Closings Held Without Lawyer Ruled Legal By N.j. High Court

Posted: April 16, 1995

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that residential real estate closings that are held without a lawyer present are not the unauthorized practice of law.

The decision, which is effective May 13, nullifies Opinion 26, issued in 1992 by the high court's Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee. That opinion prohibited real estate agents from ordering title reports and prevented title companies from preparing documents or conducting settlements or closings without a lawyer being present.

The practice of not using a lawyer at a closing is more common to South Jersey, and is usually described as "South Jersey practice." In North Jersey, lawyers are traditionally present at closings.

Under the South Jersey practice, the real estate broker usually orders a title search. When the search is completed and a title commitment is issued, a lawyer prepares the deed and affidavit of title on behalf of the seller. The settlement usually takes place in the broker's office, without a lawyer present. The title company's agent conducts the settlement, prepares the closing statement, collects and deposits all funds, and disburses the funds

from the title company's account.

The title agent also records the deed, mortgage and any other required documents and satisfies existing mortgage, taxes and other liens.

In its opinion, the court determined that the practice of not using a lawyer has been conducted without any demonstrable harm to sellers and buyers. The court also found no evidence that real estate agents try to discourage sellers or buyers from hiring a lawyer.

The court said that although it favored hiring lawyers for real estate transactions, the public interest would not be compromised by allowing the South Jersey practice to continue. However, the parties in any real estate transaction must be informed of conflicting interests of brokers and title officers and the risks involved in proceeding without a lawyer, the court said.

Carl DeMusz, the president of the New Jersey Association of Realtors, said his association "believes both buyer and seller have the right to represent themselves at a real estate settlement and should not be forced into hiring attorneys, a cost we feel a majority of new homeowners may not be able to afford."

OLD-HOUSE OWNERS UNITE

* The first Bucks County Old House Restoration Exposition will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Bucks County Community College in Newtown.

More than 45 representatives of specialized building trades - including experts in hardware, masonry, timber-frame construction, plastering, painting and period furniture - will be on hand to provide information to people interested in restoring their homes.

Proceeds will benefit projects at Fonthill, the Doylestown house museum. Admission at the door is $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens, $3 for children ages 6 to 17. Younger children get in free. For information, call 215-348-9461.

LOSS OF DEDUCTION OPPOSED

* As one might have guessed, the National Association of Realtors is opposed to proposals to eliminate or limit the deductibility of mortgage interest now in Congress.

"What these ill-conceived ideas really amount to is a substantial tax increase for our nation's homeowners," said NAR President Edmund G. Woods Jr."The ability to deduct mortgage interest is one of the few remaining incentives provided by the federal government to promote homeownership growth in the United States."

One proposal, by U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.) would eliminate the deductibility of mortgage interest on any amount of a home loan exceeding $250,000. Another, by U.S. Rep. Richard Armey (R., Texas) would institute a flat income-tax rate, effectively eliminating all itemized deductions - including the one for mortgage interest.

AND BRIEFLY . . .

* Heritage Building Group Inc. has moved its corporate offices to 3326 Old York Rd., Suite B, Furlong, Pa. 18925. Telephone is 215-794-0550. Fax is 215-794-8636.

*

Independent Mortgage Co., of Bala Cynwyd, has provided a $1.6 million bridge loan to Moore Development Group in West Chester for Concord Hunt, a 95- lot subdivision in Concord Township, Delaware County. The 90-day loan allowed site acquisition and improvements to begin while PNC Bank was processing $15 million in financing for the project.

Jackson-Cross Oncor International, of Philadelphia, has formed a joint venture with Bushman & Co., of Princeton, giving Jackson-Cross a foothold in the Princeton-Lawrenceville market.

Faulkner & Gray, a New York-based magazine publishing unit of the Thomson Corp., has acquired National Mortgage News, a leading mortgage industry publication, from the Dorset Group.

New York University's Real Estate Institute will have two open houses to tout its diploma in construction-management program Wednesday and on May 10,

from 6 to 8 p.m., at NYU's Midtown Center in Manhattan.

For information, call 212-790-1343.

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