REAL PEOPLE, REAL PROBLEMS
AND A CHANCE TO HELP
Three reasons why the law appeals to real estate attorney Willis Carpenter
INTERVIEW BY ERIK LUNDEGAARD
is, you have to pay tax in many cases on that
forgiveness of debt. That’s a trap for a borrower
who thinks, “Well, I gave them back the
property, I’m out of it.” He is. Until April 15th.
Q: Is there a particular client or a case in
A: One of my favorites is the lady who
your career that stands out for you?
came into my office with her ex-husband.
In the divorce action, she was awarded a
six-unit apartment building as the only
form of alimony. Then they got a notice
that somebody else now owned the
What happened was she had neglected
to pay the taxes, and the building had been
sold on a tax deed. It takes almost four years
for that to happen so it wasn’t something
sudden. But she didn’t own the building
anymore and had no visible form of support.
My partner Andy Klatskin and I investigated.
The bottom line is we went to court and
successfully set aside that tax deed because
the treasurer, in issuing the tax deed, had not
followed all of the rules. He had forgotten to
send a notice to one of the six tenants in that
building. That was enough for the district
judge to set aside that tax deed and she got
her property back. The city attorney in Denver,
who was my opponent, said, “I’ve been here
14 years and there’s never been a tax deed set
aside while I’ve been here.” Shortly after that,
she became disabled and that was really her
only support until she died.
Q: What issues do clients tend to consult
A: There are a lot of real estate lawyers that
do one or two things for one or two clients.
I have a friend who does just leases. In my
case, I do all kinds of things. I handle real
Q: How’s the real estate market looking
now that we’re a few years away from the
global financial meltdown?
A: I expect different real estate lawyers
experience that differently. My clientele
are people who buy and sell real estate,
rent real estate, and things are certainly
still slower than they were five years ago.
But for other practitioners they may see
an upswing. We have a lot of construction
going on in the Denver area right now. I see
a lot of construction cranes on the horizon.
That’s good news.
Q: I’m curious if you felt the vibrations of
the meltdown earlier than most.
A: As I saw it through the eyes of my clients,
it seemed a very sudden happening, and
maybe that was just because we were not
sophisticated enough to see the bubble.
Certainly there were people warning that this
calamity was coming but nobody believed
it—partly because everybody was making
so darn much money. Real estate prices
were high and brokers were pushing it and
there was a good deal of avarice, and all of
a sudden it’s like you turned a valve and the
flow of dollars stopped.
It collapsed fast. It caught a lot of people
[off guard], with big loans with subdivisions,
say, where they’re selling lots, and all of a
sudden they’ve sold five or six lots and they’ve
got 100 to sell, and they can’t sell anymore.
And the loan comes due. A lot of development
loans are 10 percent and 12 percent interest,
and that really eats you up. Pretty soon, you’re
looking at bankruptcy. Or you may be able to
make a deal with your lender for a deed in lieu
of foreclosure, where you just give them back
the property and the lender lets you off the
hook for what excess you owe. The only trouble