We know you’re a good, law-abiding citizen and the last thing you would want to do is break real estate law. However, there are literally hundreds of different real estate injunctions on the books making it practically impossible for you to not occasionally break one or more of them.
And we do not even mean buying a house and failing to pay off the debt. We mean actual real estate laws.
As an example of this, a common practice in real estate is submitting a “sweetheart” letter with your offer. If you’re not familiar with the term “sweetheart letter” it’s a letter to the seller that provides emotional information as to why you would want the house. For example, the letter might say, “Tom and I walked through the house with our two kids and we just fell in love with it. One of the things we liked best is that the house is within walking distance of the school our kids would attend. Plus, it’s close to where both of us work. We also loved how open and airy it is”.
While it’s not illegal to write or submit a sweetheart letter it’s possible that the sellers will not read it because choosing an offer based on who the buyers are could be considered discriminatory and, therefore, a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
But if your house hunting there are some real estate adjacent laws you may have already broken real estate without even knowing it. The good news is that for the most part, it’s nothing to worry about. However, that does not mean you should not do your research. It is always important to read articles to know more about buying a real estate property.
Taking pictures at an open house
What could be more innocent than taking photos at an open house to help you remember all of the home’s good and bad features? Well, maybe it’s not so innocent after all. If you inadvertently caught the seller in one of your pictures you’re in trouble — at least theoretically. The reason for this is that the First Amendment includes the right to privacy and if you took a photograph of a person in his or her own home without permission this would be a violation of that right. This is one of those no harm no foul things because the seller will probably never know. But if you did this you might be well served to delete that particular photo to keep things completely legal.
Asking your real estate agent about the neighborhood
Your real estate agent is, without question, one of the best people to ask about a potential new neighborhood. He or she is certainly well qualified to share information about the economic makeup of your potential new street, the nearest church and school, etc., but if you try to pry this information out of your agent over maybe a glass of wine — to sweeten things — you helped her or him break real estate law. The Federal Housing Administration(FHA) doesn’t allow real estate agents to discuss a neighborhood’s schools, median household income, religious makeup and crime rates — to name just a few of the no-no’s. There’s a good reason for this. The law was created mostly to prevent discrimination against homebuyers. So if you want to make sure you’re not breaking the law you would be best off collecting neighborhood data on your own.
Touring the home by yourself
You’ve signed the purchase agreement and everything is moving right along including the mortgage process. You had the home inspected and it didn’t turn up anything serious and the sellers have already vacated the house and cleaned up the place. It’s just sitting there waiting for you to move in. Wouldn’t you love to just go by some night, retrieve the key from the lockbox and start measuring rooms? I mean, the house is practically yours, so how could this be a problem? Well, believe it or not, that’s trespassing. You could start feeling as if that house was your home when it’s almost yours but until all the paperwork has been signed and you’ve been given the keys, you cannot tour that house without permission. Your neighbors could be watching and one thing you wouldn’t want for sure is for them to call the police and report you.
So there you are sitting in a park with your laptop computer and decide you’d like to see if there are any new listings in your favorite neighborhood. You know that a nearby coffee shop has Wi-Fi so you jump on the Internet and start searching. Oh, oh, you may have just committed a felony. The majority of states have regulations in place about utilizing someone else’s unsecured wireless network. While these laws are rarely enforced you’ll see a story occasionally about some poor soul who had been arrested and slapped with a big fine for stealing Wi-Fi. Of course, this is not actually a real estate law and the odds of getting caught and penalized are pretty close to zero anyway. But if the law matters to you this is something you will want to avoid.
Signing for your significant other
This one is kind of a bigger deal. You’ve purchased a condo or house before and you know how much paperwork is required and that the process can be totally overwhelming. Plus, it’s practically impossible to find a time when you and your significant other can sit down together and sign yet another pile of documents. So you just go ahead and swipe “his” or “her” signature across a few dotted lines believing that verbal permission was enough.
If you’re going to sign on another person’s behalf you need to have a power of attorney and even that might not be enough. While it could be incredibly tempting to approximate your significant other’s signature on everything, just don’t do it. According to a publication on Investopedia.com, this is fraud, which is actually a felony, and is punishable by prison and a large fine. So instead of doing this, talk to your real estate lawyer about the possibility of getting a power of attorney and in the meantime don’t sign anything on anybody’s behalf.