Real Estate Law Questions and Answers

The following are real estate litigation legal questions and answers. For more real estate legal information, contact a real estate attorney, real estate agent or mortgage broker in your area.

Question: Should I work with a real estate agent? A real estate lawyer? Others?

Answer: There are professionals who can help you with the purchase of a home and offer direction on what you should consider:

  • A real estate agent can advise you on the marketplace and what is available in your price range, as well as help you to consider aspects of a home which may be important to you (such as nearby schools, shopping, and commuting options)
  • An accountant or mortgage loan officer can help you determine what kind and amount of mortgage payment you can afford and alert you to the estimated property taxes which would be owed annually. A loan officer can also help you pre-qualifying for a real estate loan.
  • A homeowners insurance agent can provide information on the amount, type and cost of coverage you'll likely need
  • Moving companies. It can be costly to move your worldly goods from one point to the next, so check with full service as well as rental companies.

Question: What is the difference between a real estate broker and an agent?

Answer: A real estate broker is generally a person or a company holding a license to represent parties in real estate transactions. A real estate agent is either a broker or someone who works under the umbrella of a broker's license. So a broker might be one of the nationally-recognized brokerage firms, but the agent would be the one who is actually working with you.

Question: Should we consider buying a home in foreclosure?

Answer: Purchasing a home in foreclosure often appears to be a good value, but factors outside of the price need to be considered:
The purchase of a foreclosure often is a "cash only" sale
Can you view the actual condition of the home inside and out before placing a bid? The home may be in need of extensive repairs driving up the actual cost of the home.
Are there liens for taxes or mechanics liens that the winning bidder will be responsible for?
Is there a redemption period for the previous owners? If so, how long do they have the ability to buy the house back before you can move in?

Question: What questions should I ask when looking at homes?

Answer: Many of your questions should focus on potential problems and maintenance issues. Does anything need to be replaced? What things require ongoing maintenance (e.g., paint, roof, HVAC, appliances, carpet)? Also ask about the house and neighborhood, focusing on quality of life issues. Be sure the seller's or real estate agent's answers are clear and complete. Ask questions until you understand all of the information they've given. Making a list of questions ahead of time will help you organize your thoughts and arrange all of the information you receive. The HUD Home Scorecard can help you develop your question list.

Question: What is a purchase offer?

Answer: A purchase offer or agreement contains all the details of the offer to purchase a piece of property. An agreement is binding only once the document has been agreed to and signed by the buyer and seller. Often in the purchase of real estate, there are a number of offers and counter offers until an agreement is reached.
Items and conditions that are often included in the purchase offer include:

  • Description, legal and common, of the property
  • Purchase price
  • Earnest money
  • Features and fixtures which are to remain
  • Home inspection results
  • Anticipated financing
  • Closing date
  • Final inspection and move-in condition
  • Penalties for breaking the offer
  • Response time to accept the offer
  • Obtaining clear title to the property
  • Clean inspection report

Question: What good is title insurance?

Answer: A title search and the issuance of title insurance means the ownership of the property can be cleanly conveyed to the new owners. During the search, the history of the property is researched verifying that all previous claims or liens have been satisfied, allowing a clear title to be issued. If any claim is overlooked, the title insurance protects the owner from the claim. Remember that if it's not in writing on a real estate deal, it's not enforceable.

Question: Why is a deed required?

Answer: A deed transfers ownership of property from one owner to the next. Deeds are recorded in the county where the property is owned. There are three types of deeds:

  • Full covenant and warranty deed – which guarantees no other person owns or has claims against the property
  • Bargain and sale deed – used in some states but does not guarantee that the property is free and clear of any claims
  • Quit claim deed – transfers interest in a piece of property from one owner to the next. A quit claim deed provides no guarantee from other interests or claims

In some states, a deed of trust is used instead of a mortgage. If there is a mortgage on the property, the deed references the lender. The name of the owner is put on the deed only when the loan is paid off.

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