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Q&A With Local Real Estate Attorneys—What You Should Know If You’re Buying Or Selling A Home

To help real estate consumers, ERA Insite Realty posed some of the most frequently asked questions about real estate transactions to two local attorneys.
To help real estate consumers, ERA Insite Realty posed some of the most frequently asked questions about real estate transactions to two local attorneys. Photo Credit: ERA Insite Realty

As Realtors, we routinely provide home buyers and sellers with a tremendous amount of information and guidance in the process of buying or selling a home. However, there will be times and issues that legal counsel should be consulted. To help real estate consumers, we posed some of the most frequently asked questions to two local attorneys, Toni Maida, Esq. and Michael Shilinski, Esq. Here are those questions and answers:

Q: From a legal standpoint, what should sellers know or do before they put their home up for sale?

A: "Locate house documents such as title policy and survey; be sure all improvements are legal," said Maida. "Buyers want to envision themselves in the house and they don’t want to deal with lots of little things that require attention. If a seller is behind on his mortgage, I should be made aware of that."

"Sellers should also ask their attorney to do a search in the Westchester County Division of Land Records if they have paid off their mortgage. Standard situation is that a couple paid off their mortgage 15 years ago. They go to finally sell their house and the title report does not show that a Satisfaction of Mortgage was ever filed," said Shilinski. "The problem is that the further back the paid off mortgage goes, the harder the problem is to solve. Banks have all been merged so many times it is often impossible to find the original bank, let alone obtain a Satisfaction in a timely manner. It is incumbent on the owner of the property to make sure that a Satisfaction is properly filed when they pay off a mortgage."

Q: How long is a survey good for?

A: "A survey doesn’t have an expiration date," said Maida. "However, old surveys may not show all improvements. I believe it is very important to have a current, accurate survey. If one is not available, it is worth the money to order a new one."

Q: What red flags do you look for in a real estate transaction?

A: "As an attorney one of my greatest concerns is oil tanks. Whether abandoned, inside, or buried, they can cause a great headache for all sides of the transaction," said Shilinski. "Other issues that can cause delays are pools (if they cannot be inspected due to weather), shared driveways, and spaces in a house that an engineer cannot obtain access to in order to inspect (e.g. small attic or crawl spaces)."

Q: What questions should a home buyer or seller ask when looking to hire an attorney to represent them for the purchase or sale of real estate?

A: "It is important that buyers and sellers choose an attorney who does practice real estate," said Maida. "Oftentimes friends are chosen, but that friend may be a litigator…It is also preferable to have a local attorney who knows the players, the customs and the market."

Q: Do you order a title report early on in the transaction, or do you wait until nearer to closing?  In either case, why?

A: "It should be ordered as soon as fully signed contracts are available," said Shilinski. "This allows for the maximum time to deal with any issues that come up with regard to Certificates of Occupancy or Mortgages that have been paid but do not have a publicly filed satisfaction."

For more legal guidance, contact Toni A. Maida, Esq., Wren and Maida, LLP, 433 Manville Rd., Pleasantville, NY 10570, 914-769-4000 or Michael Shilinski, Esq., Gullotta & Shilinski, LLP, 427 Bedford Rd, Pleasantville, NY 10570, 914-741-0452.

For more information on buying or selling a home, contact ERA Insite Realty Services, 370 Manville Rd., Pleasantville, NY 10570, 914-769-6777 or email to