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Seven.

How many signs for homes for sale do you see on a daily basis? It seems like they are everywhere right now. On my way home this week, I counted seven within a two mile area.

With so many realtors vying for your attention, how do you know who to call if you want to buy or sell your house? The best thing to do is to get a referral from someone that you trust. From my perspective, the two most important traits in realtors (and anyone providing a service) are really good communication skills and attention to detail.

I recently did a closing with a realtor involved in her first transaction. The most helpful thing that she did was tells me that this was her first closing, so that I wouldn’t assume that she knew everything I needed her to do to prepare; Although she was green to the process, she had excellent communication skills, which made the transaction seamless and a pleasure for all involved.

Similarly, a very experienced realtor that I am working with identified a potential, significant issue with a property that would have effected the use and enjoyment of the premises, before the purchase and sale was even initiated; because of her diligence, the Buyers saved a lot of time and money, not to mention stress.

On that theme, I found a recent article discussing the top 5 signs what makes a realtor not the one that you want to work with: http://www.propertycluster.com/blog/bad-real-estate-agents-top-5-signs/

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First Comes Love, but are you married?

I know a couple in their early 90’s. For over 30 years, they have identified themselves to friends, family, and the community as “Mr. & Mrs.*”

Mr. & Mrs. recently asked me to help them with the sale of their home. When I looked at their current Deed, there were two names listed, but they did not share a last name. Of course, I inquired as to whether Mrs. had changed her name at some point, including after the house was purchased. Mrs. told me that she had never changed her name legally after they were married.

After some additional inquiry, Mr. & Mrs. stated to me that they are common law spouses. They told me that they were wed in a ceremony performed by a friend, who was not an actual, registered officiant, and never obtained a marriage license. I found myself in the unfortunate position of needing to explain to them that while they are a loving, committed couple, Mr. & Mrs. are not actually married within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Mr. & Mrs. do not have any of the legal protections offered by the Commonwealth for married couples. Sadly, they both appeared surprised by and unprepared to handle the reality of their prior decisions.

This situation is not all that uncommon, especially among individuals who want to preserve existing entitlements or pension benefits; however, there is a way to protect yourself without getting married: Massachusetts recognizes Cohabitation Agreements, which outline how legal, personal, and financial matters will be handled if the couple breaks up or a partner dies. Similarly, some basic estate planning may also resolve some of the legal issues that committed couples, who are not married, face.

As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this or anything else.
 * While this article refers to “Mr. & Mrs.,” the term is being used generically to include both the traditional marriage arrangements, as well as “Mr. & Mr.” and “Mrs. & Mrs.”

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“Do I really need that?”

There was a ghost at one of my recent closings. Not an actual ghost, but someone who had died 60 years ago was very present at the closing table. When he died, his wife inherited the house and later sold it.  This sounds fairly typical, correct? It was, except that wife had not filed any probate documents related to his death.

What does mean? Potentially, if left issue  unresolved, there could be a problem with the Title when the (current) buyer tries to sell the property. For that reason, I strongly recommended to my client that he should get Buyer’s Title Insurance.

Buyer often ask, “Do I really need that?” Don’t tell anyone, but before I started doing real estate closings, I may have thought no. Why would I want to spend even more money than I’m already spending on this house? Shouldn’t I be putting that money towards a new set of plush towels and paint?

My answer is very different now. Reviewing titles regularly, I realize how easily there can be a issue with a title; it doesn’t have to be big, something like a missing death certificate or an old lien, can either delay or stop a house from being sold or bought.

What is Title Insurance? (click on the link)

Is Title insurance worth the investment? Yes, yes, yes. Sometimes the risk obvious, like the friendly ghost in the story above; other times, it is not as easily resolved and significant expense can be involved.

The one-time expense for Title Insurance is usually minimal, especially considering the overall cost of buying a house. On an average house, the cost of a policy is equal to two or three hours of legal services. Without insurance, the cost of correcting or litigating a Title dispute could easily cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

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Putting the home in Homestead

As many of you probably know, I represent parties in transactions regarding residential properties. I love working with buyer and sellers, starting with Purchase and Sales, and through closing. I happily work with lenders and real estate agents to make sure that the deal not only happens, but that my client is properly protected.
As part of the closing process, I always offer to provide a Homestead for buyers. Most people do not know a lot about Declarations of Homestead, sometimes not even knowing if they have one on their current house; in order to help buyers better understand the benefits of having one, I always provide the information below.
It is never too late to file a Homestead, even if you have lived in your house for 20 years. If you are not sure if have one, I am happy to look it up for you.

WHAT IS HOMESTEAD?
Homestead protection is available for owner occupied, residential one to four family homes, condominium unit, operative apartments and for manufactured homes, which in each case serves as the homeowner’s principal residence. Co-owners of a home ‘share’ the exemption amount.

A homestead estate exempts a certain amount of the equity of a home from attachment, seizure, execution on judgment, levy, and sale for the unsecured debts of the owner of the home, except for the following:
• Federal, state, and local taxes, assessments, claims, and liens;
• Liens recorded prior to creation of the estate;
• Mortgages;
• Orders of the probate court for support;
• A levy or sale for ground rents (where the homeowner does not own the land); and
• An execution from a court to enforce a judgment based upon fraud, mistake, duress, undue influence or lack of capacity.

Under the Act, the homeowner’s equity in the home is protected for up to one year after the sale of the home, and, if the home has suffered a casualty that results in the payment of insurance proceeds, then the insurance proceeds are protected for up to two years, in order to allow the homeowner to acquire a homestead in a new (or reconstructed) home.

AUTOMATIC HOMESTEAD: All homeowners are entitled to automatic homestead protection of up to $125,000 of the equity in their homes. You do not need to do anything to benefit of this protection.

DECLARED HOMESTEAD: By making a written declaration of homestead, recorded in the Registry of Deeds, a homeowner’s homestead protection is increased to $500,000.

Some other benefits of declaring a homestead include:
a. A non-owner spouse who lives with the owner has the benefit of the homestead (until terminated in writing);
b. A declared homestead cannot be subordinated to an unsecured debt;
c. If an unmarried owner declares a homestead and marries thereafter, the declaration will automatically benefit the owner’s spouse upon marriage; similarly, a divorce and/or remarriage will not affect the homestead of the spouse who remains in the home as his/ her principal residence.
d. A trustee of property held in trust can declare homestead for the beneficiaries of the trust who occupy the home as their principal residence;
e. Elderly (age 62 or older) and disabled persons who declare homestead are each entitled to separate exemption of up to $500,000, which is personal and not shared with any other co-owners of the home.