Real Estate Attorneys Serving Southeast Wisconsin
Real Estate Attorneys Serving Southeast Wisconsin
Buying or selling your home might be the most important financial transaction you make in a lifetime. If you own multiple pieces of real estate, correctly navigating the sale process can mean the difference between an overall gain or loss on your investment properties. Therefore, it is very important to retain legal counsel early in the real estate transaction—before any offers have been extended.
Knuteson, Hinkston & Rosenberg, S.C. works with clients in Racine, WI, and surrounding communities to successfully complete the full range of real estate transactions.
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Real Estate FAQ’s
Questions? We have the answers for you.
What should an attorney review before property is put on the market?
Whether you are the seller or buyer, an attorney should review the legal issues affecting a particular piece of real estate before it is even put on the market, such as easements that run with the land or zoning restrictions. By identifying the underlying laws and rules bound to the land, the buyer or seller can put themselves in a better position to make a competitive offer or accept a fair price. For example, some properties have easement restrictions, which permit a third party to use the land temporarily or permanently.
What types of easements exist and how do they affect property sales?
Many municipalities have utility easements that allow power companies to enter the property and perform maintenance work from time to time. Other easements may allow the neighboring landowner to share a driveway or exit alley with the property. Easements come in many different forms, but whatever the case, you should be aware of the legal rights that will be inherited with the property upon sale.
Should I hire a environmental inspector?
Prospective real estate owners should also review the environmental and structural status
of the property. Protected wetlands, the presence of hazardous chemicals or mold, and flood
plains are just a few of the many environmental obstacles that should be identified and addressed before sale. Parties may need to retain a professional environmental inspector or seek the advice of an environmental attorney to deal with more serious issues.
What is a Real Estate Condition Report?
What can I do if I learn something in my home was faulty when I purchased it?
If the home was purchased through a real estate agency, there is often a warranty policy that covers certain losses such as this. If there is no warranty policy, it is important to speak with an attorney to discuss your options. If the fault was a mistake, the seller may be open to making repairs. However, an attorney will be able to advise you should the situation rise to legal claims.
Is there anything I should do before buying a home?
Yes. Before buying a home, the title should be searched by an attorney experienced in real estate law. A title search shows whether the property is subject to any claims or liens. It should be done before moving forward with negotiations or any contract signing. This task ensures that it is okay to purchase a home, and prevents any issues on selling the property down the road.
What is an easement, and how does it impact my transaction?
An easement is an interest in property that allows someone to use the property without actually having ownership of it. Oftentimes, an easement will be in place allowing the city to use your property to fix water mains or sidewalks. You will want to know whether the property you are purchasing has any easements. Easements are not necessarily a bad thing, but can be terminated with the help of an attorney if need be. The less desirable type of easement is called a “prescriptive easement”. This is when a neighbor is encroaching on your land for their own use. When this happens, speak to an attorney as soon as you can.
Are there any defects that I do not need to disclose as a seller?
As a seller, you should disclose all defects on the property that you are aware of — or should reasonably be aware of. During the transaction, you may be asked to make repairs before the sale is complete, or the buyer will take on the responsibility of repairs. Failure to disclose defects in the home may cause a dispute or legal claims that land you in court. An attorney can help advise you on the best ways to deal with defects in a real estate transaction.
Do I really need a real estate agent if I hired a lawyer?
There is no requirement that you use a real estate agent to buy or sell a home, however it is likely a good idea to consult one anyways. While lawyers are advisors on the legal aspects of the transaction, agents are up-to-date with the real estate market and can help you strategize to find and negotiate deals.
What Happens After An Offer Has Been Extended?
Once an offer has been accepted, the parties are bound by the contract to proceed to closing, unless special contingencies are triggered. For example, such contingencies may allow the parties to back out of the deal if the buyer cannot secure financing, or if a home inspection report finds structural disrepair problems with the house. An attorney can help draft a Purchase Agreement with built-in protections and safeguards to ensure that you have an exit from the contract if unforeseen issues with the property arise before closing.
How does zoning laws affect real estate transactions?
Zoning laws can also burden real estate, especially if the buildings will be used for commercial purposes. Most businesses must be operated in special business or industrial zones which have to be a certain distance away from residential zones. A real estate lawyer should analyze potential commercial properties to make sure that the zoning laws will allow the type of business or other activity that the buyer desires.
For example, pawn shops, department stores, liquor and tobacco shops, and even restaurants are often segregated into certain zones. A building outside the correct zone will not be able to secure necessary operating permits and licenses, unless an attorney can successfully petition the municipality to allow an
exception—which is sometimes an uphill legal challenge.
What is title insurance?
Almost every real estate sale requires title insurance, which guarantees that the property’s title is being transferred via a deed from the seller without any unforeseen encumbrances. Encumbrances are any burden or claim against the property which reduces its value and ties up the title. Common encumbrances may include a deceased owner’s name remaining on the property deed, a judgment or subcontractor’s lien which must be satisfied, or an imminent foreclosure of the mortgage.
The parties should work with a reputable and professional title company to ensure that an appropriate title insurance policy covers the transaction and all encumbrances are either removed or effectively managed
Do I need an home inspection?
It is always recommended that buyers purchase an additional, independent home inspection report from a professional inspector to locate any issues the seller may have missed or failed to disclose. For sellers, it is important to carefully review the answers provided on the Real Estate Condition Report with an attorney so that the seller does not accidentally commit a fraudulent act by failing to disclose a known defect. Failing to disclose obvious and clear defects can lead to messy and expensive lawsuits from angry buyers who have moved into a defective home post-closing.
How does a home inspection impact my closing?
Proceeding to closing, an attorney will assist with tracking the various contingencies that must be met in order to close the sale—such as the buyer securing a loan or other funding, the seller repairing broken or outdated items, or even the buyer selling their prior home. Sometimes the parties will sign an Addendum after they have entered the closing process in order to change aspects of the deal before final payment is made and title is transferred.
For example, the buyer might demand a lower purchase price, or the repair of a certain item, because new structural problems were discovered by the buyer’s home inspector. At closing, a real estate attorney should review all of the closing documents for accuracy and completeness before the parties finish the transaction and make payment.
If I am buying or selling a home, should I hire an attorney to oversee the process?
A lawyer is not specifically required for real estate transactions; however, they are recommended to oversee the process. Buying and selling a home is complex, with large amounts of money changing hands. During the transaction, a lawyer will be able to advise you on the legal aspect of negotiation, contract signing, closings, and generally protect your interests.
What should I do to prepare for selling a home?
On the flip-side to buying a home, someone selling a home make sure there are no claims or liens against the property. It is also important to determine the parameters of the transaction, such as the lowest price you will accept for the property and what items or appliances will be included in the sale. It is a good idea to speak with an attorney before making a transaction of this complexity.
What are my options for holding title?
There are several ways to hold title to a real estate property. Some of these include joint tenancy, tenancy in common, and sole ownership. With joint tenancy, ownership is shared between two or more people. If one owner dies, the ownership passes automatically to the other owners without probate. Tenancy in common, however, is where two or more people hold separate ownership in one property according to their respective ownership percentage. Lastly, in sole ownership there is just one owner or entity that holds title to a property. Speak to your attorney to discuss your options.
What are a warranty deed and quitclaim deed?
A deed is the document that transfers ownership, or title, from a seller to a buyer. The two common types of deeds are warranty and quitclaim. A warranty deed guarantees that the seller has full title and right to sell ownership to the buyer. It also assures the title is clear of liens and encumbrances that may cause future property issues. A quitclaim deed does not offer the same assurances and protection. Instead, it is merely the transfer of any interests the seller may have in the property. This type of conveyance is more common between family members who are transferring title without the exchange of money.
What is escrow?
With some high-stakes transactions, escrow is required to protect the buyer and seller until the deal is complete. Escrow is a guarantee that the buyer actually has the funds to purchase the property, and the seller actually has title to that property. Essentially, a buyer gives the funds to purchase the house to a neutral third-party, who holds the funds until the transaction is done. Then the funds are transferred to the seller. This tool helps ensure trust throughout the process.
Count on Knuteson, Hinkston & Rosenberg, S.C. for Your Legal Needs
Outside of conventional real estate sales, many owners require legal assistance when transferring properties as part of their estate planning or other business goals. An attorney can help select the best method to transfer a property to your family members, heirs, a trust, or other legal entity. Depending on your individual goals, it might even make sense to transfer your real estate into an LLC that is controlled by you.
This may help reduce your personal liability if someone is ever injured on your property, especially if you plan to have tenants. You should contact an attorney to discuss your personal goals and set up a real estate structure that reflects your estate or business plans.