(708) 466-6912 or ONLINE

Why Your Attorney Matters In A Real Estate Transaction

Many times I will get calls from people buying or selling a home who are shopping around for the cheapest attorney possible.  Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest financial transactions most people are ever involved in, so why leave it to the person willing to accept the least amount of money for his or her services?

Problems with Cheap Real Estate Attorneys

Attorneys who charge very little for closings usually hand off most of the work and client communication to paralegals or secretaries.  You will have minimal contact with the cheap attorney until the day of the closing.  Is this what you expected when you signed up?  If you hire me, you get my personal cell phone number so that you can speak directly with me regarding any questions or issues you might have as the closing progresses.  I also make it a policy to try to answer all emails within 48 hours.

High Volume Does Not Mean Better Results

Some real estate attorneys like to reel you in by telling you how many closings they do, or that the focus exclusively on real estate closings.  You would think that would mean that they are an expert in closings, but that is not always the case.  An attorney may know everything about a closing, but know nothing about negotiating a short sale, foreclosure or REO purchase.  I have experience in all three, both from the perspective of representing clients and representing banks.  The knowledge that I gained through my practice in other areas have proven invaluable.

I also have experience in family law and probate, so if you are selling a house due to divorce or death, I understand the big picture.  There may be other issues at play outside of drafting a few documents and showing up on the date of the closing to collect a check.

How Much Should A Closing Cost?

What I offer is a base price for a completely routine closing, and then a reduced hourly rate for situations that arise outside of the normal closing.  For example, as a buyer, a lender may want an old corporation that you had an interest in dissolved.  Or as a seller, there may be a lien on your property that you had no knowledge of.  Removing the lien would require work outside of the average closing.   It is rare that issues arise requiring additional  services.  If they do, I have you covered.

If you are thinking of buying and selling a home, give me a call.  708.466.6912.  I represent buyers and sellers in Cook and Lake Counties.


Are Employee Investigations Confidential?

The EEOC issued a letter warning employers that they cannot silence employers during an internal harassment investigation.  To do so is a flagrant violation of Title VII and not trivial.  According to the letter,  which was directed to a specific redacted employer, ” telling [redacted] women who complained of harassment that they were not to tell others about the alleged harassment is enough to constitute harm under Title VII. [continue reading…]

More Tips on Purchasing Bank Owned or Short Sale Properties

In an earlier article I gave an overview of the foreclosure and short sale process.  Here are some additional tips:

Make a realistic offer

If you are watching the guys on the late night infomercials they are telling you that banks are desperate to shed themselves of properties acquired through foreclosures.  While banks are not in the business of real estate sales, they are not giving properties away.  Banks typically take a huge loss when they acquire a home via foreclosure and their goal is to hold the property for as short a time as possible, while maximizing the sale price.  Banks have to report to their board of directors and other investors.

A seasoned real estate agent should be able to give you the best idea of a good initial offer.  While the real estate agent works on a commission and a higher price means a bigger commission, real estate agents know that buying a foreclosure can be a lengthy process and they would rather have you make a strong first offer than make a weak offer, then wait weeks or months to learn that the offer was rejected.  A weak offer may indicate to the bank that you are not a serious buyer or are just fishing for bargains.  They may simply hold on to your offer while they wait to get a better one.

If you are attempting to buy a short sale property the same rules apply.  Don’t waste everyone’s time by making an offer significantly below market value.  Making a strong offer up front lets the bank know you are serious.  A bank is more likely to approve a short sale that is close to market value.  Keep in mind that the seller likely owes significantly more than market value so the bank is trying to get the most that it can for this property.

Cash is king

If you are in the fortunate position of being able to offer cash for a property with a close in 30 days, you can take your chances with a lower offer, especially if the property is bank owned.  Banks respond much more quickly to cash offers.  If you are buying a short sale the same rules apply as above.

Be patient

The biggest source of frustration for someone buying a short sale or bank owned home is the time line.  Banks respond when they want to, and they don’t really care about your rate lock, or your lease being up in two months, or your need to get into a new school district before school starts.  If your plans are not flexible, buying a bank owned home or a short sale is probably not for you.

Even if everything progresses smoothly to closing, things can fall apart at the last minute, especially with short sales.  The bank may decide that they are not going to forgive the debt and the seller calls off the sale, or the bank may ask the seller to bring cash to the table because they’ve discovered that the seller has resources, or there may be more than one lien on the property and the seller may not be able to get the second lien holder to strike a deal.

Have a good attorney who knows foreclosures and short sales

Your offer will be made through your real estate agent.  Your attorney likely will not become involved until after the contract is fully executed.  You should contact an attorney right away to begin your representation.  Many times the acceptance of the contract will come with a rider. This is a counter offer that does not have to be accepted by the buyer.  The seller may put certain contingencies in the contract, like in the case of a short sale, the acceptance is contingent on the bank agreeing to the price and waiving any deficiencies.  Assuming there is a good offer and acceptance, you inspect the property and the report comes back clean, and you want to move forward, there are still issues that can derail a short sale, like liens and other encumbrances on the title.  If you buy a bank owned home the foreclosure process will have killed all the other liens.  If you are buying a short sale you take the property subject to any existing liens.

If you are thinking of buying a short sale of bank owned property contact Chicago area attorney Rhonda Stuart.

Warning About Short Sale Negotiators

If your home is underwater, you may be wondering if you should use a short sale negotiator.

If your home is currently in foreclosure the last thing you need is someone exploiting an already bad situation, yet that is exactly what some so-called short sale negotiators do to vulnerable home owners. A short sale negotiator is not necessarily a real estate expert.  Many are simply a commissioned sales person. For every short sale that they generate they receive a fee regardless of whether the deal is good for the seller. This leads to problems.

For a bit more about this issue, read this article or contact me here.

Short Sale Negotiators proposal sounds great

I have been approached by people who have gone through the short sale process with a negotiator and are shocked when the lender pursues them for the balance due on the loan.

Here’s how it goes down. You owe $100,000 to a lender but your home is only worth $70,000.  You put your home on the market as a short sale.  You are contacted by a short sale negotiator who tells you that they will cut through all of the red tape with the bank, handle the paperwork, and bring the deal to a close.  You find a buyer for your home for $50,000 and the short sale negotiator gets the bank to accept the deal.  You are elated that you can walk away from the home.

Reality starts to set in

The bank presents you with papers that you don’t understand. The short sale negotiator, who is not an attorney, tells you that the papers are no big deal. You should just sign them. You sign the papers and a year later the lender is garnishing your wages for the  $50,000 difference between what you owed and what the property sold for. You contact  me in a panic and say that you sold the property via short sale. The bank is illegally trying to collect from you. I read the papers, and right there in black and white it says that the bank agrees to the short sale without waiving any of its rights under the note. What does that mean? You owe the bank $50,000. You tell me that you asked the short sale negotiator about that and were told that the banks never go after the seller for the balance due on the loan. You relied on the negotiator who was not an attorney and gave who you erroneous information.  The negotiator is long gone, having collected his or her commission and has moved on to the next victim.

Real estate attorneys offer protection

A short sale negotiator is no substitute for an experienced attorney. Some short sale negotiators are legitimate and provide a valuable service, but in Illinois a license is not required, so how will you know whether the person who approached you is up for the challenge?

If you are approached by a short sale negotiator you still need an attorney. Contact Chicago area real estate attorney Rhonda Stuart and I will help you understand what you are agreeing to.

Finding a Chicago area real estate attorney for a short sale

If you want the best result in foreclosure or short sale related real estate transaction you need an experienced attorney. Contact real estate attorney Rhonda Stuart and I’ll make sure you get the best results.

I practice in the following counties, and others:

  • Cook County
  • DuPage County
  • Lake County
  • Will County
  • Kane County
  • Kendall County

I practice in the following cities, and others:

  • Chicago
  • Evanston
  • Skokie
  • Schaumburg
  • Naperville
  • Aurora
  • Elmhurst
  • Oak Park
  • Joliet
  • Geneva
  • Oak Brook




Buying a Foreclosure or Short Sale Property

As a Chicago area real estate attorney I am often asked questions regarding foreclosures and short sales. I have been approached by both buyers and sellers who are often perplexed by the process. My background in real estate extends over 20 years. I have represented banks foreclosing on homes, I have represented purchasers buying foreclosures and short sales, and I have worked for a title company and am currently a title agent. My years of experience in this area, and having seen it from all sides, gives me a vantage that most attorneys who only do real estate closings do not possess.

How long does it take to a buy a foreclosure or short sale?

The question I receive most often from people wanting to purchase a home in foreclosure or a short sale is “Why does the process take so long?” They have attended a real estate seminar and were told that all they needed to do was approach the bank or the homeowner and express interest and cannot understand why the bank doesn’t immediately accept their offer. The thing to remember is that the bank does not own the property while it is in foreclosure and many owners in foreclosure are holding out hope that they can work out a deal.

When Should I Make an Offer on a Home in Foreclosure?

Once the foreclosure winds its way through the courts in Illinois it results in a Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale and a sale date is set. The owner has a right to redeem the property through the sale date. If the property is not redeemed a public sale of the property is held. Foreclosure sales are cash only, with 10 -20% due on the date of the sale and the balance within 24 hours. Should you buy at a foreclosure sale? Not unless you are an experienced buyer. Why? Because the lender whose debt you are buying may not be the only lien on the title. You are buying the property subject to every other lien but the first loan on the property. Buyers who have not done their research are shocked to learn that they purchased a property with judgments, second mortgages, and even tax liens. If no one bids on the property the lender becomes the owner following confirmation and all junior liens are extinguished. If you are interested in purchasing a home you know to be in foreclosure you should contact Chicago area real estate attorney Rhonda Stuart to help you navigate the process so that your time is not wasted.

What Happens When I Try to Purchase a Property via Short Sale

A short sale is when a buyer offers a property owner less than the total of all liens on a property. The pros of a short sale are that a buyer can get a home for less than its value. The cons are that the lender has to approve the short sale. Therefore, if there is more than one lender or other lienholder, they all must agree to the short sale. Some attorneys will tell you that you cannot purchase a short sale if there is more than one lien on the property. This is simply not true. I have experience negotiating settlement of debts with junior lien holders so that clean title can be transferred.

How to Get Started Purchasing a Short Sale or Foreclosure

If you want to buy a property via short sale and are getting the run around, contact Chicago area real estate attorney Rhonda Stuart. I can get to the bottom of your problem and tell you whether the deal is worth pursuing or whether it’s time to walk away.


What Happens to a family business in a divorce?

Many couples are living the American dream as small business owners.  What happens to the business when the couple decides to go their separate ways?  Avoid having your dream turn into a nightmare by understanding the possible consequences of a divorce on a business.

For the divorcing couple with a business there are three possible outcomes:

  1. One party sells the business to the other party
  2. The business is sold to a third party and the proceeds divided
  3. The parties continue to run the business after the divorce, the terms of which are spelled out in the marital settlement agreement

Selling the Business

Whether the business is sold to the other spouse of sold to a third party, the first step is getting a professional business valuation done.  The parties may believe they have an idea of the value of the business but more often than not they are wrong.  One spouse may approach the other with a “great deal” that later turns out to be advantageous to only one party.  Without the benefit of a business valuation neither party can really negotiate in good faith.  While this is an expense outside of the divorce lawyers and court fees, it is well worth it in the long run as neither party can come back after the divorce and say that they got less than they should have received.

Marital or Non Marital in Nature?

Business assets can be marital or non-marital in nature, depending on many factors.  For example, a spouse could loan the business money that the spouse had prior to the.  The repayment terms could spell out precisely the source of the loan and the expectation that it be repaid as non marital.  However, most couples go into business together not thinking about divorce.

Co-mingling and Transmutation

The ownership of the business assets can become complicated by co-mingling.  For example, the wife owned real estate prior to the marriage.  The parties started a business in the storefront of the property after they got married.  The wife refinances the building to bring in additional capital for the business.  She adds the husband’s name onto the deed thinking that they will be together forever.  When the divorce hits she wants all of the money that she put into the building prior to the marriage to come back to her in the settlement.  Unfortunately, she has mixed her non-marital and marital assets and transmuted them.  The building is now marital property, as is the business that they started.

Keeping the Business Post Divorce

While the idea may seem difficult, it is not impossible.  If the business is going well why sabotage a revenue stream for both parties?  As part of the divorce settlement process the parties can draft a partnership agreement that outlines their interest in the company after the divorce is finalized.  In fact, if the parties can ride out the divorce and the business is solvent, both are in a much better position to handle the dissolution of the business, if it were to come to that,  as the emotional messiness of the divorce will be behind them.

How does the Illinois Civil Union Act impact my business?

The Illinois Civil Union Act confers on civil union couples the same legal benefits and protections as married couples under Illinois law. This article is an overview, but you can contact me, Oak Brook employment lawyer Rhonda Stuart, if you have an immediate concern.

Civil Union FAQ

The Illinois Civil Union Act impacts other laws. Consider the following:

Illinois’ Family Military Leave Act: This Act allows spouses of persons in the military service to take up to 30 days of leave. Under the Illinois Civil Union Act, a partner in a civil union can also get leave if his or her spouse is in the military.

Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act: The victims of domestic or sexual violence to take up to 12 weeks of leave. These two leave types must be made available to civil union partners.

Illinois Human Rights Act and Chicago Human Rights Ordinance:  Both prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation or marital status.

Handling your civil union discrimination problem

Employers are advised to revisit their relevant policies and practices to ensure they cannot be viewed as making decision with the intent to discriminate against partners in a civil union.

If an employer calls me about any employment law problem, I first make it my priority to learn the relevant facts, then advice the client about the various options. Contact me, Oak Brook and Illinois employment lawyer Rhonda Stuart, if you have an immediate concern.


Bugged by a neighbor? Sue to prevent nuisance.

As a Chicago real estate lawyer, I keep an eye out for interesting related news.

What is a nuisance?

Recently a couple living in a Lakeview condo filed suit against their neighbor, the condo association, numerous board member and others for damages to their unit that they say resulted from their neighbor being allowed to keep 20 cats in her one bedroom unit.  The couple claims the smell of cat urine and feces enter their unit through the ventilation system, resulting in exacerbation of allergies and thousands of dollars to replace furniture and other items that the smell permeated.  While complaints were made to the neighbor and the association, no action was taken.  They have tried to move but have been unable to sell the unit.

Taking action against a neighbor’s nuisance

Do you have a neighbor who is making your life miserable?  Whether it’s a condominium or a single family residence you may have a cause of action.  A private nuisance means that your neighbor’s actions, while not occurring on your property, are preventing you from having the use and enjoyment of your property.  Noxious odors caused by one neighbor that impact the other neighbor are a perfect example.

If you think your neighbor is causing a nuisance, contact me to discuss your issue.

What if an employee wants to see his personnel file?

As an Illinois employment defense lawyer, helping my clients reduce their risk is an important goal. In Illinois, employers need to know what rights their employees have so they don’t step afoul of the law. You can contact me, Chicago employment lawyer Rhonda Stuart, if you want to discuss your employment law questions.

Illinois employees have the right to access their personnel files under certain circumstances. If you are am employer with 5 or more employees (exclusive of the employer’s parent, spouse or child or other members of his immediate family), the Illinois Personnel Record Review Act [get PDF of the Act here] applies.

  • Right to review: According to the Act, the employee – or a person who was an employee within the last year – must submit a request in writing and must be allowed to review and copy their documents.
  • Frequency of review and copy: An employee can inspect or copy his file up to two times in a calendar year. The employer must comply within 7 days of the request. The time period can be extended for an additional 7 days with good cause.

While many employers might think this is a matter to be handles by HR without the need for attorney involvement, this is a mistake. An employee’s personnel file should be reviewed by counsel before it is disclosed to make sure that the employer’s record keeping complies with its legal obligation.