DEAR BOB: I own a commercial property with residential lots in the rear. There is a fence along the rear of my property, about 7 feet within my side of the property line. There is a paved parking lot on my side of my fence. One of the residential houses in back of my lot was recently sold, remodeled and flipped. The flipper landscaped his backyard up to my fence, making it look as though my property is part of his yard. The buyers are using my fence as their backyard boundary. I’m not sure if the buyers of that house understand they don’t own the 7-foot strip of my lot on their side of my fence. What should I do? –Jane H.
DEAR JANE: If I understand the situation correctly, the fence is 7 feet on your side of the lot boundary. To protect your interest in that 7-foot strip of your lot — which the previous adjoining owner landscaped — you or your attorney should send the new owner a polite letter informing him of the true boundary location, which is 7 feet from the fence.
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With limited exceptions, fences are not automatically lot boundaries (although they often are built on boundary lines).
If the neighbor continues using your 7-foot strip of land without your permission, it may be possible for him to acquire a permanent prescriptive easement to use that land strip forever. One way to prevent this is to grant permissive use.
The reason is acquiring a prescriptive easement requires open, notorious, hostile (without permission) and continuous use for the number of years required by state law.
Another alternative would be for you to erect a new fence along the true boundary, which, if I understand you correctly, would be 7 feet within the neighbor’s landscaped area. For full details, please consult a local real estate attorney.
AS A SALES INCENTIVE, OFFER TO PAY BUYER’S CLOSING COSTS
DEAR BOB: When selling a home, what fees are “junk fees”? My mother is selling her home in Sterling Heights, Mich. The three real estate brokers who want her to list the house with them all suggest she offer to pay the buyer’s title insurance and other closing costs. Is this necessary? –Gordon K.
DEAR GORDON: When selling a home, the seller usually doesn’t encounter any unnecessary “junk fees” in addition to the customary listing agent’s sales commission. Local custom usually determines whether the buyer or seller pays the title insurance fee.
However, a sneaky trick some listing agents use is to charge, on top of their sales commission, an “administrative fee” of $295 upward for handling the paperwork. When signing a listing with a realty agent, your mother should be sure to read the listing form and cross out any extra administrative fee or other charges in addition to the sales commission.
You should be aware most areas of Michigan are in a very depressed “buyer’s market,” making homes difficult to sell. If your mother’s listing says she will pay the buyer’s title insurance and other nonrecurring closing costs, that could be a major sales incentive to make her home sell whereas other homes without incentives might not sell.
IS CO-OWNER ENTITLED TO 50 PERCENT OF PROPERTY-SALE PROFIT?
DEAR BOB: I own a house in Portland, Ore., with the father of my children. We were never married. But both our names are on the title. Am I entitled to 50 percent of the property proceeds when the house is sold? He has done work on the house and lived in it for 10 years. I have never received any rent or used the tax deductions. We need to sell, but he wants more than half of the property as he has improved the property. We have nothing in writing and the house is still a “fixer-upper.” Can he legally demand more than half the profit? –Jacky D.
DEAR JACKY: Your co-owner can ask for anything he wants, but you don’t have to agree. No, you are not automatically entitled to 50 percent of the net profit without considering the cost of the improvements he added.
Don’t be greedy or he might decide not to sell. Worse yet, you might wind up in a partition lawsuit to force a sale. It would be best for you to be reasonable, after giving your co-owner an allowance for the cost of the improvements he added. For more details, please consult an Oregon real estate attorney.
The new Robert Bruss special report, “Pros and Cons of Investing in Rental Houses and Condominiums,” is now available for $5 from Robert Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, Calif., 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.
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