Question: My neighbor and I disagree where our boundary line is located. I hired a licensed surveyor who says the boundary is nine feet on my neighbor's side of the fence on my property. I want to build a driveway on this strip to more easily reach my garage. But the neighbor refuses to cooperate. She has no evidence to support her viewpoint other than to say the fence is where the property line is located. What should I do?
Answer: Your legal remedy to settle a boundary dispute is for you to sue your neighbor in a quiet title lawsuit. After you present your survey evidence, then the neighbor can present any evidence she has. The judge will then decide where the true boundary is located. Your attorney can give you full details.
Building codes are often moving targets
Question: I am considering buying a run-down house. The seller allowed me to have a professional inspection. It shows many problems. As you often suggest, I accompanied the inspector and learned a lot. But several items are marked "refer to city building officials." When I went to visit the chief building inspector and showed him the report, I asked if he could send an inspector out to tell me how to handle these questionable building code items. I even offered to pay. But he said until I request a building permit the city won't tell me if the house is up to code or needs additional work. What should I do?
Answer: City building officials are usually very busy and they don't have time to advise property owners. That is the job of contractors and professional inspectors, such as the one you hired. Some cities have building code enforcement programs where they will inspect homes before sale but apparently your city doesn't have such a program.
Please be aware the building code rules are constantly changing. For example, just a few weeks ago a contractor doing some foundation work for me had to install smoke detectors in every bedroom before the city inspector would approve the foundation repairs. Even the contractor didn't know the smoke detector rules had been recently changed.
Question: I am 23, graduating from college in June, and have a great engineering job lined up with a major company where I interned the last three summers. My parents will loan me the down payment for a condo or town house. They tell me I should buy a home now to get the tax shelter of home ownership. Exactly what does that mean?
Answer: Congratulations on getting well-educated to qualify for an excellent job. But I wouldn't rush into home ownership unless you know the community well and expect to live there many years. I recommend renting an apartment for at least six months while you check out the housing opportunities.
Your parents are giving you good advice. The two primary tax deductions of home ownership are for mortgage interest and property tax itemized deductions on your income tax returns. If you are in a 28 percent income tax bracket, for each $100 you pay for mortgage interest and property taxes you will receive a $28 tax savings "subsidy" from Uncle Sam, thus reducing your net cash outlay to $72 for each $100 paid.
Question: I disagree with your recent comments about mortgage loan points. You correctly said loan points paid to obtain a home acquisition mortgage are fully tax deductible in the year paid. You then said loan fee points paid to refinance a mortgage must be amortized or deducted over the life of the mortgage. Also correct. But then you recommended homeowners who are refinancing their mortgages take loans without loan fees even if it means paying a slightly higher interest rate. That's where we part company.
When refinancing, I think it is better for the borrower to pay a one or two point loan fee and get a lower interest rate. If the loan fees are included in a higher interest rate mortgage, the borrower pays that higher interest rate for 30 years. Please tell me if I'm wrong.
Answer: You're not wrong. If the mortgage is kept a full 30 years, you are correct it is not wise to pay a higher interest rate to get zero loan fee points. But most home mortgages are paid off or refinanced in less than 10 years.
However, if the refinancing borrower pays an up-front loan fee and deducts it over the 30-year life of the loan, that annual interest deduction is only $33.33 per $1,000 loan fee paid. But getting a zero loan fee mortgage and a paying a slightly higher interest rate produces the same net result with no out of pocket loan fee payment.
Sale in a divorce
Question: My ex-wife and I are divorced. We agreed to put our house on the market for sale. She is living in the house and is not very cooperative with the real estate agents. The listing agent found a buyer, and I accepted the offer, but my ex-spouse refuses to sign the deed. What can I do to force her to sell?
Answer: Please consult the attorney who represented you in the divorce. If the home sale was not part of the divorce decree, you may need to sue your ex-wife in a partition lawsuit to force the sale of the house. This legal remedy is available to any co-owner who wants to sell, but the other owner refuses.
Robert J. Bruss is a nationally syndicated columnist on real estate. Write to him in care of At Home, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731-1121. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column. Because of the volume of mail, personal answers to questions are impossible.