Make sure your desires are written in contract
Q. We want to stay here till school is out, and then we hope to move to a bigger house. Meanwhile, we're getting ready to put this house on the market. We had made a real playground for our kids in the backyard. Will we have the right to take the swing set and sandbox with us?
A. A swing set is one of those gray-area items, not quite personal property and not quite real property. The law generally says that anything permanently attached becomes part of the real estate. To head off arguments, when you put the place on the market, it's best to list items that might cause disputes. That swing set is one. You might also mention -- in the written listing or description -- that the seller reserves the right to remove, for example, an heirloom chandelier or an attached mirror.
When you finally accept a written purchase offer, see that the contract also mentions items you will take with you. Oral agreement is not a sufficient guarantee against misunderstandings later.
Q. I am going to sell my house without a broker. Any advice you can give me would be welcome.
A. Here's some of what you need if you're going to sell on your own:
• Leisure time for studying, preparing, answering emails and phone calls, and showing the house.
• The ability to handle disappointment and rejection.
• Extra time to explore the local market before you sell.
• A lawyer on call, preferably one who handles real estate.
• The ability to ask personal questions.
• Negotiation skills.
Before you start -- don't say I told you this -- it won't cost anything or obligate you to talk with local brokers. You'll hear from some as soon as you put your home on the market. Instead of cutting them off, invite them over. That involves no commitment on your part. You can learn a lot by chatting with them at length. You'll obtain information about the local market and educational pointers about home selling. You may get advice about making your home more attractive to potential buyers.
Don't pay much attention to the broker who has "just the right buyer waiting" for a house like yours. But if there really is such a prospect, you may want to let the broker bring that one person in. Before they enter, you'd both sign a simple written memorandum promising a small commission if that specific person were to end up buying your home.
Q. I've read about a mortgage prepayment plan that goes like this: The first year of the mortgage, you pay an extra $10 per month against the principal. At the end of the year, you pay an additional $500 off the principal.
Starting with the 13th month (second year), you start to pay an extra $20 per month, another $500 lump sum at the end of that year, on to $30 extra per month and so on and so forth, until the mortgage is paid off.
Will this pay off your 30-year mortgage in 15 years?
A. Probably not. It would come out that way only if you had borrowed a specific amount at a specific interest rate, which I'm not going to try calculating. Sorry about that.
Q. Our written purchase and sale contract says the buyers will settle up on a specific date. Now they say they need another month to arrange financing. We've been sorry we ever accepted their offer, and this sounds like a good reason to cancel the whole thing. Can we do that?
A. I doubt it. I haven't seen your contract, but usually that closing date is merely a target. To make it more binding, I believe you'd make the date "of the essence" to the contract.
If you haven't been working with a lawyer, you should certainly start right now. That's the person to answer your questions, and to guide you if you want to get rid of the whole agreement.
Meanwhile, it's possible to continue showing your house. If a potential buyer were to agree, you could even accept the offer "subject to the nonperformance" of the existing contract.
• Contact Edith Lank on www.askedith.com, or 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.
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