- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

Q.My husband and I are considering buying our first home. How do we begin?

A. This is a great time to buy. Prices in most areas are more affordable than in the past, interest rates haven’t been this good in decades, and you may qualify for a $8,000 tax credit as first-time homebuyers.

Start by visiting a mortgage broker or going directly to a local lender to apply for preapproval on a mortgage loan.

With that in hand, you’ll be strong buyers, welcome to sellers because they know you won’t have any trouble arranging financing. You needn’t reveal the exact amount you could borrow (and you won’t have to spend that much).

Meanwhile, search the Internet, answer ads and visit open houses in areas that interest you. At open houses, most agents who are not busy will sit down and discuss your situation.

Or you can just walk in to local real estate offices and ask for financial analysis and advice. It won’t cost anything or obligate you, and you may find the right agent while you’re there.

Q. Is there a national database of renters? I am trying to rent an apartment, and stupid things I did in my first apartment are making it hard for me to get a place. Can landlords search my name and find out where I have lived before?

A. In some areas, landlords do exchange information, and prudent landlords pull credit reports or search the Internet for other information. Sooner or later, though, you’ll hit a landlord who doesn’t do that and who hasn’t heard about your past. Keep trying.

Q. With the housing market the way it is now, our retirement home is worth much less than what we bought it for a few years ago. If we sell for less than what we owe and don’t have funds to make up the difference, what options are there? We want to avoid doing a short sale or foreclosure.

A. Your best option is probably to stay put, don’t sell and wait however long it takes for the market to recover and your equity to grow. That won’t work, of course, for someone who must sell now for job or health reasons.

There’s always the option of renting the place out, but that has lots of drawbacks. Being an absentee landlord is asking for real problems. In many areas, you can’t expect enough rental income to cover your expenses. And when you eventually do sell, a place never looks as good after being rented out as it did while you were living there.

Of course, you can try to talk with your mortgage company about whether or not they have any suggestions. These days they may well be willing to work something out. They’re probably overwhelmed with requests right now, so be prepared for some frustration.

Don’t be so fast to reject the idea of a short sale. The kind in which the lender agrees to cancel the remaining debt is a great deal.

Q. A woman died and left a piece of real estate to her daughter and money to her son. Yet the son’s name is still on the deed for the property. Can the woman get his name removed from the deed since the property was not left to him in the will?

Also, another family member needs to change the names on a deed from her deceased parents to herself. Can she just go to the recorder or courthouse and change it?

What kind of paperwork needs to be filed?

A. When anyone dies, no matter how simple the estate, a lawyer should be consulted to see if any paperwork is required. In many cases when real estate is inherited, it isn’t necessary to do anything about a new deed. It’s wise to check with a lawyer.

As for that daughter and son, if the son’s name was “on the deed,” then he was the owner and what the mother said in her will wouldn’t matter. She didn’t own the property so she couldn’t leave it to anyone. He’d still be the owner.

If, on the other hand, he and the mother were co-owners, after the mother died he and the daughter would probably be co-owners. That one definitely requires consultation with an attorney.

Edith Lank will respond personally to any questions sent to her at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, NY 14620 (please include a stamped return envelope), or readers may e-mail her at [email protected]

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