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posted: 9/27/2013 12:06 AM

Many moving companies are exempt from federal law

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Q. I was interested in some recent comments you made about professional moving companies, and "timing" a move to save money. Just about everyone involved in any facet of the real estate business has to have a professional license to operate. Does this include movers?

A. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.

A moving company that crosses state lines must have a license issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the government agency that regulates the trucking industry in the United States. Once you get the moving firm's license number, you can check the website for free to view complaints against the company, safety information and contact information for the parent firm if you hire the mover and a problem later develops.

Movers that work only in-state -- whether it's shipping stuff a few miles, or from one end of the state to the other -- don't need an FMCSA license. But many states and counties have licensing requirements of their own, or at least have laws and regulations that locally oriented movers must follow.

Get details from the government organization that oversees such intrastate moves, which is often the state's Department of Transportation, public utilities commission or consumer-affairs department.

A state-by-state breakdown of those agencies, contact information, consumer reviews of dozens of local movers and lots of other useful info can be found at moving database giant

Q. We are same-sex partners who were married in California (where such marriages are legal) and closed escrow on our first condo together the next day. Now I have been offered a great job in another state, but the new state doesn't recognize gay marriages. If we relocate and then buy a home there, would we still be able to deduct our mortgage-interest payments and property taxes on our next federal income-tax return?

A. Yes, you could take those important federal realty tax deductions even though your prospective new "home state" doesn't officially recognize gay marriages.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to strike down key parts of a law that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples promptly raised some important tax questions, many of which involved real estate. And even though longtime readers of this column know I'm not a big fan of the Internal Revenue Service, the agency acted with remarkable rapidity (by government standards) to clear up many of the issues.

On Aug. 29, just two months after the Supreme Court's ruling, the IRS announced that "same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage" (Rev. Rul. 2013-17).

In simpler terms: If a gay couple gets married in a state where such marriages are legally allowed, they're eligible for most of the same federal realty and other tax deductions that "straight" couples are allowed, even if the same-sex couple buys a home in a state in which such unities are not permitted.

You obviously need to talk with a tax expert, preferably before you and your spouse decide whether to relocate and purchase a new house, for more details.

IRS Publication No. 555, Community Property, also can help. You can get a free copy by calling the agency at (800) 829-3676 or by downloading it from

Q. We live in a housing development that is governed by a homeowners association. One of the directors of our HOA recently resigned because she is moving, so the board appointed a new director without even calling a special election. Doesn't the board have to call for a vote of all owners before it can replace a director who quits?

A. Probably not. Virtually all states require associations to have regularly scheduled elections, but directors usually have the power to fill a slot on the board that suddenly becomes vacant without calling for a vote of all homeowners. After all, organizing a full-blown election each time a board member quits or moves could be a time-consuming task for the remaining directors and a costly undertaking for the association itself.

The procedure that the board must follow to replace a director at your particular development should be spelled out in the association's bylaws or its CC&Rs -- the covenants, conditions and restrictions that guide each person's conduct at the complex.

If you can't find the information in those documents, or if you discover that the board broke its own rules, file a complaint with the board or contact your state's real estate department or commission for more help.

Real estate trivia: Rising home prices and government-backed refinancing programs have helped to push the number of "underwater" homeowners -- those who owe more than their property is worth -- down to about 7 million today from 12.1 million at the start of last year, the U.S. Department of Housing says.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405. Net proceeds go to The Salvation Army to help victims of the Colorado floods.

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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