Friday, October 31, 2008

My Experience in the Cook County Treasurer's Office

Just a brief follow-up from yesterday's post...

So I took a little field trip today down to the Treasurer's Office in the County Administration building at 118 N. Clark Street to get my client's duplicate tax bill copy (client is out-of-state). And I would honestly give the office high marks for customer service! They have several people ready to assist you even before you enter the office so that you're not having to waste time up at the counters filling out paperwork. There are also several service personnel circulating around the office...two cheers for Maria Pappas!! I'd be hard pressed to think of the last time I've experienced good customer service in Cook County or Illinois government (except my dad who used to be a great TV spokesman for IDOT during the 90s).

That being said, what's up with the power trip over getting a copy of a tax bill?? Anyone, anywhere can view Cook County property tax bills and general property information over the Internet, yet they guard the release of duplicate tax bills copies like Fort Knox. Only the homeowner can get it unless you have a power of attorney (I have to pay them $1 for a duplicate due to their failure to send one to my client). I was fortunate to get a copy, I didn't have a POA but did have an Order appointing my client executor of the home owner's estate with me listed as the attorney of record.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Learn from a First Time Homeowner

7 tips from a first time homeowner (full article)...

1. Owning a home is more than a mortgage.

2. Always have cushion of cash for home repairs.

3. You can save a lot of money as a do-it-yourselfer.

4. But some jobs are worth hiring out -- if you can afford it.

5. Buy used.

6. Having a yard is harder and more costly than you think.

7. You must plan and prioritize.

The Opposite of Making a Bill Easy to Pay

I'm no Warren Buffet but I thought I heard somewhere that in business it's a good idea to try and make it as easy as possible for your customers or clients to pay your bills. I know we're always thinking about this issue with our monthly client statements whether it means accepting credit cards, sending statements via e-mail, allowing Internet bill pay, or just including a self-addressed stamped envelope so all a client has to do is write a check and drop it in the mail. You'd be amazed at what a difference just enclosing an envelope and $.42 stamp did for speed of client payments.

And then there's the Cook County Treasurer's Office...

We represent the Estate of a gentleman who died within the last 6 months or so who owned a home in Cook County. There's upwards of $800,000 in this Estate working it's way through probate court and no surprise the home has yet to sell. And we need to pay the 2007 Second Installment tax bill. But for whatever reason my client, the executor of the Estate, who has had the decedent's mail forwarded to his house hasn't gotten the tax bill.

Well, the Treasurer will not let us pay the bill unless we have an original tax bill coupon included with the check. They don't want our money! A check with a PIN and address and for the specific amount listed as due on the Website isn't enough...they want their coupons!

So I'll be stopping by the Treasurer's Office tomorrow as part of my Daley Center morning and ordering a duplicate tax bill copy at the County Administration Building.

Why is the coupon so important? Isn't it the tax revenue they're after?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mary and Me

I don't like Zillow nearly as much as Mary but I too do enjoy finding creative Buyer's incentives like this one from Mary's Sunday column:

The latest: The Brixton Group has partnered with designer Matt Lorenz, winner of Bravo TV's "Top Design" competition in 2007, to offer his services to buyers at its C/A 23 condo development at 23 N. Aberdeen St. Anyone who buys one of the building's 48 units through the end of January will get a $30,000 allowance that can be applied to the designer's fee and any furnishings the buyer chooses in consultation with him.

Real Estate Publication

If you're an Illinois real estate practitioner you must subscribe to the ISBA Real Estate Law Section Council newsletter. And I'm just a humble ISBA member myself but for $20 a year you get a good newsletter that is published nearly monthly. As a former editor of an ISBA publication, I'll be the first to say some of them suck and aren't worth $20 but the real estate newsletter is excellent!

Speaking of the above, October's edition had a couple good refresher articles on both condominium resale representation and navigating short sales. Here's the link (you must be a member) or find a hard copy. My commentary...

First, regarding condominium resales, I agree with the author for the most part but would make a couple additions. He hedges a bit on the attorney's review of condo declarations, bylaws, and rules/regs. You must review these! And quite frankly even though the documents are thick, once you get experienced you just need to find the use and occupancy part of the declaration generally and the rules/regs. That's where it will address things like pet restrictions or rental restrictions...those are the two I look for. I got a client out of a deal once with earnest money returned because she didn't like the fact that her dog couldn't use the building's elevator. Second, among the documents that you must request and make deal contingent on, you should also include 1-2 years worth of Board of Manager meeting minutes. See what they've been talking about in terms of building issues and repairs.

On the short sale topic, my only addition would be that yes if you have the Seller you need to modify the K to be contingent on Seller's lender approving the transaction but also add, "without Seller's taking on additional personal liability." I've been speaking to a bank on a transaction lately about a possible short sale and they're always mentioning the possibility of the Seller signing a separate note. Don't get hooked into this one.

Cook County Foreclosures

Thanks to the Tribune for a nice chunk of articles regarding foreclosures in Cook County. Here's the central article with some links within including some helpful hints and a timeline.

Another Case Study Regarding Why NOT to Buy New Construction Condominiums

I'm going to go to my grave repeating the mantra, "new construction condominiums are the worst type of property to purchase (repeat)." Because it's TRUE! Here's another story from the Suntimes...and this is a frequent happening and the facts in the story are pretty typical of the trouble with new construction condominiums...

Residents of 1841 S. Calumet, a tower marketed as Museum Park Place, charge that Enterprise Cos. cut corners on the project, resulting in water leakage in the roof, walls and basement. They said Enterprise has refused to acknowledge responsibility for the defects and that the condo owners may face special assessments worth thousands of dollars each to pay for repairs...

Formerly a machinist, Dempsey said he now works in sales in the steel industry. He said he regrets moving into the building. "I had a 60-year-old house in the suburbs that was in better shape than this new high-rise," Dempsey said...

Newer isn't better!

Friday, October 17, 2008

MacArthur Foundation's Chicago Foreclosure Grants

Take a look at some of the places MacArthur's been making grants locally...maybe there's some help for your situation!

Cook Evictions to Resume

Here's the piece from the Tribune. It's hard to tell from the article what has changed although a new standing Order by Judge Kinnaird, presiding Judge with the Cook Chancery Division is referenced but I don't see it on the Circuit Court's Website. Anyone have a copy? I'll have to look around the chancery division the next time I'm down at Daley. From the article:

The new order will require banks to document the names of all tenants in a foreclosed building as well as when they were notified about impending foreclosure proceedings.

The new order, drafted by Dorothy Kinnaird, the presiding judge of the Cook County Chancery Division, does not create new laws. Instead, it is formalizing those laws and offers another measure to make sure that the proper procedure is followed when it comes to tenant notification.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making a House Look Like a Home

Make an empty home look more inviting:

•Clean. Top to bottom. A fresh coast of paint will do wonders. Clean or replace the carpeting, redo the wood floors. Wash the windows, appliances and bathrooms.

• Spruce up the exterior. Trim the shrubs, throw down new mulch and paint the front door. Hire a lawn service to keep the grass mowed.

•Power up. Keep the juice on so the air conditioning keeps the place cool—or the furnace keeps it warm,, depending on the season. Visitors will need to turn the lights on if they tour at night.

•Window treatments. Keep them up. And clean them too.

•House sitters. Consider using a firm that places people and their furnishings in house. These folks agree to keep the place clean, show the house on a moment's notice and move out within 30 days.

• Experienced agent. Make sure that your agent has experience selling empty houses. Maybe the agent has some extra furniture he can put into your former home to make it look more enticing.

•Leave-behinds. If any room in the house has no ceiling fixture, leave a small lamp plugged into the wall so it can be seen at night.

•Leave appliance manuals on the kitchen counter. If you don't have them, order them. Also leave a list of your last 12 months' utility payments for visitors to view. Another idea: photos of how the place looked furnished.

•Security. Consider installing some type of alarm system. At the very least, put your lights on a timer. Also, notify your insurer that the house is going to be empty and ask what steps need to be taken to keep your coverage in force.

That's Tacky

I know they do nothing at the closing, but I find it really tacky when real estate agents don't show up at the closing and I just think it's bad business. It's like yeah I'll take my $10,000 commission but I'm much too busy to sit at a closing table for 90 minutes.

First, in the current market you're not too busy. Second, there are several persons at closings typically who you may want to meet and schmooze. There may be some 4 sellers/buyers, 2 lawyers, 2 Realtors, and a mortgage person. Any of those people are potential clients and a Realtor covering a different area or a mortgage person could be great referral sources.

Special Assessment Escrow?

Just thought I'd mention this as another tool to use on the Buyer's side. I represented a buyer earlier this week at a closing and we used this to sock away $5k just in case there's a special assessment in the next six months. In my particular situation a review of condo board minutes over the last year suggested a couple big projects may be happening soon so I just wanted to protect my client. But in a soft real estate market why not use this as the default position on the Buyer's side. Protect your client for another year.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hope for Homeowners

Here's an overview of the program aimed at homeowners behind on their mortgages that was contained in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 passed in July.

You're eligible if

•The home is your primary residence, and you have no ownership interest in any other residential property.

•Your mortgage was originated on or before Jan. 1, 2008, and you have made at least six payments.

•You cannot pay the existing mortgage without help.

•As of March 2008, your total monthly mortgage payments were more than 31 percent of your gross monthly income.

•You can certify you have not been convicted of fraud in the past 10 years, intentionally defaulted on debts, and did not knowingly or willingly provide material false information to obtain your existing mortgage.

Here's HUD's link.

Friday, October 10, 2008

You're NOT a Circuit Court Judge, Mr. Dart!

Here's a piece from the Sun-Times regarding suit filed against the Sheriff for his failure to follow court orders.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Time for a Little Self-Help??

So if a court has given you possession of a property but the Cook Sheriff won't evict, how do you regain possession of a property?? Sounds like a funny little riddle, no? Well, probably not as funny if you represent many plaintiffs in foreclosure cases and you've now been told by the Sheriff that we're NOT going to follow court orders and we're NOT going to evict foreclosure tenants!

Here's the Sheriff's press release.

Forensic Loan Audits

I read it about these for the first time here. You Walk Away is the company sighted in the article that does these though I'd imagine this is something many lawyers or accountants could accomplish. Here's a snippet from the piece:

The reviews aren't cheap. The fee could be as high as $3,000, depending on how much is owed on your mortgage. But if an error is found, it could be the 2-by-4 between the eyes you need to force the lender to move you up to the front of the long, long line of borrowers who are looking for ways to hold on to their homes.

I surely know my documents in a typical loan closing package but I don't pretend to know all the causes of actions that potentially come from loan package errors. But this should motivate us to bone up on the Truth-In-Lending requirements and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act to protect our clients.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Hot Off the Presses

Just heard this from a reliable source:

I'm happy to report that the City Council Finance Committee today unanimously passed Ald. Burke's proposed Ordinance to bar transfer taxes on the transfer of interest in marital home real estate pursuant to Judgment for Divorce or Separation,, including an amendment which I suggested making the proposal retroactive (to 1992!). I led off the testimony which also included Mario Ventrelli of the Schiller firm, Helene Snyder on behalf of the CBA and a Woman victim of the harebrained idea was was a client of mine which started this whole thing.

Note that they intend to NOT exclude business real estate, and there was no discussion of second homes.

I expect the proposal to pass.

Can FHA Shoulder Loan Burden?

An interesting read...FHA's volume up 10 times from its low just a couple years ago back when the sub-prime money flowed freely.

IL Attorney General Settles with Countrywide

Sub-prime superstar Countrywide Financial settled lawsuits with several states including Illinois regarding alleged mortgage fraud. I have a couple loans with good old Countrywide, not sub-prime but maybe there's some $$ in this settlement for poor, old me. An overview of the settlement:

The bulk of the settlement—$8.4 billion—represents the reduction in principal and interest payments for Countrywide customers who hold adjustable-rate and fixed-rate subprime mortgages. In addition, Countrywide expects to waive $56 million in prepayment penalties and $79 million in late fees. The firm will pay $150 million to people already forced out of their homes and another $60 million in relocation costs for people in the process of being forced from their homes.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Condo Boards "Right of First Refusal"

Saw this little nugget from Oak Park's Village Board encouraging condo boards of managers to amend their declarations to no long allow for a right of first refusal. Here's the piece.

The Oak Park Village Board this week passed a resolution intended to promote easier financing for condominium purchases by doing away with the authority known as "the right of first refusal."

The resolution, proposed by real estate brokers, urges condo boards and associations to relinquish their authority to prevent the sale of a condo unit to a buyer who's not to their liking...

He said the Federal Housing Authority will not guarantee a loan for the sale of a unit in a building in which the board holds the right of first refusal, Mancuso said.

Consequently, condo units in such buildings are effectively outside the reach of prospective buyers who need the special rates and low down payment possible with an FHA loan, he said.

Does anyone know the history of this right? As a condo assn. attorney and working with residential buyers/sellers for several years, I have never seen this right exercised and now its stifling sales.

Closing Real Estate in Michigan

I'm not sure what the closing costs are but the sales price: $1.75 for a home in beautiful Saginaw, Michigan. Sold on eBay.