AABANY Presents: Real Estate Closing in the New Norm: The New Rules & Practices

On July 23, AABANY’s Real Estate Committee presented a CLE Program on real estate closings in the COVID-19 era. The panel focused on how the real estate market is adapting to COVID-19 through new rules and practices and detailed the current state of property transactions. Speakers included Jason Wang, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at COMPASS, Wendy Yu, Counsel at Yu Law, and Jane Chen, Associate at Forchelli Deegan Terrana LLP. The program was moderated by Margaret Ling, co-chair of the committee and Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corporation.

Margaret Ling began the panel with an update on the current New York state real estate legal landscape. This included the 202 executive order mandate by Governor Andrew Cuomo, declaring a state of emergency to permit only essential businesses. As a result, most real estate showings are now virtual and transactions are digital. Open houses are permitted only if social distancing measures are maintained.

Jason Wang spoke on his experience as a real estate salesperson at the inception of the pandemic and shared market observations. Because of at-home quarantine, buyers have begun to realize what they want in a home property and so there is a continued demand for property. Additionally, residents who fled New York City during the pandemic on-set may return in the near future and strengthen the real estate market.

Wendy Yu then outlined client protection concerns during virtual transactions. This includes taking into account that many buyers are now making offers without ever seeing property in person, emphasizing the need to place buyer protection clauses in contracts. Other considerations involve death clauses, in case that one party is no longer capable of continuing the transaction, as well as maintaining a flexible approach, so that either seller or buyer may be granted extra transaction time in case of pandemic-related challenges.

Jane concluded the panel by providing insight into co-op property transactions. Specifically, co-op boards that typically meet on a regular basis are now meeting less frequently, making it difficult for potential buyers to be interviewed for acceptance. Furthermore, because co-op boards are responsible for serving the interests of all building residents, it is important for interested buyers to keep in mind the visitor restrictions that exist in these communities.

Thank you to speakers Jason Wang, Wendy Yu, and Jane Chen for their time and insight, and Margaret Ling for moderating. Those interested in learning more about AABANY’s Real Estate Committee can do so here

AABANY Presents: Avoiding Real Property Disputes in Divorce Matters In the Aftermath of COVID-19

On June 25, AABANY presented a CLE Program on divorce property disputes in the context of COVID-19, featuring panelists from practitioners in matrimonial law and real estate law. The panel outlined influences of the pandemic upon real property disputes in divorce proceedings, and recounted actual cases to demonstrate. Speakers included Margaret Ling, Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corp. and Co-Chair of the AABANY Real Estate Committee; Derrick Rubin, trial attorney associate at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates; Jerome Wisselman, Managing Partner at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates; and Irene Angelakis, Founding Owner at Law Offices of Irene Angelakis. 

Derrick Rubin began by discussing the basic considerations of property disputes. Family homes are typically the largest asset, and disputes center around who gets the house, whether or not to sell, or if one spouse should buy out another. Another necessary consideration is the legal theory of equitable distribution, which emphasizes a fair rather than equal distribution of property on the basis of various factors. Some examples include how long the parties were married, their individual needs, and the financial contribution each party made during the marriage.

Margaret Ling then outlined examples from past cases to demonstrate the benefits of in-person dealings and how remote demands of COVID-19 impose challenges. In a Chase Bank refinance transaction, a couple sought a $2 million refinance on their condo. However, the lawyer noticed the husband seemed nervous, the wife was fidgeting, and her identification appeared fake. Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that the husband was in the midst of a divorce and had brought his girlfriend in an attempt to make property adjustments while his wife was traveling — not permitted under domestic relations law which forbids property adjustments without spousal approval. Today, legal transactions that depend upon accurate identification must come up with new solutions. 

Irene Angelakis continued the discussion with tips on how to avoid disputes during the pandemic and also raised ethical considerations. She talked about taking into account pandemic-induced income changes, a common circumstance today, by giving parties more realistic timelines to decide on refinancing. Another involved taking social distancing precautions if both parties decide to sell the house. The most important takeaway is that both parties should try to settle property disputes because the courts and trials are limited options during COVID-19. Irene concluded with the topic of ethics by discussing disclosure requirements, matrimonial retainer agreements, fee disputes and escrow. 

A final topic explored by Jerome Wisselman was asset protection. Asset protection, through prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements, are preventative legal measures taken to avoid property disputes during divorce. Provision of detailed financial statements by both parties, addressing potential future investment returns, and deciding on whether retirement benefits will be separate or together, are necessary for the creation of a fair and accurate asset protection agreement. The main takeaway is that current divorce property disputes that have been further complicated by COVID-19 circumstances may have been avoided if more asset protection agreements existed.

Thank you to all the panelists for their valuable time and insights, and thanks to the Real Estate Committee for organizing this timely and informative CLE program. To view the recording of the CLE, click on the image at the top. If you would like to learn more about AABANY’s Real Estate Committee, click here: https://www.aabany.org/page/120