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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 1999 /14 Tishrei, 5760

Bruce Williams

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Tips for first-time home buyers -- DEAR BRUCE: We found a wonderful home in the country that is around 40 or 50 years old. We realize that we will have to bring a lot of things up to date. The kitchen looks like something out of a 1940s movie. Otherwise, it looks pretty good to us. It is situated on two acres with a price that is not out-of-line. This is our first time purchasing a home, and we are wondering if there is anything special we should do. -- M.Z., Monticello, New York

DEAR M.Z.: You might try your public library and see if they have a copy of my book "House Smart," written with my very close friend Nate Rosenhouse, an attorney. If they don't have it, it can be ordered by clicking at the link at the bottom of this article. This will give you a decent walk-through on how not to get burned. There are two specific things that I must mention: By all means have an attorney represent you from the beginning. I am not going to go through all of the reasons why you should have one, but trust me. Since you are buying an older home in the country, you probably have oil heat. If the oil tank is in the ground, I would insist upon it not only being inspected, but removed or filled according to the laws of your state. There is no statute of limitations on pollution. You will inherit the problem if it exists. In some cases, the company that does the inspection will fill the tank and give you a certificate absolving you from any further responsibility. It is a shame that we live on the edge of a lawsuit for anything we do, but that is the way our society is currently working, and one is especially vulnerable when pollution may be an issue.

DEAR BRUCE: I work for a company that does insurance adjusting, and I am one of the adjusters. I have been here for 6-1/2 years as an employee. Several weeks ago, the company circulated a memorandum stating that, as of that date, all of us were to be considered independent contractors. As a consequence, they would pay us more money, but our benefits would disappear and we would be responsible for all taxes. I have been very happy here, and I am good at what I do, but I am not at all certain that I want to become self-employed. -- T.N., Stanford, Conn.

DEAR T.N.: There are some 20 criteria the IRS uses to determine whether you are an independent contractor. I doubt seriously that you would pass this test. For example, if you have to be at work during regular hours set by your "employer," you are not an independent contractor. If the employer provides tools, supplies and office space, you are not an independent contractor. What your company is doing is trying to finesse the Social Security contribution, worker's compensation and premiums so that you will no longer be covered by workers comp and any other employment taxes that they would ordinarily have a responsibility to pay. Whether or not the difference they pay you will be enough of a compensation is something that you will have to determine. It seems to me that what they are doing is improper, and a quiet word to the IRS might calm things down.

DEAR BRUCE: I have owned my house for almost four years, and there was a fence that clearly delineated where my property ended and my neighbor's began. The fence was in poor condition, and rather than trying to repair it, I had it replaced with a chain link fence. The house next door then changed hands. The new owners came over to tell me that they were sorry, but my fence was almost two feet into their property. I told them about the older fence, and they replied that it made no difference. They had the home surveyed before they purchased it, and it's clear on their survey that my fence is encroaching on their property. A fence has been there since we moved in. My neighbors said that they don't want to be bad neighbors, but they are insisting that we move it to the "appropriate" place. Is there anything we can do to work this out? -- N.L. Mobile, Ala.

DEAR N.L.: If they want it moved, you are going to have to move it. That's the end of the story. You can approach them with the idea that they rent you the property for $1 a year, with you paying all of the legals. The idea behind this is that at no time in the future could you or a subsequent owner claim adverse possession and an interest in that property. A wise homeowner never puts up a boundary fence without first surveying to be certain that the improvement is properly placed. Some communities require that you set back 6 inches from the property line just to avoid disputes of this kind.

Send your questions to JWR contributor Bruce Williams by clicking here. (Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.) Interested in buying or selling a house? Let Bruce Williams' "House Smart" be your guide. (Sales of the book help fund JWR).


09/21/99: Use the rule of 72s!
09/17/99: Legal strategy can be a pain
09/15/99: Teen drivers drive up insurance
09/13/99: Always use an attorney!
09/10/99: Whose taxes are they, anyway?
09/08/99: How do I roll over my 401(k)?
09/03/99: How can I work out my IRS payments?
09/01/99: When your company can't pay you
08/30/99: Beware of shady viatical investments
08/26/99: Landlords vary on security deposits
08/25/99: Educational IRAs must be spent on education
08/23/99: Finding out the value of old stocks
08/20/99: How to get an FHA refund
08/19/99: 100 percent financing is a scam
08/16/99: Will I have to pay a capital gains tax?
08/16/99: Thinking about PMI
08/13/99: Short-term mutual funds a-OK
08/11/99: It's your job to shop around
08/10/99: Sometimes, roots need to be uprooted
08/09/99: 'Pre-approved' doesn't mean a thing
08/06/99: Only you can determine your investments
08/04/99: Bank IRA the lowest-risk option
08/03/99: Reverse mortgages good for the elderly
08/02/99: Get the survey BEFORE you buy the house!
07/28/99: Get a lawyer -- it's worth it!
07/27/99: If it ain't broke...

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