Archive for November, 2017

Protect Yourself: What You May Not Know About Escrow Companies

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Most people know that escrow is the party that handles the money, paperwork and closing details of a transaction in California (and other states – the remaining states use attorneys for closings). But many do not know that escrow and escrow officers can fall under two regulatory categories, and that this could have an effect on their duty to remain a neutral party to both sides of a property sale.

2 Types of Escrow Companies in California

Independent or licensed escrow companies are independent companies that are licensed by the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO), which are governed by strict regulations designed to protect consumers.

Some of the requirements of independent escrow companies are that they are subject to management and bond requirements, are trust fund insured, are subject to annual financial and procedural audits and Department of Justice investigations of all employees, as well as escrow license requirements.

Controlled, or non-independent, escrow companies are nonlicensed businesses owned by third parties, such as real estate brokerages, attorneys, banks or title companies. These controlled companies are regulated by different licensing and regulatory authorities, which can vary amongst jurisdictions and are not governed as strictly as independent escrow companies.

Escrow officers have a difficult role in that they need to represent both parties in a property sale transaction while remaining neutral. An independent escrow company is the best choice, in my opinion, for real estate parties and clients, as there is more protection offered and there is not the threat of compromised neutrality.

 

 

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Can a Home Seller Be Sued for Contractor’s Knowledge of Problems?

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

As a home seller it is imperative that you make sure you do everything you can to avoid lawsuits from your new buyers. Failure to disclose has been one of the most litigious causes of action in real estate law. Upon selling property, sellers must disclose all they know about the property according to state mandated forms – this usually includes past insurance claims, any upgrades or improvements, damage to the property, repairs, noise issues, and many other questions. Sellers must answer these questions to the best of their knowledge, and provide explanations and any necessary receipts to verify the claims. But what happens when other people who work on your home make a discovery that could render the home undesirable?

The most recent case, RSB Vineyards, LLC v. Bernard, was upheld by the California Court of Appeals. The court ruled that a seller must have had ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE to be held liable for non-disclosure, and a contractor’s knowledge is not imputed to the seller. In lay terms, this means that if a seller hires a contractor to do work, and the contractor discovers something about the property, the seller cannot be held liable unless the seller was made aware of the problem by the contractor.

In the lawsuit the contractor had converted a residence into a wine tasting room on vineyard property that was later found to be structurally unsound – the buyers found out after they purchased the home and had to demolish the structure. They sued the seller for failure to disclose. The contractor was found to have known about the problem but there was no “actual knowledge” by the sellers.

In many areas of disclosure here in California, the seller CAN be held liable for items about which they should have known. For example, if the sellers notice water stains on a ceiling of a room and do nothing about it, then have the ceiling painted prior to sale, without disclosing the stain…this would likely render the seller liable for failure to disclose, as the water stains obviously indicate some kind of problem. Note that had the seller disclosed the stain and not painted over it, s/he would not be liable. It would then be up to the buyer to investigate and ask for repairs if problems were discovered.

If you are selling a property it is very important to answer ALL questions on the disclosures to the best of your ability. Back up any claims with receipts, documentation, etc. I always tell my clients it is better to over-disclose. Put everything out there so that you do not have to worry about liability down the road. If you are made aware of any issues by a third party, make sure to include that in your disclosures so the buyer can look into it further.

If you are ever unsure of whether or not to disclose something, the rule of thumb is that you should do so. However, I suggest obtaining legal advice…or if your real estate agent happens to be an attorney that could help too 🙂

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