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posted: 4/21/2012 5:53 AM

On homes and real estate: Reader knows most of the answers

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Q. My husband and I spent two years preparing to buy our first house, researching the market and reading your column every week. Your words helped guide us as we navigated the ups and downs that come with any real estate purchase.

Now, as I read the questions, I like to try to predict your answers: "You need a lawyer," "No, cosigning a loan for your child with terrible credit is not a good idea," "Somewhere between $2 and what you're asking is a price that will attract buyers," "Sure, you can sell without a Realtor if you have 70-plus hours to spend studying," etc. I'm amused by the folks who continue to write to you, complaining that their house won't sell.

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A. Sounds as if you could write the column yourself by now.

Yes, as you've noticed, a great deal of my mail calls for the advice to contact an attorney. Some weeks, I struggle to keep "See a lawyer" down to once per column. And every time I start with "If you offered your property for $2 it would sell in five minutes," I do wonder how many readers remember the last time I wrote that. But it's still the best advice. Anything will sell if the price is right.

You will notice I cut out most of the kind words in your note. Most questions include something polite along the lines of "Thank you for your time," or "We never miss the column," and I delete those. There's no point in taking up limited space when I'm trying to get as much information in as possible. At any rate, you're great students, you take excellent notes, and I'm sure you'll ace the final.

Q. Can a married man expect a mortgage company to qualify him and grant a mortgage to him in his name only (for purchase of a single-family home?)

A. Certainly, if he's financially qualified on his own.

Q. My wife and I had a contract to purchase a home being sold as a short sale. After six months of waiting, the other party filed for bankruptcy nine days before settlement. We are still interested in following it through the bankruptcy process and buying it. How do I make contact with the right people who might give us the first chance at purchasing? I've heard that banks will sometimes see a contract was written and contact the other party to see if they are still interested, and I would like to maximize our chances of that happening before it gets to the point where we will be competing with investors -- a game I'm sure we would lose.

A. Between the short sale and a bankruptcy, you're in for some lengthy complications. At the moment, the bank may not have any say in the matter, and the owners may not want to sell. A real estate lawyer could investigate. Myself, I'd give up and look elsewhere.

Q. Say you have a traditional 30-year mortgage, you put down 20 percent and then you decide to sell your home before the 30 years is up. On the day of the sale, would you be responsible to just pay the remaining principal balance and that month's interest, or would the entire remaining unpaid 30 years of interest also be your responsibility to cover?

Sorry if this sounds naive; I'm a first-time homebuyer.

A. Think of interest as rent you're paying for the use of someone else's money. When someone lets you occupy his or her apartment, you pay rent in return for the use of it. After you move out, you don't owe any more rent because you're no longer borrowing the apartment. When someone lets you use money, you pay interest in return for the use of it. After you've paid back the debt, you don't owe any more interest because you're no longer borrowing the money.

You may be thinking about the tenant's liability on a lease. A lease does bind the tenant to pay rent for a certain length of time, whether the apartment is occupied or not. Mortgage documents, however, don't contain similar provisions. Once the money is paid back, no more interest is due.

Occasionally, there could be a one-time penalty for early payoff of a mortgage. Where a penalty is allowed, it would typically apply only in the first months or year to enable the lender to recoup its costs of making the loan.

• 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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