Q. My sister is selling her home. The buyers signed a contract asking for a new dishwasher or compensation, her dining room set, and her Barbie dolls. She is willing to give $500 off for the dishwasher and leave the table and chairs, but these are her favorite dolls. There are 15 Barbie dolls.
Can they legally ask for the dolls? If they saw a mink coat in the closet, can they ask for the coat? So how can they ask for the dolls, which are not part of the house but personal possessions? She is answering saying what she is amenable to as a reasonable person but we are very curious about the law in this case.
A. As far as the law is concerned, anybody can ask to buy just about anything, except maybe the homeowner's firstborn child. Your sister can simply counter-offer (in writing) to accept only those provisions she agrees to. Then they can choose to take her terms, make yet another counter-offer, or drop out.
If she's seeing a lot of interest in the house, though, she may want to consider just rejecting their offer. These sound like people it might be difficult to work with in the weeks leading up to closing.
Q. We owe $44,000 on our home with a 15-year, fixed 4.375 percent mortgage rate. We have four years left. Would it benefit us to refinance to a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage with lower interest?
A. If you really want to pay the debt off, don't refinance. Yes, you'd have a lower monthly payment, but at the end of four years you'd still, in the early years of a new mortgage, owe practically the whole amount you started with. As you are now, you'll be debt-free in four years.
Because you're nearing the end of your mortgage, most of your monthly payment goes to pay down the dwindling principal. You're not paying all that much in interest. A lower rate might not save anything over the next four years, balanced against refinance closing costs.
These days, by the way, few borrowers are opting for adjustable-rate loans, or ARMs. That's because today's record low rates have nowhere to go but up in the future.
Q. Our home was built in the 1960s. We have a new furnace and air-conditioner, but we have an old-fashioned kitchen, and there is no point in giving the living room a coat of paint since it has worn drapes and carpeting. With hardwood floors underneath, new owners may not even want carpeting.
Should we advertise it as a "fixer-upper" or offer a decorating allowance?
A. First do all the things that cost nothing. Clear clutter; clean windows, entrances, doorknobs and the oven. Trim lawn and shrubs. Replace loose faucet washers or burned out light bulbs.
Then there are the items that cost relatively little: showy annual flowers, new door mat, kitchen curtains, shower curtain and such.
Beyond that, you may want to go easy, depending on the condition of the house, your price level, and the advice of experienced real estate brokers. Painting usually brings the best return: off-white, to suit anyone's decorating scheme. Take up your old carpet. These days, buyers do prefer hardwood anyhow. Fresh sealing of a blacktop driveway might be a good idea.
Don't say "fixer-upper." That usually implies serious problems with things like electric service, heating or roof. Consult with a couple of real estate brokers -- you may be overly concerned.
Q. We own our home free and clear of debt. My husband and I will be retiring within two years and want to sell our house and build a new home near our daughter and her family. We are looking at land right now with the intention of beginning to build in the spring of 2014.
What we need is a loan to purchase the land and to possibly cover us in construction if our home does not sell right away. What type of loan should we apply for? Our plan is to pay off the loan at closing or as soon as our current house sells, since we don't want to carry a mortgage again.
A. If you were looking to buy an existing house, you'd apply for what is known as a bridge loan to cover the gap between the purchase of the new house and the sale of the old one. But it can be difficult to get a mortgage or a personal loan for vacant land. Consult mortgage brokers in your daughter's locale. Those aren't mortgage bankers but mortgage brokers who bring borrowers and lenders together.
You might also look for advice from contractors out there. You'll be hiring one eventually anyhow.
• 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.