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Name change is normally not a problem when selling a house

November 28, 2008

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Q: I bought my first home in 2001 as a single woman and took title to the property as “sole owner.” I married in 2004 and took my husband’s last name, but I did not notify the bank of the change in my name and never added my husband to the title. We are now selling to move into a nicer property. Will the fact that title to the house we are selling is still held in my maiden name cause problems when we try to transfer ownership to the buyer? What can we do now to make sure that our closing goes smoothly?

A: You probably don't have any reason to worry. The type of situation you're describing is quite common and usually very easy to solve.

Millions of people change their names every year, and many of them are women who get married and then take the last name of their husband. If a single woman buys a home under her maiden name but then sells after she weds, the title company that's involved in the transaction will typically have her sign the deed using her married name and make note that she "took title as" someone with her previous name.

Let's say that your maiden name was Sarah Single but that you recently got married to Joe Couple. When you sell, the title officer (or perhaps the escrow agent or closing attorney who's overseeing the deal) would have you sign the deed to the buyer as Sarah Couple but note that you originally took title to the home as Sarah Single. Signing the deed this way should help to ensure that your closing can be completed without unnecessary delays.

Q: We recently purchased an alarm system for our home from a nationally known company, and the alarm company put a sign in our front yard stating that the house is under its protection. We thought the sign was a good idea, but then a friend of ours said we should take the sign down because it may give a burglar the information needed to override the system and rip us off. What do you think?

A: Many home-alarm companies are happy to provide such free yard signs. It's an inexpensive way to advertise their services to neighbors.

Some law-enforcement officials, however, say that a detailed sign can give a burglar all the information needed to disable the alarm. That's because several alarm companies, including many that operate nationwide, use the same diagram to wire every house: If a thief sees that your home is “protected” by the same company as one that he burgled before, he might be able to easily disarm your system and steal your stuff.

A better alternative is to buy a generic sign from your local hardware or home-improvement store that simply says something like, “This House Is Protected by an Alarm System.” The fewer clues your sign gives to a potential robber, the safer you will be.

Q: We bought a new home two years ago but kept our old one and rented it out to a nice family. After reading one of your recent columns, we realized that we are probably eligible to take depreciation deductions for our old home and get a tax refund. Is it too late to claim the write-offs now?

A: No, it’s not too late to claim write-offs for depreciation or any others costs incurred to maintain the home that you rented to tenants two years ago. However, you will need to file an amended tax return for both of the years for which you now want to claim the deductions.

Check with your accountant or another tax expert to determine if the refund you would receive from the Internal Revenue Service would be large enough to compensate for the cost and hassle of filing two amended returns.

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