DEAR BENNY: I am one of the unfortunate who has to deal with eventual foreclosure. Can you tell me how long I can remain in my home until legally having to vacate? –Constance

DEAR BENNY: I am one of the unfortunate who has to deal with eventual foreclosure. Can you tell me how long I can remain in my home until legally having to vacate? –Constance

DEAR CONSTANCE: Before the foreclose takes place, please talk to your lender — and not just a low-level loan officer but someone high in the company. With all the foreclosures taking place throughout the country, lenders (at least the legitimate ones) do not want yet another foreclosure on their books. If no one buys at the foreclosure sale, the lender will be stuck with the house and will have to pay real estate taxes and insurance.

Also, check with your county and state governments. Many governments now have programs to assist borrowers who are in trouble, so you may be able to save your house.

How long do you have to stay in the house if it is foreclosed? Technically, you have to move out when the house is sold. But again, talk with your lender. They may be willing to let you stay for a period of time, if you can pay some rent. Lenders do not want houses to be vacant.

If the home is scheduled for foreclosure, I would attend that sale. Find out who bought it — it may be the lender itself if no one bids. Then discuss your situation with the buyer; once again, you may be able to strike a deal with that buyer.

To my knowledge, although you have to move out, it has been my experience that many homeowners whose property has been foreclosed upon just stay in the house until eviction proceedings are brought, and then they move out.

DEAR BENNY: I live in North Carolina and my neighbor recently planted trees, two of which are on my property. Where do I stand? –Brian

DEAR BRIAN: I can’t give you advice about North Carolina law because I don’t practice law in that state. However, I suggest that you arrange to have a survey made of your property so that you will know exactly where your property line is. If your neighbor’s trees are even one inch on your property, I would try to meet with your neighbor and discuss the situation with him or her. Be friendly; perhaps you can invite the neighbor over for coffee.

If the trees are on your property, you have the absolute right to demand that they be removed. If you do not object to those trees, then perhaps you can reach an agreement that the neighbor will maintain the trees. And while it may be a very small amount of money, you may want to ask your neighbor to pay the percentage of your real estate tax on which the trees stand on your property.

Finally, depending on your own state law, so long as you will not injure anyone or cause any property damage, you should have the right to cut down the trees if they are on your property.

DEAR BENNY: I’m a 66-year-old female living in California. I’m divorced and own three homes — two rentals and one primary residence. I plan to leave my children an equal interest in my real estate holdings upon my demise. I do not have any other investments, savings, IRAs or holdings worth mentioning.

I need to generate a living trust, but keep postponing it due to the cost. I ran a search online and saw that one can order the necessary paperwork for the price of $149. I am a Realtor (retired) and would be able to obtain prelims on my properties myself.

What do you think? Would it be binding? –Marianne

DEAR MARIANNE: I cannot recommend that you use what is generally referred to as "off the shelf" legal documents that you can get on the Internet. These documents are general in nature, and may not be specific for your needs.

Since you have the ability to assist a lawyer, I am sure that you can negotiate the attorney’s fee. But I strongly recommend that you consult a local attorney who understands real estate and living trusts.

DEAR BENNY: I presently have a Starker (Section 1031) exchange with my brothers invested in a rental property. We had this set up for about five years. If we sell the whole property, can it be divided into three shares with each one of us owning one share for another exchange? It is hard to work with three owners when we live in different areas of the country. –Marilyn

DEAR MARILYN: If the property is in the name of a partnership — instead of in your three individual names — then when the property is sold, you either have to pay the appropriate capital gains tax or do another exchange. The new property (called the replacement property) must be in the name of the partnership.

If, on the other hand, the property is titled in your individual names, then when it is sold, each of you has the right to enter into another exchange on your own (or pay the tax and keep the balance of one-third of the sales proceeds).

If the property is in the name of a partnership, here’s a tip: In the year before the property is sold, formally dissolve the partnership and put the property in the name of the three of you. Then, next year, you each have the right to do with your one-third as you so desire.

DEAR BENNY: I purchased a townhouse in my brother’s name until I resolved my financial difficulties. He already owns several properties. I am not really benefitting from this transaction. My intent is to have him transfer ownership to me this summer.

How do I get my name on the deed and the mortgage? –Janet

DEAR JANET: Your brother will have to deed the property to you. You and your brother will have to explain the situation with the current mortgage lender. They may be willing to allow you to assume the obligations of that mortgage, and they may also release your brother from his obligations.

Much depends on the lender and the kind of loan currently on the house. If it was an ARM (adjustable-rate mortgage), the lender may be willing to cooperate with you. On the other hand, if the existing mortgage contains a lower rate of interest than is currently available, the lender will probably not allow you to take it over.

If you have cleared up your credit, and can qualify for a mortgage on your own, then it may all work out alright. If you are unable to qualify, ask your brother if he will guarantee the loan. This may convince the lender to allow the transaction to take place.

But your brother should consult a tax accountant to determine any tax consequences he may have when he transfers the property to you.

DEAR BENNY: My tenants are divorcing. I received a 30-day notice from the husband. His spouse was not part of the 30-day notice. She would like to continue renting the property. My concern is that she does not have a job, and will be able to afford the rent only from monies received from spousal or child support. Her mother (who lives out of state) has offered to cover the rent if this becomes necessary. What should I do: create a new month-to-month tenancy? Who would be named? What precautions should I take? –Monica

DEAR MONICA: I would recommend that you enter into a new lease with both the current tenant and the mother named as the tenants. Make sure that the lease states that the tenants are "jointly and severally" responsible for paying the rent. This means that each tenant is legally obligated to pay the full monthly rent.

How long a term should you have? That really depends on you. If you think that the tenant will take good care of the house — and that with the assistance of her mother, the rent will be paid timely — then why not consider a year’s lease? The mother may be concerned that a month-to-month is too short a period of time.

DEAR BENNY: Are title examination and loan origination fees legitimate or just junk fees? –Lee

DEAR LEE: There are some consumers who believe that most, if not all, of the lender’s charges are "junk" fees, which means that they are not necessary for the settlement (escrow) process, but are primarily used to increase the lender’s profits.

For years, lenders would charge between $50 and $75 for a credit search. As a result of litigation on this matter — and the fact that everyone can get a free credit report at least once a year — lenders now charge a lot less for the credit search.

Loan origination fees are, in my opinion, junk fees. But in most cases, if you want to get a loan, you will have to pay this to the lender. You should try to negotiate this fee as well as all other charges when you begin the loan application process.

The title examination, on the other hand, is legitimate. The mortgage lender is going to give you a large sum of money and wants to make sure that your house will serve as good collateral to secure the loan. You will sign a deed of trust (the mortgage document), which will be recorded among the land records in the county where the house is located. This document gives the lender the right to foreclose on the house if you cannot make the monthly payments. But if there are other lenders — or other clouds such as tax liens or mechanic’s liens — on title, the new lender will not have the security that it needs. So a title search must be obtained to satisfy the new lender that it will be in first position against your house.

Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to benny@inman.com.

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