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Split the Mortgage, Get Tax Benefits?

As for the probate lawyer's fee of 5 percent of the gross estate, each state has a maximum statutory fee depending on the estate's total value. However, that fee can be negotiated downward.

If the lawyer thinks you will take your business elsewhere, she is very likely to reduce her fee substantially unless there are complications, such as a contested will.

DEAR BOB: My father died this year. He left behind six adult children. I don't think he liked me very much. So he left me his worst property, out of the 26 he owned at the time of his death. It is a vacant, vandalized slum property that was once a nice house. I checked with five nearby real estate agents, and they all agree it will be very difficult or impossible to sell without extensive fix-up. They said even "vulture buyers" don't want it. There is about $7,500 of unpaid property taxes. Otherwise, it is free and clear. I don't want to fix it up, nor do I need the money from selling the property. How can I avoid getting involved? -- Wally C.

DEAR WALLY: You can renounce your inheritance of that property by notifying the estate executor or court-appointed administrator in writing. After you renounce inheritance, it will pass to another heir according to the terms of the will.

Be sure to do this promptly, before the probate court distributes the property to you according to the will. After title transfers to you, then you become the owner, and getting rid of the property could be difficult.

DEAR BOB: Our house has been listed for sale for more than five months. The local market is very slow now. The listing agent has the house on her Web site and occasionally holds a weekend open house. What can we do? We need to get our house sold before we can buy another home near my husband's new job site. -- Kendra S.

DEAR KENDRA: The primary reason a house doesn't sell is that it is overpriced. If your home has been listed for sale for more than five months, something is seriously wrong.

Ask the listing agent to prepare a new comparative market analysis. This form shows recent sales prices of similar nearby homes, the asking prices of neighborhood homes (your competition) and the asking prices of recently expired, comparable listings (usually overpriced).

The analysis should also show your listing agent's recommended asking price. If your home is overpriced, it's time to face reality and reduce the price.

Equally important, be certain your home is correctly listed in the local multiple listing service and on the local MLS Web site, the listing agent's most powerful marketing tool. Also, check your home's listing at, where most buyers begin their searches.

In addition, ask the listing agent to explain what she has done and is doing to properly market your home in a slow market. How often does she advertise your home in the newspapers and in local home sales magazines? She should be holding a well-advertised open house at least once a month.

In addition, she should network among the MLS member agents who sell homes like yours, to be certain they are aware of your home. Lastly, ask the listing agent whether she recommends "staging" your home to show it at its best, such as by removing old-fashioned furniture and sprucing up the interior to make it appear more attractive.

Readers with questions should write Robert J. Bruss at 251 Park Rd., Burlingame, Calif. 94010, or contact him via his Web page,

© 2006 Inman News Service

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company