The Top Seven Real Estate Commandments In California
By Mark A. Gomez, Esq.
- Always put it in writing. No matter if it’s your brother, sister, girlfriend etc. do not ignore the age old rule of putting everything in writing. When it comes to Real Estate in California, any agreement must be put in writing otherwise it is assumed to be invalid. You could spend thousands of dollars trying to find an exception later on. Additionally, when agreements are not in writing a party to the “agreement” might take advantage of a situation as time goes on. If you are going to do business with a friend or family member, the least you can do is meet with an Attorney and put the agreement in writing. This will also help lay out who’s duties are what and help avoid misunderstandings later on .
- Do not sign anything until your Attorney reviews it. I have clients come in who have lost title to their homes because they had no idea that they were signing a Grant Deed, or a Power Of Attorney, or a seemingly harmless loan between friends or family. Paying an Attorney to review a document and provide you some advice on changes costs substantially less then what might happen if you do not have an Attorney review something before you sign it.
- Hire an Attorney who’s legal practice covers the type of case or legal issue you currently have. In order to cover every major area of the law you would need probably a hundred good attorneys. There are just so many laws and sub specialties that it is very difficult for one Attorney to cover more than maybe a few related Practice Areas. For example, if you hire a Criminal Defense attorney to represent you in a Civil Lawsuit, you might not get the best representation. A high number of our current clients have come from other lawyers who did not specialize in Foreclosure or Mortgage related laws. When you hire a doctor, most people understand they need to hire the ‘right’ Doctor for the job. The same rule applies to Lawyers!
- Hire an Attorney, not a ‘Paralegal’. It is illegal in California for someone who is not an Attorney to try and “practice the law”. Even so, the ‘Paralegal’ market is rife with shady characters who all too often do not provide the services hired for, or worse, harm a client’s legal interests to the point of no return. A good portion of my current cases involve Fraud by ‘Paralegals’ or individuals who seem like Real Estate Agents but do not have a license or lost their license. Although there are laws to protect consumers, often times these scammers are impossible to locate after a year or two or if you can locate them they do not have any assets that clients can recover from. Once you hire someone to be your Agent, everything they do as your Agent you are responsible for. People generally do not hire non-licensed ‘Dentists’ to work on their teeth but it is surprisingly common for people to hire non licensed ‘Paralegals’ to fill out their paperwork and file it with the court. Most licensed Attorneys (including Gomez & Simone) offer flat fee packages for filling out legal paperwork correctly. Sometimes the costs are exactly that same. The recent mortgage meltdown saw a large increase in non-licensed individuals offering their services only to take advantage of homeowners.
- Know your property’s boundary lines and easements. At all times you should know what the boundaries of your property are and if there are any easements (right of way) that involve your property. If your neighbor puts up a fence on your side of the property line but uses it for 5 years or more, they could have a prescriptive easement which means they now can use your land as they have been and there’s not much the actual property owner can do.
- If you want to be a landlord, double check everything first. Some cities in California (such as Los Angeles) have rent control laws that are highly protective of tenants and their rights. Plus, California has many laws that can burden landlords if a disagreement or legal issue arises. This includes renting your home or a room on Air-BnB! The difference can sometimes be that a tenant, who has little to no assets, has nothing to lose while a homeowner usually has equity in their home that can be attached to a judgment if a tenant wins in court. Some tenants take advantage of this situation and roll their dice with litigation against a landlord, especially a new landlord. With Air-BnB a city could fine you for unpaid taxes, your HOA could fine you for operating a business without a license or violating their HOA rules, or your ‘customer’ could refuse to leave and after 30 days become entitled to tenant rights under California Law! Please meet with an Eviction attorney before renting your property out. We can provide you with a checklist of issues to be aware of and draft any agreements necessary.
- Plan for the future. Placing your property in a Trust can help protect your property from lawsuits and also help avoid probate or even a foreclosure if you were to pass away. Real Estate in California can be a family’s most valuable asset. I have heard plenty of people refer to their homes as their “personal ATM” which is great! Take some time to protect that asset and meet with an Estate Planning Attorney. For those with assets under $5 million dollars one of our Estate Planning Attorneys can assist you and even offer you a lifetime Trust & Wills package for a flat fee amount. Plus, by planning for the future you also get to make sure that you do not have any current legal issues lurking around that you might not even be aware of.
Contact us for further information at Gomez Simone Law Firm (818) 276-9959