Dear Edith: My husband died last June. When I asked my lawyer about removing his name from the deed, which is in both our names, he said that isn't necessary. Is there any downside to leaving the deed as it is when I sell the house or my son sells it? -- E. B.
Answer: No problem at all. When the house is sold, someone will do a legal search of the title -- the history of ownership. It'll be done last-minute, at the closing. It will, we assume, show that you're the sole owner. And by the way, you'll pay for it.
Edith: I read your piece re the 83-year-old aunt who wants to defer paying her property taxes. In Texas, over-65 property owners can defer the property taxes on their homestead until they sell the home, or pass with no penalties and simple interest at 5 percent. When it comes to seniors, Texas is a very protective state. -- D. S., CPA
Answer: Thanks for the information. I must say, though, that 5 percent interest doesn't sound all that simple to me.
Dear Edith: Our grandfather is quite old. We have talked to him about rounding up personal papers and documents that will be needed if he has to sell his house or when he dies. We have most things, including a deed. He bought the house 30 to 35 years ago.
We are unable to find an abstract. He thinks it may have been thrown out several years ago. Is there any way to get a copy, and from whom or where? Thank you for your help. -- W. E. H.
Answer: An abstract is the written legal history of a parcel of land. You needn't be concerned about not having one for your grandfather's house. Many homeowners don't have them, and they're not always necessary when a house is sold.
If one is needed at that time, it would have to be brought up to date anyhow, so you'd have that expense. Don't worry about it. The closing agent -- whoever handles real estate closings in your area -- will take care of ordering one if it's needed, and include it in your closing costs.
Dear Ms. Lank: I was all set to move out of state for a new job. We sold our house -- at least, we have a signed contract. And I just learned today that the job fell through. What do we do now? We do not want to move.
Anything you can advise will be greatly appreciated. -- F. I.
Answer: I'm flattered that you wrote to me immediately, but I hope you have already contacted your lawyer. You're going to need advice about -- and help with -- your rights and responsibilities at this point. A lot, of course, will depend on the buyers' reaction to your news.
If you back out for no legally acceptable reason -- and failing to get an expected job is not, I believe, a legally acceptable reason -- you could be liable for damages. You might even face a lawsuit -- unique to real estate -- that calls for specific performance. The concept of specific performance (of the existing contract) is based on the fact that each parcel of real estate is different. Thus, money damages may not adequately compensate the buyers if they want to go ahead with the purchase of your specific house. They might go to court to force you to fulfill the existing contract.
Even if the buyers are agreeable to dropping their claim, remember that your real estate broker, having performed the services for which he or she was hired, is entitled to collect a full commission. The broker may press a claim to collect it, or might waive it in favor of your goodwill and the hope of future business.
At the least, of course, the buyers are entitled to prompt return of their deposit. If you're lucky, they haven't already spent money in connection with their anticipated purchase -- with their attorney, or in connection with their mortgage application, for instance.
And of course, if you are lucky, they'll just agree to accept the disappointment and start looking for another house.
But you can't count on that, and you very much need legal guidance at this point.
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