Ask Realty Times

Written by Posted On Thursday, 21 February 2008 16:00

Question: I'm trying to buy a home for the first time, did the usual contract, had the inspection done and found out the roof had four layers of shingles. The inspection report came out and stated the roof was not leaking, but structurally it was dangerous.

The sellers came back and said they will fix the roof, but increase the price of the house. That was a verbal, and we stated no because we did not expect to pay more for the house. To make a long story short, the sellers are two attorneys and they are now threatening us with legal action because they said nothing is wrong with the roof and they agreed to fix it anyway.

Answer: Please get your own attorney and have him or her look at the sale agreement and all disclosure statements.

Most likely the building code requires that no more than two layers of roofing material can be used. The reason is to limit weight on the roof. Too much weight and there's something wrong with the roof.

As to the seller's offer, it's an offer to fix the roof at your cost in the form of a higher price to which you have not agreed. What, exactly, is attractive about that?

Question: I had a friend find a home going into foreclosure. He asked me for the payoff of $54,500 so the house could be bought through a short sale. He said he would split the sale price of the house, which had an assessment of $103,000. We paid the owner a $1,000 deposit.

Now the deal is that if he cannot get it sold in six weeks we will go to the bank, get it refinanced to get my money back an then continue to rent it to pay the mortgage (in my name) Now, as of eight weeks, he claims he is waiting for a certificate of satisfaction to show the bank of ownership. My question is, does this make sense or am I not being told something? He is claiming it will take around 30 days. Any suggestions as to what I could ask him to see what's going on? I'm a little nervous about this.

Answer: You have reason to be nervous.

In the first proposed arrangement you would put up $54,500, your friend would put up nothing but would get 50% equity in the property. Huh? You have all the risk.

Your friend says the property can be sold for $103,000. If that's the case, why doesn't the owner sell it? Why should the owner sell to you for less?

You have now put down $1,000 to buy a property, a purchase which is only possible with your credit.

Please be aware that a number of states have passed legislation to control "foreclosure rescue specialists." These laws are broadly written and have stiff penalties if broached. Please contact a real estate attorney immediately to understand such legislation, if any, in your state and to get independent advice before signing any paperwork.

Question: I have heard and read about predatory lending and was wondering if I might be a victim. I am trying to re-finance my home, but when I asked about the payoff from my second mortgage company they said I owed $5,000, but I had fees totaling over $20,000. Is there a limit on fees that a company can charge? Their explanation is every time I was late with a payment I was charged a certain amount.

Answer: Were you always late? How much was the fee per late event? Is there a prepayment penalty? Please contact your state attorney general and ask to speak with someone in their consumer affairs office.

Question: Is it possible that anyone has considered an underground house for tornado areas? I saw such a house in the fifties. It was built below ground with the windows and roof just above ground for viewing as in a normal house. At that time the heating was coal stove, but with modern technology it could be improved. I was just wondering if this might be worth some scientist and or engineer looking into.

Answer: In Florida, as an example, there are a number of homes being built to far-higher standards in an effort to better withstand hurricanes. No doubt there are similar efforts in tornado areas.

For more information, contact state building associations and the engineering department at your state university.

Question: We bought a house last May. The house uses a propane heater, it has a propane tank that had propane in it. Right before it began to get cold here we received a bill from for 200 gallons of propane. How is this possible? I was under the impression that when you purchased a home the tank came with it? Did they give the previous owner a refund?

Answer: Take a look at your settlement sheet. There is an area for "adjustments" and in many cases sellers get a credit if oil or propane remain in the tank at the time the property is being sold. In other cases, there is no adjustment because no one asks about the matter.

You surely got the tank, but no one said you got a tank that was eternally filled. Your heating supplier re-filled the tank so you would not freeze and expects to be paid. This seems entirely reasonable -- consider where ice might form if the tank is not refilled .... .

Question: Almost five years ago I purchased a home with my longtime boyfriend (of 8 years) and father of my children. Two years ago our relationship went sour, he moved and has not contributed anything to the mortgage or household bills. I have no way of contacting him.

I need to resolve the issue of the joint mortgage and want the house placed in my name only. We have an interest-only loan so the payments have more than doubled during the last two years. What can I do?

Answer: Your situation explains why real estate ownership must be treated as a business activity, complete with written agreements. If there was such an agreement, it would likely be an easy matter to resolve this problem.

Most probably you will need to take your missing ex to court and sue for "partition." In effect, he will be forced to sell his interest. Since no one wants a half interest in the property, you will be able to buy out his interest. See a local attorney for specifics.

Question: I own a home in Texas -- or am at least paying a lender each month! But I'm getting married this Spring. Will my property assets automatically become my spouse's unless I specify something different in a prenuptial agreement?

Answer: There several issues here. First, if you elect to add a spouse to the title your lender cannot object. The Garn-St. Germain Act says a lender cannot call a loan if there is "a transfer where the spouse or children of the borrower become an owner of the property."

As to state laws, that's a matter that you and your future spouse should discuss with an attorney. Be aware that there are substantial advantages to holding title as husband and wife. If you are worried about the other party having a claim to property you now own, then you don't have a real estate question, you have a matter to discuss with a marriage counselor.

Question: I'm interest in getting into the real estate field, but may be moving across state lines soon. Do real estate licensing exams vary by state?

Answer: Yes. Real estate exams vary by state because licensure standards differ as do state laws. For specifics, contact brokers, brokerage associations and state regulators in the new jurisdiction.

Question: My neighbor's yard is constantly in a state of disrepair. Either there is trash laying around or the grass is too tall. Many times they are in violation of city ordinances, but I don't think they get cited very often. Do I have any course of action against them?

Answer: There are environmental reasons to suggest that less mowing and more grass are not a bad idea. As to trash, if you feel the neighbors are violating local ordinances then you should file a complaint with your local government. They can explain the standards and determine if further action is required.

Question: I live in a retirement community and would like start flying an American Flag outside my condo. But the condo has strict rules on what can be hung -- flags are restricted. Is this against my rights as an American?

Answer: You have rights as an American and you have obligations as someone who has voluntarily agreed to accept the rules and regulations of your community.

In the case of flag displays, your association should read the "Freedom To Fly The American Flag Act of 2005." It explains in polite language that flag displays cannot be banned but there may be display limitations as to time and place. The burden will be on the association to show why it has a "substantial interest" to formulate any restrictions, not an attractive position to defend.

You also have the right to run for association office so that the rules can be changed or revoked. The American flag is emblematic of the country and suggested restrictions regarding its display will be widely seen as controversial, offensive and needlessly provocative. As a matter of common sense condo associations would be smart to allow the display of the American flag without restriction.

Question: On average, how much do homes appreciate each year? I know markets are local -- but is the market set to improve over 2008?

Answer: No doubt there is some mathematical answer to the question of average appreciation, but the answer is irrelevant for several reasons. First, past results do not guarantee future outcomes. Second, all real estate is unique so what happens on average does not necessarily relate to a given property. Third, the assumption that homes always appreciate each year is simply wrong. Buying real estate is not a sure thing.

As to what will happen in 2008, there are various predictions floating around, all based on assorted presumptions and assumptions which together are nothing but glorified guesses, hopes, wishes and bar bets. Moreover, what happens nationwide may not be true in your state, community or neighborhood.

If you have an interest in pricing trends the right approach is to speak with local real estate brokers who know where new roads are being built, whether the population is increasing, if additional jobs are coming to the community, what new zoning is being considered and all about recent sales and rentals.

Have a real estate question? Send your inquiry to Ask Realty Times . Because of the volume of mail received, Mr. Miller cannot respond to questions individually or privately. Published letters may be edited for space and style. For comments regarding other Realty Times articles, please contact individual authors by pressing here . For past columns, please press Ask Realty Times .

This column is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is made available with the understanding that neither the author nor the publisher is engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If legal services or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.

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