Commercial Real Estate Blog by Madison

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Title Insurance and Closing Services

Boundary Trees, Where to Draw the Line….

By Terence Guerriere, Esq., Executive Vice President, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services

In a world where party walls, air rights and subway easements can sometimes make life in real estate somewhat complicated, I took a moment to breath in some fresh spring air and contemplate the beauty of the world around me. I started to focus on a magnificent oak tree, its large spreading branches and its wide trunk, and let my mind wander… to the law of boundary trees, of course!

It can be an innocent act; even a noble one. A tree is planted. Or, a wayward seed floats to the surface from a branch above, lands and takes root. Regardless, with either of these simple acts, a contentious lawsuit can also take root. It likely will take years, sometimes generations, to come to fruition (pun intended). However, one person’s bucolic shade and privacy can become another’s annoyance and nuisance!

So who has ownership of and responsibility for boundary trees, trees that grow on or near the boundary line between adjacent properties? Who has the legal right and responsibility for the removal or care of such trees? Continue reading

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Inadvertent Mortgage Fraud: A Day Late Means Many Dollars Short

By: Eliezer Shaffren, Esq., Senior Commercial Counsel, Madison Title Agency

There are situations that arise in real estate transactions that can result in inadvertent mortgage fraud. That’s right. Unintentional and without malice, but mortgage fraud just the same. Case in point.

Mr. Jones arrived at the sale of his property fully prepared. At the closing, all title exceptions had been cleared, and payoff letters have been obtained for the remaining open mortgages. The first mortgage, a purchase money mortgage, had a payoff of $500,000, which would be paid off at closing. The second mortgage, a home equity line of credit (HELOC), had a maximum allowable draw of $50,000. Mr. Jones had only drawn $10,000 of the HELOC. He obtained a payoff letter, confirming this amount was also to be paid at closing.

The closing proceeded smoothly and Mr. Jones left the room, confident that all of his bills had been paid and debts satisfied. Newly flush with cash from the sale, Mr. Jones invited a group of friends to his favorite restaurant to celebrate. That’s where things went wrong. Continue reading

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Real Estate Fraud – “Stealing” a Home

By: Debra Smith, Associate General Counsel, Madison Title Agency

An increasingly common type of real estate fraud occurs when someone impersonates the true owner of real property and does one of two things- sells the home or obtains a mortgage on it.

Typically, the wrongdoer first identifies a low risk transaction. The wrongdoer may look for a home nearing foreclosure for unpaid taxes. This is very easy information to obtain because so much data is accessible on the Internet now. The wrongdoer will then visit the property and confirm it is vacant. The ideal target has no mortgages (or only a very small mortgage) encumbering it.

The wrongdoer will obtain fake identification in the true owner’s name. He may then sell the property to a bona fide purchaser. He collects the net sale proceeds and moves on to the next victim. In criminal proceedings against Maria Leyna Albertina in Brooklyn a decade ago, it was alleged that she had identified and purportedly “sold” 32 such properties.

There are many variations on this scheme. Continue reading

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Let’s Go CFPB!

By Sam Shiel, Esq., Director of National Title Services and Senior Underwriting Counsel, Madison Title Agency

At the time of this writing, the Green Bay Packers are heading to the NFL playoffs with a record of 10-6. While the team’s record is reason for most Packer fans to rejoice, certainly there are some fans with more on their mind. Specifically, members of the Orlando-based fan club, the Central Florida Packer Backers (CFPB). But for those members of the CFPB purchasing a home in Florida, “fun” is hardly the word that comes to mind these days.

Since September 2, 2014, home purchasing members of the CFPB, along with all other Florida home purchasers, have been subject to an additional title charge of $3.28. Why? It is to pay for the multimillion-dollar collapse of an Orlando title company.

Back in 2007, a Florida law firm formed a title company by the name of KEL Title Insurance Group (KEL) headquartered in Orlando – much like the CFPB. The company had written in excess of 10,000 title insurance policies. However, in October 2012, KEL was ordered into receivership for purposes of rehabilitation by the Courts. The partners of the law firm have denied any wrongdoing, blaming KEL Title’s problems on a fraud scheme by an unidentified rogue agent in South Florida who allegedly fabricated sales and stole escrow money. While KEL is no longer writing new or renewal insurance coverage, the company’s existing policies are not cancelled by the rehabilitation order and will continue in the ordinary course of business.

The result. Just months after the takeover by the state, KEL policy claims are skyrocketing and its cash is nearly gone Claims soared as homeowners discovered flawed sales closings and bogus title insurance sales. When the state took over in 2012, KEL had claim liabilities of $12.8 million and cash of $2.7 million, according to state records.

The solution?…. Continue reading

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The Pervasiveness of Mortgage Fraud – Forged Documents

By Debra Smith, Associate General Counsel, Madison Title Agency

Mortgage fraud is pervasive. This is the first of a series of blogs describing different types of mortgage fraud and the flags that can help anyone involved in the real estate and financial sector identify them.

One fraud seen with increasing frequency is forged mortgage satisfactions. A major example of this type of fraud occurred in 2005 in Greenwich, Connecticut. A respected real estate developer owned a number of commercial properties. It turns out that to generate more cash flow, he was routinely forging mortgage satisfactions of mortgages encumbering properties he owned. Continue reading

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Parking Arrangements in Construction Exchanges and for Other Purposes

By: Lee David Medinets, Esq., Chief Counsel, MCRES, Madison Exchange a/k/a Madison 1031, and affiliates

In the last few posts, we looked at how parking arrangements are handled in reverse exchanges. Construction exchanges are in some ways very similar to reverse exchanges. Both involve a parking arrangement. In a construction exchange, however, the purpose of the parking arrangement is different.

IRC § 1031 allows for the cost of construction on replacement property to be counted as part of the purchase price of that property, but only to the extent that the improvements have been made to the property before the taxpayer acquires it. Once the taxpayer owns the replacement property it is too late. Moreover, payment for bricks and mortar sitting at the construction site does not count for exchange purposes until those bricks and mortar have been attached to the ground. The cost of services performed for construction counts, but not the cost of services that have not yet been performed. In a construction exchange, the parking arrangement allows these improvements to be made while the property is in the hands of a friendly party. Continue reading

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Railroad Easements… Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States – Part 2

By Terence Guerriere, Esq., Executive Vice President, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services

In my last post, I wrote about how three seemingly unrelated things led to me to think about railroad easements. First, I’d recently read Robert L. O’Connell’s biography of William Tecumseh Sherman. I also visited the High Line elevated park in Manhattan and I’m following a local property owners’ group battle to stop the taking of a public street to facilitate, in part, the establishment of a land conservancy. I explored how granting rail companies land in the 1860s, converting an old railway into a park and a neighborhood fight to stop the taking of property in connection with a planned conservancy led to a collision that resulted in a Supreme Court case.

But I left a cliffhanger…. and did not divulge the Supreme Court’s decision on the issue. Here’s the outcome. Continue reading

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Railroad Easements… A Controversy 130 Years in the Making

By Terence Guerriere, Esq., Executive Vice President, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services

Three seemingly unrelated things led to me to think about railroad easements and this post. First, I recently read Robert L. O’Connell’s biography of William Tecumseh Sherman. I also visited the High Line elevated park in Manhattan and I’m following a local property owners’ group battle to stop the taking of a public street to facilitate, in part, the establishment of a land conservancy. How are these related to a discussion of railroad easements?

From O’Connell’s book, I learned of Sherman’s significant role in the planning and construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Not only was General Sherman a Civil War hero, he also worked after the war to help his former soldiers gain employment building the railroads. This pro-railroad stance included supporting the federal government’s generous land grants to the railroad companies.

The High Line is a beautiful walking trail situated on a former abandoned elevated railroad line on Manhattan’s West Side. After years of debate, the establishment of this linear park has spurred significant development beneficial to those visiting the High Line and the city’s real estate developers.

The purchase of a former country club property by a private day school has led to seeking the discontinuance of a public street which dissects part of the property. The street also serves as an important access point to the neighborhood of private homes which surround the property. The school’s plan includes a land conservancy for part of the property but only if the school is granted permission to construct its multiple building campus.

How did granting rail companies land in the 1860s, converting an old railway into a park, and a neighborhood fighting to stop the taking of property in connection with a planned conservancy collide and result in a Supreme Court case? These three isolated items coalesced in my head to inspire thoughts of railway easements and why they have become so controversial. Continue reading

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Implementation delayed for the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) Rule

By: Eli Young, Director of Title Operations, Madison Title Agency

Just as we were entering the final countdown to implement the new TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule, the real estate industry has been granted a brief reprieve.

The August 15, 2015 effective date for the new rules has been postponed until October 2015. The delay is due to an administrative error that was made in the rules disclosure and review process. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress and the Government Accountability Office must receive any new rule at least 60 days prior to the rule taking effect. However, the CFPB failed to submit its notice until after the 60-day deadline had passed and was forced to delay the effective date of the TRID rule as a result. Continue reading

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Isn’t it Time to Jettison Adverse Possession Laws?

By Terence Guerriere, Esq., Executive Vice President, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services

Adverse possession is a method of acquiring title to real property by possessing it for a statutory period under certain conditions. The doctrine of adverse possession has been a part of American law since the founding of our country; a precept of western civilization’s legal system for centuries. However, perhaps it is time to recognize that the idea that an owner of real property should lose title to his land, simply because someone else has been using it, is a relic of the past.

The primary reason for the development of adverse possession law was to promote the productive use of property. If an absent owner did not tend to his land, the land would not produce food or other benefits for society. This certainly made sense during the time of an agrarian society. Today, however, there is little fear that we would not be able to feed, clothe and house our citizens by allowing land to lay fallow.
Is it time to lift the burden from the land owner of record and shift it to the possessor of land he doesn’t own?
Continue reading

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