Discount Brokers

By Edith Lank

February 16, 2014 5 min read

Dear Ms. Lank: I am planning to list my house by March or April. What is your opinion, pro and con, about listing with a low-rate agency that advertises to sell with 0 to 2.5 percent commission. Can a multiple-listing agent sell through them and add to the commission? — F. B.

Answer: There's nothing wrong with discount brokerage as long as you understand which parts of the service you will receive and which parts you'll be performing yourself. Just remember that finding someone who wants your house is only the tip of the iceberg. You'll need to make sure they can afford to go through with the deal, arrive at a written contract that serves everyone's needs, and meet all the disclosures and inspections required before a successful closing.

Whether full-service brokers in your local multiple listing service could also bring in their buyers is something you'll have to ask the particular company you're considering. As you realize, accepting such a buyer might mean you'd end up paying additional commission, unless the buyers had already contracted to pay their own agent.

You might also inquire about whether the discount firm offers full-service if you later decide you need it, and how much they'd charge at that point.

One More Way

Dear Edith: I've noticed you get a lot of questions about easily transferring title to a home upon death. I don't recall you referring to a beneficiary deed in your answers. An attorney prepared one for my mother passing title to my brother and I upon her death and it all worked very smoothly at minimal expense. Is this something that is not commonly used in other states? — via

Answer: Because this column is published in so many different states, I need to limit myself to advice that will work just about anywhere. You'll notice I always suggest talking with a local lawyer about estate planning — as your mother did — to find out what's available and what might work best. Beneficiary deeds, also known as transfer-on-death deeds, are available in your mother's state, but in only a dozen others.

Calculating Depreciation Expense

Dear Edith: We bought a four-family rental property last year and we are working on our income tax return. I know we can deduct a percentage of the value as an expense and call it depreciation. However, we are having trouble figuring out the value. The insurance company and the property tax assessment and the mortgage company's appraisal are all widely different. — D. Q.

Answer: The assessment for tax purposes is not the best guide to market value, even when there's been a careful attempt to keep it so. The insurance company valuation is based on the amount it would cost to replace your building if the whole place were destroyed. That is often a very different figure.

Depreciation is calculated based on your purchase price. Land doesn't depreciate — it doesn't wear out. That means you must subtract its cost before you figure depreciation. In my area, it's customary to figure roughly 25 percent of the value is attributable to the land. In other areas — and where you're located — the situation may be very different.

Now that you are real estate investors, you should depend on your own CPA for this and other matters.

Solar System Value

Dear Edith: I recently had a solar system installed. I checked with two different companies and one of the salesman said the cost of the system would increase the value of the home by that amount.

Do you have any information if that is true or not? The reason I am asking is that the tax assessor's office valued my home at a 65 percent increase over last year's assessed value of the home. As of yet, they haven't provided me the reason for the huge increase but that could be part of it. I am currently appealing the increase. — D. H., via

Answer: I suspect almost no improvement will make a house increase in value by the amount expended, no matter what a salesman may say. The added value of solar power equipment would vary markedly in different locations.

That is indeed a big jump in valuation. Is it possible that your whole area was re-appraised in an attempt to list at current market value? If that were the case, your actual tax bill probably wouldn't have increased all that much.

In any case, if I were appealing an assessment where specialized knowledge would be valuable, I'd have a qualified appraiser on my side. Call a couple, ask their off-hand opinion on solar systems, and hire the one who seems most experienced in this matter.

Edith Lank will respond personally to any question sent to or to 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620

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