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Article posted: 5/11/2013 5:30 AM

Father can't take back a $15,000 gift

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Q. Twelve years ago, my dad, then 80, purchased a condo in Florida for himself and his live-in girlfriend. He paid $30,000 for it. His girlfriend contributed nothing. He has paid all the maintenance fees. The deed states that in the event of the death of one of them the other inherits the condo. She is 18 years younger than he.

After five years, the girlfriend moved out. Recently, I sent her a letter asking her to sign a quit deed so that my dad could assume full ownership. Her lawyer sent a letter saying she wants $15,000. The condo is barely worth $15,000 due to the poor real estate market. I showed the deed to a lawyer and he says the document is binding and there is nothing I can do about it. Would it be beneficial for my dad to sell the condo now and deal with this situation?

A. Understand, I'm not a lawyer. But I'm pretty sure you can't take back a gift -- or to be more precise, your dad can't. And although I haven't seen the wording on that deed, it sounds as if the ex is half-owner of that condo right now. If that's the case, selling it would require her signature or else a court order. Either way, she'd be entitled to half the proceeds.

Q. I was looking at a building. It became a multiple offer situation; the seller's agent contacted everyone interested and told them to put their highest and best offer in. I've been in this situation before. In every instance the highest and best offer was the winner. However, this time all the "highest and best" offers were over the asking price. So the agent came back to the top bidders and countered with a new, higher asking price.

I emailed and asked why she would counter-offer a "highest and best" situation. She stated that she never said she would accept any of the "highest and best" offers. My questions to you are as follows: Is this legal? And is this unethical behavior on the part of the seller's agent? I was appalled by this type of behavior.

A. That was not illegal and not exactly unethical -- just unpleasant. The seller's agent is legally bound to put the seller's interests first, and that includes helping negotiate the best possible sale. The agent and the seller probably realized they'd priced the property too low, and they still had time to fix their mistake.

All that is legally owed to you as the "customer" is honest treatment, and you weren't lied to. The situation was not an auction, those were not bids, and there did not have to be a "winner." The seller is always free to reject any and all offers, except where fair housing violations may be involved. And it is the seller, not the agent, who makes the decisions.

Q. My daughter's family wants to move back from out of state. They own a condo (five years) but it is worth $20,000 less than what they paid for it. They want to rent it out until real estate values go up. I'm wondering if this is a good idea.

A. Mostly all I can offer your kids is sympathy. I wish I had a magic solution for them but they just got caught in a mess through no fault of their own.

I don't know their financial and job situation, how much it would cost them to pay off the mortgage, what the condo is likely to rent for, what expenses they have carrying it and, most of all, I don't know if they have the skills to become absentee landlords without getting into more trouble.

Their lender's workout department should know if any helpful programs are available. Sometimes they can arrange a short sale in which the lender agrees to simply settle for whatever the place brings on the open market. Before doing that, they'd want to read everything they could find about short sales, which can be complicated.

If they do decide to rent the place out, they should plan on using a local real estate lawyer and a CPA. The most important challenge is the careful selection of tenants, which includes obtaining a credit report and getting professional help in interpreting it. They should also have legal help in drawing up a lease. They'd also want to study state and federal fair housing laws to avoid any violations.

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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