QDEAR BOB: What is the best way to sell my home without involving a real estate agent? -- Serena D.

ADEAR SERENA: I recommend that you not attempt to sell your home without a professional realty agent. One costly mistake and you could lose the sales commission you think you're saving.

Before deciding to sell your home alone, interview at least three successful real estate agents who sell homes in your area. Tell them you are thinking of selling "for-sale-by-owner."

They won't mind giving you their listing presentations, which will contain valuable information you need, such as recent sales prices of nearby comparable homes, asking prices of similar neighborhood homes (your competition), and each agent's estimate of your home's market value. They will also show you all the disclosures and paperwork necessary to sell your home without getting sued by the buyer. Each agent will also tell you why you should select him to get your listing.

Realty agents know that more than 80 percent of homes listed by owners eventually list their homes for sale with a professional agent. The agents you interview will have the inside track on eventually getting your listing when you give up, whether that's now or after 30 to 60 days.

To learn all the work involved in selling your own home, read the book, "The For Sale By Owner Kit," by Robert Irwin (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2002). After reading it and interviewing the agents, you can decide if selling your home without professional help is worth the risk.

DEAR BOB: For many years I have been a scofflaw. Non-filer, bad credit -- you name it, that's me. Now I've hit bottom. Where do I start on the road to homeownership? I have a real estate contract to buy a great little house. However, there is a balloon payment due in 18 months. I'm afraid I won't be able to get a home mortgage if I don't start now. I have good income and am paying my bills on time, but I'm worried about my history. Where do I start? -- Peter McC.

DEAR PETER: Have you run a credit report and FICO score on yourself? Maybe you're not as bad as you think. For $12.95 you can get your credit report and FICO score online at www.myfico.com. It will even tell you how to improve your credit report and FICO score. Then contact a mortgage broker that specializes in obtaining mortgages for people with bad credit. In the mortgage business, it's called B, C or D quality lending. That means you are probably not an A quality borrower entitled to the lowest interest rate.

There's a lender for every borrower, even if you're less than perfect. The fact you already have a modest home under contract is a major advantage. Now you have 18 months to pay off that balloon payment and take title to your home.

With your good income, even if your credit is less than perfect, you can do it. Then make your payments on time for two years, after which you will probably be able to refinance at a lower interest rate.

DEAR BOB: Can my wife and I use that $500,000 home-sale tax exemption more than once? -- Robert Y.

DEAR ROBERT: Yes. Internal Revenue Code 121, the principal-residence-sale tax exemption, can be used again and again with only one limit: It can't be used more frequently than once every 24 months, with limited exceptions for job location changes, health reasons and specific unforeseen circumstances approved by the IRS.

To qualify, you and your wife must have owned and occupied your principal residence at least an aggregate two of the last five years before its sale. Only one spouse need hold title.

A qualified single seller can claim up to $250,000 in tax-free profits, but a married couple filing jointly can claim up to $500,000 in tax-free sales profits. Consult a tax adviser for details.

DEAR BOB: My daughter is 15. She has two older sisters, all with the same father. Her dad wants to leave his house to her. What steps must he take and must he be specific so the two older daughters have no voice in the matter? He wants the 15-year-old to get the house when he dies. -- Jennifer B.

DEAR JENNIFER: That is a bad idea. The reason is that a minor child below 18 can receive title to real property but cannot convey title. Suppose the father dies while she is still 15. How can she pay the mortgage, property tax, insurance and repair costs? If she has to sell the house, as she probably will, she cannot convey title as a minor but must have a court-appointed guardian represent her.

A better alternative is for the father to deed the house title into a revocable living trust so he can continue managing his property while he is alive. His living trust can specify what happens to the house if he dies while the daughter is still a minor. A living trust is flexible. It can be changed anytime because it is fully revocable.

Equally important, a living trust avoids probate costs and delays. You can be named as his successor trustee to manage the living trust assets after the father dies.

DEAR BOB: I am in the process of buying my first home, a townhouse. There was a prior sale that fell through. The first buyer obtained a professional inspection report, which seems satisfactory. Should I accept it or should I spend about $300 to get my own report? -- Rod R.

DEAR ROD: Get your own professional inspection report and be sure to accompany your inspector to discuss any defects that are discovered. If you have a copy of the first inspection, you can also double-check your inspector to see if he spots the same problems.

I recommend you select a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors because of the tough ASHI experience and knowledge requirements. You can find local ASHI members at www.ashi.com, 800-743-2744, or in the yellow pages.

DEAR BOB: My granddaughter has a mortgage on her house. I want to pay it off so she can stay home and take care of her baby. The bank pays the property taxes. How do I go about paying off that mortgage without the expense of a lawyer? -- Bertha H.

DEAR BERTHA: Ask your granddaughter to call her loan servicer to find out the exact loan payoff balance. The lender might charge a small fee for mailing or faxing a "payoff demand letter." To be sure your payoff check arrives promptly at the lender's office, send it by overnight delivery. Within 30 days, your granddaughter should receive from the loan servicer evidence that the mortgage was paid in full and that either a mortgage satisfaction or a deed of reconveyance was recorded to clear the debt from her home's title. She should also get a refund of the balance in her tax escrow account because from then on, she must pay the property taxes and insurance herself.

DEAR BOB: I've spent two years renting a house on which I have an option to buy. Can I apply the two years already spent in the house toward the Internal Revenue Code 121 $250,000 tax exemption if I sell shortly after buying on my lease-option? It was my primary residence for two years, right? -- Bill C.

DEAR BILL: Right. But you must meet both the two-out-of-last-five-years ownership and occupancy tests of IRC 121. You already meet the two-year occupancy test. However, you must own the house at least two years before you'll meet the ownership test and qualify for up to $250,000 in tax-free home-sale profits.

DEAR BOB: You have often written about Starker delayed tax-deferred exchanges. Can we exchange more than one property for more than one property? We own two townhouses worth, let's say, $300,000 total. Can we do a Starker tax-deferred exchange for three townhouses worth, say, $315,000 total? Also, what are the time limits allowed? -- Leon and Lucy R.

DEAR LEON AND LUCY: Yes, you can exchange more than one "like kind" rental property for more than one "like kind" rental property. I must hasten to add the properties need not be "same kind."

For example, you could exchange your townhouses for "like kind" investment or business property apartments, office buildings, warehouses, rental houses or any realty other than your personal residence.

You must trade equal or up in both total price and equity. That means you cannot take out any cash or net mortgage relief, called "boot," which is taxable capital gain.

You have 45 days after the sale of the first property to designate the replacement properties and up to 180 days to complete the acquisitions.

DEAR BOB: The neighbors behind our home have a beehive in their yard about 10 feet from our property. Our yard and our neighbor's yards have lots of bees. I contacted the county, and I'm told these are probably Africanized bees that should be removed because they are a health hazard. But the beehive is too high for the county equipment to remove it. We are nervous when out in our yard. I cannot plant my vegetable garden because it is in the corner of my yard near the beehive. I have a 3-year-old child and a baby who I don't want to get stung. What can we do to expedite removal of this beehive? -- Audrey M.

DEAR AUDREY: You have a serious problem that is preventing you from enjoying your property. Legally, this is known as a private nuisance because it just affects you and a few other neighbors. If the bees disturb a large number of people, it is a public nuisance.

Because the neighbors aren't cooperating to remove the beehive, your legal remedy is to hire a real estate lawyer to sue the neighbors for an injunction to abate the beehive. If your other neighbors will join your lawsuit, it will reduce your legal costs per neighbor and strengthen the chances of winning. The sooner you file your lawsuit, the sooner the nuisance will be ordered abated so you can enjoy your yard again.

DEAR BOB: I have lived in my home more than 15 years. It is in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Last December, a risky Level 3 sex offender moved in with his parents across the street. Because he is just getting started at work after four years in prison, he is likely to stay a long time. He is a 22-year-old pedophile who preyed on boys and girls ages 4 to 11. How does this affect my home value and what disclosure requirements must I give a potential buyer?

-- Jonathan M.

DEAR JONATHAN: You've probably heard about Megan's Law. Every state has a version, with slight variations. It means a home seller does not have to disclose to potential buyers that a known sex offender lives nearby. There is no evidence that having a sex offender in the neighborhood affects home values. It is up to home buyers, if they care, to check the local police or sheriff records to see if such an individual lives nearby.

DEAR BOB: I enjoyed your recent explanation of the law of fixtures, as I never realized all the possible complications. We own a rental house that has been occupied by the same tenant for many years. Earlier this year we gave the tenant notice to move because my wife and I want to move into the property. When the tenant rented the property, it had hardwood floors. After a few years, she decided to install wall-to-wall carpet and padding that was tacked down with wood strips. When she vacated, she removed the carpeting and had it installed in her new residence. I understand that, under the law of fixtures, the wall-to-wall carpeting should have been left behind when she vacated. Is that correct? -- Lee E.

DEAR LEE: The tenant should have left the wall-to-wall carpet she installed. When that carpet was nailed or tacked down, it became permanently attached to your property. Under the law of fixtures, unless the landlord and the tenant agree otherwise, residential tenant improvements become the landlord's property.

You shouldn't have allowed your ex-tenant to remove the carpet. Getting it back now could be quite difficult, if not impossible. Taking the tenant to court for damages might not be worth the hassle. Your situation shows why landlords should be vigilant to be sure tenant improvements are not removed when the tenant vacates.

But I must hasten to add that if your property was a commercial property, such as a retail store, trade fixtures installed by a commercial tenant remain the tenant's property and can be removed when the commercial tenant vacates. Of course, such premises must be restored to the original condition by the commercial tenant. Consult a lawyer for details.

Readers with questions should write Robert J. Bruss at 251 Park Road, Burlingame, CA 94010, or contact him via his Web page, at www.bobbruss.com.

{copy} 2003, Inman News Service