Q. I have an empty lot in another state and pay the yearly property tax, but I stopped paying the assessment charges for sewers, etc., because I doubt, now that I'm 83, that I will ever get to use them. Will nonpayment on the assessments cause me a problem? I've received a letter from a lawyer but so far not responded.
A. You're not using that lot, but you're receiving police protection, street cleaning and whatever else. You're obligated to pay the taxes, and you do. It's the same with those sewers. You may not take advantage of them, but they cost money, and the landowners involved are being charged.
The assessment is simply an addition (perhaps, we can hope, a one-time addition) to the property taxes. It'd help if you'd mentioned the state where the lot is located, and it'd help to know what that lawyer's letter said. But at any rate, you need to pay the assessment. Otherwise, you'll be in danger of losing ownership of the lot, just as you would if you were to not pay any other property tax.
Q. I'm moving to a new job and buying a house near there. My real estate broker has done a good job up until now (I have a signed contract to buy), but he says he will not conduct the closing. It's time to hire a lawyer.
I have bought and sold two houses over the years and never needed a lawyer before. Is that really necessary?
A. It sounds as if your new job is in a different state than where you live now. Local customs vary widely when it comes to a real estate closing (also known as settlement, transfer of title -- ownership, passing papers or, in some locations, closing escrow).
Some states mandate a lawyer's participation. In other areas, attorneys or paralegals run things simply as a matter of custom. Then again -- and this evidently applies to where you live now -- the same legal steps may be handled by escrow agents, title companies or even county recorders in other locations.
The buyer might say, "We're going to pass papers on the new house next week," or "We'll close escrow on the new house tomorrow." In some locations, all the parties gather around a big table. In other states, they may not even meet.
In any case, the sellers receive the agreed-upon price and prove they're handing over a clear, unchallenged title -- ownership. The buyers -- often with the help of a mortgage company -- turn over the purchase price. Extra costs (survey, prepaid or not-yet-paid property taxes, for example) are calculated, and the two parties settle up.
If lawyers are customary in your new location, it's time to hire one. Your real estate broker would probably hesitate to come right out and recommend a specific one but can probably suggest the names of several lawyers who specialize in real estate.
Q. We recently moved to a new town and are renting an apartment. We are interested in a house in the area, but our old house hasn't sold yet, so we would put a minimum down payment on the new house and take out a large mortgage.
We could handle two mortgages until our old house sells, then take the cash we receive and pay down our new mortgage to reduce our monthly payment. Are there any other options?
A. To start with, a lending institution might not agree that you could handle two mortgage payments at once.
Then again, you don't say what type of mortgage you have presently. Perhaps it's what is known as a private mortgage, and perhaps you have the right to change the terms when you make a large principal payment.
With most mortgage plans, however, paying off a large lump sum on your new mortgage wouldn't reduce the monthly charges -- it would just shorten the time remaining on the loan.
Try attacking the problem at the other end by reducing the price on your old house in return for a prompt sale. Figure out how much it would cost to carry an extra mortgage for six months. Then -- since you're evidently prepared to lose that amount -- drop the price on the old house by that much. Drop it again every two weeks until the place sells.
This should bring you a buyer and a cleaner transaction, with fewer sleepless nights.
• Contact Edith Lank on www.askedith.com, or 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.
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