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posted: 3/24/2012 5:28 AM

On homes and real estate: Prepare to do legwork with limited services brokers

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Q. My wife and I are going to put our house up for sale soon. Someone told us about a realty company that lists your home on the Multiple Listing Service, provides signs and paperwork, and has a number of services you can purchase. There's a flat fee, but you can get extras if you want them to show the house, buy a door lockbox, etc. You decide how much to pay another company if it finds the buyer (e.g., 3 percent).

Saving on commission would mean a lot to us. I am also not in a hurry to sell my house. What is your take on these companies as opposed to those that charge a full commission?

A. There's no one right answer about limited services. Every home seller's abilities and needs are different.

I'd be interested in knowing how many people sign for a la carte brokerage services and then eventually move up to pay for full service. A lot depends on how much time you have for studying the market and researching required disclosures and fair housing regulations, as well as on how comfortable you are discussing finances with strangers and how skilled you are at negotiation.

Understand, by the way, that there is no standard or legal commission rate. Fees are always negotiable between seller and broker -- assuming, of course, that any particular brokerage agrees to negotiate. That's true even if rates do seem to end up clustering around a particular figure in any locality.

Q. My accountant says $500,000 is the maximum amount of capital gains that can be tax-free for a couple selling their longtime home. Your column said it is $1 million. What gives?

A. Just an extremely public senior moment! Of course I know better. I can't think of where my head was when I typed that. It's the worst mistake I've made in 37 years of writing this column. I hate to think of how many readers I've misled. Although, come to think of it, maybe I didn't do too much damage. After all, I can't imagine many home sellers are worrying about taxes on a $500,000-plus profit right now.

Q. Just wanted to offer my opinion on the question asked by a homeowner who is considering replacing the bathtub in the main bathroom with a walk-in shower. I did that a few years ago and have not regretted it for a moment. It was done for my husband, who is handicapped, but it has been a godsend for me, as well. We are senior citizens, and it seems that each day, there is a new and unexpected ache or pain. Not having to climb into a tub makes life a bit simpler. We have a shower chair, as well as a built-in seat. There is also a hand-held shower spray with an "on-off" switch, which makes it easy to conserve water.

With the baby boomers coming along, I think that more and more people are going to opt for showers rather than for tubs. As far as bathing a baby is concerned, use the kitchen sink.

I also don't think the house would be devalued. If priced right, there's a house for everyone. It just has to fit the needs of the buyer.

Q. How would lifting restrictions on my property affect my future taxes?

A. Sorry, I don't know what restrictions you're speaking of. Even if I did, I wouldn't know the answer. Contact your local assessor's office and discuss the matter directly. It's a good question, and you needn't hesitate about asking.

Q. My wife and I recently paid off our mortgage. The only correspondence we've received from the mortgage holder indicated that the mortgage was paid off and that we are now responsible for the property taxes directly. What, if any, documents should the holder be sending us? Would the holder send documentation directly to the public records office on the discharge of our mortgage?

A. Yes, the holder should, and holders usually do. It can take a while for the document to reach your county's public records office. After it's recorded, it will be sent on to you.

Three or four months after your payoff, you can search the records online or go down to the office yourselves and investigate. The lender is required to furnish that important document, so if it isn't there, keep after the lender.

• 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 askedith.com.

2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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