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About Real Estate: U.S. ‘normalizing’ relations with Cuba, but don’t expect to buy a home there soon

DEAR MR. MYERS: I have been to Cuba twice, both times for business purposes. It’s a beautiful country. Now that President Barack Obama says he wants to “normalize” relations with it, would I be able to buy a retirement home there?

ANSWER: Probably not, at least in the near future. Until our nation’s 54-year-old trade embargo against the island nation is officially lifted, a private U.S. citizen who buys a home in Cuba would be subject to a lifetime prison sentence under the federal government’s Trading With the Enemy Act and related laws.

If you get sent to prison, though, at least your housing (plus food and utilities) would be free.

Unlike the United States, most of the other nations in the world have free-trade agreements with Cuba. That means that a man from London could buy a house in Havana with a Cuban woman, but the property likely would have to vest solely in her name. If the couple later gets divorced, the Cuban woman almost certainly would get 100 percent equity in the house. That’s because it was held only in her name.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: The United Nations formally recognizes 195 sovereign, self-governing countries around the world. Two others — Vatican City and Palestine — are officially sanctioned “U.N. Observer States,” but are not considered to be independent nations.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I followed your earlier advice by ordering my annual free copies of my credit report from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Everything on each report is accurate, except that one of the three credit bureaus shows the address of the apartment that I left last year instead of the home I bought about four months ago. I don’t think that this is a big problem because I never missed a rental payment on my old apartment or a single monthly payment on the house I bought in April. What are your thoughts on this issue?

ANSWER: Contact the credit bureau that has the wrong address on its files and have it corrected immediately.

Out-of-date addresses on a credit report can lead to all sorts of problems. For starters, it means that you might not be credited for the monthly mortgage payments that you have been religiously making since you bought your first home earlier this year.

That could keep your score lower than it should be, which might translate into a higher loan-interest rate if you want to refinance or buy another home months or years from now.

By “sharing” your old address with someone you don’t know, the credit bureau also might assume that you’re responsible for debts of the tenant who took over your previous apartment. If the tenant doesn’t pay his or her bills, your score may suffer.

Even worse, an outdated or otherwise wrong address could even prompt a bureau to “blend” your credit score with the person you don’t know. That’s a cool deal if the bureau confuses your home address with that of Bill Gates, but not so much if the tenant or borrower is a criminal or financial deadbeat.

DEAR MR. MYERS: The housing market in our area is super-hot. We made an offer on a home that was $4,000 above its listing price in late July, but the sellers rejected it and made a written counteroffer for an additional $2,000. We rejected the counteroffer and then proceeded to sign a purchase contract for another house at its listed value. Now the sellers of the first house have changed their minds and say that they’ll accept our original bid for $4,000 over their asking price. Are we legally required to buy it?

ANSWER: No, you are under no legal obligation to buy the first house, even though you offered to pay the sellers $4,000 more than they originally were asking.

I get this type of question every time the housing market heats up, when sellers get a bit greedy and buyers begin worrying that they’ll soon be priced out. But real estate law in all 50 states says that a buyer’s offer is immediately rendered null and void when a seller makes a written counteroffer. This means that you are free to make an offer on a different property, and the seller of the first house has no basis to sue.

If you decide to cancel the purchase of the second home, though, the seller of the second property can keep the deposit that you made and even sue you for breach of contract.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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