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posted: 4/6/2013 4:30 AM

Fix up mom's old house or just sell it as is?

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Q. I am hoping for some good advice regarding the sale of my mother's home after her recent passing. My sister and I are now in the process of cleaning out 60 years of family occupancy via trashing and a household sale, etc.

The home was built by my dad in 1955. My mother had new windows installed in 2004. There is a one-car garage with connection to main house by an unheated enclosed room.

Mom was a smoker for many years, so the entire house is in need of painting. The bathroom is in poor condition; it's in need of ceramic tile and other repairs. The basement has a subsurface water problem at one of the concrete block walls. The sump pump is working and no other water damage is notable.

We are considering either trying to sell it as is, or fixing it up and then selling it. We want to have a Realtor come in and give us an appraisal and her thoughts/ideas on the process, but my husband felt you might have a better solution

A. My guess is that repainting, which is relatively inexpensive, will pay off. Beyond that, I can't judge from this distance. A broker can look over your property and tell you what repairs are essential. And then, taking into consideration average price levels in that area, you'll get advice on how much worth will come from investing in updates. You should, in fact, ask several agents to come over and give you the value of their experience. You won't have any obligation until you pick one to market the property.

Q. We are selling our house with a short sale. It was supposed to close last December, but the bank is still holding up some documents. They keep saying it's still going OK and they will forgive our mortgage so the sale will go through. But is there anything we can do about income tax or will we have to pay some? This is very distressing.

A. When your short sale goes through, the bank will take the proceeds and cancel your mortgage even though you owe more than that. Usually, the IRS says that if you borrow money and don't pay it back, you've had taxable income. But in recent years they've offered some relief, and you'll be happy to hear that it's been extended through 2013. Forgiven debt on your main home will not be taxable. This tax relief applies to foreclosed mortgages as well as short sales.

Q. Are there any legitimate lease-to-buy programs out there? We are recovering from bankruptcy and moving to another state soon. We cannot buy for two years but would like to think we aren't throwing our money away on rent. If we can find a legit lease-to-buy, then we can go for financing after two years with a healthy down payment.

A. Yes, some lease-to-buy arrangements are perfectly fine. Don't enter into one without lots of input from your own lawyer though. And look over the landlord/seller's credit record. You don't want to be investing in a house that goes into foreclosure because the seller/landlord doesn't pay the property taxes or mortgage. Hire a home inspector also, so you'll know of possible problems.

Your written contract should state where your deposit and extra monthly charge toward down payment are being held. They shouldn't be mixed with the owner's own funds. If you decide not to buy, or can't arrange financing, will you forfeit those funds? Maybe, maybe not, but whatever it is should be set down in the contract. Would you have the right to sell your contract to another would-be buyer, perhaps with the owner's right to approve or disapprove? Who will be responsible for which repairs? Who will carry what insurance? Your real estate lawyer will have other suggestions.

Q. I purchased and closed on a home a few months ago. Recently, I received a letter from the local school district stating that the school taxes had not been paid for this year. The closing agent screwed up and failed to add my portion of the school taxes in the closing costs.

The closing company has already offered to pay the penalty because the taxes were late, but I am left with a big payment to make because of their mistake. I of course have all the documentation detailing their mistake on the HUD-1. Any advice would be appreciated.

A. It's not quite clear what went on. But if this is something you should have been charged at closing, something you really do owe, then an error at the closing won't let you off the obligation to pay 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

2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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