Dear Edith: When we applied for a mortgage, the bank charged us for an appraisal. They said it was so they'd know how much it was safe to lend us. As the new owners of the house, we would like to see that appraisal. They say we can't. But we paid for it. Do we have the right to see it? — L.R.
Answer: When you apply for a loan, you pay for an appraisal and also for a credit check on yourself. Both of those are for the lending institution's use. I expect you agreed somewhere that even though you paid for the documents, they belonged to your lender. In the same fashion, borrowers often pay for a bank's attorney, who represents the bank's best interest rather than the borrowers'.
Most institutions feel that releasing appraisal and credit documents to interested parties — buyers, sellers, borrowers — is just asking for trouble. Someone is sure to object to something. Nevertheless, one banker tells me that "if the buyer kicked and screamed and made enough fuss, we'd probably break down and send him a copy of the appraisal."
So maybe you should try just asking.
Owe the City Back Taxes
Dear Edith: We bought a house a year ago. The owner died, and her son came from another state to take care of the funeral, etc. Wanting to get back home fast, he offered us the house, and we bought it. We have been paying the bills, taxes and remodeling costs and living there.
Now, we've received a notice that last year's taxes were never paid. We sent a letter to him but got no response. The city says we owe taxes and penalties.
What do we do now? I now regret that we did not go through a lawyer for the closing. It was a cash deal, "as is." — R.W.
Answer: If it turned out the furnace didn't work, you couldn't expect the previous owner to pay for the repair. You bought the place "as is." That means you promised to take the real estate along with any problems it had. Those unpaid taxes, whether you knew about them or not, were one of the problems.
You're lucky if that's the only problem you bought. Without a legal search of title, how do you know for sure that the son really owned the place and had the right to sell it? Your ownership is only as good as his was. That's something else that should have been legally checked out before you handed over the money.
You can take the problem to a lawyer now, but I think you'd better pay those taxes promptly to protect your own interests.
To Pool or Not to Pool
Dear Edith: Is a semi-in-the-ground pool an asset in selling our house, or should we get rid of it first? We are thinking of selling within the next year, and we are 60 years of age. — P.V.
Answer: That largely depends on your location. Among other things, what are your summers like? What shape is the pool in? How many bedrooms does your house have? What's the neighborhood price range? How large is the yard? Those are just a few of the factors to be considered.
You need advice from an agent familiar with sales in the area. Look for lawn signs within a few blocks and call the companies handling the house sales. Most brokers are happy to discuss such matters at no obligation to you.
Buying a Smaller Home
Dear Edith: If a person is ready to sell a large paid-for home and purchase a smaller home at the same time, how is it done? I anticipate going through a real estate office.
How is the money handled in the selling and the buying? Do they both happen at the same time? It seems as if the money would be in limbo temporarily. Does a bank hold it meanwhile, or the real estate agent? Should the smaller home be ready for purchase prior to selling the larger home?
To me, this is a somewhat tricky situation. — I.B.
Answer: Relax. Real estate brokers and lawyers arrange transactions like yours all the time, and they'll know how to write the contracts and set things up so that everything dovetails. That's what you hire them for.
By the way, if you sell the larger home first, the money isn't in limbo; it belongs to you, though sometimes, you may let your closing agent hold it.
Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at [email protected] or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.