Moving to a new home can be an exhausting experience. Even if you have someone else pack and move all the boxes, there is still plenty to do, from filling out change-of-address forms to getting a new phone number.
And, as with most things in modern life, there is a legal angle. Complicated paperwork flowing in connection with the purchase of the home may contain many minor details that could come back to haunt you. One of us knows this well, having just gone through the process. (Many of the boxes are still unpacked.)
One of the more irritating "benefits" of a move to a new house is a slew of mail. Most of it is routine--plumbers offering their services, mini-blind companies with a new discount and "welcome to the neighborhood" coupons from local retailers. But there are some legal-looking documents that bear special scrutiny.
Official-looking notices that appear to come from your bank may be pitches for mortgage insurance. In several of the solicitations we received, the lender's name was listed prominently and the return address was vague, like "processing center." If you want mortgage insurance, then buy it knowingly, not by filling out a card you believe to be from your lender.
There are so many papers to sign--county records, deeds of trust, escrow instructions, loan papers--that you might sign an official-looking document without knowing what it is. So, read carefully.
After our move we received no less than three official-looking documents from organizations with names such as "County Document Service" and "County Recording Services." They were solicitations from services that charge $15 to $20 to prepare a declaration of homestead, which is designed to protect a portion of your equity from creditors putting a lien against the house.
The amount of homestead protection varies, up to $100,000, depending upon a number of factors. (The entire value of the house is not protected.) You can consult an attorney to determine if you need to file a declaration of homestead. Nolo Press, (800) 992-6656, publishes a helpful, do-it-yourself book about the subject called "Homestead Your House," which includes forms and sells for $9.95.
Here are some other tips for new homeowners:
Before you move, make an inventory of the significant items being taken by the moving company. You may even want to keep a photographic record.
Send change-of-address forms to significant correspondents such as credit card companies, auto and life insurance companies, the DMV, your bank, anybody who owes you money, former employers (for pension benefit records), and, of course, your friends.
After the move, check your furniture so you can make an immediate claim for any damage.
Register to vote at your new address.
Keep all papers in connection with the purchase, including information on costs, points paid for the loan, moving expenses and remodeling charges. These will come in handy for tax purposes.
The Recorded Deed of Trust for your new home should arrive within a month or so after the purchase is completed. Keep it in a safe place. If you never get it, check with your escrow officer or the county recorder's office.
And, in the rush of all this paperwork, don't forget to say hello to your new neighbors.
\o7 Klein is an attorney and president of The Times Valley and Ventura County editions. Brown is professor of law emeritus at USC and chairman of the board for the National Center for Preventive Law. They cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about law. Do not telephone. Write to Jeffrey S. Klein, The Times, 9211 Oakdale Ave.\f7 ,\o7 Chatsworth, Calif. 91311.\f7