Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why title insurance is not an option - By Randee McDonald, Cumberland Title Services

Purchasing home is not only the largest purchase of many people’s lives, it’s also one of the most confusing ones. By the time the new homeowners-to-be decide on a location, a realtor, a mortgage, and actually finally find a home, they are exhausted. The last thing on their minds is the importance of owner’s title insurance. 

Simply stated, the title to a piece of property is the evidence that the owner is in lawful possession of that property. When a title company performs a title search, they are confirming that the person selling the property has legal ownership of that property, and has the right to sell it. It also attempts to detect any liens or other claims against it. 

Owner’s title insurance is what protects a person’s legal right to that property. However, since title searches are not 100 percent infallible, the insurance is a worthwhile investment. It is a one-time fee paid at closing that protects the new homeowner and the biggest monetary and emotional purchase of their lives.

Here’s an example: Two weeks after moving in to their new house, Mary and Joe received a letter in the mail from Frank, the brother of the man that sold them the house. The letter states the home was gifted to Frank in an old will, and his brother had no right to sell it.   

How about this? Lisa purchased a home and title insurance. The home came with a deeded right of way to the beach. However, nasty neighbor Nancy is blocking that right of way. Even though Lisa has a deed in hand that states she is allowed passage through that way, Nancy puts up a fence. 

In both instances, owner’s title insurance would negotiate, cover attorney’s fees and court costs, and reimburse the homeowner for losses. Pretty impressive for a one-time cost at closing that protects you for as long as you own that property!

Lender’s title insurance, a different type of insurance, protects the lender, not the homeowner, against defects in the title. It is typically required by your lender when you purchase a property with a loan, and covers the lender up to the amount of the loan. 

Owner’s title insurance protects you and your home against:
A chain of title that may be a forgery.
A deed or mortgage that may have been procured by fraud or duress.
A heir or other person presumed dead that may appear and seek to recover his or her share of the property.
A deed or a mortgage that may have been signed by an incapacitated person or incompetent person.
A deed or a mortgage may have been made by a person other than the owner, but with the same name as the owner.
A defect in the recording of a document upon which your title is dependent.

Claims continue to rise. Owner’s title insurance will be listed as ‘optional’ on the new settlement documents that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has created, due out in October. It may be tempting to knock title insurance off the fees paid at closing, but it could certainly end up being a costly one.

Buyer turn-offs - By Rick Yost

Home sellers often overlook the most common complaints from potential buyers. The things that the home seller has grown used to, or even to love, are exactly what is killing their home sale. Buyers do not love speckled red cabinets, no matter how much the home seller does.
The best way to a quick and profitable sale of a home is to eliminate as many buyer turnoffs as possible.
As a realtor, I see and hear about many buyer turnoffs that home sellers are not aware of or chose to ignore. Of all the buyer turnoffs that I am aware of, there are four that universally get noticed and commented on. These four buyer turnoffs should be addressed in order to maximize price and minimize time on the market for a home.

The first and foremost buyer turnoff is also the easiest to fix. Clutter, disarray, and mess turnoff many buyers. Buyers can be quick to assume that the clutter and mess are signs of a home that had not been well cared for. Rooms that are full of clutter, or repurposed to store clutter look smaller and seem to have less utility than organized rooms do. Home sellers should pack everything they can away in boxes and store them in a garage, basement or even a storage locker. Removing all clutter, organizing all rooms, and cleaning the home thoroughly should be priority one for home sellers.

The next big turnoff that home seller miss or ignore is pets. News flash, not everyone loves pets. Some people have phobias, others have allergies, and some just don't like pets. Home sellers should always have a plan to get pets out of the house during showings. A barking dog can be a big distraction and a bigger turnoff to potential home buyers. Home sellers should also make sure that litter boxes are emptied, feeding areas are tidy, and pet odors are eliminated or at least minimized. As wonderful a dog as Fido is, he won't help sell the house, and cat hair does not make the furniture more attractive. Sorry pet lovers, but this is the harsh reality. Please don't shoot the messenger.

If a home seller had made their house "Me", they need to make it less "Me" before putting it on the market. Home buyers are turned off by homes that they cannot picture themselves in. Home sellers should create a blank canvas impression for potential buyers. Children's art work, family pictures, distinctive furnishings, and unusual decorations are all things that make a home unique. They are also the things that make it more difficult for buyers to picture the home as their own. Home sellers should take down and remove as many of these items as possible.

Out dated decor is another big turnoff to home buyers. Some finishes just scream 70s, 80s or 90s to potential buyers. Some of the most common dated finishes that buyers comment on are--textured ceilings (popcorn or swirls), floral wallpaper, wood paneling and brass door knobs, cabinet knobs and light fixtures. This type of decor can make a home appear older than it is and less appealing to potential buyers. Textured ceilings can be removed by paint contractors or even by the home owner. It is messy and tedious, but worthwhile. Removing or painting wallpaper and paneling makes rooms more appealing to most buyers. Changing brass cabinet knobs to brushed nickel and brass light fixtures to more modern styles is an inexpensive way to change the feel of a home.

Home sellers that avoid the big four buyer turnoffs should realize higher sales prices and shorter sales periods for their homes. Small changes can make a big difference. Home sellers should always ask for their realtor's honest opinion on what to do to make the home more attractive to buyers. More importantly, home sellers should take that advice and not be offended by.

Rick is a realtor, real estate author, and long time Windham resident. You can reach Rick with all of your real estate needs and questions at

A few quick tips for building, buying or renovating your home on the lake - By Emily Mottram

Some of you may know that the shore land zoning regulations changed in 2015, although the document is long and written like most municipal code, so it’s hard to understand and lengthy.  But here are a few key points from the questions I get asked most often.

1.      First you need to check to see if your property has already taken advantage of the 30 percent expansion. This can be found at your local building department and will encompass any renovations to a home that is built within 100 feet of the high water line of the lake since January 1, 1989. 

2.      The 2015 rules have done away with the 30 percent volume rule. Depending on the location of the house in relation to the lake, if you can build another story without expanding the footprint of the building and stay under the height restriction, it will not count towards your 30 percent expansion. 

3.      The height restrictions are as follows:
a.       Less then 25’ from the lake 15’ height restriction
b.      Less than 75’ from the lake 20’ height restriction
c.       Less than 100’ from the lake 25’ height restriction

4.      The 30 percent expansion now applies only to square footage, but they have added additional allowances to help with smaller buildings. Now it’s 30 percent of the existing footprint, including decks or 1,000 square feet total within 75 feet of the lake or 1,500 square feet total between 75 feet and 100 feet.
5.      Repair and maintenance – the DEP states that it “allows normal upkeep and maintenance of non-conforming uses and structures including repairs or renovations that do not involve expansion of non-conforming use or structure, and such other changes in a non-conforming use or structure as federal, state, or local building and safety codes may require.

However, you will still need to contact your local code enforcement officer to obtain permits necessary to proceed with repair and maintenance. All towns are different and it is important to verify what you need to do with your code officer prior to starting any work.

6.      Although the restrictions are much more stringent for homes that are less than 100 feet from the lake, the DEP and town will regulate any structures within 250 feet of the lake. Also, if you live on Sebago Lake, you will be subject to inspections by the Portland Water District who also has jurisdiction over the water quality of Sebago Lake. 

7.      You must have a permit and permission to remove any trees along the lake.

8.      You can not build any closer to the lake, so if your only place for expansion is towards the lake, you will be an unlikely candidate for expansion. This includes decks, patios, driveways and structures. 

9.      More than likely, you cannot add an in-law apartment to your property. Most of the zoning surrounding the lake does not allow in-law or second dwelling units on the same property. This is very important to check your local zoning and touch base with the code enforcement officer before adding any type of cooking elements as a secondary unit in your home. 

10.  The lowest floor elevation for any structure needs to be 1 foot above the flood plain. So if your home is close to the lake, you will need to have an elevation certificate done by a qualified surveyor to locate the flood plain before expanding your home. This may mean that your new addition is on piers, instead of a basement, which may make a new expansion complicated.

So, if you are considering buying a lake house, or renovating your existing home, we highly recommend speaking with a professional about what you will be allowed to do with the property. It is important for Maine to keep the quality of our lake water good since it is the source of much of the states drinking water. Although the restrictions are challenging, they keep our lakes healthy and our drinking water clean.
If you’re interested in reading the current Shore Land Zoning Regulations for Maine, you can find the full document here at DEP Chapter 1000 Guidelines for Municipal Shoreland Zoning Ordinances.