From the Metrowest Daily News
A recent state Supreme Court ruling makes it clear: Home and business owners are potentially liable if someone slips and falls on their icy or snowy property.
Driveways, walks and sidewalks – “any place on the property where a guest or a visitor or a FedEx man or a mailman could trip” – must now be cleared and treated, says Framingham real estate attorney Richard Vetstein.
So as businesses reopen and snowed-in residents dig themselves out from this week’s nor’easter, lawyers are advising they heed the ruling and take “reasonable care” to keep visitors on their two feet.
“What I’m telling everyone is when the blizzard ends, get out there and clear it off and put ice melt out there and make it safe,” Vetstein said yesterday. “You just can’t leave it alone anymore.”
Some communities already had bylaws requiring citizens and commercial property owners to be responsible neighbors.
A general bylaw in Milford, which Town Counsel Gerald Moody said is “probably of quite ancient vintage,” requires property owners to get rid of snow and ice on sidewalks within 24 hours.
The penalty is a $10 fine.
“It does create a legal responsibility,” Moody said.
But in general, Bay State property owners weren’t required to shovel and salt after a storm until state Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants in July overruled 125 years of legal precedent.
In his ruling on Papadopoulos v. Target Corp., Gants sided with a man who sued the retailer after sliding on a patch of ice in a Danvers store parking lot.
“You own a house in Framingham on Carter Drive, you need to get out there and shovel your sidewalk as soon as reasonably practical. Otherwise, someone slips and you can be held liable,” Vetstein said. “That’s the new rule.”
Moody said the ruling is “a very important one.”
“It’s actually good for everybody because now there’s one standard that everybody’s going to be held to,” he said.
In Framingham, the Department of Public Works plows 78 miles of sidewalk with tractors, compared to 250 miles of roadway.
Between the cost and logistics of pulling together manpower and equipment, the town isn’t able to clear more sidewalks, said Highway Director Jim Murphy.
“Of course time, as they always say, is money,” he said.
Murphy said the focus is on making downtown safe, and digging out crosswalks and creating pathways for children to get to and from schools.
“If people choose to walk in the road itself, it’s always dangerous, plus now you’ve got a bank that’s three or four feet tall,” Murphy said.
The town of Natick takes responsibility for clearing more than 40 miles of sidewalks along main roads and near schools.
As snow piled up from this season’s first big storm, crews were out at least once since Sunday opening the walks, said Highway Superintendent Thomas Hladick said. They were headed back out yesterday afternoon with snowblowers.
Some communities, such as Newton, Worcester and Boston, have passed ordinances forcing residents and businesses to make sidewalks that border their property safe.
With the requirement now on everyone, Vetstein said it will be up to personal injury lawyers and civil courts to enforce.
Vetsein wrote about the ruling on his blog, massrealestatelawblog.com. He encourages property owners to review their insurance policies and consider upping their liability coverage.
The most frequently asked questions Moody receives on Milford’s sidewalk policy, he says, are from attorneys representing people who slip or insurance companies trying to defend subscribers.
“Juries will typically look at these kinds of things reasonably,” he said.
(Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-626-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I’m thrilled to be writing the guest post for the Inman Future of Real Estate Marketing Blog highlighting the Agent Reboot Conference in Boston held yesterday on October 13, 2010. From the buzz surrounding the conference here at the Hynes Convention Center, it’s clear that Boston area agents are embracing the power of social media, and that Boston is well on its way to becoming the next “Hub” for social media savvy agents!
Reporter Steven Altieri of the real estate trade journal Banker & Tradesman recently published an article on the Ibanez foreclosure case, Impending SJC Ibanez, Title Ruling May Invalidate Thousands Of Foreclosures, Why Real Estate Attorneys Expect The Worst, And What It Means To The Industry.
Since we’ve written about the case extensively here, Steve asked for my views about the impact of the case and recent matters I’ve handled with Ibanez title defects:
Framingham real estate attorney Richard Vetstein recently represented a family who had bought a house out of foreclosure about a year ago, then invested in excess of $100,000 in improvements to the property with the intention of selling it to their daughter. But before they could complete the sale, a title issue came up and put the transaction on hold.
In Vetstein’s client’s case, when the original owner was foreclosed upon, the mortgage company did not have a properly recorded assignment. To clear the title, Vetstein had to track down the original owner in Alabama, and persuade him to sign over the deed to the property.
“They can close now that the title issue is solved, but in a lot of cases that [is] not going to be able to be solved,” said Vetstein. “We were lucky, that’s what it came down to.”
Steve asked me how I would handicap the appeal of the case:
Vetstein, who has blogged on the Ibanez case at length, thinks the court might uphold the Ibanez decision.
“Given the current constitution of the court and their tendencies of recent years to be kind of moving towards some pro-consumer decisions, I wouldn’t be surprised if they upheld the land court probably by a slim margin,” Vetstein said. “And so for people who are stuck with an Ibanez issue, that is in essence the worst-case scenario.”
Indeed, it’s unlikely that a “pro-consumer” verdict upholding the Ibanez decision would actually help consumers on the whole. Home buyers or investors who thought they had gotten a good deal and a clean title on a foreclosed property will instead be saddled with hefty legal bills and an inability to sell their property.
Lastly, Steve asked if the Ibanez ruling has created an business development opportunties for real estate attorneys:
“I don’t know of any real estate attorney using Ibanez as a business development opportunity, mainly because solving these title defects, if at all, is incredibly difficult and in some cases impossible,” Vetstein said. “It’s a ‘lose-lose’ in many situations.”
One aspect of the case could potentially provide plenty of work for attorneys. Should the SJC uphold the Ibanez decision, Vetstein reasons that there will be many claims against the foreclosing lenders and the foreclosure attorney, for failing to convey good title.
“There will also be claims for rescission of these transactions,” he added. “There is a class action against lenders and foreclosing attorneys which could encompass many millions in potential damages.”
Boston Globe reporter Jenifer McKim read my blog post, Four Toed Salamanders And SLAPP Suits, and decided that it would be a great topic to write about. Her superb article, How A Salamander Raised A Rights Issue, was published today, and I was fortunate enough to be quoted:
Richard Vetstein, a Framingham real estate lawyer, said the decision was a victory for developers in a state that has an especially tough permitting process.
“Whether it is zoning, whether it is wetlands, you name it, vernal pools, you can invoke some pretty serious regulation and have a property get bogged down pretty quickly,’’ said Vetstein, who wrote about the salamander case on his Massachusetts Real Estate Law blog.
The case is very interesting, pitting free speech rights against developers’ rights to build.
There are fewer than 40 days remaining until the federal home buyer tax credit expires. And home builders and realtors aren’t letting consumers forget it.
Home builder Lennar (LEN: 16.11, -0.43, -2.59%) is touting its move-in ready homes in South Florida. Beazer Homes’ (BZH: 4.67, -0.28, -5.65%) web site encourages house hunters to “cash in on the ,” while KB Home’s (KBH: 17.33, -0.31, -1.75%) site declares “Time is running out,” along with countdown — to the second — until the credit expires.
Time is, indeed, running out: Buyers must have a binding contract on a house in place by April 30, and the sale must close by June 30. But should you heed the call?
It is true that the , combined with low mortgage rates and overall affordability make buying a house tempting today. But there are other considerations that should factor into your decision.
Here are a few reasons why taking advantage of the credit may not be a savvy move:
1. Say there was no credit
Taxes are important, but they shouldn’t drive the decision-making process. “If absent the tax credit, you wouldn’t make that purchase, don’t do it just to save a few thousand dollars,” says John Scherer, a certified financial planner and president of Trinity Financial Planning in Middleton, Wis.
The bottom line is, if you’re in a position where it makes sense to buy a house, and you’ve found a house you really want at the right price, then you should pursue the credit, he says. But don’t settle for a house you may not be happy with just to get the money – you might regret it.
For existing homeowners after the $6,500 credit, think about what’s involved in selling your current house. Buyers are still bidding low and homes continue to come on the market, says Neil Sullivan, president of Westfield in Westfield, N.J., who adds that many homes that didn’t sell last year were taken off the market.
2. The bigger picture
From a psychological perspective, $8,000 is a lot of money to many people. But as a percentage of the for, say, a $200,000 home, it represents just 4%.
“How many of us would rush off to a car dealer who was offering a 4% discount off the car price?” says John Vogel, a professor of at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. And buying a home is more complicated and involves more time and effort than buying a new car.
Also, if you’re in a rush to land the credit, a seller might more inclined to use that as leverage and be less willing to negotiate on price, says Erin Baehr, a certified financial planner and owner of Baehr Family Financial in Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pa.
3. Last-minute snags
The deadline to be in contract is April 30 and June 30 to close on the house. For buyers who haven’t started doing research and seeing houses, it’s cutting it close. Even if you’re preapproved for a mortgage, things might still hold up the transaction that could mean missing the deadline.
For one, the appraisal process can be a wild card in many transactions, says Sullivan. For deals with little margin for error, an appraisal below the agreed sales price can make the deal hard to complete.
“Deals have been canceled because of low appraisals – it has to match up with the purchase price,” says Richard Vetstein, a real estate attorney in Framingham, Mass.
One way around this is making sure you include a provision (called a mortgage contingency clause) in the purchase contract to protect the buyer. So if the appraisal comes in less than anticipated or if there’s a title issue that pushes the closing date back, the buyer can terminate the deal, says Vetstein.
4. How long do you plan on staying in the home?
If you don’t plan to live in the new house for at least three years — and preferably five years — the brokerage and other transaction costs are likely to swallow up all the profit, including the $8,000 or $6,500 tax credit, says Vogel.
What’s more, if the home ceases to be your primary residence after less than three years after purchase, the IRS will ask you to pay back the $8,000 tax credit. If you’re self-employed and you know where you’ll be living five years from now, buying a house isn’t that big of a risk, says Jake Engle, CFP and founder of Wealth Planning & Management in Portland, Ore. Get transferred to another region for work and you may be forced to sell into a bad market – and you “could get a bill from the government for the credit you just took,” says Engle.
5. Prices might still be declining
All the variables that a housing rebound depends on makes it difficult to forecast where home values will be in a few months, let alone a few years from now.
The credit, which was has been around for about a year (and was extended and expanded last fall), to a large extent artificially stabilized home prices. That also means there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen once the credit expires and all the demand still trickling into the market will have evaporated, says Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal firm in New York.
Without another extension – which most in the industry don’t expect – you may see weaker prices in the second half of 2010. (Moody’s Economy.com predicts house prices to fall 2% this year.) And if you buy into a slumping market, that tax credit may not be as compelling as you thought.
FRAMINGHAM, MA, March 9, 2009/PR Newswire/– The nationally acclaimed the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog created by real estate attorney Richard D. Vetstein was recently ranked #97 in a ranking of all North American law blogs by Avvo.com. The Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog, averaging 15,000 monthly page views, has proven very popular to home buyers, sellers, consumers, realtors and lenders due to its easy to read articles on timely topics affecting Massachusetts and national real estate law.
Attorney Richard D. Vetstein, Founding Partner of the Vetstein Law Group, P.C, set out to launch the first ever legal blog dedicated solely to Massachusetts real estate law. Through the blog, Attorney Vetstein offers timely legal commentary, updates and checklists to help consumers, realtors and lenders navigate the intricacies of Massachusetts real estate law. Recent popular posts include:
- Short Sales Get Boost From New Obama Short Sale Rules
- The Catch-22 Impact Of New Fannie Mae Condominium Lending Regulations
- There’s Nothing “Standard” About The Massachusetts Standard Purchase And Sales Agreement
- New Stricter FHA Condominium Lending Regulations and Guidelines Sure To Slow Financing And Chill Sales
- Massachusetts Land Court’s Ibanez Decision Invalidates Thousands Of Foreclosures
Attorney Richard Vetstein’s blogging follows a greater trend of attorneys using blogs as a key component to their business development and marketing efforts. “I truly enjoy blogging. It helps me become a thought leader and expert on the latest trends in real estate law. Plus, as the founder partner of a small law firm, blogging is an incredibly cost-efficient tool for business development and marketing,” said Vetstein. “In the legal services industry, blogging is a win-win for the attorney and the consumer. People get access to basic legal information without charge, and good lawyers further enhance their reputations and hone their writing and analytical skills,” Vetstein adds.
About Richard D. Vetstein and the Vetstein Law Group, P.C.
The Vetstein Law Group, P.C. is a law firm based in Framingham, MA, servicing clients in real estate, real estate and business litigation, construction, condominium, and zoning law. Richard D. Vetstein, Esq., the Firm’s Founding Partner, is an avid blogger and proponent of Web 2.0 technology for business development and marketing. Richard Vetstein is also a contributing blogger on the Real Estate Now Blog of Boston.com. Mr. Vetstein can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.
The Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog has quickly become the highest ranking legal blog focused solely on Massachusetts substantive law according to Avvo.com and Alexa.com rankings. As reported in BizJournals, the blog has proven very popular to home buyers, sellers, consumers, realtors and lenders due to its easy to read articles on timely topics affecting Massachusetts and national real estate law.
Much thanks to all of our readers!
Various social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, have attracted a dedicated following among small firm and solo lawyers trying to market themselves.
Many jumped on the bandwagon out of curiosity, peer pressure or love of technology.
But others are wasting their time without even knowing it.
The reason: most lawyers have not developed a coherent strategy for using social media.
Here are five questions lawyers should ask themselves about their social media strategy:
Are you ready for it?
Some law firms are not ready to engage in social media. And not every social media tool is for every lawyer.
If you hate to write, don’t start a blog. If you think communicating in 140 characters or less is inane, don’t tweet.
Other social media tools, like LinkedIn, Avvo or YouTube, may be more your style.
Only after you have an overall marketing plan in place will social media be effective.
“Social media should not be #1 on your marketing plan. Social media has its place – keep it in its place,” said Stephen Fairley of the Rainmaker Institute in Gilbert, Ariz.
Ranking above social media are referrals from clients and other professionals, speaking at seminars and optimizing your website, he said.
“For our clients who say they’ve already gotten all that in place, social media can add a whole new dimension,” Fairley said.
Who are you talking to?
If you haven’t identified your target audience, namely referral sources and potential clients, you are probably spending valuable time with the wrong crowd.
“I know law firms that are putting out great stuff, but the problem is the people who follow them are not the people they want. … Having 5,000 followers if 4,999 are the wrong people is pretty pointless,” said Cordell Parvin, a law firm consultant in Dallas.
Also, your target audience may be narrower than your practice.
For example, Richard Vetstein, a recently gone-solo real estate attorney in Framingham, Mass., created the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog to fill a void he saw, even though his practice is more general.
“You can’t be all things to all people. I only let people into my network that fit within my target audience,” said Vetstein, who said he had a concerted marketing plan that included various social media when he went solo less than six months ago.
What are you saying?
Once you establish who you’re talking to, your content should be tailored to your target audience and focus on giving value to them by answering questions, sharing a news article or making a referral.
A mistake is using soft- marketing social media for the hard-sell.
Because social media are all about building relationships, users will be turned off and tune out on those who use it “as a selling tool and not a helping tool,” said Parvin.
Is everything integrated?
Even if you are using every social media tool, if they’re not working together then you’re not getting the most out of them.
One of the simplest ways of doing this is to include a link to all of your web tools on your business card and in the signature line of your e-mail.
Richard Vetstein, the real estate attorney, has garnered one of the largest fan followings on Facebook (over 600) in part by integrating his blog posts with his Facebook page and giving his blog subscribers an e-mail newsletter that also includes his Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages in the signature.
His marketing plan also integrates new media tools with traditional marketing, such as Chamber of Commerce events where he passes out his business card with his blog address on it.
He says he receives five to 10 inquiries per week and one to two new matters per week from his blog and website.
Are you succeeding?
Although social media tools have great tracking data on exactly how many people clicked on your link in Twitter or video on YouTube, it can be difficult to correlate that data directly to new business.
“The whole [idea] is to build a bigger herd, a bigger following, a bigger platform,” said Fairley.
But he added that a concrete goal of social media is to drive people to your website or blog where they then sign up for a newsletter or free special report, and provide their contact information with permission to market to them further.
Vetstein says that as long as he does not sink too much time (he spends an hour per blog post) into social media, it’s worth the low cost.
“The big question is whether this is really going to drive us business. The jury is still out,” he said.
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq., Founding Partner of The Vetstein Law Group, P.C.
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and is the founding partner of the Vetstein Law Group, P.C. Richard Vetstein is a seasoned business and real estate attorney who has developed a broad litigation and transactional practice. You can contact Richard Vetstein directly at email@example.com or (508) 532-1602. For more information about Rich, click here.
Richard Vetstein has represented clients in hundreds of lawsuits and disputes involving business, real estate, construction, condominium, zoning, environmental, banking and financial services, employment, and personal injury law.
In real estate matters, Richard Vetstein offers his clients an inside perspective as a former zoning board member when they navigate local zoning, permitting, conservation, alcohol/entertainment, and environmental boards. Rich also handles residential and commercial real estate purchase and sales transactions, as well as new business formation and incorporation.
Rich received his law degree with honors from Suffolk University Law School. At Suffolk, Rich was selected as a Note Editor on the Law Review. Rich was also the sole student selected for a prestigious judicial internship with Federal District Court Judge William G. Young.
Rich received a B.S. degree from Miami (Ohio) University in Oxford, OH in Mass Communication/Media Management with a minor in Marketing. At Miami University, Rich was an Account Executive in a nationally acclaimed student advertising program for Molson Breweries in Toronto, Canada. Rich was also a setter on the Miami Men’s Volleyball team, and a member of Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity.
Rich enjoys being involved in his community, local philanthropies and bar associations. For eight years, Rich was an associate member of the Sudbury Zoning Board of Appeals and the chair of the Earth Removal Board. Presently, Rich is a Leadership Fellow of the Leadership Metrowest Academy Class of 2009, an Advisory Board Member for the Corridor 9 Chamber of Commerce’s HYPE 9 (Helping Young Professionals Engage Corridor 9) Board, and a member of the Worcester Young Businessmen’s Association. Rich sits on the Litigation Committee of the Real Estate Bar Association (REBA), and is a member of the Massachusetts, Metrowest, and American Bar Associations. Rich is also the past chair and current board member of Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Young Lawyers Group and a member of CJP’s Young Leadership Division.
I will be answering questions on timely topics affecting Massachusetts real estate law, including home improvement projects, condominiums, landlord-tenant issues, and more. I am thrilled for the opportunity. Stay tuned for more.