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Real Estate Scam

Can you recognize the most common real estate scams?

It’s a fact of life that wherever you find people with money, you’ll also find crooks trying to separate them from it with real estate scams.

But you don’t have to fall victim to these thieves if you know can tell the scams from the real deals. These are some of the most common real estate scams you may encounter:

Home equity fraud – You’ve owned your home for a few years and have been making steady mortgage payments. The house is valued at $100,000 and you owe $90,000. That means you have $10,000 equity in your home.


A lender approaches you about a home equity loan. It sounds like a good deal – not like a real estate scam – so you take the loan. Only it comes with hidden fees and outrageous rates that get tacked onto your $10,000 loan. Say, $1,000, just as an example. You’re down to $9,000 equity.

Then the lender returns and offers an even lower interest rate. And another one after that, and another after that. The lender keeps convincing you to churn the second mortgage, slipping in those hidden fees each time. Pretty soon, your equity is gone, you owe more on the house than it’s worth, can’t keep up with the payments and lose the home to the lender.

Or, in another version, the lender offers to refinance your home at a low, low rate. You sign the loan paperwork, but don’t examine it closely. That lower rate actually turns out to be higher once all the extra fees and points are included. The mortgage payments are more than you can afford. The lender forecloses.

Stay out of trouble by not accepting loans you don’t need. If you do need the cash, try a regular lender, such as a bank. And if you still want to take the “low interest” loan, don’t sign anything until an attorney looks it over and tells you it isn’t a real estate scam.

Landlord Tenant

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

The landlord-tenant relationship has the potential to directly affect the financial well-being and quality of life for both owner and renter.

The landlord depends on the rental property for his income and could face financial hardship if tenants don’t pay, or if they cause damage to the property. The tenant has to come home to the property every day, so if the landlord does not maintain it properly or provide a safe and quiet environment, it could become an unpleasant place to live.

So, the state of California has established specific landlord-tenant laws to help protect the rights of each.

Habitable conditions

The first step in settling on a rental property – aside from making sure you can afford it and choosing the right features and location – is to visit the property with the landlord. Together, inspect the interior and exterior to identify any needed repairs, as well as to establish the general condition.

It doesn’t have to be pretty, but California Civil Code requires that the rental property be fit for human habitation and makes it the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that condition is met. This is called the “implied warranty of habitability.”

Among the requirements of landlord-tenant law, the rental property must have:

· Adequate weather protection.

· Running water.

· Safe electrical wiring.

· A heating system.

· A toilet, sink and bathtub or shower.

· Deadbolt locks.

· At least one phone jack.

· A locking mail receptacle.

· Smoke detectors.

Buying a Home

You Need to Protect Your Interests

Nothing is simple about buying a home. The buyer not only has to arrange financing, but he also must conduct the extensive due diligence checks necessary to make sure that dream house doesn’t become a nightmare later on.

The good news is that there are professionals, including real estate attorneys, who can help you protect yourself when buying a home in California. And, there are also steps you can take on your own to make your home-buying experience the best it can be.

Transfer Disclosure Statement

One of the most important protections you have when Buying A Home in California can be found in state Civil Code§ 1102. The law establishes what is called a real estate Transfer Disclosure Statement requiring sellers to inform potential buyers of any defects or problematic past history with a home.

The disclosure form covers any features that are to be included in the sale – from the kitchen stove to burglar bars on the windows to a hot tub – as well as known problems with walls, ceilings, plumbing, electrical systems and several other specifics.

And it’s not just problems with the physical characteristics that a seller must disclose. A California court ruled in Reed v. King that failure to tell a buyer about a multiple murder that had occurred in the home also was grounds to void a sale.

Still, it is never a good idea to rely solely on the seller, or to wait until the disclosure statement to learn about defects when buying a home.

Real Estate Partnership

Three common partnerships to buy real estate

Whether you’re interested in investment property, a new family home, or an office in a building you couldn’t afford on your own, it often can be advantageous to buy Real Estate as part of a group or partnership in California.

There are many options for doing that, from forming a corporation to buying shares in a co-op, but the three most common, each with its own distinct features, are:

1) Joint tenancy – Two or more owners buy real estate at the same time and hold a single deed to the same piece of property. Ownership is divided equally among them. The owners also hold the right of survivorship, meaning that when one dies, the remaining owners absorb that person’s interest in the property.

Many real estate attorneys discourage this type of ownership contract when a group buys real estate. The primary reason is that other arrangements can provide equal protection for the partners, while offering a less rigid structure and better tax protection.

2) Tenancy in common – Similar to joint tenancy, except that when the group buys real estate and holds a tenancy in common, the percentage of ownership can vary from partner to partner, and there is no right of survivorship. Individual owners can sell their interests and pass them on to heirs.

By forming a partnership, individuals can increase their purchasing power, while dividing the ownership in a way that gives owners control only over their individual shares. Tenancy in common can be used for any type of property, from undeveloped land to an apartment building the group intends to buy and occupy.

This type of group ownership is becoming more common when partners buy real estate because of its increased flexibility and tax advantages. Owners can sell or pass on their share of the property without affecting the tenancy in common agreement, and heirs do not have to pay capital gains tax on the increase in value from the initial sale to value at death.

After Getting Arrested

You should know what to expect after getting arrested.

There are few things in life as stressful and unsettling as getting arrested. It helps to know what to expect in the hours, weeks and months following your arrest.

To begin with, the police will handcuff you, probably with your hands behind your back. They do that for safety reasons and rarely, if ever, make exceptions. Then, they will search you. If you have any illegal items, and they miss them, those items likely will turn up in the second search at the jail. That could lead to additional charges of taking contraband into a jail.

The police will drive you to the county jail, where you will be photographed, fingerprinted, and possibly given a brief examination by a jail nurse. You will be searched again. This can include a cavity search. You will turn over your personal belongings, receive a receipt, and likely be issued a jumpsuit and slip-on shoes. From there, you will go to a holding cell.

Remember, do not talk to anyone in the jail about getting arrested or the specifics of your case. The guy in the cell with you might seem friendly enough – until he testifies against you. And that phone you’re allowed to use? Careful what you say there, as well. Conversations with anyone other than an attorney are not protected, and can be recorded.

Structured Settlement

The pros and cons of structured settlements in California

So you proved your Personal Injury case, and the defendant is ready to pay. You’ve been offered a structured settlement.

But you aren’t sure exactly what that means, right?
A structured settlement is a financial package that pays out in installments over a specified period of time. The way it works is that the defendant funds an interest-bearing annuity with an insurance company, and the insurance company agrees to pay you a guaranteed periodic amount from the return on the investment.
For example, if you received significant injuries, your settlement may guarantee you payments of $1,000 a month for the remainder of your life. Or, the monthly payments could continue on to your heirs for a certain length of time.
The arrangement is better for the defendant because the upfront expense is lower, since a portion of the money used to pay you is coming from future investment returns. For you, the arrangement has both pros and cons.

 Pros of structured settlements

Tax benefits – You pay lower taxes on installment payments.
Financial protection – You are less likely to waste the money, lose it in bad investments, or have it stolen when it comes to you in monthly payments.
Simplicity – You do not have to worry about investing or managing the money. The insurance company handles all that and just sends you the check.

Cons of structured settlements

Financial limitations – You do not have the full value of your settlement at your disposal. For example, you cannot borrow against the total amount of future payments. Also, while structured settlement amounts account for inflation and increased medical expenses, those predictions could be wrong.
Lower returns – You would may make more money by investing a lump sum payment yourself because annuities offer extremely low rates of return.
Risks – You are not guaranteed that the insurance company holding your annuity won’t have financial problems. Or that the rate of return used to calculate the total amount you should receive will be accurate in the future.

Police Investigation

Are you afraid the police suspect you of a serious crime? There are certain signs you should see when an investigation is aimed at you. First, you should understand what police officers need in order to get an arrest warrant.

They must develop documented proof – through physical evidence, witness testimony, or the suspect’s own statements – that the person acted with criminal intent and physically committed the crime. An accusation by one witness, a single hair, even an uncorroborated confession won’t do. It has to be enough to meet standards set by the courts that there is “probable cause” to issue an arrest warrant.

Once they have that proof, police file a probable cause affidavit with a California superior court judge, swearing that the evidence points to a specific suspect or suspects who acted with criminal intent to violate the California penal code. If the magistrate is convinced it meets the court standard, he will sign an arrest warrant, which authorizes the police to arrest the person.

Unless you are involved in drug trafficking or other major crimes, you can forget sophisticated surveillance and wiretaps. The investigation will follow a basic path to the arrest warrant, focused first on proving that you had access to the place where the crime occurred; next, that you were there, or could have been there, at the time the crime occurred; then, that you had the ability to commit the crime; and finally, that you performed the action necessary for the crime to occur.

California Marriages

In dealing with relationships, the state of California legally recognizes three basic types. There are marriages, domestic partnerships and what is sometimes mistakenly referred to as common law marriage. A marriage in California is legally defined as being between two unmarried people, both at least 18 years old. To get married, the couple needs a marriage license issued by the state.

No blood test is required to get a marriage license in California. Both partners have to appear in person at the county Clerk of Court and show valid picture identification such as a driver’s license or passport. If either has been married before, that person must provide the date of the divorce.

The couple can obtain either a public marriage license, which becomes public record, or a confidential license that is not a public record. The fee for a marriage license is about $80 and it is valid for 90 days. After the marriage is solemnized, by a minister, judge, or certain other public officials, the person performing the ceremony must submit the completed license to the court clerk within 10 days.

Divorce in California

When the marital relationship is no longer working for a couple, divorce may be the solution. In California, that could be a simple matter of filing a few forms and waiting six months, or it could become extremely complicated, requiring family court mediation and multiple hearings before a judge. As with any situation where emotions are involved, it depends on the partners’ willingness to cooperate.

The cost varies widely, ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, but expect to spend at least $2,000 if you have children and any property that will need to be divided.

According to the state bar association, there are two basic grounds for a California divorce. One is irreconcilable differences, meaning the arrangement is not acceptable and counseling won’t fix it; and the other is insanity, a rarely used basis for divorce.

Divorce options

Married couples – or domestic partners – with differences that cannot be settled have three options. They can seek:

· Legal separation – used when a couple, possibly for religious or tax purposes, want to stay married, but live separately. A family law judge can divide property, assign Child Custody , order child or spousal support and issue restraining orders.

· Annulment – used when the marriage was not legally valid, making it as if the marriage did not exist. This can happen if a spouse was a minor, was forced or tricked into marriage, or was still married to someone else.

· Dissolution – used when the partners no longer wish to be married or live together. It permanently severs the marital contract. A family law judge settles property, custody, support and other issues just as in a legal separation.

Preparing for Criminal Court

It is important to be prepared, understand the rules and know what to expect before walking into a California court. How you behave in court may affect the outcome of your case. This begins at home when you are getting dressed for your court appearance. You don’t have to wear a suit, although that is a good idea, but you should dress as neatly as possible, as if you were trying to land a job or going to church.

Do not wear jeans, short skirts, t-shirts, sleeveless or midriff-baring tops, or sneakers. Avoid bright colors, clothes with logos or words on them, tight or provocative clothing, and excessive amounts of jewelry or make-up. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s something you would wear for a night out with your friends, do not wear it in a California court.

Choose dark, subdued colors for court. Wear long-sleeved shirts that button up and slacks if you’re a man, and a nice blouse and pants or a dress if you are a woman. Wear an undershirt or a bra. Make sure your clothes are clean and do not have holes. Keep your pants pulled up so that your underwear does not show, and tuck in your shirt before going into court.