Buying an Existing Home: 11 Ways to Protect Your Rights
Real estate attorney Nicole Levin recently shared with me important thoughts regarding protecting buyers’ rights when purchasing an existing home.
1. Title search. Your attorney should do a title search to ascertain that the seller is indeed the owner of the property. This search will also reveal whether the property is encumbered by mortgages, liens, or debts of any kind.
2. Engineer’s report. As the property is not new, the engineer’s report will enumerate what needs to be repaired - and will give a cost estimate. In a few cases, the apartment may be structurally unsafe, or the repairs too costly for your budget. If you are interested in building an addition to the apartment, the engineer can determine if your ideas are structurally viable.
3. Zoning. If you want to make an addition, get zoning advice to verify what is permitted to be built. Even if you are not contemplating an expansion, you may want to retain a zoning specialist to find out (1) whether the neighboring property is permitted to build another floor, which may obstruct your views, and (2) if there is a vacant lot across the street, what the zoning laws allow to be built.
4. Budget for additions. If you would like to build an addition, find out the expected “hard costs” for construction and also the “soft costs” such as preparing the permit request, receiving the permit, municipal fees, and betterment taxes.
5. Financial planning. If you need a mortgage, you should apply for a loan before you sign the contract. Unlike overseas, contracts are not “subject to” financing. Therefore, before contract signing you need to confirm how much you can borrow and what the monthly payments will be.
6. Negotiate. When you have all the information you need, your lawyer will negotiate many important conditions of the contract, such as the payment schedule and the closing date. This is where a lawyer with strong negotiation skills shines.
7. Understand the deal. Before you sign the contract, your attorney should explain all the details to you. In addition, if your agent hasn’t already educated you, your lawyer should break down all expenses you will incur above and beyond the purchase price.
8. Register a cautionary note. After the contract is signed and the first payment has been made, your attorney should immediately register a pledge, or “he’arat azhara”, in the Land Registry. This prevents the owner from selling the apartment to someone else and protects your rights against other encumbrances that might get registered after the contract is signed.
9. Escrow. Transactions often close before all the documents required for the transfer of rights are received. In this situation, your attorney should require that a portion of the funds owed to the seller are held in escrow until all the required documents are received.
10. Sign closing documents at contract. Your attorney should make sure that all documents necessary to register the property in your name upon closing are signed by the seller at contract signing, including an irrevocable power of attorney to your attorney. Doing so will ensure that if something happens to the seller and she is unable to sign additional documents, your attorney will be able to sign on her behalf and complete the transaction.
11. Registration. After the closing, your attorney should proceed immediately to register the property in your name. When this process is finished, you will receive a deed to your property which proves your ownership and protects your rights.
Nicole Levin is an outstanding real estate and zoning attorney. If this article inspires any follow-up questions, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website www.levinlawoffices.co.il.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at email@example.com.