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Thursday, June 8, 2017

A SHORT WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A DIRT LAWYER


Paul F. Alphen, Esquire

My cousin Vinnie, the suburban real estate attorney, accepted my invitation to join some other captains of industry for a weekend of fishing. The term “fishing” is somewhat of an exaggeration as
there is more eating than fishing involved. He took me up on my offer to arrive on the Cape early on Friday so that he could watch me prep the boat and watch me pump diesel into the tanks. It gave us some time to catch up on family news, and it gave Vinnie an opportunity to vent about his suburban real estate practice before the other men arrived.
“Paulie”, Vinnie started as we backed out of the slip on our way to the fuel dock, “What a week I had!” Sounding a little like the late Rodney Dangerfield, I fully expected him to tell me that he “gets no respect”.
“Paulie, honest to Goodness, this is a short list of some of the issues that entertained me in the last 4 days:
·         A client wants to buy a lot that was conveyed into a trust with a ch.184 s.35 trustee’s certificate with no mention of successor trustees, and the trustee since died, and no one can find the trust;

·         A buyer’s attorney instructed me to prepare a grantee clause in violation of the four unities of joint tenancy;

·         In reviewing a title, I found that our locus was one of a few lots conveyed years ago with the benefit of a common driveway easement declared by a party who did not own the servient estate;

·         A portion of a unit, as described in the Master Deed, is physically separated from the living quarters of the unit, and stuffed with common mechanicals and pipes, and partially submerged by groundwater infiltration;

·         A planning board approved a commercial use across the street from a client’s home in a residential zoning district, in a town that does not allow use variances;

·         I went to a closing for a seller and the buyer would not agree to close until she interviewed the landscaping contractor regarding the methodology used to seed the disturbed area over the new septic system;

·         A town installed a new drinking water well, causing a number of homes to lie within a Zone 1, forcing them to install outrageously expensive septic systems;

·         A condominium burned to the ground;

·         A zoning board told me that my client’s 40B was ‘too dense’, although it meets the boards’ own density guidelines;

·         A landlord gave a commercial tenant notice that the tenant had to vacate early, and later sent a goon to the tenant’s space to encourage them to ‘start packin’;

·         A broker that got a commission based upon a 10 year lease from our landlord client, is now showing the tenant other space, which will no doubt cause the tenant to breach the lease; and

·         I drove to Dedham for a closing and the buyer did not show, and days later nobody can find him.”
I had to laugh and tell him that I understood, all too well. “Vinnie, when we tell people that we are real estate attorneys, they think we make a living sitting at a closing table passing loan documents to homebuyers; I am sure that’s what my sisters think I do. In reality it is impossible to describe what we do. Sure, our practices are real estate related, but we also take care of issues that touch, directly or indirectly, real estate… sometimes very, very indirectly. And all of them could be better defined as ‘human issues’, as opposed to ‘real estate issues’.”
Vinnie wandered over to the Yeti with the big BC logo on top and pulled out an IPA that had its roots in Nantucket, but is now brewed on the mainland somewhere. He felt better, having vented, and he paused to enjoy the passing scenery and the sunshine as I pushed down the throttles to leave terra firma behind.
A former REBA president, Paul Alphen currently serves on the association’s executive committee and co-chairs the long-range planning committee.  He is a partner in the Westford firm of Alphen & Santos, P.C. and concentrates in residential and commercial real estate development, land use regulation, administrative law, real estate transactional practice and title examination .As entertaining as he finds the practice of law, Paul enjoys numerous hobbies, including messing around with his power boats and fulfilling his bucket list of visiting every Major League ballpark.  Paul can be contacted at palphen@alphensantos.com.

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