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posted: 12/10/2011 12:01 AM

On homes and real estate: Reducing the commission

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Q. We are building a new house and dealing with the real estate agent who represents the builder. We plan to use this agent to sell our current home. Should we expect a reduced real estate fee from that agent for selling our current home? I was thinking of a discount of 1 percent. Is this reasonable?

A. Real estate commissions are negotiable, but that's assuming your agent is willing to negotiate. Actually, the decision may not be up to the person you've been working with, because your listing contract will be made with his or her brokerage firm. You may end up discussing the matter with the principal broker in that office, who is legally responsible for supervising your agent's actions.

Q. My husband and his brother recently inherited their father's home. The dad custom-built the home in 1966 and installed a lifetime asbestos composite shingle roof. There have been no issues with the roof. The brother wants to replace it (at great expense), thinking the asbestos content will be a deterrent in selling. What do you think?

Also, is there a way to insure his empty home that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? And should we have an inspection before listing it with a Realtor?

A. If the roof isn't fraying or shredding, many inspectors will say it poses no problem. If it needs to be removed, contractors who are specially trained and qualified to handle asbestos must do the job. I'd suggest taking the question to several experienced local brokers, who pretty much know what buyers will think.

Insurance isn't my field, but I believe that insurance rates on a vacant house are sometimes lower if someone is sleeping there occasionally. I've also heard there's a difference between unoccupied and vacant. And it may make a difference if the place is on the market. Talk with several insurance agents.

Some sellers have professional inspections before listing. In my area, at least, most don't.

Q. Is a property of three bedrooms, two baths with a garage that has been converted to a rental room (permitted) worth more than the same house with a garage instead? If so, how much more?

A. Sorry, but I'm not an appraiser, and I don't know your neighborhood. Local real estate brokers would have better opinions. You can call up a few nearby brokerages and ask the managing broker what he or she thinks -- free advice with no obligation.

Q. We own a recreational piece of land in the country. It came with a right of way across the corner of the adjoining piece. Originally, a family member bought the adjoining piece and then later sold it. The woman who now owns the adjoining piece has put up a wood barricade and refuses to let us use the right of way.

We built a new entrance for many thousand of dollars, but how can we make her let us use it without going to court? We've had to have a surveyor come and verify that we were right, and still, the woman who owns the adjoining piece will not budge. Looking for an idea that does not cost money.

A. Do you know if the right of way is entered in the public records or mentioned in the relevant deeds? It sounds as if it may be, because your surveyor found it. I'm afraid you'll have to end up spending money for legal help. It's time to take the problem to a lawyer.

Q. My husband is building our house. He's a contractor who has built before, and we have all the necessary permits. We bought the land and have a well, utilities, septic system and driveway, and my husband built a large pole barn, which is finished. The foundation is in, and we're living in the capped basement. He has the exterior and interior walls framed.

My question is this: At what point can we apply for a mortgage? We took out personal loans for the septic and framing wood. Everything else was paid for with our savings, which now is gone. I'd like to combine the two personal loans and have enough to finish the house. I've inquired at banks, where I always get the runaround and no real answers.

A. Lenders require that the building gets certified by the local building inspector as being ready for human occupancy. Perhaps you already have that. But banks don't want to take a chance at getting a half-finished building back on their hands someday. It's their bat and their ball -- and their money -- so you have to play by their rules.

• 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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