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posted: 12/24/2011 12:01 AM

On homes and real estate: Timeshare problem

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Q. We have had a timeshare for more than 20 years. My husband is now 83, and we can't afford to keep paying maintenance fees; his health is our No. 1 priority now. The places we have contacted want thousands of dollars to either sell it or take it off our hands. Many years ago, timeshares were considered real estate. Could you advise us on what to do?

A. Congratulations on not falling for any of the scams you've been offered. I hope you enjoyed your vacations over the years. That's what timeshares are for. Yours probably is legally real estate, but that doesn't automatically make it a profitable investment.

Ask the developer or the management company if they'll take your unit back. Put an ad in the local newspaper where it's located, offering to give it to anyone who'll pay the legal costs of the transfer.

Consult with your lawyer about what could happen if you simply stopped paying the fees. Often there's no real problem, particularly if the timeshare is in another state and if you're of an age where you're not much concerned about your credit rating. Discuss it with your attorney, though, before doing anything.

Q. Can the title of a home approaching foreclosure be transferred to someone else? If possible, what happens to the homeowner and the new titleholder?

A. Yes, title could be transferred if the foreclosure process hasn't gone too far.

The person who buys the property also receives all the liens or other financial claims attached to it. The new owner must pay them off or face losing the property in -- guess what -- a foreclosure auction.

The original owner is still bound by his or her personal promise to repay the mortgage debt. Depending on the legal language used in the transfer, the new owner may also be personally liable.

Q. I'd like to get my mortgage paid off sooner and save a lot of money by taking advantage of those lower interest rates. I'm 78 years old, and three years ago I took out a $50,000 15-year mortgage at 6.25 percent. I add something extra every month in order to get it paid off sooner.

Should I first ask my mortgage company if they would lower my interest rate? Or should I just go to another loan company offering, say, a 10-year mortgage at 3.25 percent with no points? What's in my best interest?

A. Your own lender is the place to go first. I doubt if they'll lower your rate, but it won't hurt to ask. If they offer you a completely new loan at today's rates, that would involve new closing costs. You'd have to figure out whether it'll be worth doing.

You may run into a problem if they decide you want to borrow too little. It isn't profitable for lenders to go through all that paperwork and underwriting for small mortgage loans -- especially ones that get paid off ahead of time.

Q. Nine years ago we entered into a land contract with a young couple allowing them to live in the house while they were buying it month-by-month. Both husband and wife signed the land contract.

They are now divorced. He is an unemployed stay-at-home father of two girls who live with him in the home. She is a schoolteacher and is required to pay child support. In the divorce decree, he's assigned the house. Is she still responsible for payments if he fails to pay?

I never released her from the contract, even though her attorney requested I do so.

A. I'm not a lawyer and I haven't seen the documents involved, but for what it's worth: The divorce decree is between the ex-spouses, and it has no effect on your land contract.

Q. I want to make my four-bedroom home into a three-bedroom with a master suite, but will I decrease my home's value by doing this?

A. I don't know what the rest of your house is like, how it compares with its neighbors, how long you plan to remain there and how much you contemplate spending. As always, with a question like that, my advice is this: Seek opinions from local real estate brokers who know your neighborhood. They're used to offering free advice.

• 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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