As I wrote in Part I of this series, the Attorney Panel that gave this year's presentation to us members of the Pocono Mountains Association of REALTORS was excellent. Attorneys William Cramer, Louis Powlette and Jane Roach Maughan enlightened us on many timely topics. It is always interesting to hear about the real estate business from another point of view, and with all of the hot topics boiling around in our business these days, it's even more riveting. Part I of this series addressed Attorney Cramer's presentation about common pitfalls in real estate transactions. This installment will discuss Attorney Powlette's discussion of Title Insurance Issues and Short Sales:
Seller-Paid Title Insurance
It is very common for bank- and relocation company- sellers to offer a paid title policy to a home buyer in a transaction. This seems, at first glance, to be a pretty good deal...it can save a buyer a substantial amount of money if they don't have to pay for title insurance themselves. The catch is that the seller chooses the title company, which is not standard practice. Buyers have the legal right to choose their own title insurance company, and usually do this based on recommendations by their real estate agent and/or their attorney.
Attorney Powlette says, "Accepting a title policy from the seller is not a good idea," and he gave several reasons why a buyer should say 'no thanks' and purchase their own title search and title insurance.
- These banks and relocation companies buy their title work in bulk and the overburdened companies that are doing the searches and issuing title policies do a sloppy job. Also, these title insurers are almost never local companies and so they are not well versed in the intricacies of the local public records, closing procedures, etc.
- There are myriad examples of properties being sold with title defects that were overlooked because of shoddy title work. Large real estate liens and previous owners who have not relinquished their claims to properties are some of the things that could threaten a buyer's standing as the true owner of the property after closing. Attorney Powlette cited a specific example where he did title work that revealed a federal tax lien. The prospective purchaser canceled the sale. After the property was put back on the market, a second buyer tried to buy (coincidentally using Powlette too!) and the same lien was still present. The seller was hoping to sell without a buyer questioning their title policy!
- Another reason to decline the seller's offer of 'free' title insurance is, a real estate purchaser should have some assurance that the title policy underwriter is sound and stable. Should the underwriter ever go out of business, the title insurance policy becomes worthless. This is a great reason for a buyer to retain control of this aspect of the transaction.
Negotiating a Short Sale
These days many sellers are hoping to negotiate a short sale, that is ask their mortgage holder to accept less than what they are owed in order to allow the seller to sell the home at today's prices. Unfortunately, some owners who have their homes listed for sale through the Pocono Mountains Association of REALTORS MLS owe more than what they can currently get in today's market.
Attorney Powlette's recommendation is that a seller facing a short sale situation retain legal counsel to assist with the process. Yes, it sounds a bit self-serving of him to say that, but that's just not Lou's style :)...AND there are good reasons for his advice. A seller who tries to negotiate a short sale on their own, or a real estate agent who does it on the seller's behalf, assumes a lot of risk and liability. There are tax implications to selling short (shortfall can be considered income and therefore is taxed, for instance), and there are many legal issues surrounding the balance of the mortgage and the mortgagors remedies. A seller pursuing a short sale should have proper representation to be sure that their interests are served in the process.
One other caveat from Attorney Powlette: If you must cancel an Agreement of Sale because of unsuccessful short sale negotiations, a seller could be held liable for the buyer's expenses related to the transaction if the documents for the sale are not drafted properly. Always be sure to include the right contingencies when selling a property.
Contact Attorney Powlette at:
Louis D. Powlette Law Office