Adding closet access increases versatility of home’s fourth room

Dear Edith:

I’m enclosing two pictures. The first photo is the closet in our entryway. The second photo shows how the back of the closet is a wall shared with a 12-by-15-foot room that we use as a home office.

We’re thinking about putting a door on the backside of the closet so it could be accessed from the office. We’re thinking that this little project would make our home marketable as a four-bedroom instead of a three-bedroom. There are not a lot of four- bedroom homes in our town.

We would be curious to know your opinion.

– J. and A.


I don’t see anything wrong with your project. You might even partition the closet so part would still do for visitor’s coats while the rest could hold private bedroom stuff or, for now, office supplies.

Some buyers, of course, would still prefer the arrangement you have now. More and more people are using home offices these days. But once you have that closet, you could advertise that your home has “three bedrooms plus office, den or fourth bedroom.”


Land contract

Dear Edith:

I’m writing about a situation that involves a land contract. (I imagine you are already saying, “Oh, no!”)

Friends of mine bought a building on a land contract and are making monthly payments. They did not have a lawyer’s help — just family advice.

Things went along pretty well for a while. Then the mortgage on the building was foreclosed. They didn’t even know there was a mortgage. Then it got worse: The seller had filed for bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy court considered the land contract an asset and ordered my friends to continue making those payments. It’s a real mess.

So I am writing to encourage you to advise your many readers to never, never, ever get into a land contract as a buyer.

– R. S.


I’m not saying, “Oh, no!”

I’m saying, “Never enter into a land contract without consulting a lawyer.”

A land contract (also known as a contract for deed) is a type of layaway installment plan for buying real estate. Typically, it is used by a buyer who does not have enough money for a down payment to qualify for a bank loan. The buyer takes possession and treats the place as his own, making monthly payments to the seller and, usually, taking care of taxes, insurance and repairs. Ownership does not transfer until a specified time. That could be when the buyer is finally qualified for a mortgage loan. Sometimes it is not until the final payment is made.

In some situations the arrangement is useful. But a land contract requires extra-careful consultation with an attorney before anything is signed. A lawyer would have known about that mortgage and advised wording in the contract to protect the money your friends have already invested in the building.


Property taxes

Dear Ms. Lank:

My husband says when we buy a house, the property taxes will stay the same. I believe they will change to be based on what we paid for the house. Which is right?

– B.L.,


It depends. In some areas, property taxes remain the same when ownership of a house is transferred, so you can be sure the tax bill the seller received this year is the same as the one you’ll receive next year, except for any community-wide increases. Elsewhere, the assessment (valuation of the property for tax purposes) automatically changes to reflect your purchase price. The next bill would be based on that figure.

If you’ve started house hunting, find out which applies in that area. And for each house you look at, be sure you’re informed of the true tax figure before you sign an offer to buy. Depending on the area, the sellers might have a tax abatement for senior citizens, those with low income, veterans or religious organizations. On the other hand, some localities add on to property taxes items like sidewalk snowplowing, unpaid water bills, grass cutting on neglected properties.

Eventually, you’ll settle up with the seller of your house and reimburse the seller for property taxes already paid for the coming months. Or, in a state where taxes are paid in arrears, the seller will owe you for a portion of the bill you’ll later receive.


Husband signing

Ms. Lank:

I own my house myself and am selling it, and I’m told my husband will have to sign any contract to sell it. This doesn’t sound right, and it might make trouble. Is it true?

– J.N.,


Depends where you live. In some states, even a non-owning spouse must sign if the property is a family homestead.•

Contact Edith Lank at, or 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, NY 14620. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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