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posted: 6/22/2013 12:30 AM

Is a 'for sale' sign in the yard necessary?

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Q. I don't want a "for sale" sign on my front lawn. Is it a requirement? What if I don't use a broker?

A. A real estate broker needs permission to place a sign in your yard. If you don't want one, you can just say so. Selling on your own, of course, you can do as you like.

I don't know your reasons for wanting privacy, but these days it's hard to come by. Your neighbors will find out pretty quickly anyhow. And even with the Internet, an old-fashioned inexpensive lawn sign may still be the most efficient way to find a buyer.

Q. A number of years ago, our family used quitclaim deeds to transfer real estate between family members. The one-page form was completed, notarized, carried to the courthouse and recorded -- no lawyers -- no additional reports required. Is it still this simple?

A. It could be. Not every county has its public records office in the courthouse. And in most (not all) jurisdictions, a transfer tax report must be completed, even when a gift doesn't require any actual tax payment. Sometimes other reports of a transfer are required.

But in general -- yes, if the deed is properly completed with a legal description of the property, signed and acknowledged (notarized), it might well be accepted by the public records office. If that office agrees to put the deed on file, then yes, the process can be simple. There is no requirement that a lawyer be involved.

Legal input can sometimes head off future trouble, though. If more than one person is to be the new owner, for instance, the way they are listed on the deed becomes important when one of them dies. Then again, a title search before the transfer would alert the next owner to forgotten claims that might be out against the property, things like an unrecorded mortgage payoff, an old tax dispute or the like. Those liens would remain with the property after ownership transferred.

Q. We live in a home that is located on a corner lot. A few years back our county implemented the 911 emergency system. When this took effect, it changed our address from the one corner street to the other street. Now the address on the deed does not match the address that 911 gave us. Is this going to be an issue when we go to sell the house? Do we need to have this changed?

A. Deeds don't identify a parcel of real property by street address. As you realize, addresses can change. When part of a lot is sold off, for instance, the street address doesn't include as much land as it originally did.

If you have a copy of your deed, look at it again. I'll bet it contains a legal description of your property and that hasn't changed.

Q. I sold a single-family residence in 2009 and took back the mortgage myself. The mortgage has a balloon with a final payment of $85,000, due in 2015. At closing, I received $8,486 in cash, and the buyer was to pay monthly. The buyer made six or seven payments in 2009 and has not made any payments since then.

A lawyer has charged me $600 so far but can't locate the buyer and says my only resolutions are to foreclose now and take the house back, or wait till the end of the loan and sue the buyer in court and get the house back. Either way, the lawyer says my costs will run $12,000 to $13,000. Can you give me some ideas to fix this situation?

A. Afraid not. I could have given you some thoughts on how to avoid this situation in the first place.

If you took back financing, that must have meant the buyer couldn't meet bank standards for a mortgage. I assume you ran a credit check, which probably looked faulty also, so you must have known you were taking a risk.

It's generally accepted that a down payment of at least 20 percent gives the lender some safety for the loan. You don't say how much the sale price was, but let's say it was $100,000. If you'd insisted on a down payment of $20,000 upfront, that would have covered the costs you're going to have now, taking the house back. And I'd advise doing that as soon as possible, rather than leaving the place to stand empty or end up sold for back taxes.

• 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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