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Spring Cleaning for Condos

Mar 26, 2015   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Condominiums, Tips  //  No Comments

This harsh winter was hard on all of us.  Unless you’re particularly lucky, it was probably tough on your condo building and budget, too.   Once the snow finally clears, here are some commonsense tips to rescue your building from this winter and spruce it up for the summer:

  1. Inspect the damage.  Have a few different unit owners do a walkthrough of the building together.  Start in the basement and work your way up.  Look for any changes in the building – new cracks, new signs of water, or any new damage.  If you see anything worrisome, hiring a licensed home inspector for a follow up walkthrough may be a valuable investment for the HOA.
  2. Hire a cleaning service for the common area.  Unless you already use a cleaning service, a one-time professional cleaning service will breathe some new life and fresh air into the building.
  3. Undertake that project you’ve been putting off.  If you’ve been putting off a maintenance or renovation project, now may be the time to proceed.  Line up a contractor soon, though.  With post-winter repairs, this may be a busy time for contractors.
  4. Check in with your budget.  If you pay for snow removal, you’ve probably exceeded your budget.  Take a look at the budget now and make any corrections before there’s a problem (e.g. when the master insurance bill becomes due).  If more money is needed, try a temporary increase in condo fees instead of a special assessment.  It smoothes out the pain and makes collections much easier.
  5. Divide up the work.  If you’re going to do some work yourself, make sure everybody’s on the same page.  Will the association reimburse for the woodchips or paint?  Are residents happy with a flower garden by the front door?  Discussing this in advance can avoid conflict later.

Best of luck and happy spring (when it finally arrives)!

5 Homebuying Mistakes

Mar 11, 2013   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Condominiums, Real Estate, Tips  //  No Comments

Crooked House

I watch the homebuying shows, too.  They give you three options, and you select one.  In real-life homebuying, though, is it that easy?  Well, of course not.  It’s a complicated process with many decisions to make along the way.

When shopping, don’t let the excitement of homebuying distract you from simple ways to make the best-informed deal.  There will always be risks in buying real estate; that’s unavoidable.  However, by doing your homework, you can make an educated decision and avoid these common mistakes.

1. Not being specific.  When you make your offer, don’t assume that you know what’s being included.  If there are any must-have fixtures in the property, specify them in the offer.  You don’t want to be disappointed when you move in to find the key light fixture missing.  You also don’t want to start a bitter fight with the seller over furniture, appliances, or any built-ins.

2. Not reviewing the condo docs.  When buying a condo, you’re buying into a joint enterprise with your neighbors.  When investing in a company, you (hopefully) wouldn’t buy stake without doing any investigation.  A condo is no different.  When making the offer, require the seller to provide you with the condo information for your review.  Take a good look at the condo budget and rules.  Make note of any red flags – repeated litigation, collection difficulties, disorganized records, or abnormally high condo fees.

3. Not checking public information.  While it may take some time at the computer, you can investigate the property and the sellers through some simple public records searches – city/town records, registry of deeds, etc.  When making an offer, it may be helpful to know whether the seller is especially motivated or whether the property has a “history.”

4. Not investigating the surroundings.  After thoroughly researching the home, why not look into the neighboring properties?  Don’t assume that the grassy lot across the street will remain that way.  Look into city records, news articles, zoning rules, property sales for your neighbors.  Although you can’t prevent all development nearby forever, it would be nice to know that a high-rise is planned next door.

5. Not taking advantage of public homebuyer options.  Most cities and towns offer something for homebuyers or developers.  Many of these programs have specific eligibility rules – income limits, geographic zones, property types, and other criteria important to the municipality.  For example, see Salem’s various opportunities.  These offers may not apply to you, but it’s worth checking.

Snow Rules: City-by-City in Massachusetts

Feb 8, 2013   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Tips, Uncategorized  //  No Comments

Today’s snowstorm is creating a lot of … confusion.  The governor has banned private cars from the road, and almost every city has declared a snow emergency.  What does that mean, though?

Well, every city and town in Massachusetts is different.  In Boston, parked cars are banned from main arteries.  In other cities, parking is banned on all streets.  Others have no restrictions at all.

The process of digging out is also very different city-by-city.  Can you save your parking space, or are parking savers banned?  Do you need to shovel out your sidewalk by law?

Here’s a handy guide to city and town snow restrictions in Massachusetts.  Of course, I couldn’t list every Massachusetts city on here.  If I’ve missed yours, I apologize (let me know, though, and I’ll be sure to add it to the next update).

  Snow Emergency Parking Bans Parking Space Savers Shoveling Requirements
Boston No parking on major arteries as signed Allowed for 48 hours after snow emergency ends Required 3 hours after snowfall ends or sunrise
Brookline No parking on any street. Not allowed Required 30 hours after snowfall
Cambridge No parking on 82 designated streets as signed Not allowed Required 12 hours after snowfall or 1pm



No parking on designated streets.  Parking only allowed on even-numbered side of street in even-numbered months, odd-numbered side for odd-numbered months. Unknown Unknown
Everett No parking on designated streets.  Parking only allowed on even-numbered side of street in even-numbered years odd-numbered side for odd-numbered years. Unknown Unknown
Lowell No parking on any street. Not allowed Required 24 hours after snowfall
Lynn No parking on any street. Not allowed Unknown
Malden No parking on designated streets.  Parking only allowed on even-numbered side of street. Unknown Required 24 hours after snowfall
Medford No parking on main arteries as signed.  No parking on even or odd side of street depending on year. Not allowed Required 6 hours after snowfall ends or sunrise
Newton No parking on any street.  Overnight parking banned November 15 – April 15 Not allowed Required 30 hours after snowfall
Quincy No parking on main arteries as signed.  No parking on even- or odd- side of street depending on year. Unknown Requirements vary by zone.  No shoveling requirement for certain residential zones.
Revere No parking on designated streets. Unknown Unknown
Salem No parking on any street. Not allowed No requirement
Somerville No parking on even-numbered side of street Unknown Required 6 hours after snowfall ends or sunrise
Waltham No parking on any street. Not allowed No requirement
Watertown No parking on any street.  No overnight parking during winter. Not allowed Unknown
Woburn No parking on any street. Not allowed Unknown
Worcester No parking on any street. Not allowed Required 10 hours after snowfall


Announcing UrbanVillage Legal

After working with you and becoming part of the community, I am proud to announce the launch of UrbanVillage Legal – a new kind of law office that’s about you and your neighborhood.

We’re here, as we’ve always been, to protect what’s important to you – your home, your condominium, your neighborhood – your urban village.

What’s in a name?  “Urban village” commits us to your neighborhood and our mission.  We’re focused on the most local of concerns that shape your daily life and long-term prosperity.  Everything that we do starts with your home, protecting your most significant emotional and financial investment.

As any urban villager understands, however, your home isn’t independent of its surroundings.  It’s integrally linked to the larger condominium association, neighborhood, and community.

For that reason, we have developed a unique concentration in matters that relate to you – the multifamily resident and investor.

How are we different?  In order to meet your needs and accomplish our local mission, we have designed everything – our approachable environment, streamlined processes, transparent pricing, and on-demand communication – around your expectations.

First, we’re approachable and excited to work with you.  Many of our clients have never worked with attorneys before. We want you to enjoy your interactions with us at every turn, and we avoid the pretense and aloof attitudes too common in legal services.

We’ve also developed streamlined, efficient processes for our work.  If you’re seeking our counsel in a transaction or dispute, we know that you want us to cut the red tape – not create more of it.  For real estate transactions, we know how to collaborate efficiently with your broker to make the sale hassle-free.

For all of our busy clients, we offer 24/7 access to your case online and on-demand.  In one place, you’ll be able to track deadlines, see appointments, and review all case documents.  The online portal not only keeps your case organized – it allows you a transparent look into our work and our billing.

What’s changing?  With the launch of UrbanVillage Legal, we offer expanded services with a continued commitment to our shared local neighborhoods.  Now, more of our services are available for flat rates – taking the guesswork out of your legal costs.

We’ll continue to offer advice and interesting stories at bostoncondolawyer.com, while publishing a weekly newsletter.

We’re as committed as every to our clients and are excited to announce the opening of UrbanVillage Legal, with expanded service offerings and improved client interface.

Thank you.

Evaluating a condo association when buying

Jan 24, 2013   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Condominiums, Real Estate, Tips  //  1 Comment

When you purchase a condo, you’re also buying a stake in the larger condo building or complex.  More than anything else, your neighbors and the association will determine your happiness and return on investment.

While home shopping, you’ve probably evaluated the closet space and checked out the bathrooms.  More importantly, though, have you audited the association?  No?  Well, here’s how to get started:

  1. Get the records.  In the Offer to Purchase (or at least the Purchase and Sale Agreement), require the seller to provide the condo association’s documents, rules, and financial statements by a certain date and at their expense.  In this step, you’re not only interested in the documents’ contents; you’re also interested in how easily you obtain the records.  If a condo association delivers incomplete records or delivers them late, it may be a sign of poor management.
  2. Evaluate the financial statements.  Take a good, hard look at the bank statements and budget.  Verify that it’s reasonable and complete.  Then, take a look at the association’s savings reserve.  As a general rule, an association should have savings equal to at least 10-15% of its annual budget.
  3. Evaluate the documents and bylaws.  In this step, you are looking for two issues.  First, make sure that there are no restrictions that would make your life difficult there – bans on dogs, bans on smoking, etc.  Second, consider what rules are not enforced.  If you see a rule that is openly violated by other unit owners, it may be a sign of weak management.
  4. Verify any special assessments.  When a condo association undertakes a large project, it usually pays for it through special assessments.  In those circumstances, each unit owner is charged their share of the project in a mandatory bill.  This can often be a very large expense.  Get signed verifications from the association and the seller that no special assessments are currently being considered.  If there are special assessments to contend with, factor that into the purchase price.
  5. Verify any litigation.  Like special assessments, you should get verification from the seller and the association that they’re not engaged in or facing any litigation.  Otherwise, you’ll be indirectly dragged into the fight.  Also, ask your attorney to review court dockets and deed records to ensure that no significant legal battles are overlooked.

Using crime statistics in your home search

Jan 16, 2013   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Real Estate, Tips  //  No Comments

A cautious real estate won’t discuss with you crime rates in a particular community.  That’s because they don’t want to violate any antidiscrimination laws or professional regulations.  It’s also because nobody truly knows the likelihood for crime in any given area.

Every intelligent person knows that crime could happen anywhere.  Despite this truth, crime rates remain an important consideration to a homebuyer.  Without encouraging unproductive overreaction or reckless apathy, I encourage homebuyers to take the following steps.

1. Research neighborhood crime statistics.  The City of Boston publishes a very detailed crime map that illustrates reported crimes.  Other communities may offer this same information.

This map will likely prove my first point – crime does and can happen anywhere.  You may notice, however, specific hot spots within a specific neighborhood.  Use this information carefully.  Don’t write off certain neighborhoods or select certain areas solely based on this info.  Instead, use this data as the start of further inquiry.

2.  Get a sense of the area before buying.  If you are considering relocation to a particular neighborhood, pay it a long visit.  Drive the commute, walk the streets, and watch your surroundings.

3. Use the crime data and your observations to identify the specific risks within an area.  Instead of only noting the volume of crime, understand the type of crime common in an area.  That information should guide how you protect your home, your car, and your personal safety.

Where crime is concerned, there is no perfected method to predict the future or to rate neighborhoods.  Enlist your common sense and make use of the wealth of information available.  Most importantly, wherever you settle, take reasonable precautions with your property and your safety.

Winter Parking in Southie Explained

Dec 30, 2012   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Tips  //  1 Comment

This weekend, it looks like some of our neighbors were a bit overeager to break out their parking space savers.  The tradition of saving spaces with markers remains alive and well, whether or not you like it.  As we move ahead into winter, I would like to point you to the Southie rules of parking – both official and not-so-much.

Officially, the city does allow the use of space savers.  They must be removed, however, 48 hours after the snow emergency has been lifted.  When you can start to use them remains somewhat unclear.

In South Boston, the real set of rules doesn’t stop there.  Check out the caught in southie blog for more details.

Making a winning legal argument

Mar 29, 2012   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Tips  //  No Comments

I’ve seen people present some powerful arguments and stutter through some awful ones.  The difference is very clear to the audience – they either understand your point, or they don’t.  If you’re going to make your argument, remember that the key to effective arguments is preparation.  So, try following these tips:

1. Keep it relevant.  For most people, even some lawyers, legal arguments are highly emotional and personal.  After all, you’re before a judge or hearing officer because there’s a long-standing problem that you couldn’t work out with the other side.  It’s very easy, then, to ramble on about how your adversary is the world’s biggest jerk.  I’ve seen many people vent all their frustrations in one long breath.  Don’t do this.  Instead, know the law you’re arguing and keep your arguments to that point.  You can still paint a bad picture of your enemy – but your points better be relevant to the narrow question at hand.

2. Keep it short.  Just like people sometimes inject irrelevant (maybe emotional) points into their arguments, some argue way too much.  More isn’t always more.  By throwing everything you can think of into the argument, you’re clouding your strongest arguments with junk.  Worse, some decisionmakers will assume from a long-winded monologue that your argument is tenuous, weak, and desperate.  So, remember, keep it as short and simple as possible.

3. Keep it organized.  Whether you’re making an argument in writing or orally, draft out an organized set of bullet points.  You may have main arguments, sub-arguments, or even alternate arguments.  Make it clear to your reader or your audience through a well-organized delivery of your points.

4. Address your argument’s weaknesses – never ignore them.  If your legal argument were so clear-cut, you probably wouldn’t even need to make it.  Almost every argument has weaknesses.  It’s ok.  Concede their existence and address why the weaknesses don’t kill your points.  It’s never ok to ignore them.  Doing so would be obvious to an experienced judge or reviewer.  Worse, it gives your opponent the opportunity to pounce first, making you react instead of getting in front of the counterargument.

There are many other tips to follow.  Still, if you’re ever tasked with making a legal argument keep this advice in mind while you’re preparing.  It’ll make you a lot more convincing, credible, and likely to succeed.  Good luck.

Open house season: Tips to follow before you make an offer

Mar 6, 2012   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Real Estate, Tips  //  1 Comment

As spring returns, so do the birds, flowers, and real estate agents.  Open house season is coming, if it isn’t here already.  So, before you get too excited and before you make that first offer on a house or condo, here are some tips:

1.  Engage an attorney before you make an offer.  On this blog, I’ve avoided offering too much self-serving advice.  But here, I’ll make an important exception – get legal counsel before making any offers.

When you make an offer to purchase real estate, you’re entering into a binding contract.  Although the more elaborate purchase and sale agreement will come later, you still want to lock in everything that’s important to you as soon as possible.  Even at this stage, you should be protecting against unanticipated changes in circumstance.  An attorney can help with this.  Plus, many attorneys (including myself) don’t charge anything additional for early-stage work.  I’d much rather help from the beginning than fix things halfway through the process.

2.  Snoop around online.  Use your Googling skills.  Start with online public records.  There, you’ll be able to discover the property’s sales & mortgage history, its listing history, and even some the owners’ personal history.  If it’s a condo, you’ll discover the community rules and the association’s history.

If you’re really up to the challenge, use this information to decipher why the property’s on the market.  Does the seller seem motivated or patient?  Is this condo her nest egg or a miscellaneous investment?  Information is power in negotiation.

3.  Include everything that’s important to you in the offer.  The standard offer form is generic.  Make sure your specific needs and interests are addressed in the offer.  For example:

– In all condos, ask the seller to provide all condo documents and financial records.  Otherwise, you may get stuck paying to obtain this information.

– If parking’s a shared arrangement, identify as precisely as possible the parking to be included.  If parking spaces are numbered, find out the number and specify it on the offer form.

– If you’re unsure of the condominium pet rules, make your right to a dog a condition of the offer.

– If there’s a piece of furniture that makes the place for you, don’t assume it’s included.  Ask for it now.

For more resources, click here.

Condo Quick Tip: Parking Spaces

Feb 25, 2012   //   by Rory Gill   //   All Posts, Condominiums, Tips  //  1 Comment

If you put together a list of “must haves” for your next condo purchase, I bet that a designated parking spot is on there.  In some neighborhoods, having a guaranteed place to leave your car can make a huge lifestyle difference – making both short runs to the store and a trips away for the weekend much less stressful.

So, here’s a tip to make sure that when you buy a parking space, you actually get one.

The Problem: You pay a premium for a parking space, but you don’t get what you bargained for.  You might be sharing undesignated spaces with a bunch of people or getting blocked in by a shared driveway.  Worse, you may not even have a parking space.  In the worst situation I’ve ever encountered, a developer sold space #1 to unit #1, space #2 to unit #2, and space #1 to unit #3.  That’s not a typo – an unscrupulous condo developer sold the same space twice.

The Solution: Step one – On the Offer and Purchase & Sale Agreement, note the specific parking space number(s) shown on a plan or map.  This preserves evidence of the agreement, clarifies your expectations, and solidifies a possible breach of contract claim.  Step Two – have your attorney do a thorough title and public records check to ensure the seller has the right to sell the space.  This will help identify any problems before you buy.  Step Three – get an owner’s policy of title insurance at the time of sale.  If a problem does arise with your right to the space, the title insurance company will pay you for your loss in value.

For more resources, click here.