Real Estate Law On The Internet

A review of Web sites relating to real estate law.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 6/16/1998; LegalResearcher.com; publisher: New York Law Publishing Company

Property law, broadly speaking, consists of real property (or real estate) law and intellectual property law. There are those (including me) that argue that law school curricula spend too much time on the “traditional” law of real property and not enough on intellectual property. The reasoning is that today’s lawyers are more likely to be involved in cases dealing with disputes over copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret disputes that they are to be involved in cases dealing with easements and the like.

At any rate, a well-rounded law practice should be able to handle (or properly refer) both real and intellectual property cases. And since we’ve already covered the latter in this forum, this article will focus on the former (real property law).

There are several federal law sources online related to real properly law, including the United States Court of Federal Claims (http://www.ogc.doc.gov/fedcl/). But, as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” The same is true of real properly law, which is primarily governed by state law.

For those interested in buying or selling real estate, the Virginia Mortgage Clearing House offers an online glossary of real estate and mortgage terms (http://www.vamch.com/reinfo.html). Definitions of such terms as “escrow” and “points” are provided. This is a helpful reference site and is a good example of the sort of value-added content one can provide in this area.

The ABA’s Section of Real Property, Probate and Trust Law (http://www.abanet.org/rppt/home.html) is a helpful resource for practitioners in this area, but there is little to no substantive online content here that would compel nonmembers to return for more.

Mortgage lenders (or those representing them) should check out AllRegs (http://www.allregs.com/), an up-to-date database of state and federal residential mortgage lending guidelines. Free services (including as-they-happen e-mail updates) are available, and there are also fee-based services.

You can also obtain similar information buy going directly to the source.

Many government agencies and corporations have informative Web sites including Fannie Mae (http://www.fanniemae.com/), Freddie Mac (http://www.freddiemac.com/), the Federal Housing Administration (http://www.hud.gov/fha/fhahome.html), the Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.va.gov/), and Ginnie Mae (http://www.ginniemae.gov/).

KnowX (http://www.knowx.com/) offers a comprehensive fee-based searchable database of public records documents. KnowX gets its information primarily from Atlanta-based Information America. Real estate professionals will be interested in the following databases: Bankruptcy Records, Death Records, Judgments, Liens, Law Suites, Real Property Foreclosure Records, Real Property Refinance Records, Real Property Tax Assessor Records, Real Property Transfer Records, and UCC filings.

A couple of law firms are also making strides as pioneers in online real estate research.

Martin Howard Patrick P.A. (http://www.dirtlaw.com/) practices in Florida. His site offers an online mortgage calculator as well as a Florida title search service. Registered uses can receive search results via e-mail.

Robert J. Sciglimpaglia, Jr., Esq. (http://www.titlesearchnet.com/) practices in Connecticut. The firm’s bookstore (http://www.titlesearchnet.com/books.htm) contains books helpful for those buying and selling houses. Plus you can order a title search from the firm, and there are links to local realtor Web sites. In summary, online research in the area of real estate law has not reached the same level of maturity as other online legal research topics. This is most likely due to the fact that many of the databases (such as local title search documents) are still paper-based in many states.

And many of the public records documents that are online are fee-based (such as those from Information America). What is clear is that there is still plenty of room for a law firm or another organization to step up to the plate and act as the FindLaw of real estate law. Until then, a little patience goes a long way.

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