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House Calls: Absentee Real Estate Investment

Edith Lank on

Dear Ms. Lank: My son is interested in renting out his home, as he received a job offer in another state. Three years ago, I bought your book, "The Home Buyer's Kit," to help him. Does this book have current information for landlords, or do you have another that would guide us? -- J. L.

Answer: Your note made my day! I am flattered that you want more advice.

If your son didn't already own his home, would he buy it today with the intention of renting it out? Would he do so before leaving the state? I'll bet not. So what makes it a good investment now, just the fact that he happens to own it? Has he already researched average rental figures in the neighborhood? Has he totaled his expenses -- including some funds for unexpected emergencies?

With regard to renting out a property, I usually say that your first property investment should be located within a half-hour of your home. If your son rents out the house and moves away, who would manage the property?

Let's assume that he (or you, perhaps) picks tenants carefully and is always mindful of state and federal fair-housing laws. He checks their credit -- or has his lawyer or accountant do so -- before negotiating a lease, so there's no worry about prompt rent payments.

But is he ready to get a phone call at 7 o'clock in the morning because the water heater isn't working? Or hold the house open so a plumber can make a quick repair? Or cope with neighbors' complaints of loud music after midnight? Or receive a notification from the city that the lawn isn't being mowed? Perhaps none of those troubles would arise, but if they did, someone would have to handle them. And it sounds as if that someone would be you.

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Being a landlord requires skills; it involves a lot more than just collecting rent. Your son -- and perhaps you -- should go to the nearest library and find a book on the subject. And at least give some thought to my original advice, that one's first real estate investment should be located not more than a half-hour away.

Refusing to Inherit

Dear Edith: My parents are leaving their timeshare to me in their will. I do not want the headache of owning a timeshare. I cannot afford the fees. What can I do? Can I refuse to accept it after their death? -- R. H.

Answer: Yes, in most situations you can refuse (disclaim) a bequest. Telling the executor won't be enough, though. Each state has specific procedures, and there are time limits.

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