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Question: My wife and I just saw a home we love, and we want to buy it. However, we have not yet put our house on the market. Given how it is taking longer to sell property these days, is there a way we can still buy our dream house?

Answer: With the current status of the housing market, buyers might want to consider selling their property before they go looking for a new one. However, since you already found a house you love, it is too late to take that option. You could try presenting an offer to the seller “contingent” on the sale of your house. But most sellers won’t go for such a plan when you don’t yet have a contracted buyer. Another option is to borrow the money you need short term against the value of your current house called a “bridge loan.” Interest rates and costs for such a loan can be high. You can also consider getting a home equity loan on your current property before you put it on the market – typically a cheaper option. If you have enough in your 401K or a “secured” asset such as bonds, you might be able to borrow against those. Talk to a lender or a financial advisor to determine the best options for you. It is important to have an attorney review the contract on the house you plan to purchase, to make sure that the deal (and your deposit) is subject to your getting the funding you need.

Question: My widowed father just passed away. His condo was owned in a revocable living trust, and I am the successor trustee. Do I have to do anything to own the home outright?

Answer: First, my sympathies for your loss. As to your question, assuming the trust names you as both the successor trustee and the beneficiary of the condo, decisions about the home passed to you upon your father’s death. In fact, this easy transition is one of the benefits of having a revocable trust, which is created by the person owning the assets and can be changed by him at any time. You will now be able to sell the condo or, subject to approval by the condo board, to live there. When you are ready to sell, the lawyer or title company handling the closing will want to review the trust to be sure the power to sell the condo indeed rests with you.

Question:  Does it make a difference whether I close on a house I am buying on a specific date of the month?

Answer: It doesn’t make much of a difference, so you should schedule your closing for when it is most convenient for you and the seller. The out-of-pocket costs you must pay at closing are a bit lower when you close at or near the end of the month. This is because you must prepay interest on your mortgage for the first month, so if you close, say, June 29, you only need to prepay one day’s worth of interest.

Question: My elderly mother owns a condo but she has become ill. Should I take steps now to avoid having to probate her condo in the event she gets sicker and dies?

Answer: A growing number of attorneys are turning to “lady bird deeds” in just these situations. Your other could do one of these deeds to put you and any siblings you have, if appropriate, on the deed. She would retain what lawyers call a “life estate,” meaning she can live there as long as she wants and sell it without your (or your siblings’) consent if she decides to. The advantage of this type of deed is that she keeps full, legal control of the property. You should know, though, that there are some risks involved. If you, or your siblings, if they are on the deed, have a judgment filed against you, it can become a lien on the property. Also, in rare situations, things don’t always turn out as planned. Recently, for example, a woman put her two sons on her deed in this way. Tragically, one son died shortly after getting married; now the young widow, in the family for a very brief time, is entitled to a share of the condo when mom dies. A lawyer can help you determine if this type of deed, or perhaps a different legal approach, is right for your mother’s situation.

Question: I am buying a house, and we have a written contract. The seller has told me she will leave certain things in the house, such as the fixtures and drapes, but this is not in the contract. Is her word binding?

Answer: As a lawyer friend of mine likes to say, if it’s not in writing, it’s as if it never happened. To be enforceable, an agreement must be written down and signed by both parties. Your lawyer or real estate agent can draft this agreement, or you can even do it yourself. If you do draft it yourself, be sure you include exactly what is to be left in the house (green cotton drapes in the living room, crystal chandelier in the front hall, etc.), that it is signed by buyer and seller and that there is no additional fee for these items.

Question: I am interested in buying a condominium conversion unit for investment purposes. The contract looks like a standard form. Should I just sign it?

Answer: No legal agreement is ever a standard form. It is always subject to negotiation on both sides. Especially now that the market has softened, the seller may be even more willing to make concessions. This is important because many of these type of contracts (prepared by the seller’s attorney) go out of their way to protect the seller but don’t do much to protect you and your money. For example, many contracts treat the deals as a cash deal even if you plan to get a mortgage; this means if you don’t get the mortgage for some reason, you may still be forced to buy the unit or forfeit your deposit. Before you sign any contract, consult with a lawyer who can help you understand the contract’s fine print and can negotiate with the seller if you desire.

Question: My widowed mother added me, her only child, to the deed of her unit in a Coconut Creek condo several years ago. Now she has died. I have been told I need to probate her estate in order to sell this condo, but that doesn’t seem right to me.

Answer: When your mother added you to the deed, she must have neglected to put in the important language “joint tenants with rights of survivorship.” Had this language been included, her death would have allowed the unit to pass immediately to you. However, without such language, her portion of the unit instead goes to whomever she left it to in her will. That probably is you, but you will need a court order via a probate, to legally acquire her portion of the title.


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