Author: Jacob Pugh

What the Heck is a “Notary” Anyway and Why Do Certain Documents Need One?

A “Notary Public” or simply “Notary” for short, is a public officer that has received legal authority to perform certain functions intended to prevent fraud and forgery.  Each state has its own set of laws that govern the duties of notaries.  Notaries in Kansas perform five basic functions:

  1. Take acknowledgments
  2. Administer oaths and affirmations
  3. Take a verification upon oath or affirmation
  4. Witness or attest a signature
  5. Certify or attest a copy

With real estate transactions, you will most likely encounter a notary for the purposes of witnessing a signature and administering an oath.  In witnessing the signing of a document, the notary will verify that you are the person you claim to be, watch you sign a document and then stamp the document with their notarial seal.  When administering an oath, the notary will have you raise a hand and swear that the information contained in the document is true and correct. Most people will encounter this scenario in their lives.

But what is the notary actually doing and why do you need them to perform these functions?

With a non-notarized signature, another individual viewing a signed document must identify, prove, or trust that the signature was actually made by the person purporting to sign.  If you consider that a deed in a real estate transaction can pass real estate worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, it is easy to see that the area could be rife with fraud.  A Kansas Notary, as stated above, is a public officer that has been vetted by the Kansas Secretary of State and deemed trustworthy to perform the duties of a notary.  A notary also must provide a “bond” insuring their duties as a notary.

In witnessing a person sign a document, the notary is creating a presumption that a person is the individual that signed the document.  In the law, a presumption means that the burden of proving a fact has shifted to the other side.  Therefore, when a signature is notarized, it is presumed, or more likely than not, that the signature is authentic.  A person challenging the authenticity of a notarized document has the burden of presenting evidence that is persuasive enough to overcome the presumption in proving that a person did not sign a document.

Additionally, in Kansas, all documents that are filed with a county’s Register of Deeds must  be notarized as required by law.  So, for most real estate transactions, this includes a deed and mortgage.  These are also the documents that are responsible for the conveyance of the interest in real estate, making it easy to understand why such a requirement exists.

In real estate transactions, affidavits (sworn statements of fact) are the most common sworn statements encountered.  Usually, these come in the form of affidavits of death, affidavits of equitable interest, or affidavits of debts and liens.  Most of the time, they are used to clarify or clear a title concern and are required by a lender or title company as part of a transaction.

As one can see, Notary Publics serve a very important role of preventing fraud and forgery in every real estate transaction. At Tallgrass Title, every one of our team members is a Notary Public and understands the importance of that role and duty that it carries. Should this post present questions regarding the role of a notary in a real estate transaction, feel free to contact our office.  We are happy to assist!

What Do Lower Interest Rates Mean to a Realtor?

Those in the real estate industry are well aware of the fact that interest rates for loans have been lowered by the Federal Reserve over the last couple of months.  This reduction in turn lowers the interest rate paid by a borrower for a loan with their bank.  Lower interest rates have caused a large increase in loan “refinancing.”  Refinancing simply means replacing your existing home loan or commercial loan with a new loan at a lower interest rate to save financing costs or to increase the amount borrowed without affecting monthly payments.  For example, if a consumer borrows $200,000 at 4.0% interest with a 30-year term, their monthly payment would be $955.  That same loan at 3% interest would result in a monthly payment of $843.  The benefit is clear:  under this scenario, a consumer would be paying $100 less per month for the same borrowed amount.  Who wouldn’t want to save a $100 a month on their monthly payment?!!

So, people are refinancing their home loans and other commercial loans.  But how does that affect a Realtor?

As a buyer’s agent, you are well aware of your client’s “buying power.”  Meaning: what can your buyer afford?  At the end of the day, what your buyer can afford translates to “what payment can they afford.”  With lower interest rates, principal goes farther and a buyer can afford payments on a larger mortgage and ultimately the buying power of a buyer increases. Therefore, what houses you are showing a client could change.  Even more important is if you have a Buyer that was pre-approved several months ago and has not yet found a home to purchase, it would be wise to have the buyer update their pre-approval.

As a seller’s agent, you are often tasked with consulting with your client on how to reach a listing price for real estate.  Through comparable sales, inventory and available potential buyers, a list price is reached.  As discussed above, due to lowered interest rates, the buying power of potential purchasers has increased.  Based upon the increased buying power, there could be a larger pool of potential buyers for your list property.  Therefore, the list price may be increased if supply does not support the potentially higher demand created by the larger pool of buyers.  It’s basic economics.  However, the interest rates decrease is certainly important to evaluate when consulting on establishing new list prices.

Of course, this post is not encouraging agents to encourage buyers to purchase to the maximum amount of their financing ability or to encourage the increase on listing prices of property.  Each transaction will require the expertise and market knowledge of a Realtor to make those determinations.  Rather, this post is meant to spur the discussion of market impacts due to lower interest rates, especially in the Riley, Geary, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee County markets.  Our team at Tallgrass Title understands the market impacts caused by interest rate changes and have recently seen a significant increase in refinance title insurance orders.  We are happy to discuss these changes and how they affect your clients.  It’s our job!

Closings Continue at Tallgrass Title

At Tallgrass Title, we understand that real estate transactions must continue during the COVID -19 pandemic.  Real estate sales and transactions cannot simply stop because of this serious health scare.  Many contracts for the sale of real estate were signed prior to the global outbreak.  It is doubtful that the contract was contingent on a global pandemic.  Additionally, numerous folks began the refinance process for their home loans.  Without closing within a specified time, loan locks are in danger of expiring.  Therefore, closings continue to take place but with new added precautions and measures to support social distancing and prevent the further spread of the virus.  At the same time, many of these measures have been in place at Tallgrass Title for several years.  The purpose of this post is to share these measures with our customers and how they’re convenient and will save the parties time, pandemic or no pandemic.

  1. Early deed packets mean smooth closings. Having the Seller sign deed packets ahead of closing allows for the Seller to be absent from the closing.  The Sellers can sign their packet in front of a notary at their convenience and simply drop the packet in the drop box at either one of our locations.  The only in-person interaction that a Seller must currently have with another person is signing the deed packet.  However, notaries (as well as TGT staff) are providing ways to prevent spreading the virus further.  We are also offering several different options to assist in social distancing loan closings.  Ask one of our closing agents for options!
  2. Use of electronic signatures. With the growing use of online services, wet-ink signatures are simply not needed for most documents.  Several programs like HelloSign, DocuSign and Dotloop allow for a person to sign from their phone or computer.  Therefore, there is no need to meet face-to-face with a person to execute closing paperwork.  At Tallgrass Title, we routinely offer parties the option to sign settlement statements electronically.
  3. Use of Earnnest for delivery of earnest money. Earnnest is a program much like Venmo, Cash App or PayPal that allows for the instantaneous transfer of earnest money.  Therefore, there is no need for the physical delivery of earnest money to our office.
  4. Wiring of proceeds or delivery to bank. Tallgrass Title offers free wiring of real estate agents’ commission checks. We also offer to wire Seller’s proceeds from their transactions.  Additionally, our free courier service will deliver proceeds or commission checks to any local bank free of charge.  This means that there is no need to pick up a paper check at our office.  Ask your closing agent for details.

Our goal is to make your transaction as smooth and convenient as possible.  This includes in times of uncertainty.  As stated, most of these techniques and measures have been in place before the COVID-19 pandemic so our team is well acquainted and comfortable with their use.  Should you have any questions, our real estate professionals are happy to help. It’s our job!

HELOCs and Second Mortgages

When most consumers purchase a home, they obtain conventional financing for the purchase.  This often takes the form of a 30-year, fixed rate loan.  In order to secure the loan made to you, the bank files a mortgage with the register of deeds.  This document tells the world that the bank has a first-place lien against the house and if any other creditors file a lien, that lien will be inferior to the first-place loan.  Now, let’s say that the same homeowner would like to make improvements to their home, add a pool or build a garage and would like to borrow additional money to do so.  The homeowner may also want to borrow funds for reasons unrelated to the home such as consolidation of credit card debt, assisting a child with college tuition or a business venture.

So, rather than to refinance the entire home loan and file a new mortgage, etc, to account for the increase in the loan, a bank will often file a second mortgage.  This can also take the form of a home equity line of credit type mortgage (HELOC) which is also usually a second mortgage as well.  The difference is typically the bank will automatically release a second mortgage upon payoff.  With a HELOC, the bank will keep the mortgage filed and the note open to allow a consumer to re-advance funds as needed.  Only upon request of the homeowner will the bank release the mortgage upon payoff.  This saves the costs and expense of making a new loan every time a homeowner wants to borrow funds.

HELOC’s and second mortgages can be obtained with the bank that made the first purchase loan or with a different institution as selected by the homeowner. The bank handling the loan will usually order title insurance to insure that the mortgage is secured against all liens, besides the first place mortgage.  If a consumer with a second place mortgage or HELOC later decides to sell the real estate, the title company simply pays off the second mortgage the same as it pays the first at closing.  The only additional step is to request additional payoff information.  Of course, there are many different types of second mortgages and HELOC’s.  it is a good idea to discuss options with a finance professional.

Here at Tallgrass Title, we deal with second mortgages and HELOCs on a daily basis.  Should you have any questions during your purchase, sale or refinance, feel free to contact our title professionals.  We are here to help, its our job!

You’re Invited

Hello Manhattan! Please join us at the grand opening of the Manhattan office of Tallgrass Title. We are having a reception at our location in the Hartford Building on April 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. and we’d like for you to attend.

Local group, Solar’s Jazz Quartet will be delivering musical treats for your ears.  Amazing food will be provided by Blacksheep Catering and Jake will being offering specialty cocktails.

We’ve heard from many of our customers they’d like for us to open an office in Manhattan, and as your newest neighbors, we want to hear how we can best serve you. We are excited to see you at our event so that we may learn more about your needs as a real estate professional.

The event will be held at our new office located in the Hartford Building located at 210 N. 4th.

Come out and eat, drink and say hello!

New Year, No More Mortgage Registration Tax!

In Kansas in years past, mortgage registration tax was charged by the State of Kansas for the filing of a mortgage at the county register of deed’s office. This tax was based upon the size of the mortgage and had to be paid at the time of filing the mortgage.  In the last year of its existence, a residential mortgage in the amount of $100,000 would result in a tax in the amount of $50.00.  As you can see, this amount can quickly multiply on larger mortgages.  Additionally, a filing fee based upon the number of pages to be filed was charged along with the mortgage registration tax.  A standard, thirty-year mortgage typically results in a filing fee of anywhere from $100.00 to $350.00.  These fees will typically show up as financing charges or “closing costs” on a settlement statement.  In my experience, most individuals were not aware of the fees until they reviewed their closing statements.  It was usually a shock for buyers to learn that they had to pay a couple hundred dollars simply to file a document at the register of deeds.

A few years ago, several homeowner, realtor and homebuilding groups lobbied State Legislators for the repeal of the mortgage registration tax. Their efforts were successful, and the tax was phased out over a few years until now.  Beginning on January 1, 2019, mortgage registration tax is no longer charged in Kansas.  This means immediate savings for homebuyers and homeowners that are refinancing their existing loans.  Additionally, the filing fees charged at the register of deeds will not increase in 2019.  Again, this is helpful to the Kansas home buyer and homeowner.  Should you have any questions regarding the repeal of the mortgage registration tax or the current filing fees, feel free to contact Tallgrass Title.

Easement Basics

Easements to real estate are simply an interest in some other person’s land for the limited purpose identified in the easement. In plain language, it is the right of another person to use your land for some limited purpose.  Easements can be exclusive; meaning that the use is restricted to a certain person or persons.  Easements can also be limited to a certain amount of time or can be perpetual and “run with the land.” As there are countless different variations of easements, it is impossible to explain all the law surrounding easements.  The purpose of this post is to point out two of the most common types of easements and give a brief overview of common issues.

Some of the most common forms of easements are travel easements and utility easements. A travel easement is the right for another individual to cross real estate not owned by them.  Usually this is for the purpose of accessing their own real estate.  Commonly, a travel easement (otherwise known as “ingress-egress” easement) is granted to a homeowner who owns real estate that is only accessible by crossing another person’s land.  With agricultural real estate, a travel easement is typically given to a farmer so that they may access their field or pasture as there is no direct access from a road.  Most of these types of travel easements are perpetual or “run with the land.”  This means that if the owner of the easement sells their real estate that is accessed by the easement, the new owner will have the right to continue to use the easement.  When representing buyers of real estate, if there is not apparent direct access from a government roadway, it is wise to inquire as to whether there is a travel easement and whether it transfers to your buyers.  Nobody wants to purchase real estate only to find out they cannot access it!

The other major type of easement is a utility easement. Based upon reading the first portion of this post, it should come as no surprise that a utility easement is simply the right to cross another person’s real estate with utilities.  These types of easements range from a small water line running to a house all the way to high voltage transmission lines.  The most important thing to take into consideration with utility easements is whether the easement will affect the planned use of a potential buyer.  Utility easements commonly do not allow a person to build any structure over or under an easement.  For example, if a Buyer had plans to build a garage, the location of an easement could affect these plans.

An easy way to determine whether there are easements on real estate being purchased or sold is to review the title commitment. This report should list all easements that are affecting the real estate being transferred.  The easements will be listed under the “exceptions” section or following the legal description.  Often the commitment will only list the existence of the easement and not specify the details.  At Tallgrass Title, we happily supply the underlying document listed in our commitments upon request.  That’s our job!

Probate Information for the Real Estate Agent

A common cause for the sale of real estate is when an individual passes away. As a listing agent preparing to list and market the real estate, it is important to answer a few questions regarding the status of the real estate.  You do not want to sign a contract with a buyer, only to find out that the seller does not have the ability to sell the real estate.  Similarly, when representing buyers, it is important to determine whether the seller has the ability to sell the real estate or if there will be a delay in transferring title.  The purpose of this post is in no way meant to be a guide for decedent’s estates.  Instead, the purpose is to identify a few of the common pitfalls and items that routinely delay closings.

When a person passes away owning real estate in Kansas, that real estate will pass to the people identified by the decedent (a person that has died) in some written document. If no such document exists, the real estate will pass to the “heirs” of the decedent as directed by Kansas law.  The three methods of passing real estate by written document are:

  1. Transfer on Death Deed or Joint Tenancy Deed
  2. Trust
  3. Will

A Transfer on death deed or joint tenancy deed will automatically transfer the ownership of real estate to the person or persons identified in the deed. The filing of a death certificate at the register of deeds is all that is required to finalize the transfer.  As a real estate agent, take a look at the deed or ask your title company to take a look to verify that the seller has the authority to transfer title.

The second method is through a trust. Typically, but not always, the trustee of the trust will have the authority to sell and transfer real estate.  However, there are innumerable varieties of trusts with varying powers being granted the trustee.  Therefore, it is wise to verify that the trust document grants authority to sell real estate to the trustee.  Additionally, it is important to make sure that there are not special requirements in the trust document that must take place before a sale is allowed.  For example “I grant the trustee the right to sell real estate….so long as my son does not want to purchase the real estate at the appraised value.”  This example illustrates a potential issue that could delay a sale.

Lastly, if the decedent had a will or passed away without a will, a probate proceeding will be needed prior to a sale. Simply put, probate is the court process of transferring assets of a decedent to those entitled to the assets.  The most important thing to remember with a probate proceeding is that it is not a quick process.  It usually takes at least sixty days from the first court document filed until authority is granted by a judge for the sale of real estate. Based upon the buyer, this may be an unacceptable amount of time to wait.  If you are unsure of where the probate process is, simply contact the attorney representing the estate and ask.

Decedents estates can be overwhelming and often times complicated. At Tallgrass Title, our attorneys have years of experience transferring real estate following death.  We are happy to answer questions pertaining to your transaction.  It’s our job!

Flint Hills Area Builders Fall Parade of Homes

At Tallgrass Title, we believe in the strength and growth of our area. Several major additions, both private and public, have been added to the job market regionally.  Additionally, the quality of life in the Flint Hills region continues to improve.  This, in turn, has made the Flint Hills region a wonderful place to live and raise a family.  These factors have caused rapid growth in the region.  A major contributor in assisting with that growth is the Flint Hills Area Builders Association (FABA).  Tallgrass Title is a proud member and supporter of FABA.  We feel that FABA best represents the builder and associated supporting businesses and their needs in the region.

This weekend is the Flint Hills Area Builders Fall Parade of Homes. Tallgrass Title is a proud Grand Marshall sponsor of the Parade of Homes and has been so for several years.  We feel that this is a wonderful opportunity for potential buyers to see the quality homes built by FABA members.  It is also a chance for consumers to view the latest designs and products used in the area.  We encourage any interested folks to take advantage of the tour this weekend and join the parade!  The tour is free and guide books are located at each of the Grand Marshall sponsors, online or at each of the homes on the tour.  We hope to see you on the parade!

A Beginner’s Introduction to Real Estate Auctions

Oftentimes, real estate will be offered for sale by using the auction process. An auction is the process by which the public has an opportunity to offer (“bid”) money for property and the property is then sold to the highest bidder. However, the auction process can be confusing to understand or a bit intimidating. This post is by no means an exhaustive explanation or definitive guide to real estate auctions. Instead, I hope to provide some basic information and point out some potential sticking points that could cause issues in the auction process.

In this area of the state, auctions are most often used to sell agricultural real estate, estate property, distressed property, investment real estate or the liquidation of assets belonging to a business or individual for one reason or another.

The basic premise for an auction is the same: An auctioneer will begin by stating the rules for the auction. He or she will also indicate the terms that a successful bidder will be agreeing to in a contract to be signed following the end of the auction. Typically, the auctioneer will indicate whether the auction is an “absolute” auction or whether there is a “reserve.” However, the auctioneer will rarely indicate what the reserve amount is. If no statement is made about whether the auction is with or without reserve, consider there to be a reserve. Lastly, most auctions are tape recorded or video recorded in order to verify what was said and who bid the highest amount.

Following the statement of rules and terms, the auctioneer will call for bids. This is the portion of the auction that you are probably familiar with from television or the internet. The auctioneer is not in fact offering the real estate for a set amount but instead inviting people to offer a bid. The auctioneer is usually stating something along the lines of “I have been offered $1.00, who will offer me $2.00?” The rest of the words are typically just filler words that do not mean anything. Some auctioneers will chant the call quicker and others slower. Additionally, the filler words will change between various auctioneers. However, the most important part of the calling of the bids is understanding how much the current bid is. If you get confused, just ask the auctioneer, he will tell you.

At the close of the bids, the auctioneer will usually count down “going once, going twice, sold” or some other statement that the bid will close soon. Following the close of bids, a written contract will be signed by the seller and buyer with the actual closing happening sometime in the future.

A couple of quick pointers to remember:

  1. Make sure you have money to support your bid or have your financing approved prior to the auction. Auctions are not contingent on financing. By signing the contract, you are promising to pay the amount bid.
  2. Auctions typically require you to make all inspections prior to the date of the auction. The real estate is almost always sold “As-Is.” This means that you are buying the property in its present condition.

Auctions can be intimidating for the untrained buyer or seller. Therefore, if you are concerned, employ a real estate agent or attorney that understands the process to assist you. Also, attend an auction and plan on not bidding. They are generally open to the public and can be interesting to observe. Lastly, here at Tallgrass Title, we routinely assist sellers and buyers on both sides of auctions. We are here to answer questions or direct you to somebody that can assist you. It’s our job!