Q. We are just starting out, and we can afford to buy a home if we can find a bargain. But we don't want to make a mistake and end up with problems. We'd appreciate any advice.
A. Yes, perfectly good bargain houses are out there. Let's start with housekeeping: As you park across the street, the agent says: "Now, I want to warn you: There are a lot of kids in this house, and school's out. It doesn't show well." From the car you can see an old pickup in the driveway, rusted toys on the front walk, fliers moldering under the shrubs and a muddy screen door.
A disaster? Well, maybe it's an opportunity.
If the house has had decent maintenance (as opposed to housekeeping), you may have stumbled on a bargain. Houses that have been rented out sometimes fall in this category. Many buyers cannot see past the sloppiness. The house "just doesn't have good vibes." The place may stay on the market for months and eventually go for substantially under true market value.
When it comes to decorating and housekeeping, ignore the sizzle and concentrate on the steak. What counts is location, layout and basic condition. Disregard the blaring TV; instead, find out how old the roof is.
Other places to find bargains include the following:
For starters, sellers under pressure. Their agent won't -- or shouldn't -- reveal that the place is threatened with foreclosure. But you can sometimes see for yourselves that it is a divorce situation, or that one spouse is already out of town with a new job. They may be ready to trade a price concession for a quick sale.
Second, if a homeowner has died, an executor is sometimes eager for any reasonable offer in return for a prompt, trouble-free winding up of the estate.
And then there's the most luxurious house on the street. It won't ever repay the owners for the money they've invested. No matter how elegant it may be, buyers with money to spend will aim for a fancier neighborhood. People are just like that. If you like the area, you may be able to pick up a great deal for your money.
On the other hand, there's the modest house on a prestigious street. That, perhaps, is not so much a bargain as it is a classic good investment.
At any rate, enjoy your house hunting!
Q. My husband and I own a timeshare in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and it is paid for. We have tried to sell it over the years but have been unsuccessful. Now we are retired and can no longer afford the timeshare maintenance fees, which will double in 2018.
We listed it with a company to sell for us, but that has not produced a sale, and we think we have been ripped off by the company. How in the world can we rid ourselves of this burden? We offered to give the timeshare back, but the developer would not take it.
A. A timeshare may be enjoyed for many years but should not be considered an investment. I don't hear from owners with happy endings, but stories like yours -- those I've heard many times over the years.
You did right asking the developer if it would take the timeshare back; that's a good first step. You did wrong giving anyone money upfront to "market" the place.
You can always try placing a classified ad in the local paper offering to give the timeshare up just for the legal costs of transferring it -- or even promising to pay the costs yourself.
You might also take the problem to a couple of real estate brokers there. You'd need to offer enough commission -- maybe a flat fee -- so it would be worth their efforts to find a buyer, or even just a taker.
Then -- I always feel odd making this suggestion, so I'll preface it by saying you should discuss this with your lawyer -- you may want to simply stop paying the fees. Ownership will eventually revert to the developer. In most cases, management doesn't feel it's worthwhile pursuing any legal steps against you. That's particularly true if the property is located in a different state.
Over the years, I've wished someone would write back and tell me how that option worked out.
• Contact Edith Lank on www.askedith.com, or 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.
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