When to sue for an undisclosed defect

This post is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney, not a blog.

You just bought a house! ūüôā Congratulations! You just discovered that foundation is cracked, although the seller said the foundation was fine… ūüôĀ My condolences…

The next logical question: can you get some recovery from the seller given his failure to disclose and/or concealment of this defect? The absolute first step in answering that question is to determine the amount of money it will cost to fix the problem. There is only one certainty in litigation: it’s expensive. Where the cost to fix the problem is less than the amount you would expect to incur in attorney’s fees and costs, it may very well be in your best interest to bite the bullet and pay for the repair without seeking compensation.

Let’s assume your cracked foundation will cost $50k to repair. That is more than enough to seriously consider threatening and possibly proceeding with a lawsuit. The next step would be to consult an attorney who could analyze your facts and render an informed opinion as to the likelihood of your prevailing. If you’ve got “good facts” (e.g., seller affirmatively represented condition of foundation, crack appeared to have been purposefully concealed, you performed your own inspection that did not identify the crack), then it may be time to take the very serious step of suing the seller (assuming he refuses to compensate you voluntarily).

But what about those attorney fees? They will still eat up most, if not all, of what you seek to recover. (In the case of Stieneke v. Russi, which I discussed in my last post, the cost of repair was $72k, but the attorney fees and costs through appeal were $175k.) Will you be able to recover those from the seller too?

The answer to that question is a very definite “probably” — hardly the assurance you are looking for. Some courts (particularly those in Eastern WA) have determined that this type of claim (fraud) is unrelated to the contract for sale, so that even though the contract contains an attorney’s fees clause (which allows for an award to the prevailing party), no fees are available. Other courts (particularly those in Western WA) have determined that, because the contract is central to the dispute, the attorney’s fees provision would apply. Given this degree of uncertainty in the law, there is a chance that you may win but still end up losing money given your legal costs.

One final note: the attorney’s fees clause in the contract, if it applies, cuts both ways. So, if you sue and lose, you very well may be liable for the seller’s legal fees and costs, in addition to your own. In that case, your total cost for the unsuccessful suit could approach $100k, even if you don’t appeal. Accordingly, it is essential to get good legal advice about the merits of your case and the likelihood of prevailing before filing suit.

The Commission-Based Fee Structure: it’s Bad for Buyers

Reduced SOC[This post updated 12/2014 and 3/2016 and 9/2016]

This post is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney in person, not a blog.

Originally, all¬†real estate agents ¬†represented only the seller. The “listing” agent signed the contract with the seller that entitled the agent to sell the house and earn a commission. This agent worked for and had a duty to the seller, of course. The listing agent informed other agents about the house now available for purchase by posting it on the Multiple Listing Service.

Another agent, the “selling” agent, would see the listing and show it to a potential buyer. Even though the selling agent then assisted the buyer in purchasing the property, she actually — and legally — worked for and owed a duty to the seller only. Upon the sale, the listing agent would split the commission required by the listing contract¬†with the selling agent. After all, they cooperated in making the sale.

The system made sense – least back then – as an efficient way of selling property. Some agents today still look at commissions in this light. As James Melanowski, an agent, said in a recent comment (#20):

There is one commission. I get paid x% to sell your property and with that x% I will do everything in my power to do my job. That may include paying a buyer’s agent, it may not. I may want to pay that agent y%, y-1/2%, or y+1/2% to bring that buyer to the table. The point is, x% is what you pay ME and it is to do with as I please.

Unfortunately, in the old, historical system – echoes of which are still heard today – buyers usually mistakenly believed that “their” agent represented them in the transaction. In reality, “their” agent, the selling agent, worked only for the seller, and the buyers had no representation at all.

With the evolution of consumer protections, many states revised this system. In 1996, Washington passed RCW Chapter 18.86, which by law altered this arrangement. Since then, in Washington a “buyer’s” agent owes a duty only to the buyer, regardless of the source of compensation, while a “seller’s” agent represents only the seller. Notwithstanding this new legal arrangement, the term “selling” agent is still used today by the MLS to describe a buyer’s agent(much to the chagrin of enlightened agents — right, Ardell?).

But if the buyer’s agent now represents the buyer, why is the buyer’s agent still paid by the seller? This alone is enough to create a conflict of interest that could potentially impact the quality of the buyer’s representation (see RPC 1.08(f)).

There are other implications. A buyer selects her agent and works closely with the agent to find and buy a house, an intimate and expensive proposition. The agent works for and owes a duty to the buyer. So shouldn’t the buyer have the ability to decide how much to pay the agent? Under the current system, based on an outdated and no-longer-applicable model of representation, it is the seller — not the buyer — who ultimately determines the buyer’s agent’s compensation. This leaves the buyer with no ability to match the fee paid with the services provided. Yet most buyers now do their own initial home search themselves on the internet.

In addition, agents can and do represent both buyers and sellers. Thus, they have a vested interest in a system that promises a significant commission for both sides of the transaction. With flat fee listing and FSBO, the listing agent commission has come under increasing price pressure, and indeed it is not uncommon for listing agents to reduce their commission from the previously “standard” 3% (often times as long as the seller will also use the same agent for the following purchase, thus allowing the agent a subsequent and “full” 3% commission).

The “selling” agent commission (SOC), however, is immune from such price pressure given the current business model. Indeed, as Kary Krismer, another agent, said in a comment (#31) to a recent post in reference to a buyer’s agent’s commission of 2.5%, rather than the standard 3%:

Well, it’s not that it’s a waste, but it’s not a wise decision at all. We’ll show buyers 2.5% properties, and have actually had a number of transactions in them. But there are some agents that won’t, or that subconsciously might down-talk the property.

Agents may argue that they are “entitled” — or, more accurately, earn — a full 3% given the time and efforts they invest in a sale. But that alone cannot justify this failure to show properties with a slightly lesser commission. After all, even 2.5% is a reasonable — to say the least — paycheck given the average house price (2.5% of $400k is $10,000). Thus, whether consciously or subconsciously, a significant number of agents fail to best serve their clients’ interests (by showing them ALL suitable properties and giving honest and accurate advice about each) simply because they won’t make as much money.

While that is not absolutely wrong, at a minimum the buyer should be aware of this “limited” representation. How many buyer’s agents — who discriminate against SOCs of less than the “full” 3% — have that conversation with their clients? So consciously or not, brokers provide inferior services to buyers where sellers offer less than a 3% SOC.

That said, there is some early¬†downward price pressure on the SOC, thanks to the Seattle startup scene. Surefield, a licensed broker and member of the NWMLS, now offers a $2000 SOC. It is able to do so thanks to its patented 3D virtual tour technology that powers its listings. This “virtual” tour makes it easier to sell the house, so Surefield offers a much lower buyer’s agent’s commission.

There is the “granddaddy” of Seattle startup real estate firms,¬†Redfin. It’s been around for more than 10 years, plugging away at the issue and in the process making it clear that sellers don’t necessarily need to offer the “full” 3% SOC. Although the amount¬†has dropped significantly over the years, Redfin still rebates a portion of the SOC to its client at closing.

And there is Seattle real estate firm Added Equity Real Estate¬†(formerly Quill Realty),which is at the forefront of change. Added Equity¬†withdrew from its local Multiple Listing Service¬†in June of 2015. Since then it has been the only real estate firm in Western WA to sell houses without offering a buyer’s agent commission. Seattle startups are leading the charge on lowering the SOC!

Finally, because the commission is a transaction cost, it stands to reason that a decrease in that cost will benefit either buyers or sellers or both (either prices remain the same with less costs and more money to the seller, or prices are reduced to reflect the reduction in costs, or both). With the current system, there is virtually no incentive to reduce this cost — or, for that matter even an ability to do so, unless the buyer is willing to forego an agent and either use an attorney or self-represent. Given what is at stake, an attorney is the prudent choice. Some¬†lawyers are marketing themselves to buyers who want to buy without¬†an agent in order to save the 3% SOC.

So, the current commission-based fee structure, based on an outdated and now inapplicable model, leads to increased transaction costs (than what would be available in a truly competitive market) and a decreased quality of buyer’s representation. I’d say that’s bad for buyers. But changes are on the horizon.

Image above © Iqoncept | Dreamstime.comCommission Percent Sign Ball Earning Bonus Pay Rate Photo

Buying without an Agent: How to get that 3%

[Updated 3/2016]

This post is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney in person and do not rely on a blog.

I’ve written elsewhere about the practical steps in buying without an agent. The Big Question, of course, is this: Will that save me any money? If it does, then every buyer should at least consider using a real estate attorney rather than¬†a real estate agent to buy a home.

As an initial matter, you must understand where the money starts and where it goes in a typical transaction. It starts, of course, with you, the Buyer. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Oh, sure I used an agent to buy my house — he was free! I didn’t pay him anything!” As a practical matter, that is just not true .

Remember that, of all the parties involved in the transaction (seller, buyer, listing agent, buyer’s agent, title insurance, escrow, lender, mortgage broker, etc.) only one brings money — you, the Buyer. Everyone else gets paid from the Buyer’s money. So while you may not pay your agent directly, you most certainly do pay him out of your pocket (or, more accurately, out of the money you have borrowed from the bank, and which you must repay, with interest).

And exactly how does your agent get paid with your money? Well, the seller previously signed a contract with the listing agent where the seller promised to pay a certain percentage in exchange for the agent finding a buyer. The “typical” percentage paid is 6%, although there is some degree of variability with figure. Per the rules of the MLS, that commission is then shared with the buyer’s agent when the house is sold (or, more accurately, with the buyer’s broker, but I won’t get into that for simplicity’s sake). Most sellers and listing agents agree to give 3% to the buyer’s agent, on the theory that anything less will attract less interest from buyer’s agents (I’ll get into the ethical issues of that dilemma in a future post).

The listing agent has a contractual right to the full commission. If you go without an agent (e.g., drafting the offer yourself (discouraged) or using an attorney), then the listing agent will not need to share any portion of the commission. While the agent has no legal obligation to accept anything less than the full commission as set by the listing agreement, the agent is free to accept less than full payment if he is so inclined. So, the buyer can structure the offer such that, if the listing agent cooperates, the selling price is reduced by 3% (or whatever percentage was to be shared with a buyer’s agent). The seller will presumably lean on the listing agent to reduce the commission, as everyone gets what they expected out of the transaction.

All that said, clearly the seller and not the buyer pays for the buyer’s agent – suggesting otherwise is simply a helpful analytical approach. But equally true, the buyer can benefit by reducing the seller’s anticipated¬†and already-accounted-for costs. When the buyer does so, the seller is likely to pass most if not all of those savings back to the buyer in the form of a reduced price.

So regardless of the perspective, in the final analysis a buyer can pay less by reducing the fee paid to the buyer’s agent. So smart buyers do so by skipping an¬†agent and reducing their offer by the 3% to be saved by the seller.

Finally, what about all of the extra work for the listing agent? Yes, there may be a more work, such as being there for the inspection since there is no buyer’s agent. But don’t forget that, in any one transaction, a listing agent makes a very fair fee. What is the average amount of time a good listing agent invests in a listing? And, assuming a 1.5% commission to the agent (after the broker’s cut), what is the average fee? Given a median home price of $400k, the agent will make $6k. Assuming 50 hours of time, that’s $200 per hour. A little “extra” work (it is, after all, all part of the job) is not unreasonable if necessary to secure that amount of compensation.

So, if you’re thinking of buying a house, consider ALL of your options and figure out what is best for you. If you want to save a lot of money (we’re not talking pennies here), consider using an attorney instead of an agent (you should absolutely use a professional given the value of the transaction, and realistically these are your two options).

Using an agent to buy a house? That is soooo 20th century…

This post is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney directly (i.e. not via a blog).

This is Part I of a multi-part post.
Part I: Visiting the Property
Several months ago, I authored a post about buying a house without utilizing the services of an agent. It generated quite the conversation (concluding with this tasteful comment from our friends at Bloodhound Blog: “Entirely self serving, badly argued with serious errors of omission, it generated some pleasant acrimony in the comment section…”) and eventually led to the promise of a “blogging death match” between me and Ardell — okay, Ardell, it’s ON!

It used to be, way back in the 20th century, that a potential buyer had no way of searching the “market” for the perfect home. There was no single “market” (as in marketplace) for consumers because properties were invariably listed on the MLS, and MLS data was private and accessible only through an agent. Thus, to search the marketplace, the buyer needed to hire an agent who could then search the data for the perfect home.

The advent of the internet changed all that, of course. Today, while agents (or more accurately, brokers) still control the data, it is available publicly through innumerable search engines . Thus, a buyer can now find the perfect home without ever speaking with an agent — until it is time to actually visit the property before making an offer (buying a home sight unseen based on pictures on the internet is only for the very brave and the very foolish). As a result, most buyers at that point simply contact an agent (we’ve all got family, friends, friends-of-family, and family-of-friends who are agents and who would love to assist) who can then provide them with access to the property.

But that service (and perhaps others! Good agents are a veritable repository of helpful information concerning property) comes at a significant cost. The typical buyer’s agent expects to be paid 3% of the selling price as a fee for his or her services (with some portion of that going to the buyer’s broker). This substantial sum (do the math yourself — it is a lot of money for even an “affordable” starter home) travels a circuitous route from the buyer to the agent. When listing the property on the MLS (still the de facto marketplace) the seller signs a contract with the listing agent (more accurately, the listing broker). That contract entitles the agent to a certain percentage of the sales price (typically 6% but there are many exceptions). That commission is then shared via MLS rules with a buyer’s agent, with 3% usually going to the buyer’s agent. Accordingly, at closing, 3% of the purchase price is paid by the buyer to the seller, who then pays it to his listing agent/broker, who then pays it to the buyer’s agent/broker.

So if you want to see the property but don’t want to hire an agent because you don’t want to pay such a significant sum, how do you get in to see the property? Easy: Contact the listing agent. Way back when property values were skyrocketing, some listing agents felt that they should not have to assist a buyer in seeing the property. Those days — at least for now — are over. As TJ commented on my last post:

I think the time when sellers and sellers agents have the luxuary to pick and choose buyers on petty criteria’s like if they have a buyer’s agent or not is soon going to be history.

Contact the listing agent, let her know you want to see the property, and schedule a mutually convenient time. In this market, the listing agent should be more than happy to show the property to a prospective buyer.

[Part II coming soon: “how to get that 3% back into the buyer’s pocket” which will further discuss the services that might otherwise be provided by the agent.]

A lesson in the dangers of distressed property purchases…

A friend of mine contacted me the other day about a property investment opportunity that her brother-in-law (BIL) was placing in front of her and her husband. The property in question is located in the city and state where the BIL lives – and it’s far from the Seattle area at roughly halfway across the country. The house reportedly, and confirmed in the report I read, has a major mold issue that has attacked even the underlayment of the floors. (if you want to see some gross mold photos, check out this site) The buyer’s agent and BIL (who agent represents) are attempting to state that the water damage was caused by the former owner having a drug problem and not cleaning up after himself or perhaps because of a water leak in the bathrooms and from a leaking dishwasher. Hmmmmm…..

The house is supposedly being offered off-market at a lowball price of $400k for this tony neighborhood where $550k-800k is the common price points for various sized homes. Even the listing agent is nervous about selling the house with the mold issue but the owner is now deceased and the family can’t afford the home or to fix the home. This tells me that there is likely no insurance money to fix the problem especially if the insurance company deemed it to be failure of the owner to maintain the property. BTW – did most of you know that this is a common disclaimer in most insurance policies? If an insurer can point to an owner’s failure to maintain (ie. ignoring a leak) they can deny coverage. Also, as I’m learning, this particular state has had a rash of insurance companies choosing to deny the option of mold coverage in their policies at all… period because of prior mold problems that required huge insurance payouts.

Now, the price point initially sounds good but my personal concerns surround the mold issue, the fact that it has not been specifically identified in the mold specialist/inspection results, and the amount of work that actually needs to be done to get this house back in to the condition that this neighborhood typically expects. We are getting conflicting reports about the source of the mold and no one has sent my friend photos of the subject property to review. Also, there is the stigma associated with trying to sell a house that has HAD mold – and note I say “HAD” mold because frequently the average consumer can’t get past… well, the past. Agents are required to disclose known material defects, and so are homeowners (at least in WA State), so you’d have to tell a prospective buyer about the issue, even if it was fixed.

The BIL is a contractor and thinks he can replace the floors for about $20k and the only other item he thinks he needs to fix is a broken bathtub. Again, hmmmmmm……. Somehow I don’t think that this will be all that needs to be done.

His (BIL) expectation is that someone else will come in with the money to buy the property and he’ll do the labor and then they’ll split profits. I’m telling my friend/client that there is a lot more that needs to be sorted out and specified in a contract between the parties of the financial investor and the contractor (BIL). Thankfully, she agrees. On top of this issue there are questions of whether or not the house can be purchased with financing (likely not), what type of financing (preferably a renovation loan) is available, can it get insured, will it require oversight (it seems so based on the mold report) and by which entities (city, inspector, insurance, bank? most likely all of the above) and what it will cost to have re-testing done (what if it doesn’t pass?).

After even more phone calls today to the agent I have now learned that the listing agent is actually his secretary who has just gotten her license 2 months ago and that this is her first deal – ever. On top of this news, I also ferret out that the house is in foreclosure so we’re in a short sale position IF the $400k is even accepted. Wait, let’s recount the issues in a quick rundown….

1. mold problems that may or may not have had the water issue fixed.

2. foreclosure with short sale with proposed sale price at 80% of owed amount.

3. estate sale with unknown additional liens, taxes, etc. owed or owing. If the guy was truly a cocaine addict as desribed to us then there could be a lot more outstanding. Also unknown is who is actually selling the house: the widow, the attorney, the lender? Since it’s not yet foreclosed it’s likely the widow or attorney.

4. listing agent that works for the guy trying to be the buyer’s agent (MAJOR conflict of interest and not initially disclosed)

5. 1st time listing agent that has no other sales or negotiating experience working with a guy who has little, if no, experience in short sales.

6. unknown actual costs of repairs

7. no current photos available for review by prospective buyer (yet)

8. unknown lending environment for a distressed and damaged property

9. unknown insurance liability and potential to be an uninsurable property

I know what I think about this deal (a potential disaster) but I’d be curious to hear from others. What are your opinions? Would you go for it, and why? If you wouldn’t touch it, I’d love to hear your comments too.

Sellers — are you getting SC@EWED by the lender? Fight back!

Over the last few weeks, there have been a few¬†posts¬†here on RCG discussing the means by which loan originators¬†enhance their income by “harvesting” seller paid closing costs that otherwise would have been retained by the seller.¬† In a nutshell, the process works like this: In the purchase and sale agreement, seller agrees to pay “up to” a certain sum in buyer’s closing costs.¬† Immediately prior to closing, when all costs are known, the loan originator determines that the closing costs are less than the maximum amount to be paid by the seller.¬† The loan originator then increases the loan origination or related fees to “soak up” the difference between the “actual” costs of providing the service to buyer and the amount that can be charged based on seller’s obligation to pay up to a certain amount.

As I (and many others) noted in comments on the above posts, this conduct is dishonest and reprehensible.¬† Why should the loan originator (or other¬†service provider, such as escrow) be paid an amount beyond that quoted in the Good Faith Estimate or elsewhere?¬† The service provider agreed to provide a service for a set fee, but then increases that fee at the last minute not because of additional work, but because there is additional money “available.”¬† Clearly, this constitutes a windfall to the loan originator at the seller’s expense.¬†

In Washington, there is a law, the Consumer Protection Act¬†(CPA), that prohibits any unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of commerce.¬† If a person is the victim of conduct that violates the CPA, that person has a legal claim against the wrongdoer.¬† If the plaintiff prevails on such a claim, the plaintiff is entitled to an award equal to the amount they lost as a result of the wrongful conduct, plus an addition sum equal to three times that amount (up to $10,000), plus their attorney fees and costs incurred in pursuing the claim.¬† The legislature specifically enacted this law to create “private Attorney Generals,” private citizens who would have the incentive to seek out and punish unfair or deceptive business practices.

If you are a recent seller, you may have been victimized by the conduct described above, and you may have a claim under the CPA.¬† To find out, first determine whether you agreed in the purchase and sale agreement to pay “up to” a certain sum in closing costs.¬† Presumably, the more you agreed to pay, the more likely it is that some of those funds were “harvested” by the loan originator or other service provider related to the transaction.¬†

If you agreed to pay “up to” a certain amount, then you need to research further.¬† Ask your Closing Agent to provide you with a copy of the buyer’s HUD-1 Settlement Statement, which will show the amount paid by you (on buyer’s behalf) in closing costs.¬† If your Closing Agent will not provide you with a copy, contact your agent (if you used one), as the purchase and sale agreement requires the Closing Agent to share documents with the agents.¬† Once you obtain a copy, have it reviewed by someone knowledgable about typical closing costs to determine whether any are obviously excessive.¬† Alternatively, contact the buyers and see if they will share a copy of their Good Faith Estimate.¬† Comparing the GFE to the HUD-1 should indicate whether there were any significant (and presumably last minute) increases in the buyer’s closing costs.

If it appears that you were the victim of this scam, contact an attorney who is knowledgable about consumer law and/or real estate law.¬† The attorney may be willing to take the case on a contingency basis (meaning the attorney gets paid only if you recover funds) given the attorney’s fees provision in the CPA.¬† If it appears that you paid an additional $2000¬†in closing costs, then you could recover that $2000 plus an additional¬†$6000, for a toal recovery of $8000.¬† Of course, I would be happy to discuss the matter and would very probably be interested in taking the case.¬† Regardless, though, sellers need to step up and enforce the protections of the CPA if we are to discourage this conduct in the future.

Where's the line between "agent" and "lawyer"?

As with any blog post, this does not constitute legal advice. If you have a specific question, consult a specific attorney. 

Recents posts (first by Russ, then by Reba) have examined the role to be played in real estate transactions by agents and lawyers.¬† No doubt, everyone has a strong opinion based on their own personal experiences.¬† But what’s the law on the issue?

We all know that the seminal case on the issue is Cultum v. Heritage House Realtors, 103 Wn.2d 623 (1985). In that case, the buyer told the agent that she wanted to be able to inspect the home and rescind the contract based on her subjective interpretation of that inspection. Acting on this request, the agent used a form “drafted by an attorney” to include in the contract a very simple inspection contingency: “This offer is contingent on a satisfactory Structural Inspection, to be completed by 8/20/80.” The agent used the “single standard form” provided by the broker.¬†The buyer performed a whole house inspection and was not satisfied with the results.¬†The seller, however, refused to return the earnest money because the report did not objectively indicate any structural defficiencies.

The trial court found that the agent, in drafting the contingency, engaged in the practice of law.¬† The Supreme Court agreed, as the agent clearly created a document that affected the legal rights and obligations of the buyer. However, the Court decided that, in the interests of an efficient real estate market, an agent should be allowed to engage in the limited practice of law.¬† Thus, the Court concluded (using “agent” in place of “broker/salesperson”:

“[An agent] is permitted to complete simple printed standardized real estate forms, which forms must be approved by a lawyer, it being understood that these forms shall not be used for other than simple real estate transactions which arise in the usual course of the [agent’s] business and that such forms will be used only in connection with real estate transactions actually handled by such [agent] as [an agent] and then without charge for the simple service of completing the form.”¬†

However, “if [the agent] believes there may be complicated legal issues involved, he or she should persuade the parties to seek legal advice.” Moreover, “when completing form earnest money agreements, [the agent] must comply with the standard of care of a practicing attorney.” 103 Wn.d20 at 630-31.

So when does the agent cross the line and engage in the unauthorized practice of law?¬† Before rereading the case in response to the above posts, I thought that a Form 34 was a standing invitation for an agent to cross the line.¬†However, that very probably is not correct.¬†After all, the agent in Cultum wrote a simple contingency, and that fell within the Court’s rule allowing agents to practice law to a limited extent.¬† (The agent was ultimately liable for the buyer’s loss because the contingency was poorly written, but that’s another topic).

The answer, as suggested by the posts and the comments, turns on the complexity of the clause being inserted into the Form 34. If it’s a “complicated legal issue,” it’s not appropriate for an agent.¬† Seller wants to take chandelier?¬† Probably OK. Contract is contingent on events not directly within the control of the parties?¬†Probably not OK. Unfortunately, there’s no bright line rule to be applied in every situation.

In light of that rule, should agents be trained in how to insert contractual language in a Form 34?  After reading Cultum, I think so. They have the legal authority to do so and almost certainly will if necessary to meet the needs of the client. If they can and will do so, then they should have appropriate training so that they can do so competently.

And a final note: should an agent review a non-client’s PSA?¬†Well, the agent does so at his or her own risk, as that review clearly falls outside of the rule set by Cultum.¬† The review almost certainly constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.