massachusetts closing attorney

Prospective real estate buyers tend to think of the “mortgage” as the contract they are signing with the bank. This is misleading. The promissory note is the actual contract to loan and borrow money between lender and borrower. The mortgage is the lender’s instrument, or more accurately, its security interest, to enforce that loan contract. This is an important distinction because, if for example, a couple purchases property or refinances, and the loan is taken out solely in the wife’s name, then lining up the correct parties on the signing documents becomes important. But before discussing how to properly configure the closing documents, it is important to understand the definitions.

The Deed

The deed is the legal instrument conveying an ownership interest of the property to a grantee (buyer). The deed is typically drafted by the seller’s attorney. It includes the grantor (seller), the grantee (buyer), the manner in which the buyer is taking title (the tenancy), the consideration (the amount of the purchase price), a legal description of the property, and a cite to the recording information of the prior deed. Click here for an example of a Massachusetts quitclaim deed.

The Promissory Note

The promissory note is the lending contract between the borrower and the lender. The note includes the name(s) of the borrower and the property address. It also includes the amount of the loan, the term (number of years), and the interest rate. The lender generates the note and uses a FannieMae/ Freddie Mac standard template which reflects that it is a uniform instrument. A typical note includes a provision of whether the loan is fixed or adjustable, contains a “no pre-payment fee” clause, and includes language that sets the deadline for the 15th of the month for the lender to receive payment (and sets out a late fee penalty). Click here for a standard form Fannie Mae promissory note.

The Mortgage

The mortgage is the lender’s security interest in the property. In Massachusetts, a “title state,” the borrower is conveying his ownership interest in the home to the lender, such interest would be exercised only in the event of default. Thus, the lender has a lien on the property, which gives it authority to foreclose in the event of continued non-payment. The mortgage is also a uniform instrument whose template is typically generated by the lender and designed and approved by the above-referenced government housing agencies. The only unique terms in the mortgage are the names of the borrowers, the property address and the exhibit which provides a legal description of the property. The rest of the mortgage is standard, providing that the borrower agrees to keep the property insured and maintained, make it her primary residence (unless it’s an investment loan), and not to contaminate the property with hazardous waste, among other requirements. Click here for a sample Massachusetts Fannie Mae mortgage.

Thus, to return to our example, if husband and wife purchase a home and only wife is to be on the loan, then the grantees on the deed are husband and wife, reflecting their ownership interest in the property. The note will contain only the wife (since she alone is taking out the loan). The mortgage however must contain both owners of the property since this instrument tracks the deed. Thus, the husband and wife are both on the mortgage.

After the closing attorney explains the deed, mortgage and promissory note, there are a stack of other loan documents and disclosure to review. We’ve written posts about all the important ones:

Good luck with your closing!

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Attorney Marc E. Canner brings years of experience working closely with Buyers, Sellers, mortgage brokers, loan officers and realtors to provide expert counsel on closing residential real estate transactions. Marc is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Marc E. Canner and a founder of TitleHub Closing Services LLC.

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Annual Percentage Rate (APR), Amount Financed, Finance Charge, and Total Payments…the Truth In Lending Disclosure Statement is one of the most challenging disclosure forms to explain to borrowers at a Massachusetts real estate closing. I like to call it the “Confusion In Lending” Statement because the form is what happens when the government attempts to recalculate your interest rate and closing costs in a way most human beings would not even consider.

To explain the Truth In Lending Disclosure, we’ll use a dummy form for a $500,000 purchase transaction with a $400,000 loan (20% down payment), a 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.00% at a cost of 1 point.

Annual Percentage Rate

The confusion begins. The Annual Percentage Rate, or APR, as you can see is not 5.00%, which is the contract interest rate for the loan. Why? Because the APR does not use the loan amount for its calculations but rather the “Amount Financed.”

Amount Financed

And the confusion continues. The Amount Financed is not the $400,000 loan amount, but is about $6,600 less than the loan amount. That is because the Amount Financed equals the loan amount ($400,000) less prepaid loan and closing fees and payments. Fees included in the amount financed are: points, lender fees such as underwriting, process, tax service, mortgage insurance, escrow company fees, prepaid interest to end of closing month, and Homeowners Association fees. All of these fees are added up and subtracted from the loan amount to reach the Amount Financed figure. Note that depending on when the loan closes in the month, and fees from third parties such as escrow companies the Amount Financed will vary and therefore so will APR.

How The APR Is Calculated

Now that we have the Amount Financed, we can calculate the APR. For a 30 year fixed loan such as this, the true loan amount is amortized for the loan period using the interest rate. In our example $400,000 amortized for 30 years at 5.00% has a payment of $2,147.29 per month paying principal and interest.

To calculate the APR, we use the same payment –$2147.29 every month for 30 years– to pay off an Amount Financed of $393,372.22 (loan amount less costs) to reach an APR of 5.141%. So the APR is higher than the interest rate because the Amount Financed is lower than the loan amount for the same monthly payment and term.

ARMs–Adjustable Rate Mortgages

If you are taking out an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), you may as well just throw the Truth in Lending Disclosure out the window. The TIL is allowed to be based on the introductory interest rate through the entire life of the loan. Your adjustable rate mortgage, however, will reset its interest rate after 3, 5, 7, or 10 years depending on the type of product. There’s no way to predict where interest rates will be in the future, so the Truth in Lending Disclosure is inherently inaccurate for ARMs.

Explaining the Truth in Lending Disclosure is one of the many functions of a Massachusetts real estate closing attorney. In other states which aren’t required to use closing attorneys, they will not explain these complicated forms to you.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Closing Attorney. For further information you can contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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The “Standard Form”

In Massachusetts, buyers and sellers typically use the standard form purchase and sale agreement created by the Greater Boston Board of Real Estate. This form has been around since the late 1970’s and last updated in 1999–which might as well be 100 years ago in real estate life. Along with the standard form, attorneys for sellers and buyers customarily add specialized Riders to the agreement which modify the standard form and add contingencies particular to the deal.

A Vastly Changed Landscape

The legal and mortgage financing landscape has changed so much in the last few years, with Fannie Mae and regulatory agencies issuing a new policy what seems like every other week, and short sale and REO transactions becoming much more prevalent. With the recovering market and new appraisal guidelines, some homes are not appraising out. Moreover, lenders have tightened underwriting requirements considerably. As a result, borrowers have more difficulty qualifying for mortgage loans, it takes longer to get a loan commitment, and there are often delays in getting the loan “cleared to close.” All these changes in the real estate landscape require re-thinking of the standard form purchase and sale agreement and the associated riders.

As experienced Massachusetts real estate attorneys, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that we are on top of the latest changes in the Massachusetts and national real estate landscape, and have adapted our legal forms accordingly. I’ll go through 3 recent changes that I’ve adopted in my practice.

Low Appraisal Contingency

These days, appraisals are administered is a completely different fashion. New rules – the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) – hold appraisers to higher standards and sharply limit communication between appraisers and lenders. Mortgage professionals can no longer select their “hand-picked” appraiser now; there is basically a random lottery system to select the appraiser. The downside of this lottery is that the appraiser may not be very familiar with the town or neighborhood being appraised. So the appraisal may fall short of the agreed-upon selling price.

I always insist on this provision to protect a buyer against the risk of the property not appraising out.

Appraisal– The buyer’s obligations, hereunder, are contingent upon the BUYER’s lender obtaining an appraisal of the property in an amount at least equal to the purchase price of the premises.

What happens if the property doesn’t appraise for asking price? Sometimes you can ask for a second appraisal or bring different comparable sales to the appraiser’s attention and he can revise the appraisal. Sometimes, the parties must re-negotiate the purchase price. Talk to your lender and Realtor about the options. This provision, however, gives the buyer an “out” if a low appraisal cannot be overcome.

Condominium Fannie Mae Compliance

Tougher Fannie Mae and FHA condominium rules have made condo financing much more challenging. I add this clause to deal with this situation:

The Condominium, the Unit, and the Condominium Documents (including but not limited to the Master Deed and By-Laws/Trust) shall conform to the requirements of Federal National Mortgage Association (“FNMA” or “Freddie Mac”), Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) or Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“FHLMC”) or other secondary mortgage market investor, and shall otherwise be acceptable to BUYER’s mortgage lender.

Rate Lock Expirations

Delays happen. There may be a title problem which the seller needs a few days or weeks to correct. But what if your rate lock will expire and you are facing a higher interest rate loan? This provision protects the buyer in this situation:

MODIFICATION TO PARAGRAPH 10: Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Agreement, if SELLER extends this Agreement to perfect title or make the Premises conform as provided in Paragraph 10, and if BUYER’S mortgage commitment or rate lock would expire prior to the expiration of said extension, then such extension shall continue, at BUYER’S option, only until the date of expiration of BUYER’S mortgage commitment or rate lock.

There are many other contingencies and new provisions that I use, but I cannot give them all away!

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Attorney. For further information you can contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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After months in the making, I am very pleased to announce the roll-out of TitleHub Closing Services, LLC, a cutting-edge closing settlement service that uniquely provides a full platform of legal and technology-based services. TitleHub’s mission is to transform the convoluted real estate closing process into an easy, customer-focused and technologically enhanced experience. In collaboration with my colleague Marc Canner, Esq., we have created a company that we believe will serve as the model for the next generation of residential real estate title and closing services.

Buyers, sellers, realtor and lenders will “stay informed” and “stay connected” to their transactions through:

  • Our innovative, content-packed website (www.titlehub.com) which serves as a great informational resource.
  • Our “E-Closings” system. This is a secure on-line document management system that allows borrowers and real estate professionals unlimited real-time access to obtain status updates of their deals and the ability to upload and download key transactional documents (recorded condominium documents, executed Purchase and Sale Agreement, Good Faith Estimate, HUD-1 Settlement Statement, etc). Click here for more information.
  • Exclusive partnership with the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog.
  • Social media interaction. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Active Rain.
  • Seminar Series; We offer topical seminars to realtors and lenders to help them stay current with the complicated real estate legal landscape as well as seminars to learn new marketing, blogging, and social media techniques.
  • Paperless Solutions. We do have the ability to electronically record deeds and mortgages at registry of deeds which offer the service. In the future, we hope to be at the forefront of true e-closing paperless transactions, once there is broader lender and regulatory acceptance.

If you are a realtor or mortgage professional interested in TitleHub’s platform, please contact us at info@titlehub.com, and we’ll give you a demonstration.

The TitleHub Leadership Team
Marc E. Canner, Esq., President/CEO
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq., Vice President and Director of Marketing
Patrick T. Maddigan, Esq., Director of Operations & Business Development

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images-13An excited young couple about to close on their first home walk into into the closing attorney’s office. The day before they received via secure email all of the loan documents to review and approve with their personal attorney. The closing attorney arrives without any paper, armed only with a laptop attached to a digital signature pad. The sellers are not present as they have already signed the deed and other documents electronically the day before over the secure electronic closing system. The couple quickly review the closing documents on the attorneys’ laptop, clicking an “I Agree” button acknowledging receipt and review of each document. The couple sign the digital signature pad, and the captured signatures are automatically applied to all of the signature blocks of the documents. The closing attorney electronically notarizes all documents requiring witnessing or notarization. The closing is over in 15 minutes, and the couple walks out with a CD-ROM containing all the signed closing documents and the keys to their new home. The closing attorney then electronically records the deed and mortgage with the registry of deeds, funds the loan, and makes all of the disbursements. The executed loan documents are then electronically transmitted to the lender and digitally archived.

This is not an imaginary scenario. Electronic closings (e-closings) are happening now, and they are the future of real estate conveyancing. I believe that electronic closings will change the way lenders, title companies and closing attorneys do business.

The advantages of an e-closing system are numerous and include:

  • More convenient and efficient closing process for home buyers and sellers.
  • Automated delivery of electronically signed loan documents directly to post closing – eliminating costs and time. Fund the loans faster, in as little as 48 hours.
  • Drastically improve the efficiency of real estate transactions with reduced contract-to-closing times.
  • The Green Factor: Eliminates thousands of paper documents. Buyers receive the entire signed closing package on CD.
  • Reduce shipping and closing costs.

Electronic closings are very slowly moving into Massachusetts. (Attorneys, who must conduct most real estate closings in Massachusetts, are notorious late adopters of new technology). Since July, without much fanfare, the Middlesex Registry of Deeds in Cambridge, Hampden County Registry in Springfield, and Plymouth Registry of Deeds have adopted electronic recording capabilities. Hopefully, the other registries follow suit.

TitleHub Closing Services LLC, in Massachusetts, is on the cutting edge of e-closing technology.

Electronic closings are a great selling point to customers mortgage lenders, banks and credit unions. Here is a recent article about a credit union in Michigan successfully offering electronic closings.

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Now that time is running out on the First Time Home Buyer Credit–what I call the Realtor Cash For Clunkers program — I came across this comically shameless video produced by one of America’s largest real estate brokerage companies.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2leBqxcwhvI]

But seriously folks, the credit seems like a good idea, but filled with exceptions.  From what I can decipher, the basics of how you qualify for the credit are:

  • First-time buyer refers to anyone who has not owned a principle residence in the past three years.
  • Non-married buyers qualify as long as one person meets the first-time buyer definition. Married tax payers must both be first-timers to qualify.
  • The tax credit is equal to 10% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of 8,000 dollars.
  • The home must be purchased between January 01, 2009 and December 01, 2009 and remain your primary residence for three years.
  • You don’t have to pay it back. (Filing options available from the IRS website).

The confusing part comes into play for those looking to use the tax credit towards their downpayment or closing costs. The basic story is that FHA-approved lenders are able to create an additional loan that would allow you to access this money upfront for the following:

  • Assist in covering your closings costs.
  • Buy down your interest rate.
  • As additional money towards your downpayment.

From what realtors say, the catch is that buyers must still fund a minimum down payment of 3.5% from their own wallets. The tax credit can be used in addition to the 3.5% downpayment but cannot be used to make up any part of the 3.5%. The other catch is apparently these loans are not easily carried out and assistance is not widely available to say the least. Massachusetts just came out with its own program.

My friend Metrowest Massachusetts real estate broker extraordinaire Bill Gassett has all the details in his real estate blog and here.

Good lord, my head is still spinning from that video. I’ll leave it to the realtors to explain the credit in some fashion of clarity.

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Signing or not signing?The Massachusetts Purchase and Sale Agreement Is Anything But “Standard”

Home buyers sign a never ending pile of legal documents to purchase a home. But arguably the most important document in the entire transaction is the Massachusetts purchase and sale agreement. The purchase and sale agreement is signed after the Offer to Purchase is executed, and spells out the parties’ responsibilities during the interim period when the property is taken off the market and the closing.

Important Update: Please read our article on the new TRID Rules

In Massachusetts, the form most often used is the so-called standard form agreement supplied by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board or one modeled very closely to this form. (Due to copyright laws, we cannot embed the standard form agreement — contact my office if you need assistance with drafting a purchase and sale agreement). The “standard” form purchase and sale agreement is, however, far from standard, especially for buyers. In fact, the standard form is very much slanted in favor of the seller, and the playing field must be “leveled” to protect the buyer’s interests.

Click here to read our series of posts on the Massachusetts Purchase and Sale Agreement

This is why it’s imperative that home buyers and sellers alike retain a Massachusetts real estate attorney to modify the “standard” form purchase and sale agreement in order to best protect all parties’ rights and remedies, and customize the agreement to the particular aspects of the transaction. This is typically done through a “rider” to the purchase and sales agreement. Often, the buyers’ attorney and the sellers’ attorney will attached two different riders to the agreement.

I’ll outline a few common issues not addressed adequately in the “standard” purchase and sale agreement. (Most of these are from the buyer’s perspective).

Mortgage Contingency

The “standard” purchase and sale agreement does provide a basic mortgage contingency which gives the buyer the option of terminating the agreement if mortgage financing falls through. However, for a buyer, the more specific you are in terms of interest rate, points, name of lending institution and definition of “diligent efforts,” the better. Buyers’ counsel should specify that the buyer will not be required to apply to more than one institutional lender currently making mortgage loans of the type sought by the buyer and that the buyer may terminate the purchase and sale agreement unless the buyer obtains a firm, written commitment for a mortgage loan. Here is a sample rider provision:

MODIFICATION TO PARAGRAPH 26: Application to one such bank or mortgage lender by such date shall constitute “diligent efforts.”  If the written  loan commitment contains terms and conditions that are beyond BUYER’S reasonable ability to control or achieve, or if the commitment requires BUYER to encumber property other than the subject property, BUYER may terminate this agreement, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreement shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto.

Home Inspection/Repairs

Typically, buyers complete the home inspection process prior to the signing of the purchase and sale agreement, and any inspection contingency provision is deleted from the purchase and sale agreement. What happens if the inspection results are not ready before the P&S signing deadline or if the seller has agreed to perform repairs prior to the closing or give a credit at closing? In this case, a home inspection contingency clause should be added back to the agreement, and any seller repairs or closing credits should be meticulously detailed in the rider.

Septic Systems/Title VMassachusetts Septic Title V requirements for selling property

If the home is serviced by an on-site sewage disposal system otherwise known as a septic system, the Massachusetts Septic System Regulations known as Title V requires the inspection of the system within 2 years of the sale of the home. Failed septic systems can cost many thousands of dollars to repair or replace.  Thus, buyers would look to be released from the agreement if the septic system fails inspection.  Alternatively, buyers could be given the option to close if the seller can repair the septic system during an agreed upon time period, provided that the buyers do not lose their mortgage rate lock.

Radon Gas

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. The ground produces the gas through the normal decay of uranium and radium. As it decays, radon produces new radioactive elements called radon daughters or decay products which scientists have proven to cause lung cancer. Radon testing should be performed by buyers during the home inspection process. Elevated levels of radon (above 4.0 picoCuries per liter (pCi/l) can be treated through radon remediation systems. The purchase and sale agreement should provide for a radon testing contingency and the buyers’ ability to terminate the agreement if elevated radon levels are found, or the option of having the sellers pay for a radon remediation system.

Lead Paintmassachusetts lead paint law

Under the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law, buyers of property are entitled to have the property inspected for the presence of lead paint.  (Sellers are not required to remove lead paint in a sale situation). Because the abatement of lead paint can be costly, buyers typically look for a right to terminate the purchase and sale agreement if lead paint exists and the abatement/removal of it exceeds a certain dollar threshold. Here is an example of a provision added to the standard form:

LEAD PAINT.  Seller acknowledges that the Buyers have a child under six (6) years of age who will live in the premises.  In accordance with Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 111, section 197A, as the premises was constructed prior to 1978, Buyer may have the premises inspected for the presence of lead paint which inspection shall be completed within ten (10) days after the execution of this Agreement, unless extended in writing by the parties.  If the inspection reveals the presence of lead paint, the abatement and/or removal of which will cost $2,000 or more, then Buyer may terminate this agreement, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreement shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto.  Any lead paint removal or abatement shall be Buyers’ responsibility.

Access

When my wife and I signed the Offer to Purchase on our house, she couldn’t wait to get in there with her tape measure, paint chips and fabric swatches. Oftentimes overlooked, but a cause of friction is buyers’ ability to access the house prior to the closing. To avoid such friction, an access clause should be added to the purchase and sale agreement giving the buyer reasonable access at reasonable time with advance notice to the sellers–it’s still their house after all.

These are just a few of the issues not adequately addressed by the “standard” form purchase and sale agreement. There are many more.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a nationally recognized real estate attorney, and has handled thousands of Massachusetts real estate transactions. He can be reached via email at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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