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updated: 12/17/2011 7:49 AM

On homes and real estate: For sale by owner

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Q. A friend of mine is attempting to sell his home "For Sale by Owner." Although he would have no selling commissions, is he legally liable for the buyer's portion of commissions should the buyer be using an agent? What phraseology should he use to avoid this happening, or what should he look for to avoid this situation?

A. Your friend is liable for a buyer's agent commission only if he signs a sales contract promising to do so. If he doesn't want to pay any commission, either would-be buyers who are using an agent agree to pay any fees themselves, or he simply rejects their offer.

Q. Is there any possibility that Congress will change the repayment requirement for the first-time homeowners tax credit of 2008? My children each bought a house in September 2008 and received a $7,500 loan, which they have to pay back. Those who bought a home four months later received $8,000, which they don't have to pay back.

A. Who ever said life was fair? That first tax credit -- the one your kids used -- was really an interest-free loan. At least it did help them buy their homes, and I hope they're enjoying them.

I haven't heard anything about a change in the requirement that they pay the credit back. Perhaps the question should be taken to your Senator or congressperson's office.

Q. Several years ago, my parents put their primary residence into a life estate, naming my three siblings and myself as heirs. My father passed away this last year, and my mother has decided that she would prefer to live in an independent senior living facility. We would like to sell the property, but can we do this given that my mother still has "life?" If we are (or she is) able to sell the property, who is entitled to the proceeds and when?

A. Your mother, as the present owner, along with her children, as the eventual owners, can join together to sell the house. The IRS has tables, which, based on her life expectancy, show what percentage of the proceeds would belong to her.

Q. My question is, do you have to be qualified to get a house with the option to buy?

A. An option to buy is an agreement between you and the owner of the property. It would be up to the potential seller to decide if you looked like a safe bet.

Q. My wife and I both have our names on our mortgage, but we're looking at separating and eventually divorcing. Is there any way to get one of our names off the mortgage so that the other can own the home?

A. It's simple to arrange for one ex-spouse to own the home alone. You can leave the mortgage as is and still deed the title over to just one of you. But if you want the other spouse relieved of any liability for the mortgage, I can think of three ways to accomplish that:

• Pay off the mortgage. That'll work only if you have the cash to do it, of course.

• Contact the lender about a procedure by which one of you proves financial qualifications and the lender releases the other. That'll only work, of course, if the lender agrees -- and if you're qualified.

• Refinance the house in one name only, and use the money to pay off the old mortgage. That'll work only if the one retaining the house can qualify to get the new loan. Sometimes, of course, the new owner doesn't do what was promised in the divorce decree. Then, the other writes me to say, "He/she was supposed to refinance and never did so. Now I own nothing but I'm still liable on the mortgage." So be careful.

Q. I have a friend who is one of four siblings who have been willed their mother's home. He's currently living in the home, as he has been for approximately three years. The other siblings are telling him he needs to get out because they're selling the home. What right does he have in this matter? Legally, do they have the right to kick him out of the house?

A. Any one of the co-owners can force a sale of the property. If your friend tries to fight this, it'll only end in wasteful legal costs all around.

If your friend wants to continue living there, and if he is financially able, he could get a mortgage loan and buy the others out.

• 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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