QDEAR BOB: When is it advisable to sell your home "as is?" -- Alta F.
ADEAR ALTA: That's the shortest real estate question -- and one of the best -- I have ever received. I wish the answer could be so brief.
An "as is" real estate sale means the seller will not pay for any property repairs but must disclose all known defects.
Many sellers of older homes sell "as is" because they don't want to be inconvenienced with repairs or renovations, realize the buyers may want to tear down the house or remodel to their own preferences, and/or can't afford to make repairs.
Personally, I learned about "as is" home sales after I bought a foreclosure house from a bank. The realty agent marketing the residence emphasized that the sale was "as is" and that the bank wouldn't pay for any repairs. But the price was such a bargain that I was blindsided and failed to notice all the items that needed repair or replacement. Fortunately, I had plans to renovate the property, so it really didn't matter, and I eventually resold that property at a substantial profit.
Sellers of "as is" houses should realize that it is a red-flag warning to buyers, who usually expect a sales price discount from full-market value to compensate for the needed repairs. Buyers of "as is" houses can often obtain bargain purchase prices, but they should always make their purchase offer contingent on approval of a professional inspection report.
DEAR BOB: Shortly before the sale closed on my house, a strong storm caused minor damage. The buyer's home inspector reported the damage on his report. The buyer decided to back out, and I didn't resist. Then I put my house back on the market for sale "as is" and soon received a better purchase offer. The second buyer hired the same inspector, who then reported nothing wrong with my house. The second sale closed. I have a copy of both reports. How can a buyer or seller find an honest, unbiased professional inspector? -- Don S.
DEAR DON: That is an amazing story. Apparently, your second buyer really wanted to buy your house, warts and all. Perhaps the home inspector had been told by the first buyer to find some defects to let that buyer get out of the purchase contract.
What are the professional home inspection qualifications of that inspector? I suspect he or she is not a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors, which has the toughest membership qualifications. To find local ASHI members, go to www.ashi.org or phone 800-743-2744.
DEAR BOB: My husband and I are planning to separate. He is going to move to another state, where we own a vacation cabin. We are in agreement and, at this stage in our lives, there is no point making the lawyers richer. If he establishes legal residency and obtains a job there, after two years can he sell the cabin and claim the $250,000 exemption? Would I still be able to sell, as an individual, our main home and claim the $250,000 exemption? We have lived in our current home for more than 30 years. Both homes are titled in both names. Can we do this?
-- Liz B.
DEAR LIZ: Yes, but you need to consult a tax adviser. I also suggest that you consult a lawyer to discuss a separation agreement.
I presume that the resale capital gain on each residence is less than $250,000 so all your sales profits would be tax-free.
After 24 months of occupancy, your husband can qualify for the Internal Revenue Code 121 $250,000 principal-residence-sale tax exemption on the cabin sale, and you will still be entitled to the $250,000 exemption if you sell your current principal residence. I presume you won't be filing joint tax returns.
DEAR BOB: In 1994, my son and I bought our house. The mortgage broker suggested that we take title with my mother and my son's girlfriend as buyers so we could qualify for a mortgage. Our purchase price was $241,000, with a $40,000 cash down payment. We all had good credit. Since then, my son and his girlfriend have broken up. My mother is now almost 90. Both are willing to sign quitclaim deeds to clear their names from the title. However, as houses in our neighborhood now sell for around $700,000, a lawyer I talked with advised against any title change because that would trigger a huge property tax reassessment. What should we do? -- Beth R.
DEAR BETH: The obvious answer is to visit the local tax assessor's office to determine if the quitclaim deeds will trigger a full or partial property tax reassessment.
If the answer is "yes," I don't see any easy solution to get your mother and the ex-girlfriend off the house title without a property tax reassessment. Unfortunately, property buyers don't think about future complications when acquiring real estate.
The big problem with unrecorded quitclaim deeds, as I've explained before, is that there are possible legal complications if delivered conditionally. Even when they aren't recorded until many years later, in some circumstances, local tax assessors can seek "escaped" tax assessments. Each situation is different.
DEAR BOB: I am a real estate agent who has referred my buyers to a local mortgage broker. There is no kickback involved. However, this broker now charges them a $400 processing fee, plus other charges. These are usually hard-to-qualify buyers. Should I stop referring people to her? -- Ted A.
DEAR TED: Mortgage brokers are well paid, typically 1 to 2 percent of the mortgage amount. In addition, many lenders pay mortgage brokers a bonus "yield spread premium" for producing above-normal mortgage interest rates. It should not be necessary for the mortgage broker to add additional "junk" or "garbage" fees on top of the normal loan fee. Unless you can't find another local mortgage broker to whom you can refer your buyers, I suggest that you stop referring clients to this one.
DEAR BOB: I own some undeveloped land in a mountainous area about 600 miles from my home. The value has increased significantly since I bought it, with plans to build a retirement home on it. My plans have changed, and now I want to sell. Friends tell me real estate agents charge higher-than-normal sales commissions for vacant land. What is a reasonable sales commission for vacant land? -- Ellen L.
DEAR ELLEN: The traditional or customary real estate agent sales commission for the sale of vacant land has been 10 percent of the gross sales price. The reasons the commission rate is higher than for a single-family residence include the long marketing period, often six months or more, and the difficulty of selling vacant rural land compared with urban residences.
However, real estate sales commissions are fully negotiable. But be careful -- you might find an agent willing to charge a lower sales commission rate. Before signing a listing, check that agent's references of recent land sellers to see if they would list with the same agent again.
The listing term for vacant land is usually longer than for residences. While 90 days is customary for houses, farm and land brokers often insist on 180-day minimum listings.
DEAR BOB: My mother died with a trust listing her two homes to be divided equally among her living children. My sister and her sons have lived rent-free for more than 20 years in our mother's second home. They said they gave my mother a token amount of money to pay the property taxes and fire insurance. They now claim that the house belongs to them by adverse possession because they paid the property taxes. Is this correct? -- John N.
DEAR JOHN: No. To claim title to a property by adverse possession, the adverse possessor must prove "open, notorious, hostile and continuous" occupancy, plus payment of property taxes, for the number of years required by state law.
Even if your sister and her sons can prove payment of the property taxes for the statutory period, they can't meet the "open, notorious, hostile" adverse-possession test because your mother gave them permission to live in her house. You should consult a lawyer in the jurisdiction where the house is.
DEAR BOB: In 2000 and 2001, I was out of the country and did not have enough income to pay tax or file an income tax return. However, I own a rental condo. In 2002, I had enough taxable income to file a tax return. My tax adviser filed my tax return as if I had claimed depreciation on the rental condo in 2000 and 2001. If I sell that rental condo, will I be taxed on the depreciation for 2000 and 2001 for which I never received any tax-deduction benefit? -- Jagan V.
DEAR JAGAN: Yes. Even if a landlord does not receive any tax benefit, rental property depreciation is calculated as if it was claimed as a tax deduction. Your tax adviser appears to be correct.
When you sell your rental condo, the 2000 and 2001 depreciation that you didn't deduct will be "recaptured" and taxed at the special 25 percent federal income tax rate, plus any applicable state tax.
If you move into the rental condo for at least 24 months as your principal residence, you can claim up to $250,000 tax-free home sales capital gains under Internal Revenue Code 121. But you would still owe the 25 percent recaptured tax on both the deducted and undeducted depreciation. Your tax adviser can explain further.
Readers with questions should write Robert J. Bruss at 251 Park Road, Burlingame, Calif. 94010, or contact him via his Web page, www.bobbruss.com.
(c) 2005, Inman News Service