DEAR BOB: I enjoyed your recent article which said some lenders give discounts for early payoff of old, low interest rate mortgages. When I contacted my mortgage holder, a major bank, the loan officer said they never give discounts for early payoff of old VA mortgages. My interest rate is 6 percent. As I want to pay off the $13,000 balance, is there anyone I can appeal to in Washington? Tyson T., Rockville.

DEAR TYSON: Not that I know of. Discounts for early payoffs of old, low interest rate mortgages are discretionary with each lender. Some give discounts, others don't. I suspect your old VA mortgage has been sold to another lender. The local bank then merely collects the payments.

You are fortunate you can't get a discount for your early payment as you can easily invest your $13,000 elsewhere to earn far more than 6 percent. Never prepay an old mortgage unless the lender will give a big discount.

DEAR BOB: I will take early retirement at age 63 next December. My wife is 60. We plan to sell our home, using that $100,000 profit tax exemption, and move to either Florida or Tennessee. But until my wife's social security and pension start at age 62, we will be a little short on retirement income. My daughter suggests we sell our home for a 10 percent cash down payment and finance the rest for our buyer on a 30-year mortgage. The realty agent we talked to thinks it's a great idea. What do you think? Joe H., Fairfax.

DEAR JOE: You've got an excellent plan but it needs some improvement. By financing your buyer's purchase you can get top dollar and a quick sale in today's market. But that 30-year mortgage could be dangerous for you.

What if the inflation rate jumps to 25 percent per year from today's current 12 percent annual rate? While your mortgage income looks great today, it could be disasterous tomorrow if inflation gets worse.

A better idea is to give a mortgage amortized over 30 years but with a balloon payment due in five years. Tell your buyer that you will then rewrite the mortgage for another five years, but at the "going rate" of interest in five years. Such a plan protects you against your biggest enemy, inflation.

By the way, I hope you plan to buy a small house or condo at your new location. If you rent there, as inflation drives up rents you'll become another inflation victim. Property ownership is the best way to beat inflation, even during your retirement year.

DEAR BOB: We must sell our home before the end of the year. (1) Do you think we should list it for sale with the same agent who sold it to us? We weren't thrilled with his service but he was an excellent negotiator for us. (2) About how many weeks will it take to get our home sold? Victor M., Silver Spring.

DEAR VICTOR: (1) Before selecting a realty agent with whom to list your home for sale, interview at least three active local agents. Include the agent who sold you the home. Compare their fees, services offered and client references before selecting the best agent for you.

Don't choose an agent on the basis of his estimate of your home's market value alone. Disregard any agent who doesn't give you a written "competitive market analysis" showing recent sales prices and terms of similar nearby homes. Before selecting your agent, phone his references to see if those previous clients would list their home with that agent again.

(2) In today's slow buyer's market, a listing for 90 days is usually adequate if you are willing to help finance your buyer's purchase. But if you insist on an all-cash sale, plan on a longer listing period.

Mortgage money is very expensive today. Few home buyers can qualify for new loans. So the number of cash buyers for your home is limited. But you can widen your market of potential buyers, and cut the sales time, if you'll help finance the sale by taking back a second or a wraparound mortgage.

DEAR BOB: I own several properties, including my home, a commerical building, two apartment houses, and a small office building, all free and clear. But they are a headache to manage, especially since I now have several vacancies. As I am approaching retirement, I am considering selling out and taking back mortgages for retirement income. I would appreciate your advice on the best course of action. Mae S., Washington.

DEAR MAE: Sorry, but I can't give specific advice on your personal situation as I am not familiar with your community and your personal financial situation.

You should consult a local real estate counselor who, for a reasonable fee, will evaluate your situation, make recommendations, and help you carry them out if you decide to do so. These realty counselors, usually people with many years of real estate experience, can be found by contacting your local board of Realtors office.

DEAR BOB: Regarding that "over 55 rule," I am 56 and my wife is 54. Should we wait to sell our home until my wife is 55 as our profit will be over $100,000? Hal J., Alexandria.

DEAR HALL: No. Only one $100,000 home sale tax exemption is available per married couple. Waiting until your wife becomes 55 won't increase your tax-free profit exemption.

DEAR BOB: We don't own any real estate yet. Should we buy our home or investment property first? Mira E., Bethesda.

DEAR MIRA: Buy your home first. If you want to combine the best of both worlds, buy a small apartment house and live in one apartment as your home. I did this when starting out in real estate and found it to be very profitable.

DEAR BOB: Aare home improvement cost tax deductible? Our tax man says "no." Please explain. Nan V., Springfield.

DEAR NAN: Your tax man is right. But save you home improvement receipts and add the cost to your purchase price basis for your home. When you eventually sell your home, your profit is the difference between your basis and the adjusted sales price (which is the gross sales price minus sales expenses). Your tax advisor can explain further.

DEAR BOB: A friend is willing to sell me his house for $12,000 down payment if I will take over his mortgages on which he is behind in payments. But he will only give me a quit claim deed. Is this safe? Benjamin N., Annapolis.

DEAR BENJAMIN: Yes, if you also get a title insurance policy. Title insurance, not the deed itself, is your best assurance of receiving a good, marketable title.

DEAR BOB: We would like to buy a home but are confused about the procedures. (1) Does the buyer have to pay any fee to the realty agent? (2) Is it cheaper to buy a home direct from its seller? Mrs. h. D., Arlington.

DEAR MRS. H. D.: (1) The seller, not the buyer, pays the real estate agents's sales commission fee. (2) No.

The market place (which means recent sales of nearby comparable homes) determines the value of the home you want to buy. It cost no more to buy a home with the aid of a real estate agent so you might as well take advantage of the services offered by real estate agents. A home seller trying to sell his home alone works hard and he expects to "save" the sales commission. Rarely will he pass any of that saving on to the buyer.