecords.com operated by the Secretary of State’s Office. Other registries have their own systems.

Here is a handy list of all registries liked to their online search portals:

Here is the link to the Massachusetts Registry of Deeds County Map to determine in which county your town is located.

How To Search Masslandrecords

1. By Name/Basic

In the basic search form, you input the property owner’s last name and first name and hit search. For common names, this will often generate too many names results as the search function is not limited to town.

2. By Name/Advanced

In the basic search form, click the Advanced button on the right side. The search will expand to the screenshot above. This is the optimal search method as you can limit the search by town and document type. I usually leave the search on “all document types.”

3.  By Book and Page

Massachusetts Registry of Deeds documents are organized by “book and page.” Before electronic records, land records were recorded in actual thick book volumes. The “book” reference refers to the volume number and the page refers to the page number. Each recorded instrument has its own unique book and page reference at the top of the document’s first page. Even with the proliferation of electronic records, the book and page reference is still in operation in Massachusetts.

4. By Property Address


A newer functionality, you can also search by street address. In my experience, however, the results are often inaccurate so I would not rely on this search method.

Search In Action

So, let’s give this a try. Find your registry where you live. Use the Registry County Map if you don’t know. In the basic search form, click advanced. Input your first and last name and click your town in the drop down menu. Press Search. Voilá, there’s a list of all recorded instruments on your title. For viewing and printing, click any of the documents. The details will appear on the right side of the search page. Click View Images and the image will appear in a new window. You can print from there.

Please note that the above is not a substitute from a full title exam by a qualified title examiner and should not be relied upon for any purchase, sale or refinance transactions. A statutory title certification covers a 50 year period and also checks bankruptcy and probate records.

Feel free to email me with any questions!

______________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need assistance with a Massachusetts purchase or sale transaction.

{ 5 comments }

Six Year Litigation Odyssey Ends With $872,000 Payout

After six years of litigation over a deceptive bait-and-switch condominium purchase scheme, a Cambridge couple has forced the listing broker in the deal to pay them $872,000 in compensation. The case is Oleg Batishchev v. Brenda Cote and others (click to download).

The case started in 2005, after the first time home buyers paid $683,385 for a condominium unit from Perception Ventures LLC. The couple believed they were buying a newly renovated unit on the right side of the building. Victimized by what the trial judge called a “preposterous fraud,” the developer, the listing broker and the seller’s attorney tricked them into buying a unit on the left side of the building which was beset with such substantial and egregious workmanship defects as to render it virtually uninhabitable.

After a two week jury trial by Attorneys John Miller and Jonathan W. Fitch of the Boston firm Sally & Fitch, the developer and his agents were held liable under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 93A. The case dragged on through two appeals, and was finally concluded with the payment of $872,000 from the listing broker.

The couple had previously settled with the sellers’ lawyers for $150,000 and, following a one week jury trial on damages, had also received a damage award of more than $425,000 against their own closing attorney for her malpractice.

What troubles me most about this case is that the attorneys got caught up in this scheme, either intentionally (in the case of the seller’s attorney) or by failing to recognize the shenanigans going on (in the case of the buyers’ attorney). The lesson to be learned is that if there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For more information about the case, read Sally & Fitch’s press release here.

______________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Litigation Attorney who has litigated hundreds of cases in the Massachusetts Land and Superior Courts. For further information you can contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

{ 0 comments }

Massachusetts Plot Plan

Plot Plans, also called Mortgage Inspection Plans, were once part of every Massachusetts real estate purchase closing. These days, some lenders do not require them and I will tell you why in this post. However, despite the limitations of a plot plan, I think it’s a good idea for buyers to purchase a plot plan at closing. The typical cost of a plot plan is around $125.00 so it’s affordable.

While it is not nearly as accurate as a full instrument land survey, a plot plan will give the buyer a visual of the lot lines, the approximate location of the home and accessory structures, and any easements running through the land. Also, when you go to sell your property, a plot plan is helpful for prospective buyers to review as part of the marketing package.

What Is A Plot Plan?

A plot plan, also called a Mortgage Inspection Plan, confirms the following information:

  • Does the house or building, as well as accessory structures (pools, sheds, etc), conform to the local setback zoning by-laws?
  • Does the house or building, as well as accessory structures, fall within the FEMA flood hazard zone (which would require flood insurance)?
  • Are there any building encroachments?
  • Are there any recorded easements running through the property?

In addition to answering these questions, a plot plan includes helpful reference information such as the deed book and page numbers, property plan numbers, land court plan numbers (if applicable), assessor map and lot numbers and F.E.M.A. rate map numbers. This information can be very helpful to the homeowner and a potential buyer as well.

How Is A Plot Plan Prepared?

It is important to point out that a plot plan is NOT a land survey, and is not prepared using standard instrument survey instruments. A plot plan is prepared using visual inspection and measuring tapes only. A physical inspection of the dwelling’s exterior is made, with tape measurements to show the approximate location of the dwelling. The preparer will review the recorded deed and plan(s) obtained at the Registry of Deeds or town offices to determine the lot configuration. Information from the field is merged with record information to create a drawing of the property (the plot plan) and the approximate location of the dwelling on the lot. The flood zone is determined. A quality review performed by Professional Land Surveyor.

The accuracy of a plot plan is usually within two to three feet. The field work involved in preparing the Mortgage Inspection Plan does not include the setting of property line stakes. Therefore, although tape measurements are sufficient to make zoning and flood hazard determinations, the plan should not be used as a substitute for a “Building Permit Plot Plan” or to determine property lines. A plot plan cannot be used as a substitute for a full instrument land survey.

What is Not Provided by a Mortgage Plot Plan?

As stated before, a plot plan has its limitations, which is a reason cited by lenders for not requiring them, such as:

  • No representation is made as to the accuracy of the depicted property lines.
  • No attempt has been made to verify the boundary configuration or, typically, the mathematical correctness of the legal property description.
  • Property corners can not be located based on this type of plan, therefore no fences, hedge rows or other improvements can be determined or located.
  • The location of any improvements shown are approximate, and therefore any planned construction should not be based on the locations as shown.

What is a Certified Plot Plan, Boundary, Land or Instrument Survey?
An accurate instrument land survey involves the location of established monuments or survey control points, which are then mathematically tied in to the property being surveyed. This process utilizes sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment, and precisely locates both the property lines and the improvements on the property in relation to those property lines. The cost of a full instrument survey can range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the property. You can use a land survey for construction, Land Court, and Registry of Deeds plans.

How Do I Get A Plot Plan?

If your lender requires a plot plan at closing — check your Good Faith Estimate or closing cost worksheet — it will order one for you and you’ll have it at closing. If your lender does not require a plot plan, speak to your closing attorney and they will gladly order one for you!

______________________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need assistance with a Massachusetts purchase or sale transaction.

{ 1 comment }

images-13Compliance Concerns Unwarranted

Electronic signature technology has been quickly gaining steam throughout the U.S. real estate community, and has now arrived in earnest in Massachusetts. Electronic signature software lets you send legally binding documents and get signatures anytime, anywhere from any Internet-connected device. It’s mostly used in Massachusetts on Offers and Purchase and Sale Agreements. I’ve been using DocuSign, and with a little learning curve, it’s been fantastic.

Realtors and attorneys who use electronic signature software can simply email encrypted contracts to their clients for signatures, rather than deal with travel, signing 4 original copies, and coordinating all the signatures. It’s especially helpful for out of state clients.

The Massachusetts real estate industry, traditionally conservative and slower to adopt new technology, has been lagging behind more progressive states such as California when it comes to adopting electronic signature technology. Plus, it hasn’t helped that technologically challenged attorneys are often involved in the drafting of the purchase and sale agreement.

In my informal survey of Realtors, the biggest questions were (1) are electronically signed contracts legal and valid, (2) how does it work: and (3) will lenders accept them?

Are Electronic Signatures Valid For Massachusetts Real Estate Contracts?

The answer is yes. Under the Massachusetts Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), real estate contracts which are electronically signed in compliance with the law are legal and valid.

Electronic signature legislation was adopted over 10 years ago. In 2000, Congress enacted the E-SIGN law which validates certain contracts in electronic form and electronic signatures across the country. In 2004, Massachusetts adopted its UETA, codified in Mass. General Laws Chapter 100G, which is essentially adopts and updates the federal E-SIGN law. Lawmakers designed UETA and E-Sign to recognize that “a signature, contract, or other record relating to a transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.” The Massachusetts UETA provides, simply, that “In a legal proceeding, evidence of a record or signature may not be excluded solely because it is in electronic form.”

For offers and purchase and sale agreements, I have formulated the following rider provision to ensure electronic signature validity and enforceability. Feel free to use it.

This Agreement may be executed by and through electronic signature technology which is in compliance with Massachusetts law governing electronic signatures, including but not limited to, DocuSign®.  Electronic signatures shall be considered as valid and binding as original, wet signatures.  Signatures, originally signed by hand, but transmitted via e-mail or fax shall also be deemed valid and binding original signatures.

How Does It Work?

There are several electronic signature systems out there, including EchoSign, eOriginal, and DocuSign, which I use. All three providers warrant full compliance with federal E-SIGN and state UETA law and their European counterparts.

Since I’ve been using DocuSign, here is a quick video overview how it works.

As the individual requesting that a document be DocuSigned, you control who signs by providing the signer’s email address and other contact information. The document is routed to the signer’s email with a request to sign. DocuSign records the signer’s IP address and a time stamp of the signing activity. In addition, a signer can opt to provide geo-location information at the time of signing. If you require deeper levels of identity management, DocuSign offers additional authentication options, including: access code, knowledge-based ID check and biometric phone identification, among others.

As you can see, in many respects, an electronically signed contract is more secure and less susceptible to fraud and forgery than a traditional “wet” signature.

Are Lenders Accepting Electronically Signed Contracts?

Most are now. In fact, starting in 2012, FHA and the IRS will formally allow electronic signatures on loan and tax documents. However, I hear that some short sale lenders are still requiring wet signatures.

This is always the problem with adopting new technology. It’s disappointing because electronic signatures have been legal and valid for 10 years now. The law was passed by Congress and now all the states. As more and more agents and attorneys embrace the technology, we will see objections falling by the wayside, just as we did with faxed signatures.

Agents, are you using electronic signatures, and if so, how has it helped your business and clients? Have you run into issues or objections from lenders or attorneys?

_________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate closing attorney who’s handled over 1,000 closings. Please contact him if you need legal assistance purchasing residential or commercial real estate.

{ 6 comments }

Realtors, are you using the most current contingencies and language in your Offers? Do you know the most current Fannie Mae/FHA condo rules and how they will impact your condo sale? Want to know the latest on the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez ruling and the foreclosure title mess? How can you avoid last minute crises? All these questions and more will be answered in our upcoming free webinar.

One Hour Complementary Webinar: An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure: Strategies & Teamwork To Avoid Deal Disasters

November 1, 2011, starting at 11:00am EST.

Presented by: Richard Vetstein, Esq. and Marc Canner, Esq. of TitleHub Closing Services and Brian Cavanaugh of MetLife Loans.

Click Here To Register

Facebook Event Invite Here

Topics Include:

1. Must Have Language For Your Offers
a. Fannie/FHA condo compliance
b. Realistic deadlines
c. Beyond the standard contingencies

2. Early Lending Intervention
a. Coordinating with Mortgage Partners
b. Pre-quals and pre-approvals
c. Current underwriting concerns

3. The Attorney’s Role: Purchase and Sale Agreement
a. Common Pitfalls & Solutions
b. New buyer rider provisions
c. Ibanez Foreclosure Title Issues

4. Dealing with 11th Hour Problems
a. Extensions for financing
b. Title issues & title insurance
c. Use and occupancy agreements

{ 0 comments }

images-10The deed is the cornerstone of property ownership in Massachusetts and throughout the country. In Massachusetts, there are three types of deeds: a quitclaim deed, a warranty deed, and a release deed. By far the most common deed used in Massachusetts is the quitclaim deed (scroll down for example below), and I’ll focus on that in this post.

Quitclaim Deed Covenants

The quitclaim deed is by far the most common and standard form of deed for Massachusetts residential real estate conveyances. Quitclaim deeds in Massachusetts are similar to “special warranty deeds” in other states. A quitclaim deed carries with it statutory quitclaim covenants by the seller as provided in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183, § 17: “The grantor, for himself, his heirs, executors, administrators and successors, covenants with the grantee, his heirs, successors and assigns, that the granted premises are free from all encumbrances made by the grantor, and that he will, and his heirs, executors, administrators and successors shall, warrant and defend the same to the grantee and his heirs, successors and assigns forever against the lawful claims and demands of all persons claiming by, through or under the grantor, but against none other”.

Taking Title

How would you like to take title? This is an important question that buyers must consider. For single individuals, there really is no choice. You take title individually. For married couples, there are three choices: (1) tenancy by the entirety, (2) joint tenants with rights of survivorship, or (3) tenants in common.

Tenancy by the Entirety

This is often the best choice for married couples, and only husband and wife can benefit from this type of ownership. In a tenancy by the entirety form of ownership, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse succeeds to full ownership of the property, by-passing probate. By law, tenants by the entirety share equally in the control, management and rights to receive income from the property. Property cannot be “partitioned” or split in a tenancy by the entirety. A tenancy by the entirety also provides some creditor protection in case one spouse gets into financial distress as creditors cannot lien the non-debtor spouse’s interest in the property. In the example, below you can see how the Obamas take title as tenants by the entirety.

Joint Tenants

Like tenants by the entirety, a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship provide that the surviving spouse or joint tenant automatically succeeds to ownership, by-passing probate. You don’t have to be married to create a joint tenancy. These are common when siblings share property or as between elderly parents and their children. Unlike a tenancy by the entirety, joint tenants can “partition” or split ownership of the property through a court process.

Tenants in Common

The least used type of ownership, in a tenancy in common, there is no right of survivorship. So when a tenant in common passes, their interest goes to their surviving heirs and the property must be probated for further sale or mortgage. Most folks want to avoid probate like the plague. Like a joint tenancy, a tenancy in common can be split or “partitioned” by court order.

Purchase Price

All deeds must recite the consideration or purchase price paid. So if you are looking to hide the amount you paid for your home, forget about it. The purchase price is also used to calculate deed/transfer taxes due the seller which is $4.56 per $1,000. For more info about deed/transfer taxes read I Have To Pay Tax On Selling My Home?!

Legal Description

Every deed must adequately describe the property conveyed. In the diagram below, you can see the formal legal description called a “metes and bounds” description. This will often reference a plan of the land recorded with the registry of deeds or reference markers on the property such as stone walls, surveyor points, etc. The deed may also recite easements, restrictions, covenants or takings on the property. It will also recite the last prior deed to track ownership.

Drafting, Fees, Notaries, Etc.

In Massachusetts, local practice is for the seller’s attorney to draft the deed. The registry of deeds charges a fee of $125 to record the deed which the buyer pays. All deeds must be notarized by a notary public who must verify the sellers’ identification through a state issued driver’s license or acceptable form of identification. The notary must also confirm that the sellers are signing the deed voluntarily by their own free act and will. Once the closing is finished, the closing attorney will courier the deed to the registry of deeds, perform a final title run-down, and record the deed, mortgage and other documents. The sale is then official!

Massachusetts Deed Example

{ 3 comments }

What happens if the property you have under agreement is wiped out by a tornado, burns down or is otherwise subject to a casualty?

Yesterday’s horrific tornadoes — which leveled parts of Springfield and Central Massachusetts — demonstrate the power and fury of Mother Nature and how little control we have over natural disasters. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the tornadoes….

The tornadoes were also a stark reminder to me that an extremely important part of my job as a real estate attorney is disaster planning. Although most buyers and Realtors don’t like to think pessimistically (and neither do I), we always have to plan ahead for the worst case scenario.

Which bring us to the topic of this post. What happens if the property you have under agreement is wiped out by a tornado, burns down or is otherwise subject to a casualty?

The Standard Form Casualty & Insurance Provisions

Let’s start with the basic concept that the buyer does not own the property until the closing occurs, money is exchanged and the deed/mortgage is recorded with the registry of deeds. The purchase and sale agreement is there to govern the parties’ relationship and the property from the time the offer is signed until the closing. The seller retains ownership and control over the property during this period of “under agreement.”

Seller Must Keep Property Insured

The standard form Massachusetts purchase and sale agreement contains two important provisions dealing with homeowner’s insurance and casualty. First, the standard form provides that the seller must keep the existing homeowner’s insurance coverage in place. A good buyer’s attorney will insert language that the “risk of loss” remains with the seller until the transaction closes, to ensure that if a tornado levels the home, that loss is the seller’s responsibility.

Opt Out/Election

Second, the standard form spells out what happens if there is a casualty. If the house is deemed a causualty loss, the buyer has the option of terminating the agreement and receiving his deposit monies back. However, the buyer has the option of proceeding with the transaction and can require the Seller to assign over to the buyer all of the insurance monies available. Depending on the amount of coverage available and the cost to re-built, this may not be a bad situation, but it’s the buyer’s call.

As a “belt and suspenders” measure, I also add the following provision to my purchase and sale rider to ensure that the buyer is protected in case of a disaster:

Notwithstanding any provisions of this Agreement to the contrary, in the event that the dwelling and/or other improvements to the Premises are destroyed or substantially damaged by fire or other casualty prior to the delivery of the deed, the cost to repair which exceeds $10,000.00, BUYER may, at BUYER’S option, terminate this Agreement by written notice to SELLER, whereupon all deposits made hereunder shall be forthwith refunded, all obligations of the parties hereto shall cease, and this Agreement shall become null and void without further recourse to the parties hereto.

Although natural disasters are rare, a certain amount of disaster planning must be done for every Massachusetts real estate transaction. Think of a real estate attorney as part of your insurance policy to protect you in a worst case scenario.

{ 1 comment }

Real Time Analytics