Author: Jacob Pugh

Inspections in a Residential Home Purchase

Imagine you are considering purchasing a new home. You may not be the most construction-oriented person or know exactly what to look for when purchasing a home.  Additionally, your financing may require that you have a home inspected prior to being qualified for funding.  Lastly, you may just feel more comfortable having experts look at your potential purchase and point out potential problems before they become, well, your problems.  After all, for most Americans the family home is the single largest investment they will make during their lives.  The purpose of this post is to describe the inspection process and the common and important issues that often arise.

Prior to purchasing real estate, most buyers (the smart ones at least) will take a look at the real estate. Either they have the knowledge to identify defects in the improvements to the real estate or they hire a person to assist them.  Another option is to inspect the real estate after a contract has been signed by the Seller and Buyer.  It is important to note that if this is the intent of the parties, the contract must specifically give the Buyer the option to inspect the property and to request repairs of unacceptable conditions if they are found.

Prior to entering into the contract or after entering into the contract (whichever the case may be) and during the “inspection period”, inspections are made. At this point, a home inspector is hired and gains access to the home in order to perform the task.  The inspector will look at a multitude of items to gather information regarding the condition of the home.  This information will be compiled in a report that is provided to the buyer.  The report will identify items of various concern and make recommendations for repair, when needed.  Major items to be inspected consist of the foundation, walls, roof, mechanical systems, plumbing, electrical and the layout of the site.

Additionally, if a loan is being procured, a termite inspection will most likely be required. This is typically performed by a different company than the home inspection.  A pest control technician will inspect the house for termite damage and active colonies and make recommendation for treatment, if needed.

Another inspection common to this region is radon testing.   Radon gas is an odorless and harmful gas that seeps into homes and can cause health problems from prolonged exposure.  For more information regarding radon issues when buying and selling your home, please refer to this link: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-05/documents/hmbuygud.pdf

After the inspections are made, a buyer should review the reports and determine whether there are issues of concern to the buyer. For example, if the roof requires replacement, is this in the buyer’s budget?  Is it an unacceptable condition to the seller that will require replacement before moving into the home?  Will the seller either replace the roof or pay a portion of the repair?  Will your bank still finance the transaction if the roof is not replaced?  Again, your real estate agent can assist you in navigating these concerns.

There are many licensed home inspectors, pest control technicians and radon testing and mitigating outfits in the Tallgrass Title service region. If you are unsure which inspector to hire, it is recommended to work with your realtor or banker to identify an inspector to assist you in your transaction.  In any event, buyers should always educate themselves about the home they are purchasing and protect what may be their largest investment.

Water, Water and Water (Part I – Drinking Water)

Leonardo Da Vinci is quoted as famously saying “Water is the driving force in nature.” The modern world of real estate is no exception.  Real estate use will most always require that there is some access to water.  Whether the property be a residential home or a cow pasture, the need for water is present.  Part I of this post will focus where you obtain your tap and drinking water.

In residential real estate, there are three main sources of drinking water in this region of the country: Municipally supplied water utility, Rural Water District or owner owned and maintained well.

Municipally supplied water is just that. The City supplies water to its residents and charges a fee for the service.  This is how a majority of homes are supplied with drinking water.  However, where does the City obtain the water supplied?  Typically, a City will own and maintain wells or obtain water from a reservoir or river and treat and supply the water.   The water is then provided to residents through a City owned water system.  Often, the water obtained from wells is pure enough that the City will not be required to treat the water.  Reservoirs or rivers almost always require some form of treatment to the water before providing it to residents.  Furthermore, to ensure the safety of the water supplied, the State of Kansas and the Federal government require periodic testing of public drinking water.

Rural Water Districts are “member-owned” cooperatives that are most often established to provide water to areas not served by a City. The “members” are basically the individuals that purchase water from the water district.  The members maintain a board that oversees the water system and its sources of water.  Water districts are also required to periodically test its water to maintain that it is pure and uncontaminated.  In order to purchase water from a water district, one must first become a “member.”  This usually involves a small transfer fee from the previous owner of the real estate.   If you are establishing a new residence or other new water service, the fee requirement can be substantial.  It is important to investigate this issue when planning a home building project.

The final, most common source of water is the private well. The owner has a water well that pumps water and provides it to the residence or farm.  In Kansas, water windmills were once a part of most farm yards.  Today, the work is done by electric pumps and pressure tanks in order to provide constant, consistent water to the owner.  Owning your water source may sound liberating, but a private well comes with its own headaches.  The owner of the well is wholly responsible for checking the quality of the water.  Additionally, wells can go dry; especially in drought years.  Lastly, the equipment required to pump and pressurize and possibly treat the water requires maintenance.  It is important in a real estate transaction to investigate these issues prior to closing.

When purchasing or selling real estate, it is important to understand how water is obtained at the real estate. This will prevent unwanted surprises down the road.

What is the Difference Between a “Warranty Deed, Quit Claim Deed, Corporate Deed, etc.?”

In your contract for the sale or purchase of real estate, you may have seen language that says that the real estate shall be passed by a “good and valid general warranty deed.” What is a warranty deed?  Along those same lines: what is a quit claim deed? Corporate warranty deed? Executor’s deed? Sheriff’s deed?  Which deed do you need for your real estate transaction?

To start, a deed is the document that transfers ownership of real estate from one person or entity to another. Often when folks think of a deed, they get a mental image of a large, cartoonish scroll of paper with ornate writing and metallic stamps.  In reality, a deed is simply piece of printer paper that contains language of conveyance.  This begs the question: well, what prevents anybody from simply making a deed to real estate regardless of whether they own it?  Title insurance! But that is for another post (Understanding your Title Commitment and Policy).

General Warranty Deed

A “general” warranty deed in Kansas is just that; a standard, plain, warranty deed. The “warranty” portion of the deed is stating that the grantor (seller) of the real estate is “warranting” or “defending” the fact that the grantor actually owns the real estate. They are also guaranteeing that they are passing title to the real estate.  A warranty deed is guaranteeing that no other person owns the interest in the real estate being transferred.  It works like a warranty on a new car that guarantees the car will perform as promised for a period of time. Additional language regarding the extent of the warranty being given is included in the deed.

Deeds from Businesses or Estates

When the words “corporate”, “executor” or “conservator” appear in the title of a warranty deed, it is basically to identify the entity or authority of the grantor (seller) to transfer the real estate in the transaction. Additional language about the entity or individual transferring title is accompanied in the deed.  However, at the end of the day, the title being conveyed by one of these deeds is the same as a general warranty deed.

Sheriff’s Deed

A “sheriff’s deed” is a deed that results from the county sheriff passing title to real estate. This is typical through a foreclosure sale or tax sale.  This type of deed can be quite complicated and must contain certain language regarding how the sheriff came into authority to transfer such real estate.  It is advised to consult with a real estate professional when dealing with a sheriff’s deed in Kansas.

Quit Claim Deeds

Lastly, a “quit claim deed” makes no warranty to the grantee (buyer) of the real estate about the ownership held by the grantor (seller) or the ownership to be conveyed upon the grantee. It simply means that any ownership that the grantor may have is being given to the grantee.

Real estate transactions and title insurance can be complicated and confusing. Tallgrass Title professionals are always available and willing to discuss your questions regarding deeds or any other aspect of your real estate transaction. It’s our job!

Kansas Farm Lease Basics

A common issue that comes up with the sale of agricultural real estate in Kansas is whether the real estate is currently leased to a farmer or rancher and when that tenancy ends. Simply put, if you purchase real estate that is currently leased to another person, you take the property subject to that lease.  This could mean that even though you purchased the real estate and received a deed, you may not have possession of that real estate until many months in the future!  If you know this fact in advance, it may be addressed in the contract to protect the interests of the buyers.

The information in this post is meant to educate the buyer of rural real estate so that there are no unexpected surprises following closing. In Kansas, absent a written agreement to the contrary, leases are governed by the Kansas Landlord Tenant Act.  This is basically a series of statutes (laws) that dictate the arrangement between land owners and tenants.  Again, written agreements may change this arrangement so long as they do not violate the Landlord Tenant Act.

Basically, all farm tenancies are year-to-year beginning and ending on March 1 of each year. If the owner of the real estate does not properly terminate the lease, it will automatically renew for another year.  One section that causes continuous issues, is the termination of farm tenancy statute.  If the owner of the real estate wishes to terminate a farm tenancy, written notice must be given to the tenant at least 30 days prior to March 1 and set the termination date for March 1.  Now, there are typically 28 days in February, which sets the typical termination date at January 29.  In a leap year, the termination date would be January 30.  As there are 31 days in January, this is counterintuitive as the termination dates do not fall on the last day of the month.  However, if there are already fall planted crops (typically wheat) on the real estate at the time of termination, the termination does not take place until the harvest of the crops or August 1, whichever is sooner.

Often, agricultural real estate is sold in February-April.  A contract for sale could foreseeably close after the tenancy termination deadline has expired and the Buyer would be subject to the existing lease.   An easy solution before entering into a contract during this time of year would be to request that the contract would be contingent upon adequate proof of termination of the tenancy.  Lastly, if there is a written contract, they often run on the calendar year and not the March 1-March 1 statutory term.  In order to avoid issues with written agreements, one needs to simply ask to review the contract, and any termination notice, prior to entering into an agreement to purchase.

Kansas agricultural leases can be a complicated subject.  Should you have any questions regarding your rural real estate transaction, feel free to call and ask to discuss the issue.

Digital Order Submission, Courier Service and Drop Box, oh my!

At Tallgrass Title, our goal is to make your transaction or refinance as smooth and convenient as possible.   We understand that the daily life of a home buyer or seller can be quite busy.  Real estate agents can often be juggling multiple transactions while assisting several clients.  Likewise, bankers and lawyers can find it hard to physically bring documents to one of our offices.  The purpose of this post is to illustrate several order submission and document delivery options that Tallgrass Title has put in place to ease the process.

To assist in the process, we have several options to submit orders or deliver documents to our office. With technology rapidly developing, the simplest way to submit an order for title insurance is through our Paperless Closer system.  Simply upload an order for title insurance or upload a contract directly to our system.  An earnest money check can then be delivered to our office during office hours or deposited in our new 24-hour drop box at our Wamego, Kansas location.  Additionally, our website has an additional portal for submitting an order if you have not yet set up a Paperless Closer login with our office.

Tallgrass Title also offers a free courier service in our primary service area of Riley, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee Counties. For example, our couriers will travel to Manhattan, Kansas to pick up documents needed for your real estate transaction.  Additionally, we will deliver proceeds checks or commission checks wherever needed.  Our courteous couriers are all licensed and bonded notaries as well.  So, if a deed packet needs to be executed in front of a notary and returned to our office, simply call for our courier service.  We strive daily to make the title insurance and real estate closing process as simple as possible.  We want to know if there is a way that we can make the real estate closing process easier and more streamlined for you.  Should you have any ideas or suggestions that will help the process, please feel free to let us know.  Remember, we work for you!

Why are Certified Funds required in a Real Estate transaction?

What are certified funds?  What are the differences between a “cashier’s check, bank money order, personal money order, cash, check, wired funds or ach?”  I’m buying real estate and my title company wants me to bring “cash or equivalent” or “certified funds.” Why? Why can’t I just write a personal check?  The money is there!  Does somebody stamp my hundred dollar bills as “certified?”  What bank is going to give me $200,000 in hundred dollar bills so that I can buy my house?  Do I need an armed guard?

Relax! The purpose of this blog post is meant to give a simple explanation of why “certified funds” are required in your real estate transaction and how to acquire and present them to the title company.

Certified funds are just that. They are certified to be good, guaranteed, valid, and non-revocable.  Here are the different types of certified funds:

  1. Cashier’s Check
  2. Bank money order
  3. Wire
  4. Cash

Simply put, once a cashier’s check or bank money order is issued by a bank, it cannot be recalled or cancelled by the bank.  The bank that wrote the cashier’s check or bank money order must by law, honor and pay the amount due in the document.  Therefore, it is the same as handing a person the equivalent amount of funds in cash.  Personal checks or personal money orders can be cancelled if it is determined that there is an issue with the check or the underlying funds.  Therefore, personal checks or personal money orders must “clear” the issuing bank before the payment is deemed absolute.  This could take as long as a week or more.

A wire is a method of transferring funds between two banks.  Once the wire has left the issuing bank and has been deposited in the receiving bank, the transaction is complete and final.  The funds cannot be returned without the approval of the recipient bank and underlying customer.

Cash is, well, cash. It is absolute funds, and value has is transferred immediately to the holder.  There is no issuing bank to recall the funds.  It is the absolute transfer of value when given from one person to another.  However, we highly recommend not paying for your house in cash. And so will your bank when you request $200,000 in cash to buy your house!

Certified funds are required because it assures that the funds are good and valid and present at the closing of the transaction.  A closing is set for a certain day and if, for example, a personal check is presented, the title company will have to wait at least a week before giving the seller their proceeds from the sale.  If the seller does not receive his proceeds for a week past the closing date, well, the parties have not really closed on the agreed upon date, right?  In order to ease this issue, your closing agent will require certified funds so that she may disburse proceeds to the seller, commissions to agents, filing fees, etc.  Certified funds give the closing agent the assurance that she is holding good funds and is clear to let money go to the various parties entitled.

When you are ready to complete your real estate closing, you will either pay for the real estate from your own money, borrow funds, or a combination of the two.  If you borrow the funds, most likely your banker will either give you a cashier’s check to deliver to the title company or simply wire the funds on your behalf.  If you are responsible for a portion of the funds, you will need to request a “cashiers check” or a “bank money order.”  Depending on your bank, either term may be used.

Buying or selling real estate is a major investment and can potentially cause you stress.  Our goal at Tallgrass Title is to answer your questions about certified funds or any other aspect of your transaction.  Its our job!

Importance of a Real Estate Agent in a Transaction

How do I negotiate a contract? What does “in escrow” mean? What is an appropriate “counter-offer?”  How much will my proceeds be from the sale of my house?  What the heck is title insurance and who sells it?  Which title insurance/closing company should we use?

An American’s home is his or her largest investment. The majority of us do not regularly purchase and sell real estate.  For this reason, the purchase or the sale of your house can be incredibly stressful.  Real estate agents or Realtors are real estate professionals that navigate through these tough questions daily.  Real estate agents are not just salespeople.  In fact, I would say that the majority of a real estate agent’s experience is in assisting a buyer or seller understand the transaction.  An agent will help you write a contract for purchase of real estate, advise on technical terms, and assist in making offers and counter-offers.  Additionally, an agent may help in coordinating financing for the purchase of real estate.  One must remember that a real estate agent has studied the profession and is licensed and works in the profession.  An average homeowner in the United States will usually own less than five homes in his or her lifetime.  This will most likely result in many years passing between sales and purchases.  It can be difficult to remember the details of a smooth transaction in these gaps.  Additionally, Americans are becoming more mobile across state lines and internationally.  A homeowner may understand how a real estate transaction takes place in Louisiana, but a Kansas transaction will have its own unique issues.
In addition to assisting homeowners in the art of negotiating and closing real estate transactions, real estate agents understand the market.  Understanding what the market will bear is invaluable in a real estate sale or purchase.  Real estate agents work in the field, they assist in sales constantly, and they know what property is worth.  As a Seller, you will be tasked with setting a list price for your home or real estate.  Your agent will know strategy for setting a listing price.  Additionally, as a Buyer, you will at some point make an offer on a house.  An agent will advise whether the price you would like to offer is appropriate or likely to result in a purchase.
Lastly, as title insurance professionals, we work with real estate agents on a daily basis.  They are incredibly valuable in the transaction process.  Real estate agents assist in securing signatures on various documents, coordinating closings and financing for their clients, and directing the disbursement of funds for various costs.   For these reasons, Tallgrass Title is a proud affiliate member of the Manhattan Association of Realtors which covers Riley, Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee, Marshall, Clay and Washington Counties.  Here at Tallgrass Title, we believe in the importance of real estate agents and encourage all buyers and sellers to work with a real estate agent in their transactions.

Basics of Oil and Gas Leases in Kansas

You have just received a commitment for title insurance and an exception appears:

“Oil and gas lease filed for record at book 300, page 242, on August 2, 1996.”

What is this? Why is it here? Do I need to do something about it? Are the “mineral rights intact?” “Will there be an oil well pump jack in my front yard?” The purpose of this post is to arm you with the basic knowledge to answer these questions and to take the confusion out of your transaction.

Oil and gas rights, also known as “mineral interests” are the right to the oil and gas potentially existing under the surface of real estate. A deed from one person to another automatically passes both the surface rights and the oil and gas rights to the new owners unless the deed specifically states otherwise.   If the oil and gas rights have been “severed” or are not “intact,” your commitment will clearly state this fact in the legal description and/or in the exceptions.  Simply put, one person can own the oil and gas rights below the surface and another can own the surface rights.  Both may be passed to different buyers by deed to the surface and deed to the mineral rights. Typically, in Kansas, surface rights and oil and gas rights are not severed.  Most commonly, oil and gas rights are “leased.”

An oil and gas lease is like a surface lease in that the owner gives the right to use real estate for a period of time in exchange for payment. Therefore, the owner is giving the right to another person (typically an oil and gas company) to explore and produce oil from the subsurface for a period of time.  Most oil and gas leases in Kansas range from five to ten years unless production or exploration is active.  If production or exploration is active, an oil and gas lease continues until such time as it is inactive for the term of the lease.  Interestingly, the vast majority of real estate subject to an oil and gas lease is never explored.  Companies purchase the lease and in the event oil and gas is found in the area, they can continue the exploration and production.

A title insurance company will list the oil and gas lease on a commitment to make the buyer aware of the fact that a lease exists on the real estate; that somebody potentially has the right to drill an oil well or place an oil well in your front yard. Quite often though, the lease period has expired and no oil has been produced.  If this is the case, and somebody familiar with the land will swear to this fact, the exception can be removed from the commitment.

Oil and gas rights can be a complicated subject for even the most seasoned buyer, seller, real estate agent or banker. If you have any questions about mineral rights in a transaction, Tallgrass Title has real estate attorneys that specialize in oil and gas law who are happy to discuss these questions with you.  It’s our job!

5 Highlights of Real Estate Contracts

The law of contracts (sometimes “agreements”) literally fills libraries and people devote their lives to learning and teaching its content. The issues can oftentimes be complex, confusing and daunting.  I cannot possibly begin to cover all nuances in a real estate contract.  However, I will provide a buyer and seller with five major points to consider in a contract to protect yourself.

  1. What is a real estate contract? A real estate contract is nothing more than an agreement about how the real estate will be sold by the Seller and purchased by the Buyer. It should contain all of the agreements between the parties. A typical consumer actually enters into a simple, unwritten contract each and every time a purchase is made no matter how small. However, we usually do not bring paperwork into donut purchases. Real estate on the other hand has significantly more value and can be far more complex. A written agreement allows for all of the details to be clear between the Seller and Buyer and in writing so as to prevent confusion and misunderstanding.
  2. Purchase price. Simply put: How much is the Buyer going to pay the Seller for the real estate to be purchased. Sounds simple enough but where will the money be delivered? Are the funds to be certified? (meaning the equivalent of cash?) Will there be an earnest money deposit? An earnest money deposit is a deposit towards the purchase of the real estate. It is most often made to the title insurance or closing company and paid towards the purchase at closing. However, if the Buyer fails to close for any reason that is not specifically allowed by the contract, the earnest money is forfeited to the Seller. Basically, it helps insure that the Buyer will carry through with the contract while at the same time giving the Seller some assurance that the Buyer is serious about the transaction.
  3. Closing date. When will the transaction take place? This is the day the Seller will deliver a deed and typically possession of the real estate and the day the Buyer will deliver money for the purchase. This date is often times about 30-45 days following the initial signing of the contract. The 30-45 day period allows the Buyer an opportunity to secure his financing. It also allows the title company an opportunity to prepare a title commitment and arrange a closing.
  4. Delivery of Deed and Possession. Just as it is stated; when will the deed be given to the Buyer and when will possession be granted?  Typically, the giving of the deed and possession happen on the date of closing.  Most Buyers prefer to have access to their home or real estate upon paying a significant amount of money.   That being said, unusual circumstances do arise and the parties to a contract oftentimes work out arrangements that protect both sides to an agreement.
  5. Proof of ownership. Most real estate contracts will contain how the Seller will prove to the Buyer that the Seller actually owns the real estate to be sold.  This is important because ownership of real estate is proven by several sources and methods.  Liens, easements, encumbrances, and ownership issues can impact the real estate to be purchased.  Most individuals are not equipped to determine whether these issues exist on real estate to be purchased.  Therefore, most contracts state that the Seller will deliver proof of ownership and the condition of the “title” prior to closing.  Most often this is through a “title insurance commitment.”  A commitment will show who owns the real estate and what liens, easements, encumbrances, etc. exist.  This document is usually prepared by a title insurance company on behalf of the Seller.  Additionally, the title insurance company will usually handle the closing of the transaction too.  This means that the title insurance company will collect a deed from the Seller and the money from the Buyer and pass them to each other.

As stated above, the process of entering into and fulfilling a contract can be complex and time consuming. I highly recommend that potential Buyers and Sellers employ a real estate professional such as a Realtor or attorney to assist in the process.

Using a Power of Attorney in Real Estate Transactions

In the current, fast-paced world, people often times find it difficult to be present at a closing. Perhaps a work or vacation schedule prevents a person from being present at a real estate transaction.  Military personnel are often times deployed overseas.  Often times folks are forced to relocate quickly and must sell their house from afar.  For these and many other reasons, a power of attorney may be the right tool for a closing.

Simply put, a power of attorney is a document that gives a person the authority to do certain acts on your behalf. This person is often referred to as the “power of attorney” or “agent.”  In a real estate transaction, this is commonly done with a “limited power of attorney.”  This allows the designated person the limited authority to sell or purchase real estate on behalf of a person.  The power of attorney document is signed by the person giving the authority prior to the real estate closing.  The designated individual provides the document to the title insurance or closing agent.  At the closing, the power of attorney simply signs for the absent person.

However, it is important to remember a couple of points to avoid delays or confusion at the closing:

  • Plan on having the power of attorney prepared well before closing. Often times the individual signing the document will be overseas. This will require finding a notary or equivalent at a consulate’s office. If in the United States, but simply unavailable, a notary will need to sign the initial power of attorney. Also, an original power of attorney will be needed for the closing.
  • Let your real estate agent, title insurance agent, closing agent or banker know as soon as possible that you are using a power of attorney to close. It is extremely important that these individuals know about the presence of the power of attorney in order to prepare the closing correctly. Failure to let these individuals know of that fact could delay closing.
  • If the power of attorney is being used to sell a principal residence or “homestead,” Kansas law dictates that specific language be added to the power of attorney. If the language is not present, the power of attorney may lack the proper authority to complete the closing.
  • Have a real estate professional assist you with the form. The power of attorney document and its requirements can often appear daunting and confusing. A real estate professional can assure that the document is completed correctly and prevent a delay in closing.
  • Decide who will be your power of attorney. Often times this is a stateside spouse, real estate agent or family member. It is important that this person be trustworthy. After all, the family home is most Americans’ largest investment. You do not want just anybody handling this transaction for you.

 

Tallgrass Title is also happy to assist in the preparation of the power of attorney to ease the closing process. Our office has seasoned real estate attorneys on staff that have prepared countless power of attorney documents for every type of real estate transaction.   Additionally, our attorneys are available to answer questions regarding the power of attorney.  With a little pre-planning, a seemingly daunting and confusing situation can be made easy.