Jan. 21, 2019 – Another year has gone by, and every year at this time I like to give some general advice on how to avoid needing the services of your local real estate attorney.
Here are the steps to take when dealing with the majority of legal issues concerning your home. I call these my “Four Pen Rules”
- The first rule is always read what you are signing. Read the contract, proposal, invoice, or whatever you are presented. If you do not understand what you see, ask questions and keep asking until you do understand. However, remember, it is the document that binds you, not their explanation of it, so if you are being told something that does not match what you were asked to sign, don’t put pen to paper.
- The second rule is one of my all-time favorites: If you can say it, you can sign it. Get it in writing because, as a rule, verbal agreements are worth the paper they are written on. Verbal agreements are difficult to enforce, and because everyone’s memory works differently, are more likely to lead to a problem. It is easy to avoid the issues to begin with by getting it in writing.
- The third rule is to document everything when a dispute occurs. Because nobody is more the 3 feet from their smartphone anymore, this is easy. Take photos and videos. Write down, or type in, notes while it is still fresh in your mind. Emailing these to yourself is a great way to prove the timing of these records should that ever become an issue. If the dispute turns into a lawsuit, your attorney will thank you for making their job so much easier.
- The final “pen” rule is a bit of a hybrid. When a problem does occur, try to talk it out with your neighbor. Whether it is branches over the fence line or debris blowing on your lawn, a polite conversation will resolve the vast majority of concerns. Here is where the pen part comes in: After you and your neighbor agree to a fix, send your neighbor a short and friendly note or email setting out what was agreed and asking for any corrections. If you receive corrections in reply, then you have avoided a misunderstanding and inevitable disappointment. If there is no reply, then your neighbor agreed to the fix.
About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.