DEAR BOB: Quite by accident, my wife and I stumbled on a beautiful 3.5-acre hilltop parcel for sale near a small town where we have vacationed many times. The asking price is quite reasonable, but it has been for sale over 12 months. There is a very good reason: It is landlocked with no permanent access to a public road. It has a dirt road over a neighbor’s land. The real estate agent introduced us. The neighbor is a “good old country boy.” He says we can use the dirt road over his acreage “if we don’t cause trouble.” When we explained we would like to build a retirement home if we buy the 3.5 acres, he said, “That might be all right if you don’t cause no trouble.” However, we would want to pave the dirt road because in rainy weather it could become dangerous. Is there any way we can force the neighbor to sell us a permanent easement? –Dean W.
DEAR DEAN: Possibly. You certainly don’t want to risk buying that landlocked land without a permanent recorded road access easement.
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The general rule on landlocked parcels, depending on state law, is the owner of the landlocked property has a right of access to a public road. However, to acquire such access you must be able to prove at one time in the past both the landlocked parcel and an adjoining parcel with road access had common ownership.
The legal theory is that when the property was subdivided, the owner forgot to provide road access to the landlocked parcel.
This is not a do-it-yourself project. You need to consult an experienced real estate attorney, and a title researcher, to determine if you meet the requirements for an easement by necessity. If not, your best alternative is to buy a permanent easement over the neighbor’s land. Cash usually talks.
CAN A QUITCLAIM DEED SIGNED BY MISTAKE BE UNDONE?
DEAR BOB: I refinanced my home to lower my interest rate and the payments. At that time, I thought my grandson should co-sign because he was making part of the payments. By mistake, I signed a quitclaim deed giving him right of survivorship. How can I get my property back? My daughter (my grandson’s mother) will inherit the home in my will. –Alice McC.
DEAR ALICE: For your grandson to co-sign on the mortgage obligation, the lender probably required him to be on the title. That is probably why you were presented with the quitclaim deed conveying an interest in the property to your grandson.
If you had not signed that quitclaim deed, you probably wouldn’t have received the new mortgage.
Although a title mistake can be “undone,” you might not want to do that. You and your grandson should consult a local real estate attorney to discuss the consequences. He might stop paying part of your mortgage payment if he can’t claim the tax deduction because he is no longer a co-owner.
HOW TO ESTABLISH A PAST STEPPED-UP BASIS
DEAR BOB: My wife died in 2003. We lived in our house for 35 years and I continue living in it today. Having read your articles about stepped-up basis, I realize if I decide to sell, this will be very important to have my basis stepped-up as of the date she died. How do I prove the market value on that date? –Morton G.
DEAR MORTON: An easy way is to check with the local tax assessor’s office to see what value they showed for your home as of that date. If that valuation is acceptable to you, ask for a copy and file it away in your important records file.
That’s what I did when I inherited some property in 1991. In the local jurisdiction, each property is reassessed annually and I felt the assessor’s market value estimate was reasonable. That became my adjusted-cost basis for the inherited property.
However, not all local tax jurisdictions reassess each year. Some assessments are far lower than market value. If that is your situation, I suggest you hire an experienced licensed appraiser to determine the 2003 market value of your home. The appraiser can do this by checking comparable 2003 sales prices of homes like yours.
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