C-Stores and Municipal Boards: Communication Pays Off
by Attorney Barry Crimmins
Local government is often characterized as “the purest form of democracy.”
Each municipality has its own elected or appointed officials who oversee the governing of their respective communities. These gatekeepers are tasked with charting and shaping the growth of their towns and, as such, are the people who approve (or do not approve) requests for new constructions or expansions.
For developers, this “purest form of democracy” can sometimes seem very time-consuming and frustrating. But knowing how to navigate through this municipal process can save time and money.
Let’s suppose that you, as the developer of a new convenience store location, are planning to build a new location in a nearby community. While there’s agreement among those involved on the convenience store side, the local officials of that community may not be as immediately on board.
Each community differs somewhat in its zoning regulations. When planning a new project, become familiar with who the key players and decision-makers are, as well as which boards or departments you will need to appear before, and the community’s by-laws. One quick way to learn this is through the community website, which usually includes a list of departments and elected/appointed officials.
When the formal application process gets under way, the hearings will be before a number of boards. However, before you get to the formal hearing process, it may be advantageous to seek a preliminary meeting with the boards and/or department heads.
In this somewhat less formal setting, you can introduce yourself and your plan and seek the input from board members as to what you might do to make the project more appealing to the town. Become familiar with what they expect, understanding that this may not be the same as what is required.
I love the opportunity that a new year brings, providing an opportunity to take stock in goals and experiences. This year marks the start of my 31st year practicing law, and in looking back over the previous 30 years, I’ve realized that there are common themes that can be pulled from clients’ cases that may prove helpful to consider when looking at organizing your personal and business affairs this year and beyond.
How do you own the title to your home? This is a question that I often ask clients, and many times they don’t have a clear answer. It is important to understand how title is held, and what the consequences can be for your particular choice. Is your title held jointly with a spouse, other family member, friend or business partner? Often times, people assume that this is or is not the case. Perhaps you inherited property with a sibling from a parent or other relative’s estate, in which case title would be held as tenants in common, as opposed to as joint tenants. Either way, take the time to review the title to your home, or other real estate, you may own. There is no right or wrong way for how this should be handled, but if you own a home, it’s wise to be aware of how the title is held and to make changes where necessary to ensure that liability, risk and estate planning considerations are addressed properly.
What triggers an estate to be probated? The process of probating an estate can be quite costly, both in terms of time and money. Some folks think that if they have a Will, that their estate will not have to be probated. Others think it is the opposite, that if they do not have a Will their estate will not have to be probated. Actually, the answer is not whether you have a Will or not, but rather how you hold title to your assets at the time of your death that determines of your estate will have to be probated in order to pass title to your assets to your loved ones. Probating an estate comes into play when assets are held by the deceased party in his or her name alone (or as a tenant in common with another). If on the other hand assets are held jointly, or in a trust or with a designated beneficiary or beneficiaries, such as an IRA, then passing assets along is generally a simpler legal process. Therefore, it may make sense to change how you hold title to your assets, depending on the particular circumstances and your estate planning objectives.
The digital evolution of exchanging information. The single biggest change in the legal profession and in most professions is the evolution of technology and how information and documents are created, exchanged, and stored. Electronic communication can be confusing and can have serious legal consequences. Determining what is a binding agreement and what is just an informal exchange is the most dramatic factor in practicing law in 2017 vs. the late 1980’s. Who would have thought 10, 20 or 30 years ago that you’d need to consider if a text message could form a legally binding agreement? (The answer, as is often the case with many legal issues, is … “it all depends!”).
I’m hoping that this insight provides some good fuel for consideration as you get going in 2017. If you or someone that you know would benefit from discussing the ins and outs of their real estate or estate planning portfolios, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at (781)344-2886.
Best wishes for good health and happiness in 2017!
Why Hire a Real Estate Attorney?
Buying real estate can be exciting and a little frightening, especially if you are inexperienced. Some real estate transactions are complex and require the services of a real estate attorney that is knowledgeable in laws specific to a particular municipality or state. Real estate attorneys review transactions like leases and Purchase and Sale Agreements. An experienced real estate attorney can also help resolve environmental issues, title issues, and insurance problems. They can also help if litigation is required to resolve a dispute, and they can assist banks and private lenders in the foreclosure process as well as defend homeowners from foreclosure by such banks or private lenders.
In Massachusetts, attorneys are required to preside over real estate closings. These lawyers must also be involved in the transaction before and after the closing. Further, anyone buying a home is encouraged to use or find their own attorney, rather than using the same attorney as the bank or financial institution. This is to protect the legal interests of the Buyer and to prevent any conflict of interest that could occur. This applies to both new purchases and refinance closings of existing mortgages. In addition, attorneys in Massachusetts are expected to draft deeds and effectuate the ￼transaction.
Sellers are likewise required by Massachusetts law to disclose defects in the property. These defects may include such issues as water quality; septic or cesspool systems; termites; mold; and water leaks; all of which should be disclosed by the Seller or the real estate agent on behalf of the Seller, if any. If they aren’t and the Buyer finds out there were previous problems or that the Seller knew about them, then the Buyer may have legal remedies available to him or her. Sellers and agents do not, however, have to disclose if a property is “psychologically impacted.” For example, if a murder or suicide occurred on the property, you do not have to offer that information. However, if someone asks directly, you may not be deceitful or misleading in responding.
It is important that you engage an experienced real estate attorney who is active with your purchase, sale or lease of residential or commercial property before and after the closing. While your real estate broker or agent will guide you through the process of your purchase or sale, an experienced Massachusetts real estate law attorney can answer your legal questions and help you with other real estate-related issues, such as estate planning, in the future. At the Law Offices of Barry R. Crimmins, P.C., we can help you with any of your real estate transactions. You can contact us at (781)344-2886.