Articles Posted in Real Estate Transactions and Finance

cheatingMany of our readers are aware of the recent college admissions cheating scandal.  Credentials of proposed candidates were misrepresented in an effort to obtain admission to prestigious colleges.  Parties to real estate transactions in New York may also misrepresent financial qualifications and property conditions in an effort to close the sale of a property.  This post will address the types of misrepresentations that may occur in real estate transactions and the remedies if such misrepresentation is discovered.

From the prospective of a purchaser, misrepresentation can take the following forms.  It is not unusual for a contract to purchase a house to contain a provision that the purchaser represents that she has adequate funds to close, has not filed bankruptcy during the past seven years, and is not aware of any judgments filed against her.  The purpose of this clause is to deter a seller from entering a contract, taking the property off the market and later discovering that the purchaser cannot obtain cooperative board approval  or obtain a loan commitment due to facts that the purchaser knew at the outset of the transaction.

Purchasers also are often required to represent that a loan application will be pursued with diligence.  A purchaser may falsely elevate financial details on his mortgage application in an effort to qualify for a mortgage for which he is not otherwise qualified.  Lenders protect themselves as to this potential form of misrepresentation by requiring proposed borrowers (and applicants for short sale approval) to deliver a signed IRS form 4506-T.  This document allows the lender to obtain tax returns directly from the IRS, in case the borrower falsified tax returns delivered to the lender in an effort to look more favorable as a borrower.  In addition, lenders typically contact the borrower’s employer immediately before the closing to confirm continued employment and salary awarded.  Cooperative applications commonly contain personal and business letters of reference.  Due diligence may dictate that the authors of such letters be contacted to confirm that they did indeed write and submit such letters as part of the board application.

bucket1So long as one is alive and mentally capable, one is in control of her own financial and legal affairs.  Once a person passes away, a fiduciary needs to be appointed by the Surrogate’s Court  to determine and pay estate debts , collect and distribute assets, file relevant tax returns and pay taxes, vacate a rental property used by the deceased or sell a property owned by the deceased.  Also, if the deceased left minor children surviving, a guardian needs to be appointed to care for the children on a daily basis.  This post will explore the types of fiduciaries that may be involved after a person’s death and how they are appointed.

If a person dies without a will (intestate), the Court will appoint an Administrator to serve.  The Administrator to be appointed will be the same person who will inherit according to the intestacy statute.  For instance, if the closest survivor is a sister, such person will inherit the deceased’s assets and serve as the estate administrator.  Guardians for minor children (under 18 years of age) will need to be appointed by the Court in the event that the person dies intestate.  Since a parent should not leave it to the Court to appoint a guardian for her children, it is prudent for such person to engage the services of a qualified professional to draft a will containing her wishes relative to fiduciaries.

We  have posted previously about the merits of having a will and/or trust.  In either case, fiduciaries are selected by the person making the will or trust.  Executors are formally nominated in wills.  They are charge of paying valid financial obligations and distributing assets that are collected.  The testator (person making the Will) can select the best person in her life for the position of executor.  Perhaps she is estranged from family and would prefer not to have the Court appoint the surviving relative according to statute in the case of intestacy.  Also, the testator may have a friend who is sophisticated with respect to financial matters and is best suited to act as executor.  Trustees of trusts take on similar roles as executors.  Of course, selecting a guardian to raise one’s children in the event of death is a highly personal and important choice to be exercised.

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Our readers who follow the news are aware that the Federal government has been partially shut down for several weeks.  President Trump has taken the position that he will not agree to re-open the government unless a wall is erected along our southern border.  The Democratic leadership has responded that it will absolutely not agree that a wall is to be installed.  It is not the goal of this author to side with either of these positions.  Rather, we find it striking that neither side is negotiating effectively.  By stating an absolute, such as there must or must not be a wall, both sides are preventing a satisfactory resolution; which requires agreeing to terms that inherently will be neither of these positions.  Presenting an “all or nothing approach” is not how matters are successfully concluded.  This post will address one of the tools that experienced attorneys have at their disposal- strong negotiating skills.  We will explore how these skills are utilized in various legal matters.

Negotiation strategies can take the following course in real estate transactions.  We recommend that parties to a proposed deal let their attorneys “do the talking” and thereby prevent themselves from showing emotion or desperation to sign the contract.  Otherwise, such a party is vulnerable to agreeing to issues in the contract that may not be beneficial and result in regret.  For instance, a seller who needs to sell for financial reasons or who may be facing foreclosure, without other viable offers, may agree to excessive demands from the buyer like making repairs, credits for inspection issues, etc.  On the flip side, a buyer “in love” with a particular house that has multiple offers in a strong Spring market may agree to risky decisions such as waiving the mortgage contingency, allowing violations to remain and the like.  The more prudent negotiation move is to allow only a qualified attorney to be aware of these factors, not display feelings and allow the attorney to be the only one to negotiate on a party’s behalf.

Commercial lease negotiations  contain their own strategy.  A tenant may want to be in a particular location and find it necessary to tolerate the unreasonable expectations of a landlord.  For instance, a landlord may wrongfully impose snow removal obligations on the tenant.  The tenant’s attorney can get more leverage in this negotiation if the tenant is willing to walk away and find another location instead.  Such flexibility may help to achieve better results for the client.  Perhaps the landlord has an opportunity to rent to a “big box” nationally known tenant.  In such a case, the tenant will require that its form of lease be signed and will not be amenable to many landlord requirements.  Locating another tenant who is willing to accept landlord demands could be best in some situations.

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We have advised our readers of the process for bidding at a foreclosure auction sale in New York.  Perhaps you have attended the auction, participated and made the highest, winning bid.  This post will address what happens next.

Upon making the highest bid, the participant will need to make an immediate payment of ten (10%) percent of the bid price.  The auctioneer will provide a written receipt and the parties will sign the receipt.  The successful bidder should contact an experienced attorney  and provide the Notice of Sale, Terms of Sale and Receipt to his attorney.  Your attorney should review these documents to ensure compliance by the successful bidder as well as the party auctioning the property.

Typically, Terms of Sale provide for the bidder to close and receive the Referee’s Deed to the property within thirty (30) days of the auction sale.  Failure to do so may result in the loss of the deposit and the auctioning party offering the property to the next highest bidder or holding a second auction.  Therefore, the successful bidder should be prepared to pay the balance with readily available liquid funds, without the need to apply for a mortgage.  The attorney should order a title report, which will be bound in a title policy at closing, so that no other liens will encumber the property and the status of real estate tax payments is known for adjustment purposes.  Then, the successful bidder will have the benefit of title insurance.

auction-300x200Our firm receives many inquiries from parties who intend to bid at a foreclosure sale.  Foreclosure sales most often occur when a party is unable to pay a mortgage encumbering a property, and a foreclosure judgment is obtained by the lender.  What happens next?  A foreclosure sale, or auction, is scheduled by the lender.  This must be properly noticed by having all parties served with the Notice of Sale, as well as having the Notice published in a general circulation publication, which the Court will order, such as the Journal News in Westchester.

Once all notices have been given, the sale is usually held in the lobby of the Courthouse of the Supreme Court in the County in which the foreclosed property is located.  Most courthouses in New York State set aside a specific area or room in their building to hold such auctions, which are open to all members of the public.  Prior to the auction date, it is wise for potential bidders to have experienced counsel review the terms of sale.

The sale is then conducted by the Referee for the foreclosed property.  The Referee is an individual, usually an attorney, who has been appointed by the Court to conduct the auction and transfer the property after a judgment of foreclosure has been obtained by the lender, who is the plaintiff in the foreclosure lawsuit.  The Referee’s role is to prepare all documents, conduct the auction sale, and then prepare the property transfer documents and convey all funds to the lender after the auction.

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Landlords who lease commercial space typically concern themselves with the quality of a proposed tenant so that such character is consistent with that of other tenants occupying the property.  Such concern is reflected in particular provisions found in a commercial lease.  This post will discuss some of the more common tenant “character” provisions.

Signage is important to commercial tenants so that the store’s location is visible and identifiable to potential customers.  Because landlords are concerned that certain signage may look physically unpleasing or be harmful to the reputation of the property, landlords typically specify signage requirements in the lease.  The landlord will reserve the right to approve the signage sought to be used by the tenant and will usually not allow a sign that appears to be too large or has too much neon compared to other signs already used at the property.  Of course, signs containing vulgar words will not be permitted.  When negotiating your lease, your attorney  should also negotiate an exhibit to the lease which will contain a drawing of exactly how your sign will look with specific dimensions referenced.  That way, the parties will have already decided on the approved signage before the lease is signed.

Landlords also want to control store hours.  Many leases have provisions to that effect.  In a shopping mall environment, most leases will require stores to be open for the same number of hours.  Such a provision benefits all tenants, as the mall is more likely to be a thriving place in which to do business if shoppers can visit more than one store.  On the flip side, landlords may demand that a public storefront be closed after a certain hour so that visitors do not “hang out”, impairing the reputation of the property or creating too much noise, impacting neighbors of the property.

walmart-300x181Recent news in Westchester County is that the Wal-Mart store in downtown White Plains is scheduled to close on August 10 of this yearOur blog  has recently explored the legal issues relating to a store closing for good, especially where there is an existing lease.

An interesting point regarding the Wal-Mart closing is that it is been suggested that the store be replaced with a residential building or be converted as exists into apartments.  Many area residents who decide to move out of New York City are seeking homes in Westchester County.  However, Westchester has a limited housing stock, and many of the current homes in Westchester date from the immediate post-war period, or are even older, and the lack the amenities many new home buyers are seeking.

In addition, the economics of supply and demand mean that due to the low current supply of housing stock in Westchester, housing prices are quite high and will likely continue to rise over time.  Since demand is unlikely to decease, the only way to lower prices would be to increase the supply of housing.  Other areas in the United States are experiencing similar housing shortages.  Further, recent changes to the federal income tax laws concerning limits on the deduction of real estate taxes have affected the real estate market.

532Now that many of our clients are participating in the Spring housing market , repair issues have developed in several transactions handled by our attorneys .  This post will address the manner in which such issues should be addressed in a contract.

Most buyers will have a professional engineer inspect the premises prior to signing a contract.  Inspections serve several purposes.  They may illuminate a condition so severe that the buyer decides not to proceed.  An example may be a cracked foundation requiring costly repairs.  Inspections also show conditions that a seller may be willing to address, given the circumstances of the transaction, such as electrical repairs needed for immediate safety concerns.  Also, inspections show conditions that are for the buyer’s information as a potential homeowner, including ongoing maintenance issues such as clearing the gutters on a seasonal basis.  Conditions in this category should not be raised with the seller.  In any event, rest assured that the inspector will find conditions requiring repairs because most homes that are inspected are not newly built and not in perfect condition.

Let’s consider those conditions that should be addressed.  Buyers need to be aware that our current local real estate market is afflicted with low inventory.  This means that many sellers are weighing multiple offers that vary as to terms such as price and whether the buyer needs to obtain a mortgage.  Offers also vary as to whether a particular buyer appears to be pleasant and will easily close the transaction.  With this in mind, a buyer may lose the deal if she asks the seller to repair a large number of items, many of which are relatively simple such as unclogging the hall tub drain.  Unfortunately many first time purchasers  are anxious, desire a house with no issues, and are unfamiliar with the area, so they may not know who to call to repair the tub.  These people are better served by hiring their own plumber after the closing for a few hundred dollars, rather than making it an issue with the seller who may have other options.

lowSome of our clients have recently inquired as to whether their cooperative board may have been declined their proposed sale because the proposed purchase price is too low.  As we have indicated in previous posts , cooperative boards can decline a purchase for any or no reason so long as such reason does not discriminate against protected classes.  Once a seller hears that their well-qualified purchaser has been declined, sometimes they suspect that it is because they accepted a price that was too low.  Should a cooperative board be willing to disclose this possibility, there are steps that the seller can take to keep the deal alive.

Let’s explore the rationale for a cooperative board declining a sale because the price is too low.  The board is likely concerned that a sale price significantly lower than others in the building may adversely affect valuations of other apartments, so that all units for sale in the future may be potentially valued at a lower price as a result.  The board, as a fiduciary for all shareholders, wishes to maintain elevated apartment prices for the benefit of all shareholders.  As such, declining a purchase because the price is too low is perfectly legal.

However, the seller may be willing to accept what appears to be a low price for the following reasons.  Perhaps he is in financial distress, owes maintenance arrears and cannot cover the past due charges without selling the unit.  In this case, it is better for the cooperative as a whole if this person sells so that a financially secure buyer owns the unit instead and is current in her maintenance payments.  Also, the shareholder may be getting divorced or has been relocated in his job, making it necessary to sell.

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News outlets recently reported on the demise of retailer Toys R Us in bankruptcy.  Initially, it was thought that the famous chain toy store would continue operations under its bankruptcy plan.  Then, those in charge of the company found that it was necessary to close all locations.  Such a decision has profound ramifications on the commercial property and leasing market throughout the United States.  This post will address the legal issues raised by the closure of Toys R Us locations.

Most likely, the locations occupied by the stores were not owned by Toys R Us, but were leased under long term leases. Commercial leases typically are long term arrangements, for about ten years with potential options to renew.  Of course, during such leases, the economy or style of doing business may change, leading to a lease arrangement that is no longer viable or sensible for the tenant.  For instance, with the rise of online shopping in recent years, the need for tenants to have large locations in relative proximity to one another no longer makes sense.  It may become necessary for the tenant to renegotiate a lease when times change and the business model along with it.   Experienced counsel should be involved in any such lease renegotiation for a modification or amendment as the case may be.  In exchange for an amendment or modification, the landlord may ask for concessions from the tenant.

In considering Toys R Us in the area served by our firm , one may be familiar with a location on Central Avenue that was built specifically for the store.  The owner of the property may have issues with the store abandoning the property, as it may be suited only to this tenant.  The landlord may need to become creative in considering the future use of the space, as did the owner of Lord & Taylor’s flagship location.