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posted: 8/2/2014 12:01 AM

Selling a home furnished is risky proposition

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Q. I am 70 years old and am getting ready to sell my house up north. I already own a condo unit in Florida. I am not at all a handyman and not interested in putting out any sum of money to fix up and/or clean up my house so that it will sell at a higher price. Neither my wife nor I are stellar cleaners, though our house, which was built in 1977, is in very good (not great) shape.

Do you have any idea how much of a loss people usually take if they sell their house as is, versus spending money painting and cleaning up their house before selling? Also, are there many buyers out there who would be willing to buy the house just as is -- furnished? I know my questions may not be easily quantified but even a ballpark number would be OK.

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A. I can't give you any specific number. It's been years since I was out there selling, and -- more important -- I haven't seen your house, so I don't know what it needs. You'll be risking not only a lower price, of course, but also a longer time on the market.

For sellers who are casual housekeepers, agents sometimes recommend hiring a professional cleaning crew for just a one-shot session. But as you suspect, offering the house "furnished" means cutting way down on the number of potential buyers. It might take many more months to find someone who wants to buy that way.

It's more common to clear out the house by calling in the folks who run professional moving sales -- estate sales. I usually hear that "they took care of everything and the service was great."

You can get better advice from local real estate brokers who will look your house over. It won't cost anything or obligate you, and you may end up finding the right agent to handle your sale.

Q. My son and his friend bought a house together because it would be cheaper than renting. His friend's sister also lives with them so they split the payment three ways. They get along great, and it is economical for them. They have done some improvements, some paid for by my son.

Now my son wants to get an apartment and live on his own. He just wants to give his half of the house to his friend. He doesn't want any money or anything, he just wants to walk away and get his own place. They are still good friends. They could rent out his bedroom or use it for his friend's young daughter who spends the weekends with them.

How would he go about signing his half of the house to his friend? He wants to do this the right way so they won't have any legal problems in the future.

A. Signing over his half is simple, and the problems I see are more financial than legal. You mentioned "payments" so I assume there's a mortgage against the property. Your son once signed a promise to be personally responsible for that whole debt, not just for half. The mortgage company will hold him to it, whether he remains one of the owners or not. If the loan gets in trouble in the future, they can come after him.

This is a problem that can also come up with even the most amicable of divorces. Sometimes the lender will release your son from liability if the other borrower can prove he's qualified to carry the debt on his own (sufficient income, good credit.) They can approach the mortgage company to ask if that's possible. Another solution is for the co-owner to refinance -- getting a new loan in just his own name, and paying off the present mortgage.

Otherwise, your son will still have that debt out against him. It will show on his credit record as it does now, and if trouble arose, at the very least it could hurt his rating.

Transferring his share of ownership simply involves signing a new deed. Without knowing the finances involved, I can't say what tax consequences -- if any -- might follow. The two of them should go together to a lawyer, preferably one who specializes in real estate, for paperwork and guidance.

Follow up: In response to a recent letter asking if price estimates on Zillow and other real estate websites are accurate: "My (realty) company no longer shares its property listings with Zillow (or any other third parties of that type). One of our primary concerns was that, too often, Zillow's valuation estimates were way off the mark, which inevitably got sale price negotiations off on the wrong foot."

• 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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