Monday, January 28, 2008

Legos and Real Estate

I admit that my first exposure to real estate was building houses out of Lego bricks. Today, January 28, 2008, is the 50th anniversary of the Lego brick. Even the Google logo has been lego-fied today.

Some facts I found interesting:
  • There are about 62 LEGO bricks for every one of the world's 6 billion inhabitants.
  • The LEGO bricks sold in one year would circle the world 5 times.
  • More than 400 billion LEGO bricks have been produced since 1949
  • 40 billion LEGO bricks stacked on top of one another would connect the earth with the moon.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Closing Protection Letters - New Forms

The American Land Title Association (ALTA), recently approved three new form closing protection letters. These new forms took effect on January 1, 2008.
Jon Anderson, Senior Title Counsel for CATIC wrote an article on these new forms and how they clarify the underwriter's liability.

The Closing Protection Letter is the broadest form. The Closing Protection Letter - Limitations imposes a specified dollar limit on the liability, although this limitation is not applicable to mortgage loan transactions for individual one-to-four family residential properties. The Closing Protection Letter - Single Transaction Liability is limited to a single transaction with funds not in excess of a specified dollar amount.

I always ask for a closing protection letter when using an agent to issue the title policy and handle funds (as opposed to using an officer of the the title company.)

The trouble with these new forms is that they limit the protection to damages relating to the status of title to an interest in the land or the validity, enforceability or priority of the lien of the mortgage. You are protected if the deed or mortgage is not recorded.

With these new forms, you are not protected for the closing or settlement services being provided by the title agent. Clearly, an over-funding of the purchase price will not fall under the protection of these new closing protection letters.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Toronto's Land Transfer Tax

From Bruce McKenna at the Canadian Commercial Real Estate Law Blog, is this piece on the increase Toronto's Land Transfer Tax. Here is a copy of the Municipal Land Transfer Tax By-law from

I spend a fair amount time structuring transactions to avoid triggering the payment of transfer tax. Massachusetts has proposed closing some of those loopholes, but not taken any action. Maryland has a new law effective later this spring that extends the reach of that state's transfer tax.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

University Designation for a Training Program

We are revamping some aspects of the real estate group's training program. We are using the concept of a college catalog, with numbered designations for each course and summary of what the course is about. We also wanted to give it a brand element. We were thinking of something like: Goodwin Procter Real Estate University.

Unfortunately, we came across Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 266, Section 89:
"Any individual, school, association, corporation or institution of learning, not having lawful authority to confer degrees, using the designation of “university” or “college” shall be punished by a fine of one thousand dollars."

So, you cannot use a "college" or "university" designation in Massachusetts unless you are actually a college or university. I guess that leaves: Goodwin Procter Real Estate Academy.

[cross-posted from my KM Space blog on law firm knowledge management.]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Trimming Trees in Massachusetts

After this latest snowstorm in Boston, I had to drag some fallen limbs into my compost pit. I thought this would be a good time to post on Massachusetts law on trimming your neighbor's trees.

A neighbor may remove branches extending over a shared property line onto his or her own property. See, e.g., Levine v. Black, 312 Mass. 242 (1942); Michalson v. Nutting, 275 Mass. 232 at 233-234 (1931). Also, the neighbor has no liability for roots growing into your yard and causing damage. The ability to cut back limbs and roots is limited by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 87, § 11 that provides: "Whoever wilfully, maliciously or wantonly cuts, destroys or injures a tree, shrub or growth which is not his own, standing for any useful purpose, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than six months or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars." You can trim the branches and roots back, but you cannot kill the tree. This is the "Massachusetts Rule."

Massachusetts law does not allow a person to cross or enter a neighbor’s property for these purposes without the neighbor’s consent, nor to remove any branches or other vegetation within the confines of the neighbor’s property. Mass. Gen. Laws ch 242 §7 A party is liable for triple damages for entering the property of another and cutting down trees or branches.

There is also a Massachusetts statute that prohibits cutting, trimming or removing of public shade trees. Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 87. Under this statute public shade trees are defined as “All trees within a public way or on the boundaries thereof…” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 87 § 1.

The Massachusetts Rule is followed in most states. However, the
is reporting that Virginia just adopted a new rule: Virginia High Court Breaks New Ground on Tree Liability. Apparently in Virginia a tree owner can now be held liable for damage caused by their tree and can forced to cut back roots and limbs if the tree poses a risk of actual harm or an imminent danger. Fancher v. Fagella (9/14/2007):
"Accordingly, we hold that encroaching trees and plants are not nuisances merely because they cast shade, drop leaves, flowers, or fruit, or just because they happen to encroach upon adjoining property either above or below the ground. However, encroaching trees and plants may be regarded as a nuisance when they cause actual harm or pose an imminent danger of actual harm to adjoining property. If so, the owner of the tree or plant may be held responsible for harm caused to [adjoining property], and may also be required to cut back the encroaching branches or roots, assuming the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance. We do not, however, alter existing . . . law that the adjoining landowner may, at his own expense, cut away the encroaching vegetation to the property line whether or not the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance or is otherwise causing harm or possible harm to the adjoining property. Thus, the law of self-help remains intact . . . ."

New York and London Office Markets

With the fall-out of the sub-prime loans, there is continuing good news in the commercial markets.

London has surpassed Hong Kong to hold the position of having the world's highest office rents. According to the NAI Global Market Report, the Mayfair submarket in London's West End reached $265.31 per square foot. That was an increase of $40 per square foot over the prior 12 months. Hong Kong was close behind at $263.20 per square foot.

New York's midtown market was up to $225 per square foot. That makes Boston's $90 per square foot look very affordable. Boston came in third in the United States.

The New York market appears to still be strong. According to Cushman and Wakefield's year end report, 22.2 million square feet of office space was available at the end of 2007, which is down form the 26 million available at the end of 2006. Manhattan’s overall vacancy rate improved for the year, finishing at 5.7%, down from 6.7% at the end of 2006.