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posted: 1/19/2013 5:30 AM

Real estate and rentals can complicate family matters

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Q. Mom left her house to my brother and me, a modest three-bedroom with no mortgage. My brother's son has been living there since before mom died, rent-free. He promised once his business was established he would buy my half. Meanwhile, he would pay the real estate taxes and send me deposit money to come off the price when he purchased. There was no legal contract, which was a huge mistake.

My nephew kept his end at first, sending me $10,500 in all, plus property taxes. But two years ago he abruptly stopped, and I found out he is delinquent on the taxes. My brother and I agree the house should be sold. Both of us could use the funds. However, neither has the heart to kick my nephew out. It has fallen on me to be the bad guy and I just cannot follow through.

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I know he will continue to milk this until he is forced out. I tried going through counseling at my job for a reference to a legal mediator, but I ended up just crying to the counselor. This is a huge burden.

A. A written contract wouldn't have made much difference if your problems are emotional. The mystery here is why your nephew abruptly stopped depositing money and ignored the taxes. Have you asked him?

He isn't the one who's delinquent on those property taxes. As the owner, you are. Pay them right now, before they accumulate any more interest and penalties. Otherwise you could all lose the house with no benefit to anyone.

Then I'd suggest a pleasant, firm letter, preferably from your lawyer, explaining that you can no longer afford to keep the house. You'll be putting it on the market for X dollars next March, but before involving the expense of an agent, you'd like to give your nephew first refusal. He would, of course, get credit toward his down payment, $10,500 minus whatever went to bring the tax bills current. And if he is unwilling or unable to buy, you'll return the remainder of his deposit.

If he's having money problems, that last bit may sound attractive. This will, of course, require you to have cash available to give him when he moves out.

Let me know what happens; I'm interested.

Q. Several of us live in a mobile home park where we pay lot rent and don't own the property. We would like to sell our homes. To our astonishment, real estate brokers won't handle it. The only Realtor we could find is, to put it mildly, useless. She is just not interested and wants to charge us a fee well over what a regular Realtor would, since she holds all the cards.

Could you please help find someone who would be interested in dealing with us? We need someone to list our homes for sale and get that information out to the public. We do not want the responsibility of doing it ourselves.

A. The definition of real estate is "land and anything permanently attached to it." Your home is not real estate. It is personal property, like an automobile, which may explain why real estate brokers won't handle it.

Perhaps it's difficult to find buyers for mobile homes in your area, and prices may be moderate. That would explain why that one broker is asking a higher fee -- otherwise it wouldn't pay her to invest the time and effort.

Talk with the park's management company about the best way to sell. If they're not helpful, research the newspaper, Craigslist and the Internet to see who is marketing other mobile homes for sale.

Q. Urgent! We made an offer on a property we liked, subject to financing and home inspection. The bank's appraised value was significantly lower than what we had offered. The inspection was done today, and the roof and electrical need to be replaced among other things. We gave a $50,000 deposit.

Can we walk away with the argument of a low appraisal value and get our deposit back? If we renegotiate, how much would you advise us to pay?

A. If your contract says the deal is subject to a satisfactory inspection, and you don't find the inspection satisfactory, you shouldn't be bound and your deposit should be returned. Again, if the contract says it's subject to your obtaining a certain amount in a mortgage loan, and you tried but the lender refuses because of a low appraisal, you shouldn't be bound then either. If you have trouble, get to a lawyer promptly.

But if you renegotiate, keep in mind that the amount you can borrow on a mortgage will be limited by that appraisal or another one pretty much like it.

• 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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