Real Estate Taxes

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.

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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.

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mortgage-interest-deductionBoon for Massachusetts Homeowners

More good news for Massachusetts homeowners coming out of Congress’ late night passing of the Fiscal Cliff Bill. The mortgage interest tax deduction — which was reportedly on the Congressional chopping block — was untouched by Congress, leaving it in place. This is huge for the middle class, and especially for house-poor Massachusetts homeowners who tend to have larger mortgages than the rest of the country.

Congress also extended the tax deduction for private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments through December 31, 2013. Homeowners who were not able to put 20% down must typically pay for private mortgage insurance which protects lenders in case of a borrower default. PMI payments remain tax deductible for 2013 under the Fiscal Cliff bill, providing another tax break for Massachusetts homeowners.

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100316_photo_vetstein (2)Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate attorney who writes frequently about new legislation concerning the real estate industry. He can be reached at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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January in the real estate industry is typically the time for the new year market outlook. For this coming year many of us have seen the template on the macro-economic data which most impacts the real estate industry: 8.5 % unemployment in the latest report, 30 year mortgage rates at record lows at or below 4.0%, and 15 year mortgage rates at or below 3.25%.

Rather than run a standard metrics-based market forecast this year, I decided to survey a cross-section of Massachusetts real estate realtors and mortgage professionals to hear from them on the upcoming spring and the 2012 real estate market in its entirety. Overall, each of the real estate professionals I contacted were optimistic. They tend to see the low interest rates and improving economy as the drivers of a busy 2012 housing market. Thus, here is a compendium of professionals I surveyed:

“I am optimistic that interest rates will remain low at least until the presidential elections. The uncertainty that has constrained spending and lending will keep things from taking off until there is a clearer picture of what policies will be in place (intervention and regulation vs. deregulation and free markets).

The increasing debt woes of EU members creates short term demand for our mortgage bonds and treasuries which drives down interest rates. This won’t be fixed overnight.

The housing collapse hangover continues to cause problems. The economy and in particular the housing market is still too weak to suffer increased interest rates. Rates will remain low until the cash on the sidelines is invested, employment improves and housing sees some recovery. The Fed has shown that they will move to buy mortgage backed securities and treasuries if we see rates start to rise and I can’t see them sitting on their hands if rates rise and threaten to derail this slow economic recovery.

This is an incredible time to buy a home with prices low and the cost of money so low as well.”

–Loan Officer, Bank of Canton, Boston, Brookline and Route 128 suburbs

 “I expect the 2012 real estate market in the greater Boston area to be stable. Overall, buyers will continue to have the upper hand but I don’t think we are going to see any precipitous drop in either sales prices or the number of sales. If interest rates remain low it continues to be a good time to get into the market knowing that you are getting in somewhere close to the bottom.”

–Realtor, Keller Williams, Cambridge,

 “As we embark on the new year there are many reasons to be optimistic. Rates are expected to remain at all time lows for the next 12 months and there is plenty of inventory for home buyers. More importantly, we are starting to see better listing prices from sellers who are clearly more realistic about what to expect. Contrary to what the media would have consumers believe, there is plenty of financing available for qualified buyers – and it doesn’t always require 20% down. First time buyers are surprised to see how affordable it is to own their own home, and with programs available with as little as 3% down and no PMI I expect to see a big surge in this demographic.”

–Loan Officer, Fairway Mortgage, Route 128 Suburbs

 “I see a slow start to the Spring, but a steady stream of inventory equal to purchasers. The best place to be is in a move-up, as buyers will find a greater gain on their more expensive home in spite of possibly losing a bit on the sale side. It seems that there are more foreclosures on the horizon with stable amounts of short sales, another way for a buyers to make immediate gains. Buyers will still dictate values, relative to condition and inventory. The mortgage guidelines have become stricter, so getting a pre-approval from a reputable lender is increasingly important. Sellers should request to see one immediately from a prospective buyer and buyers should be educated about the borrowing and the buying process.”

–Realtor, Realty Executives, Framingham,

 “I have an above normal number of pre-approvals for January.  I’m starting to see movement in the market.  A lot of high-end buyers.”

–Loan Officer, Citizens Bank, Route 128 Suburbs,

“Brookline real estate should receive a spike upwards during the spring market like it always does. It looks like the economy has improved slightly which could also help the confidence of the buyers.”

–Realtor, Coldwell Banker, Brookline

 “I see purchases up 40% for the year, and refinances down slightly.”

–Loan Officer, Mortgage Network, Route 128 Suburbs

 “With 2011 now behind us, real estate agents and others related to the housing industry are hoping that 2012 will bring a significant improvement to the number of units sold and at least stabilization, if not an increase in the median sales price.”

2011 ended with a nice up-tick in sales according to the National Association of Realtors, however, sales remain depressed, as are several of the realtors I spoke with in the Metrowest and Central Massachusetts areas. Central Mass, in particular, seems to have borne the brunt of the home sales price reductions and sales lag. Unit sales within the Route 128 belt have held up nicely, although many homes have experienced a 5-10% appraised value drop, year over year.

Interest rates have held steady at near record lows. While this is good news for first-time home-buyers and relocating workers, as home affordability is better than at any time in recent memory, many sellers are frustrated.

As home prices continue to drop, more sellers are finding themselves with little or no equity in their homes.  This not only makes them reluctant to price their home to market and sell quickly, for many of them, current rules on Loan to Value, are making them unable to take advantage of today’s low interest rates and refinance.

So what will 2012 bring?  A slight improvement in unit sales, and perhaps a bottom in home prices (I hope!).  Here are my reasons for this conclusion:

  1. Job creation – Over the past several months, it appears that the job market is improving.  The Massachusetts unemployment rate dropped to 6.8% in December.
  2. Continued Low Interest Rates – While we may see an increase in 30 year fixed rates during the next couple of months, as the national economy shows signs of improvement, I do not expect a dramatic rise in rates.
  3. Helping Underwater Homeowners –
  4. Homebuilder Sentiment – Nationally, homebuilding company optimism is making a strong recovery.  Locally, several builders I have spoken with think 2012 will be their best year ever.  Prices may be down, but in many cases so are cost of materials and labor.

There are a few other reasons for optimism including an increase in household formation, as well as talk of programs to rent REO properties, which may help reduce vacant homes and stabilize prices.

–Loan Officer, Greenpark Mortgage, Metrowest and Worcester County

We have a lack of inventory in the greater Franklin area. More buyers and renters than properties on the market. A lot of sellers I talk to are waiting “until later in the year” to list. They need to get started on their preparations now because “later in the year” will be here before you know it!

–Realtor, Hallmark Sotheby’s, Franklin/495 Area

“I feel that the market will be very good for buyers and sellers this spring.

Buyer can take advantage of the great rates and prices. It’s a great time to upgrade to a bigger and better home. It’s also a great time to buy an investment property since rents are on the way up.

On the listing side we need more inventory since most of the homes on the market now are stale and overpriced. I’m a strong believer that if the home is priced well it will sell fast.”

–Realtor, Keller Williams Realty

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Marc E. Canner, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney with offices in Needham and Bedford, Mass. He is a principal of TitleHub Closing Services LLC and the Law Offices of Marc E. Canner.

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Benjamin Franklin once said famously that “the only certainties in life are death and taxes.” That’s certainly true in real estate practice. Today, I will go over how real estate passes when the owner dies  –  with a will or without a will – and how the probate process affects the real estate process.

Tenancy by the Entirety

Married couples in Massachusetts are recommended to hold real estate as “tenants by the entirety.” It’s a special form of joint tenancy for married couples. 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.

Death Without A Will—Intestacy Laws

Clients were often surprised to learn that when one spouse dies without a will, the law of intestacy in Massachusetts leaves a portion of the estate to the surviving spouse and a portion to the decedent’s children. This is changing as of January 2012 with Massachusetts’ adoption of the Uniform Probate Code. Under the “UPC,” if a spouse with children of the marriage dies, the surviving spouse gets the entire estate, including the marital home. If there’s no surviving “descendant,” or child, of the deceased, but a surviving parent of the deceased, the surviving spouse gets the first $200,000 of the estate, plus 75% of the balance of the estate. The laws of inheritance remain rather complicated to explain fully here. A good guide to the new Uniform Probate Code can be found here.

Death With A Will — Testate

The basic rule is that if the owner dies with a will, which includes a power to sell real estate, the executor or administrator of the estate is generally authorized to convey title without further authority from the probate court. If the will does not provide for a power of sale, the executor will have to obtain a license to sell from the probate court.  If a final account has been filed and allowed, the heirs (in the case of an intestacy) or devisees (in the case of a will) are able to convey title.

Missing Probates

If the title examination turns up an interest that is not accounted for by a probate, and the death of the interested party occurred less than 25 years ago, a probate may need to be opened to convey the property. Deaths over 25 years old where a special affidavit has been filed, may pass without probate.

Federal & Massachusetts Estate Tax Liens

A federal and state estate tax lien arises immediately upon death and attaches at the time of death to the gross estate of the decedent. The gross estate includes all property, wherever situated, that the decedent owned or in which the decedent had an interest at the time of death. The threshold for federal gross estates for 2011 and 2012 is $5 Million for an individual and $10 Million for a couple. The Massachusetts estate threshold remains at $1 Million. For estates below those amounts, the executor must merely file a simple Affidavit of No Estate Tax Due. Estates over the thresholds must file the more complicated release of lien from the Department of Revenue which requires the filing of a full estate tax return.

Bought A House? Get A Will!

Julie Ladimer, Esq.

Danielle Van Ess

After every closing, I always have a chat with my new buyers about setting up a will and other estate planning vehicles. It’s very important on all fronts. For those in the MetroWest area, I recommend Julie McQuade Ladimer, Esq. of Framingham (email: jml@michaelgatlinlaw.com; Tel: (508) 788-0028. For those on the South Shore, I recommend Danielle Van Ess, Esq. in Hingham (email: info@dgvelaw.com; Tel: 781.740.0848. Both are very good and well regarded estate planning attorneys.

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

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220px-OldSuffolkCoCtThe Real Estate Specialty Court

Established in 1898 and still staffed with only a handful of judges, the Massachusetts Land Court is the smallest of all the Massachusetts trial courts. But for real estate practitioners, it is the most important court in the Commonwealth.

The Land Court is known for its real estate expertise, and is the starting place for almost all foreclosures. Its judges, most of whom were practicing real estate attorneys, are widely regarded as experts in the intricacies of Massachusetts real estate law. Indeed, the diminutive Land Court has recently been at the forefront of national foreclosure law with Judge Keith Long’s seminal decision in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez which made national front page news for several days.

Registered Land

The Land Court was originally established to oversee the Massachusetts land registration system. Approximately 15-20% of all property in Massachusetts is registered land. Non-registered land is referred to as recorded land.

The purpose of the registered land system — modeled after the Australian Torrens system — is to make land titles as clear and defect-free as possible. To register land, property owners have to go through a fairly rigorous process where a land court title examiner searches and certifies title and a formal plan of the land is approved. All defects and title issues are fully vetted and resolved, if possible, and upon registration, the land is deemed free of defects except noted by the examiner, including claims of adverse possession.

Registered land is freely transferable, and there is no discernible difference in examining title to registered land, other than recording which involves a few more steps than non-registered land.

Foreclosures

The Land Court is widely known as the starting point for the vast majority of foreclosures in Massachusetts. Although Massachusetts is considered a “non-judicial” foreclosure state — that is, where a mortgage holder does not need a court order to foreclosure — the state has held onto the U.S. Soldier’s and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act which gives military members protections against foreclosure. In Massachusetts, mortgage holders bring a “Soldier’s and Sailor’s Act” proceeding in the Land Court to ensure that the property owner is not an active military member. Once the Land Court issues a judgment, the foreclosure can move forward. A Soldier’s and Sailor’s proceeding is not the forum in which to challenge a foreclosure. A homeowner needs to file a separate lawsuit in Superior Court or Land Court to do so.

Quiet Title, Partition and Title Disputes

In the last 20 years, lawmakers have widely expanded the Land Court’s jurisdiction to hear types of cases. Today, the Land Court regularly hears cases involving zoning and subdivision appeals, quiet title and actions to try title, disputes involving mortgage priorities, tax takings, adverse possession, real estate contract disputes, petitions to partition, and more. I do most of my litigation work in the Land Court’s civil session.

Strategically, certain cases are better off in the Land Court and vice-versa. An important distinction with Land Court is that there are no jury trials. Thus, if you want a jury trial, the case should be filed in Superior Court, not Land Court. For cases which are based on the interpretation of contractual language or complex real estate legal issues, Land Court is probably a good choice. For cases which have an “emotional” component and less complex, a Superior Court jury session is probably the better choice.

New Permitting Session

Most recently, in 2007, the Legislature created a special Land Court permitting session to hear zoning and subdivision appeals for larger projects involving over 25 units or over 25,000 square feet of gross floor area. With the goal to expedite zoning disputes which have roadblocked development, cases in the new session will be assigned to a single judge for the life of the case and will be assigned one of three expedited tracks. For the first time, these tracks provide deadlines for both getting to trial (ranging from six to 12 months) and for receiving a decision after trial or summary judgment (ranging from two months to four months).

Land Court decisions aren’t widely available, but recent rulings can be found here.

If you have a complicated real estate dispute, your attorney should always seriously consider bringing the claim in the Land Court where the judge will understand the issues and keep tight control over the case.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Land Court Attorney who has litigated numerous cases in the Massachusetts Land Court. For further information you can contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “There is nothing certain in life but death and taxes.” And this is most certainly true for real estate taxes in Massachusetts which continue to rise despite declining home values.

As reported in the Boston Globe today:

Despite dropping home values, Massachusetts property tax bills continued to rise last year. Revenue-hungry cities and towns, looking for money to pay for new buildings and to maintain services, have continued to push up local taxes, often asking voters to approve property tax overrides even as real estate values drop further.

The double whammy of lower home values and higher taxes — a phenomenon that has hit Massachusetts homeowners for several years — frustrates taxpayers as they endure the rocky economy.

Massachusetts home values, after peaking in 2007, have dropped about 4.6% last year to an average of $373,702. Yet the average tax bill on a single-family home in fiscal 2010 increased about $140, a 3.3 % increase, according to figures released this month by the state Department of Revenue. The average tax bill for a single-family home was $4,390.

Taxpayers want to know why, and many have had enough. Part of the problem is that assessed values, which municipal assessors use to calculate real estate taxes, lag behind “true” market value. Rick Henderson, the assistant director of assessing in Dedham, points out that assessed values for fiscal 2010 are based on a home’s worth on Jan. 1, 2009, which was determined by home sales in 2008 in that community. A home’s actual value — different from its assessed value — might have declined significantly over the last two years, he said.

Taxpayers can file for an abatement to petition for a lower assessed value. Abatements are due within 30 days of the mailing of the tax bill, and are subject to very strict deadlines, so consult an experienced real estate attorney about an abatement.

The other problem is that local boards of assessors have consistently increased the municipal tax rates to bridge the shortfall in expected collections. For example, in Sudbury, the local assessors raised the residential tax rate from $14.27 in 2008, to $15.29 in 2009, to $16.08 in 2010. During the same period, average home assessed values dropped $33,000, so property taxes continued to rise. Proposition 2 1/2 does not limit the ability of assessors to increase tax rates; it only limits the aggregate tax levy brought in by a town. With the passage of local overrides of Prop 2 1/2, tax bills have increased dramatically in the last 10 years. In Sudbury, the average tax bill in 2000 was nearly $6,000. In 2010, it is $10,460–a 74% increase in 10 years time, or an average of 7.4% per year.

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