Tag Archives: Houses for Sale

Is Your House Haunted?

18 Apr

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: April 18, 2012
By Attorney George Warshaw

The Amityville horrors right in your neighborhood.

A murder, a suicide or unimaginable event occurred years ago. You hear cries and whispers at night. It’s eerie.

It’s your home?

You didn’t know it when you bought, but now you want to sell or rent your house or apartment. Can you sell or rent it without disclosing it was the scene of a violent crime or haunted? Will you be sued if you don’t?

Under Consumer Protection Laws, real estate agents usually have to disclose all facts that would be material to a person making an offer.

When it comes to “psychologically impacted” property, the answer is “not unless you’re asked.”

Several years ago, the Massachusetts Legislature adopted its own form of a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy where the real property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide, or an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon.

Section 114 of chapter 93 of the General Laws protects a seller, landlord or a real estate agent from failing to disclose to a buyer or tenant that the real property is or was “psychologically impacted” – unless the seller, landlord or agent was asked about the possible occurrence of an event at the house or apartment and then failed to disclose it.

And if your house is haunted, well, there’s always Ghostbusters!
© George Warshaw 2012

George Warshaw is a real estate and estate planning attorney in Massachusetts.  He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts for individuals and families. George welcomes new clients and questions at metro@warshawlaw.com.

_________________________________________________________________

Legal Advice: Laws, and court decisions interpreting them, change frequently and this article is not updated as laws change. The content and information contained in this article is neither intended as legal advice nor shall establish an attorney-client relationship.

Rebuilding Your Credit

13 Oct

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: October 12, 2011
By Attorney George Warshaw

 “I couldn’t get a loan because my credit was lousy.”

 What can you do about it? There are a few simple things that can help. The starting place is your credit report. Get a free copy and see what went wrong, then start to rebuild.

 The first thing is dispute any inaccuracies in the report. Is something on the report that belongs to a person with a similar name? Has something already been paid? Don’t hesitate to challenge the credit bureau or call the creditor directly.

 Second, and I consider this the most important, start paying all your bills on time, especially mortgage and credit cards. There’s an easy way to avoid future late payments.

 Nearly every credit card or mortgage lender allows you to set up an automatic payment method in which money is taken directly out of your bank account by the creditor to pay the bill.

 If you put every credit card on an automatic minimum payment plan with the creditor, you won’t miss a payment! You can always write a check and send in more later when you look at your written statement, but at least you won’t miss a payment!

 Go to the creditor’s website, register, and look for the payment screen. It will solve a lot of problems.

© 2011 George Warshaw. All rights reserved.

__________

George Warshaw is a real estate attorney, estate planner and author. He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts, prenuptial agreements and estate plans. George welcomes new clients and questions at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.

Legal Advice: Laws, and court decisions interpreting them, change frequently and this article is not updated as laws change. The content and information contained in this article is neither intended as legal advice nor shall establish an attorney-client relationship. Before making any legal decision, consult an attorney to see how or if the foregoing may apply to your circumstances.

Getting Older – The New American Dream

30 Jun

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: June 29, 2011

By Attorney George Warshaw

The economy has changed the way older homeowners view their future.

Many are selling their long-time residence and renting rather than buying a
replacement home. No more mowing the lawn, paying a mortgage and maintaining an aging house. Sell the house, bank the money.

The second home market in a prolonged down economy is usually the first to collapse and the first to present opportunities. Among those who rent their primary residence, many are taking advantage of the depressed market to buy a vacation house.

I spoke about this recently with Jennifer Knight, a REMAX buyer’s broker on Martha’s Vineyard (jennifer@jennifersrealestate.com, (508) 221-2615).

“Tastes and needs have changed. Many who have sold their primary homes still need a place where they can entertain; where friends, children and family can be together, especially in an environment where there is a great deal of life, enjoyment and energy.

“But now they’re buying with cash flow in mind. They’re buying and then renting their Vineyard house for a month or two in the summer. The income from the vacation home rental covers the taxes and possibly operating costs, and they still get to host their family and friends.”

What’s happening on Martha’s Vineyard is not unique as people strive to find a balance between the life style they want or need, and the means to support it.

The prolonged so-called “jobless recovery” has caused many to change their approach to getting older and restructure their personal financial game plan. No one any longer believes that social security will be there for you when you retire.

It’s not simply a matter of the continual rise in the age when you are eligible to receive benefits – obviously they hope you are dead before the government has to pay; rather, the government has “borrowed” most of the money for its day-to-day operating expenses.

The recent debt ceiling crisis revealed that the government raided social security as a loan to be repaid in the future. Now the government needs to raise the debt ceiling to be able to borrow more money to pay its bills and repay social security.

Hmmmm! Perhaps they should consult a financial planner or better yet, I’m sure Bernie Madoff could give them some advice. At least he has experience!

© 2011 George Warshaw. All rights reserved.

__________

George Warshaw is a real estate attorney and legal author. He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts, and estate plans. George welcomes new clients and questions at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.

Legal Advice: Laws, and court decisions interpreting them, change frequently and this article is not updated as laws change. The content and information contained in this article is neither intended as legal advice nor shall establish an attorney-client relationship. Before making any legal decision, consult an attorney to see how the foregoing may apply to your circumstances.

The New Mass. Homestead Law

31 May

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: June 1, 2011 

By Attorney George Warshaw

If you mention “homestead law” to someone in Massachusetts, their eyes usually roll in puzzlement and ask, “What’s that?”

Quite simply, it’s a law designed to help homeowners keep their homes when in debt or faced with a judgment they cannot pay. The law does not protect against divorce, taxes, or mortgage foreclosure, but it is very helpful in many other situations.

The law prevents a plaintiff, claimant or creditor from selling your principal residence to satisfy a debt, as long the equity in your home is not more than $125,000 or $500,000.

By filing a Declaration of Homestead in the registry of deeds, you protect up to $500,000 of the equity in your home against liens imposed after the time and date of your filing.

If you choose not to file, you still receive $125,000 in protection – but only if you bought your home on or after March 16, 2011. Otherwise, you must file a written declaration to gain any protection.

Filing a declaration is cheap and easy to do. While it is better to have a lawyer guide you, you can download the form on most registries of deeds websites.

Homesteads filed under the old law are valid with, perhaps, one exception:  recent decisions from the bankruptcy court have led many to question whether the “release of homestead” language in the standard Fannie Mae mortgage inadvertently terminated a homestead filed before March 16th (i.e. under the former version of the law).

Many commentators are suggesting that homeowners file a new homestead declaration to be safe.

How the new law works. Here’s an example:

Husband and wife (H&W) purchase a home for $500,000 and borrow $100,000 from the bank, giving the bank a mortgage for the amount borrowed. It will be their principal residence.

They thought about filing a formal homestead declaration to obtain the maximum protection but did not. Fortunately, the new law gives them an automatic $125,000 protection in the equity in their new house or condominium from liens and lawsuits.

They hire a home improvement contractor and get into a dispute. The contractor files a mechanic’s lien and later obtains a judgment for $25,000. The judgment cannot be enforced against the marital home. Thus, the contractor cannot force the sale of the house or condo to pay the judgment. Their home is safe under the homestead law – at least for now.

A few years pass and the husband and wife sell their home for the same price they paid. The contractor cannot stop the sale or require they pay the $25,000 judgment as a condition of the sale. The husband and wife take the proceeds from the sale, a little less than $100,000, and put it into their bank account. That money is safe for one year under the new law.

If the husband and wife use the proceeds from their sale to buy a new home within one year of their sale, the proceeds and their new home will be protected against the contractor’s judgment.

The new Massachusetts Homestead Law is very complicated, but it works to the benefit of all homeowners. It provides special protections for persons of age 62 or more or who are disabled and permits beneficiaries of a trust to protect their principal residence if the real estate is in the trust.

It will take a few years before the courts provide guidance and clarity on the details of the law. © 2011 George Warshaw. All rights reserved.

__________

George Warshaw is a real estate attorney and author. He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts, and estate plans. George welcomes new clients and questions at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.

Legal Advice: Laws, and court decisions interpreting them, change frequently and this article is not updated as laws change. The content and information contained in this article is neither intended as legal advice nor shall establish an attorney-client relationship. Before making any legal decision, consult an attorney to see how the foregoing may apply to your circumstances.

Avoiding Surprises in Home Renovations

24 May

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: May 25, 2011

By Attorney George Warshaw

Your real estate agent or broker, with good intentions, recommends a home improvement contractor. He starts the job but you get into a dispute and quite rightly refuse to pay. Can the contractor place a lien on your home?

Massachusetts law permits an unpaid contactor, including a subcontractor, to place a lien on one’s home for work, labor and materials. It is typically called a “mechanic’s lien.”

A contractor must carefully follow strict procedures in order to acquire and maintain the lien on your house, condo or vacation home, but it’s not hard to do.

If you are renovating or remodeling your home should you care? Try to refinance, get a home equity loan or sell your house with a lien on it!

Now for the surprise. . .

A subcontractor or materials supplier who has not been paid can file a mechanic’s lien on your home – even if you paid the contractor in full, and even if you never signed a single document with the sub!

Can you protect real estate from mechanic’s liens? Make sure the roofer, the plumber, Lowe’s and Home Depot and all subs are paid. The homestead law is another way. More on homesteads next week. © 2011 George Warshaw.

__________

George Warshaw is a real estate attorney and author. He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts, and estate plans. George welcomes new clients and questions at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.

Legal Advice: Laws, and court decisions interpreting them, change frequently and this article is not updated as laws change. The content and information contained in this article is neither intended as legal advice nor shall establish an attorney-client relationship. Before making any legal decision, consult an attorney to see how the foregoing may apply to your circumstances.

Protecting Your Home From Liens And Lawsuits

17 May

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: May 18, 2011
Expanded Content

By Attorney George Warshaw

There are several ways that you can protect your home from liens and lawsuits.

The Massachusetts Homestead Act, recently revised, protects all or part of the equity homeowners have in their house or condo from individuals or businesses suing the homeowner. The protection applies only to primary residences and not second homes or investment properties.

Homeowners automatically receive $125,000 in protection upon the recording of a deed. The statute permits homeowners to increase that protection to $500,000 by filing a declaration of homestead with the registry of deeds.

The homestead is particularly valuable in disputes with home improvement contractors. A contractor or subcontractor has the ability to file a so-called “mechanic’s lien” on your home for unpaid work – even if you dispute that work. The homestead law often prevents a contractor from enforcing that lien.

Another method of creditor protection is to place your home into a trust. When done for a legitimate purpose, such as estate planning or as a way of managing real estate, a trust may prevent or deter a creditor from acquiring a lien on your home. A creditor usually has to “break the trust” through a court proceeding in order to attach one’s home. Under the newly revised Homestead Act, one can now utilize both a trust and a homestead to maximize lien protection.

A trust is typically created by signing a “declaration of trust” – a document prepared by a lawyer that often contains creditor protection features. © 2011 George Warshaw.

________

George Warshaw is a real estate attorney and author. He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts, and estate plans. George welcomes new clients and questions at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.

Legal Advice: The content and information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice. Before making legal decisions consult an attorney to see how the foregoing may apply to your circumstances. Laws change frequently and this article is not updated as laws change.

Mistakes Home Buyers Make in the Offer

9 May

Metro® Boston, Publication Date: May 11, 2011

By Attorney George Warshaw

You’ve searched MLS (Multiple Listing Service) for a condo or house for sale in Massachusetts, acquired a real estate agent along the way, and now you’re ready to make an offer to purchase your new home.

Here’s a few things, often overlooked, that you may want to include or change in your offer: 

  • Make your purchase conditional on an appraisal that is no less than the purchase price
  • Don’t choose Friday or the last day of the month as your closing date. These are the busiest real estate days and your deed might not get recorded that day (i.e. you could be prevented from moving into your new home when you expect)
  • Make your offer conditional on all systems and appliances being in good working order on the day of closing
  • Be wary of the preprinted “inspection contingency.” These often limit your right to cancel solely to “serious structural or mechanical defects” that may exist in the house or condominium. Change it to an “inspection that is satisfactory to you.”
  • If you’ve also listed your home for sale, don’t try to buy the same day as you sell.

More on this to come. © 2011 George Warshaw. 

The foregoing is not intended as legal advice. Consult an attorney to see how or if the information may apply to you.

George Warshaw is a real estate attorney and author. He represents buyers and sellers of homes and condos in Massachusetts, and prepares wills, trusts, and estate plans. George welcomes new clients and questions at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com

A Short Sale Surprise

30 Apr

Metro® Boston, Publication Date: April 13, 2011

By Attorney George Warshaw

In a short sale, a mortgage lender agrees to accept less than it is owed when a house or condo is sold.

The short sale lender issues a letter to the seller (i.e., its borrower) in which the lender promises to release its mortgage upon receipt of a certain amount of money by a specific date. The letter is in turn given to the closing attorney who relies upon the letter in conducting the closing and issuing title insurance.

I recently discovered a lender that issues not one, but two short sale letters: one for the attorney, and one that specifically directs that it “DOES NOT” go to the attorney. The second letter requires additional “side” money before the lender will release its mortgage.

What happens if the sale goes through but the lender never receives the secret side money? The unsuspecting buyer won’t have clear title to the property if the lender refuses to release its mortgage.

The unsuspecting buyer hopefully bought title insurance, but it could still take several years before the mortgage is finally cleared from the title.

Apparently, our Attorney-General was notified of this national lender’s disgraceful practice and has done nothing about it. Maybe that’s the surprise! © 2011 George Warshaw.

The foregoing is not intended as legal advice. Consult an attorney to see how or if the foregoing applies to you.

Attorney George Warshaw represents buyers and sellers of homes, condos and investment properties, prepares wills and trusts for inheriting real estate, and trusts that protect your children and pets. George welcomes new clients and questions at  george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.

Discounting Brokerage Fees

30 Apr

Metro® Boston, Publication Date: March 16, 2011

By Attorney George Warshaw 

A recent advertisement offered to give a buyer a “$5,000 rebate certificate” if the buyer attends one of the broker’s “open houses” and then uses that broker as the buyer’s agent in the sale of any property. 

Hmmm! Sounds interesting. Go to an open house, see a particular house or condo, sign up right then with the broker to buy that or any other property, and get $5,000 back at the time of purchase. 

This could be a good deal for a buyer, but it also might not. 

A broker that lists a house or condo for sale receives the entire sales commission where there is no other broker involved. That’s good for the broker: it doesn’t have to split the commission with a buyer’s agent. 

Where the listing broker gives a buyer a cash incentive to use no other broker, how does a buyer know the lowest possible price at which the property could be purchased where the buyer is not getting independent advice? 

There’s no substitute for being a knowledgeable buyer. Consider assembling your own team of realtor, lender and lawyer before you start shopping for a new home. You’ll be assured that way of getting the best possible advice. © 2011 George Warshaw.

The foregoing is not intended as legal advice. Consult an attorney to see how or if the foregoing applies to you.

Attorney George Warshaw represents buyers and sellers of homes, condos and investment properties, prepares wills and trusts for inheriting real estate, and trusts that protect your children and pets. George welcomes new clients and questions at  george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com.