Articles Posted in real estate broker

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In larger commercial real estate leases, the tenant occasionally needs a loan to build the premises or finance major transactions. The tenant does not own the real property, but has the lease, which is both an interest in real property and a contract. This results in two sets of rights and obligations – those from the interest in the property (“privity of estate”), and those provided in the lease (“privity of contract”). If the tenant allows another party to take possession of the premises, that party has privity of estate with the landlord, but is not responsible for the obligations of the lease. This is why the lessor requires, in the lease, that any assignment be approved and the new tenant sign an acceptance of the assignment and the obligations of the lease contract. The Lessor will also require that any lender secured by the lease agrees to assume all the obligations of the Lease if it forecloses.

But what happens when the leasehold lender forecloses, but nobody makes sure that the Lender actually assumed all the lease obligations? That was the issue in a recent decision when the lender foreclosed on a lease in a shopping center

Sacramento-privity-of-estate-attorneyIn BRE DDR BR Whittwood Ca LLC v. Farmers & Merchants Bank of Long Beach, a shopping center tenant needed a loan to finance construction. The lease allowed the Tenant to encumber its leasehold interest through a mortgage, but presumed that a mortgage lender who succeeded to Tenant’s interest assumed Tenant’s obligations. The lease stated:

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The Statute of Frauds requires certain agreements to be in writing. The reason is that these agreements are too important to allow oral agreements, as they are susceptible to fraud. It is codified in Civil Code section 1624, and also applies to agreements for real estate commissions, about which the Supreme Court has said that a “broker’s real estate commissions agreement is invalid unless the agreement `or some note or memorandum thereof, is in writing and subscribed by the party to be charged or by the party’s agent.'” But what happens when not everyone who should sign does? Parties may need to consult with a Sacramento real estate attorney, because a dispute may result that the contract is not valid. I have never seen a matter where a real estate broker did not require ALL the parties on title to sign a listing agreement, but that was the case in a February decision regarding a listing agreement signed in 2013 – they waited four years to get a result, which is why, in my experience, everybody must sign. In this case, in a decision that combined the statute of frauds, the equal dignities rule, and the parole evidence rule, the broker lucked out…

Sacramento-Statute-of-frauds-attorneyIn Bernice Jacobs v. John Locatelli as Trustee, Jacobs was the broker looking to sell vacant land in Marin for over $2 million dollars. The broker Jacobs signed, as did Locatelli. However, there were blank signature lines for five other people, five other owners.

Right above Locatelli’s signature line is the notation “Owner: John B. Locatelli, Trustee of the John B. Locatelli Trust,” with his title listed as “Trustee.” As mentioned above, while there were signature lines for the remaining owners, they were left blank. However, at the very top of the agreement, “Owner” is defined (with emphasis added) as “John B. Locatelli, Trustee of the John B. Locatelli Trust, et al.” “Et al.” clearly means, in this context, “and others.”

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It is not often that residential real estate cases make it to the Supreme Court, but in this instance Coldwell Banker tangled with a very wealthy buyer of a very expensive ($12.25 million) house. Presented was the common scenario in which the two agents in the deal both were licensed under the same large corporate broker. This house was marketed as 15,000 square feet, and the buyer discovered it was actually 3-5,000 sq. ft. smaller. The salesman who listed the property made the inaccurate representation. The Buyer claimed that, as the broker was a dual agent, so was this listing salesman (“associate licensee”) – owning the buyer the same duties that he had owed the seller. The Supreme Court addressed whether the associate licensee owed to the buyer a duty to learn and disclose all information materially affecting the value or desirability of the property, including the discrepancy between the square footage of the residence’s living area as advertised and as reflected in publicly recorded documents. This is an issue frequently presented to Sacramento real estate attorneys – whether the listing agent owes any duty to the buyer. It was undisputed that Coldwell Banker owed such a duty to the buyer. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the associate licensee, who functioned on Coldwell Banker’s behalf in the real property transaction, owed to the buyer an “equivalent” duty of disclosure under Civil Code section 2079.13, subdivision (b).

Sacramento dual agent attorneyIn the case of Horiike v. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Company, the buyer had been working with a Coldwell Banker agent in looking for a house. She connected him with this listing agent, who had listed this Malibu property for sale. According to an interview with the NY Times, this agent told the buyer that the property had 15,000 square feet of living area and was the largest property available in Malibu. “He said that there was new regulation that prohibited developers from building over 11,000 square feet, and that made the property unique and also a very good investment prospect.” This same agent had previously told a different potential buyer multiple times that they did not warrant the square footage, and that they should hire a specialist to verify it. However, he did not tell this to Mr. Horiike. After the sale closed, the buyer wanted to add a sunroom and learned about the discrepancy in size. This lawsuit followed. The NY Times article linked to above indicates that this particular salesman, with a Hollywood client list, has a record of overstating the size of homes which he has listed.

Sacramento  real estate broker dual agent attorneyThe defendant argued that the disclosure statutes only imputed the duties of the salesperson to the broker, and not the other way around – thus, the dual agency concern was not imputed to the salesmen. The court disagreed. Referencing Civil Code § 2079.13, it found that by describing an associate licensee’s duty in a real property transaction as “equivalent to” the duty of the “broker for whom the associate licensee functions,” the provision specifies that when an associate licensee represents a brokerage in a real property transaction, his or her duties are the same as those of the brokerage.

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Real Estate investors in California often work through a licensed Broker, who puts together investor’s cash with potential borrowers. Investors prefer these arrangements (hard-money loans) because they can obtain a higher interest rate for their money, fully secured by a deed of trust recorded against real property. These loans are made through a licensed Broker because broker arranged loans are not subject to usury laws. (More details at the end of this article.) Real Estate Attorneys may be tasked with the job of determining if the usury law applies, and if so, whether this particular loan is usurious. If the loan is usurious, the concern for the investor is to be treated as a holder in due course, free from the defense of usury. It was a bad day for some investors in the Bay Area when the court decided that they were not holders in due course, because the unlicensed Broker kept possession of the notes in order to service them.

In Creative Ventures, LLC v. Jim Ward & Associates, Jim Ward was a licensed real estate broker, and his license was placed with a corporation. He retired and the license expired. He came out of retirement, created a new corporation, JWA, and applied to the DRE to renew his license for the old corporation. Apparently he did not realize that he needed a new license for the new corporation.

A real estate developer borrowed $3 million from JWA. It was through four Promissory Notes, two at 8% interest and two at 10% interest. All the notes included a 6% Broker commission. (For usury purposes, the interest rate is added to the commission, so here they were 14% and 16%, over the 10% usury limit.) This would be ok if JWA was licensed, but it was not. A lawsuit followed.

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Individuals create LLCs, same with corporations, for ownership and investment purposes primarily to enjoy limited liability. If you invest $10 in an LLC and someone gets a huge judgment against the LLC, the most you could lose is your investment -the $10. The judgment creditor would not be able to come after you personally to collect the balance of their judgment. However, not all LLCs or corporations have assets from which a judgment may be collected. Sacramento area business and real estate attorneys are occasionally asked by clients withe judgments what can be done to go after the members, managers, directors or shareholders. As one group of LLC members recently discovered, if the LLC’s distributions to them leaves the LLC penniless and essentially dissolved, the creditor may collect from the members.

Yolo LLC attorney.jpgIn CB RICHARD ELLIS, INC. v. TERRA NOSTRA CONSULTANTS, the real estate broker was seeking their commission on sale of 38 acres in Murrieta for $11.8 million. While the broker had the property listed, the buyer made an offer. Before closing, either the listing ended or the LLC which owned the property fired the broker, it was not clear. The sale closed. A few days after the cash went from escrow to the seller LLC’s bank account, it all left the account and was distributed to the members. The broker arbitrated its dispute with the LLC (because there was an arbitration provision in the listing agreement) and obtained a judgment against the LLC. But, of course, the LLC had no money.

The broker than filed suit against the members. Its argument was in the Corporations code, which provides for liability in the event the entity has been dissolved. Applicable was the old Section 17350 (which was replaced by the equivalent section 17707.07) provides:

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When a California real estate agent lists a property for sale with his broker, it is not unusual for another agent from the same brokerage to assist the buyer. When the same broker represents both parties in the transaction, that broker is a “dual agent,” and owes fiduciary duties to both parties. A fiduciary is required to give diligent and faithful service act toward the principal in the highest good faith and undivided service and loyalty, and must disclose to the principal all information that may affect the principals’ affairs or decisions. This is much greater than an arm’s length business transaction. But what sometimes confuses the agent/salesperson is that when his broker is a dual agent, he is too, and has the same fiduciary duties. Salespersons wondering what that fiduciary duty implies should consult with a real estate attorney because, in a recent decision the salesperson was surprised to learn that he was a dual agent, and that meant that he did not have to deliberately mislead a buyer to be found liable for fraud.

Sacramento  real estate broker attorney.jpgIn Horiike v. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Company, a salesperson listed a house in Malibu for sale. There was a first buyer who asked the salesperson, Cortazzo, what the square footage was. His listing stated that it had 15,000 square feet of living area. The first buyer asked for verification of the square footage. He advised them to hire a specialist to accurately determine the size. He also included this in the real estate transfer disclosure statement, and changed the MLS listing to read “0” square feet, and other comments.

The first buyer backed out and along came the plaintiff Horiike, (see him here) who was represented by another salesperson from the same brokerage. Cortazzo gave him the old flyer that stated the property was 15,000 square feet.. Escrow was opened, and they all signed the agency confirmation statement, indicating that Coldwell Banker was agent for both buyer and seller. Unfortunately for him, Cortazzo did not advise the buyers to hire an expert to measure the square footage of the living area. The sale closed, the buyer wanted to have work done on the house, found that it was only 11,964 square feet, and sued everybody.

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Mortgage loan brokers have a duty to mitigate the risk of possible loan fraud in California. The extent that title insurance would do this is a topic for another day, but brokers routinely arrange for title insurance for their lenders. Another protection against fraud is to have signatures notarized; at least the person signing has proven their identity. In a perfect storm for one mortgage Broker, it was the notary committing the fraud, and the trial court judge would not let them submit evidence that they got title insurance to help protect the lender against such acts. The judge claimed that the collateral source rule required the evidence be kept out. With this evidence barred, the Lender hammered the jury with claims that the Broker was negligent and breached its fiduciary duty, and the jury agreed. The appellate court did not.

El dorado real estate lawyer.jpg In Bryan Chanda V. Federal Home Loans Corporation, Chanda was a money lender and Federal was a private mortgage broker. Barker was the office manager for the owner of a commercial building in El Centro. Barker was also a Notary Public. Barker contacted Federal requesting an equity loan of $165,000 on behalf of the owners of the building. Federal’s loan officer wanted to arrange to meet with the owners so that they could sign the note and deed of trust, but Barker said one of the owners was not available. But, she would be happy to take the documents and get their notarized signatures. Barker then forged the signatures, and notarized them. Sacramento real estate trial attorneys rarely see fraudulent notarizations, but when they do, the notary is usually long gone.

Six months later, Barker asked for a larger replacement loan of $480,000. She again forged and notarized the signatures. The property owners learned about the fraud (no indication whether or not Barker had skipped town yet), and sued everyone. A forged deed of trust is not effective (though they can win out over unclean hands). The lender cross-complained against everyone, including Federal for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. All parties and claims settled, except the lender’s claims against the Broker.

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California usury laws restrict charging of interest greater than that allowed under the law. The legislature sees fit to determine what the maximum amount of interest that may be charged for a loan. There are a number of exceptions and considerations to the law. One important exception, provided in the California Constitution, is for “any loans made or arranged by any person licensed as a real estate broker by the State of California and secured in whole or in part by liens on real property.” Determining if a transaction may be usurious and parties may want to consult a Sacramento and El Dorado real estate attorney to be sure whether their deal fits. In decision last week by the Third District Court of Appeal, a disappointed borrower got the bad news that his lender could charge what he wanted. The lender was a corporation; its sole shareholder was a broker, who arranged the usurious loan. The broker did not get a commission, but expecting profits from the corporation was enough to find that he expected to receive compensation.

usury sacramento real estate attorney.jpgThe case is Gregory W. Bock v. California Capital Loans, Inc. Bock, trustee of a trust, needed a loan, and he was put in contact with California Capital. Leo was the sole owner of California Capital, and was also a licensed real estate broker. They made the deal, and Bock borrowed $1.2 million dollars at 15% interest, secured by a deed of trust on real property. Leo did not receive a commission on the loan. There was a default, and California Capital Loans Inc. foreclosed, taking back the property at a trustee’s sale in 2010. Bock sued, claiming, among other things, that the loan was usurious, and therefore the trustee’s sale was void.

The applicable provisions of the California Constitution are implemented by Civil Code section 1916.1. What the code provides in this case is that, for the exception to apply, two things must happen: first is that the broker acts for another or others, not for himself. Secondly, he must receive or expect to receive compensation.

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It is well established that California real property owners have duties toward guests and people they invite to the property to let them know about concealed dangerous conditions. Even a foreclosing lender who takes possession of a house has a duty to disclose what they should know about, and the agent and owner are each deemed to know everything that the other knows. And, the owner’s broker has an equal duty of disclosure. Sacramento and El Dorado real estate attorneys, when asked what needs to be disclosed, usually say everything- if it was material enough for you to ask me, it was important to disclose. In a recent decision a lender who took the property after foreclosure, and their broker, were surprised to learn that, because they might have known about a possible danger, they might end up liable for a potential buyer’s injury.

broker duty disclose sacramento attorney.jpgIn Pindra Hall v. Aurora Loan Services LLC, Hall was a real estate agent showing a home for sale in Lafayette to a client. The house was owned by Aurora Loan Services, who took it back in a foreclosure. The property has a finished attic, which was accessed by pull-down stairway ladder. It was hinged; when it was raised, it folded, and went up into the attic opening as the opening was closed.

Aurora, the owner after foreclosure, had the house inspected by a contractor. The contractor provided a report listing more than 50 items under the heading “Health and Safety Required Repairs-Group 1.” Buried in that list was “Stair-Remove and replace attic stair.” The report was delivered to Aurora, and the listing agent read it. The report was left on the kitchen counter for visiting agents and potential buyers to review.

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It is common knowledge in California that real estate brokers have a duty to perform a reasonably diligent inspection and to disclose material findings with the prospective purchases. This applies to both seller and buyers agents. The Transfer Disclosure Statement (Civil § 1102.6) requires both the Seller & Buyer agents conduct a “reasonably competent and diligent inspection” and to disclose their finding. Section 2079 of the civil code specifies a broker’s duty to inspect. However, A two year statute of limitations applies to 2079, after which lawsuits cannot be pursued against the broker. However, in a recent decision in the Third District (Sacramento), a dual agent was surprised to learn the two year period applies only to the seller’s broker.

broker duty to inspect.jpg In William L. Lyon v. Sup. Ct., The Lyon brokerage was a dual agent, representing both the sellers and the buyers on sale of a residence in Rocklin, CA. The buyers signed a buyer-broker agreement which affirmed that, as a dual agent, the broker is obligated to disclose known facts affecting the value of the property. The buyers soon discovered construction defects and filed suit, alleging that the sellers know of water related problems and painted the house dark brown to cover them up. While the house was listed, rain caused the covered problems to reappear, so they painted over them again. The buyers sued, naming the seller and the brokers.

The broker argued that all their claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations in 2079.4, applicable to the duty expressed in 2079. Importantly, the buyers sued Lyon as broker for the buyer; one half of the dual agency equation. The court pointed out that 2079 established a duty only for brokers representing the seller. That statute states that it applies-