Dear Ms. Lank: We are considering selling our home and contacted a realtor who provided us with selling prices of other homes in our neighborhood. She recommended that we perform a number of upgrades on our home before establishing a price and listing it. She supplied some names of contractors. We are currently completing the suggested upgrades and have not been in contact with the realtor since. Now, our neighbors have expressed interest in buying our home. What, if any, is our obligation to the realtor if we sell to our neighbors? Would a nominal fee be appropriate in exchange for the services provided to date? We are uncertain how to proceed. — G. and J.
Answer: It is nice to hear that you appreciate the time she spent examining your property and advising you. It sounds like you have no legal obligation to that agent, but I can think of at least three considerations:
Some monetary recognition of her assistance would be a pleasant surprise. But, you describe her as a realtor — that all too popular word should only apply to a member of the National Association of Realtors, a private trade organization. We don't know if this agent is actually a Realtor. More to the point, we don't know if she is legally allowed to receive fees directly from individuals. I believe that NAR policy dictates that payments go through a supervising broker. At any rate, a token of thanks, such as a gift certificate to a nice restaurant, may be appropriate.
Then again, how much do you know about your neighbor's credit rating? Are they financially viable? Will they have to sell their own house first? Or will you waste your time and efforts on a dead-end contract? Some brokers will agree to put your house on the market with the provision that no commission is due if the deal falls through.
There are different ways to proceed with a Realtor. An agent might agree to a reduced fee for assisting with the back end of the process, such as: Negotiating a binding sales contract, financing, or performing other services that smooth the way to a successful closing.
Hi, Edith: I want to help you understand a potential reason for why your reader's neighbor was collecting junk in their yard. The price of scrap metal is so low right now, so the neighbor may be sitting on the scrap in the hopes that the price will rise. If your reader puts their house on the market and feels the junk will hurt the sale, they should talk to their neighbor. The neighbor may welcome an excuse to finally throw it all away.— R.
Answer: Thanks for writing.
Will and Testament Savings
Several other readers wrote in recently to advise the husband and wife who could not afford to write a last will and testament:
Dear Edith: The person who said creating a will would cost $1,000 is probably poorly informed. My wife and I hired a local lawyer to make a new for a total of $250.
Dear Ms. Lank: In your column, the couple without a will and testament concerns me. They should consult their local Area Agency on Aging where they might be able to get a will made for lower cost. — E. D.
Ms. Lank: You had a letter from a lady in her 60s that stated that she and her husband could not afford to spend $1,000 or more on a will. Depending on where they live, it may be possible to obtain services from a local law school at low cost. We recently solicited our local American Bar Association accredited law school to review and complete our wills, as well as provide power of attorney for our daughter, all for free. Law schools often welcome these solicitations to give their students some practical experience. Just an option we thought was worth mentioning. — P. and D. W.
Answer: Thank you for all the suggestions. I expect that most lawyers have computer programs for simple wills. Seniors could also ask about pro bono lawyer services or senior advisory agency services. Most cities have a law school, agency or office that provides services for or advises seniors.
Edith Lank will respond personally to any question sent to www.askedith.com; to 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620; or to [email protected]
Photo credit: Jim Larrison