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Blog: Homeowner Information

Understanding Foreclosures

It is an unfortunate commentary, but when economic activity declines and housing activity decreases, more real property enters the foreclosure process. High interest rates and creative financing arrangements are also contributing factors.

When prices are rapidly accelerating during a real estate “bonanza”, many people go to any lengths available to get into the market through investments in vacation homes, rental housing and trading up to more expensive properties. In some cases, this results in the taking on of high interest rate payments and second, third and even fourth deeds of trust. Many buyers anticipate that interest rates will drop and home prices will continue to escalate. It is possible that neither will occur and borrowers may be faced with large balloon payments becoming due. When payments cannot be met, the foreclosure process looms on the horizon.

In the foreclosure process, one thing should be kept in mind: as a general rule, a lender would rather receive payments than receive a home due to a foreclosure. Lenders are not in the business of selling real estate and will often try to accommodate property owners who are having payment problems. The best plan is to contact the lender before payment problems arise. If monthly payments are too hefty, it may be that a lender will be able to make some alternative payment arrangements until the owner’s financial situation improves.

Let’s say, however, that a property owner has missed payments and has not made any alternate arrangements with the lender. In this case, the lender may decide to begin the foreclosure process. Under such circumstances, the lender, whether a bank, savings and loan or private party, will request that the trustee, often a title company, file a notice of default with the county recorder’s office. A copy of the notice is mailed to the property owner.

If the default is due to a balloon payment not being made when due, the lender can require full payment on the entire outstanding loan as the only way to cure the default. If the default is not cured, the lender may direct the trustee to sell the property at a public sale.

In cases of a public sale, a notice of sale must be published in a local newspaper and posted in a public place, usually the courthouse, for three consecutive weeks. Once the notice of sale has been recorded, the property owner has until 5 days prior to the published sale date to bring the loan current. If the owner cures the default by making up the payments, the deed of trust will be reinstated and regular monthly payments will continue as before.

After this time, it may still be possible for the property owner to work out a postponement on the sale with the lender. However, if no postponement is reached, the property goes on the block. At the sale, buyers must pay the amount of their bid in cash, cashier’s check or other instrument acceptable to the trustee. A lender may “credit bid” up to the amount of the obligation being foreclosed upon.

With the recent attention given to foreclosure, there also has been corresponding interest in buying foreclosed properties. However, caveat emptor: buyer beware. Foreclosed properties are very likely to be burdened with overdue taxes, liens and clouded titles. A buyer should do his homework and ask a local title company for information concerning these outstanding liens and encumbrances. Title insurance may or may not be available following a foreclosure sale and various exceptions may be included in any title insurance policy issued to a buyer of a foreclosed property.

Your local title company will be happy to provide additional information.

Underground Heating Oil Tanks

Underground heating oil tanks can pose many potential problems to both home buyers and sellers. They have been the source of many environmental problems such as contamination of surrounding soil and ground water.

Leaks are generally caused by the rust inside underground tanks or by an electrical condition sparked by electric utility lines.

Buyers should always have the tank inspected to make sure that it is structurally sound. Buyers who do not want an underground fuel tank can arrange for an above ground tank to be installed in the basement and the underground tank to be shut off. Cleanup of any leaks will also have to be taken care of.

For buyers, the underground heating oil tank should be written in the sales contract. For sellers, your lawyer should make sure that the description and condition of the underground heating oil tank is accurate and up-to-date.

Mello-Roos

In purchasing your new home, your future monthly payments will be made up of principal, interest, real property taxes, and insurance. But what is the tax for the Community Facilities District, otherwise known as a Mello-Roos District? The Land Title Association (LTA) has answered some of the most commonly asked questions about the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act.

What is a Mello-Roos District?

A Mello-Roos District is an area where a special tax is imposed on those real property owners within a Community Facilities District. This district has chosen to seek public financing through the sale of bonds for the purpose of financing certain public improvements and services. These services may include streets, water, sewage and drainage, electricity, infrastructure, schools, parks and police protection to newly developing areas. The tax you pay is used to make the payments of principal and interest on the bonds.

Are the assessments included within the Proposition 13 tax limits?

No. The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 severely restricted local government in its ability to finance public capital facilities and services by increasing real property taxes. The “Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982” provided local government with an additional financing tool. The Proposition 13 tax limits are on the value of the real property, while Mello-Roos taxes are equally and uniformly applied to all properties.

What are my Mello-Roos taxes paying for?

Your taxes may be paying for both services and facilities. The services may be financed only to the extent of new growth, and services include: Police protection, fire protection, ambulance and paramedic services, recreation program services, library services, the operation and maintenance of parks, parkways and open space, museums, cultural facilities, flood and storm protection, and services for the removal of any threatening hazardous substance. Facilities which may be financed under the Act include: Property with an estimated useful life of five years or longer, parks, recreation facilities, parkway facilities, open-space facilities, elementary and secondary school sites and structures, libraries, child care facilities, natural gas pipeline facilities, telephone lines, facilities to transmit and distribute electrical energy, cable television lines, and others.

When do I pay these taxes?

By purchasing an interest in a subdivision within a Community Facilities District you can expect to be assessed for a Mello-Roos tax which will typically be collected with your general property tax bill. These special tax payments are subject to the same penalties that apply to regular property taxes.

How long does the tax stay in effect?

The tax will stay in effect until the principal and interest on the bonds are paid off along with any reasonable administrative costs incurred in collecting the special tax or so long as it is needed to pay the expenses of services, but in no case shall exceed 40 years.

What happens if a general tax payment is not made on time?

Because the Mello-Roos tax is typically collected with your general property tax bill, the Facilities District that obtained the lien may withdraw the assessment from the tax roll and commence judicial foreclosure.

What is the basis for the tax?

Most special taxes levied on properties within these districts have been structured on the basis of density of development, square footage of construction, or flat acreage charges. The act, however, allows for considerable flexibility in the method of apportionment of taxes, and the local agencies may have established an entirely different method of levying the special tax against property in the district in question.

How much will the Mello-Roos payment be?

The amount of tax may vary from year-to-year, but may not exceed the maximum amount specified when the district was created. In the case of the purchase of a new house within a subdivision, the maximum amount of the tax will be specified in the public report. The Resolution of Formation must specify the rate, method of apportionment, and manner of collection of the special tax in sufficient detail to allow each landowner or resident within the proposed district to estimate the maximum amount that he or she will have to pay.

How is the special tax reflected on the real property records?

The special tax is a lien on your property, essentially like a regular tax lien. The lien is recorded as a “Notice of Special Tax Lien” which is a continuing lien to secure each levy of the special tax.

How are Mello-Roos taxes affected when the property is sold?

The Mello-Roos tax is assessed against the land, but is not based upon the value of the property, therefore, the possible increased value of the property does not affect the amount of the tax when property is sold. The amount of the tax may not exceed the original maximum amount stated in the Resolution of Formation. Any delinquent payments must be satisfied before the sale of the real property since the unpaid amounts are a lien against the property.

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