DEAR BOB: About 10 years ago, I bought a nice lot on a top-rated golf course. The community is filled with $500,000 to $1 million homes. Mine is the only unimproved lot fronting on the golf course. Builders wanting to buy my lot often phone me. The area is booming and a large corporation recently announced it plans to build its headquarters nearby. My tax appraisal recently jumped substantially. I will be retiring next spring and plan to sell the lot then. But how can I determine its market value? The developer still owns a few lots nearby but he no longer offers them for sale as he builds spec homes on them before selling. How can I determine my lot value? – June F.
DEAR JUNE: Congratulations on making a very smart real estate investment. Disregard the local tax assessor’s valuation as it is usually below market value.
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As a starting point, hire an experienced local professional appraiser who is familiar with the community to evaluate your property. It won’t be an easy assignment so he or she might charge a substantial fee.
Next, I would contact the developer to see what he would offer you for your important lot. Of course, don’t let him know you already have a professional appraisal.
He is your logical buyer. But if his offer isn’t what you want, then you might list your lot for sale for 90 days with a successful local real estate agent and see what happens. Since you’re not in a hurry to sell, you can take your time after having done your homework to guesstimate what your lot might be worth.
NO ESTATE TAX DUE IF YOU LEAVE LESS THAN $1.5 MILLION
DEAR BOB: I have outlived all my relatives (including my wife and two sons). My closest relatives are back in Europe and I hardly know them. I have my real estate and other major assets in my living trust. My total estate will probably be less than $500,000. Upon my death, does my executor have to pay tax on my assets before distributing my property to my European heirs? – Van L.
DEAR VAN: Why leave your assets to distant relatives you hardly know? There are many worthy U.S. charities that will gladly accept your assets. Surely, you have contact with a church or charity that can benefit from your estate.
In 2004, the current federal estate tax exemption is $1.5 million. Because your total assets are well below that amount, estate tax is not an issue. However, I suggest you consider changing your living trust to leave your assets to a church or charity rather than to overseas relatives you hardly know.
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DEAR BOB: My “baby brother” died recently at age 67. We were shocked because he was in such good health. Years ago, we bought a small commercial building together. It has been a great investment, which appreciated two or three times in market value. But my brother died without a will. Under state law, his widow inherits his property. However, several times we discussed that if one of us dies, the survivor is to inherit the commercial building. Do I have to accept the widow as my co-owner? – Angela H.
DEAR ANGELA: Yes. Unless you and your late brother held title as joint tenants with right of survivorship, his share of the property passed by his will or, because he didn’t have a will, by the state law of intestate succession to his surviving widow.
However, your conversations with your late brother are irrelevant. You should have insisted the title to the property be changed to joint tenancy with right of survivorship, or perhaps a living trust, to assure your mutual wishes resulted. From your report, it seems you own half of the property with your late brother’s widow. For more details, please consult a local real estate or probate attorney.
The new Robert Bruss special report, “How to Become a Successful Real Estate Negotiator,” is now available for $4 from Robert Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, CA 94010 or by credit card at 1-800-736-1736 or instant Internet download at www.bobbruss.com. Questions for this column are welcome at either address.
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