New Risks for Property Owners: Economic and Physical Effects of Climate Change

Image of a house with ocean waves splashing under it meant to represent rising sea levels caused by climate changing. Photo by Clint Patterson via Unsplash

This story, alas, is unfolding. Physical signs of a heating world and its shifting weather patterns appear in tropical storms and in sea level rise, in heat waves, droughts, and wildfires. The economic and physical impacts of climate change are making their mark on real estate

Affected cities have already paid heavy costs in repairs and reconstruction, insurance premiums, and loss of trade and tourism. Real estate markets are seeing severe weather events steadily chip away at property values. Public initiatives to mitigate risks will increase taxes, code compliance burdens, and financing costs.

In other words, the risks go well beyond destructive incidents from specific disasters. They include higher capital and maintenance costs related to fire, water, and weather damage on properties over time. To anticipate the risk of climate-related damage, analysts are mapping properties—feeding site-specific data into geophysical, hydrological, and economic models. 

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Preferred Pronouns in Real Estate Deeds

Image of a legal document and pen. Captioned: Preferred Pronouns in Real Estate Deeds

Corey McCann is closing on a condo. Corey has just one more question for the title company agent:

I wonder why, in the definitions in the mortgage agreement for the recorder’s office, I’m called “Corey McCann, a single woman.” Only my name is relevant. I could understand declaring the single status—if there is a firm reason that the record must show, for example, that there is no co-habitant or person who might try to claim an interest in a divorce. But I don’t voluntarily identify myself in public documents or online by gender. I’d rather not do so now.   

The title company agent answers:

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The Transmutation of Real Estate Ownership Between Married Couples in Community Property States

Image of a married couple sitting on a bench looking at a very nice house. Captioned: Transmutation of real estate ownership between married couples.

If you are married and live in a community property state, you and your spouse may not think about whether certain assets are community or separate property. The former is generally all property acquired during the marriage, and the latter consists of property owned by each spouse before they wed. Separate property also includes assets inherited by one spouse or gifted to the individual. Say one spouse inherited a house from their parents, and rent out the dwelling. The rent received by the inheriting spouse is considered separate property.

Perhaps the marital home is actually separate property, as one spouse owned it prior to the marriage. Even though the spouses may share financial responsibility for the house, such as paying the mortgage and taxes together, or other expenses such as insurance and repairs, in reality the home belongs to just one of them. No matter how much the non-owning spouse may contribute to the property’s upkeep, it’s not a marital asset. For fairness’ sake, it may make sense to change the property from separate to community, via a process known as transmutation.

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Conveying Real Estate Through a Power of Attorney

Image of a woman signing a legal document captioned: Power of Attorney for Real Estate

A power of attorney enables an agent (also called the attorney-in-fact) to conduct transactions on another person’s behalf.

The POA document often appears in the world of real estate transactions. A person (called the principal) might require a stand-in to sign financial documents, on account of absence or disability. A limited power of attorney can enable the agent to carry out any and all real estate transactions or even give an agent specific authority to sell one home (“for the sale of 123 Smith Avenue only”), and for a specified price. 

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You’ve Paid Off the Mortgage. What Happens Now?

image of money stacked next to a house captioned: You've paid off the mortgage. What happens now?

Congratulations! Paying off a mortgage is an impressive milestone.

Now that you have paid off all the debt on your property, your home state’s law will direct your lender to take certain actions. 

The lender will send you a certificate of satisfaction. This certificate, which the lender records in your home county, notifies the public that you have satisfied your obligation, and the lender has removed the lien from your property.

A few details of this process depend on what state your property is in, and whether your debt was secured through a deed of trust.

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Real Estate Transfer Taxes

Image showing person signed a deed with money on the table and a small house figure captioned: Real Estate Transfer Taxes

Most states and the District of Columbia impose a deed transfer tax when real property changes hands. This sales tax is based on the value of a given property. It applies to a transfer of full ownership from seller to buyer. It is also applied to any percentage of the property that is conveyed short of the entire property. Thus, if one co-owner relinquishes joint ownership in the entire property, the tax is calculated on half of the value.

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Refusing to Accept a Deed

image of an unsigned deed captioned refusing to accept the deed

For a valid real estate deed conveyance, two key actions must occur:

  • The giver (called the grantor) must deliver it the recipient (called the grantee).
  • The grantee must accept it.

A Recipient May Refuse to Accept a Deed.

Circumstances are not always right for taking on new ownership and new responsibilities. Moreover, not every piece of real property is desirable. Even with a significant estimated value, it might have hidden liabilities.

Thus, the gift of a deed can, and sometimes should, be turned down.   

This can get difficult if the grantor has the conveyance recorded with the county anyway, without the grantee’s knowledge. The grantee will then be obliged to file a court petition to void the conveyance.

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What Is a Quiet Title Action?

What is a Quiet Title Action?

A quiet title action is a special legal proceeding to determine rightful, legal property ownership. It is often a preventative or “friendly” lawsuit to ensure that no other parties have conflicting claims to a title, or to resolve an ambiguity. Depending on state law provisions, the plaintiff—that is, the party filing the complaint—may be the mortgage lender, a potential buyer, the legal title holder, or someone in actual possession of the property.

Prevailing in a quiet title action enables the rightful owner to get title insurance, to take a loan out on the property, and to convey the property free and clear of any cloud on the title.

When to File a Quiet Title Action

Whenever doubt or ambiguity arises as to ownership in a title search, the title company will not issue a title insurance policy. This means the property lacks marketable title. To obtain a mortgage loan, title insurance is necessary.

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Adding Someone to Your Real Estate Deed? Know the Risks.

Image of a house. Captioned: Adding Someone to Your Deed? Know the Risks

It’s your home. You might wish to adding another person—perhaps an intimate friend or a family member. Doing this is a relatively simple action. And you have the right to do it.

Still, be sure to consider the unintended consequences. However well-intended your desire to bring a loved one onto your real estate deed, the conveyance is fraught with risks and potential frustrations. Be aware that:

  • A deed that conveys an interest in your real estate ownership (“adds someone on”) has the legal effect of giving that additional person the same bundle of rights to which you are entitled.
  • Once the conveyance happens, it cannot be undone except with that other additional owner’s consent.  

Consider the following aspects carefully.

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