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posted: 10/29/2011 12:01 AM

On homes and real estate: Signed the listing

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Q. After I spent several hours with a broker preparing (and signing) a listing contract, she said, "Let's go outside so I can see the back of the house." We were shocked to see that torrential rains the previous day had caused extensive damage to both my property and that of my adjacent neighbor.

I told the broker I must immediately call a construction company and the contract must be put on hold until all work was completed. The area is quite a mess with equipment all over both lawns and is not at all conducive to good marketing. In retrospect, on discovering the problem, should I perhaps have immediately told Ms. Realtor that I wanted to cancel the contract until further notice?

Meanwhile, I've been approached by a party who might be interested in my home. Since the realty company has not photographed or advertised in any way, am I within my legal and ethical rights to consider an out-of-contract offer, should one occur?

I want to now tell the broker I will consider the listing null and void, establish a new listing date later when the work has been completed, and consider for-sale-by-owner offers if they come in. May I do this? I feel the broker appears to be a good and honorable young woman; I would certainly use her services in the purchase of my next home.

A. The whole point of a contract is that it's binding. While I haven't seen your document, I suspect you promised to pay a commission if the property were sold during the period of the listing. Most contracts also contain a clause extending that obligation if the place is sold for some time afterward to a buyer who saw it while it was listed.

A broker's services go way beyond simply finding someone who wants to buy the property. You could probably use some expertise in negotiating a sale price, making sure the buyer is financially qualified to go through with the purchase, arranging inspections and dealing with problems that may come up on the way to a successful closing.

Before you consult a lawyer about your legal responsibilities, contact the supervising broker in that company to see if some compromise on commission is appropriate.

Q. My girlfriend purchased her house in 2009 and received the $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit. If she refinances yet still remains in the house, does the $8,000 have to be paid back?

A. The 2009 tax credit, unlike the 2008 one, does not need to be repaid if the homeowner remains in residence for at least three years. Details about her financing don't make any difference.

Q. My fiancee and I decided to purchase a house many years ago prior to getting married. She contributed zero dollars, and I have since paid the house off in full. The problem is, she signed her name at the closing as if we were already married when we were not. We lived together several years until she left and purchased her own home in another state.

We never married, and therein lies the problem. Currently, the property carries my name, and her first name with my last name. Can you tell me how to remove her name from the property? Technically, as the married name she assumed was not legal, she does not exist.

A. I suspect that she does exist no matter what name she was using, and that she may still have a claim to half-ownership. But, of course, I'm not a lawyer. I'd like to hear what your own attorney says. If you don't like the answer, consult a second lawyer -- and please let me know what that one says, also.

My guess is that it'll cost you something to persuade her to sign over her claim to the title.

Q. As the result of a divorce, my name needs to come off a cottage that my ex-husband and I owned together. What's the best way to go about this? Do we need to see a lawyer -- for some reason my ex's lawyer never did it -- or can we just handle it ourselves?

A. Two different things may be involved here. The deed determines ownership of the property. To make your ex full owner, you need merely sign a new deed turning over your share to him. A lawyer should help with this simple procedure.

But a mortgage, if there is one, pledges the property as security for a loan and also holds each borrower personally responsible for the debt. You cannot avoid liability for that unless it is paid off or the lender agrees to release you. You'd need to contact the mortgage holder to discuss whether that is possible and on what terms.

• 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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