Thursday, 14 December 2017

Small Claims Court Manual Is Helpful To Real Estate Agents

Written by Posted On Monday, 31 July 2017 19:28

Over the course of a career, a real estate broker or agent may find himself in small claims court in connection with a dispute arising out of a real estate transaction. He may be there as a defendant, as a witness, or even as a plaintiff. Sometimes, he may be involved just in an attempt to help a client, even if he doesn't have a role as a witness.

While small claims court may lack some of the trappings and formalities of higher venues, it can be intimidating enough to those who are not "regulars." Moreover, its procedures may be such as to confuse and/or hinder even those with a meritorious case to present.

Thus it is that the Small Claims Court Assistance Manual for REALTORS® and Their Clients, can provide valuable assistance to members of the California Association of REALTORS® (CAR). The manual was created by the CAR legal staff. Its declared purpose is "to help REALTORS® and their clients prepare for and present a case in small claims court."

The rules for small claims courts vary from state to state. In California, as of January 1, 2012, small claims court jurisdiction is up to $10,000. Small is bigger than it used to be. Even if a plaintiff is owed, or thinks he is owed, more than $10,000, he can choose to waive his rights to the excess and proceed in small claims court. Suppose there is a dispute over a $15,000 earnest money deposit. The plaintiff could waive the $5,000 excess over the court's jurisdiction. It is understandable why someone might want to do this. The case will be heard in a much shorter time frame than would be likely in a higher venue. Also, in small claims court there are minimal legal costs. That is because, with very limited exceptions, attorneys are not permitted to represent a party in a small claims court action.

The CAR small claims manual is designed to provide help for typical real estate related small claims matters. The first chapter provides an overview of small claims court. The second chapter is titled General Advice Applicable to all Claims; Preparing and Presenting Your Case. This consists of such down-to-earth suggestions as:

Create a folder with tabs, so that if the judge wants to see, for example, the purchase agreement, he or she can quickly flip right to it. The easier it is for a judge to find and view a document the more likely that judge will actually examine it…

Watch several cases before going to court.

State the most important part of your case first and follow up with your key points.

Definitely do not interrupt the judge. When the judge begins talking, you stop talking. Don't attempt to talk over the judge. The judge can interrupt you, but you cannot interrupt the judge.

Chapters 3 -- 6 of the manual address a variety of scenarios. They are grouped around four categories:

Chapter 3 -- Claims by a listing broker for compensation

Chapter 4 -- Claims by a buyer for return of a deposit or damages

Chapter 5 -- Claims by a seller for release of a deposit or damages

Chapter 6 -- Defenses by a broker against claims made by a buyer

The scenarios have a sample opening statement, a list of suggested documents, a list of the relevant forms or clauses, and a list of supporting legal authorities for the position that is being taken. The appendix of the manual contains the relevant forms and documents as well as the legal authorities or cases. They are not just citations, they present the opinions. This appendix is more than 200 pages long.

CAR members can access the Small Claims Manual at the legal section of the organization web site, CAR.org. It can be downloaded, or one can just use the link. The manual is a valuable member benefit.

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Bob Hunt

Bob Hunt is a former director of the National Association of Realtors and is author of the recently published book, "Real Estate the Ethical Way." A graduate of Princeton with a master's degree from UCLA in philosophy, Hunt has served as a U.S. Marine, Realtor association president in South Orange County, and director of the California Association of Realtors, and is an award-winning Realtor. Contact Bob at scbhunt@aol.com.

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