Register’s Corner: Shedding light on solar contracts

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By William P. O’Donnell, Norfolk County Register of Deeds

When the spring months roll around, we seem to get a lot closer to Mother Nature. We see our neighbors arranging flower boxes, planting bushes, and watering their lawns.

Additionally, it’s a common sight to see landscaping vehicles, and now it’s not unusual to view solar paneling trucks scattered throughout every neighborhood.

When it comes to energy, more and more people are thinking “green.” Solar panels have become an attractive option for many homeowners with their environmental paybacks, attractive financing, and lower utility costs. Today, Massachusetts is ranked as one of the top states in the country for installed residential solar energy (PV) systems.

There’s a lot to like about solar roof panels, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically sign on the dotted line. For as the saying goes, when it comes to reading any contract, “The devil is in the details.”

Please remember this is a major financial transaction for you. Although the cost of solar installation is about one-third of what it was a decade ago, today’s systems can cost up to $20,000 to $30,000. It is why a lot of consumers find financing the system to be a more reasonable alternative. Additionally, these contracts with the solar energy companies can last up to 20 years.

Many people are unaware after signing a financing contract that a document may be filed with the Registry of Deeds by the solar company called a Uniform Commercial Code 1 Statement (UCC-1), which allows the business to place an encumbrance on your home, and it can only be discharged from your deed when you make your final payment. A (UCC-1) is a legal form that the creditor files with the Registry of Deeds to give notice that it has or may have an interest in the personal property of the debtor.

Unlike a mortgage, which has to be signed by the homeowner, a (UCC-1) can be filed by the company without your signature. Therefore, many customers are not aware of its existence. If a Norfolk County homeowner has a solar panel contract, they can check to see if a (UCC-1) has been placed on their deed by contacting our customer service department at 781-461-6101 or checking our website at norfolkdeeds.org.

Consumer advocates are becoming increasingly aware that some homeowners are having difficulty obtaining equity loans and reverse mortgages if they have leased solar panels due to the (UCC-1) encumbrance on the deed. Furthermore, if you are selling your home, you should not assume that your solar panel contract will roll over to the new owner. If the buyer is not approved by the solar company, per some contracts signed, the owner is faced with the purchasing of the solar panels and equipment before they can sell their own home.

Whether you lease or purchase your solar panel system, there are a lot of other issues to be aware of. It is why I urge that a licensed attorney review the contract.

Finally, as the proverb states, “To be forearmed is to be forewarned.” I therefore recommend to anyone seriously considering solar panel installation to go to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website and download a copy of “Advice to Homeowner’s Considering Solar Panel Installation.” Another publication to download is from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources titled “A Massachusetts Homeowner’s Guide to Solar.”

Around the Real Estate Block: Canton property sales totaled 72 for May 2017. The average property sale price (including residential and commercial) for May was $626,265. Homestead filings for May were 58. There was one foreclosure deed filed against a Canton property for the month of May.

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