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posted: 1/18/2014 12:30 AM

Net listings can cause trouble in Florida

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Q. In Florida, is it legal for a real estate agent to offer a contract for a certain price and sell it for a higher price for their commission, if the seller agrees to it? In other words, the seller says what they want to get, and the agent can sell it for more and keep the difference.

A. What you describe is known as a net listing -- seller agrees to accept a certain amount, and if the eventual sale price is higher, the agent keeps the rest as commission. Net listings can lead to trouble, conflicts of interest and lawsuits, so they're illegal in many states. They're allowed in Florida, but the state licensing authorities say they discourage agents from using them.

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Q. Can you recommend a way to dissolve ownership of a timeshare? There are numerous sites advertising timeshare relief all requiring upfront fees, usually requiring thousands of dollars to begin the process. There are an equal number of sites that claim this process is risky, most likely a scam that will take your money and you're still in possession of the timeshare.

I'm not looking to recoup the purchase price, just looking for a proven method to rid myself of this burden. One recommendation I received was to give my share back, if they will take it, and if not, walk away from it and stop paying the annual maintenance fees. I'm concerned this approach would have a negative impact on my credit rating and could lead to costly legal expenses. Any recommendations you can offer will be appreciated.

A. Never pay anyone any money upfront for the marketing of your timeshare. The advice you received -- asking the developer or the management if they'll take it back -- would have been my first suggestion. You might put a classified ad or two in the newspaper where the timeshare is located. Add a listing on Craigslist, offering to give it away for free or perhaps just for the legal costs of transferring ownership. You could also contact real estate agents in that area to see if anyone would market it for the promise of 95-percent commission.

I doubt if most developers bother to pursue legal action when an owner simply stops paying annual fees. As you are worried about your credit record, I won't recommend that this time. I wonder what would happen, though, if you contacted the management, told them you were going to walk away and offered to compromise by making one year's payment in return for their release.

Q. I own a tract of land that I want to give to my two nephews. Do I really have to go to a lawyer when it's a gift? How do I go about just changing the deed from my name to their names?

A. I've had that question before, and I think the confusion comes because people think in terms of the title to a car. Yes, that's a piece of paper, and yes, you can give the car to someone else by signing it over. But things don't work that way with real estate.

With real property the word "title" is not a document. It's nothing you can hold in your hand. It's simply a word meaning ownership. Title is transferred when the owner signs a new deed giving ownership to someone else. It's a one-time document, accomplishing only that one transfer. It's important that a deed be put on file in the county's public records, but after that it has no further use, a young lawyer once told me.

"You could just tear it up and throw it in the wastebasket," he said. Not that anyone does.

To give that land away, the uncle will sign a new deed, naming the nephews as the new owners. Yes, he can do it himself, but it won't be accepted for the all-important recording unless it's in proper legal form and accompanied by several different forms, mostly reports concerned with possible tax consequences.

One lawyer sent me a list of other issues that might be involved. If the uncle came to him, he'd discuss whether there was a need to file gift tax returns. He'd ask whether the uncle wanted to retain a life estate. Would the deed name the two as joint owners or as tenants in common? (That could determine what happened to the land if one nephew died.) The lawyer said he'd discuss possible income and estate tax consequences of the gift. And he'd ask whether the uncle understood that the gift might hold up potential Medicaid coverage during a five-year "look back."

• 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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