By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When a person dies holding real estate in their name, the property doesn’t transfer to heaven. Some people think the situation can become quite the opposite. The process can be agonizing.

The owner who has died obviously can’t sell their home after they’re dead. The property cannot be sold until their name has been removed from the title. That can be a long and often complicated process. Often the heirs aren’t prepared to deal with the months of upkeep expenses, taxes, mortgage payments, etc. that come with the property.

There are usually two situations when selling an estate property. The owner died either with or without a will to designate their wishes.

If the owner died with a will, the heirs can take immediate action. The will can be entered into probate proceedings with the county court within four years of death. A last will and testament does not automatically cause the real estate to transfer. It is just a statement of the deceased’s intent. The property must legally transfer to another person(s) or entity if it is to be sold.

An Heirship Affidavit may often be used if the will has left the property only to the direct descendants of the deceased. Sometimes, this may be a less expensive and faster process than a probate proceeding.

An Affidavit of Heirship is also required if the deceased died without a will.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Let’s call this real estate horror film Mission Impossible – Saving the Sale. It’s the sequel to Mission Impossible – The Roof Needs Repair starring Surprised Seller and Upset Buyer. Also featuring Scrambling Realtor and Cautious Escrow Officer.

The scene opens with a pending sale on a property that needs a repair that the seller has agreed to do. However, the repairs cannot be completed before the closing. It could be hail damage to a roof that happens a couple of days before closing. Or wood floors that become damaged when a water pipe breaks just before closing day.

Whatever the scenario, there isn’t enough time to make the repair before closing day. In that case, the parties to the transaction may want to use an escrow agreement to close on time and allow the repairs to occur after closing.

Escrowing for repairs can be a somewhat complicated situation and the procedure often varies from title company to title company and lender to lender. Here’s how it usually works:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

A reader asks: “Should I make my next mortgage payment before my house closes? We are under contract and scheduled to close on the 14th of the month. “

This is a fairly common question for title companies. And the answer depends on your closing date and time.

Before closing, the title company will order a ‘payoff’ from your current mortgage company. After confirming and calculating what you owe on your current mortgage, we deduct that amount from your proceeds at closing and send that payoff amount to your lender.

For most folks their mortgage payments are due on the first of the month. And they are considered late on the 15th of the month. That kind of makes your situation a little more complicated.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

For most North Texas homeowners, the 2018 tax statements started coming out last week. You may not have received your bill in the mail, but your tax bill is out and due for payment by Jan. 31.

Simply go online and search for your county tax assessor to get your statement before it arrives in the mail. For Dallas County, you can find your statement here.

You’d think property tax bills would be fairly direct: “Here is the property address, here is the tax bill.” But these are government entities. So, let’s see how complicated it really is.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

We’ve all heard about the two things you can’t avoid – death and taxes. Just like there is a life cycle, there is a property tax cycle. The tax cycle is a lot easier to predict.

This life cycle of property taxes follows the same pattern every year. If you’re a Texas homeowner, your property is somewhere in this predictable rotation.

I offer you a synopsis of the tax collection cycle. Follow along with the snazzy graph I made from information from the Texas Tax Code.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Buying or selling a home can be complicated. And the lingo and jargon of escrow officers, lenders, and real estate agents can be baffling to those
not in the industry. 

To help decipher, here are definitions of some frequently used title business terms. This isn’t Webster’s Dictionary — it’s Lydia’s dictionary of commonly used words in the title industry. Many of these descriptions come from the Texas Land Title Association (TLTA). 

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

A hidden hazard on your property is not the kind of thing you’re going to stub your toe on. At least not the kind of hidden hazard that we’re talking about here.

In the title business, a hidden hazard is an issue that is not uncovered in a traditional search of property records. Most title companies are really good at finding potential problems in the research of deeds, maps and plats, mortgages, tax records, court records, liens, abstracts of judgement, probate and divorce actions, etc.

Issues that can be found by a typical title search are considered “discoverable.” These would be items like outstanding mortgage loans, tax liens, court judgments, utility easements, and such. Anyone with enough time, resources and expertise could likely find these things in court records and a search of the chain of title. Or they would find most of them at least. 

But even the most fastidious title search may not reveal a hidden hazard. Sometimes they are impossible to uncover until an event brings it to light.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When putting a contract on a property, a buyer can usually expect to write two checks to accompany their contract — an option fee check and an earnest money check. There is no strict rule about how much each of these checks must be. The amount of this up-front money is negotiable between buyer and seller. However, the amount sends a strong signal to either buyer or seller.

A buyer offering too little in either option or earnest money can indicate they are not serious or very interested in the property. Perhaps they can’t even afford it.  A demand of too much option or earnest money from the seller may send the message that they are unreasonable or mistrustful. The state of the real estate market also influences the amount of option fee and earnest money. 

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