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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
Coloradoan Archives

January 25, 1999: Selling House without a Lawyer; Collateral

Q: Why can't I get you lawyers out of my life? I just wanted to sell my house by myself and not have to pay a bunch of lawyers and realtors. But the title company won't issue a policy without having a lawyer involved.

A: When conveying real property, Colorado is one of the easiest states for a buyer and seller to process the legal paperwork without realtors or lawyers. Since the seller should guarantee that marketable title can be transferred, a title company will issue a title policy for the parcel.

In selecting a title company, the seller needs to ask if the company will also do the closing and if so, what the cost would be (generally $75 to $200).

Why then an attorney? Reasons vary but I have been told that title companies want to be sure that there is a binding contract before a lot of time and expense is invested in preparing the title commitment and to be sure there is an enforceable agreement to close.

The title companies don't care whether the sales contract is prepared solely by the seller and buyer without an attorney (although I do not think that would be wise) as long as an attorney reviews it and states it is valid (cost can range from $20 to $75). In most other states much more would be required to close.

There is not enough time or column space to discuss other significant and practical reasons to involve an attorney in the process, but as in life, you can be penny wise and a dollar short. In general, I would urge the seller and buyer to tap legal expertise in such an important and major event.

Q: I was holding horses as collateral until the owners paid me for boarding them. But while I was gone, the owners took them and I can't get the sheriff to do anything.

A: There is an old legal chestnut that says possession is nine-tenths of the law. But like many such bromides, it is usually wrong and worse yet, gives rise to legal and criminal liability against the one doing the possessing.

But in your case it holds some truth. As long as you maintained possession of the horses (and you had a legal right to do so against everyone including the owner), your "lien" was good. But once you lost possession, you lost your lien. The debt is still there but your claim to holding (or maybe selling) the horses is gone. You now need to go to court and reduce your claim to a judgment and then enforce the judgment.

I know that it is frustrating when a law enforcement agency says this kind of thing is a civil matter. And yes, any attorney could run off a long list of alleged "crimes" that were probably triggered by the owners when the horses were taken. But you need to put all of that behind you. These so-called possessory liens have been drastically modified, so be sure to call your attorney before you try to exert one in another context.

Q: A cornucopiously cacophonous chorus? Tell the truth. All you got for Christmas was a lousy dictionary and you decided to take your frustration out on the readers of your column.

A: Actually, the dictionary I used is the one that all of us were required to buy when I was a Windsor Wizard (go corn and wine!) and in Mrs. McCall's English class. But since there have been so many new words added over the years, I probably should get a new one. Christmas is only 336 days away (hint hint)!

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