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posted: 2/20/2010 12:01 AM

What qualifies as a legal bedroom varies by location

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Q. Can built-in wardrobes take the place of a closet in a bedroom? I want a room to still be designated as a bedroom, but I am looking at using built-ins and taking out the old closet.

A. When can you legally call a room a bedroom? To find out, check with your local building bureau. Only in some places is a closet essential. After all, many landmark houses were built before bedrooms typically had closets.

The requirements differ from one area to another. Sometimes there's a minimum square footage, or an outside wall is essential. Often, the main requirement is "two means of egress" - in other words, another exit if the door is blocked. In some places, a basement room can qualify if it has a window large enough that a person could escape that way. In other localities, the window must be large enough to admit a firefighter wearing full equipment.

Q. My husband and I have been looking at homes for seven months and have had really bad luck with agents. We are expecting a baby in April and need to get out of our apartment.

We have found a home through my co-worker that actually belongs to her mom, and they are doing it FSBO (for sale by owner). We agreed on a price, but then she informed us that she discovered two liens on the property, but they had been paid.

She waits weeks to return my calls and says she will call the bank, but she never does. Are we being unrealistic or is she being rude? All we are asking is that she keeps us informed, but she says she is too tired from work. She says she can't afford to pay utilities, but she doesn't seem very motivated. The house is empty and has been broken into for an underage drinking party by her granddaughter and damaged once already. Any advice? We really like the house, but we are on a time limit and don't like games.

A. Your situation illustrates exactly what real estate professionals are good for - bringing the parties to what is known as a "meeting of the minds" and then guiding the transaction to a successful conclusion.

It's not clear why your seller needs to speak with the bank. It's not clear if those liens have really been lifted. It's not clear if the property is in good enough condition to qualify for a mortgage loan. And unless you have a signed purchase-and-sale contract, you have nothing you can hold the seller to anyhow.

If you do have a contract, ask a lawyer to find out where you stand. If you don't, hire a real estate broker - perhaps by the hour - to investigate whether this project is likely to go anywhere.

Q. I read your article regarding the first-time buyer tax credit. Could you clarify a point? Does this apply to a contract-for-deed arrangement where the seller is financing the sale of the home?

A. Evidently that depends on the provisions of the contract, including whether the would-be buyer will be paying taxes and insurance. Here's what the IRS says:

If the taxpayer obtains the "benefits and burdens" of ownership of a residence in a seller financing arrangement, then the taxpayer can claim the credit even though the seller retains legal title. Factors that indicate that a taxpayer has the benefits and burdens of ownership include:

• The right of possession.

• The right to obtain legal title upon full payment of the purchase price.

• The right to construct improvements.

• The obligation to pay property taxes.

• The risk of loss.

• The responsibility to insure the property.

• The duty to maintain the property.

Q. I have been paying a mortgage on my home for five years. I have an issue that has come up where I may need to move across town to help a relative keep her place and pay the rent to live there. What are my options?

Sell this house? I hope not! Rent it? For how much? Take out an equity loan on the house I own and use it to pay for my rent on the other, collecting rent from the house I can rent out to another? What would be the most profitable way to go about this? I know there has to be some good solution.

A. Without knowing more about the situation, I suspect the best solution would be to stay out of it. Your relative could simply look for a different boarder, without involving your house in the complications. Otherwise, I suspect you'll be asking for trouble.

• Edith Lank will respond to questions sent to her at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14620 (please include a stamped return envelope), or readers may e-mail

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