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posted: 6/15/2013 4:30 AM

Older couple with debt should talk to housing counselor

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Q. We moved out of our home because we could not afford to pay our two home equity loans and the upkeep of the house. We moved to a one-bedroom apartment. The bank has been informed. We have mailed to the bank copies of our taxes, which we did not pay.

They really don't keep in touch with us to let us know what is going on with our home. We do not know what else is expected of us. We do carry fire insurance on the home. My husband and I live on our Social Security. Our son and daughter live in the home. They would like to purchase the home and make payments. Please advise.

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A. If Social Security payments are your only income, I have to wonder how you managed to qualify for those loans. It would help to have a few facts -- where the house is located, how much you owe, what your kids' incomes and credit are like and whether foreclosure has been started.

If you want to send me your mailing address, I'll find contact information for the nearest nonprofit housing counseling agency in your area. Your best bet is to discuss the whole thing with them.

Q. In January we bought a house that was built in 1993. We had interior renovations done before moving in (painting, floor coverings, cabinets). When the plumbers set new toilets they would not flush. They found roots in the sewer line and thought they cleared them.

We finally moved in April 20 and noticed after running the washer that nothing flushed again. The plumber ran a camera and found multiple heavy roots and two breaks in the sewer line. We had to replace the sewer line from house to street at a cost of $3,750.

One neighbor told us the previous owner had sewer problems about two years ago. Then the house was on the market for about a year. Should we go back to the Realtor or the seller about this? We purchased "as is," but the agent had a statement with check offs showing "no sewer problems."

A. "As is" means you accept any problems you know about. It doesn't relieve the seller of responsibility for defects that weren't disclosed. What you must prove is that the seller knew about them.

The amount of money involved is exactly right for small claims court, where you can act for yourselves at little cost. It's the sellers you want to sue. It will be up to you to show they deliberately lied when they said there were no sewer problems. Perhaps you can get a useful statement from the neighbor or from the plumbers who may have been contacted two years ago. At the least, you'll have the satisfaction of hearing what a judge rules.

Q. There is a two-family house that I am considering buying. I realize this will be a long-range investment. Can I get the rental history for my financial calculations and inspect the premises without making a commitment?

I do believe there is a market for this type of rental in this small town. It would be one of the nicer places available. A 20 percent down payment and closing costs are available. I am not an experienced landlord and know to allow 15 percent vacancy.

A. It does seem that, as you say, you're not an experienced real estate investor. I'd strongly suggest contacting a real estate broker to act for you and guide you through the process of purchasing. In most cases, the broker will be paid by the seller, but that's something you'd ask about ahead of time.

Of course you can view the property without any obligation. You should receive information about expenses, including property taxes, landlord insurance premiums and -- if paid by the landlord -- heating, water, trash collection, lawn care and the like. Yes, you need the present tenants' rental history and information about any leases. You should also seek data on average monthly rent figures elsewhere in the neighborhood, to get an idea of how much income you can reasonably expect. You'll get all of that before you make any commitment.

As an investor, you should work with your own real estate lawyer. You'll also need an accountant. Once you've gathered all the figures, that's the person to help you make those financial calculations. Forget about that 15 percent vacancy guideline. It's not too likely with a two-unit building.

• 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.

2013, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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