Q. In 1972, my parents bought a vacant lot in Florida for $1,000. They hoped to build and retire there. Since about 1986, when they couldn't pay the property taxes, I've been paying them. They've both passed away, and they did not have wills. The property is not worth that much, and I never legally had it put in my name.
Last year, I contacted a real estate agent who was not interested in marketing it. My own lawyer advised me just to stop paying the taxes and let it go.
Just recently, I was contacted by a real estate company that wanted to give me cash for the property. They wouldn't say how much, but I think maybe around $2,000. I told them the legal problem and they never returned my call. It would be nice to walk away from this with even $1,000. Would it cost more to have the property put in my name than I could ever get for it?
A. Are you sure there really is a legal problem? Your own lawyer is the one to decide, and if there is, how much it will cost to remedy it.
Meanwhile, you need to learn more from the real estate company that offered to buy the land. Try calling them back and without mentioning your uncertainty about ownership, ask what expenses would be involved in selling them that lot. Would you be charged for a survey, a transfer fee, other documents?
Real estate brokers don't want to list the property because it isn't worth enough to pay for their time and effort. Offering 50 percent commission might do the trick. And sometimes the owners of adjoining properties are interested in buying. It may be worth contacting them.
Q. Some relatives of mine are trying to secure a mortgage but their credit number disqualifies them. Due to a prior business partnership, their credit was ruined. They have been married three years and have a baby. The husband is now in business for himself with the wife doing all the paperwork. They are responsible parents and business people. All their financial obligations are up to date and their bills are paid on time. They have a sizable down payment but cannot get a bank to even consider their application.
They have worked hard the last three years to establish good credit to purchase a home. What can they do? They are anxious to stop renting.
A. I'm afraid just wanting a house isn't enough. Your relatives have several strikes against them. Borrowers who are in business for themselves need to show good income records for quite some time. That's true even if they didn't have those past credit problems.
When one can't get a regular institutional mortgage, there are at least three ways to buy.
The first is to pay all cash.
The second is to locate sellers who are willing to take a chance and hold a mortgage. That sizable down payment would help there, and a real estate broker might know of such an opportunity.
The third is to buy on a land contract, moving in as tenants with the right to buy once they're able to swing a loan. For that one, by the way, they should rely heavily on their own real estate lawyer.
Depending on their circumstances, sometimes a real estate broker can find such opportunities. They can also consult a mortgage broker, someone who specializes in bringing lenders and borrowers together. If there's any way to buy, a mortgage broker will know.
Otherwise, they'll just have to bide their time, building up a successful business record with several years of paying all their bills on time.
Q. I have been watching an Internet real estate site. A home came up that I wanted to bid on. It was listed as a short sale. The first day it appeared, I called the broker and told him I wanted to make an offer. I didn't hear from the broker, and then one day later a sale was pending. Shouldn't the broker be trying to get the highest price and at least leave it on the market for a short time so people could submit offers? Should I contact the mortgage holder and tell them what happened?
A. Short sales are extremely frustrating, but a seller has the right to accept any offer he or she pleases. Frankly, I think you'd get into a lot more complications trying to complain to the lender. And the seller's agent is responsible to the seller, not to you. Your best bet on short sales may be to find a broker to act for you, one who specializes in short sales and has had experience dealing with banks in this type of sale.
• 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.
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