The Law Office of Robert B. Jacobs

Real Estate

The most valuable asset that most people will ever own will be their real estate. Real estate is an investment. Nearly everybody lives on some kind of real estate. Most businesses operate out of some kind of real estate. Real estate is everywhere, and in this day and age most people in the United States either own, have owned, or will own some kind of real estate. Those who don’t will undoubtedly lease some.

Real estate sales, purchases, and ownership can be complex. When everything goes well, then nobody ever thinks twice about a real estate transaction. But when things go poorly, people can remember their real estate headaches for a long, long time.

There is only so much real estate. We’re not making any more of it. And it seems like most buildings have been around for a long, long time. So why should there be problems with real estate? It almost seems like all of the kinks should have been worked out by now. Buildings usually don’t move. They seem stable. And land generally stays in one place. So why all the concern about real estate transactions?

Truth is, there are many, many aspects to real estate. A smooth transaction, or a smooth construction project, will successfully address all of the potential issues. But it doesn’t take much for something – anything – to go wrong in a real estate transaction, and when it does, the results can be both expensive and time-consuming.

What are some of the things that can go wrong in a real estate transaction? Following are just a few.

Nonperformance. Most real estate transactions have two (or more) parties. If one of the parties doesn’t perform, then there can be no transaction. If property is to be sold, the buyer must come up with the money, and the seller has to sign a deed. If either side refuses to perform, then the transaction fails and someone is going to be disappointed.

Most litigation is filed because someone is surprised, disappointed or angry. There is a lot of money at stake in a real estate transaction. Sometimes people get cold feet. Other times they find a better opportunity elsewhere. Whatever the reason, non-performance can be a real headache. And when non-performance occurs, people pick up the phone and call their lawyer.

Construction Defects. Modern buildings have many complex systems. Soil must be properly graded and drained. Foundations must be properly designed and reinforced. Framing and sheetrock must be properly built. Plumbing, heating, and electrical components must be properly installed. And siding and roofing must be properly constructed. There is much room for error in constructing any of these systems, and when errors occur the repairs can be expensive.

Real estate must also be maintained. Roofs need to stay watertight. Fixtures need to be replaced when they leak. Termites and other pests need to be controlled. If Real Estate isn’t properly maintained, then the resulting damage can require expensive repairs.

Use Issues. Two hundred years ago, most people lived on the farm. Today, most people live in cities where we live close to each other. As a result, we depend on each other to use our real estate wisely and respectfully.

If an owner leaves their hose running during their vacation, they could flood a neighbor’s yard. If an owner plants large trees near a property line, then the roots can run under a fence and cause havoc with neighboring concrete or buildings. If an owner (or a tenant) plays loud music outdoors at 2 a.m. every night, then the neighbors may get a bit grumpy. If an owner takes up a backyard hobby that causes bad odors, then a neighbor may complain. All of these things happen, and all of them involve the use of real estate.

Title Issues. Sometimes family members informally share title. Parents may ask a grown son or daughter to “hold title in their name” for some reason, but everybody considers the parents to still be the owner. If that son or daughter gets sued or files bankruptcy then some interesting results may occur. Family members may forget to record deeds. Neighbors might use a property without permission for a long period of time, thereby creating an easement. Questions arise about who actually owns real estate, and sometimes deeds are defective. Many of these questions are best addressed - and resolved - by a skilled real estate lawyer.

Environmental Contamination. A hundred years ago, environmental contamination had hardly been thought of. We would never consciously pollute our lands today by using them as they were used a hundred years ago. But sometimes hazardous materials remain on land from practices used long ago - and then sometimes land is polluted from a deliberate choice to save money on toxics disposal. Such practices can result in expensive cleanup.

There are many, many other issues that can arise with real estate. Prudent parties who want to minimize risk and protect themselves will often involve legal counsel in their real estate transactions. When problems arise because of unforeseen conditions, then litigation may become essential, and the use of skilled legal counsel may become critical.

The Law Office of Robert B. Jacobs has authored weekly newspaper columns in the San Francisco Bay Area on real estate topics over the past several years. Click here to view the columns that have been published.