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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

First Things First



If you are making a particular meal for the first time, it is essential to have a recipe so that it turns out the way it should.  Knowing the ingredients and preparation can guide you through the process.

Buying a home is really no different than making a new recipe.  There are certain things that need to be done, many of which should occur in a particular order to save time, money, effort and disappointment. 

Your first inclination may be to start searching the Internet for homes and schedule some showings or possibly visit open houses.  Even though this is very gratifying, it shouldn't be done until you have gone through the preliminaries.

Buying a home for the first-time implies you haven't been through the process before and even though, you may have a rough idea of what needs to be done, selecting the right agent in the beginning will give you the benefit of years of personal and professional experience that can help you avoid some of the common mistakes made when buying a home.

This agent can direct you to find the other team members that are required like the lender, title company, inspectors and others.  Each member of the team has an important role to play that if not done correctly, could cause delays and possibly, jeopardize the transaction.

An important step is getting pre-approved so that you'll know exactly what price mortgage and home you'll qualify for.  This may even allow you to lock-in a mortgage rate before you contract for a home.  The pre-approval could also prove very helpful in negotiating with the seller by removing some of the doubt in their mind regarding an unknown buyer.  Another advantage to pre-approval is that if you are competing with multiple offers, you have the advantage of being more of a known commodity.

You'll need to assemble some documents for the lender including pay stubs from the past two months, W-2's from last year, proof of additional income, tax returns for the past two years, bank statements for the last three months, list of all open credit accounts and balances, copy of driver's license and history of residence for past two years.

Buying a home is one of the most important decisions in your life and it should be done with care and research.  When all the things are done in the right order, finding the "right" home is just like following a recipe.  For more information, download this Buyers Guide that includes great information to help you through the process.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

More Time at Home



We are all spending more time at home and will probably need to continue to do so for a while longer.  Depending on the makeup of your family, your home is now a home office, a gym, a virtual classroom and considerably more meals have been prepared in your kitchens in the past six months than normal.

Some businesses have undergone a metamorphosis that has shown them that maybe they do not need the big commercial spaces for their employees.  They realize that they can be just as productive with their work force offsite which will cut expenses.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it may be worth exploring what moving would look like for your situation.  To analyze the options, you will need to know what your home is worth and what the net proceeds will be after selling it.

You will need to know what homes are available with the amenities you are looking for together with the prices and mortgage money.  Depending on the interest rate on your current mortgage, there may not be much difference in payment for a larger mortgage at today's incredibly low rates.

Another option that some homeowners are considering is to not reinvest all the proceeds from the sale of their existing home into the new home.  They are reserving some of the cash as a contingency fund for the unexpected. This strategy is providing peace of mind in uncertain times.

It is said that an investor is faced with three decisions every day: buy, sell, or hold.  The equity in a home represents, for most people, their largest investment asset.  While it is an asset, it is also an amenity.

Prudential thinking would insist on protecting your investments, but it would also suggest that you would evaluate alternatives to avoid missing opportunities.  Having the facts available will make the options clearer and possibly, the decisions will become obvious.

We are available to help you assemble the information you need to consider what is best for you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Moving "Down" in an "Up" Market



Selling a home and buying a lower priced home that meets your current needs can be to your advantage in an "Up" market like the current one with low inventory.  The advantage is that you can maximize the price for the home you're selling and not have to reinvest it all in your replacement.

Just to illustrate the point, let's say there is a 10% premium in the sales price of a home currently.  If you're selling a home for $750,000, it would be $75,000.  If you replaced the home with a $500,000 home, the premium would be $50,000 which means you're $25,000 ahead.

Let's further assume that your home is debt free so that when you sell it, you have a large cash equity.  Instead of paying cash for the replacement home, get an 80% loan at today's low interest rates and reinvest the proceeds to supplement your retirement.

You may be able to get as low as a 2.5% mortgage and earn significantly more on the proceeds in other investments.

Home prices are up significantly over last year and they're selling on average in three weeks.  Inventory is down and there is less competition for your home than normal which can lead to a higher price.  Closed sales increased 9% from August to September according to a Zillow report.

Moving down in an "up" market may be to your advantage.  It could lower your cost of housing by saving on property taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance while being able to take cash out of your home to reinvest in your retirement.

 You'll be using "other people's money" to free up your equity that you can reinvest at a rate higher than you'll be paying on your mortgage.  The difference would be profit.

To explore this opportunity, give me a call and we'll look at your numbers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Cutting Your Housing Costs in Half



Cutting the price will generally bring buyers of anything out of the woodwork that were not serious before.  Some renters could easily lower their monthly cost of housing by half or more by purchasing a home with all the financial benefits that come with it.

The most obvious thing in today's market is that the mortgage payment could be less than the rent the tenants are paying.  With mortgage rates hovering around 3%, this is a major factor of the savings.

The two other major contributing factors are appreciation and amortization of the mortgage, neither of which benefit tenants continuing to pay rent.  According to the FHFA House Price Index, home prices rose 5.4% from July 2019 to July 2020.  There were 400,000 less homes on the market during the summer of 2020 than the previous summer which is influencing appreciation.

With each payment a homeowner makes on their mortgage, a portion is used to reduce the principal amount owed.  This is like a savings account for the owner because it lowers their unpaid balance and increases their equity.

The equity becomes an asset that can be accessed by doing a cash-out refinance or a home equity line of credit once the equity has reached 80% loan-to-value.

A $300,000 home purchased with an FHA loan at 3% for 30 years would have a payment of approximately $2,013 including principal and interest, taxes, insurance, and mortgage insurance premium.  If the tenant were paying $2,400 in rent, this would be a savings of almost $400 a month.

The monthly principal reduction would average $500 a month for the first year which would lower the net cost of housing.  The other major item to consider would be the appreciation.  Assuming, in this example, the home was appreciating at 3% annually, the monthly appreciation in the first year would be $750 which would further lower the cost of housing.

Rent

$2,400

Total House Payment

$2,013

Less Monthly Principal Reduction

$513

Less Monthly Appreciation

$750

Plus Estimated Monthly Maintenance

$200

Net Cost of Housing

$950

 

In this example, it would cost over $1,400 per month more to rent than to own.

A different approach to this would be that the equity in this home in seven years would be $121,579 based on appreciation and principal reduction.  If the same person continues to rent, there would be no equity build-up.

If you're curious as to how much you could cut your housing cost, go to the Rent vs. Own or contact your real estate professional.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Some Mortgage Interest May Not be Deductible



Banks are concerned about making loans that will be repaid not about making loans that are tax deductible for homeowners.  It is good business for the bank but how is the homeowner supposed to know?

Most homeowners and potential homeowners are aware there are tax benefits associated with ownership.  For instance, mortgage interest and property taxes have been deductible expenses from federal income tax since it was enacted in 1913. 

The current law provides that homeowners can deduct the interest on Acquisition Debt which is the amount of debt incurred to buy, build or improve a first or second home up to $750,000.  The amount of acquisition debt decreases as payments are made and it cannot be increased unless the additional funds borrowed are used for capital improvements.

It is not uncommon for a homeowner to refinance their home for any number of reasons.  It could be to get a lower interest rate that would lower the payments or remove mortgage insurance.  However, when additional funds are borrowed for reasons beyond "buy, build or improve", the excess is considered personal debt and the interest is not deductible according to IRS.

Maybe this is not important if the owner is taking the standard deduction because it is higher than the total of the property taxes, qualified mortgage interest and charitable deductions made by the taxpayer.  Currently, it is estimated that 90% of homeowners are electing to use the increased standard deduction implemented with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

A confusing issue that occurs at the end of the year is when the lender reports to the borrower the amount of interest that was paid.  While that amount is most probably accurate, the bank doesn't know if it is qualified mortgage interest for the borrower. 

It is the responsibility of the taxpayer to keep track of outstanding acquisition debt and whether part of the balance is considered personal debt.

Another area where it could become important is if the property was lost due to foreclosure, deed in lieu of foreclosure or a short sale.  The provisions of the Mortgage Forgiveness Act have been extended through 12/31/20 which exempts the forgiven debt from being considered income and therefore taxable.  However, it only applies to acquisition debt.  Any part of a mortgage refinance that is considered personal debt could be taxable in that situation.

As an example, let's say that homeowners originally borrowed $300,000 to purchase a home that they owned for 15 years.  During that time, the home appreciated significantly, and they refinanced it twice.  Once, they made some improvements and took out cash to pay off personal loans and the second time, it was only a cash out.

Original acquisition debt

$300,000

Remaining acquisition debt including improvements

225,000

Unpaid balance on current mortgage

$550,000

Personal debt

325,000

 

In the example above, the personal debt of $325,000 would be considered income on foreclosure and recognizable as income on that year's income tax return.

If you have never refinanced your home or have refinanced it but never taken any money out of it except to make capital improvements, your unpaid balance in most likely acquisition debt.  However, it you have refinanced your home and pulled money out of it for purposes other than capital improvements, those funds may be considered personal debt.

This article is for information purposes.  If you are unclear about the current acquisition debt on your home or need advice for your individual situation, contact your tax professional.  Additional information can be found in IRS Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Seven Questions to Ask Before You Choose an Agent



The concern today when putting your home on the market should not be whether you'll get a contract; it's whether you are going to recognize the majority your net proceeds without any unnecessary delays.

What you realize from the sale of your home has to do with maximizing the sales price while minimizing the sales expenses.  Interestingly, the buyers will be trying to minimize the price they have to pay for your home and possibly, have you pay some of their expenses.

Taking a few pictures with a cell phone and putting a sign in the yard may be enough to get a buyer but successfully selling a home in today's market requires expert marketing and expert negotiations. 

Marketing begins with the preparation of the property to optimize the first impressions it makes to potential buyers.  A skilled professional can make recommendations that can help the home sell for the most money and in the shortest amount of time.  Cleaning, painting, depersonalizing, removing unnecessary items and possibly staging are a few of the recommendations you might receive.

93% of buyers rely on the Internet to search for properties and information and is something they engage even before they find an agent.  Positioning the home so it only can be found effectively in the search is making it appeal favorably and requires careful consideration.

Professional-level photography will make the property look appealing.  Experience knowing the right angles, the proper lighting, and having the right lens are only a few of the things can make a property stand out from the competition.

Negotiations plays a huge part in the sale of any home.  There will be negotiations during the offer/contract stage with the buyer and the other agent.  After that, there may be negotiations regarding inspections, repairs, the appraisal, or anything that might threaten the ultimate closing.

The following are seven questions that you can ask when interviewing an agent to market your home.  The answers should help you evaluate and select an agent who can represent you and your interests.

  1. Do you use a professional photographer?
  2. Have you sold homes in this area recently?
  3. Explain your timetable for preparation, "going live" and market exposure.
  4. Describe your efforts during the negotiation process.
  5. Do you have a pricing analysis, showing actives and solds, for my neighborhood?
  6. Which properties will be our strongest competition?
  7. How do you get the most exposure to get competing offers?

On the surface, it may appear that all agents are the same.  They are all be licensed to sell real estate and can put your home in the MLS for other agents to find.  Experience and skill sets can vary widely among agents and the questions provided in this article can help you determine who can do the best job for you in today's environment and the market your home is located.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Four Things Sellers Should Do Before the Sign Goes in the Yard



Just like buyers should be pre-approved before they begin to look at houses, Sellers should have their home pre-approved.  The reasons are similar: appeal to the "right" buyers, discover issues with the home early, improve marketability, increase negotiations position and close quicker.

For the seller, there are few things that need to be done before the sign goes in the yard and definitely before prospective buyers see the home.  The first is to understand that once you decide to sell the home that it needs to appeal to the broadest base of buyers and that means depersonalizing your home.

Once the home is sold, you will need to pack your things for the new home.  Think of this as starting the process early.  Get moving boxes and make decisions on what you intend to give away or discard in each room and closet.  Identify and pack those items before the home goes on the market. This will be the first wave of making your home more marketable.

When your home hits the market, it needs to be a neutral commodity and not "your" home.  A good rule of thumb is to remove items that involve religion, hunting and sports.  That means removing personal items like family photos or collections displayed in the room.

Next, in round two, go through every room to remove the items that make too large of a statement or take up too much room.  Pool tables may be appropriate in a game room, but they are not in a dining room or a living room.

Personal collections may have taken you years to accumulate and you're proud of them but the people who come to see your home will either not appreciate them or they will become distracted by looking at them instead of the home.  The livability of your home needs to be the focal point.  The buyers need to visualize themselves living in the property that will become "their" home.

The four most important rooms to address are the primary bedroom, kitchen, living room and dining room.  These rooms have a major influence on buyers when determining whether "it is the right home."   Bright colors, possibly used as accent walls, should be neutralized. 

After you have depersonalized the home and removed non-essential items that could make the rooms or closets look small, you might want to consider another technique referred to as staging.  Rearranging furniture so the room shows to its best advantage is simple and doesn't cost a thing.  You might decide that a coffee table or statement piece would be nice and your REALTOR® or stager can suggest a place to rent it rather than buying it.

Once the home is depersonalized and staged, you are ready to have a professional photographer take the pictures that visually describe your home to potential buyers long before they ever look at the home physically.  These will be used on websites, portal sites, MLS, and social media.  Anyone with a point and shoot camera thinks they are a photographer but a pro with the correct wide angle lens, who understands lighting and has an "eye" for what makes a great picture is worth every dime you'll spend.

One more consideration should be to have the home inspected before it goes on the market.  It won't replace the buyer's inspections but it will discover any items that need repair and they should be done before the home goes on the market.  This will probably save you money because it might cost less to repair them than they'll want in second round of negotiations when their inspector finds it.

Another benefit is that if their inspector identifies a problem area that your inspector did not, you have a basis for legitimate disagreement that could just be personal opinion instead of a "fact."

While the process of depersonalizing should take part before you put the home on the market, you'll want you have the benefit of your real estate agent's experience to help you with the process.  At age 18, a person can expect to move nine more times but by age 45, they may only expect to move another 2.7 times.  Your REALTOR®'s experience can be valuable not only in saving your time and money but actually, make the difference in a successful sale.