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posted: 9/21/2013 12:30 AM

In many cases, an appraisal before listing is unnecessary

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Q. Our development has townhouses and patio homes. Some have added porches. My question: Is it wise to have a bank appraisal before putting one's home on the market?

A. A bank sends its appraiser to help judge whether it's safe to lend a certain amount on the property. However, that comes later, when your buyer applies for a mortgage. If you did want an appraisal, you'd hire an independent professional.

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For property like yours, though, with many similar homes nearby, that's not really necessary. Real estate brokers will have a pretty good idea of what your home is likely to sell for. Contact several agents and ask for free advice about pricing.

If you have invested a lot in improvements to your home, don't expect to get every dollar back in a higher sale price. No matter how nice the property, buyers will pay only so much to live in any particular development.

Q. When I bought our house, my significant other was going through financial difficulties. So I bought the house under my name only. We are married now, and his situation has improved. When we buy our next house, can he put it under his name only, so he qualifies as a first-time homebuyer and gets zero-percent-down financing?

A. Every mortgage program aimed at first-time buyers will have its own definitions. If your husband does qualify, remember he'll have to use only his own income to show he can handle the payments.

Q. I am 70, live in government housing, went through a hurricane, and need to stop trying to hold on to my timeshare in Nevada. It is paid for, but it's not in my budget anymore help!

A. First, ask the timeshare organization if they'll take it back. If not, put a classified ad in the paper there offering to give it away. Next, ask a local real estate broker if they'll market it for a 50 percent commission. If all else fails, ask your own lawyer what's likely to happen if you just stop paying fees and taxes. Often there aren't any bad consequences, but it's better to check with an attorney first.

Q. When our son bought his house, he didn't have enough income to qualify for the mortgage. So we cosigned and became part owners, even though he used all his own money.

Now he is married and is going to buy a bigger house. He says he won't have to pay any tax on the profit, but we may. Does it make a difference that we never put any of our own money into the house? Would it make a difference if we continued as co-owners of the next house?

A. No to both those questions. Your son can take advantage of the home sellers' tax break, and his share of the profit should be tax-free. But as co-owners, you may well be liable for capital gains tax on what is legally your share. That might be one-half or even two-thirds, depending on what it says on his deed. There may be steps you can take at this point to straighten things out, so talk to a lawyer.

Q. I have chosen to sell my property on my own, without using an agent. I do intend to pay a referral fee to anyone who helps me. Why is this illegal? This is outrageous. I don't see why the license law applies to me when I am not an agent. The Constitution guarantees my rights to own property and control it. Why don't I have the right to sell or rent out my property as I see fit?

A. You might as well say, "I have the right to remove my appendix as I see fit, and the guy who mows our lawn will do it for cheap at home."

License laws are there to protect the public from mistakes by unqualified persons, particularly in regards to health, law and finance. Plenty of mistakes are possible if you accept help from just anyone in the sale of your home, which is a more complicated process than most people realize. If you want to do it yourself, then really do it yourself, with extra input from your attorney.

It is illegal for any unlicensed person to accept a fee for real estate services, and it is against the law for you to pay them. In addition, "For Sale by Owner" would be a misleading advertisement if you were intending to pay for assistance.

• 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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