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posted: 8/20/2011 12:01 AM

On homes and real estate: What to do if a house won't sell

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Q. My husband and I are trying to sell so we can move and I can start college. Our home was built in 2006, and we have set a very reasonable price. After paying off the mortgage and the commission, it will only leave us with maybe $3,000. I am OK with that, but it has been on the market for three months already, and we must move now. I am getting desperate and don't know what to do.

We considered renting out the house, but that makes us uneasy, as we will be living about eight hours away. On the Internet, I read about the company We Buy Ugly Houses, and they state that they will buy any home -- not just ones in bad shape -- but I'm not sure about them. We need to get rid of this house quickly, or our move and my enrollment in school will not happen. I appreciate any suggestions or advice.

A. Companies that offer cash for your home have to buy at a discount. That's useful if you must sell overnight in an emergency, but you could do better on the open market.

You say, "We set the price," but that's not how it works. Buyers determine value. If your price were really "very reasonable," a buyer would have come forward by now. Consider: If you offered your home for $2, it would sell in five minutes. And somewhere between $2 and what you're asking is a price level that will attract offers.

It's no good basing your price on what you need to get out of the house. Buyers don't care about your needs, only about their own. If your town is in a difficult market where buyers have plenty of other places to choose from, your price should stand out from the competition.

As for renting -- you're right. Becoming absentee landlords is asking for trouble, especially if you're amateurs at it.

Q. Can a homeowners association foreclose on my property for late fees and interest not paid?

A. Like anyone to whom you owe money, an HOA can go to court and ask for a judgment ordering you to pay up. If the judge grants it, the HOA can then place the judgment as a claim against your property. After that they could in theory start a foreclosure action, just as a mortgage company or any other lien holder could.

Q. In 1995, my mother (now 99 years old) transferred the title to her home on Cape Cod to my sister and me. The original price was $4,500, and in today's market, the house may be worth $700,000 to $800,000. She has continued to live in her home, keep it maintained and pay the taxes. My sister and I live in other states. If we sell upon her death, would we have to pay capital gains taxes since it was not our place of residence?

A. The general rule is that your cost basis is the same as your mother's, because you took that over when you received the property as a gift. But if your mother continues to live in the house until her death and treats it as her own, you just may be able to claim that there wasn't a valid transfer and that you inherited the house with a "stepped-up basis" (or value at the time of death).

And by the way, if it turns out that you have to use your mother's cost basis, that would be a lot more than the original $4,500. It may have changed when your father died, and in any event, it is increased by money spent on permanent improvements over the years.

Q. Let's say a buyer made an offer that a seller accepted. Then, after 21 days, the buyer decided to withdraw from the agreement. Does the buyer have to submit a letter regarding the decision to back out voluntarily from the agreement?

A. The whole point of a written contract signed by both parties is that it's binding. The buyer and seller both need to depend on it. It's a done deal.

So if you want to drop out, you'd better consult a lawyer. Sometimes the contract offers a way for you to cancel. If it does, your attorney will show you what to do. Otherwise, you're legally bound by what you signed. In that case, the lawyer can explain what could happen if you don't fulfill the promise you made.

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

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