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Is this legal? Your real estate questions answered

Don't know where to turn for answers to your real estate dilemmas? TODAY real estate contributor Barbara Corcoran gives expert advice to readers in need.
/ Source: TODAY

Whether you are looking to renovate or you might even be interested in getting into the real estate business, TODAY real estate contributor Barbara Corcoran points readers in the right direction.

Q: I am in a five-year adjustable rate mortgage with a 4.8 percent interest rate. I want to take advantage of this great rate as long as I can, but I also want to refinance at the right time. Should I act now while rates are low? — Anonymous

A: First, check to see if you have a prepayment penalty. If you do, all bets are off as it won't then make sense for you to refinance. Instead of refinancing, you can start paying a little more money each month to the lender (say, an extra $100 or $200 if you can afford it) ... and that money is applied to the principal and brings down your principal balance. Last, remember that refinancing is not just about dollars and cents — peace of mind is worth a lot of money. So if you'll sleep better at night, you can refinance now so you don't have to worry about it tomorrow.

Q: I'm considering obtaining my real estate license. Is this a good time to get into the real estate business? — Sharon, San Diego, Calif.

A: San Diego is the foreclosure capital of the world, and four out of five house sales there are bank-owned properties. Most people would tell you that it's the absolute worst time to get started in the real estate business, but I can tell you it's ripe with opportunity. Properties owned by banks are easy to sell because the bank is not emotionally attached to the house and is willing to unload it at a steep discount. Also, many new buyers are drawn into the market because they're anxious to take advantage of all the good deals out there. But make sure you have the No. 1 characteristic found in every great salesperson: the ability to take rejection and keep moving forward. If you have that, you can expect to be earning over $100,000 in your second year in the business. Q: We own a time share in the Bahamas and would like to sell it. What is the best way to do this? — Tracie, Alabama

A: Don't call your local real estate broker if you want to sell a time share. Time shares are the odd ducks of the real estate business and the best place to sell an odd duck is online. Don't expect to get anything near what you paid, because the value of a used time share is about as good as the value of a used boat. The two best Web sites to sell or even rent out your time share are and The first one charges the seller a fee and the second one doesn't.

Q: We have a home in escrow for over $2 million with a $50,000 deposit. I was shocked to find in today's paper a full-page color ad featuring three homes, including the one we have in escrow! We feel this is truly outside the rules of real estate. What can we do? Carol, California

A: Why haven't you called your agent to ask her what's going on? State laws vary on this, but until a property actually closes there are few if any laws that stand in the way of advertising it. Sometimes the seller insists on advertising his property right up until the closing, and particularly when houses are exceptional, agents often continue to advertise a house in hopes of luring in a new customer for another home. It's done all the time. Sometimes a simple phone call to your agent asking “please don't do it” settles the problem right there.

Q: We have an 1929 stone house in New Jersey with the original casement windows, which will cost almost $25,000 to replace. The old windows work fine but are not a good energy saver in the winter. If we replace the windows, will it add value to our home? —Judy, New Jersey

A: You can get beautiful casement windows that are also energy efficient. So if you plan on replacing your windows, don't ruin the charm of your old stone house with modern-looking ones. Energy-efficient windows always add value, particularly with today's high cost of fuel. But an old stone house with beautiful casement windows is unusual and will always sell for more.

Q: My landlord is selling the three-family building where I live. The realtor has keys to my apartment and drops by constantly with a just a few minutes' notice with potential buyers. When I ask the owner to give me 24 hours' notice, she blames the realtor. I always cooperate because I'd love to see the building sold ... because I'm hoping for a better landlord. Is all this legal? — Vienna, New York City

A: Get a grip! Why are you allowing the landlord to take control of your life? You should let your landlord know that a showing without 24 hours' notice, standard in most leases, is unacceptable. In the meantime, go out and find yourself a new apartment with a decent landlord and the undisturbed peace and security that your rent should allow. The problem is not your landlord, you're the problem. You're allowing your landlord to be obnoxious.