You wouldn’t walk around with a financial statement taped to your back, would you? Then why are you holding title to your real estate in your own name? Whether it’s your personal residence or your rental properties, you are a “sitting duck” for disgruntled tenants, ex-employees, ex-spouses, the IRS and their attorneys. Real estate is very public, and ownership is public record for anyone to view online. The solution to this problem is land trusts.
Land trusts are a very powerful tool for the savvy real estate investor. A land trust is a revocable, living trust used specifically for holding title to real estate. Each property is titled in a separate trust, affording maximum privacy and protection.
Here are seven reasons to use land trusts for titling property to real estate.
1. Privacy. In today’s information age, anyone with an internet connection can look up your ownership of real estate. Privacy is extremely important to most people who don’t want others knowing what they own. For example, if you own several properties within a city that has strict code enforcement, you could end up being hauled into court for too many violations, even minor ones. Having your real estate titled in land trusts makes it difficult for city code enforcement to find who the owner is since the trust agreement is not public record for everyone to see.
2. Protection from liens. Real estate titled in a trust name is not subject to liens against the beneficiary of the trust. For example, if you are dealing with a seller in foreclosure, a judgment holder or the IRS can file a claim against the property in the name of the seller. If the property is titled into trust, the personal judgments or liens of the seller will not attach to the property.
3. Protection from title claims. If you sign a warranty deed in your own name, you are subject to potential title claims against you if there is a problem with the title to the property. For example, a lien filed without your knowledge could result in liability against you, even if you purchased title insurance. A land trust in your place as the seller will protect you personally against many types of title claims because the claim will be limited to the trust. If the trust already sold the property, it has no assets and thus limits your exposure to title claims.
4. Discouraging Litigation. Let’s face it, people tend to only sue others who appear to have money. Attorneys who work on contingency are only likely to take cases which they can not only win but collect since their fee is based on the collection. If your properties are hard to find, you will appear “broke” and less worth suing. Even if a potential plaintiff thinks you have assets, the difficult prospect of finding and attaching these assets will discourage litigation against you.
5. Protection from HOA Claims. When you take title to a property in a homeowner’s association (HOA), you become personally liable for all dues and assessments. This means if you buy a condo in your own name and the association assesses an amount due, they can place a lien on the property and/or sue you PERSONALLY for the obligation! Don’t take the title in your name in an HOA, but instead take the title in land trusts so that the trust itself (and thus the property) will be the sole recourse for the homeowner’s association’s debts.
6. Making contracts assignable. The ownership of a land trust (called the “beneficial interest”) is assignable, similar to the way stock in a corporation is assignable. Once the property is titled in trust, the beneficiary of the trust can be changed without changing the title to the property. This can be very advantageous in the case of a real estate contract that is non-assignable, such as in the case of a bank-owned or HUD property. Instead of making your offer in your own name, make the offer in the name of a land trust, then assign your interest in the land trust to a third party.
7. Making Loans “Assumable”. A non-assumable loan can become effectively assumed by using a land trust. The seller transfers the title into a land trust, with himself as beneficiary. This transfer does not trigger the due-on-sale clause of the mortgage. After the fact, he transfers his beneficial interest to you. This latter transaction does trigger the due-on-sale, but such transfer does not come to the attention of the lender because it is not recorded anywhere in public records. This effectively makes a non-assumable loan “assumable”. As you can see there are many creative and effective uses for land trusts, limited only by your imagination!
Attorney William ("Bill") Bronchick, the host of Legalwiz.com, has authored six best-selling books and is sought nationwide for his 30+ years of real estate and legal knowledge. He has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, such as CNBC, TIME Magazine, USA Today, Investor Business Daily, Forbes, and the LA Times, to name a few. William Bronchick is the co-founder and past President of the Colorado Association of Real Estate Investors and the President of the Colorado Landlords Association. Click on the "About" link above for more information on William Bronchick.