How Should I Take Ownership of the Property I am Buying?
Real property can be incredibly valuable and the question of how parties can take ownership of their property is important. The form of ownership taken -- the vesting of title -- will determine who may sign various documents involving the property and future rights of the parties to the transaction. These rights involve such matters as: real property taxes, income taxes, inheritance and gift taxes, transferability of title and exposure to creditor’s claims. Also, how title is vested can have significant probate implications in the event of death.
The Land Title Association (LTA) advises those purchasing real property to give careful consideration to the manner in which title will be held. Buyers may wish to consult legal counsel to determine the most advantageous form of ownership for their particular situation, especially in cases of multiple owners of a single property.
The LTA has provided the following definitions of common vesting as an informational overview. Consumers should not rely on these as legal definitions. The Association urges real property purchasers to carefully consider their titling decision prior to closing, and to seek counsel should they be unfamiliar with the most suitable ownership choice for their particular situation.
Common Methods of Holding Title
Sole ownership may be described as ownership by an individual or other entity capable of acquiring title. Examples of common vesting in cases of sole ownership are:
A man or woman who has not been legally married. For example: Bruce Buyer, a single man.
A man or woman who was previously married and is now legally divorced. For example: Sally Seller, an unmarried woman.
A married man or woman who wishes to acquire title in his or her name alone.
The title company insuring title will require the spouse of the married man or woman acquiring title to specifically disclaim or relinquish his or her right, title and interest to the property. This establishes that it is the desire of both spouses that title to the property be granted to one spouse as that spouse’s sole and separate property. For example: Bruce Buyer, a married man, as his sole and separate property.
Title to property owned by two or more persons may be vested in the following forms:
A form of vesting title to property owned by husband and wife during their marriage, which they intend to own together. Community property is distinguished from separate property, which is property acquired before marriage, by separate gift or bequest, after legal separation, or which is agreed to be owned only by one spouse.
Real property conveyed to a married man or woman is presumed to be community property, unless otherwise stated. Since all such property is owned equally, husband and wife must sign all agreements and documents of transfer. Under community property, either spouse has the right to dispose of one half of the community property, including transfers by will. For example: Bruce Buyer and Barbara Buyer, husband and wife as community property.
A form of vesting title to property owned by two or more persons, who may or may not be married, in equal interest, subject to the right of survivorship in the surviving joint tenant(s). Title must have been acquired at the same time, by the same conveyance, and the document must expressly declare the intention to create a joint tenancy estate. When a joint tenant dies, title to the property is automatically conveyed by operation of law to the surviving joint tenant(s). Therefore, joint tenancy property is not subject to disposition by will. For example: Bruce Buyer and Barbara Buyer, husband and wife as joint tenants.
A form of vesting title to property owned by any two or more individuals in undivided fractional interests. These fractional interests may be unequal in quantity or duration and may arise at different times. Each tenant in common owns a share of the property, is entitled to a comparable portion of the income from the property and must bear an equivalent share of expenses. Each co-tenant may sell, lease or will to his/her heir that share of the property belonging to him/her. For example: Bruce Buyer, a single man, as to an undivided 3/4 interest and Penny Purchaser, a single woman, as to an undivided 1/4 interest, as tenants in common.
Other ways of vesting title include:
A corporation is a legal entity, created under state law, consisting of one or more shareholders but regarded under law as having an existence and personality separate from such shareholders.
A partnership is an association of two or more persons who can carry on business for profit as co-owners, as governed by the Uniform Partnership Act. A partnership may hold title to real property in the name of the partnership.
A trust is an arrangement whereby legal title to a property is transferred by the grantor to a person called a trustee, to be held and managed by that person for the benefit of the people specified in the trust agreement, called the beneficiaries.
This form of ownership is a legal entity and is similar to both the corporation and the partnership. The operating agreement will determine how the L.L.C. functions and is taxed. Like the corporation its existence is separate from its owners.
*In cases of corporate, partnership, L.L.C. or trust ownership - required documents may include corporate articles and bylaws, partnership agreements, L.L.C. operating agreement and trust agreements and/or certificates.
How title is vested has important legal consequences. You may wish to consult an attorney to determine the most advantageous form of ownership for your particular situation.
Builders, in an effort to combat the dual problem of an increasing population and a declining availability of prime land, are increasingly turning to common interest developments (CIDs) as a means to maximize land use and offer homebuyers convenient, affordable housing.
The two most common forms of common interest developments in many states are Condominiums and Planned Unit Developments, often referred to as PUDs. The essential characteristics shared by these two forms of ownership are:
Before continuing further, it may be helpful to clarify a common misconception about Condominiums and PUDs. The terms Condominium and PUD refer to types of interests in land, not to physical styles of dwellings. Therefore, when homebuyers say that they are buying a townhouse, it is not the same as saying that they are buying a condominium. When homebuyers say that they are buying a unit in a PUD, they are not necessarily buying a single-family detached home. A townhouse might legally be a condominium, a unit or lot in a Planned Unit Development, or a single-family detached residence. The terms Condominium or PUD will say a great deal about the ownership rights the buyer will receive in the unit and the interest they will acquire in the common properties or common areas of the development.
Common interest developments offer many advantages to homebuyers, such as low maintenance and access to attractive amenities. However, there are restrictions and duties which come with ownership of a Condominium or PUD that buyers should be aware of prior to purchase.
To acquaint you with various aspects of ownership in common interest developments, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about Condominiums and PUDs.
What are the basic differences between ownership of a Condominium and ownership of a PUD?
The owner(s) of a unit within a typical Condominium project owns 100% of the unit, as defined by a recorded Condominium Plan. As well, they will own a fractional or percentage interest in all common areas of the Condominium project.
The owner(s) of a lot within a PUD owns the lot which has been conveyed to them-as shown in the recorded Tract Map or Parcel Map-and the structure and improvements thereon. In addition, they receive rights and easements to use in common areas owned by another-frequently a Homeowner’s association-of which the individual lot owners are members.
The above are basic descriptions and should not be considered legal definitions.
Besides ownership of my unit, what other amenities (common areas) will I be acquiring use of and how will I own them?
Common interest areas may span the spectrum from the ordinary-buildings, roadways, walkways and utility rooms-to the extravagant-equestrian trails and golf courses-with more usual amenities including community swimming pools and clubhouse facilities.
Your ownership rights in common areas will be spelled out in your project’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC and R’s). The subject of CC and R’s will be expanded upon later in this brochure.
As we stated in the answer to the previous question, Condominium owners own a fractional or percentage interest in common with all other owners in the Condominium project, in all common areas. PUD owners receive rights and easements to use of common areas through their membership in a Homeowner’s association, which typically owns and controls the common areas. Some PUD projects, however, provide that the individual homeowners will own a fractional interest in the common areas. Again, in this case, a Homeowner’s association will have the right to regulate the use of the common areas and to assess for purposes of maintaining the common areas.
Check your CC and R’s and association Bylaws (basically, rules governing the management of the development) to insure that you understand your rights to use of your unit and common areas.
What services will my Homeowner’s assessments help to finance?
Your Homeowner’s assessments support not only the easily recognizable-building and swimming pool upkeep, landscape maintenance-but also the unseen-association management and legal fees and association insurance.
As well, reserves must be factored into your assessments, including reserves for replacement of such items as roadways and walkways. In the case of condominiums, where ownership is usually limited to airspace within the walls, floors and ceiling of the unit, reserves will frequently fund replacement of such items as roofs and plumbing.
Each member of the Homeowner’s association, upon purchasing their unit, must receive a pro forma operating budget from the association. Basically, this will be a financial statement of the income and obligations of the association, which must include an estimate of the life of the obligations covered under the assessments and how their replacement is being funded.
What happens if I fail to pay my Homeowner’s assessments?
Delinquency fees will be added onto the unpaid assessments.
Should your delinquency continue, the association has the right to place a lien upon your property. The lien may lead to a foreclosure if the delinquency is not paid.
Of what importance are CC and R’s and Bylaws?
CC and R’s and Bylaws are the rules and regulations of the community, meant to guide the use of individual properties and common areas. Buyers should be aware that CC and R’s and Bylaws may be written so as to restrict not only property use, but also to restrict owners’ lifestyles, for instance, spelling out hours during which entertainment, such as parties, may be hosted.
CC and R’s and Bylaws are highly important and should be thoroughly examined and understood prior to purchase. They bind all owners and their successors to the rules and regulations of the community. Failure to follow those rules and regulations can be considered a breach of contract. Legal action may be taken against the homeowner for any such breach.
At what point in the real estate transaction will I be allowed to review a copy of my CC and R’s and Bylaws?
Legally, it is the responsibility of the owner to provide the prospective purchaser with the governing documents of the development (CC and R’s and Bylaws), the most recent financial statement of the Homeowner’s association and notice of any dues delinquent on the unit.
The law states that these items should be delivered as soon as practicable; however, the prospective buyer should request to see them as early as possible. If you do not fully understand what is stated in these documents, consult a real property attorney.
Should I object to items included in the CC and R’s and/or Bylaws, will I have the opportunity to terminate those items prior to taking ownership?
No. The process required to terminate these restrictions is often complex and costly. Termination of restrictions will require, at least, a majority vote by members of the Homeowner’s association, and may require litigation.
What if I have further questions regarding Condominium and PUD ownership?
Ask any questions you may have before you buy! Don’t wait to take ownership to find out about restrictions and regulations affecting your Homeownership rights.
When purchasing a piece of property, it is important to be aware of any environmental liabilities associated with it. For example, you should find out if there are any registered underground tanks within several miles of the property, known contaminated properties in the neighborhood, or property owners who have been fined by the government for failing to meet environmental safety standards.
Before, it took a costly site investigation to acquire this type of information, but now there are online environmental databases available at a fraction of the cost. Anyone can access reports on otherwise hard to detect environmental issues. With these databases, it is possible to obtain a list of hazards near a property, or spills and violations attributed to businesses nearby.
Some reputable databases include VISTA Information Systems, located in San Diego, California, which allows you to register and search the data bank for free, and E Data Resources, which is located in Southport, Connecticut. These services are all relatively inexpensive, but can provide you with priceless information that is useful before you make a purchase.
Lead poisoning is a serious problem that can lead to adverse health problems. In children, high levels of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, behavioral and learning problems, slow growth, and hearing problems. In adults, lead poisoning can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorder, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.
Lead poisoning is especially a problem in cities with older buildings. Typically, lead is present in the paint from older buildings, in the water supply, and in the environment from cars and buses. Preventing lead poisoning in large cities, where there is such widespread possibility for exposure is both difficult and expensive. Federal programs have attempted to address this problem.
Lead poisoning is also an issue that buyers and sellers need to consider. Houses that were built before 1978 probably have paint that contains lead. Federal law requires that sellers disclose known information on lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a federal form about lead-based paint in the building. Buyers will have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards and are likely to stipulate corrections.