What Do You Think?

Throughout history, individual acts of defiance have proved to be incredibly powerful. It takes courage to stand alone, but brave individuals often galvanise movements of people who come together and change the world.

Here are some of those moments to inspire you, and remind you that one person, one voice or one action can have a big impact.

1. Salt March led by Gandhi, India, 1930

Salt march led by Mohandas Gandhi, India, 1930

Photo: Pixabay

“We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

When India was a British colony, the British Raj imposed a hefty tax on the import of salt. This affected all Indians regardless of wealth or class, and so had the power to galvanise millions.

The Salt March attracted worldwide attention and sparked a desire to fight for independence within the country. During the speeches he gave over 24 days of the march, Gandhi encouraged followers to boycott salt by making their own. Gandhi was later arrested, but the protest against salt continued during his incarceration. He continued his fight for Indian independence, which came in 1947.

2. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, USA, 1955

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” – Rosa Parks

On 1 December 1955 in Alabama, Rosa Parks decided to defy racial segregation rules by not giving up her seat for a white passenger when asked. Her actions sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, designed to put enough economic pressure on the city to listen. The campaign was so successful, it led to the desegregation of buses by the US Supreme Court. Rosa’s defiance changed the course of civil rights in American history.

3. Emily Davison’s protest for suffrage at the Epsom Derby, United Kingdom, 1913

“Emily Davison clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women. And so she threw herself at the King’s horse, in full view of the King and Queen and a great multitude of their Majesties’ subjects.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

Emily Davison was a women’s suffrage activist. She was imprisoned nine times, and endured force-feeding while on hunger strike. In 1913, her protest at the Epsom Derby resulted in her death, as she was trampled by King George V’s horse. She died of her injuries in hospital four days later. Her intention for the protest has always remained unclear, but she is remembered as a symbol of the struggle undertaken for the right for women to vote.

4. Tommie Smith and John Carlos Olympic protest, Mexico, 1968

Photo: Flickr/pds209

Photo: Flickr/pds209

“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” – Tommie Smith

This photo has been deemed one of the most powerful images in Olympic history. After winning gold and bronze medals in the Men’s 200m Finals, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the national anthem as a political gesture for human rights. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore a human rights badge in support.

5. The Unknown Rebel at the Tiananmen Square Protests, China, 1989

“Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you.” – Tank Man’s words to the tank driver, according to reports

No one knows the identity of this man, who stood in front of army tanks the morning after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. In this act of defiance, “Tank Man” was filmed standing in front of the tanks, and as they tried to move around him, he stepped to block their way. The unknown rebel was able to grind a column of tanks to a halt – a reminder of how small actions can have epic impact.

6. The Self-Immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, Vietnam, 1963

Photo: http://www.reds.vn

As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.” – David Halberstam, Eyewitness

Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in 1963 to highlight the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm in South Vietnam. He used his last words to call on others to organise in solidarity. Images of his protest were circulated around the world and put pressure on the international community to reconsider support for Diệm. Images of Thích Quảng Đức’s protest have been deemed some of the most powerful in history.

7. Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, Burma, 1989 – 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to supporters after her release from house arrest, 2010. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to supporters after her release from house arrest, 2010. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Last month I was released from almost six years of house arrest. The regaining of my freedom has in turn imposed a duty on me to work for the freedom of other women and men in my country who have suffered far more – and who continue to suffer far more- than I have.” – Aung San Suu Kyi after brief release in 1995

Aung San Suu Kyi spent a total of almost 15 years under house arrest, following her electoral win in the 1990 Burmese general elections, as the opposition. This meant being separated from her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, who died of cancer during her incarceration, and her two children. She was released from house arrest on 13 November 2010, and has stated since that she plans to run for the presidency of Myanmar’s (Burma) 2015 elections.

8. Taslima Nasrin’s exile in India from Bangladesh, 1994 – present

Photo: Flickr/thisismylife.co.uk

Photo: Flickr/thisismylife.co.uk

”Come what may, I will continue my fight for equality and justice without any compromise until my death. Come what  may, I will never be silenced.” – Taslima Nasrin

Taslima Nasrin is a Bengali author and former physician, who was forced to live in exile after publishing her novel Lajja in 1993. The novel examines religious extremism and the tension between Muslim and Hindu communities in Bangladesh.  She has also written from personal experience about sexual abuse and women’s rights.  Several of her books remain banned in Bangladesh. Despite her exile, she has continued to write about freedom of thought and women’s equality.

9. Corazon Aquino and the People Power Revolution, Philippines, 1986

Corazon Aquino swears in as President of the Philippines, February 25, 1986. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Corazon Aquino swears in as President of the Philippines, February 25, 1986. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“As I came to power peacefully, so shall I keep it.” – Corazon Aquino

Corazon Aquino was one of the key figures involved in toppling the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos and is remembered for restoring democracy in the Philippines. She rose to prominence following the assassination of her husband Senator Benigno Aquino Jr, one of President Marcos’ biggest critics.

Marcos called for snap elections in 1985, and Corazon Aquino ran for President in opposition. Marcos was declared the winner, despite allegations of electoral fraud, prompting Aquino to call for mass civil disobedience. After defection by the military from Marcos’ regime and the People Power Revolution of 1986, Corazon Aquino was recognized as rightful winner, and inaugurated as the 11th president of the Philippines on 25 February 1986.

What Do You Think?

Sherman’s Field Order No. 15

Original entry byBarton Myers, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, 

09/25/2005Last edited by NGE Staff on 09/29/2020

On January 16, 1865, during the Civil War (1861-65), Union general William T. Sherman issued his Special Field Order No. 15, which confiscated as Union property a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast. The order redistributed the roughly 400,000 acres of land to newly freed Black families in forty-acre segments. Sherman’s order came on the heels of his successful March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah and just prior to his march northward into South Carolina. Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress, like Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, for some time had pushed for land redistribution in order to break the back of Southern slaveholders’ power. Feeling pressure from within his own party, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln sent his secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, to Savannah in order to facilitate a conversation with Sherman over what to do with Southern planters’ lands. On January 12 Sherman and Stanton met with twenty Black leaders of the Savannah community, mostly Baptist and Methodist ministers, to discuss the question of emancipation. Lincoln approved Field Order No. 15 before Sherman issued it just four days after meeting with the Black leaders. From Sherman’s perspective the most important priority in issuing the directive was military expediency. It served as a means of providing for the thousands of Black refugees who had been following his army since its invasion of Georgia. He could not afford to support or protect these refugees while on campaign. The order explicitly called for the settlement of Black families on confiscated land, encouraged freedmen to join the Union army to help sustain their newly won liberty, and designated a general officer to act as inspector of settlements. Inspector General Rufus Saxton would police the land and work to ensure legal title of the property for the Black settlers. In a later order, Sherman also authorized the army to loan mules to the newly settled farmers. Sherman’s Freedmen’s Bureau radical plan for land redistribution in the South was actually a practical response to several issues. Although Sherman had never been a racial egalitarian, his land-redistribution order served the military purpose of punishing Confederate planters along the rice coast of the South for their role in starting the Civil War, while simultaneously solving what he and Radical Republicans viewed as a major new American problem: what to do with a new class of free Southern laborers. Congressional leaders convinced President Lincoln to establish the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands on March 3, 1865, shortly after Sherman issued his order. The Freedmen’s Bureau, as it came to be called, was authorized to give legal title for forty-acre plots of land to freedmen and white Southern Unionists. The immediate effect of Sherman’s order provided for the settlement of roughly 40,000 Black Americans (both refugees and locals who had been under Union army administration in the Sea Islands since 1861). This lifted the burden of supporting the freed people from Sherman’s army as it turned north into South Carolina. But the order was a short-lived promise for Blacks. Despite the objections of General Oliver O. Howard, the Freedmen’s Bureau chief, U.S. president Andrew Johnson overturned Sherman’s directive in the fall of 1865, after the war had ended, and returned most of the land along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it. Although Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 had no tangible benefit for Black citizens after President Johnson’s revocation, the present-day movement supporting reparations has pointed to it as the U.S. government’s promise to make restitution to African Americans for enslavement. The order is also the likely origin of the phrase “forty acres and a mule,” which spread throughout the South in the weeks and months following Sherman’s march.

Deeds by Distance: Which States Are Moving to Remote Notarization?

An update from Deeds.com on the fast-moving evolution of remote online notarization and the standards supporting it.

If you transfer or accept a piece of real estate, notarization of the deed will likely occur. For your deed to be recorded, it is notarized first. Recording puts the world on notice of the conveyance, by updating the county’s public land records.

Today, with so much documentation first going (first) digital and (now) remote, can real estate deeds be notarized from afar? In most states they can. The signers and the notaries can sign and notarize a document digitally (eSigning and eNotarizing it); and notaries are now taking it all one step further: performing their work without the need for in-person appearances by signers.

Doesn’t Notarization Have to Be In-Person, By Definition?

Traditionally, that’s been the case. But technology is pressing changes in property law — especially since the 2020 pandemic closed offices and complicated in-person business.

To be specific, a number of states are now getting on board with remote online notarization (RON). States that use RON allow their notaries to use audio-video tools, including webcams, to officiate and record the remote signing — in-state and sometimes interstate, too. Interest in RON was greatly accelerated by state governors’ stay-at-home rules, because once offices closed, states without RON suddenly found themselves lagging behind. So, 2020 was a milestone year for the RON trend.

Lawmakers in Nearly All States are Developing or Have Already Implemented RON.

This includes Maryland, Washington, and Wisconsin. Arizona’s governor issued an Executive Order to speed up the state law that to enable signers and notaries to meet virtually, so its RON legislation is now in full effect. New Jersey’s legislature enacted a remote online notarization law in April 2020. Alaska’s RON law was enacted in April as well. Nebraska and Iowa have sped up adoption through those states’ emergency rules. RON bills were also recently introduced by legislators in Colorado, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Mississippi. And at last, South Carolina has a bill in the works to enable and standardize RON.

States are implementing remote data security standards from the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization, which are intended “for broad use across the entire residential mortgage industry.” Moreover, mortgage specialists can now refer to guidance from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for RON use in 42 states. Both entities direct the remote online notary public to use:

  • Multi-factor identity verification, a government photo ID with a signature, and credential analysis.
  • Tamper-sealed documents — meaning the remote online notary would attach the e-Signature and seal to the RON certificate with a method that automatically flags any future alterations to the notarized document.
  • Ample system security.
  • A secure electronic journal, which holds audio-visual evidence of identity.
  • A backup of the files.
  • Storage for seven years or as directed by state law.

The hope for many in the property technology (“proptech”) field is that closing on homes can be done electronically from start to finish. Given that federal standards are already in the works, states that have resisted the trend are now satisfied that the notary component can be done safely, and are moving forward with policy-making.

What About the RON Holdouts?

Oregon and a handful of other states have been RON holdouts. Let’s face it: switching to online methods isn’t exactly easy for a process focused for so many generations on in-person witnessing. The transition to RON wasn’t immediately universal, and there is plenty of concern about this new way of working.

Significantly, California is still not allowing RON. How do people in the state handle the need for remote services when offices are closed? Some essential services (UPS and FedEx) provide notaries. Or people call on mobile notaries. Some attorneys recommend the use of out-of-state notary. RON can be done from Nevada, Florida, Virginia or elsewhere for Californians, insofar as the remote online notarization is valid in the state in which the notarization occurs. In contrast, some RON-enabling states — Maryland and Utah are two examples — require the remote notary and the signer to be in the same state when notarization occurs.  

Potential legislative change in California could arrive through new notary provisions. A bill was introduced to permit RON during a state of emergency, but it died. As California did not issue emergency authorization for RON, the California Lawyers Association has pressed the Secretary of State for action on the matter. In the long term, AB 2424 could make RON permanently available in California. We shall see.

The Mortgage Bankers Association and the American Land Title Association (in a collaboration called MBA-ALTA) have created model legislation for states to follow. Several states have temporary versions of RON, or provisions that do not comport with MBA-ALTA standards. And even where states have enacted laws to support robust RON provisions, in-person notarization is still available and some lenders expect it to be used. Applying RON to a real estate transaction, notaries and title companies must review and follow their state RON provisions, and the rules put in place by the underwriters and lenders as well.

Is your state updating its notary laws? Check with the American Society of Notaries, which keeps tabs on new and pending legislation.

What Will a Uniform, Nationwide RON Standard Look Like?

As noted above, MBA-ALTA model legislation is available as a guide for states. The associations note that it’s essential to label the RON as an online notarization, differentiating it clearly from an in-person event. As ALTA explains, to be consistent with MBA-ALTA rules, a state RON law would “require disclosure of the fact of remote online notarization in the notarial certificate.”

Signers should have the choice to opt for RON or conventional notarization, according to MBA-ALTA, and the associations also insist that limits on the technology or brands not be adopted by federal law. The idea is to support fair competition in the marketplace for RON and eClosing platform vendors, and to allow innovation.

Of course, there are minimum security standards in the MBA-ALTA model, including:

  • Several forms of identity verification required, including photo ID, proofing and credential analysis.
  • Storage of an audio/video recording to show the act of notarization.
  • Conformity to already existing laws covering electronic recording.

The MBA-ALTA model was designed to promote interstate RON standards, and to align government agencies with other entities and affirm best practices in real estate documentation.

Nationwide RON Implementation Is Now in Sight.

It looks like the next step will be a nationally uniform law authorizing RON. The Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020 would set national standards for both eNotarizations and RON. If enacted, it will enable notaries throughout the United States to perform RON for customers who opt in. It will mandate fraud-resistant technology to prevent deed fraud. The Secure Act has widespread, bipartisan support.

Not only does this developing legal story point to more consumer convenience; it also stands to make the U.S. real estate market much more accessible to interstate and international buyers, for whom a physical trip to the closing is currently a major hurdle.

Buying a house from outside the United States. Making an international real estate sale? Review the Deeds.com guide to international real estate transactions.  

Would you by a home completely online? A growing number of people believe that the gains in transparency would be as important as the security measures. One thing is certain: new generations of real estate buyers will have digital options that were unthinkable just a few years ago. 

Should a House Be in an Irrevocable Trust?

Image of a side of a house from the ground looking up. Captioned: Should a House Be in an Irrevocable Trust?

A home can go into an irrevocable trust. But giving up control over a primary residence is not something most owners want to do. The owner lets go of the “incidents of ownership” and the house goes under a separate tax ID, with taxes filed by a trustee. The owner might continue living in the home, but the house essentially becomes a vessel to hold property for the named beneficiaries.

Any homeowner’s financial circumstances and goals can change, and so can their relationships with potential beneficiaries: family, friends, and charities. This is why an irrevocable trust makes sense only in rare situations.

The Irrevocable Trust Differs From a Living Trust.

Trusts can hold assets, including houses, for chosen beneficiaries. The trustee is the party who handles the trust’s expenses, who hires an accountant to files its taxes (if it generates income), and who serves as a dependable steward on behalf of the beneficiary.

The trustee can be a competent adult or a corporation. There are lawyers and professional services available to manage trusts.

As a homeowner, you could be the trustee for your own living trust, also called a revocable trust. The revocable trust remains under your control and your personal tax ID, and you can take the house out of it or change the beneficiary as you see fit. You may end the trust, remove the house from the trust, or change your designated beneficiaries.

But once the house title is conveyed to the irrevocable trust, you’ve given it up to the trust, which will own it throughout your life. You cannot change the beneficiary from, say, your child to a charity. You cannot modify the terms, such as the timing in the agreement for your child to receive the assets. And you may not, of course, revoke this kind of trust.

Selling the house — during or after the trust creator’s life — is not the trust creator’s role but rather the trustee’s job to initiate, if the home’s title is not ultimately conveyed to the beneficiaries. The trustee can hire a real estate agent. Most do, as hiring a professional will assure the beneficiaries that the transaction was professionally handled.

Granted, most states do allow irrevocable trusts to be modified with the consent of the impacted parties, unless they are minors. But state law may require a court order or a non-judicial settlement agreement — a binding agreement tantamount to a judge’s order. Rigid arrangements like this don’t normally make sense for a house, which owners might like to borrow against or sell when they see fit.

In What Situations Do Irrevocable Trusts Work?

Four key reasons homeowners consider creating irrevocable trusts are these:

1. To minimize estate taxes on highly valuable properties.

Needless to say, the average homeowner doesn’t have this problem. As of 2021, federal estate tax applies only to taxpayers who have at least $11,700,000 in assets per person. Some states have their own estate tax and their own threshold, which can be lower.

Some trusts are set up to skip taxation until the second person in a couple dies. There are also generation-skipping trusts, which bypass tax for the children of the trust creator. These can be effective methods to preserve wealth for people with large estates. Keep in mind that nobody knows for sure what the threshold for estate taxes will be when they pass on. Federal and state tax policies change as government administrations change.

2. To preserve eligibility for long-term care. 

By letting go of ownership of a home and placing it into an irrevocable trust, a person may be able to obtain Medicaid support for long-term care if needed. While Medicaid cannot force anyone to sell their home, the cost of long-term care is a lienable debt. This means Medicaid will sell the debtor’s house after death to reclaim its costs.  

By transferring home ownership to an irrevocable trust, though, a person can keep the home until it passes to the chosen beneficiaries. This is what’s meant by the term Medicaid trust. For this to work, the house must be in the trust at least five years before Medicaid support is tapped. Before selling and buying a new house with the proceeds, the beneficiaries should know that the trust must sell the house and the trust must be buying another — to keep the value protected by the trust.

3. To shield assets.

Assets can be protected from creditors by an irrevocable or asset protection trusts. Where these methods are available under state law, they can be helpful to professionals whose work could be subject to lawsuits. That said, courts may order the protective shield lifted for fairness to prevail in a given case. And as with the Medicaid trusts, the trust’s asset protection is not effective immediately.

Pro tip: Both the availability of asset protection trusts and the need for them vary depending on the home’s state. In some states, homestead laws already shield primary residences from creditors to some extent.

4. To provide for a beneficiary’s special needs.

Some homeowners transfer their houses into revocable trusts to provide for children or adults who are disabled and need support. If providing for others’ special needs, the trust can be set up as revocable or irrevocable.  

These goals are clearly different, and no trust is one-size-fits all. The trust agreement will be customized to fit its case-specific goals.

Alternatives to an Irrevocable Trust

Other trusts are also will substitutes. If your house is put into a revocable trust, the home transfer avoids the time and cost of probate, and your beneficiaries have immediate access to the house. There are several other strategies to avert probate, including looking at your title vesting options.

Or you might consider:

  • A Revocable Trust. Create a revocable trust to pass a home to non-spouse beneficiaries, and you can take that asset back if necessary. Revocable trusts ultimately bypass probate yet stay within the owner’s control, in the owner’s estate, and under the owner’s social security number throughout life. They can hold assets for a child or children, and distribute their value in increments, as young adults reach the specified ages.
  • A Life Estate. As a life tenant, an owner can live at home for life, then pass a beneficiary the remainder interest in the property. By passing from one resident owner to the next in the form of a remainder, the home circumvents probate. The title has both names on it, but only one has the right to live in it at a time.
  • An Enhanced Life Estate Deed. Some states allow enhanced life estate deeds, also called lady bird deeds. These are revocable. They enable their life tenants to sell or take loans out on the property if they so choose, change the remainder beneficiary, or take back the interest. 

Note that a trust created as revocable in life will become irrevocable once its creator dies or becomes incapacitated. At that point the trust cannot be amended or revoked. It then becomes an entity in itself, and its successor trustee must obtain a separate tax identity for it, and ensure that any remaining debts tied to a home in the trust are properly paid.

Bottom Line? It’s Complicated.

All the applicable legal rules must be carefully followed with an irrevocable trust. Otherwise, its protections can be lost. In some circumstances, and in some states, real estate may be taken out of Medicaid trusts. In other situations, assets in irrevocable trusts may be accessible for reverse mortgages. These activities depend on bank guidelines, and receipt of the beneficiaries’ permission. Putting a home with a mortgage into a trust is especially tricky, and involves significant advance planning and communication.

Consult a wills, estates and trusts attorney for case-specific guidance. An experienced attorney in your state can draft a trust agreement that is valid and effective — one that optimizes the potential financial and tax benefits of the irrevocable trust in your state.

Photo credits: Chris Mok and Guillaume de Germain, via Unsplash. Deed,com

The Abstract of Title in Real Estate: What Is It?

Image of a stack of legal documents for real estate. Captioned: The Abstract of Title in Real Estate


An abstract of title is a written chronology of all recorded documents and proceedings related to a specific piece of real estate. It shows the names of all the owners, how long each held title, and what each paid for the property.

The abstract is used for verifying a property’s marketability. The abstract offers assurance that the property is just as the seller represents it, both in the accuracy of its physical description and the integrity of its title.

The classic title abstract goes back in history to the earliest available records—sometimes as far back as the original land grant or patent deed from the U.S. government.

The abstractor of title is the person who researches this history, summarizes the relevant documents, and certifies the binder as true and complete.

Who Is the Abstractor?

The first abstractors were attorneys. Today’s abstractor studies under an experienced abstractor and may be licensed by the state. For example, an Oklahoma abstractor is licensed by the state board.

In other states, an attorney who earns a commission on the title insurance product is the same person who prepares the abstract.

Today’s abstractors typically research a property by searching county records and by using records already stored in their abstract plants—sites managed by title-insurance companies to hold copies of documents. Counties typically store their records by year. A property’s complete title history may be contained by numerous record books, and is time-consuming to find. (That said, expect the process to evolve as real estate market data generally becomes more accessible and high-tech.)

The abstractor must have sharp analysis skills. Abstractors must recognize which documents could be erroneous or void. For example, an abstractor in Ohio might find a recent transfer on death deed. The provision of the Ohio Revised Code that governs the deed requires the grantor to file an affidavit with the county prior to death. If the deceased did not record the legally required affidavit before death, the abstractor must determine that the deed is void and that the real estate remained vested in the grantor’s estate. 

What Else Does the Abstraction Process Uncover?

A seller could be asked to produce an abstract to uncover any interests others might have in the property, or whether some unknown party could have reason to challenge a buyer’s ownership. Thus, the abstractor is responsible for finding all major transactions and legal issues, and for including:

  • Mortgages and liens. Liens for property taxes, mortgage loans, homeowners’ association dues, or any other lenders’ interests must be resolved or good title could be destroyed.
  • Subdivision and homeowners’ association restrictions. The buyer needs to know what can and cannot be done with a property.
  • Lot and block diagrams; plat maps.
  • Surveys. Any encroachments, such as fences over the boundary, should appear in the surveyor’s notes.
  • Easements. Right of ways or utility access can create areas the buyer is restricted from fencing off or developing.
  • Pertinent wills, deeds, lawsuits, or tax sales.

Once the abstractor finishes, a title company has a comprehensive summary of the condition of the title, and can insure it accordingly.

How Does an Abstract Differ From a Title Report?

A recorded property deed specifies on its face whether it is recorded with the county recorder or the office of the registrar. If it is the registrar, and the deed is kept through a torrens system, there is no abstract. In this case the court issues a Certificate of Title.

No state requires an abstract to effect a legal property conveyance. Yet lenders nationwide do make loans contingent on a title insurance report. In some states, a title insurer prepares (and is responsible for the accuracy of) the report, which is treated as tantamount to an abstract. The abstract, though, is designed to rule out any clouds on title. In contrast, the title report simply enables the purchase of title insurance. This runs the risk over simply “insuring over” the title defects.

On the other hand, it is possible that defects in title may escape the abstractor’s attention. Title insurance protects the buyer, and is normally available based on a cost-effective title report through which the title insurer inspects the title’s condition. The insurance covers resolution costs for unknown defects covered by the policy.

Another process that applies in some states is the 40-year search. Information gleaned from this process can serve as the basis for title insurance. For example, Ohio’s marketable title provision states that “any person claiming an interest in land may preserve and keep effective the interest” by filing a notice for the record “during the forty-year period immediately following the effective date of the root of title of the person whose record title would otherwise be marketable.” ​In some states the marketable title act could require checking back over a different term of years.

Who May Obtain an Abstract of Title?

Abstracts, or updated abstracts, are expensive, bound documents. The real estate attorney who certifies a title orders and obtains them.

Yet, assuming an abstract exists, anyone may read most documentation it contains at the county courthouse.

Many people do this when researching history of genealogical or architectural significance. For example, a researcher may wish to nominate a property to the National Register of Historic Buildings. The abstract may reveal connections with significant historical figures, and the early names of a property as well as the construction and renovation dates.

For ordinary properties, the county recorder of deeds can tell the seller if an abstract is available, based on the property’s legal description.

Abstract States?

Regardless of whether a state has a reputation as an “abstract state,” every state requires an expert review of a title’s history. Therefore, a title report and an abstract of title will include much similar information.

Which is needed? Check the state’s marketable title provision, local custom, and the underwriter’s insurance requirements.

In any case, a title’s quality must be rigorously assessed.

And the chronology of a place continues.

These Eye-Catching Bricks Are Made from Textile Waste

Fab BRICK upcycles clothes into bricks that are great thermal, acoustic insulators.

By Katherine MartinkoPublished March 5, 2021 01:44PM ESTFact checked by Haley Mast

FabBRICK brick

Clarisse Merlet was a French architecture student in 2017 when she became alarmed about the amount of textile waste created each year. In France, it’s estimated to be around 4 million tons, and that’s just a fraction of what gets tossed globally; it was 17 million tons in the United States three years ago.1 Very little of that discarded clothing is collected for reuse or recycling – less than a third in France, and half of that (15%) in the U.S.

At the same time, Merlet was aware of diminishing natural resources and the tremendous waste inherent in the construction industry. Surely there was a better way to build that reduced demand for virgin material and make use of resources that have already been extracted? That’s how she came up with the idea for FabBRICK, her award-winning company that makes decorative and insulative bricks out of old clothes.https://a02ae06bd5941fc6f73695415cca7f6d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

FabBRICK in a retail store
FabBRICK bricks used to make a display shelf. FabBRICK

The basic component of the bricks is shredded clothing, which Merlet purchases pre-ground from a supplier in Normandy. Each brick uses the equivalent of two to three T-shirts’ worth of material and, as a FabBRICK representative told Treehugger, any kind can be used – “not just cotton, [but also] polyester, elastane, PVC, etc.” The scraps are mixed with an ecological glue that Merlet developed herself, then pressed into a brick mold. This mold uses mechanical compression to form the bricks, so it requires no energy beyond what a human worker needs to press it down. The wet bricks are removed from the mold and set out to dry for two weeks before using.

When it comes to construction, the bricks cannot be used for structural work, but Merlet said she’s working on that and hopes they can be at some point. For now, they are fire- and moisture-resistant, and make an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator. They’re suitable for room partitions and decorative walls in retail stores (particularly fitting where clothes are sold). The bricks, which can be ordered in four different sizes, are used to make furniture such as lamps, tables, stools, and more. 

From the company’s website: “Since our creation at the end of 2018, we have already designed more than 40,000 bricks which represent 12 tons of recycled textiles.” FabBRICK does commissions for retailers and companies that want specialized bricks, such as the famous Parisian shopping center Galeries Lafayette that has ordered a handmade series, and Vinci Construction that’s turning its own worksite wear into stools and lamps. The process appeals to many companies because, as explained to Treehugger, FabBRICK “can personalize the color of your wall with the clothes you decide to recycle.” https://www.treehugger.com/embed?www.instagram.com.googlesyndication.com/html

In an interview with Novethic, Merlet shows a prototype of a brick made from shredded surgical masks – an interesting potential use for some of the pandemic-related waste we now see worldwide. She says, “We don’t yet know how we’re going to sell it, because it still has to pass a number of laboratory tests, notably fire tests,” but the idea is to build some small furniture pieces and see how they work.

The company is still small and fairly new, but the idea is exciting. With such a surplus of clothing in the world, it makes perfect sense to use all that cotton, wool, polyester, and more in ways that prolong their life and replace other materials that would have to be extracted from the Earth. Merlet is on to something great here, and hopefully continues to get enthusiastic support for her work from companies around the world.

Homebuilder confidence drops as interest rates and lumber prices rise

A contractor works on a house under construction at the Norton Commons subdivision in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Monday, March 8, 2021.

A contractor works on a house under construction at the Norton Commons subdivision in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Monday, March 8, 2021.Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A monthly index measuring homebuilder confidence in the single-family housing market fell, as builders face rising interest rates and rising costs for materials, especially lumber.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index fell 2 points to 82 in March. Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment. The index stood at 72 in March 2020 and hit a high of 90 in November.

The latest results indicate that the housing industry might be in for a rough patch even as the economy roars back.

“Though builders continue to see strong buyer traffic, recent increases for material costs and delivery times, particularly for softwood lumber, have depressed builder sentiment this month,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke, a builder from Tampa, Florida. “Supply shortages and high demand have caused lumber prices to jump about 200% since last April.”

Of the index’s three components, current sales conditions fell 3 points to 87. Sales expectations in the next six months increased 3 points to 83, and buyer traffic was unchanged at 72.

A record low supply of homes for sale has caused prices for existing and newly built homes to rise quickly. Higher costs for builders are only exacerbating the situation, as these costs are being passed on to buyers. The median price of a newly built home was up more than 5% year over year in January.

“While single-family homebuilding should grow this year, the elevated price of lumber is adding approximately $24,000 to the price of a new home,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the NAHB. “And mortgage interest rates, while historically low, have increased about 30 basis points over the last month.”

Rising costs are particularly hard on first-time homebuyers, as the supply on the lower end of the market is leanest. Any increase in mortgage rates also knocks some buyers out of the market, not just because monthly payments are higher but because in today’s tight lending market, they will no longer qualify for the loan.  

Regionally, on a three-month moving average, builder sentiment in the Northeast rose 2 points to 80. In the Midwest it fell 1 point to 80 and in the South dropped 2 points to 82. In the West, sentiment fell 3 points to 90.


How Rooftop Solar Benefits Your Neighbors

Homeowners who install solar on their roofs lower electricity costs for those around them, new study finds.

By Sami GroverPublished February 12, 2021 11:09AM ESTFact checked by Haley Mast

Cute house

Ever since rooftop solar became cheap enough to start proliferating, there has been debate about fairness and equity. Specifically, some have argued that policies like net metering – where utility companies are required to pay for excess electricity that homeowners produce – are simply foisting costs on the rest of society.https://161d38c52457a9faeb8c831c09902a77.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

But now, new research led by Joshua Pearce, a professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University, has not only discredited this assertion, but he’s actually shown that the opposite is true.1 On average, homeowners who install solar on their roofs are helping to stabilize the grid, and as such, they are actually lowering electricity costs for their neighbors.

Here’s how Pearce described the value that solar brings:

“Anyone who puts up solar is being a great citizen for their neighbors and for their local utility. Customers with solar distributed generation are making it so utility companies don’t have to make as many infrastructure investments, while at the same time solar shaves down peak demands when electricity is the most expensive.”

distributed generation

Distributed generation refers to technologies that generate electricity at or near where it will be used. Distributed solar energy in the residential sector commonly includes rooftop and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic panels, which are typically connected to the local utility distribution grid. 

Specifically, the study highlighted several ways that distributed solar contributes to the broader energy grid, including:https://161d38c52457a9faeb8c831c09902a77.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

  • Avoided operation and maintenance costs.
  • Reduced demand for fuel.
  • Reduced need for new capacity.
  • Fewer plants on standby.
  • Less need for power lines.
  • Fewer health impacts from pollution.

And that’s apparently before even taking into account the massive inequities that the climate crisis will bring. According to Pearce and his co-author, rather than worrying about folks with solar being unfairly subsidized by those without, we should be talking about making sure that solar owners are being adequately compensated for the service they are providing to society.

The authors hope that their research can serve as a starting point for getting a more accurate picture of the societal-level economics of distributed solar, therefore allowing utility companies to better understand the value that investing in distributed solar could bring. Of course, even fully decarbonizing the electric grid is not going to get society to where it needs to go, but the study also looked at ways that solar could be combined with heat pumps to start decarbonizing home heating too. Perhaps surprisingly for those who think green tech is expensive, Pearce’s research suggested that solar-plus-heat-pumps offers a viable path to decarbonize and, ultimately, a profitable return on household investment too:https://161d38c52457a9faeb8c831c09902a77.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“Our results suggest northern homeowners have a clear and simple method to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by making an investment that offers a higher internal rate of return than savings accounts, CDs and global investment certificates in both the U.S. and Canada. Residential PV and solar-powered heat pumps can be considered 25-year investments in financial security and environmental sustainability.”

Such research is critically important if renewables are going to thrive. Not only does it help dispel some of the myths or oversimplifications about equity, but it also serves as a counterpoint to overtly political narratives that have been pushed by certain parties that benefit from polarization.

In her book, “Short Circuiting Policy,” clean energy expert Leah Stokes laid out how such concerns have been weaponized by fossil fuel interests and utility lobbyists. Not only have they been used to force rollbacks of specific net metering policies, but Stokes argued that they have also been used to drive political partisanship and division – essentially helping paint the picture of clean energy in general, and solar in particular, as being the purview of “coastal elites” and well-to-do environmentalists:

 “At the same time that these interest groups lobbied for retrenchment and repeal, public opinion and legislators’ positions on clean energy policy became increasingly polarized. Through lobbying politicians and regulators, and driving polarization in the parties, the public, and the courts, these opponents often succeeded in weakening clean energy laws.”2

While one study on one aspect of the ongoing clean energy revolution is unlikely to reverse these forces, it does offer the hope that as costs come down – and societal benefits become clearer and harder to refute – it will become politically more feasible to enact genuinely pro-renewables policy. In the same way that solar megaprojects can help demonstrate the jobs that clean energy will bring, distributed solar may help to provide a tangible demonstration of how doing the right thing for the climate crisis can also mean doing the right thing by your neighbors.

A homebuyer’s guide to a competitive housing market

African couple standing on terrace hold keys of new house

Millions of people are locking in their dream to own a home. So, what’s stopping you from the exciting homeownership journey? Despite the fact that low housing inventory is making it a competitive market, people are still buying and listing homes. It’s simply up to you to take ownership of your home-buying dream, and we’re here to help with this homebuyer’s guide.  

If you’re wondering where to begin, a good place to start is learning how to position yourself as the most attractive buyer in a handful of offers. We asked two housing experts who have a history of helping their clients buy homes amid strong competition for advice, so you can distinguish yourself as a serious buyer in today’s fast-paced market.

Lean on trusted advisors. Think of your real estate agent and loan officer as the foundation of your home-buying journey. They support you through the whole process and are the people you will continuously rely on. This is why Donnell Williams, president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, highly recommends using a trusted advisor, because you need someone working on your behalf. Williams adds that choosing an area expert in your market will prove crucial to your ultimate success.

Part of this trust is also on you. “Honesty is the best policy,” says Williams. “So, when you’re working with your trusted advisor, lay all your cards on the table.” If you’re getting financial help from your parents for the down payment, let them know. If you have a really strict timeline for when you need to be out of your current residence, let them know. These details are crucial in their being able to properly support you.

Get pre-approved. There’s power in getting pre-approved in a competitive housing market. Sam Bhandal, a Home Lending Officer at Citi, says that getting pre-approved helps homebuyers figure out what their home purchase price point is, so they know what range they should be shopping in.

What does getting pre-approved entail? Bhandal explains that you should have financial documents such as bank statements, pay stubs and tax returns ready for your loan officer. This way, they can give you a pre-approval letter that comes with a firm commitment to lend, giving you and your offer a potential edge over other buyers. Bhandal compares it to doing all of your homework up front and getting everything out of the way that pertains to your finances, so you are solid when you go to make an offer.

For their part, home sellers want a smooth transaction with a qualified buyer and a contract with a strong likelihood of closing on time, and without hiccups. Having all your ducks in a row as a buyer will keep you feeling confident and positive throughout the process, says Bhandal. 

Be ready to move fast. Once your pre-approval is in hand, you’re ready to look at homes with added peace of mind. Here’s where timing can be everything. It’s not only you who needs to be ready to move fast; your real estate agent and loan officer need to be ready, too. On one side, you and your real estate agent must be ready to look at prospective homes as soon as possible. Wait too long and it’s likely a sale is already pending.

Maintain an open line of communication with your lender, so they can tailor your pre-approval letter to the specific home you intend to put an offer on and help you calculate what your monthly expenses for that specific home price would be.

Solid preparation at the onset is the ultimate key to success, especially in a competitive market, according to Citi’s Bhandal. After you laid the groundwork, the second stage is creating an offer that will stand out.

Figure out where you can be flexible. Two of the most effective tactics home shoppers can leverage to win a bidding war, according to Williams, are price and terms. “Determine what your highest competitive bid could be, and then come up with your terms,” he says.  Escalation clauses—which Williams highlights as one option that can be included in your offer to make it more competitive—tell the seller that if they get another offer that’s higher than your offer, you are willing to up your offer by an amount you prescribe.

On the flipside, being flexible also means not including some terms in your offer, such as requiring the seller to include the washer and dryer in the sale if those weren’t listed among the appliances that are staying. On the buyer’s side, “a contingency clause is a negative,” Williams says. “The other competitive offers are not going to have contingencies in their offer, so that’s going to be an impediment to your offer.”

Open communication with the seller’s agent can also be key. Consider reaching out routinely to them to determine the seller’s number one priority. Is it to close quickly? If so, the seller may be more willing to negotiate on price. Or, is their top priority being able to rent back their old home from the new owners for a few weeks until they close on their next home? If so, your offer would stand out if you create flexibility on your own move-out time.

The final touchesCover letters, or love letters as they are sometimes called, are one way to communicate directly with the seller and stand out in a field of bidders. This is your chance to let the seller know why this specific house is perfect for you. Is this your dream home because it’s close to your parents? Is it your dream home because it shortens your drive to work and lets you spend more time at home with family? Let the seller know these things.

You can also use a cover letter to affirm your employment stability, your proactive stance in providing documents, and anything else that strengthens your position.

Lastly, Williams suggests asking for a group call to present your offer if it’s an option. This allows you to present your offer in your words with no preconceived notions from the seller getting in the way.

And while you might go through this process a handful of times in a competitive market, Bhandal explains it well when he says, “This is an exciting and positive process. We may have some obstacles, but everybody involved in the transaction is an expert in­­­­­­ their own way, and they’re going to help you come across that finish line.”

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