Real Estate Questions Answered by Gary Landau

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Question: My real estate agent is urging me to use the title company she recommends. Is there a benefit – or a risk – in doing so?

Answer:  Sometimes real estate agents push buyers to use a specific title company to handle the closing. Buyers often don’t know that many of these title companies are actually owned by or have a financial relationship with the Realtor’s office. A recent article in Money magazine reported that buyers often pay more for their closing than they have to, because they go with the company recommended by the Realtor without shopping around. The firms of these real estate agents “frequently get a cut of premiums,” the article warns. Money’s advice: “Don’t just use your broker’s in-house title agent…who has little incentive to compete on price (and may get undisclosed commissions).” Know, too, that in Florida, buyers have the choice between using a title company or an attorney who writes title.  While both can handle the paperwork and create a title policy, only an attorney represents your interests in the deal.

Question: I want to add my son to my deed so when I die he will already have the condo. Are there any implications that I am not aware of?

Answer: Putting a child on your deed can be a good form of estate planning – one that I do sometimes recommend to my clients. But there are some things you need to be aware of: First, you need to check the documents of your condo association. Although many exempt immediate family members, others require that anyone added to the deed go through an approval process – which requires time and money. Second, be aware that any financial judgments against your son, now or in the future, can become a lien on your condo, and that later, should you decide to sell, he will likely need to sign all documents. (If he is skiing in Switzerland, that could hold up your closing.) If you do add him, one probate avoidance way is to add him as “a joint tenant with rights of survivorship.” That way the condo will automatically go to him upon your death as you desire.

Question:  I have an adjustable rate mortgage. Should I consider refinancing to a fixed rate?

Answer: This is an individual decision, but in these times when fixed rate mortgages aren’t carrying much higher rates than adjustables (known as ARMs), it may be worth looking into, especially if you plan to stay in your home for at least a few years and your loan rate has already or will soon start adjusting upward. Crunch the numbers to see if it makes sense for you at Bankrate.com. Be sure to shop around for the best loan terms, and also for the attorney or closing agent who will handle the closing.