How to Discriminate

By Edith Lank

April 23, 2017 5 min read

Hi, Edith: I was a newspaper copy editor for nearly 20 years, and I faithfully edited your column for my paper. But even after all those years of reading your column each week, I need a little help.

I own a duplex, and I live in one side and sometimes rent out the other. Right now, it is vacant. I would like to sell the duplex for a larger home. I have seen a wonderful house near my job online. I've driven by, and I'd love to possibly buy it.

My house has been described to me as "an investor's dream." I never thought of it that way — it is my home, and I've treated it that way.

I would like to offer it to people in my neighborhood. I know a few local folks who are active landlords and have investments in the area. I do not want my duplex (which is in very good condition) falling into the hands of someone out of state to then be rented out to anybody who can come up with a deposit.

I just don't know how to proceed. If I hire a local real estate agent to help me look at the new house, do I have to use that person to sell my duplex? I'd like to approach neighbors/investors about the duplex myself, but I have no experience in real estate. I'm not trying to save a buck; I just want my sweet home to stay in good local hands.

I also have no idea what my duplex is worth. If the home sales I see are to be believed, the home values in my neighborhood are declining. This is very sad to me.

Should I hire an independent appraiser to appraise my home first and tell me how to price it? I want to be good to my 'hood, but I need to move on. Any direction will be appreciated. — A. G.

Answer: For starters, there's no need to hire a professional appraiser at this point. Local real estate brokers will have a pretty good idea about what your property will sell for, and you're welcome to pick their brains for free. They expect it. Call several who are active in the neighborhood and invite them over.

If you use an agent to look at the next house, you're under no obligation to retain him or her to sell your duplex. That said, doing so may help the two transactions dovetail more smoothly.

Meanwhile, you can certainly let the neighbors know your place is available by making phone calls or knocking on doors. If you find a buyer, look for assurances — before you sign anything — that they are financially qualified to go through with the deal. Some agents are willing to put property on the market with a written agreement that no commission would be due if you end up selling the place yourself. It's customary to add a phrase like "within 30 days." If you couldn't bring the neighbors to a contract by then, you'd want to turn the agent loose on them anyway.

We come now to the most sensitive part of your proposal: limiting the pool of potential buyers. Federal law says you can end up in trouble if you discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or nationality. Some states add additional protected classes.

I've never heard of a prohibition against only wanting local buyers. If that were to end up looking like an excuse for illegal discrimination, though, you could be in hot water. If you do contact the neighbors, go easy on statements about wanting to ensure acceptable future tenants. You are certainly free to sell to someone because you like thinking of them in your house. You don't have to accept the highest bid. But legally, the main legitimate guideline is: Do the prospective buyers or tenants have good credit and sufficient income?

Good luck!

Escrow but No Mortgage

Ms. Lank: Our mortgage will be paid off at the end of year. Is there a way we can continue to pay taxes and insurance through an escrow account? — W. P. M.

Answer: Once the mortgage is paid off, your lender no longer cares whether you pay those bills on time.

I'm curious about why you'd like to continue sending in money every month to accumulate the annual payments. At any rate, I've never heard of such a service being offered. You'll just have to exercise some financial discipline and save up the money yourselves.

Contact Edith Lank at, at [email protected] or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.

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