DEAR BOB: Last year in an article about listings you said an exclusive agency listing earns the realty agent a sales commission for finding a buyer for the house, but the owner does not owe any fee if the owner finds a buyer without any agent's help.
That type of listing sounds ideal for selling my home. However, I cannot find any local agent who will take an exclusive agency listing. They all want exclusive right to sell listings. Why can't I find an agent who will take an exclusive agency listing? -- Roland R.
DEAR ROLAND: Most real estate agents do not like exclusive agency listings because the agent lacks control over the sale of the property. Only if the agent, or a cooperating agent, finds an acceptable buyer does the agent earn a sales commission. In other words, an exclusive agency listing creates a race between the agent and the seller to find a buyer.
If you were a real estate agent, would you work very hard to find a buyer for an exclusive agency property, knowing you were competing with the seller? Probably not.
In the current buyer's market for homes, for best results I recommend giving the most successful real estate agent in your vicinity an exclusive right to sell listing on your home for a reasonable time, such as 90 days. With this type of listing the agent has maximum incentive to sell your home because the agent receives the sales commission regardless whether you, the agent or a cooperating agent finds an acceptable buyer.
DEAR BOB: We have about $60,000 equity in our home. Our bank is offering a home-equity credit line with no loan fee and no closing cost, but the fixed-interest rate is 12.25 percent. That seems high to us. We are thinking of borrowing to buy a second home that we would rent to tenants. Do you think we should borrow on our home equity? -- Ray H.
DEAR RAY: It is a good idea to set up a home-equity credit line, so you can borrow when you have a good use for the money. Although you can obtain a home-equity credit line at little or no cost, that 12.25 percent interest rate is not a bargain. If you shop around, I think you can do better.
As for using the money to buy a rental house, that may not be a profitable idea if the market value of the house is not appreciating at a faster rate than your borrowed funds cost. Since home values are stagnant in most cities today, I suggest you consider buying a run-down house that you can renovate to increase its value by more than the improvement cost. I aim for $2 of increased value for each $1 spent on improvements.
DEAR BOB: We have to refinance our home mortgage because we have a balloon payment coming due in about six months. Our banker suggests a 15-year mortgage, but the payment will be considerably higher than on a 30-year mortgage. We plan on keeping our home a maximum of 10 years. Do you think a 15-year mortgage is a good idea? -- David C.
DEAR DAVID: There is no right or wrong answer to your question. What matters to most people is the amount of the monthly payment. For example, suppose you borrow $100,000 at 9.5 percent interest for 30 years. Your monthly payment will be $840.85. If you instead borrow the same amount at the same interest rate for 15 years, your monthly payment will be $1,044.22. In return for increasing your monthly payment by $203.37, you will save $114,782.40 interest if both loans are kept to their maturity.
However, you plan to keep your home only for 10 years maximum. During those 10 years a 15-year mortgage will cost you $125,306.40 in payments, whereas a 30-year mortgage will cost you only $100,902.00, a payment saving of $24,404.40 with the 30-year loan.
My suggestion is to take the 30-year mortgage. If you then wish to pay it off as if it were a 15-year loan, you can, but you don't have to do so.
DEAR BOB: I have a three-year lease on my apartment, but my landlord refuses to make any improvements. If I spend $2,000 for new carpeting, can I deduct the cost on my income tax returns? A friend told me I can do so. -- Lorrie B.
DEAR LORRIE: Your friend is mistaken. A residential tenant who makes capital improvements to the property is not entitled to any tax deduction for the cost. However, if you use part of your apartment as a home office, then the carpets in the "business area" can be depreciated as a business expense. Check with your tax adviser for further details.
DEAR BOB: We made a low-ball offer to buy a house that had been listed for sale more than seven months. To our surprise, the seller accepted our offer without any haggling or negotiation.
When we made our offer we did so with the understanding the real estate agent would help us get a mortgage. She had us fill out a standard loan application and assured us getting a mortgage would be no problem. But it turns out getting a new mortgage with just 10 percent down payment is not easy. The lenders have really tightened up. We have a few blemishes on our credit report, so we can't find a lender who will make us a loan.
When we asked for refund of our $10,000 earnest money deposit, the seller refused to give us our money back. The real estate agent promised us we could get our deposit back if we couldn't get a mortgage. What should we do? -- Naomi P.
DEAR NAOMI: The real estate agent should not have implied that you could get a mortgage and induce you to make your purchase offer based on the anticipated mortgage.
A real estate agent's job is to sell real estate. The agent is not in the mortgage business and cannot promise a required mortgage will be available. But the agent should have included in your purchase offer a mortgage contingency clause, so if you could not obtain a loan, your earnest money deposit would be refunded. I suggest you consult a local real estate attorney about a lawsuit against both the agent and the seller for refund of your $10,000.
DEAR BOB: We have had our home listed for sale almost 90 days with one of those discount real estate brokers you often write about. I agree, they are no good. But if we list our home for sale with a full-price agent we will have to raise the price at least 6 percent and it is already at the top of the market for our subdivision. But I don't feel we can sell in the current buyer's market without a real estate agent, do you? -- Henry R.
DEAR HENRY: No. However, I never said discount real estate brokers are "no good." But it is true I have not recommended them. Most home sellers need full-service agents who will handle all the sale details.
As for your mistaken idea that a full-service agent will cost you an extra 6 percent, I respectfully disagree. The services of a top-quality real estate agent are not a cost, but a benefit. Even though I am a real estate broker, when I sell my own properties I always list them with another real estate broker. Why? Because I know how difficult it is to try to sell your own property. I am only too happy to pay an agent to find a qualified buyer, so I can earn a handsome profit.
You shouldn't feel the agent is costing you 6 percent. Instead, the right attitude is to make sure the agent earns every dollar of his or her commission by handling the sale, arranging the mortgage and supervising the 1,001 details of the successful closing.
DEAR BOB: We recently sold our home, but we got into a terrible dispute with the buyers. Our original listing clearly stated "dining room chandelier" not included. This was printed in the local multiple listing service book. When our agent obtained an acceptable offer, through another agent from another brokerage, the contract said nothing about the chandelier. We presumed the buyers and their agent knew the chandelier was not included because that is what the listing said. Our agent even taped a small sign to the chandelier that said, "Chandelier not included in sale."
The day before the closing, the buyers reinspected our house and noticed we had removed the chandelier. We had already moved out of the house, but the buyers refused to close the sale unless we credited them with $3,000 to buy a new chandelier. We are still mad at the agents and the buyers. Do you think we should sue them for our $3,000? -- Sam L.
DEAR SAM: As you discovered, before the sale closed the buyer had all the leverage over you. Since you apparently needed the sale more than the $3,000, you reluctantly agreed to credit the buyers, so they could buy a new chandelier.
Legally, the buyers were correct. The sales contract said nothing about the chandelier and since it was a fixture permanently attached to the house, it was included in the sales price. If it was to be treated as personal property and excluded from the sale, it should have been listed separately on the sales contract as an exclusion. If I were in your situation, I would forget the matter.
DEAR BOB: You often recommend investing in older run-down houses to fix up for profits by increasing the market value. I agree. However, I am interested in larger properties, such as apartment and commercial buildings. Do you think the same principles apply or should I stick to newer buildings? -- Marilyn A.
DEAR MARILYN: Yes. The same basic idea of buying low, fixing up for less cost than the increased value, and then either holding or selling applies.
However, most investors are not in a financial position to acquire larger properties, so I recommend starting out with run-down single-family houses. Some people never advance beyond houses. That's fine. Personally, I am very happy investing in houses because they are so easy to buy, finance, manage and profitably resell.
Apartment and commercial buildings offer greater challenges and opportunities, but also higher risks. If you are not able to complete renovating a large building, perhaps because you run out of funds, you have a very big problem. That's why I prefer to stay with single-family houses because it is difficult to fail.
DEAR BOB: Thank you for sending your report on lease-options. As a real estate agent I found it very valuable and have already put together two lease-options.
However, I have another buyer who wants to buy a home on a lease-option, but she wants the income tax deductions. Your report says the buyer cannot get the ownership tax deductions when a lease-option is used. Is there any way to shift the tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes to the lease-option tenant-buyer? -- Brent D.
DEAR BRENT: Yes. You are correct it is not possible for the tenant-buyer to claim any tax deductions for a short-term lease-option. However, if you create a lease-option of 30 years or longer, the IRS says this is the equivalent of a property sale and the buyer thereby obtains the tax deductions. The seller treats the transaction as an installment sale.
Bear in mind the IRS doesn't care whether the buyer or seller gets the income tax deductions. All that really matters is both parties don't claim the same tax deductions. Readers with questions should write Bruss directly at P.O. Box 280038, San Francisco, Calif. 94128.