Articles Posted in Real Estate Hints and Help

Is there ever any tax relief? Property Taxes in New York are ever escalating. As a result, many tax payers claimed that their real estate was eligible for School Tax Relief (STAR), when many of such properties were not actually eligble. Asssessors around the State were missing out on millions of dollars. As a result, the New York State Legislature amended the law to require many New York homeowners to re-apply.

To qualify for STAR, you must occupy your home and your income plus your spouse’s income cannot exceed $500,000 per year. STAR then exempts the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. Until now, homeowners signed up once for STAR and enjoyed the benefits year after year. However, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance is changing the rules for 2014. To continue receiving STAR benefits in 2014, a new law requires homeowners to re-affirm their eligibility. Registration started on August 19 and will end on December 31, 2013.

Homeowners currently receiving Basic Star should watch their mail. The State Taxation Department is mailing STAR codes to STAR recipients. The code is required to register. Letters were already sent to homeowners in Western New York in the following counties: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates. The remainder of New York State will receive letters containing the codes by early October.

Last month we spoke about some tips for new home buyers in New York State when purchasing home owners insurance, and we solicited the help of my friend Bill Allen, an independent insurance broker at the William C. Allen Insurance Agency, Mineola, NY 11501. Here are some ways to try to lower those costs:

1) Consider installing a security system and smoke detectors: A security system that is monitored by a central station alarm company or notifies the police directly will typically provide a 5% discount. Smoke detectors are a standard safety feature in new homes and should be installed in older homes. Having them may not only save a life but could also reduce the cost of insurance.

2) Raise the deductible. Higher deductibles equal reduced premiums: A homeowner willing to take a greater portion of the risk by agreeing to paying a higher deductible in the event of a claim, will pay a much lower premium. Since insurance should only be used for catastrophic events and never for small claims, it makes sense to have higher deductible.

So, you are buying a house in the suburbs of New York City and you want to rely upon the Mortgage Contingency to protect your hard earned down payment. But, what if the bank offers you a smaller mortgage than you applied for because the appraisal came in low? Did your attorney protect you with an “Appraisal Clause?”

Every homebuyer wants to get a good deal, but how can you prevent overpaying for your new property? And why is it so important? The key to making sure the price is right is to make sure you have an appraisal and that your sales contract includes an appraisal clause.

An appraisal is a detailed report, created by an independent professional, to establish the value of the home you are buying. The value is what other buyers would pay in a competitive market. Most appraisers will compare the home you want to other homes in the neighborhood that recently sold. The appraiser will make adjustments for the unique features of your home.

Let’s face it– the purchase of a home is a life altering, stressful and often expensive proposition with hidden fees, costs, and expenses. Many times, a Mortgage Commitment comes from the bank with the requirement that the new homeowner purchase home owner insurance. My clients often call the agent who issued their automobile policy and ask for insurance, but they don’t ask the right questions, or make assumptions that hamper them later– particularly when they need that policy to respond to some sort of loss. I took up this issue with my friend and compatriate in the real estate world– William C. Allen, William C. Allen Insurance Agency, 372 Willis Avenue Mineola, NY 11501. Here are some helpful insurance tips.

Although it is an intangible product, insurance is the safety net that fills the gap when things go terribly wrong so adequately protecting a home, usually one’s largest asset, is essential. Considering the high costs associated with buying a home, many new homeowners make the mistake of trying to save money by purchasing the most inexpensive insurance they can find. This does not mean they should overpay, but inexpensive policies often omit or limit coverage and may contain exclusions (things that aren’t covered) that could end up costing the homeowner more in the long run if a loss occurs.

First time home buyers should ask trusted friends, family members or their attorney for a referral to an experienced insurance agent who can explain the various nuances associated with homeowners insurance. Because an agent’s job is to manage risk, a good one will include in the discussion what the coverages are, what different insurance companies have to offer and, lastly, ways to limit the cost of the insurance.

Who knows the most about your house? Its history, its features, its quirks, its problems? The answer is you, the seller. As someone about to sell a New York home, consult your lawyer (not your realtor) about the Property Disclosure Statement. Under New York State Law, you have a decision to make– complete a 35 question exam about your house, or give a $500 credit for not disclosing to buyers.

This disclosure or admission is part of New York’s Property Condition Disclosure Act, which became law in 2002. The law applies to all land that is improved by one to four family dwellings that are used or intended to be used as residences. Condominiums, cooperatives, vacant land to be used for construction, and certain other forms of ownership are exempt from disclosure.

It sounds simple, but the law demands much more than saying, “My home is in excellent condition!” or “My home is great!” In fact, the Act requires sellers to complete a six-page form that includes questions ranging from the age of your house to whether your property ever contained a fuel storage tank to whether you have ever tested the water quality and flow.

After various district attorneys around the state found that homeowners were cheating the system, the New York State Legislature is poised to make all home owners RE-REGISTER for the STAR exemption which can result in a reduction of school taxes. According to recent reports, homeowners will have a year to re-apply for the program, with a deadline of April 1, 2014.

Under the STAR program, New York homeowners who make less than $500,000 and live in their property are eligible, making the the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes. New Yorkers 65 and older may qualify for the enhanced STAR program. That exempts the first $63,300 of the full value of a home.

Homeowners can apply for the STAR exemption on the website of the state Taxation and Finance Department.

The American Bar Association just released the latest survey of legal malpractice claims showing some interesting results. For the first time, real estate claims represented the greatest number of claims (20.33%), followed by plaintiffs’ personal injury (15.59%), family law (12.14%), estates, trust and probate (10.67%), and collection and bankruptcy (9.2%). While there are some caveats to the survey, – for example, the survey did not differentiate disciplinary proceedings from actual malpractice claims – the results may provide an illustration of trends in legal practice.

The study revealed that the number of claims payments exceeding $2 million has declined. It is not clear whether this may have been caused by larger firms underreporting larger dollar claims or increased reporting by all insured groups. However, it may show a general trend toward settlement of malpractice claims or juries’ unwillingness to award large payouts at trial.

The survey also showed that although substantive errors still generate the largest portion of claims at 45.07%, the share of claims relating to administrative errors is 30.13% – an all time high. In addition, the number of claims arising out of alleged intentional wrongs has decreased to 10.19% from 13.53% in 2007 – a good sign that the legal profession is evolving in a positive way.

It can be difficult to strike a balance in finding adequate insurance coverage, while avoiding unnecessary coverage or being underinsured.

While states generally require a minimum amount of auto insurance coverage, and mortgage lenders also generally require you to maintain homeowner’s insurance for at least the value of the mortgage, these amounts may not represent the optimum amount of insurance for your circumstances. For example, in New York, motorists are required to carry $25,000 in liability insurance for bodily injury to a single person, $50,000 for bodily injury to all persons, and $10,000 for property damage in any accident. Minimum “no-fault” coverage of $50,000 is also required. However, given the price of auto repairs and the price of a replacement car if a car is totaled in an accident, damages could far exceed the $10,000 minimum. If you only carry the minimum amount of insurance, you will be personally liable for any property damage in excess of $10,000.

In addition, insurance policies, whether they are auto, homeowner’s, or life insurance, contain a seemingly endless list of exclusions from coverage – it can be hard to determine exactly what is covered. However, these exclusions and limits are very important in protecting your hard earned nest egg in the event of an accident or other unforeseeable event.

Before you start knocking down walls and get knee deep in home improvements, make sure you have all of the required building permits. Obtaining a building permit involves completing an application with plans for the improvements, and paying a fee.

Even seemingly small home improvement projects may require a building permit. For example, in Nyack, like many other towns, installing a wood burning stove or fireplace would require a building permit, and failing to get the proper permit can result in a fine of up to $500 or 30 days in jail, or both. Also, a “Stop Order” can be issued by the Building Inspector if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that the proper building permit was not obtained or the work is not being done in accordance with the building permit issued.

Permit fees are generally based on the cost of construction, and bills and invoices are normally required with the application to substantiate the stated cost of construction. This serves to prevent fraud and discourage homeowners from understating the cost of construction to save some money on the permitting fees. However, building permit fees can vary widely throughout New York, with little rhyme or reason.

So your landlord just got slapped with a housing violation – what does that mean for you as a tenant? Can you stop paying your rent altogether? If you live in New York, not so fast.

Although your duty as a tenant to pay rent is dependent on the landlord’s “satisfactory maintenance of the premises in habitable condition,” a housing violation on its own does not relieve you of your obligation to pay rent. Park West Management Corp. v. Mitchell, 47 N.Y.2d 316 (1979). The key factor is whether the violation threatens the health and safety of the tenant thereby breaching the landlord’s warranty of habitability. Park West, supra; New York Real Property Law, § 235-b. Therefore, a housing violation is merely the “starting point” in such a determination, and it is possible that the finding of a violation does not have an impact on habitability. Note, however, that the landlord’s warranty of habitability cannot be waived. Real Property Law, § 235-b-2.

If a breach of the landlord’s warranty of habitability is found, damages are measured by the difference between the fair market value of the premises in their habitable condition (as measured by the rent set forth in the lease), and the value of the premises during the period of the breach. Park West, supra. An award of damages to a tenant can be made through a lawsuit by the tenant to recover lease payments from the landlord, or in defense to an action by the landlord for non-payment of rent. Park West, supra.