Buyer Beware!

 Posted by at 9:06 am
Aug 182012
 

Disclaimer: Clearly I am not an attorney and it is not my intent to engage in legal analysis or advice, but this incident (reported by the Maine Forest Service) is just too interesting NOT to write about.

A seller who happened to be a logger sold a parcel of land to a buyer but maintained the “stumpage rights” (the right to harvest the timber) on the property. This is certainly not an unusual practice and we are reminded that seller’s can, of course, maintain a number of different rights. Typically this is negotiated to both parties agreement and documented in the purchase and sale agreement. We need to do more than hope that these rights (and responsibilities) are accurately recorded when the deed transferring title is written.

For purposes of keeping the players straight, once title transferred, our buyer in this story becomes the owner.

In this interesting case, the logger subsequently exercised his right and harvested the timber (on property he no longer owned, remember). In completing the harvest, the logger (perhaps unintentionally) committed a 50 acre clearcutting violation of the Forest Practices Act (FPA). In the settlement agreement both the logger and owner were assessed penalties and the owner was required to to develop an after-the-fact forest management plan for the clearcut area.

We might, of course, debate the fairness of this. (The Maine Forest Service’s position is that “penalties for forest-practices rule violations are intended to remove the financial benefit obtained through such violations.” The implication in this case is that both the logger and owner received some financial benefit from the harvest.)

But the point for our purpose is “buyer beware” of ANY arrangement that gives another party rights to your property. Conveying (or in this case allowing the seller to keep) those rights does not leave you without responsibility.

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Jan 242012
 

Reprinted with permission from WoodsWiseWire, an occasional electronic newsletter provided by the Maine Forest Service, on topics of general interest to woodland owners, foresters, loggers, and others interested in Maine’s forests. For more information on MFS programs, services, and publications, call the Maine Forest Service at 207-287-2791, or 1-800-367-0223, or send an email to forestinfo@maine.gov  Visit our website at www.maineforestservice.gov.

Tree Growth – also known as the Maine Tree Growth Tax Program – is Maine’s current use tax program for productive forestland. The program is administered in organized municipalities by town assessors and in the unorganized territories by Maine Revenue Service’s Property Tax Division. “Current use” means that enrolled land is valued according to its ability to grow trees for commercial use, rather than according to its fair market value. This often results in a significantly reduced property tax bill for enrolled landowners.

Tree Growth can be a beneficial program for landowners who manage their land sustainably for commercial forest products. In exchange for generally lower property valuations, landowners commit to following a written Forest Management Plan prepared by a Maine licensed forester. A licensed forester must also certify that landowners are following their plan.

Landowners are required to submit a signed Tree Growth Application and a supporting map to the assessing agent. The details of the forest management plan belong to the landowner and are not public information, although the Assessor may request a copy of the plan and hold it for a reasonable period of time for review.

The Maine Forest Service (MFS) provides assistance and education about the Tree Growth Tax Program, and forest management and planning in general, but does  NOT administer the Tree Growth Tax program.

Landowners should be aware of some very important requirements:

1) Land enrolled in Tree Growth must be recertified every ten years. Written management plans must be updated at least once in a ten year period. Could this be your year to update your plan and recertify?

2) In addition, when Tree Growth land is purchased, inherited, or otherwise acquired, new landowners must re-enroll within one year of the date of transfer. New landowners may not harvest timber until they have had a new forest management plan prepared or adopted a previous but still valid plan, and re-enrolled. Have you acquired or inherited forest land recently? 

Why is this important?

Because Tree Growth forest land that no longer complies with the program – including failure to recertify or to re-enroll on time– must be withdrawn from the program, with potentially significant monetary penalties to the landowner. Withdrawal can occur even if you were not the owner at the time the land was first enrolled, because Tree Growth status “runs with the land” – the parcel remains enrolled, even if it changes hands. Continue reading »

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Salesmanship is NOT a dirty word!

 Posted by at 6:43 am
Nov 282011
 

For a long time now I’ve been “preaching” to those who will listen–“It’s high time for those of us in the real estate industry to realize we are not in the business of selling houses; we are in the business of helping people make intelligent decisions regarding real estate.” I would call your attention to the fact that I said “selling houses.” I didn’t say “We are not in the business of selling.”

Some years ago I wrote a short booklet called Salesmanship Is Not a Dirty Word. I can assure you that I’m not “anti-sales.” I happen to think that selling is an important skill–even if we have to call it something else to make it palatable. 

So this morning I read an article on RIS called Warning: Your Sales Techniques May be Under Fire. It’s actually a pretty good piece. The author notes that while brokers have traditionally been “selling information” (because of the historical emphasis on the multiple listing system) things have changed. Buyers now have all that information available to them thanks to the Internet. (I wonder how that information gets there… hmmm.)

Therefore, he somewhat rightly concludes, buyers of real estate are looking for someone to “assist and consult.” But, like all good ideas, when you push this to the extreme it doesn’t work. “No dialog, technique, or pitch needed,” he goes on to say.  That’s where the author lost me.

 This is the age-old debate–it’s not a new one based on some new paradigm. Every industry has always had salespeople who put their personal gain before their customer’s. Real estate is no different. Well, except for one thing, maybe.

If you hire me (or somebody else) to “assist and consult” with you… wait. How are you going to decide to hire me? Will you draw my name out of a hat? Should we develop software that is a random broker generator to pick your broker for you? (Banks are doing that with appraisers these days–interesting back story there.)  No, I think we’re probably going to have some dialog and while we may not like calling it that, I’m going to “sell” you on the value of hiring me.

Let’s assume, however, that somehow you do manage to hire me without any influence on my part. So if we assume I’m not supposed to use sales techniques, let’s consider what that means. If you’re a buyer and you decide to make an offer on a home I’ll just submit the offer and we’ll see where the chips fall? Or maybe you are about to make a truly “bad” decision… you don’t want me to try to talk you out of it, right?

See, when we write articles like this we can afford to be conceptual and puristic. When we’re out in the trenches we have to deal with reality.

If you’re entering the real estate market as either a buyer or a seller I think you absolutely need a broker who knows how to sell and is pretty darn good at it. Remember, it’s about perspective. He or she is supposed to be using that skill on your behalf–not on you for his or her own gain.

Unfortunately, the information aspect of this business makes it very easy to end up working with a broker without much thought. You call a number on a sign because the house looks interesting. You don’t think about selecting your broker. You’re leaving that to chance. Wouldn’t it make sense to find out what that broker’s perspective is?

I often tell students that they’ll make their biggest mistakes in the business when they are broke. Why? Because it’s about perspective. It becomes very easy to put the transaction (sale) ahead of the client when you can’t make your mortgage payment.  Just like in dating; desperation isn’t pretty. Don’t hire a desperate broker.

Customers and clients really do need a sensitivity to this–is your broker truly working in your best interest? Extreme cases are relatively easy to spot because you feel “pressured.” 

There are two questions you should be asking yourself constantly:

  1. Do I feel like I am making my own decisions with all the information and options available to me?
  2. Do I feel like my broker is my partner-working with me?

If the answer to either question is not a resounding “yes,” it’s time to reassess your relationship.

 

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Sep 032011
 

According to the September issue of SWOAM News, the second annual Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day has been scheduled for October 15th. Volunteers from snowmobile clubs, ATV clubs and other groups help out all over the state as a way of improving landowner relations. To participate or to report illegal dumping sites, call the Maine Forest Service at 1-800-750-9777. Of course you don’t have participate formally… it’s a great time of year to spruce things up!

Maine Forest Service

Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine

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Aug 242010
 

The following article is reproduced with  permission from WoodsWise Wire. WoodsWiseWire is an occasional electronic newsletter provided by the Maine Forest Service, on topics of general interest to woodland owners, foresters, loggers, and others interested in Maine’s forests. To unsubscribe or manage your subscription to the Woodswise wire visit: http://mailman.informe.org/mailman/listinfo/woodswisewire

AUGUSTA, Maine – Woodland owners who would like highly valuable, yet free, professional advice about their woodlots now have a quick and easy online way to request a meeting with a Maine Forest Service (MFS) district forester.

The MFS has a new online request form available on its web site that will get the process started for woodland owners to meet with one of the 10 district foresters around the state, according to MFS officials.

MFS district foresters can meet with woodland owners to walk their property, provide technical assistance and suggest management options, according Morten Moesswilde, district forester for the area including Kennebec, Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties.

“It’s one of our core efforts, to get people to call and ask for assistance when they are thinking about how to manage their woodland,” Moesswilde said about the new online service. “We’ve always encouraged people to call us for help. This is just one more tool for us to reach them.

“It’s really common to meet with the landowner and have them say they didn’t know the service was available and free of charge,” he added.

Working under MFS’s Forest Policy and Management Division, district foresters provide technical assistance, information and educational services to a variety of clients, including landowners, loggers, consulting foresters, and municipalities. Working directly with landowners is one of their primary functions, Moesswilde said.

“We know from research that the most effective way of providing information to landowners is one-on-one contact with a professional,” he said, adding that of all the possible sources of information available, “an unbiased source of professional advice from a state forester is the source that people prefer to go to.”

The state’s woodland owners are “incredibly important” to Maine, which has 17 million acres of forest and is the most forested state in the U.S, Moesswilde said. There are more than 6 million acres of small family forests, making up about one-third of Maine’s forest ownership, he noted.

“They provide the backdrop for why we have such a beautiful state,” the district forester said about those forest lands. “Family forests provide wildlife habitat, clean water; they provide untold amounts of recreational opportunities of every kind,” as well as significant economic benefits.

Each of the MFS district foresters covers defined areas ranging in size from about 400,000 to 3 million acres. Not only do the district foresters meet with landowners, they also visit schools and work with municipalities and organizations such as land trusts to provide forestland information. All are highly trained specialists who can provide independent advice, Moesswilde said. “We have a tremendous staff,” he said. “The people we have are very knowledgeable, very capable.”

Most of the district foresters do between 50 and 100 visits annually with woodland owners, he said. In the past two and a half months, Moesswilde has conducted 31 visits in his five-county district, he said, adding that the fall season tends to be a busy time for the district foresters.

Woodland owners are interested in a number of issues, the district forester said. They want to know such information as what kind of trees they have; whether they have any timber of value; how to go about harvesting; or how to encourage different kinds of habitats. “The range of challenges that landowners face is pretty broad – we try to help them sort through the issues and prioritize based on their goals,” he said.

Moesswilde cited as an example his recent visit to a landowner in Kennebec County, a sixth-generation owner whose family had owned their land since the late 1700s. He walked the property with the landowner and discussed not only harvest opportunities, but also assistance available for a long-term forest management plan, he said.

“The attachment of the landowners to their family property was very evident throughout the visit, as were the ownership challenges they face,” he said.

MFS district foresters will meet with the landowners and spend anywhere from an hour or two to half a day walking the property, looking at trails, roads and water sources, and considering boundaries, Moesswilde said. The district forester can review wildlife habitat, forest development and forest health, as well as discuss Maine’s Forest Practices Act, water quality laws and the non-regulatory “Best Management Practices (BMPs)” for forestry. “Forest management includes all those decisions that pertain to the woodland ownership,” he said.

They then will review options and often refer the landowner to a private consulting forester to develop a written forest management plan. District foresters provide lists of consultants rather than recommend anyone specifically, Moesswilde said. “The landowner needs to find a forester that they are comfortable with – no two foresters are alike,” he said.

“Frankly, we try to meet people where they are,” the district forester said. “We’re not trying to persuade them to do something if that’s not what they want to do. I’m there to help them see it through my eyes and give them an understanding of what their options are … The more they understand their options, the more confident they can feel about their decisions, including hiring the consulting forester that can best meet their needs.”

The new online form requests basic contact information about the landowner and the land, including acreage and location. Landowners can indicate their goals and intended woodlot use on the form. Landowner information for ownership under 1,000 acres is kept confidential in keeping with Maine law. All requests are responded to as soon as possible, Moesswilde said.

Those landowners who prefer can contact their local MFS district forester by phone and request a meeting. The MFS web site also lists information about the regional offices.

“Forestry is a long-term process,” Moesswilde said. “Getting started is often the hardest part for forest landowners. We’re there to get people the information and resources they need to make informed decisions.”

The new request form can be found at: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/fpm/df_visit.htm

For information about Maine Forest Service district foresters, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/fpm/ff/foresters.htm

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Feb 102010
 

Tree Growth – also known as the Maine Tree Growth Tax Program – is Maine’s “current use” tax program for productive forestland. The program is administered in organized municipalities by town assessors and in the unorganized territories by the Maine Revenue Service’s Property Tax Division. “Current use” means that enrolled land is valued according to its ability to grow trees for commercial use, rather than according to its fair market value. This often results in a significantly reduced property tax bill for enrolled landowners.

Tree Growth can be a beneficial program for landowners who manage their land sustainably for commercial forest products. In exchange for generally lower property valuations, landowners commit to following a written Forest Management Plan prepared with a Maine licensed forester. A licensed forester must also certify that landowners are following their plan.

Landowners are only required to submit a signed Tree Growth Application and a supporting map to the assessing agent. The details of the forest management plan belong to the landowner and are not public information.

The Maine Forest Service (MFS) provides assistance and education about the Tree Growth Tax Program, and forest management and planning in general, but does not administer the Tree Growth Tax program.

Landowners should be aware of some very important requirements:

1) Land enrolled in Tree Growth must be recertified every ten years. Written management plans must be updated at least once in a ten year period. Could this be your year to update your plan and recertify?

2) In addition, when Tree Growth land is purchased, inherited, or otherwise acquired, new landowners must re-enroll within one year of the date of transfer. New landowners may not harvest timber until they have had a new forest management plan prepared or adopted a previous but still valid plan, and re-enrolled. Have you acquired or inherited forest land recently? 

Why is this important?
 
Because Tree Growth forest land that no longer complies with the program – including failure to recertify or to re-enroll on time– must be withdrawn from the program, with potentially significant monetary penalties to the landowner. Withdrawal can occur even if you were not the owner at the time the land was first enrolled, because Tree Growth status “runs with the land” – the parcel remains enrolled, even if it changes hands.

NOTE: The assessing agent is required to provide Continue reading »

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Landowner Liability in Maine

 Posted by at 11:21 am
Dec 072009
 

One of the joys of owning land in Maine is that Maine’s Landowner Liability Law offers owners some strong protection. Basically, if someone uses your land for outdoor recreation you assume no responsibility or liability for injuries–whether or not you give permission.

There’s a great brochure developed by the Maine Department of Conservation and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on this topic. You can find a copy (along with some other great information) under the landowner relations program web site.

There are, of course, exceptions to everything… and the standard caveats (check with your insurance company, attorney, etc.). One caution to landowners is that you avoid creating clearly dangerous conditions that could be considered “mailicious” failure to guard or warn (or correct) a highly dangerous situation.

A caution to “land users” is that this law does not imply that you have the right to use other people’s land. Access to private land is a privilige, not a right, and you should aways seek permission.

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