February 11, 2011

Private Transfer Fees - Part II

texas_flag.jpgAccording to the American Land Title Association, the first reported private transfer fee covenant was created to pay money to the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society in order to fund an open space preserve. Since then, developers and homeowners' associations alike have borrowed the mechanism to generate a form of income that was previously unavailable. Over the past decade, private transfer fee covenants have been heavily used in California and Texas, prompting lawmakers to consider banning the provisions altogether.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature addressed private transfer fees in Section 5.017 of the Texas Property Code. The provision provides that a deed restriction on residential property that requires the buyer to pay a third party a fee in connection with his purchase of the property is unenforceable. However, the statute's broad prohibition of private transfer fee covenants has a few major exceptions. Texas' private transfer fee prohibition does not apply to 1) property owners' associations, 2) certain not-profit organizations, and 3) governmental entities.

Texas' approach is not without criticism. First, many argue that the law does not go far enough because it only applies to residential property. Commercial developers are free to include private transfer fee covenants in the deeds of commercial property. Second, private transfer fees are legal and enforceable if made payable to homeowners' associations. Some find fees payable to homeowners' associations to be less objectionable than fees payable to the developer. After all, the money goes to improve common property and maintain the premises. On the other hand, homeowners complain that they already pay homeowners' association monthly dues. What gives the HOA a right to 1% of their home's purchase price?

Lastly, many lawyers and legal analysts complain that Texas' private transfer fee law is ambiguous. It's unclear whether private transfer fees are enforceable if chargeable to the property's seller. Additionally, the law does not address the tough legal details that arise with private transfer fee covenants. For example, the statute does not give homeowners' associations any specific remedy for enforcing private transfer fees, nor does it address whether or not a buyer could get out of a contract to buy a home once he discovers that he is obligated to pay a large fee to his homeowners' association.

The lesson for consumers is clear. Before you enter into a contract to purchase a home or condo, make sure that you know about all of the fees that you are expected to pay at closing and beyond. While you may not be happy about having to pay a private transfer fee to a homeowners' association, if you know that the fee is expected, you may be able to negotiate with the seller for a lower purchase price. On the flip side, buyers should also know that one day they may want to sell their property. A private transfer fee makes the sale a little more difficult, and gives the buyer some leverage to negotiate for a lower price.

Texas real estate attorney Aimee Hess is available to discuss any deed restriction, including private transfer fee covenants. She can be reached toll free at 1 (888) 818-5880.

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January 28, 2011

A Texas Real Estate Attorney Comments on Private Transfer Fees - Part I

house1.JPGImagine buying your dream house and everything is going swimmingly. The closing date approaches, but you notice something odd in the paperwork. A “reconveyance fee” is listed as a deed restriction and requires all future buyers over the next ninety-nine years to pay one percent of the home's sales price as a “transfer fee” to a homeowners' association.

Over the past decade, thousands of Texas home buyers have found these strange “reconveyance fee” and “transfer fee” provisions in their dream home's deed. Commonly referred to as “private transfer fee covenants,” these types of fees are completely foreign to most home buyers and sellers.

A private transfer fee covenant is a fee payable to a private third party (frequently the property’s developer or the local homeowners' association) which becomes due every time the property is sold to a new buyer. These fees frequently purport to continue for ninety-nine years, and they are usually recorded in the county records or included as a covenant in the deed for every home in a new subdivision. The transfer fee is usually 1% of the final sales price, and either the home's buyer or the home's seller could be required to pay it.

If the fee goes unpaid, the private party who is entitled to the fee can obtain a lien against the property in the amount of the total unpaid fee, plus interest. The lien remains on the property and can create a cloud on the property's title, which makes the property unmarketable.

If this system sounds crazy to you, you're not alone. Many states have completely banned private transfer fees, and the federal government is also considering taking action. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, recently proposed a rule that would prohibit Fannie, Freddie, and all federal home loan banks from investing in mortgages that carry private transfer-fee covenants.

Continue reading "A Texas Real Estate Attorney Comments on Private Transfer Fees - Part I" »

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May 14, 2008

Texas Homeowners Associations: How Healthy is Yours?

As a Texas attorney representing Texas homeowner and property owner associations in residential and commercial developments, I find that very often the greatest service I can perform for my clients is education. I ran across a recent article by Richard Thompson with Regenesis in Realty Times, entitled the "HOA Health Survey". The article sets out a questionnaire to determine just how healthy your association is. The questionnaire contains very specific and pointed questions, and the answers will indeed tell you just how "healthy" your association is. Very interesting and informative article.

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March 14, 2008

Caveat for Texas Real Estate Attorneys: Mobile Home v. Modular Home

As a real estate and development attorney in east Texas, I have represented Texas property or homeowners associations (HOAs) on quite a number of occasions. My legal services for my homeowner association clients have ranged from preparation of corporate documents and restrictive covenants, to mediating disputes, to overseeing annual meetings, to filing and collecting assessment liens, to litigation to enforce deed restrictions. As any lawyer who has represented HOAs knows, few things engender as much conflict and heated debate as interpretations of restrictive covenants among the members of the HOA. A recent case illustrates this situation.

In Jennings v. Bindseil, the Texas Court of Appeals in Austin considered just such a dispute. The neighborhood in question, in rural Comal County, Texas, had restrictive covenants in place. One of the restrictions prohibited mobile homes. The Defendant, Jennings, purchased a modular home, which was delivered in sections and assembled on Jennings property. The other members of the HOA cried foul, claiming that a modular home is the same thing as a mobile home, and sued Jennings for the removal of the structure.

The Court considers that modular and mobile housing (the term "mobile", as the Court notes, has been replaced by the term "manufactured" housing) are governed by different codes, differ as to their foundation requirements (modular houses must be placed on a permanent foundation) and in titles (titles are issued for mobile homes but not for modular housing). Because the case had been decided in the trial court on a motion for summary judgment (in other words, there had been no evidentiary hearing as to the details of the Defendant's house), the Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment against the Defendant and sent the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing.

905690_caravan.jpg This case illustrates what happens when older deed restrictions (drafted and filed before modular housing became widely available) come up against more recent technology. The truth is, mobile or manufactured housing is different from modular housing in many ways. However, while there is high end modular housing that is quite tasteful, some modular houses look not much nicer than manufactured or mobile homes, and are sometimes made of the cheapest of materials. If the other owners in this subdivision had spent substantial amounts of money on site-built homes, and the Defendant's home was of the cheap variety, it is understandable why they would be upset. The lesson for HOAs and their attorneys is clear: review your deed restrictions or restrictive covenants periodically, and update them to keep up with changing technologies.

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