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Do I need a real estate lawyer to change the ownership to my name on the property's title?

San Jose, CA |

Coming out of college, my credit was not too good so I asked my cousin to help in purchasing a house for me. I saved enough money and was gifted some money from family for the down payment for the purchase. Since the close of escrow, I have been paying the mortgage every month as well as the property tax every year. The title is under my cousin's name and I want to transfer it over to mine now but she is not willing to do it. What are my options legally as I am too familiar with real estate law in CA. Do I have any legal rights to the property even though the title is not under my name but I have been living in the property and making mortgage payments for the past 5 years. Please advise. Thank you in advance.

Attorney Answers 6


  1. The lessons here are too obvious. Any court action would probably be met with an "unclean hands" defense, meaning both parties conspired to defraud the lender, leaving the parties where they found themselves. Still, you could try with some sort of implied or express or constructive trust theory. If you now have the financial ability, arranging a "purchase" from your cousin and taking out a new loan would solve a lot of legal problems here, and maybe the better answer is to offer your cousin some money to go along with the program. You should consult local real estate counsel.
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    Disclaimer: California attorney Robert Miller has practiced for over 45 years and restricts his practice to real estate and probate matters in the Central District of Los Angeles. Any opinion expressed is for general informational purposes only, no attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this answer, and no action or inaction should be contemplated without first employing and consulting with a competent attorney convenient to the questioner.


  2. Sue and be prepared to prove where the down payment and monthly payments came from!

    My name is Stephen R. Cohen and have practiced since 1974. I practice in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA. These answers do not create an attorney client relationship. My answers may offend I believe in telling the truth, I use common sense as well as the law. Other state's laws may differ.. There are a lot of really good attorneys on this site, I will do limited appearances which are preparation of court documents it is , less expensive. However generally I believe an attorney is better than none.


  3. I agree with my colleagues. This could get messy for you and your cousin. It would be wise to seek the advice of a local real estate attorney in this matter.


  4. Do you need a lawyer? Yes you do. As mentioned above get all our records together and consult with real estate litigation attorney. Your tracing of the down payment (who paid and from where) all your payments made along with property tax and insurance. Do not engage in self help with your cousin before the consultation with an attorney as you may give away the farm unknowingly saying something you shouldn't. Good luck.

    In addition to AVVO's disclaimer, please note that by this answer no attorney client relationship is intended mor entered into and unless there is a signed retainer agreement in place, neither me nor anyone in our office has intended to solicit clients nor reprints them. The answers are general in nature and without weighing specifics of particular query. No answer should be relied on in whole or in part, directly or otherwise to act or not to act in pursue of any of your potential claims in law or equity. You should consult with and obtain advise or representation of an attorney to protect your rights regarding your case or matter.


  5. Yes, hire a real estate or civil litigation lawyer right now. If the property has value, it will be well worth the investment in sound legal advice and assistance.

    In all cases it is advisable to consult an experienced attorney. Nothing stated herein is intended as legal advice for your specific situation, and you should use the information provided solely for the purpose of choosing an experienced attorney for the problems presented.


  6. You will need to engage an attorney to investigate the following: 1) all sums paid by yourself, 2) all sums paid by your cousin, 3) the fair rental value of the property, and, 4) any evidence (e-mails, correspondence) supporting your contention that your cousin agreed to take title in her name, then deed the property back to you. If that fails however, you should still be able to recover the difference between what you have paid for the property and its fair rental value.

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