QDEAR BOB: A few weeks ago, you had a question from a home buyer who was upset about an artificially low asking price for a house. When the buyer offered the full asking price, he learned the seller had no intention of accepting that low price, which was planned to create a buyer competitive frenzy. Isn't this procedure illegal fraud or misrepresentation? Couldn't that buyer force the seller to sell by means of a specific performance lawsuit? -- Agnes S.

ADEAR AGNES: Fraud is intentional deceit; misrepresentation usually involves negligence. If it's intentional, it's fraudulent. However, for fraud and misrepresentation to be legally actionable, the plaintiff must be able to prove monetary damages.

In the situation of an artificially low home asking price, proving damages is difficult. Sellers and their realty agents know this, so they get away with their dirty trick. Thankfully, not all agents are so devious.

As for your question about the disappointed buyer suing the seller for specific performance to force a sale, the answer is no. The reason is that the listing contract is between the home seller and the listing agent. Prospective buyers are not a party to that contract and are not entitled to specific performance of the listing contract.

DEAR BOB: We own a 245-acre farm. My wife and I live in the farmhouse where we raised our three children. About 10 years ago, one son bought an adjoining farm after we lent him the mortgage money. He now rents and farms our property too.

My wife is 72 and I am 75. We have no desire to move from our farmhouse, which we own free and clear. But when I looked into those reverse mortgages you often discuss, I learned farms are not eligible. I was considering a reverse mortgage credit line for use in an emergency. Why aren't farms eligible for reverse mortgages? -- Kingsley W.

DEAR KINGSLEY: If your farmhouse is on a separate parcel, it can qualify for a reverse mortgage. However, if it is part of your 245-acre farm property, then it is not eligible for a reverse mortgage because that is a combination business and personal residence property.

The three major reverse mortgage lenders, FHA, Fannie Mae and Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp., lend only on principal residences, not farm properties. Unfortunately, if you subdivided your residence and created a separate lot, it probably wouldn't have much value as a stand-alone rural house. I suggest you forget about a reverse mortgage.

If you want a low-cost bank credit line, lots of banks eagerly make these loans.

DEAR BOB: We plan to list our home for sale soon because I am to retire by spring. Our plan is to then rent an apartment in Florida for a year to see if we can tolerate the summer heat and humidity. If we can, then we'll buy a small Florida house or condo. If not, we'll probably to downsize to a smaller house or condo near our current large home. Should we have our home professionally inspected before listing it for sale, or should we let the buyer hire the inspectors? -- Glenn C.

DEAR GLENN: In my experience, I've found it's best to have the home professionally inspected before listing it for sale, including customary special inspections for things such as termites, radon, building code compliance, energy efficiency or whatever applies in your area. Then have any recommended repairs performed before listing your home for sale. Most buyers will accept the seller's professional inspection reports. But others will want to double-check by hiring their own inspectors, at their own expense, of course.

As a seller, I suggest getting your home into top condition after making any necessary repairs. If the buyer's inspector finds a problem your inspector missed, then you can go back to your inspector. That happened to me with termite damage repairs my inspector missed. He paid for the necessary work.

DEAR BOB: We paid our mortgage broker $500 to lock in our interest rate for 30 days. Although we were ready to close our home purchase, the lender kept stalling. It seems to me a lender should have two or three appraisers lined up to do the appraisal within 30 days. But the lender said our lock-in expired and we had to pay a one-fourth percentage point higher interest rate because our loan package, including the appraisal, wasn't completed within the 30 days.

Do we have any recourse against our lender? -- Ben L.

DEAR BEN: You are correct that there is no valid excuse for a mortgage lender not obtaining a home appraisal within 30 days. I wouldn't be surprised if your mortgage broker pocketed that $500 and never locked in your low interest rate with an actual lender.

Unfortunately, you have no easy and profitable recourse. Your mortgage broker knows that. You should demand a refund of your $500 lock-in fee within 10 business days. However, don't threaten or tell your loan broker what you plan to do if you don't receive a prompt refund.

If the mortgage broker doesn't refund the $500, you can sue the mortgage broker for a $500 breach-of-contract refund in local small-claims court, or file a complaint with the mortgage broker's license regulator.

DEAR BOB: More than a year ago, I was having trouble selling my house because it is not in a good neighborhood. Then I read your article about how a lease-option can help sell a property.

Following your instructions, I quickly found a tenant-buyer. However, she was not able to buy during her one-year option period. Now the house has substantially gone up in market value. When I renewed her lease-option for another year, I raised the option price. My buyer-tenant wasn't happy and threatened to sue me. Does she have any recourse? -- Humphrey T.

DEAR HUMPHREY: If your tenant-buyer didn't exercise her purchase option within 12 months, the option expired. You had no obligation to renew the lease-option. When you offered to renew for another year, but at an increased option purchase price, you were perfectly within your legal rights. The tenant-buyer could have avoided an increased option price by purchasing the home within her initial option period.

DEAR BOB: My wife and I are considering downsizing by buying a condo. We want to move out of our house, have it painted and cleaned up, and then put it up for sale in a few months. Several of our friends bought bad condos, but we have other friends who love their condos. How can we be sure we buy a good condo? -- Bert H.

DEAR BERT: When you find a condo you think you want to own, before making a purchase offer talk with at least three residents in the condo complex about what they like and dislike about it.

Be aware that the No. 1 complaint of condo owners is poor soundproofing. Ask your potential new neighbors, upstairs and downstairs, as well as adjacent on the sides, to turn on their televisions and stereos to see if you can hear them. Also, ask the upstairs neighbor to walk around so you can see if the noise will disturb you.

When making your purchase offer, be sure it is contingent on your approval of the condo conditions, covenants and restrictions, as well as the homeowner association's financial condition, including replacement reserves. You can't be too careful when buying a condo.

DEAR BOB: In August we made the final payment on our home loan. Following your advice, we held a symbolic mortgage burning ceremony party with a few close friends. We were proud to have paid off our 30-year mortgage, so we now own our home free and clear.

However, we have never received any proof that the mortgage company cleared the loan from our title. I have a friend who works at a title insurance company who checked, and she reports the mortgage is still recorded against our home.

When I phoned the lender, it treated me like dirt and said everything has been taken care of. You have warned that lenders should record either a mortgage satisfaction or a deed of reconveyance. But we can't find any recorded evidence of either. What should we do? -- Naomi T.

DEAR NAOMI: It's time to get tough, mean and nasty with your mortgage lender. You should have received proof by now that your paid-off mortgage was removed from your home's title.

Presuming your friend is correct, make one more polite phone call to your ex-lender. Ask to speak with a supervisor and explain you want proof the title was cleared. This is important because, when you eventually sell your home, you want a free-and-clear title. It's best to clear up this title problem now rather than later.

If your lender refuses to act, one way to get the lender's attention is to file a local small-claims court slander-of-title lawsuit for the maximum allowed. Rather than appear in court, your lender will probably take care of the matter promptly.

Readers with questions should write Robert J. Bruss at P.O. Box 280038, San Francisco, Calif. 94128, or contact him via e-mail at robertjbruss@aol.com.

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