FAQs About Real Estate

Q: Do I need an attorney when I buy a house?

A: In some states you don't need an attorney to complete a real estate transaction, but it is widely recommended that a buyer should be represented by an attorney when purchasing real estate.

If you have any questions at all it is advisable to consult an attorney to avoid future legal hassles. To find a real estate attorney, contact your local bar association, which may offer local referral services. You may also ask friends or your real estate agent for their recommendations. When you have several names, call each to find out about fees and their level of experience.

Q: Why do I need a title report?

A: As much as you as a buyer may want to believe that the home you have found is perfect, a clear title report ensures there are no liens placed against the prior owners or any documents that will restrict your use of the property.

A preliminary title report provides you with an opportunity to review any impediment that would prevent clear title from passing to you.

Q: What is an abstract of title?

A: An abstract of title is a summary of the legal history of a piece of real property. It is used by title insurance companies as the basis for issuing title insurance and by attorneys examining title as the basis for their conclusions with regard to ownership. To prepare the abstract an abstractor reviews all of the records on file with the office of the county clerk or similar government land title office, which relate to that particular piece of property. The abstractor prepares a short summary of each transaction, arranged in chronological order, which identify the instruments (deed, mortgage, etc.), names the grantors and grantees, lists the dates the instruments were signed and filed, and, where appropriate, provides a summary of their contents. This sequence of deeds and other documents is often called the property's chain of title, and the function of the abstract is to summarize it accurately.

Q: What is a lien?

A: A lien is any legal claim on real property that acts as a security for the payment of a debt or other obligation. If the debt is not repaid as promised, the lender or the lien holder can foreclose its claim on the property and force a public sale to pay the debt.

The most common form of a lien on property is a mortgage. While all mortgages are liens, not all liens are mortgages. Other types of liens are commonly encountered and part of the work of the real property attorney is to check for outstanding liens at the time a real estate transaction closes. These include such things as judgment liens resulting from a court judgment against the owners, mechanic's liens resulting from recent improvements to the property, liens for unpaid taxes, and liens for unpaid municipal utilities such as water and sewer.

Q: What's a home inspection?

A: A home inspection is when a paid professional inspector -- often a contractor or an engineer -- inspects the home, searching for defects or other problems that might plague the owner later on. They usually represent the buyer and or paid by the buyer. The inspection usually takes place after a purchase contract between buyer and seller has been signed.

Q: What are closing costs?

A: Closing costs are the fees for services, taxes or special interest charges that surround the purchase of a home. They include upfront loan points, title insurance, escrow or closing day charges, document fees, prepaid interest and property taxes. Unless, these charges are rolled into the loan, they must be paid when the home is closed.

Q: What is an easement?

A: An easement allows another person the right to use your land for a specific purpose. The most usual easements are those granted to public utility or telephone companies to run lines on or under your private property and to neighboring houses to use a common driveway to give access to their home.

Q: What is adverse possession?

A: Adverse possession is a right to use or own property that is the result of continued use and occupancy over a period of time, generally ten to twenty years depending on the state. If a non-owner of property occupies and uses the property without the permission of the actual owner for long enough, the law will find that the actual owner has lost his or her rights in the property and ownership has transferred. Since the doctrine of adverse possession results in taking property without payment, the principle is applied very carefully by the courts and only if certain specified conditions are met. Thus, for example, the adverse use must be obvious to the real owner. And the use must be hostile, meaning that it is without the permission of the real owner. Use of another's property with the permission of the owner will never create a right of adverse possession.

Q: Where can I get copies of deeds and other documents relating to property?

A: The County Clerk's Office of the county in which the property is located is the place where deeds are recorded and kept on record. Any member of the public can examine the deeds, mortgages and various liens and other real estate records that are on file there. Copies can also be made for a small fee.

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