Q: My husband and I have been following the recent discussion in your column related to the removal of a mature hedge on a corner lot and replacement with white fencing. It seems that all feedback so far has been to retain the hedge.
Well, we are going to be the dissenting opinion.
We also live on a corner lot, and we have an in-ground pool in the side yard. The pool area and the two neighbor-facing sides of the lot were home to 200 feet of a privet hedge that was 5 to 6 feet wide and 6 to 7 feet tall. Although it looked nice, it was a large chore to keep up, with trimming required several times a year, which was no small job!
A few years ago, we decided to remove the hedge and replace it with white vinyl fencing. It is a decision we have never regretted! We fenced in the pool area and a small area in our backyard that has a patio and leads to the pool. We chose a taller, semiprivate type of fencing for the neighbor-facing sections of the yard and shorter, more decorative fencing for the street-facing sections.
It looks beautiful, and it was amazing how much yard we gained by removing the hedge. My husband still groans every time he sees a hedge in the area that needs trimming, as it reminds him of how much work it was to keep ours up. We have no regrets. We vote to get rid of the hedge!
R. L. and D. S.
A: Yes, yours is the very first vote for replacing that hedge.
His half not affected
Q: About 25 years ago, my mother and my aunt turned over their home to my sister and me, giving us 50 percent each. We then purchased another home with the proceeds of that home’s sale. That was with both our signatures giving us 50 percent equal ownership.
I have just learned that my sister put the home into a trust and is leaving her son 100 percent beneficial interest. Please advise me of my rights to reclaim my 50 percent.
A: Your sister has the right to do what she likes with her share. I’m guessing the trust now owns her half of the house. Your 50 percent of ownership shouldn’t be affected.
It would be a simple matter for a lawyer’s office to look up the relevant documents in the public records office and reassure you that I’m right. Remember that it’s always OK to ask ahead of time what the service is likely to cost.
There was a murder
Q: We have lived in this house for 10 years and only just found out someone was murdered in the little back bedroom about 15 years ago.
Do we have any case against the agent who sold us this house? Should the agent have known, and did we have a right to know before we bought it?
A: I don’t know where you’re writing from, and the answer may depend on what state you’re in.
Is knowledge of a past murder a material factor in the condition of the house, enough to influence the average buyer’s decision to buy or how much to pay? Does the house have what is known as a “stigma?”
In some states, legislation addresses the issue. In other places, common law and court decisions determine the matter. In New York, for example, neither the seller nor the broker is required to disclose information about a suicide, murder, death or felony that occurred on a property. In California, such stigmas must be disclosed if they occurred within the past three years (why it’s three years I don’t know.) Other states will differ.
So, as so often, the answer is it all depends on where you live.
Buying from in-laws
Q: My husband and I are buying my in-laws’ house for about $40,000 less than its market value. Do my in-laws have to pay tax on the difference? I know there is a gift limit per year without tax liability of $14,000 per person or $28,000 per couple. Could they give me $28,000 and my husband $28,000 in the same year without tax penalty? Please answer as soon as possible. We are moving in less than a month. — N. L.
A: Yes, your in-laws could give the two of you up to $56,000 in a year with no federal gift tax due. And no law dictates how much they must get for their house, by the way.
Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.