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posted: 12/8/2012 5:29 AM

On homes and real estate: If I have a buyer, should I use a broker or attorney?

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Q. I will be selling my house early next year and may have a buyer. Should I use a broker or an attorney to handle the paperwork?

A. More than just paperwork is involved. The only question isn't, "Does X want to buy my property?" Just as important is, "Can X finance the purchase?"

Your best bet is to list the property on the open market, with a written agreement that no commission will be due if the house is sold to X within 30 days. If you can't make a deal yourself in that time, you may want to turn your agent loose on X anyhow.

Many brokers are willing to list with that exclusion in the contract. You get exposure on the market without losing sales time, there's some pressure on X to decide, and you'll have feedback from the public about market value.

In the event X does want to buy, you may want to retain the broker anyhow, at a reduced fee or by the hour. You may need help with negotiations leading to a contract, and with the details -- appraisal, inspections, mortgage advice and the like -- needed on the way to a successful transfer of title.

Q. We own a house where the first floor is for our business, and the second floor is a rental. Problem: We recently had an appraisal for financing, only to discover our tenants are hoarders. It used to be a really cute second floor, but now it looks like a dump, and has devalued the property. The appraiser simply said, "well, I've seen worse." They pay the rent on time, and one of them works for us. What should we do, as this is obviously a dicey situation?

A. The appraiser's estimate of market value is based on more solid considerations than your tenants' housekeeping. If that's what worries you, you can relax.

Beyond that -- if you need to let them remain as tenants, you might as well relax again, because you're not going to make them change their habits. If some day you need to re-rent, or plan to sell, you can freshen up the vacant apartment so it's really cute again.

Q. I have a chance to refinance my mortgage at 2.8 percent. At the same time I have my eyes open for a bigger ranch, one with two baths versus the one I now have. Should I refinance to grab the low interest rate, or should I hold out until I find another ranch?

A. How much will it cost you to refinance? How much interest will you save every month? And then dividing these, how many months will it take until you've saved enough to make up for those fees?

Let's say, for example, that you'd recoup your cash outlay in 18 months. After that the final question would be -- are you likely to move within the next 18 months? If you were, it wouldn't be worth refinancing. But if you expected to remain where you are for at least 18 months, then you'd go for the lower interest rate. After the 18 months were up, you'd be saving money every month until you sold the house.

Q. We are buying a new home (well, new to us) and will have a final walk-through just before closing. What sort of things are we looking for?

A. Take your sales contract along, to see if the seller is leaving everything promised in the contract: carpeting, window blinds, whatever. You also want to check for damage that may have occurred since you viewed the house: newly broken windows, for example. And you should receive the place in "broom-clean" condition, without piles of stuff in attic or cellar. If you see problems, contact your broker or closing agent immediately.

Q. I was going into foreclosure and found a company to do a short sale so I thought. He had the deed switched to his company but the mortgage is still in my name. I can't buy anything else because of that mortgage. Is there anything I can do or have I been duped?

A. Before signing over your house it would have been a good idea to consult a real estate lawyer, the Better Business Bureau, your lender and the state agency that regulates real estate licenses. You might want to contact some of them now, and also take your question to the local office of the state's Attorney General.

Even if you still owned the house, or had negotiated a real short sale, you still wouldn't be able to buy anything else now "because of that mortgage."

• 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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