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An Overview of Real Estate Law: An Interview with Ralph Kinder of Gilstein, Kinder & Levin, LLP

By Ralph Kinder

About Gilstein, Kinder & Levin, LLP:

Our firm actually has quite a long history dating back to 1944 when Jim Armstrong, a former Hinckley Allen partner, founded the firm with a young tax lawyer, Walter Gibbons. Several years ago, with all of the named partners long deceased, we changed our name to Gilstein, Kinder & Levin, LLP which reflects the three partners, Andy Gilstein, Carl Levin and myself. We also at that time moved the main office to Warwick, and I currently maintain an office in Providence and float back and forth between the Warwick and Providence offices. The firm has throughout its history provided corporate and estate planning expertise for its clients, which has historically included a good deal of real estate work. Andy's practice is transactional like mine. We call Carl in to litigate when things wind up in court.

What Services do You Offer?

Our practice basically breaks down to three main areas: corporate, real estate and estate planning, and we provide litigation support to all of these three areas. In the real estate area our transactional practice focuses mainly on commercial real estate transactions and litigation. We will do purchase and sale agreements, mortgages, leases, condominium development, easements, land use and zoning, adverse possession, boundary disputes, real estate litigation of all kinds, condominium disputes, conservation easements, foreclosures, historic preservation, mechanic's liens, restrictive covenants, SBA and other loans, slander of title, spite fences, subleases, tax abatement hearings, title defects and zoning hearings. Our website, gklfirm.com, is the best way to access the areas in which we practice.

What is Real Estate Law?

A generalized definition of real estate law would be any legal matter relating to land as opposed to personal property. In law school we learned that holding real estate is like a bundle of sticks and each transaction is a conveyance or transfer of some or all of those sticks. When you sell the land "in fee" you sell all of the sticks. If you reserve a life estate, you keep a few of the sticks. If you lease it, you keep even more of the sticks. An easement is also a transfer of a portion of the property. When there is litigation in real estate matters, it is an argument over how many or which of the sticks were transferred.

What is the Process of Becoming a Real Estate Lawyer?

In Rhode Island there is no formal process of becoming a real estate lawyer, as there is in some other states. That status instead is obtained through experience. I think that most lawyers would agree that experience in this area means a lot. My 26 years of practice allows me to see through the forest of issues of a particular problem in order to get to the right answer or method quickly, efficiently and cost effectively for my client.

What Transactions do Real Estate Lawyers Oversee?

Transactions that I see often are purchases and sales, leasing matters, easements, foreclosures, zoning or subdivision hearings, and landlord tenant matters. In addition, we do a lot of real estate work in association with our estate planning practice. From selling the family home to dividing the real estate between the children, there are often real estate issues. As examples, I recently structured a large gift of clients' real estate holdings to an irrevocable realty trust for their children. I am also representing a local historic preservation organization that just inherited a large portfolio of real estate. My real estate experience is, I believe, very important to my clients.

What Can be Expected From a Basic Real Estate Contract?

A basic real estate contract will include the parties, the price, a property description and, most importantly, the conditions of the sale, i.e. financing, inspections such as environmental, and engineering, and of course there's the boilerplate to cover things like, can a person assign a purchase and sale agreement to a family member, or what law applies in a dispute if the parties are from different states. That boilerplate can be very important when an issue is later litigated.

Are There Different Types of Real Estate Lawyers?

There are many different types of real estate law. For instance, I would consider myself a commercial real estate lawyer as opposed to a residential real estate lawyer. A residential real estate lawyer might do purchase and sale closings as well as refinancing closings primarily, and generally in high volume. My commercial practice has a different scope where the transaction is usually bigger and more focused as opposed to dealing with a high volume of transactions. Of course, there is real estate litigation, which is different from the transactional work of buying, selling, leasing, etc.

Does Real Estate Law Vary From State to State?

Real estate law does vary from state to state and it is important to retain an attorney who is an expert in the state where the property is located. We focus our practice on Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, and I will often get assistance from a lawyer if dealing with out-of-state property. As an example of the differences between states, a normal transactional deed in Massachusetts is a quitclaim deed, where in Rhode Island most are a warranty deed unless the property has been held for a short time or there is an old title problem. In Florida, a seller can be responsible for providing a title insurance policy for the buyer in a transaction. There are often different nuances that a local attorney will know. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments or additional information.

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