Hurricane Damage
Edith Lank | October 17, 2017

Dear Edith: We are buying a house in Cape Coral, Florida, and are supposed to close soon. The seller has evacuated and may not return.

If there is more than $5,000 damage, I can get out of the contract. But how is the amount of damage determined? Because of the scope of the storm, it may take weeks just to get an insurance adjuster there. -- to

In most sales contracts, the closing date is just a target, not binding. Unless "specific performance" has been made part of the agreement, you can ask for postponement till everyone knows more.

You don't exactly say whether you want out, but in any case, it may be time for legal help. If you have a family attorney, you might ask him or her to suggest a lawyer who specializes in real estate in Cape Coral. I'm sure they're flooded with similar questions there.

see also:

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Useless Plot

Dear Ms. Lank: My mother purchased a plot of land in Arkansas back in the 1960s for $50. She is gone now and as an only child I inherited this worthless undeveloped land. Her attorney advised me to just keep it, pay the taxes and perhaps some day it would be worth money. I have been paying taxes of $4 to $6 per year.

Apparently, there is a lake somewhere nearby and they sent me a letter a couple of years ago with an assessment fee to use their boat docks. I told them I had no intention of paying and have not heard from them since.

Well, it is 2017, I am 77 years old and don't want my son to be saddled with a worthless lot when I am gone. Do I just quit paying the taxes and ignore the county's threats to claim the land? Or is there something else you could recommend? I am on fixed income and do not wish to pay an attorney for an opinion. -- V. R.

On the internet you -- or a younger friend -- can find names of real estate brokers where the land is located. It won't cost anything to consult an agent or two in that area. It's hard to picture a plot that is taxed for that little but they'll have opinions on whether it has any value. Even if small, it may, for example, be attractive to the owners of parcels directly adjoining it.

If you just stop paying taxes, by the way, the county will eventually take the land. But if you don't care about it, that's one solution.

Expressing Appreciation

Dear Ms. Lank: After considering your last suggestion and further disappointment with the quality of rental applicants presented to us, my wife and I have decided not to proceed with the idea of renting out her condo in New Jersey.

However, her rental listing with the agent (who works for Coldwell Banker) still has a number of months to run. It will be really unfair if we just do nothing and let the agreement run out. She put in a lot of effort and time trying to fulfill her obligation(s) to us. She deserves to be fairly compensated. What do you think is a correct, legal and compassionate way to handle this? -- C. Y. C.

Agents are used to devoting time and skill to prospects that don't work out, so she'll certainly be pleasantly surprised.

First off, you need to know whether she officially holds a broker's license. In New Jersey, licensed real estate salespersons are not legally allowed to accept commissions; they must work in a sort of apprentice situation, under the supervision of a specific broker. They can accept payment only through their supervising brokers. Actually, unless she is the head of that office, the same probably applies to your agent, no matter what type of license she holds.

For a minor, token gift, a letter expressing your appreciation for excellent service could be sent directly to the office. It'll be really welcome, probably posted on their bulletin board. Next, an invitation to dinner, perhaps at a restaurant, is always appreciated. Beyond that, the state may have specific regulations about the allowable value of a token gift of appreciation to a real estate licensee.

If on the other hand you'd like to pay what would have been a full rental commission, you may have to send the money to the brokerage, to be shared in normal fashion with your agent. It might be best to consult her directly and see what she understands the law to be.

Contact Edith Lank at, at or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.