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Under The Law: Research must be done before selling home

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There are several things which sellers should research and discuss with their attorneys prior to listing their home for sale which can minimize delay and help ensure a smooth closing.Obtain a copy of your home's certificate of occupancyThe certificate of occupancy, or C/O, is a document filed with the Department of Buildings that sets forth the legal use for the dwelling and all improvements. Sellers should note that just because they purchased the house in its current condition, this does not necessarily mean the improvements are legalized.Most structural improvements, such as a garage, deck, extensions to the dwelling or in-ground pool, require a C/O and may additionally require a fire underwriter's certificate. Some improvements cannot be legalized depending on the situation. Examples of these are finished basements, which contain living accommodations such as a bathroom or second kitchen.If the dwelling does not conform to the C/O and steps must be taken to legalize or remove an improvement, a seller may be looking at extensive delays to closing as well as substantial costs.Determining whether the dwelling conforms to the C/O at the outset allows sellers to take corrective measures, address the issue in negotiations between the parties, or factor some costs into the purchase price. C/O's for Queens properties can be obtained for a small fee from the Department of Buildings at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens. The department allows online access, including access to some certificates of occupancy, at www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/dob/home.html. You can also check this Web site for certain violations that may have been filed against the dwelling.The property condition disclosure formNew York's Property Condition Disclosure Act requires sellers to complete a Property Condition Disclosure Form and to provide that to a purchaser prior to signing a contract. The form can be obtained from the New York Department of State's Web site at www.dos.state.ny.us/lcns/pdfs/propcond.pdf. In lieu of providing the form, the seller may provide a credit of $500 against the purchase price, which is often given as a credit at closing.Your real estate agent may or may not request that you provide the form. However, you should consult with your attorney before making a final decision on this issue as there are possible legal ramifications to providing the form.Obtain a copy of your deed and title insurance policySellers should obtain a copy of their deed, which establishes the manner in which title to the property is held and ultimately determines who must sign to transfer title to the property. This is especially important when you are dealing with an estate. If there has been a death of one or more title holders, an estate proceeding may be necessary.The deed will help your attorney determine what, if anything, must done in this regard and will also assist your attorney in preparing the contract of sale. For properties within New York City, deeds and other documents recorded against real property are maintained in the Office of the City Register for each borough. They are also available online from the Register's Web site at a836-acris.nyc.gov/Scripts/ Coverpage.dll/index.From this site you can also determine whether other issues may exist such as mortgages which were paid off but which have not been discharged on the record. If possible, you should also obtain a copy of your title insurance policy that you should have received when you purchased the property. The policy tells you how title to the property was insured and how matters involving predecessors in the chain of title were addressed.Lastly, it is recommended that anyone looking to either sell or purchase a home consult with their attorney first so they can become aware of both their obligations and rights in a real estate transaction.This is part of the series arranged by the Queens County Bar Association as a public service to our readers. Samuel B. Freed is chairman of the QCBA's Real Property Committee. Nicholas Corona, Jr. is an associate in his firm.

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