About Real Estate: Keeping real estate purchase a secret is possible but difficult

It’s hard to prevent a property sale from becoming public knowledge, but there are ways to slow it down.

Q. My girlfriend and I would like to purchase our first home but, for reasons I don’t want to explain, we would like to keep our purchase secret.

I know that when the property would be transferred to us, our names would then appear on the local property-tax rolls at the assessor’s office that anyone could see. Is there any way to prevent this?

A. It sounds as if your personal life is a lot more complicated than mine.

But yes, there are ways that homebuyers and real estate investors can keep their transactions secret — at least for a little while.

Forming a “holding agreement” trust or limited-liability corporation may help to keep your property transaction away from prying eyes. Talk to a real estate attorney for more details.

One lawyer I know advises his secrecy-conscious clients to simply take out a fictitious-name statement in the newspaper. This type of ad is commonly called a “DBA,” which is short for “doing business as.” After the ad appears a few times — and assuming there’s no unforeseen trouble — his clients can then buy a home or other property using their DBA name instead of their real one.

Of course, there’s no surefire way to guarantee that your ownership of the property won’t eventually come to light. With time, anyone who is willing to do some legwork and thoroughly research public records would probably be able to discover your ownership of the house.

 

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA

President Donald Trump owns or controls more than 500 real estate and other businesses around the world, according to exhaustive research by Time Magazine. Many bear his last name, but others do not.

 

Q. We purchased our home 12 years ago, shortly after we got married. We now have two kids, so we have added two bedrooms and an extra bathroom to our house.

Do we have to report these changes to our home-insurance company, or would the insurer have to automatically pay if we have a fire or other problem?

A. Nothing in the world of insurance is “automatic.”

You should notify your agent any time you make an addition or other improvement to your home that costs more than $1,000 to $2,000. If you don’t, you might not have enough coverage to fully pay for the reconstruction of your home if there’s a fire, hurricane or other disaster. The extra dollars that you pay for the added coverage will be money well spent if you ever must make a claim.

Remember too that some home improvements actually can reduce your annual premiums. For example, many insurance companies will cut your insurance bill between 5 and 15 percent if you add fire sprinklers, a home-security system, smoke detectors or even inexpensive deadbolt locks.

Some insurers also offer discounts to retirees. Those companies figure that older people spend more time at home, reducing the chance of burglary or fire.

 

Q. We agreed to sell our home last month for exactly $200,000. The buyer made her offer contingent on getting a loan for $180,000 from her credit union. She now says that the credit union has rejected her mortgage application, but our own sales broker says that he could arrange a loan for her if she really wants to buy our place.

Our question is this: Can we keep the buyer’s $4,000 deposit if she won’t take the loan that our broker can get for her?

A. No, you probably can’t keep her deposit.

If your buyer made a reasonable attempt to line up financing through her designated lender but was turned down, the contingency will probably let her cancel the deal and demand that her deposit be returned.

If your agent can get your buyer a loan on the same terms that she was seeking from her credit union, you might be able to successfully sue her for breach of contract if she doesn’t go through with the deal. But the truth is, the money you’d spend on a lawyer and the time you’d waste dealing with this person probably wouldn’t justify your efforts.

Considering that there’s no guarantee that you would win the lawsuit, you’re probably better off returning your reluctant buyer’s deposit and putting your home back on the market.

 

Send questions to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-2960, and we’ll try to respond in a future column.