By two close votes, and one easy voice vote, the American Bar Association's policy-making body this week endorsed a package of legislative proposals intended to simplify and lower the cost of real estate transactions while reducing "unreasonable risk and loss" for home buyers.
The three proposals in the package will go to the legislature of every state with the valuable imprimatur of approval of the ABA's house of delegates, which acted on the measures Wednesday.
The package was developed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, an 86-year-old organization financed mainly by the states to draft and support legislation aimed at solving problems common to all of the states, the District and Puerto Rico.
The three pieces of proposed legislation in the package are the Uniform Land Transactions Act approved 111 to 105; the Uniform Simplification of Land Transactions Act, approved 120 to 119, and the Uniform Condominum Act, passed by voice vote.
The first proposal would require developers to guarantee home buyers that their dewllings will be "free from detective materials and . . . constructed in accordance with applicable law, according to sound engineering and construction standards and in a workmanlike manner."
In hopes of decreasing the cost of real-estate financing, the proposed legislation treats home loans as if they were ordinary consumer loans. Among other things, this means that use of words such as "mortgage" would be eliminated, becaues they tend to make transactions seem more complicated, and replaced with terms such as "creditors" and "debtors."
The companion simplification proposal concerns paperwork involved in transfers of real estate.
To simplify record-keeping and to help dispel possible legal clouds over transactions, this proposal encourages states to adopt geographical indexing of land titles and abandon the system of filing records under the names, of buyers, sellers and lenders.
In addition, the proposal would produce "an unbroken chain of title of record to an interest in real estate for 30 years or more" - meaning that even if a 30-year-old title document turned out to have been forged, the title still would allow the real estate to be sold.
It would also protect a property owner from being forced to pay twice for construction of an "improvement, such as a home addition or a swimming pool. In many states, laws now permit subcontractors to force an owner to pay for work or material he supplied to a prime contractor - even though the owner already had paid the contractor the full price agree upon in the contract.
The condominium proposal is intended to help capable and responsible developers cope with soaring costs of land and decreasing availability of land.
The "consumer protections" include:
A requirement to put a buyer's deposit in escrow until the project is completed.
A cooling-off period of 15 days designed to allow prospective buyers to change their minds.
A period of time during which a renter of an apartment being "converted" to a condominum would have a chance either to buy the unit or to find a new home: The time period is supposed to be "adequate."
Protections for residents against hazards created by incompetent managers of condominium complexes.