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Take time to think before taking time share plunge

DEAR BENNY: I read your response to the person trying to unload his time share.

I wish to inform you that contrary to popular belief, there is a very active time share resale market out there, one in which our company has been very active for almost 26 years.

When advising a time share owner, we always tell them there are two rules they must absolutely follow:

1. You must use a licensed real estate broker. That’s the law unless you want to just advertise it as a for-sale-by-owner property.

2. Never, ever – under any circumstances – pay money upfront. Those are scams, pure and simple. –Tom

DEAR TOM: Thanks for writing, and I am sorry that I am not giving out the name of your company. I do not want my column to be a source of free advertising.

However, your two points are right on point, and I appreciate your writing.

I would have preferred that consumers not buy into time shares. But it’s very difficult to object when a handsome gentleman — or attractive woman — is telling you all of the benefits of buying into a time share. And, they say, “If you sign up today, we will give you X, Y and Z.”

Bottom line: Take the contract home and think about it overnight. And if the company refuses to give you the contract to review, tell them “thanks” and walk away.

Selling unwanted time shares is perhaps one of the questions I get most from readers. And I don’t really have a good answer for them.

DEAR BENNY: I take issue with your response to the family that has a vacant plot in a residential Chicago neighborhood.

Like that family, we have tried to sell two vacant lots, which our parents got when they bought their first house in the 1950s.

The lots, untouched for more than 50 years, now look like a miniature forest preserve, overgrown and with full-grown trees. We have paid penalties from the city, more than once, because the lots are unkempt and not fenced in.

We have tried in vain to have two different real estate agents sell them. We have offered them to adjacent neighbors. We have offered to donate them to the community through the alderman and to both Catholic Charities and Habit for Humanity. No bites.

To clean the property would cost us more than $3,000.

We continue to pay the taxes because when the latest fine was not paid in a timely fashion, the city froze my checking account until the fine was paid. Incidentally, the city froze the account with no warning. What a scramble. (As you might guess, it is hard to pay a fine when you do not have access to your own checking account.)

Your idea to stop paying the Cook County taxes makes us wonder if the county would not again freeze my checking account until taxes are current. –Susan

DEAR SUSAN: In my earlier column — on a very similar question, ironically also in Illinois — I suggested that if all else fails, the property owner should just not pay the real estate tax. Ultimately, depending on your own state law, the property will be sold at a real estate tax sale.

I don’t practice law in Illinois, so I can’t give you specific legal advice. However, I suspect that the county froze your account because of the fines it levied against you. I have been involved with hundreds of real estate tax sales (both from the purchaser’s point of view as well as the homeowner who wants to redeed and get his property back) and have never heard of any government freezing accounts.

As I stated in my earlier column, I do not like the idea of not paying any legitimate tax, whether on real estate or income.

However, since there is a mechanism built into local governments to enable them to hold a tax sale if the real estate tax is not paid, I don’t feel so bad about my recommendation. But please talk with your attorney first.

Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to benny@inman.com.

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