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posted: 3/2/2013 5:30 AM

How to find a good real estate agent

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Q. How does one go about finding a good real estate agent to sell a home and find a new one? There are so many firms with so many agents, how do you find one that would be just right for your needs?

A. Concentrate on agents who seem active in your present location and/or the area you're thinking of moving to. Visit open houses, which is a good way to size up the salespersons on duty there. If any of your friends have moved recently, ask if they have recommendations.

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Also, when my husband's cousin died in Montreal, we drove up there having only one weekend to dispose of a vacant house. We drove around the neighborhood, took down phone numbers from "for sale" signs and called five agents to say we had property to put on the market immediately. Three brokers came over that afternoon. The first two gave us routine sales talks, how great they were, how many houses they'd sold, etc. Only the third one, though, listened carefully enough to pick up on it when Norm said he himself was a Realtor. That agent said, "If you're only here for the weekend, is there anything I can do for you next week? I could contact the post office Monday morning. Did you cancel your cousin's TV cable subscription? I have someone who could wash these cloudy windows."

We put the house in his hands and he turned out to be the agent from heaven.

Q. I have been told I have cancer and would like to know if there is a document that can be used to add my only child to my condo so she doesn't have to go through probate. I have a small balance on my mortgage and she would just continue making payments.

A. Whether she became co-owner now or simply inherits the property, she'd still be allowed to continue with your mortgage. Adding her name to the title is simple. It may or may not be a good idea, though. Probate might not be any problem for her but potential capital gains might cause issues. A lawyer can advise what's best for you, and eventually for her, and take care of any necessary documents.

And good luck with the cancer -- many people are walking around who have beat it.

Q. My husband and I have good jobs but bad credit. We are working on repairing our credit, but it will definitely take some time for our credit to be good enough where we can get a mortgage. On top of all of that, we are not young newlyweds just starting out; my husband is 46 years old, and I am 54 years old.

What is your opinion of homes that rent with an option to buy? Because of our age, we feel like that is our only other option. We don't want to wait years and years before our credit is finally in good standing. Have you ever heard of people who "rented with option to buy" and got ripped off?

A. With rent-to-buy you move in as tenants, pay something extra each month toward your down payment and buy the house on a sort of layaway plan. First, you have to find a landlord/seller who wants to take you on. That may depend on just how bad is your credit.

Every rent-to-buy contract is different, depending on the needs of the parties. Don't enter into one without a lot of input from a lawyer who specializes in real estate. Your contract should state just what would happen if the landlord/owner faced foreclosure, or failed to make property tax payments. You'd want exact specifications about who's responsible for what, including repairs. You need to know where the extra money you're paying each month toward a down payment is being held. Would you forfeit it if you ended up not buying? Could you sell your contract to someone else?

And you must remember that the whole thing won't work out unless you can get yourselves qualified for a mortgage loan in the time specified in your contract.

Q. My folks want to sell their house. The catch is that grandpa's name is still on the house, as well. What is the best route to have his name removed or does it even need to be removed? He passed away more than 15 years ago.

A. I can't know what paperwork was filed when Grandpa died, but the public records will usually show what happened to ownership of the property. Before the sale closes, someone will be searching those records. In the unlikely event a problem turns up, it can be cleared up then.

• 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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