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At closing time, the key is fees

March 30, 2009

Q: Bob, sorry about this continued effort about your column several weeks past. However you e-mailed me another part that you did not print and my neighbor thought it was great and it would be good for the rest of your readers. Did you not send it, and if so, would you have it printed?

Jackie & Don

A: Sorry to you and my readers, that is why my column was small, I received another comment from one of the other e-mails aligned with you-here.

When selecting a home, the key used to be (we have all heard it) location, location, location. Now it is location price and fees. At closing time, the key is fees.

Closing costs: When shopping for a mortgage lender, consider not only the interest rate but also closing costs. By law you'll receive from the lender up front a "good faith estimate" (GFE) of closing costs. This is an itemized list of estimated costs to be paid at closing (e.g., the lender's fees, appraisal charges, title insurance premium, a partial month's interest payment).

Self defense: Apply with three different lenders and complete their three different GFEs. Filling out applications takes some time, but it costs nothing to apply and you could save thousands of dollars. Use the free search engine at Then try to get fees waived or reduced or credited towards closing costs. The lender may not budge but it's worth asking.

Have your GFE reviewed by an attorney or other professional well before the closing. The privately run National Mortgage Complaint Center (866-714-6466) will review it and tell you about any excessive fees for a cost of $65.

Note: Banks should charge the buyer what they paid in appraisal, credit report and inspection fees.

Often they mark those fees up. Ask the lender to seek good deals on these items and pass along the savings to you. You must buy title insurance to protect against problems as forgery of old title documents and potential interests of missing heirs. The premium is paid once and averages $800.

Self defense: In some states, such as Texas, premiums are fixed by law. If the premium isn't fixed in your state, search under "title insurance" on the Internet or check the Yellow Pages. Call the companies to ask about their rates and coverage. If you're refinancing your mortgage and have lived in the house less than 10 years, ask to get title insurance at the less expensive "re-issue rate" rate.

Thanks to all the resources- people, reading material and companies for their help and input.

Q: Bob, taxes (especially in Cape Coral and Lee County just about every service is paid for with tax money) have driven many of us out or forced others to not come here. For the ones that have stayed or are still coming, what is/are the best ways to lower your property tax?

No name

A: No name, I am not a politician and won't discuss our city policies. However, I can answer your question. About 80 percent (so far) of residential homes are over-assessed, yet only one in 50 homeowners challenge their property tax assessments. What's more, many Americans don't realize that they may be entitled to exemptions that could result in a reduction of 5-30 percent or more of their bills. Unfair or inaccurate assessments happen for many reasons. The last few years of prosperity and then the sudden downturn have left us searching for answers.

Here's how to appeal your property tax assessment and win:

OBTAIN YOUR DETAILED PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT RECORD CARD from your local government's tax assessor's office, and review your property description.

Look for defects that were omitted, such as proximity to noisy streets or traffic, and inaccuracies in the number of rooms and square footage.

ASK THE ASSESSOR'S OFFICE TO PROVIDE COMPARABLE PROPERTY PRICES (and assessed value) in your community so that you can be sure that your home is not being overtaxed. The Freedom of Information Act and "right to know" laws entitle you to any and all information relating to your property, including property assessment lists, zoning maps and property tax exemptions, such as those for veterans and low-income homeowners.

IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR ASSESSMENT IS INACCURATE, ask the assessor's office in writing to lower it. If the request is denied, you will need to go through a formal appeal. Ask for a list of procedures and deadlines. In cases of higher-value homes, you might want to hire an attorney if it becomes necessary to go to court.

Hope this answers and helps all readers, etc., that contacted me relating to this subject.

Have a real estate question? Write, call, fax or e-mail:

Bob Jeffries, Realtor,

Century 21 Birchwood Realty, Inc.

4040 Del Prado Blvd., Cape Coral, FL

239-540-6659 Office

239-542-7760 Fax



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