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posted: 3/31/2012 5:24 AM

On homes and real estate: More than just a deed is needed

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Q. We have a warranty deed on our home. We would like to sell it without the aid of a real estate agent. How do we do this?

A. You know what Louis Armstrong said when someone asked him to define jazz: "If you have to ask, I can't tell you." Perhaps 1 in 5 homeowners sell without using an agent, but I'm afraid you can't learn how in just one email from me. You have a lot of studying and research ahead of you.

It's going to take more than a warranty deed to sell your house. In fact, you won't even be using it. At the end, you'll sign a new deed transferring title to the next owners.

New real estate salespeople can't get a license without hours of classroom study and examinations. Even then, in most states, they must work under the close personal supervision of experienced brokers. So you should start studying. A librarian can help you find books, or you can search the Internet for information. Look for material specific to your area; many procedures and some laws vary from state to state.

Your first major problem is pricing your house correctly. Ask too much and nobody will come to look at it. Ask too little and you'll have a quick sale but shortchange yourselves. Look at nearby houses on the market that will be in competition with yours, and research figures on recent sales, perhaps on the Internet.

Second problem: the danger of tying the house up in a contract with buyers who end up either unwilling or unable to go through with the purchase. Analyze mortgage figures to see how much income potential buyers need. Then don't be shy about asking people about their finances. You can always say, "Our attorney insists;" taking the blame is one thing lawyers are useful for. Don't accept any offer without a satisfactory credit report on the buyers. Your accountant or lawyer can help interpret it. Better yet, hold out for buyers who already have secured written preapproval (not just prequalification) from a lender.

Learn state and federal fair housing laws so you don't get in trouble for unintentional discrimination. Find out what written disclosures you must make about property condition, lead paint and the like. And even if you don't want to pay a broker to find your buyer, you may want to hire one by the hour to help with negotiation and advice.

Q. My three-bedroom condo has a $200,000 loan on which I've been making payments for five years ($10,000 down payment). The value today is estimated to be $66,000. The complex has gone downhill, and crime is up. I can rent the place out at only two-thirds of the monthly payments. Should I hang on and lose money every month? What else could I do?

A. Discuss a short sale with your lender, and stay in touch with the lender. New programs are coming out all the time, and there might be one that would help you. Beyond that, I'm afraid all I can offer is sympathy.

Q. We have a rat infestation. Can we walk away legally from our mortgage because of this unhealthy issue?

A. No.

Q. My research shows me that the seller usually pays for title insurance. However, I am buying a house, and I just found out that my offer stated that I would pay all of the title insurance. Is there anything I can do?

A. The time to do research and read over the fine print was before you signed the purchase contract. You're bound by whatever you promised in writing to do. I don't know of any law dictating which party must pay for which closing expenses. The only exception, as far as I know, is a requirement in most states that the seller pay transfer taxes.

Your lender wants title insurance so it will feel safe about accepting the property as security for your loan. It's wise to buy an owners policy ("fee policy") at the same time to protect your interests, which are somewhat different from the bank's.

Q. I am going to be buying a house soon. My fiance and I have comparable incomes, but he has bad credit, and mine is good. Am I better off qualifying on my own, or does his additional income make up for the poor credit (no bankruptcy)?

A. It may depend on just how bad his bad credit is. Explore the matter with mortgage brokers (they specialize in putting borrowers and lenders together) or with local nonprofit housing counselors. Experienced real estate brokers also will have 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

2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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