Financial Planning In The Era of Marriage Equality

Everyone should have some kind of financial plan.  For many people, this does not become clear until they get married and start a family.  Once there is more than one person to think about supporting, it becomes fairly obvious that a plan must be in place in order to avoid bad consequences for spouses and kids.

Most financial planning instruments were devised before America embraced marriage equality.  As a result, these devices and mechanisms make assumptions about families that, in many cases, no longer suit the real world.  As a result, it is a good idea to make sure that you have a financial plan in place that will fully protect your family.

I borrowed the above graphic from Prudential, because I think it gives a good jumping off point to see where some of the issues may exist.  It is worth noting that the graphic is from a piece of advertising, so take it with a grain of salt, because there may be certain biases.

If you would like to know more about this sort of thing, I would be happy to speak with you!  An attorney is a great resource for estate planning and other protections you can put in place for your family!

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at 773-632-8330 or patrick@loftus-law.com.  And finally, as always, I am honored by your referrals.  To learn more about my practice, please contact me!  And if you are looking to buy or sell property, I would love to set you up with one of my fantastic real estate brokers.

Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Accusing Zillow of Conducting Appraisal Without License

This is a follow up to my post last week about some of the controversies surrounding the real estate website Zillow.  To bring yourself up to speed, click here

Welcome back to the post!  At the time of publication a lawsuit was pending against Zillow accusing the website of violating Illinois law by conducting appraisals without a license.  The Plaintiff in the lawsuit sought an injunction stopping Zillow from publishing its Zestimates in Illinois, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

In what could be called a big win for Zillow, Judge Amy St. Eve held today that Zillow is not violating Illinois law, because Zestimates fall into an exception in the Illinois Real Estate Appraiser Licensing Act (the Act).  The exception provides that non-licensees may “procure an automated valuation model” from publicly available data without obtaining an appraisal license.  Judge St. Eve found that development of Zestimates by Zillow are clearly the procurement of an automated valuation model.  As such, Zillow does not need to be licensed.

The Court’s holding is significant, there was a substantive determination that Zillow is not breaking the law.  Had the Court simply based its holding on a technicality, it would leave the door open for further attack.  As such, the ruling provides a significant precedent for Zillow to rely upon should it be sued again, or if the State of Illinois were to bring an action against Zillow to enforce the Act.

So, it looks like Zillow is, in fact, here to stay.  Moreover, Zillow continues to expand its offerings with its “Instant Offers” pilot program.  (Hat tip to Cleo Aquino of Superior Realty for the heads up on this.)  The program launched in May 2017 in the Las Vegas and Orlando markets and allows sellers to make their property available for cash offers from 15 select large private investors with closing in as little as one week.  The program will expand to Phoenix next month.  Whether Zillow will see success with the program is anyone’s guess (it looks a bit predatory to me, to be honest…), but it certainly looks like Zillow is looking to take a more active role in the market.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at 773-632-8330 or patrick@loftus-law.com.  And finally, as always, I am honored by your referrals.  To learn more about my practice, please contact me!  And if you are looking to buy or sell property, I would love to set you up with one of my fantastic real estate brokers.

Is Zillow Helpful or Harmful?

Zillow is a real estate listing website with a twist — each listing has an estimate of the value of the real estate, which Zillow calls a “Zestimate.”  That twist has been controversial among homeowners, especially when the Zestimate is lower than expected. In April of this year, a homeowner (and lawyer) in Glenview filed suit against Zillow alleging that the Zestimate for her property is unfairly low and prevented her from selling her property for the market value.  The case has since been dismissed, but another lawsuit filed shortly after remains pending in Federal Court, and the larger debate about Zestimates continues to swirl.

For its part, Zillow takes the position that a Zestimates is a “prediction of sales price” and is not a substitute for a professional appraisal.  According to Zillow, although Buyers and Sellers can use the Zestimate as a starting point, they should work with a licensed broker and appraiser to determine an accurate price for real estate.  Does Zillow unfairly downplay the potentially negative effects of publishing Zestimates?

The controversy poses some interesting questions.  For instance, is there anything inherently wrong with Zillow taking publicly available data and publishing its opinion as to the value of real estate?  My knee jerk reaction is that, like all Americans, Zillow has the right to publish its opinions.  However, right to publish an opinion is not absolute, and opinions about the value of real estate (i.e. a real estate appraisal) are regulated by the State of Illinois.  If a Zestimate is an appraisal, Zillow must be licensed (which it is not and has no intention of becoming licensed).

The Illinois Real Estate Appraiser Licensing Act of 2002 (225 ILCS 458/1-1, et seq.) is the relevant authority, and it defines an appraisal as “the act or process of developing an opinion on value,” and the Act requires a license to “develop a real estate appraisal.”  Seemingly, Zillow may have an issue, a Zestimate is an opinion on value, the development of which seems to require a license.  Zillow takes the position that it is not subject to the Act, because it is not performing opinions of value in exchange for money for a particular client like a traditional real estate appraiser.

Another question is whether there is any harm done to homeowners as a result of the publication of Zestimates.  In other words, are Zestimate actually hurting people?  This is a difficult question to answer.  Among real estate professionals, Zestimates are not considered to be reliable.  I am comfortable in saying that Zestimates have almost no effect valuations made by real estate brokers or appraisers.  The more difficult question to answer is what effect, if any, do Zestimates have on the general public.  To the extent that there are brokers involved in the transaction, probably not much.  As for those not working with brokers, I would be interested to hear your opinion, because I am too far inside the industry to know!

Perhaps there is room for compromise.  Perhaps there is a need for an appeal process whereby an owner could request a manual review of the valuation.  Zillow could allow for homeowners to voluntarily opt out of publishing valuation entirely.  Maybe new laws or regulations are needed to provide legitimacy and oversight for this relatively new aspect of the real estate market.

Interestingly, other sites, such as Redfin and Trulia, have joined Zillow in publishing opinions on the value of real estate.  Even the National Association of Realtors publishes value estimates at Realtor.com.  In other words, potentially inaccurate internet values are probably here to stay.  Buyers and sellers can avoid the possible pitfalls by working with an experienced broker, who will be able to sniff out bad information and give good advice.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at 773-632-8330 or patrick@loftus-law.com.  And finally, as always, I am honored by your referrals.  To learn more about my practice, please contact me!  And if you are looking to buy or sell property, I would love to set you up with one of my fantastic real estate brokers.

Mindfulness & The Law

The topic of mindfulness is near and dear to me.  Last year, I was in a bit of a funk when I was fortunate enough to stumble on Dan Harris’s podcast.  Some of you may know Dan as the 10% Happier guy.  Dan had a man named George Mumford on his podcast.  I really liked the way George talked about this thing called mindfulness, so I decided to download is audio book, “The Mindful Athlete,” and my journey began.

Mindfulness has a lot of definitions, but perhaps the best is from one of the first people to bring the practice of mindfulness from India to the western world, Jon Kabat-Zinn.  He says that “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”  You might also say that it’s the practice of removing yourself, at least momentarily, from the narrative going on inside your head.  By noticing your surroundings and the thoughts in your head, you become more present.  In time, the practice provides a way to get to know and understand yourself better.

What does that have to do with the law?  As lawyers, we tend to get wrapped up in results.  I want nothing but good things to happen for my clients, and dammit I’m going to move heaven and earth to create good results.  This creates a lot of anxiety, because you think a lot about things that might happen, especially the bad things.  Constant anxiety about things that might not even happen is no way to live life.

The practice of mindfulness allows me to notice when I am dwelling on outcomes instead of being present.  The world happens in the present, and that’s where I want to be.  The mindful lawyer understands that things will happen (or nor happen) in the future no matter what.  By being present, the mindful lawyer can take confident action knowing that he or she has the necessary skills to expertly guide clients through challenging episode of life.  There is no need to be anxious or fearful of outcomes that are out of our control.

Don’t get me wrong, I am always worried about you guys.  I just have a better sense of when I’m letting it get out of hand.  Mindfulness makes me a better, more complete person; and therefore, a better and more complete lawyer.

I will wrap this post up with some resources that I use or have heard positive things about with respect to the practice of mindfulness.  My personal practice is to meditate in the morning with an app called “Lucid.”  It is geared toward athletes, and I fancy myself a very amateur athlete.  It speaks to the neanderthal part of me.  In the evening I sit for 20 minutes of awareness of breath meditation.  There’s nothing magic about meditation, and you can’t do it wrong.  If you aren’t ready for 20 minutes, start with 1 and go from there.

I have also heard good things about an app called “headspace.”  Once in awhile, I like a guided meditation.  YouTube is great for that, because it is free.  Check out The Honest GuysJason Stephenson or Michael Seeley’s channels.  Or you can just go on YouTube and search “guided meditation.”  Pick something that looks interesting and give it a go!

No call to action on this entry.  If you are interested in a discussion on mindfulness, feel free to leave a comment below!

Closing Costs Part 4 – Miscellaneous Charges

In the first three installments of my series on closing costs, I addressed real estate tax credits, title charges and lender costs.  This fourth, and final, last installment will address the last category of closing costs – everything else.  As you review your closing costs with your attorney at the closing table, it may feel like everyone is taking their pound of flesh from the transaction.  That is because it is essentially true.

Transfer Taxes

Whenever you buy or sell real estate, the government sticks its hand in your pocket.  The amount of the tax depends largely upon the location of the parcel.  The State of Illinois always gets $1 per $1,000 of the purchase price and the county gets half of that.  Municipalities have the authority to set their own individual taxes.  Some have none at all (eg. Palatine), and some are fairly hefty (eg. Chicago – $7.50 per $1,000 of the purchase price for the buyer and $3.00 per $1,000 of the purchase price for the seller!).  Unfortunately, in most instances these taxes are unavoidable.

Real Estate Broker Commissions

The brokers are paid from the Seller proceeds.  The amount they are paid is determined by the terms the listing agreement.  The brokers’ commission is usually 5% or 6% of the purchase price.  Regardless of the total commission, the listing broker gets a broker co-op commission of 2.5% of the purchase price paid by the listing broker from the total commission.

Recording Fees

The title company will record the deed and mortgage at the county recorder’s office to let the whole world know that you now own the property (and a mortgage on said property).  Of course, the buyer is expected to pay the recorder’s for this.  The cost is usually between $120 and $130 total.

Survey

If the property is a single-family, detached residence, the seller is required to provide the buyer and title company with a survey.  The cost of a survey is roughly $450.  If the property is a condominium, no survey is necessary.

Attorney Fee

Obviously, this is the most important cost of all!  It is crucial to have a good attorney (like me) to protect you when hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake.  Attorneys, such as myself, who handle residential real estate transactions charge a flat fee paid at closing.  At the time of publication, LoftusLaw charges $500.  What a bargain!

Thus concludes my series on closing costs.  Your experience may vary, as each transaction is unique.  If you have questions about closing costs, or any other real estate matter, as always, you can contact me at patrick@loftus-law.com or 773-632-8330.  To see what my clients have to say about me, please visit me at avvo.com or on my Google + page.

3 Negotiaton Strategies Sellers Can Use To Walk Away From Closing With More Money

Once you receive a decent offer for your home, you and the potential buyer will probably make the price the main focus of your negotiations.  As important as the price is, it is not the only contract term that determines how much money the Seller will walk away with from the deal.  Because the Buyer will likely be so singularly focused on the price, you may be able to gain valuable concessions from the Buyer along the way without much argument.  Here are three strategies you can use increase your bottom line without making a change to the purchase price.

Tip #1 – Tax Credit Percentage

A frequently overlooked contact term that directly affects the seller’s bottom line is the real estate tax credit. In Illinois, owners of real estate always pay the prior year’s tax bill.  As a result, a seller gives the buyer a credit at closing for unbilled taxes.  The credit is typically 105%-110% (the Proration Rate) of the the last tax bill, prorated through the date of closing.  A savvy buyer’s agent will make the offer with a 110% (or more) Proration Rate.  Your counter-offer should modify the Proration Rate to 105%, thereby reducing the credit given to the buyer at closing and putting more money in your pocket.  For example, 5% of a $10,000 is $500.  As they say, that’s not nothin’.  (For a more in-depth discussion of real estate tax credits, click here.)

Tip #2 – “As Is”

Another way a seller can negotiate some value is to include an “as is” provision in the contract. Although the buyer will still be allowed to have their professional inspection, the buyer is precluded from requesting repairs or credits based on the insepctor’s report.  Let’s face it, regardless of how immaculately you have maintained your home; the inspector will find “issues” to include in his report.  He needs to justify his fee, after all.  Every transaction is unique; however, I generally see sellers giving anywhere from $250 to $2,000 in credits or repairs for sometimes dubious inspection items just to keep the transaction moving forward.  By making the sale “as is” you can maintain your bottom line by cutting off the buyer’s leverage to request costly repairs to the property or monetary concessions based on the inspection.  This strategy is particularly useful in a sellers market, which is the case currently.  (For a more detailed discussion of ‘As Is’ contract provisions, click here.)

Tip #3 – Hire the Right Attorney

Come on.  You saw this coming, didn’t you.  Simply stated, real estate transactions involving the exchange of hundreds of thousands of dollars are not simple matters. These bits of advice are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of what an experienced advocate brings to the table for you.  LoftusLaw is a firm with its primary focus on residential real estate transactions. Our mission is to provide clients with personal, hands-on service, so that each client feels like they understand every aspect of their transaction. Attorney Patrick Loftus has handled residential real estate transactions in the Chicagoland area for 13 years. He is a member of the Illinois Real Estate Lawyers Association. Experience and personal touch are what sets LoftusLaw apart from the rest.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions, and especially your referrrals!  I can be reached at patrick@loftus-law.com or 773-632-8330.  I look foward to hearing from you!

Chicago Property Tax Rebates End Tomorrow

Many of us were caught by surprise when the second installment of the 2015 real estate tax bills arrived in the mail this past July.  Steep increases were the norm, especially for homeowners in parts of town that experienced healthy increases in property values over the past few years.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the City is offering many of us rebates of up to $200.  The amount can be more if you are eligible for a senior or enhanced grant.

From the City’s website:

     Eligibility:

     In order to qualify for a City of Chicago property tax rebate, homeowners must meet      all the following eligibility requirements:

  • Chicago Resident and Homeowner;
  • Received the Cook County Homeowners’ Exemption in the most recent property tax year;
  • Household adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less in 2015;
  • City of Chicago portion of property taxes increased on most recent tax bill;
  • Current on the payment of property taxes;
  • Do not owe real estate taxes on other property located in Chicago; and
  • Do not have City debt (e.g. parking tickets, overdue water bills). In cases where City debt is owed, the rebate will be applied to the debt.

For more details on the City’s “free” money, visit this link.  You can apply at any one of 26 neighborhood locations around the city.

Time is running short on this program.  However, if you are one of the many people who took this week off, here’s the perfect way to spend your Friday morning…

Happy New Year to everyone!  Hat tip to Curbed Chicago for the heads up on this program.  As far as I know, it was not very well publicized.

Checking Your Significant Other’s Email For Evidence of Cheating May Violate Federal Law

As if divorce cases weren’t bizarre and petty enough, an “innovative” divorce litigant has figured out yet another way to torture his soon-to-be former spouse.  According to an article in the ABA Journal:

“Paula Epstein, the defendant in the case, was sued by her husband, Barry Jay Epstein, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports. The couple are in the process of divorcing, according to the opinion (PDF), and Paula accused Barry of “serial infidelity.” His attorney asked for proof, and her attorney produced email correspondence between Barry and several other women. According to the opinion, Barry did not know that Paula had access to his emails until they showed up in discovery. He alleges that she must have arranged for his emails to be automatically forwarded to her.”

Although the federal district court dismissed Barry’s complaint, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision in part and reinstated the claim against Paula.  To its credit, the Seventh Circuit seems a bit disgusted with itself for essentially choosing form over function as it pertains to enforcing the Wiretap Act, with Judge Posner stating in his concuring opinion:

“Her husband’s suit under the Federal Wiretap Act is more than a pure waste of judicial resources: It is a suit seeking a reward for concealing criminal activity.  Had the issue been raised in the litigation, I would vote to interpret the Act as being inapplicable to—and therefore failing to create a remedy for—wiretaps intended, and reasonably likely, to obtain evidence of crime, as in this case, in which the plaintiff invoked the Act in an effort to hide evidence of his adultery from his wife.”

However, the fact stands that the case will move forward against Paula back in  district court.  Regardless of the outcome, the tactic seems to have worked in terms of creating leverage for Barry in the divorce case, as Paula will have to consider potential liability in the federal case as it pertains to the remaining issues in the underling divorce.  I’m sure that is what Congress intended when it enacted the Wiretap Act.

As it stands now, if you are going to snoop on your no good cheating husband, you’d better bone up on your knowledge of the Wiretap Act.  Otherwise, you might find yourself being sued in federal court in addition to being embroiled in a messy divorce.

Credit to today’s ISBA E-Clips for pointing this story out to me.  Further credit to ABA Journal and Stephanie Francis Ward for authoring the article.

Why Should You Hire An Attorney To Buy or Sell Your Home?

Answer: Because you do not want to risk flushing your money down the toilet.

     You have probably heard people say that you don’t really need a lawyer for a real estate transaction.  Or you may be under the impression that real estate closings are easy for lawyers, and your real estate lawyer really isn’t doing much other than collecting a check at closing.  To be honest, I hope and pray that your lawyer does not have much to do, because a smooth transaction makes the herculean task of moving a lot less stressful.  Unfortunately, most real estate transactions will involve some unexpected hiccups, and that’s when having an experienced real estate attorney will save you from suffering a potentially catastrophic loss.

     Take for example the story of military veteran Danny Shedd, whose story is told in an article published by Vice.  (click the link to read more)  The article describes how Shedd is currently being evicted from the home he purchased, because the deed he received at closing incorrectly described some swamp land somewhere in the woods rather than the property he was trying to buy for his family.  This type of mistake is exactly the type of error that your real estate lawyer can identify and deal with before you hand over your hard earned savings for unihabitable swamp land.  If you tell me that I can spend $500 to save a little over $172,000, I would ask you where I mail that check!

     The bad news is that the best result Shedd can hope for is a refund of his purchase money from the Seller.  Even worse is that it will not be cheap to arrive at that result, and now he has to find a new home for his family. probably not be cheap for him.  Had he been represented by an attorney in the transaction, the mistake would likely have been discovered before Shedd plunked down $172,425 in cash for the wrong plot of land.

    If you have questions about real estate closings, or any other real estate matter, as always, you can contact me at patrick@loftus-law.com or 773-632-8330.  To see what my clients have to say about me, please visit me at avvo.com or on my Google + page.

     Shout out to Vice for the good content.

New Illinois Law Brings Common Sense Approach To DUI And Pot

This is not about real estate.  However, some of you (wink, wink, no judgment here) should be aware of an important change in the DUI laws, which provides a more common sense approach to the issue of pot use and driving.

Until Governor Rauner signed SB 2228 into law last week, pot smokers were at risk of a DUI conviction unless all traces of THC (the intoxicating compound in pot) had left the system.  Although the intoxicating effects of pot last a few hours at most, it can take weeks for all of the THC to flush from the system.  This unreasonable standard resulted in many unneccasary arrests and convictions, often putting otherwise good people in jail and unnecessarily ruining lives.

The case of Alia Bernard is a prime example of the absurd results produced by the old law. People v. Bernard, 2014 IL App (2d) 130924.  In 2009, Bernard was involved in a fatal car accident, which occured when she rear ended a vehicle while fishing around the car for her sunglasses.  Two days prior to the accident, she had used marijuana.  Although the proscutors freely admitted that Bernard’s use of pot played absolutely no role in the accident, they charged Bernard with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, based solely on the trace amount of THC detected in her blood after the accident.  Facing an unwinable case under the old law, Bernard entered a guilty plea to the aggravated DUI charge.  The judge threw the book at Bernard, sentencing her to seven years in jail.  But for the trace amounts of THC in her blood, the worst she could have received was a traffic ticket.  The old law made so little sense that had the driver of the car that Bernard rear ended been found with any THC in his/her blood, they would also have been charged with DUI!

The new law provides a new standard whereby a person can have up to five nanograms of THC in their blood, or ten nanograms in their saliva, before they can be charged with DUI.  As unpopular as it is, and should be, to relax DUI laws, the new law provides a more common sense approach.  Let me be clear, no one shoud be driving around whilst stoned.  However, once the concentration of THC in your blood is less than five nanograms, there is no longer any intoxication present.  No one should be convicted of DUI when they are not driving impaired.

So, for those of you who like to occassionally puff, please, for the love of God, do not drive stoned.  However, once you come down, feel free to go pick up the kids without the fear of going to prison for seven years after someone t-bones you after they run a red light.

For more, please take a look at the article from the Chicago Reader linked below.

The state’s new marijuana law sets a benchmark for driving under the influence of weed, but attorneys say it’ll be hard to enforce.

Source: New Illinois law defines ‘stoned driving’