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Article posted: 10/12/2013 12:30 AM

What to ask when looking for a broker

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By Edith Lank

Q. We are thinking about selling our cottage and meeting with a real estate agent soon. What questions should we ask? Should we interview more than one?

A. Yes, you should invite several brokers to see your cottage. Look at "for sale" signs, scan the Internet and see who's advertising in local newspapers. Even if you like the first agent you talk with, keep all the appointments. In the end, your buyer may come from a cooperating agency rather than the one that listed the property, so it helps if other brokers are familiar with your home.

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Ask if the firm belongs to a Multiple Listing Association (which shares listings with other agencies) and if not, find out if it cooperates with other brokerages for cross sales.

Agents will have done some research, and should arrive with data on "comps" -- recent nearby sale figures, to help with a recommended listing price. Ask for frank advice about what needs doing to show your place at its best. Most agents will offer information about their successful sales. Don't worry about conflicts; the agent who has also listed property down the street actually has an advantage in meeting buyers who want your neighborhood. Sometimes, though, an eager newcomer is just as effective as a busy old-timer.

Look for an agent who spends more time understanding your situation than bragging about past sales, someone who seems to do business in a manner that feels right to you.

Q. My son and daughter-in-law will be buying their house from his grandmother. After getting the financing from the bank, what legal steps need to be taken for this transaction? No Realtor will be involved.

A. The kids' lender will want to see a completed sales contract. Maybe they can draw one up themselves, but I doubt it. Each state has certain requirements that a general do-it-yourself form might not include. I'd suggest asking a lawyer to help with this, or -- probably less expensive -- a real estate broker.

After they have a contract, the local area will have its own customary procedure for handling the necessary work. In some states, notably New York and New Jersey, the job is turned over to lawyers. With a family transaction, perhaps they could retain just one. Elsewhere it might be escrow or title companies, or some other arrangement.

You're asking what happens after bank approval on the loan, but some legal work is needed before that. The lender wants proof that the seller has clear title, for instance. After financing is assured, the closing agent will draw up the deed and take care of the usual tasks leading to transfer of title.

Q. I am interested to discover if the "Lady Bird Deed" is available in New York. I have one on my property in Florida and, at my attorney's advice, would like one on my other property.

You were right in saying President Johnson didn't use that deed in his estate. But Lady Bird had her lawyer write one for her daughters (to transfer a deed) after her death.

A. A "Lady Bird Deed," for those who missed the original question, is one version of a deed that transfers title automatically to a specific person on the owner's death. It includes additional provisions regarding possible Medicare complications.

Lyndon Johnson's family never had anything to do with it. A Florida law professor simply used the names of the first family when he set up an example for students.

At any rate, it is available in only half a dozen states, and New York is not one of them.

Q. My husband is retiring and will be paid one lump sum. We owe about $80,000 on our mortgage and want to pay it off using this retirement money.

Can we phone our mortgage lender (Freddie Mac) and offer less than the total amount? I have seen this done with credit card debt, but I don't know of anyone trying this idea with their home mortgage.

A. Your question reminds me of "Can I sue ?" and for that the answer is always "Anyone can sue any time." But what's really being asked is "Am I likely to prevail?"

So yes, you can always make any offer you like. But I doubt if Freddie Mac is set up to consider such a proposal.

If you're paying very low interest, I suppose that might make a difference. It could with a private mortgage, one held by an individual rather than an institution. That's where such a proposal would be more likely to succeed.

Never any harm in asking. Do let me know their answer.

• 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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