DEAR BOB: My mother signed a listing contract to sell her Lauderhill, Fla., condominium. She said the listing agent told her a 6 percent sales commission and a six-month listing period were mandatory and there is a fee imposed if the property is sold by a different real estate agent within 30 days of the contract expiration. Are these statements true for Florida real estate? She had only two showings of her condo during the first two weeks of the listing and none since then. Her listing expires in October. What should she do? –Mike K.
DEAR MIKE: That listing agent lied to your mother. Real estate sales commissions and listing terms are fully negotiable in every state.
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A few brokerage firms set listing rules for their sales agents, such as a 6 percent minimum commission and a six-month listing term. But your mother was free to list with another agent upon different terms. Listing terms are not set by state law.
Your mother must be a very patient person. To have only two showings of her condo to prospective buyers and no purchase offers indicates something is seriously wrong.
Maybe it is overpriced. Perhaps it isn’t being actively advertised in newspapers and promoted in the local MLS (multiple listing service) as well as on the Internet at www.Realtor.com and other Web sites. It sounds like that listing agent wasn’t using “due diligence” to get the condo sold.
Thankfully, the listing with that agent is about to expire. Your mother should interview at least three successful local real estate agents who sell condos like hers, preferably in the same condo complex. She should ask lots of questions about their client references of recent condo sellers and then phone those sellers to inquire, “Were you in any way unhappy and would you list your condo for sale again with the same agent?”
To avoid getting stuck with a bad agent again, she should either sign a 90-day listing or a longer listing with an unconditional cancellation clause after the first 90 days.
WHERE SHOULD PARTITION LAWSUIT BE FILED?
DEAR BOB: Many years ago my husband and his brother bought a property together. His brother died several years ago. His two children inherited the brother’s half of the property. Unfortunately, they never transferred title into their names. They live in New York state. The property is in Colorado. My husband wants to sell, but they are not cooperating. Since several states are involved, in which state should he file a partition lawsuit to force the sale of the property? –Gloria G.
DEAR GLORIA: A partition lawsuit can only be brought by a co-owner in the state and county where the real property is located. The out-of-state co-owner heirs will be summoned to appear in the lawsuit to raise any objections they might have to a court-ordered sale of the property.
Because their names are not on the title, although they are the heirs of their late father’s 50 percent of the property, when the property is sold their share of the proceeds will probably be held in trust for them. But that’s their problem, not yours. For details, please consult a local real estate attorney where the property is located.
GET A REVERSE MORTGAGE EVEN IF YOU HAVE A MORTGAGE
DEAR BOB: I am 74; my husband is 79. Our house is in desperate need of repairs. But our mortgage is not fully paid off. I understand there is some way we can get a reverse mortgage anyway. Is this a good way for us to go? –Nancy P.
DEAR NANCY: Presuming you want to stay in your home at least five years, a reverse mortgage can be the ideal solution to your problem.
If your current mortgage’s balance is less than 50 percent of your home’s market value, you can probably obtain a senior-citizen reverse mortgage. Part of the proceeds will be used to pay off the existing mortgage to eliminate its payments because the reverse mortgage must be recorded as a first mortgage.
Your excess entitlement can be used to pay for your home repairs or any other desired purposes such as lifetime income. To find a reputable reverse-mortgage representative in your area, go to www.reversemortgage.org. More details are in my special report, “The Whole Truth About Reverse Mortgages for Senior Citizen Homeowners,” available for $5 from Robert Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, CA 94010 or by credit card at 1-800-736-1736 or instant Internet delivery at www.BobBruss.com.
WHAT IS STEPPED-UP BASIS FOR INHERITED FARM?
DEAR BOB: In 1972 my friend’s husband bought a farm (prior to their marriage). In 2003 he added her name to the deed. He died in 2005. She recently sold the farm. What was her basis for tax purposes? Was it the 1972 purchase price or the market value in 2003 when she was added to the deed? –Ruthann T.
DEAR RUTH: The correct answer is “neither.” Because your friend inherited her late husband’s interest in the farm, she had what is called a new “stepped-up basis.”
If the farm is located in a community property state where they lived, then your friend’s new stepped-up basis became the market value on the date of her husband’s death.
However, if the property is located in a non-community property state, because your friend already owned 50 percent of the farm, she received a new stepped-up basis on only half of the farm’s market value on the date she inherited her late husband’s share. She should consult her tax adviser to calculate her exact stepped-up basis.
WATER CISTERN PREVENTS OBTAINING REVERSE MORTGAGE
DEAR BOB: I tried to help my mom get a reverse mortgage. After the lender put us through six months of gathering info and costly reports, she was turned down because she has a water cistern and a well for water on her property. The cistern tested fine for water pollutants, but the well, which is used mainly for other purposes, did not. Mom has little income and her home is all she has to help pay for her care. What should she do? –Diana W.
DEAR DIANA: I have never heard of a water cistern except in third-world countries. Depending on rainwater is not a reliable water supply. If the well water can be certified safe to drink, that could solve the problem.
Frankly, the lender was very smart to turn down the reverse mortgage due to lack of a reliable drinking-water supply. If an adjustment can’t be made to make the well water safe to drink, maybe it’s time for your mom to sell her home and move to an assisted-living facility.
WHY SMART HOME SELLERS OBTAIN PRE-LISTING INSPECTIONS
DEAR BOB: I need your opinion on having a house professionally inspected before listing it for sale. I heard of a family that had such an inspection and then listed it for sale. The house sold quickly after that. The person relating the story said some real estate agents consider it a waste of time and money to have such an inspection. What is your opinion? –Jan M.
DEAR JAN: The smartest home sellers have their homes professionally inspected before signing a listing. Then the seller knows about the home’s defects and can either have them repaired before putting the house on the market or they can be disclosed to prospective buyers up front.
Pre-listing home inspections are becoming very common. It is not a waste of time and money for the seller to have a house professionally inspected before putting it on the market.
$250,000 HOME-SALE EXEMPTION ALSO APPLIES TO INSTALLMENT SALE
DEAR BOB: If I sell my free-and-clear home where I have lived the last few years and claim that $250,000 tax exemption, what if I agree to carry back a mortgage for my buyer? Will I get any tax breaks on the payments? –Dale McG.
DEAR DALE: Yes. All your principal residence sale capital gains are tax-free up to $250,000 (up to $500,000 for a qualified married couple filing jointly) if you owned and lived in it at least 24 of the last 60 months before its sale. The same exemption also applies to your installment sale principal payments received when carrying back a mortgage for your buyer.
However, the interest income portion of each mortgage payment you receive from your buyer will be taxable as ordinary income. If your home-sale capital gain exceeds your $250,000 (or $500,000) exemption, then part of each installment-sale payment will be taxable as long-term capital gain. For details, please consult your tax adviser.
The new Robert Bruss special report, “Five Easy Ways to Buy Your Home and Investment Property for Nothing Down,” is now available for $5 from Robert Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, CA 94010 or by credit card at 1-800-736-1736 or instant Internet delivery at www.BobBruss.com. Questions for this column are welcome at either address.
(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center).