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Copyright 1997 Robert J. Ambrogi
A Real Estate Lawyers Guide To The Internet
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Conveyancing lawyers find themselves entangled in an ever-expanding web of federal and state laws. Real estate practice today requires expertise in banking law, environmental regulation, civil rights, lending practices, taxation and more.
For those caught in this web, what better place to turn than the Web the Internets World Wide Web where they will find a growing number of government and private resources related to real estate law and practice. Here is a sampling of what the Web has to offer.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, http://www.fdic.gov, has banking news; federal banking laws and regulations; the full-text of FDIC publications and articles, including a survey of the most important federal laws relating to banking; statistical reports on banks and banking; the quarterly Survey of Real Estate Trends; and a host of other banking information. A well-designed site, rich in useful content.
The nations largest source of home mortgage funds, Fannie Mae is a federally chartered, private corporation. Its well-designed Web site, http://www.fanniemae.com/index.html, has information for home buyers and lenders, including a monthly newsletter, information on products and services, and the text of guide announcements and lender letters.
Homes and Communities, http://www.hud.gov, the Web site of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, divides its offerings between consumers and businesses. The business pages are further divided among "constituent groups," and, yes, attorneys are one of them. The site has proposed and final HUD rules; information on the Office of the General Counsel; all mortgagee letters since 1976 (informing lenders of changes in FHA operations, policies and procedures); and current information about HUD.
The Federal Housing Administration, http://www.hud.gov/fha/fhahome.html, has general information about buying and financing a house. For lawyers, most useful may be the RESPA page, containing the statute, proposed and current regulations, statements of policy, and public guidance documents on escrow accounting procedures.
HomePage, http://www.homepath.com, is a consumer-oriented site from Fannie Mae with information on financing a home. It includes calculators for helping buyers determine what price house they can afford. Real estate lawyers will find useful educational tools for their clients, including a glossary of mortgage and finance terms.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, http://www.fema.gov, publishes information on the National Flood Insurance Program, housing recovery after a disaster, and FEMA mapping products. The library has downloadable forms, information on filing a flood-insurance claim, and other useful articles.
Freddie Mac, http://www.freddiemac.com, is a private corporation created by Congress to support home ownership by repackaging mortgages into securities. Lawyers will find useful the current and historical prime mortgage rate information. The site also has press releases, information about secondary mortgages, and a listing of Freddie Mac-owned homes for sale.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.va.gov/vas/loan/index.htm, includes information and FAQs on VA-guaranteed home loans.
HUDClips is a Telnet-accessible bulletin board system with the most recent six months of HUD handbooks, letters, and notices; Federal Register announcements; and other information. HUDClips Plus is an expanded database that contains the entire inventory of HUD policies. More information is available at: http://www.hud.gov/hud-user/hcinfo1.html. To access it, telnet to hudclips.aspensys.com and login as "guest."
The U.S. House Internet Law Library, http://law.house.gov/home.htm, is the best collection of links to statutes, regulations, treaties and other primary laws relating to real estate. From the front page, go to "Laws of all jurisdictions (arranged by subject)," then follow the links to "Land use, zoning, real property, and historical preservation law" and "Property."
The Real Estate Law page of Law Journal EXTRA!, http://www.ljx.com/practice/realestate/index.html, should be a regular stop for practitioners. It includes current news, in-depth analyses, law firm memoranda on real estate, and links to related resources.
The Americans With Disabilities Act Document Center is an extensive library of ADA laws, regulations, technical assistance manuals and other documents, including the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. http://janweb.icdi.wvu.edu/kinder.
AllRegs sells a database of current mortgage lending guidelines. Its Web site, http://www.allregs.com, offers a free, daily industry update, posting summaries of announcements from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA, the VA, and Ginnie Mae as they are released and archiving them for 90 days. If you prefer to receive the summaries by e-mail, you can subscribe using a form at the site.
The Takings Page, http://www.webcom.com/~pcj/takings.html, from Planning Commissioners Journal, is a collection of original and linked material related to the impact of "property rights" on municipal planning. Articles discuss takings laws, Supreme Court cases, private property rights, and related issues.
Real Estate Transaction Law Materials, from the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, has a brief overview of real estate and a short, incomplete list of links to state real estate statutes and regulations. http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/real_estate.html.
The Electronic Easement, Property Law on the WWW, http://www.law.ualberta.ca/ee, is designed to allow property law teachers to share information. As of press time, the site was out of date and had little to offer. Under "Recent Cases," only three were listed, the most recent from 1994. Under "Full-Text Articles," there was only one. A notice at the site promised a major update in January 1997, but as of February, there was no sign of it.
The primary purpose of The Fair Lending Guide Page, http://www.ffhsj.com/fairlend/fair.htm, is to advertise a book by the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson that covers the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Community Reinvestment Act. But the site is useful for offering the full text and archives of the Fair Lending Alert newsletter and a library of articles by FFHS&J lawyers.
The National Fair Housing Advocate Web site, http://www.fairhousing.com, suffers from poor design making it difficult to use, but warrants a visit for its several databases of nearly 1,000 court and administrative decisions relating to fair housing.
The Fair Housing Institute, http://www.mindspring.com/~fairhous/index.html, a private consulting firm, features The Fair Housing Advisor, a newsletter with court and legislative updates. It is described as quarterly, but, in February 1997, the most recent article was from summer 1996, and the court update was from spring 1996.
ired.com the International Real Estate Directory, http://www.ired.com, is a comprehensive site with something for everyone, lawyers included. Among the sites featured columns are "Ask The Lawyer" and "Environmental Law." The sites best point is its links collection it claims 12,000 links to real-estate related sites in 85 countries.
Current Mortgage Information, http://www.hsh.com, provides extensive current and statistical data on mortgage rates, including daily and weekly rates, market trends and forecasts, home equity rates, auto loan rates, and ARM index rates. There are various financial calculators and a library of full-text articles. A wealth of free information from the financial publishing company HSH Associates.
Mortgage Market Information Services, http://www.interest.com, has daily mortgage news, as well as a state-by-state guide to mortgage rates, broken down within each state by lender.
The American Society of Home Inspectors, http://www1.mhv.net/~dfriedman/ashihome.htm, offers information on building defects and standards of practice for inspectors. A useful introduction to home inspections with specific information on particular hazards.
A number of lenders have Web sites with consumer information on buying and refinancing a house, such as the Bank of America, http://www.bankamerica.com/p-finance/athome.html, and Countrywide Home Loans, http://www.countrywide.com. Lawyers dealing with a particular lender may find these sites useful. A database of lenders nationwide is at: http://interest.com/lenders.html.
Law Firm Pages
California Real Estate Law, http://thomas2.com, sponsored by the Napa law firm Thomas & Thomas, offers an abundance of content, ranging from practical to entertaining. On the practical side, follow the "Forms & Updates" link to find current legal news and searchable libraries of forms for a variety of real-estate related topics. On the entertaining side, there is Law Lite, a page devoted to real estate and legal humor.
Realaw, http://hoohana.aloha.net/~realaw, from the Honolulu firm Pitluck Kido Sato & Stone, features news and articles and a "law library" of Hawaii and federal resources.
Weiss & Weissman Real Estate Directory, http://www.wwlaw.com/re.htm, has a number of useful, general-interest articles on real estate transactions, taxation and ownership, with a focus on California and federal law.
Real Estate Law, http://olypen.olypen.com/wlin, is a page of general information on Washington state and federal law. It includes sample real estate contracts and deeds of trust.
From their names, Realty LawNet, Housing CourtNet and Housing LawNet, http://www.realty-lawnet.com, sound like a useful suite of sites. They even promise libraries of New York Housing Court decisions and legal forms. But beneath the surface, the sites, from a New York law firm, have little to offer. The forms are for Colorado corporations and the library of court decisions has only a handful, almost all from July 1995.
Almost hidden within the First American Financial Corporation site, http://www.firstam.com/x609Ya0d, is a useful resource for real estate lawyers, the Underwriting Library of First American Title Insurance. Organized under a Folio Infobase, this library has five "volumes":
The guide to real estate practices includes descriptions of each states closing customs, documents of conveyance and encumbrance, foreclosure procedures, and related information. The entire library can be viewed by table of contents or searched by key words.
The Federal Reserve Systems free Homebuyer Qualification Software determines whether a buyer can qualify for a loan. It also calculates amortization schedules and equity build-up. http://woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us/banking/develop/partners.html.
Reesa is commercial, real estate closing software designed around an on-screen HUD-1 statement. Download a fully functional evaluation version at: http://www.reesa.com.
Michigan Tax Tribunal publishes recent property assessment, special assessment, and exemption cases, http://www.commerce.state.mi.us/tax/decision/home.htm.
Massachusetts Real Estate Web has information on sales, leasing, contractors, brokers and lenders. http://www.mrew.com.
The Web site of the ABA Section of Real Property, Probate and Trust Law has general information on section activities, committees, events and publications. http://www.abanet.org/rppt/home.html.
The ABAs Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law also has a site with general information about the forum. http://188.8.131.52/forums/affordable/home.html.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of legal.online, a monthly newsletter about the Internet (http://www.legalonline.com). He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (978) 546-7898.