Real Estate Law Firm Helping Clients in and Around Tacoma
At Dickson Frohlich, our attorneys understand how complex Tacoma real estate transactions and disputes can be. We also know how much can be on the line when a real estate case arises. Whether you are buying property, selling property, leasing property, or have a conflict regarding real estate you currently own, our team of highly experienced Tacoma real estate attorneys can help you. We regularly handle the following types of real estate matters, among others:
|● Commercial Tenancy Disputes||● Landlord/Tenant Disputes
Real estate law defined
Real estate (or real property) and personal property differ in numerous, important characteristics. The most obvious difference between the two is their physical characteristics. Real estate is commonly thought of as land, or structures built upon land; it is durable, immovable, and will inevitably outlive its owner. Real estate will not be consumed by its mere use. Personal property, however, can be transported (carried away) or consumed. For instance, while it might not be obvious, money itself is considered “personal property.”
There exist significant legal consequences as a result of the enduring nature of land. Real estate attorneys, whether they practice in big cities (like Seattle or Tacoma) or small towns (like Enumclaw or Puyallup), will often have to grapple with the inherent longevity of real estate. From a legal perspective, therefore, real estate can be conceptually thought of in both physical AND temporal contexts. What this means is that just as an owner of real estate may physically divide and sell a portion of his property to someone, he can also sell the right to use the property for a period of time. Lawyers practicing real estate law are expected to understand the inherent characteristics of this subject matter. As mentioned above, because of the enduring nature of real property, title to it is merely held for a time. What this means by implication, is that the potential value of real estate is diverse–from leasing time to a tenant to possess the property, to dividing the land and selling it to an entirely new person or entity.
Common Legal Questions Answered By Tacoma Real Estate Attorney
Real estate laws are complicated, and our clients naturally have many questions regarding their real estate case. Whether your case involves commercial or residential real estate, we will ensure that you fully understand your rights and that we address any questions or concerns you may have. The following are only a few frequently asked questions about real estate cases:
- Do I need an attorney for a lease agreement? While many people simply sign lease agreements without a second thought, it is important to realize that leases are legally-binding contracts. If you sign and agree to provisions that may be unfair, you may later face significant legal liability, restrictions for your business, or may even lose access to your leased property. It is critical to have a real estate lawyer carefully review any lease agreement before you sign.
- Do I need representation to buy a home? When purchasing a home, many people hire a real estate agent but fail to consult with a real estate attorney. While an agent can help you find the home of your dreams, they often do not have the knowledge of complex real estate agreement title issues, and other questions that may arise during the process. It is wise to have a lawyer reviewing all contracts and documents during the purchasing process.
- How much does a real estate lawyer cost? Fees will vary depending on what type of real estate matter you have. We will always be honest and upfront about fees so there are no surprises for you.
- What type of real estate clients do you take? We regularly represent landlords, tenants, commercial and residential owners, sellers, and purchasers, owners facing foreclosure, among others.
What to Do to Protect Your Rights in Your Real Estate Transaction
There are numerous things you can do to ensure your rights are fully protected in a real estate matter, including the following:
- Never assume a lease agreement or real estate agreement is fair and skip over terms you may not understand. If you are unsure about any contract provisions, hire an attorney
- Do not assume that foreclosure is inevitable if you are struggling to make mortgage payments. Our attorneys have many tools to help you become current on your mortgage and keep your property.
- Understand that there are many ways to efficiently and effectively resolve disputes with neighboring property owners.
One of the most important things you can do when facing a real estate issue is to call the skilled attorneys at the Dickson Frohlich as soon as possible. Our founder Thomas Dickson has more than 30 years of experience helping real estate clients, and we have the resources to help you obtain a favorable result in your case.
Another aspect of real estate ownership has to do with the inherent rights an owner enjoys in the land. These individual aspects of property ownership are often divisible. In law school, budding attorneys are taught this concept of real property via the “bundle of sticks” (or “bundle of rights”) metaphor. Real estate is more than having a possessory right to physically control land. Rather, when someone holds title to real estate, they actually have a legal right to control all of the various, divisible characteristics of that property. Conceptually, these different property rights and characteristics are held together in a bundle, but can be alienated (sold, gifted, or leased) by the title holder. Even though a stick (or “right”) is divided from the rest of the bundle, the owner of the property overall, still retains the title.
Selling or leasing the individual rights in property is common. In fact, most people are utilizing other individual’s rights in property on a daily basis, though they may not realize it. For example, if you are living in a rental property at present, you are technically using the property owner’s right of possession for the term of your lease. For the life of the lease, you hold the “possession” stick from the ownership bundle. Another example of this concept can be found with the concept of an easement (an easement is a non-possessory right to use someone else’s property). Suppose that you purchase a new home, but your neighbor has an express easement from you, which allows him to drive over a portion of your property to reach his garage. In that case, your neighbor has been given a “stick” from your property bundle in the form of an easement. As you can see, this concept of property rights can be extremely helpful in understanding its inherent nature.
Please click on the links above to read more regarding the various aspects of real estate law. At Dickson Frohlich, we seek to provide a clear, foundational understanding of the law for our clients. We firmly believe that well-informed clients can serve as allies in their own causes and can ultimately provide a significant resource in their legal matter. Below, please find a brief list of the most-common legal projects that real estate lawyers encounter:
Buying and selling real estate
Real estate lawyers are often called upon to help facilitate the transfer of legal ownership in real estate for their clients. This is commonly referred to as “transferring title.” Even though there are diverse ways for this to occur, it is usually seen in the simple sale of real estate (commercial or residential). Typically, an attorney will first be asked to set up the contractual relationship between the parties, prior to the actual title transfer. This is achieved by the attorney drafting a contract containing terms designed to effectuate a sale of the property in question (from the owner to the prospective buyer). These contracts are typically called purchase and sale agreements.
A purchase and sale agreement will contain key terms that govern the transaction itself, such as earnest money, closing date, sale price, names of parties, and property information. In addition, the purchase and sale agreement will often include contingencies that a buyer can take advantage of in order to terminate the deal and retain his earnest money. The most common of them is the financing contingency. A financing contingency basically makes the purchase and sale agreement subject to whether or not the buyer can obtain financing to purchase the property in question. If he cannot, and proper notice is issued to the seller, then the buyer can terminate the project and receive a return of his earnest money.
If the terms of the purchase and sale agreement are satisfied, and the agreement is not terminated by a contingency, then the transaction will move forward to the closing. A closing of a real estate purchase and sale agreement culminates in the transferring of the property title (the bundle of sticks held by the seller) to the buyer via the execution of a deed. While there are different types of deeds, what’s important is that the document itself is in writing, signed by the title holder, and acknowledged (meaning notarized). Simultaneous to the execution of the deed, the buyer will transfer funds to the seller. These funds will first cover any costs associated with the transaction itself, plus any existing debt secured by the property, such as an active mortgage. Once all of the debts and liability are satisfied, and the deed is recorded, the transaction is complete, and the buyer is now the new owner of the property.
Common real estate law issues (and what to do about them):
Our real estate law practice is designed to cover the full spectrum of real estate issues that individuals typically face. Notwithstanding the breadth of our attorneys’ experience, the majority of real estate issues tend to involve four general property-related subcategories: easements, adverse possession (or trespass), transactions (including partition actions), and landlord-tenant issues. The following paragraphs are intended to discuss the most common questions and concerns we receive from new clients. Hopefully, this information will prove helpful as you deal with your specific real estate needs:
Commonly, a potential client will contact our office and describe how a neighbor is frequently traversing a section of the potential client’s property. Though not always, the neighbor’s intrusion onto the potential client’s property is for the purpose of accessing his or her own property. What’s more, this trespass is often associated with a pre-existing drive or roadway which the potential client utilizes as well. The broader question is thus, what rights does the potential client have regarding this apparent trespass onto his property?
An easement is simply this: a non-possessory right to use another party’s property. The context of the aforementioned easement will shape what rights the properties owners have. There are four, legally-recognized easements in Washington law: express easements, prescriptive easements, implied easements, and necessary easements. The strongest, and most common of the four, is the express easement. An express easement is written and recorded in the county where the property in question is located. It therefore essentially becomes part of the title of the property impacted by the express easement. The second-most common version is a prescriptive easement. This easement comes into being through the use of property over time. Similar to adverse possession, if an individual utilizes another person’s property for a period of at least ten years and does so without permission (either direct or implied), then that individual’s right to use the property becomes vested.
By far, the most common method that a real estate attorney will assist a client in transferring title is through the typical purchase and sale process. However, did you know that title to real property can actually change hands simply by somebody trespassing upon it? Of course, there’s more to it than simple trespass, but overall, the law recognizes that title to real estate can shift from the original owner (who holds title, via a deed) to a new owner who simply possesses the property for a long period of time. (In Washington state, that period of time is typically 10 years.)
This occurs by virtue of the legal doctrine known as adverse possession. Here’s how it works: if someone possesses somebody else’s property openly, continuously, actually (meaning using it in a manner that a typical owner would give the property), exclusively, and without permission from the actual title holder, and does so for a period of at least 10 years, then that person is legally the new owner. This is true even if a document is not created at that moment, manifesting the change in legal ownership. Thus, while the boundary lines are important, a real estate lawyer knows, that the use of the property may supersede them.
Partition of real estate
A common issue presented to real estate attorneys (especially in the Seattle/Tacoma area), is how to deal with real estate that is jointly owned. Specifically, attorneys are often asked how to deal with a jointly owned property where one of the property owners no longer wishes to continue in that joint ownership. In that situation, the legal mechanism to divide the ownership is called “partition.”
Similar to dissolving a marriage, co-owners of real estate are not forced to continue on co-owning property if they do not wish to. In that situation, a real estate attorney should advise his or her client that the joint ownership can be disentangled according to the various methods described within both the statutory partition law, as well as common law. (Note: partitioning real property can be impacted by the nature of the joint ownership. The statute governing real estate partitions applies specifically to joint ownership as “tenants in common.” However, even though the statutes don’t explicitly touch upon co-ownership as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” the court will often treat them similarly.)
The type of partition also depends heavily on the property itself (in particular, its size). While a court may ultimately have to order that the property in question is sold, with the proceeds divided between the joint owners of the property, it is loathed to do so. Thus, what it will typically seek to do first, is provide a property owner (if one wishes to remain in ownership of the property subject to partition) the opportunity to buy out the other owner. This is typically accomplished through a cash-out refinance of the property, where the remaining property owner obtains funds from a loan to give to the departing owner. If the property is of sufficient size, however, it may be partitioned “in-kind.” What that means, is that if the property can be physically divided into roughly equal shares, the court will order that to happen rather than having the property sold, with a division of the proceeds. (If there is an imbalance in the “in-kind” partition, then the court can also require that the party ending up with a more valuable piece of property from the partition, pay the other party the representative difference in the value. This is called a partition with owelty payments.)
While the various options for a real estate partition are interesting, in the vast majority of circumstances, they are not an option. Attorneys practicing real estate law know firsthand, that in most circumstances, the property must be sold in order to truly partition the representative ownership interests. Ultimately, what a prospective real estate client must know, is that one cannot avoid a real estate partition with a co-owner of the property. Again, similar to a marriage, if one of the parties wants out, the law allows them to get out.
Landlord tenant issues (eviction, aka unlawful detainer)
Real estate attorneys are frequently confronted with disputes between landlords and tenants. In fact, there are real estate law firms whose practice comprises evictions exclusively. (Note: in Washington state, the legal term for “eviction” is “unlawful detainer.”) without going into all the various details here, the basic principle is this: the landlord is essentially selling the use of his real estate to a tenant. In exchange, the tenant is compensating the landlord for that time. As discussed above, real estate ownership goes beyond the physicality of the property in question and extends to the various, ancillary characteristics of real estate–like time.
Real estate attorneys who focus on evictions as a practice area, must be knowledgeable in the various components of the unlawful detainer process. This is due to the inherent nature of an unlawful detainer. While a typical legal dispute before a court, may take several months, an unlawful detainer is considered a “special proceeding.” That means that the real estate lawyer can ultimately move much faster in removing a tenant wrongfully in possession of a landlord’s property.
While there are numerous ways that a lease may be breached (thus justifying the initiation of an unlawful detainer action), by far the most common is failure to pay rent. In that event, the first step real estate attorney to issue a three-day notice to pay rent or vacate the property. If after three days, rent has not been paid, the eviction escalates. The attorney will then prepare various pleadings (such as a complaint for unlawful detainer), while the necessary ones with the proper court, which initiates the action in earnest. After that step is complete, those initial pleadings will be served upon the tenant in possession of the property in question, with a notice that a hearing will be held shortly thereafter. This hearing is essentially designed to determine, early in the process, whether or not there is sufficient cause to allow the possession of the property. if the court decides that there isn’t sufficient cause to allow the tenant to remain in possession of the property, it will order that the County Sheriff remove the tenant from the property (this is done by a “writ of restitution”).
How We Can Help with Your Real Estate Case
An experienced real estate lawyer can be extremely beneficial in many ways, including:
- Read through all contracts and lease agreements before you sign them to identify any potentially unfair terms.
- Negotiate more favorable terms in your real estate contract.
- Help preserve your relationship with your neighbors while standing up for your rights as a property owner regarding easements or boundaries.
- Find solutions for you to keep your home in the face of a possible foreclosure.
- Guide you through the legal process of litigation, eviction, or foreclosure.
- Negotiate with financial institutions regarding financing disputes or alternatives to foreclosure.
- Provide peace of mind that your best interests are protected through every step of your real estate transaction.
If you have any type of real estate questions, please do not hesitate to call the Tacoma real estate attorneys at the Dickson Frohlich law firm for help today. We provide the highest quality of real estate representation, so please contact us online or at 253-572-1000 for a free consultation.