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posted: 5/31/2014 12:01 AM

A home sale is never over until it's over

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Q. We accepted an offer on our house two weeks ago, but the "for sale" sign is still up in our front yard. Is this ethical? Why hasn't it been removed?

A. In the sale of real estate, it ain't over till it's over. There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. It's not over till the Fat Lady sings, and so on.

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Your buyers probably need to secure financing, and their lender's appraiser must judge your house worth what they're paying. Sometimes unexpected complications must be resolved on the way to final settlement. So it's prudent to let interested buyers know the property might still go back on the market. And of course the sign continues as a free billboard for your agent.

It is usual to post a small additional sign indicating a sale is pending. But in any event, you needn't have a sign if you don't want one. Without the seller's consent, a for-sale sign can't be placed even when the house first goes on the market. Discuss this directly this with your agent.

Q. You recently wrote, "It's easy, and inexpensive, to put the house in your daughter's name any time you want. … It'd be best, of course, if your daughter could own the house and qualify for a loan herself. Perhaps she could if you cosigned."

Why is this cosign better for the parents? If the daughter misses a payment, they are responsible. If they transfer ownership and cosign, they are still responsible but no longer own the house. And they couldn't sell it.

A. These parents already own a house their daughter lives in, and she pays the mortgage bills at a high interest rate. They were considering refinancing to reduce the rate. They found that the daughter, as an owner-occupant, could qualify for a better mortgage plan than they could as non-occupants, so they were asking if it was easy to transfer title.

But yes, if their daughter owned the property and then missed payments, as co-signers they'd still be liable for her debt without owning anything. That's why I usually caution against cosigning, and you're right -- I shouldn't have made an exception in this case.

Q. This question revolves around farmland from an inheritance. It's currently rented out. My one-third is going to be 52 acres, and I would rather sell my share. My siblings would like to keep it in the family.

According to the lawyer, I need to give them first chance to buy me out, which I am just fine with. I also have a niece and her husband that are interested in buying my part and building on it if they can come up with financing. Otherwise, I guess I can force the sale of the land, which I don't want to do, or just get a check every year from the rent. I guess there is a 20 percent capital gains tax if I sell it?

A. Capital gains rates vary depending on your tax bracket. But if this is an inheritance, I believe your cost basis is the land's value at the time of death. If you sold for about that amount, you shouldn't have any taxable gain. And if the land can be physically divided, I should think you could sell your share without forcing the sale of the rest.

If the lawyer has told you differently, then other factors may be involved.

Q. I have a property that has a mortgage listed on it that was paid off in 2002. The company that was supposed to file the discharge with my county clerk's office is out of business. I have contacted every company involved; three are no longer in business or have been absorbed by other banks. None will get back to me no matter what I do. What can I do? What can a lawyer do to help?

A. An ever-helpful lawyer friend listed some of the ways your attorney might straighten out the record. He wrote:

"If the mortgagor has documentary proof of the mortgage payoff, there is a procedure allowing an attorney to file an affidavit with the county clerk. If a lender is subject to the jurisdiction of that state's banking department, we have found that office helpful. … If a lender has gone out of business, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. can be helpful in issuing a discharge. If the lender is a national bank or is otherwise subject to federal jurisdiction, the office of the comptroller of the currency should be able to assist in getting a discharge."

• 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.

© 2014, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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