Q & A with Barbara Corcoran

» Featured Columnists | By Barbara Corcoran | August 28, 2009 8:00 AM ET

Q1 - I bought a house with my husband 3 years ago with a 6% VA loan. We are struggling with credit card debt and I want to refinance to get a lower rate. Do I have to wait 5 years to refinance?

A - You should be able to refinance your VA loan and get a lower rate at anytime without any prepayment penalties or limitations. But read the fine print to be certain and call your lender to confirm.   

Q2 - I have had a serious problem trying to sell my studio co-op in the Bronx since February of 2007. I've had 3 prospects interested in buying the unit that have been rejected by the board. The board President has refused to give me a reason why or any direction as to what the board is looking for. Is there something that I can do legally to help me sell the unit?

A - The burden is on you to do some due diligence before the application even goes to the board.  When you get your next buyer, walk a rough draft of his application over to the board president and ask him to have a quick 'unofficial' look to tell you what he thinks. It will save you a lot of time and aggravation. According to Michael Beckman of Beckman, Lieberman & Barandes, LLP, when a board rejects an applicant, they usually don't give a reason because it's the safest way to avoid litigation. When you sell a coop, you or your broker should examine the buyer's qualifications to be sure they're board qualified. The board is primarily concerned with the financial and personal profile of the applicant, especially if the applicant can afford the monthly mortgage and maintenance payments with some cushion of cash left over. Typically boards want to see that the buyer's housing expenses don't exceed around 30% of their income, though it can vary from 25% to 35%. It is standard to request a basic but comprehensive financial statement with any offer so you know if the applicant has sufficient assets and income to comfortably afford the apartment. The board also tries to assess whether the applicant would make a good neighbor so if the applicant has a criminal record or any past disputes with creditors or a landlord, forget it!

Q3 - We live in an "active 55 year condo community" in New Jersey with people ranging from 55 to about 80 years old.  Some of the older residents decided  to stop paying their monthly maintenance fee reasoning that they can save the fee and just have a lien on their condo.  After they pass away, their estate would then sell their condo and cover the lien and their children would get less of an inheritance. Is this fair and legal?  Is this the only thing that can be done or can the Board of Directors force a sale before these people pass away?

A - It isn't fair or legal. Your deadbeat neighbors need a wake-up call! The condo board can and should take legal action and, according to Michael Beckman of Beckman, Lieberman & Barandes, LLP, the condominium association should have the right to impose a lien against the units and also foreclose on them. If a foreclosure sale takes place, the sale proceeds should cover the mortgage debt on the unit and the unpaid common charges plus late fees and all expenses incurred by the association in connection with the foreclosure.  But it's more likely that just the threat of foreclosure will scare these owners into paying their dues before it even goes that far.

Q4 - I am married with 2 kids and am ready to buy my first apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I can afford $100,000 as a down payment, and I also pay my mom's rent. I am afraid that if I take a mortgage I will not be able to help my mom. What options to I have?

A - You're a good son but if you have to pay mom's rent, think about having her move in with you so you can afford a larger payment and a bigger house. You can buy an apartment with an extra room for her, or buy a home with a "mother-in-law" apartment in the basement or garage. A quick conversation with the loan officer at your bank will let you know how much of a mortgage you can afford given your income and obligations.

Q5 - I am retired and am trying to sell my home in Boise, Idaho. I listed my home at $204,000, but the Realtors thought it should be lower. I have dropped the price again to $195,600. In 2008, my assessment value was $215,500; then a week ago I received a new 2009 assessment of $184,500. Do buyers look at the assessed value as the price a home should sell for?

A - Sure they do, but most buyers realize assessed values have nothing to do with actual values. The best way to make your home stand out is to price it right so that it stands out against competitive homes in your area. It should be the least expensive among its class so that it's shown first and gets the most offers.

Q6 - I have lived in the Fresh Meadows area of Queens for 44 years and am thinking of selling my home and buying a co-op in the Beechhurst area. I'm 79 and still work. What should I ask and look for when purchasing?  Do I need an inspection of the apartment/building?  Will I be able to sell the house in this market?

A - At your age, you're smart to sell the family house and move to an apartment where you can grow older knowing that you have an elevator, a superintendent to take care of your maintenance needs, and other comforts of apartment living. You should speak with a Realtor to find out what your home is worth today in order to know what you can afford to spend on a coop in Beechhurst. Don't rule out renting, though, as it could make more sense depending on when and where you plan to retire. If you'll leave New York when you retire, then finding a nice place to rent and saving your money to buy elsewhere also makes good sense.

Q7 - Do you know of any Realtors, investors or any persons in the Fort Worth that will purchase an occupied income property?

A - An occupied rental property in good shape and producing positive cash flow is always attractive to investors. The key is finding them. Don't assume the right investor will be in Ft. Worth or even in Texas. REITs and smaller private real estate holding companies as well as individuals based across the country invest in many markets to diversify their portfolios. You're best off working with a commercial Realtor specializing in this type of asset to maximize your chances of a quick and profitable sale.

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