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posted: 9/8/2012 5:37 AM

On homes and real estate: Can't afford repairs

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Q. My mother-in-law gave my husband, his brother, and his sister her home before she passed. It is paid off, and there is no mortgage. It is in desperate need of repairs, but none of us can afford to pay for them. Could we get a home equity line of credit? What if we have bad credit?

A. Even with good credit, it sounds as if no one could get a bank mortgage loan on the house in its present condition. Given your circumstances, I wouldn't advise trying to fix the place up. Call a few real estate agents for free advice. I expect they'll say your best bet is to put the house on the market as is, at a bargain price, for all cash. There are always investors looking for fixer-uppers.

Another possibility is that you'll hear from a would-be homeowner who can qualify for an FHA 203k mortgage. That's a loan that covers both purchase price and needed repairs.

Q. I moved into an apartment in 2008. In the summer of 2010, my landlord wrote us a letter stating that he was no longer the owner of the property and not to send him any more rent checks, and the new owner would contact us. In case we needed to call, we were given a name of a bank and a phone number, which led me to believe this was a foreclosure or simply a case of throwing in the towel.

I tried calling the bank, and they wouldn't speak to me because my name was not attached to anything. It is now August of 2012, I am still in the house, and I haven't paid rent in two years. I've maintained the property (paid the heat and hot water that I previously was not responsible for, invested in a lawn mower and regularly taken care of the lawn & garden, replaced the washing machine, paid to have the dryer fixed, paid to have some plumbing fixed, etc.). I am basically a homeowner without a mortgage. I can't figure out who pays the water or who pays the taxes. I'm just kind of at a loss of what is going on right now, but I'm just riding with it. Am I doing anything illegal?

A. Beats me. Possibly a judge would say you should have been stashing away the rent in a special account till you found out who was entitled to it. But of course that would have to take into account the utilities and maintenance you've assumed responsibility for.

You could search the public records and the tax office to determine who owns the property, or have a lawyer do it for you. I suspect, though, that in your shoes, a lot of people might continue "just riding with it."

Q. My husband and I are 60. Each of us has grown children from our previous marriages. He purchased our home before we married two years ago. I recently paid him half the appraised value of the house (which was applied to the principal on the mortgage), and he continues to pay the remaining mortgage payments. We share all maintenance and utility costs. Should we file a quitclaim deed to show me as half owner of the home, and if so, do we need a lawyer, or can we do it ourselves?

A. Until your husband signs a new deed naming the two of you as co-owners, he is still the only owner of the house. If you both want to change that, a lawyer can take care of the necessary paperwork, after which the new deed will be entered in your county's Public Records Office.

Q. I wrote you last year about my husband's and my experience at buying a home and the various problems that followed. But more pertinent is our experience using a friend as a Realtor, which someone asked you about recently. We used a close friend of mine as a Realtor, and I thought she would work twice as hard for us, especially as she had been irritated when my previous home was sold and my ex refused to let her be the Realtor. With this house, she did almost nothing aside from writing the offer. If documents had to be taken to the lawyers' offices, my husband had to take time off from work to do it. If he had a question about the mortgage, he had to call the mortgage company himself. I would recommend to never ever use a friend as a Realtor. It should be a completely professional relationship. Just my two cents!

A. Thanks for sharing your experience.

• 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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