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Frequently Asked Questions About California Real Estate Law

Below is a sample of common questions fielded by our lawyers. These answers are not meant as legal advice, but to help you ask the right questions when you speak with an attorney. Attorney Matt Angell has been licensed to practice in California since 2001 and is well-equipped to provide answers for your specific situation. Call The Angell Law Firm, P.C.

Do I need to hire a lawyer to buy a home?

You are not required to have legal counsel for a real estate transaction, but there are many reasons to do so. You are making one of the biggest investments of your life. An attorney can review the purchase agreement or negotiate the sale price and other terms. They can perform due diligence on the seller and the property to make sure the title is clear and the seller is not misrepresenting anything. If there are any hiccups with financing or contingency clauses or a hundred other things that can go wrong, your lawyer can intervene quickly on your behalf to back you out of the deal or to consummate the transaction.

I’m selling my home. It needs some work. What should I disclose to potential buyers?

It is very important to be upfront about any property defects or needed repairs, as well as any property liens or other problems you would be passing along to the seller. Your real estate agent can help you fill out the Transfer Disclosure Statement to fully disclose all the required elements. It’s advisable to have the TDS reviewed by an attorney if you have any doubts. Failure to disclose known defects is considered fraud under California law and could result in a lawsuit for damages.

I am thinking of doing “for sale by owner.” Is this a good idea?

In a “for sale by owner” or FSBO transaction, you save thousands of dollars by not paying a commission to a real estate broker. However, that agent performs many services for the money, including advice on staging your property, setting the price, marketing the property, showing it to a parade of potential buyers, and guiding you through the mounds of paperwork and the closing process. A good agent also steers you clear of potential pitfalls. In an FSBO, you are on your own. All the work and all the liability is on you. If you decide not to use an agent, we would put in a plug for having an attorney review the contracts and disclosures before you sign on any dotted lines.

What do I need to know before entering a commercial lease?

Beware of a lease with a long duration, as you are on the hook. And make sure you understand what is included in the rent and what is “extra” or your responsibility. A gross lease is “all-inclusive,” including utilities, taxes, insurance and maintenance. In a triple net lease, you pay the rent plus a prorated portion of the property taxes, insurance and common area maintenance. In a modified gross lease, you and the landlord split the burdens. It’s a good idea to have a lawyer negotiate or review your commercial lease.

What is a mechanic’s lien?

A mechanic’s lien, or construction lien, is a formal claim filed in court against real property (residential or commercial). It is used by construction contractors and subcontractors as leverage to get paid for services rendered. If the lien is “perfected” (certified) by the court, that lienholder has priority over other creditors. If the debt is not satisfied, the contractor/subcontractor can foreclose on the property. Mechanic’s lien litigation can get messy, but ultimately the property owner is liable for work completed.

What is the difference between a townhome, a condominium and a co-op?

A townhome is a single-family home that shares one or more walls with other units. Typically no one lives above or below you. A condominium, or condo, is generally smaller than a townhouse, and you may have neighbors above, below and/or beside you. In a townhouse, you own the unit and some of the exterior property. In a condo, you only own the interior of your unit. A cooperative, or co-op, is similar to an apartment building. You do not own your unit, but you own a share in the corporation that owns the building and you have exclusive rights to lease. You can sell a townhouse or condo like any other property. There may be restrictions on a co-op unit, such as a requirement to sell your share back to the cooperative if you move. All three are governed by a homeowner association (HOA) or a co-op board. Each HOA has its own set of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R) that residents must adhere to.

Ask Us Your Real Estate Questions

The experienced attorneys of The Angell Law Firm, P.C., invite you to arrange a low-cost consultation to discuss your real estate transaction or real estate dispute. We practice in Contra Costa County and surrounding Northern California. Call our Lafayette office at 925-951-0796 or contact us online.