From the category archives:

Massachusetts Real Estate Law

Disclosing a Haunted Massachusetts Home

While working as a Massachusetts Realtor over the last twenty five years one of the questions that always seems to come up is whether or not a Realtor is obligated to disclose a murder, suicide, haunting or other type of paranormal activity that may have occurred in a home or other Real Estate.

Wikepedia defines a haunted house as a home or other Real Estate often perceived as being inhabited by disembodied spirits of the deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the property. Supernatural activity inside homes is said to be mainly associated with violent or tragic events in the building’s past such as murder, accidental death, or suicide.

Disclosing Murder, Suicide, and Haunted Homes in Massachusetts

This is one of those topics that I would be willing to bet at least half the Realtors polled would get the answer wrong. I am sure most Real Estate agents would say that they are required to disclose a haunted house or if someone died in a property by murder or suicide. They would be dead wrong:)

One of my beliefs is that every buyer should be entitled to know anything that could materially effect the value of a home or the ability to sell in the future. This in fact is one of the articles in the Real Estate code of ethics.

In Massachusetts anyways, a Realtor is not required to disclose these kinds of events in a property. Apparently lawmakers do not feel these kind of events are worthy of Real Estate disclosure. I suppose in the case of a haunted home it would be much harder to prove the actual existence of ghosts.

Many states require full disclosure of violent crimes such as murder and any other event that may stigmatize a property before it is sold. Not the case in Massachusetts!

Below is the excerpt from the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93, section 114 that discusses Real Estate disclosure for alleged haunted homes, murder and suicide:

Afraid man of Massachusetts Haunted House

The fact or suspicion that real property may be or is psychologically impacted shall not be deemed to be a material fact required to be disclosed in a real estate transaction. “Psychologically impacted” shall mean an impact being the result of facts or suspicions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • (a) that an occupant of real property is now or has been suspected to be infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or any other disease which reasonable medical evidence suggests to be highly unlikely to be transmitted through the occupying of a dwelling;
  • (b) that the real property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide; and
  • (c) that the real property has been the site of an alleged para psychological or supernatural phenomenon.

No cause of action shall arise or be maintained against a seller or lessor of real property or a real estate broker or salesman, by statute or at common law, for failure to disclose to a buyer or tenant that the real property is or was psychologically impacted.

While this is the case in Massachusetts you can not assume that in other states it is alright not to disclose known events such as a murder or haunting.

I find it kind of interesting that disclosure of a person who had AIDS was lumped into this kind of stigmatization. It does not seem all that similar of a disclosure issue?

If you are a Massachusetts Realtor another thing to pay careful attention to is purposely deceiving someone. While non disclosure may not be an issue, blatantly lying to someone certainly could be. If you are marketing a home that is well know to be suspected of being haunted and a buyer ask you a direct question about it you should always be truthful of what you know.

Other Real Estate articles worth a look:

Massachusetts seller’s disclosure statement

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About the author: The above Real Estate information on disclosing murder, suicide and haunted Massachusetts homes was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at billgassett@remaxexec.com or by phone at 508-435-5356. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 25+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service the following towns in Metrowest MA: Hopkinton, Milford, Southboro, Westboro, Ashland, Holliston, Medway, Franklin, Framingham, Grafton, Hopedale, Mendon, Upton, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Northboro, Bellingham, Uxbridge, Natick, Worcester and Douglas.

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Appealing a Massachusetts assessed home value

Taxes on homes or other property in Massachusetts are typically based on two pieces of information including the towns property tax rate and the assessed value.

Obviously the tax rate is set in stone and is not something that is going to be changed once it is put in place for that particular fiscal year. What does change of course is the assessed value of the home.

If you are a Massachusetts home owner, appealing a Massachusetts property tax bill if something you may want to consider if you feel the assessed value is way off base on your home.

How is assessed value calculated

In order to appeal the property tax bill you are going to need to have a good understanding of how the assessed value of your property was calculated by your local tax assessor.

A Real Estate assessed value is typically calculated on a year to year basis in most communities although it is possible it could be every few years for some. What you need to clearly understand is that the assessed value of a property is NOT the same as:

  • An appraised value by a lender
  • A market evaluation by a Realtor which is often called a BPO or broker price opinion
  • The actual market value

It is easy to understand why the general public can get confused on the assessed value vs fair market value issue because even many Real Estate agents don’t know the difference! How do I know this? From some of the crazy statements I hear from hanging around the office water cooler or even some of the silly advertising that you find in the Multiple listing service or other advertisements.

As an example “come take a look at this bargain priced home listed for $100,000 less than assessed value”. I bet you are getting excited already and want to see this place – NOT!

What this tells me is that the agent marketing the property knows very little about property valuation or they think someone else might be stupid enough to believe the property is being given away by the owner. A good buyer’s agent that didn’t just get their license and has a bit of intelligence would be able to point out to a naive buyer that the home has been over assessed by the town and the owner is paying too much in taxes!

Keep in mind that assessed values are nothing more than a yard stick for a municipality to collect an appropriate amount of taxes to sufficiently cover the state and local appropriations chargeable to the city and town.

Towns adjust the tax rate and a properties assessed value to achieve this goal. For a complete explanation see Assessed value v.s fair market value.

Reducing Massachusetts property taxes

So how do you go about checking on whether the assessed value of your home makes sense? The 1st thing you are going to want to do is look over what is called the town assessment field card and check it over for accuracy. The town field card will have pertinent information about your property including the bedroom and bath count, the gross living area, the age,  garage type and size, as well as the amount of land you own. All of these things play a large roll in where your assessment will be figured.

You will want to look over the field card diligently to make sure everything is correct. If there are blatant errors that pop out you may have an easy challenge on your hands.

One would imagine that if you believe you are being over assessed it could be because your neighbor of someone else with similar characteristics to your property is being assessed at a lower amount. This is clearly a possibility and actually happens fairly often.

What you are going to need to do is have someone provide you with what they feel are the most comparable properties to yours that have sold in the town. A skilled local Realtor is usually a good option to help you with this. Armed with this information you can then check the assessed values on those properties. There should be some kind of correlation with these properties. Don’t discount the fact that your home may be in a more attractive neighborhood. If the assessed value of the similar homes are lower you may have a case.

Meet with the local tax assessor

With your research in hand you should schedule an appointment with your local assessors office and file for a tax abatement. The necessary paper work regarding the application process and the deadlines for filing should be made available to you.

Applications for abatement’s are typically due on or before the due date for payment of the first actual tax bill. The towns assessor has up to three months in Massachusetts to act upon an abatement request.

If you are denied your abatement request and do not feel that the assessor made the proper ruling you have the right to appeal to the State Appellate Tax Board.

One other thing to keep in mind is that you may be eligible for other tax exemptions if you are a senior citizen, served in the military or have a disability. For an explanation of these exclusions see Massachusetts property tax relief. These are programs that many Massachusetts residents may not even be aware of.

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About the author: The above Real Estate information on appealing a Massachusetts property tax bill was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at billgassett@remaxexec.com or by phone at 508-435-5356. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 24+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service the following towns in Metrowest MA: Hopkinton, Milford, Southboro, Westboro, Ashland, Holliston, Medway, Franklin, Framingham, Grafton, Hopedale, Mendon, Upton, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Northboro, Bellingham, Uxbridge, Worcester and Douglas.

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Septic system deed restriction

In Massachusetts the law governing septic system installation and maintenance is known as Title V. Whenever a home owner is going to be selling their home they will need to get what is called a Title V inspection done.

In order to close on a property in Massachusetts you will need to have a passing title V.

If a Title V test reveals that the septic system has failed a seller has two options in order to get to the closing table. They can either replace the system prior to closing or they can put an appropriate amount of money in escrow guaranteeing the system will be fixed. A third option could be to get the buyer to pay for the septic system although this is less likely to occur unless the buyer is desperate for the property.

Most lenders will accept funds to be held in escrow, however they are going to generally ask for 1.5 times the cost of the estimated amount to install a new system. For example if a septic installer gives a quote of $20,ooo for the installation of a new system, the lender is going to ask for $30,000 to be held in escrow.

One of the things a Title V inspection will reveal is what is known as the septic systems “capacity”.  A septic system is “rated” according to it’s bedroom count. For example if a septic system has the capacity for four bedrooms it will say as much in the report.

One of the subjects I have written about in the past is bedroom count misrepresentation with septic systems. The are many Realtors that don’t even know this law exists and have put homes on the market stating there are more bedrooms than the septic system capacity allows for.

In other words if the septic system is only rated for three bedrooms you can not market your home as a four bedroom regardless if you have a room that qualifies as one. This is an easy way to get sued. Don’t make this mistake as it could be a costly one!

By the way, the qualifications of a bedroom must be a room providing privacy primarily used for sleeping purposes, have at least one electrical outlet, ventilation, at least one window, and have minimum dimensional criteria. There are also some towns where you need to have a closet as well although some also will accept space to house clothing such as a bureau.

One of the things that I made mention of in the article about septic system misrepresentation is how a home owner could potentially add an addition to their home that could be construed as a bedroom. It could meet all the criteria of a bedroom but not necessarily be used as such.

Deed restriction for septic system and room countUsing a bedroom count deed restriction

One of the things I have seen become more common place over the last couple of years is towns forcing home owners to put deed restrictions on their properties. This can happen because of the bedroom issue as well as another little know Title V rule.

When calculating bedroom count one of the rules of calculation is to take the number of rooms in the home and divide that by two.

For example, a proposed “game room” addition to a nine room, 4-bedroom house will create the tenth room of a house. Per Title 5, the number of bedrooms is calculated as: 10 rooms divide by 2 equals 5-bedrooms.

A deed restriction can be used so that a building permit may be issued for homes that exceed the approved septic design flow based on the total room count. The intention of the deed restriction is to resolve the possible conflicting Title 5 definition of a bedroom to the actual bedroom count.

This deed restriction is not intended for construction that will actually increase the bedroom count beyond the approved design. If  sometime in the future the septic system is upgraded to meet additional bedroom flow capacity, or the house becomes connected to public sewer, the owner may request the Board of Health for a release of the deed restriction. This release  also gets recorded at the Registry of Deeds.

A deed restriction is also not something that has to be done although the alternative to a deed restriction would be to seek approval from the Board of Health to upgrade the septic system in order to meet the proposed design capacity.

What I have found interesting about these Title V bedroom count deed restrictions is that some towns are fairly rigid with them and others are not. I know in my home town of Hopkinton MA the board of health regularly puts deed restrictions on properties using the room count divided by two formula.

Related Real Estate home selling articles:

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About the author: The above Real Estate information on Massachusetts Title 5 bedroom count deed restriction was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at billgassett@remaxexec.com or by phone at 508-435-5356. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 24+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service the following towns in Metrowest MA: Hopkinton, Milford, Southboro, Westboro, Ashland, Holliston, Upton, Mendon, Hopedale, Medway, Franklin, Framingham, Grafton, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Northboro, Bellingham, Uxbridge, and Douglas.

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Massachusetts Real Estate contract

When a Real Estate client expresses a desire to break a Real Estate contract you know the next few days of your life are probably not going to be too pleasant. When people are looking to break a contract it is usually a highly charged emotional event!

In Massachusetts we are a two contract state. When a buyer wishes to purchase a property, more often than not they will fill out what is known as an offer to purchase contract.  This is later followed up with a purchase and sale agreement which has the same terms and conditions as the offer form but spelled out in much greater detail.

The offer to purchase contract includes all the major terms in the deal including the offer amount, consideration which is the amount the buyer is putting in escrow to secure the property, as well as the agreed upon closing date, and any contingencies. The most common contingencies include the buyers ability to obtain financing and the home inspections that they would like to perform. These include home, pest, radon, well, mold, lead paint and possibly others.

The typical amount you almost always see for initial consideration on a Massachusetts offer form is $500-$1000. When the buyer signs the purchase and sale agreement the buyer will typically put a balance of 5% in escrow. Although this is the amount you see most often, a deposit is always open for negotiations. Sometimes a buyer might not quite have the 5% to put down.

Breaking a Real Estate contract as a buyer

Most of the time the person that wants to get out of a Real Estate contract is the buyer. There could be any number of reasons why a buyer would wish to terminate a contract from general home inspection issues, to the discovery of mold or radon, or some other unforeseen problem with a property.

If the buyer has a contingency within the contract for the reason they wish to terminate then there is no issue and the buyer will receive their deposit back in full.  There is always the possibility that a buyer could try to back out of a Real Estate contract after all their contingency dates have lapsed. In this case the seller would be entitled to keep the money that is in escrow. It is possible that the seller could sue the buyer for damages but in my experience most of the Real Estate contracts that I have seem limit the sellers damages to the deposit amount.

Breaking a Real Estate contract as a seller

What about the seller backing out of a contract? This is a question that I often have to educate my seller clients on. There are many folks who do not realize that an offer to purchase Real Estate in Massachusetts is a BINDING contract. This means that a buyer could sue you for performance and force you to sell your home.

Sometimes sellers can get remorse and feel like they no longer want to sell after they have signed a contract with a buyer. There could be any number of reasons for this happening. Maybe the house the seller wanted to purchase is no longer available or some kind of heath issue crops up with one of the parties that makes selling not an easy task. There could be an endless amount of reasons.

Getting out of a Massachusetts Purchase and sale

What do you do if you are selling your home, have a signed contract and feel that you want to break the contract? The 1st thing you would want to do is make your listing agent aware of the situation and have them get in touch with the buyers agent.

As a seller you are probably going to feel like you are on a stormy island of your own as all the other parties in the transaction are not going to be too happy with your decision.

You can more than likely expect the following:

  • Be prepared to release the buyers escrow money to them with any accumulated interest.
  • Most buyers will more than likely want to reimbursed for any out of pocket expenses they realized during the transaction. These expenses could include: inspections, mortgage application fees, mortgage lock in fees, attorney expenses, etc.
  • Additional complications could include the expense of interim housing if they have already sold their home and were expecting to move into yours.
  • A change in interest rates could be another complicating factor if rates have risen during the time they were under contract. Be prepared to buy down their mortgage rate if they ask.

As a seller what you need to remember in this circumstance is that you are breaking a contract. If you really want to remain in your home you need to be as nice as pie to a buyer. The buyer could easily drag you into court to force what is known as “specific performance” where you are not only forced to sell your home but also reimburse the buyer for any of their costs associated with this mess.

Obviously the best case scenario would be a very understanding buyer who lets you excuse yourself from the contract. Not every buyer is going to be so kind. If you find yourself in this kind of situation a competent Real Estate attorney would be a must! A Real Estate attorney would be able to negotiate the best possible settlement with the buyers or their lawyer.

Other Real Estate articles:

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About the author: The above Real Estate information on breaking a Massachusetts Real Estate contract was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at billgassett@remaxexec.com or by phone at 508-435-5356. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 24+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service the following towns in Metrowest MA: Hopkinton, Milford, Southboro, Westboro, Ashland, Holliston, Upton, Mendon, Hopedale, Medway, Franklin, Framingham, Grafton, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Northboro, Bellingham, Uxbridge, and Douglas.

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Short Sale Tax Consequences

May 10, 2010

As a Massachusetts Realtor that has been doing quite a few successful short sales, one of the things I like to make sure of when I meet a potential client that is looking to do a short sale is to give them a complete understanding of how they work. Short sales can be complicated transactions. [...]

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Massachusetts Bedroom Misrepresentation With Septic Systems

April 30, 2010

One of the things that Massachusetts home owners who are serviced by a private septic system need to be keenly aware of when selling their home is to make sure they do not misrepresent the bedroom count. When a home is serviced by a septic system in Massachusetts the advertised bedroom count must meet the [...]

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Massachusetts Home Sale Contingencies and Right of 1st Refusal

April 9, 2010

If you are selling your home in Massachusetts it is possible you may see a buyer try to purchase your home with a home sale contingency. In other words they write into the Real Estate contract that they will not have to proceed with buying your home unless they successfully close on the property that [...]

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Handling Offers When Selling a Massachusetts Home

April 5, 2010

One of my favorite things when selling a Massachusetts home is to receive multiple offers. I know there are a lot of Real Estate agents that hate this situation because on many occasions it can become contentious. When there are multiple offers on a home from a couple of different parties there is only one [...]

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Massachusetts Assessed Home Values Are Not The Same As Fair Market Value

March 31, 2010

As a Massachusetts Realtor who has been around the block a few times, I often come across things that are written and said by other Realtors that just want to make me scratch my head in disbelief. All this head scratching could partially explain why I started to lose my hair at such an early [...]

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Massachusetts Homestead Protection Act

March 26, 2010

The Massachusetts Homestead Protection Act is one of the biggest no- brainers for any homeowner in Massachusetts to take advantage off. Quite simply, an estate of homestead is protection for a persons residence from most creditors. The declaration of homestead protects the equity in your home for up to $500,000 in the event you are sued. [...]

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