DEAR BOB: We own some vacant land and a rental house that we want to sell so we can acquire one rental house that will be close to where we live, so we can easily manage it.
Is there any way we can avoid paying tax on the sales of the two properties and the acquisition of the rental house? -- Connie S.
DEAR CONNIE: Yes. A delayed tax-deferred exchange is ideal for your situation. Internal Revenue Code 1031(a)(3) says you have 45 days from the date of selling the first property to designate the property to be acquired and 180 days to complete the acquisition.
In the meantime, the sales proceeds from the properties sold must be held by a third-party intermediary such as a bank trust department. You cannot hold the sales proceeds because that is considered constructive receipt, which will disqualify the tax-deferred exchange.
It is perfectly acceptable to trade two properties for one. However, all "like kind" properties must be held for investment or use in a trade or business and you must trade up to a more expensive property without receiving any taxable "boot" personal property such as cash or net mortgage relief. For further details, consult your tax adviser.
DEAR BOB: We are in the process of buying a home. The problem is we are undecided whether to get a "no points" home loan at a higher interest rate than others that require a one-point or a two-point loan fee. As we are in the 28 percent tax bracket, which do you recommend? -- Tony R.
DEAR TONY: As you may know, loan fees paid to obtain a home acquisition mortgage are fully deductible on your income tax returns if you pay by separate check (don't let the lender subtract the loan fee from the mortgage loan proceeds). Since you can probably use the itemized interest deduction for the loan fee, paying one or two points for the loan fee might result in significant income tax savings.
However, if you don't plan to keep the home for many years, then a no-point home loan with a higher interest rate might be more advantageous. The reason is that you won't have to make the big cash outlay for loan points on a lower interest rate mortgage that will be of short duration. Consult your tax adviser for more information.
DEAR BOB: About three years ago I paid $5,800 for some rural land that I thought would be a great investment because it is at the intersection of two roads. Now I have a chance to sell my land for $10,000. However, the buyer insists on getting title insurance. But the title insurer says there is an unpaid IRS tax lien against the previous owner for $4,822 that I must pay to deliver clear title. What should I do? -- Matt Y.
DEAR MATT: The title insurance company is correct that the IRS tax lien against the previous owner still affects the land. The IRS could foreclose against whoever owns the land, regardless of the fact the lien attached when a previous owner owned the property.
Your situation shows why an owner's title insurance policy should always be obtained when acquiring any property. Since you presumably did not obtain an owner's title insurance policy, you may be able to negotiate a partial payment to get the IRS to release the land from the tax lien. If not, it looks like you won't be able to convey marketable title. For further details, consult a local real estate attorney.
DEAR BOB: About three years ago my husband and I filed for bankruptcy protection because we had medical bills and no health insurance to pay them. We were willing to pay the bills over time, but there was no way we could pay them quickly. Eventually we paid all our bills and the bankruptcy case was dismissed.
Now we want to buy a home. We tried to prequalify for a mortgage at our bank, but were turned down because of the bankruptcy three years ago.
We explained we paid all the overdue bills, but that didn't help. Is there any way we can get a mortgage now, even though we have good income and have been paying our bills on time? -- Marty Y.
DEAR MARTY: Yes. Not all mortgage lenders reject applicants just because they filed bankruptcy. Your situation is an example of how the bankruptcy law should be correctly used to give the debtor time to pay bills.
The fact you paid off the bills shows you just needed extra time and were not trying to escape from legitimate debts.
To find a local mortgage lender who will not reject your loan application just start phoning the lenders listed in the phone book Yellow Pages under "real estate loans." Or you can consult a local mortgage broker who places home loans with lenders who don't object to a borrower's past bankruptcy.
DEAR BOB: We listed our home for sale with a realty agent about two months ago. She hasn't brought us even one low-ball purchase offer.
When our listing expires next month, if the house hasn't sold, I plan to sell it myself by running a "distress sale" newspaper ad and cutting my price by the amount of the agent's sales commission.
Can you recommend a good book on selling a home without a real estate agent? -- Elsie W.
DEAR ELSIE: I do not know of a good nationwide book to recommend on selling your home without a professional real estate agent.
The local marketplace, based on recent sales prices of neighborhood homes comparable to yours, determines the market value of your home. If it is priced realistically, it should sell in 30 to 90 days. Forget the "average days on market" statistics the Realtors use which include all the overpriced listings.
When your listing expires, you should be prepared to do the following:
Advertise the home effectively.
Help the buyer arrange a conventional, FHA, VA or PMI mortgage.
Have a legally binding sales contract prepared.
Negotiate the sales price and terms.
Screen out unqualified troublemakers and even thieves from the serious prospective buyers.
Handle the 1,001 closing and title transfer details.
One bad error and you can lose far more than the real estate sales commission you think you will be saving. You only have one home to sell, but the local multiple listing service has hundreds of homes available for realty agents to show to buyers.
If you were disappointed with your realty agent, when the listing expires perhaps you should switch to a better agent rather than risk trying to sell your home alone without professional help.
DEAR BOB: We own some rural land that we want to sell. The first real estate office we contacted in the nearby town was familiar with our property and seemed interested in listing it for sale. However, the agent says a $500 advance fee "for advertising and marketing" is required before the firm will take a 12-month listing on our land. We have never sold land before. Are a $500 advance fee and a 12-month listing customary? -- Fleming P.
DEAR FLEMING: No. Real estate brokers do not customarily receive any advance fee for listing a property for sale. However, there have been many unscrupulous realty agents who solicited advance fees for listing farms and vacant land, but they never advertised or sold the listed properties.
I suggest you keep shopping for a better broker to sell your land. Contact the nearest Board of Realtors for a list of their farm and land brokers who specialize in land sales. A 12-month listing is far too long; a six-month listing should be the maximum term for vacant land.
DEAR BOB: My husband and I are considering refinancing our home. It is worth at least $125,000 more than we paid for it. If we refinance and pull out about $50,000 cash above our current mortgage balance, how will our cost basis be affected? -- Lela O.
DEAR LELA: The tax-free mortgage money you will receive has no effect on your home's cost basis. For further details, consult your tax adviser.
DEAR BOB: About two years ago I became interested in buying foreclosure properties after seeing a newspaper ad for a seminar on how to buy distressed properties. My problem is a repossessed house I bought from an S&L that acquired title because there were no bidders at the foreclosure sale.
This house is in a low-income part of town where there is lots of drug dealing. I have had the house listed for sale with two different Realtors, but they have not brought me any purchase offers.
If I can't sell this house, I could lose about $10,000. What should I do to get rid of this property, which I have fixed up, but I am worried it will be trashed at any moment? -- Roxie W.
DEAR ROXIE: As you have discovered, sometimes a real estate bargain is not really a bargain. A bad location is your problem. But there is a buyer for every property. However, that buyer will purchase only at the buyer's price and terms.
Your situation sounds like a perfect candidate for a lease with option to purchase. Since the home is in good condition, try posting a sign on the front lawn and running a newspaper ad such as "$3,000 moves you in. Rent applies toward down payment." Then describe the home with your phone number.
Get ready for your phone to ring constantly. Unless you get greedy, a lease-option will work to find a buyer for virtually any property, even yours.
DEAR BOB: About six years ago I bought a summer vacation home. My employer, a bank, just gave me notice I had better take early retirement at age 58 or I will be laid off indefinitely. Although I don't want to retire, I know my chances of finding another job with good pay are slim.
My wife and I are considering selling the home we bought last year and moving to our vacation home, which we would winterize. We can add enough improvements to the vacation home to bring its cost up to the net sales price of our primary residence.
Since we are not eligible for the "over 55 rule" $125,000 home sale tax break because we bought our home only a year ago, can we use that "rollover residence replacement rule" you often discuss if we move to our vacation home? -- Karl T.
DEAR KARL: No. Internal Revenue Code 1034 says you can defer your profit tax when you sell your principal residence and buy a replacement home of equal or greater cost within 24 months before or after the sale.
Since you purchased your vacation home six years ago, it clearly won't qualify. For further details, consult your tax adviser.
DEAR BOB: I have heard discounted mortgages can be good investments. At a bookstore, I purchased a book on discounted mortgages, but don't feel I know enough about this field to be successful.
Please recommend any books on how to invest in discounted mortgages. -- Kent H.
DEAR KENT: The best book on discounted mortgages is "Invest in Debt" by Jimmy Napier. It is available for $12, by mail only, from Jim Napier Inc., Box F, Chipley, Fla. 32428.
The second best book on discounted mortgages is "The Number One Real Estate Investment No One Talks About" by Sanford W. Hornwood and I. Lucretia Hollingsworth, published by Prentice-Hall and available in stock or by special order at local bookstores.
DEAR BOB: We want to take advantage of the current buyer's market for homes, but we are uncertain how large a mortgage we can obtain. Is there any easy way to determine the maximum mortgage we can get? -- Marcy H.
DEAR MARCY: Yes. Most mortgage lenders will gladly prequalify you for a mortgage. Just fill out a mortgage application and the lender will tell you the maximum mortgage you can obtain from that lender.
Some give you a fancy certificate you can show to the realty agent and home seller, so they know you have mortgage money available, subject to appraisal of the house.
However, please be aware not all mortgage lenders are equal. Some say you should not spend more than 28 percent of your gross income on mortgage payments.
But others will allow you up to 33 percent of your gross income. However, I recently sold a home to a nice couple and the lender qualified them even though their mortgage payment will take 40 percent of their gross income. The moral is shop around among many mortgage lenders.
DEAR BOB: In June we paid off our home mortgage. I attached a note stating we were paying $2,943 to complete the payments on our mortgage. But I have heard absolutely nothing from the lender since then. I tried calling their 800 toll-free number, but it is constantly busy. What should I do? -- Henry W.
DEAR HENRY: Mortgage lenders are notorious for failing to promptly record either a mortgage satisfaction or a deed of reconveyance to clear your loan off the public records. There is no excuse for the sloppy service of mortgage lenders. The reason they take so long to do this job is they have no financial incentive to record your final mortgage payment.
Write a registered letter-return receipt to the president of the lender demanding prompt attention to your problem within 10 days. If you don't get satisfaction, let me know and I will publicize the name of your major lender.
DEAR BOB: I recently read your article about the "jump ahead" mortgage prepayment plan where the borrower pays the current monthly payment plus the next month's principal payment. But my mortgage lender refuses to give me a loan amortization schedule, so it would be too difficult for me to figure out how much extra to pay each month to cut my mortgage's life in half.
My mortgage has a 9.5 percent interest rate. It was originally $124,000 and is now about $122,000, and has a monthly payment of $1,042.65.
If I add an extra $100 per month to my payment, how many more years will I have to pay and how much interest will I save? -- Wanda F.
DEAR WANDA: Presuming your mortgage was a 30-year loan, I calculate it is now about two years old with 28 years remaining. By increasing your monthly payment to $1,142.65, you will cut the remaining term by eight years to about 20 years.
More importantly, by cutting the remaining payments from 337 months to 240 months, you will pay $274,236 in interest instead of $351,373, a savings of $77,137.
To gain this dramatic savings, by paying $100 extra for 240 months or $24,000, you will earn a net saving of $53,137. That is pretty exciting to save so much and own your home free and clear eight years sooner than planned.
The savings for other borrowers may be more or less, depending on the age, interest rate and amount of extra monthly principal payment on their mortgage.
DEAR BOB: After reading your article about how to cut mortgage interest payments, I decided to add $200 per month to my regular monthly mortgage payment. But my lender, a major S&L, sent my payment back saying my check is for the wrong amount and to add a late charge payment of $42.09.
Can the lender refuse to accept an extra principal payment of $200 per month? -- Henry R.
DEAR HENRY: No. Your letter was one of many I have recently received on this subject. I am not aware of any state that has a law prohibiting mortgage principal prepayment on residential property. However, prepayments can be prohibited on commercial properties if the mortgage so specifies.
If you make a large prepayment in some states, there may be a penalty for doing so. But I suspect some loan service clerk just didn't know how to handle your extra principal payment, which you were entitled to make.
I suggest you phone the lender, either collect or on their 800 toll-free number, and ask to speak to a supervisor to get this problem straightened out.
If necessary, send your payment by certified mail-return receipt to the president of the S&L with a detailed letter of what happened and how you expect the S&L to straighten out the mess they created. Also ask for a personal letter of apology.
If more borrowers complained about the sad state of mortgage loan servicing quality by some lenders, these lenders would make certain borrowers are treated properly.
I could fill column after column with complaint letters received about mortgage loan servicers, but you should know you are not alone. You have every right to prepay your home mortgage each month.
DEAR BOB: Several times in recent weeks you have told home sellers how to defer their profit tax when they sell their homes and buy replacement homes of equal or greater cost within 24 months before or after the sale. But you never say how long the tax deferral lasts. Please clarify. -- Joel R.
DEAR JOEL: The home sale tax deferral of Internal Revenue Code 1034 lasts as long as the replacement principal residence is owned by the purchaser. But the tax becomes due if the replacement home is sold without buying another qualifying replacement.
This tax break can be used over and over, but not more often than once every 24 months, unless the sale qualifies for the moving expense tax deduction. Please consult your tax adviser for more details.
Readers with questions should write Robert J. Bruss directly at P.O. Box 280038, San Francisco, Calif. 94101.