Real Estate Advice


April 17, 2013 5 min read

Dear Edith: My husband and I are both in our 70s, and we would like to know whether it would be a good idea to have the names of our four children put on the deed to our house. It is all paid for, and we want to stay in the house as long as we can. -- via

Answer: The answer is a firm "it all depends."

I know your ages, that you don't plan to retire elsewhere and that the house is free and clear. All that is relevant, but a few more things should be considered:

Would there be a large profit if the house were sold? How solid are your kids' credit ratings? How good are their marriages? How much auto liability insurance do they carry? Do any of them live with you? Do you have long-term care insurance? What is the size of your estate? How's your health? Would you keep some co-ownership or turn over the entire title? Would you retain life estate? Do you have wills, and what do they say? Who would pay the property taxes, and how do your income tax brackets compare? Does your state offer seniors a break on property taxes? How do your kids feel about becoming co-owners? How do they all get along? Might you want to tap equity with a reverse mortgage someday? And most importantly: What are you trying to accomplish?

I've been taking a scolding from some readers lately because I keep saying, "See a lawyer." But you need advice from someone who can consider factors such as those I've listed above, someone who knows the ins and outs of capital gains taxes, health insurance and estate taxes.

Dear Ms. Lank: My neighbor has strung multiple clotheslines across his grape arbor, which is across my back wall. My view of this is from every back window of my house and of course my backyard. I asked politely whether he could lower his lines because of their unsightliness, but he just raised them instead. A few months later, he purchased a giant rooster from a game show and put it next to the grape arbor. Any advice? -- via

Answer: You are suffering from what appraisers call "external obsolescence," which is defined as the loss of value because of conditions beyond the property line. And I'm sorry to report that appraisers classify it as incurable.

About the rooster, you can contact your city or town hall to see whether it's allowed. And about the view, while you're talking with the authorities, ask whether you could legally build that back wall higher.

Dear Edith: We have paid off our mortgage loan. The mortgage company sent a letter stating that it would file papers with the county or to whomever they legally need to go to. What is the procedure when someone pays off his or her loan? How do we get copies of our deed? -- Z.M.S.

Answer: Your county's public records office shows the debt out against your property. Now your lender will file another document that shows the loan has been repaid. In most states, the document is called a certificate of satisfaction. In some states, it takes the form of a reconveyance deed, but you don't need to worry about the technical difference. After the document has been entered in the public records, it should be sent on for you to keep. You're all right, though, as long as it's on file with the county. If you want any of the documents there, you can always order a copy.

Dear Ms. Lank: I am an only child and have inherited a home with no mortgage from my dad. I have not probated fully his estate. I tried to sell the home, but it didn't sell, so now I am going to rent it. Would it be better to close the estate and put it in my name or stall the estate closing and rent it in my father's name? What are the tax implications of this situation? -- via

Answer: First off, let me warn you that being a landlord is no job for an amateur. It's easy to get into trouble, especially if you're the kind of person who does things without the help of an attorney and an accountant. Without knowing any of the details, I'd strongly advise you to keep that house on the market. Drop the asking price until you and your real estate agent find a level that brings buyers.

The lawyer who is helping you handle your father's estate will have advice about whether it's necessary to make any change in title at this point. And whether or not you go through with a rental, you should certainly consult an accountant about tax matters.

Edith Lank's weekly column, "House Calls," can be found at

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