Home is Worth the Sacrifice

house orange.jpgThere are many reasons people want a home with the most frequent responses being a place of their own, to raise their family, share with their friends and feel safe and secure. These are all strong motivations fueling the American Dream of owning your own home.

The motivation is so dominant that buyers are willing to make sacrifices to have their dream come true. According to the 2014 National Association of REALTORS® Home Buyers and Sellers Survey, 72% of first-time buyers cut spending on luxury or non-essential items. They also cut spending on entertainment, clothes and even cancelled vacation plans.

The value of getting their own home is more important than the immediate gratification of things that are considered less important. While qualifying guidelines were increased last year, there are still more buyers purchasing homes at near record-low mortgage rates.

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Save on Homeowner’s Insurance

iStock_000029570462-250.jpgInsurance is a way to hedge the risk of a possible loss on an asset that a person or entity cannot afford. The cost of the coverage is determined by risk and exposure to the insurer and reflected in the premium.

Another way to say it is: don’t buy insurance when you can afford the loss. If you have a mortgage on your home, you must have insurance. It is probably prudent for most people to have property insurance but certain coverage might be avoided because you can afford the loss if you were to have an occurrence.

  1. Call your current agent and review your insurance coverage. Ask if there are any available discounts whether your property qualifies for now or after certain improvements are made. Monitored alarm systems, dead bolts, smoke detectors, updated electrical, certain types and ages of roofs among other things may be eligible for individual discounts.
  2. Compare the newly revised coverage and premium with other reputable agencies and insurers. Shopping can be time consuming but experts agree that the exercise can be valuable and should be considered every few years.
  3. Deductibles are an easy way to affect the premium based on the initial amount of loss that the insured wants to assume. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium. Determine the amount of risk you want to assume and select an appropriate deductible.
  4. Consider bundling your home and auto policies for possible discounts and leverage for better service.
  5. Don’t become a co-insurer. Most policies stipulate that a building must be insured for at least a certain percentage, usually 80% of its insured value to be able to collect the full amount of a partial loss. Insured value is not always the same as market value. The land is not considered in the value but replacement cost of the dwelling is.

It isn’t possible to purchase insurance after a loss; it must be purchased before a loss is incurred. Premiums are based on careful analysis of insurer’s loss and overhead expense plus a profit. As a homeowner and an insured, it would be equally wise to analyze coverage, claim service, your risk tolerance and the premium you’ll pay for that coverage.

Homeowner Tax Tips

iStock_000006029471Medium-250.jpgEven if you’re having a professional help you with your income tax return, you need to provide them with information on the money you spent that might be deductible. Look at the following list to see if any of these things need a little more investigation to determine if they apply to your situation.

  • If you refinanced your home for the second or subsequent time in 2014, there may be points that can be taken as an interest charge.
  • Compare mortgage interest, property taxes and other eligible itemized deductions to your standard deduction to see which will give you a larger deduction.
  • If you’re paying mortgage insurance premiums with your payment, you may be eligible to deduct them.
  • If you purchased a home in 2014, there may be some deductions found on the HUD-1 form you received at closing.
  • If you purchased a home in 2014 and the seller paid points on your behalf in order to get a mortgage, you may be able to deduct them.
  • If you purchased and installed in 2014 qualified residential energy efficiency property or improvements, you may be eligible for tax credits.
  • If you have dedicated, exclusive space in your home for a home office, you may be eligible for a deduction that may include a pro-rata share of insurance, utilities and other things.

For more information, see IRS Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction; 2014 Instructions for Schedule A.

If you need another copy of your closing statement for the home you purchased or sold in 2014, contact your real estate professional.

1/2% Could Make a Big Difference

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Over 50% of homebuyers don’t shop to find the best interest rate for their mortgage. While a buyer would rarely purchase the first home they look at, they will accept the rate and terms offered by only one lender.

While the borrower and the property affect the rate and terms that a lender may offer, it is not to be said that all lenders will offer the same terms and rates to the same buyer. Credit score, home location, home price and loan amount, down payment, loan term, interest rate type and loan type all affect the interest rate but different lenders can interpret this information differently.

Shopping around to compare rate and terms for a mortgage is a reasonable exercise considering that a half percent lesser interest rate could not only lower the payment but the cumulative interest that is paid while that loan is outstanding.

Some borrowers don’t shop the mortgage because they are concerned that having their credit checked multiple times could adversely affect their credit score. The credit bureaus take this into consideration when several requests are made by the same category of lender in a short period of time.

Check to see the difference 0.5% could make in the mortgage you’re considering by using the calculator provided by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Contact your real estate professional for a list of trusted mortgage professionals to consider.

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Converting a Home to a Rental

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A simple decision to rent your current home instead of selling it when moving to a new home could have far reaching consequences.

If you have a considerable gain, in a principal residence and you rent it for more than three years, it can lose the principal residence status and the profit must be recognized.

Section 121 provides the exclusion of capital gain on a principal residence if you own and use it as such for two out of the last five years. This would allow a temporary rental for up to three years before the exclusion is lost.

Let’s assume there is a $100,000 gain in your principal residence. If it qualifies for the exclusion, no tax would be owed. If the property had been converted to a rental so that it didn’t qualify any longer, the gain would be taxed at the current 20% long-term capital gains rate and it may incur a 3.8% surcharge for higher tax brackets. At least $20,000 in taxes could be avoided by selling it with the principal residence exclusion.

Depreciation, a tax benefit of income property, is determined by the improvement value at the time of purchase or at the conversion to a rental whichever is less. If the seller sold the home and took the exclusion and then, bought an identical home for the same price, he would be able to have 60% more cost recovery and avoid long term capital gains tax.

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It is always recommended that homeowners considering such a conversion get advice from their tax professional as to how this will specifically affect their individual situation.

Get Ready to Garage Sale

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A well-planned garage or yard sale can make room in your home, get rid of unused items and make some money but it needs some planning to be successful.

  • Start early to research and plan
  • Promotion is key
  • Display items attractively
  • Price items right
  • Organize checkout

Saturdays are generally the best day but there may be some exceptions. Experienced garage-salers believe that a well-planned one-day event will do as well as a multi-day event. Serious purchasers will look for the “new” sale and most people don’t come back multiple days.

Advertise in local newspapers and free online classified sites like craigslist. If several families are going together for the sale, mention that in the ad; it will be a big draw. Mention your bigger-ticket items like furniture, equipment and baby items.

Garage sale signs can be purchased or made at Staples, Fedex Office or Kwik Signs. Signs need large lettering so they’re easy to read while people are driving. Most important info: Garage or Yard Sale, address, date and time. Directional signs are also important. Balloons and streamers to attract attention to the signs are very helpful.

Consider using the service Square so that you can take credit cards. The cost is 2.75% per swipe and can be done on your smartphone or iPad. You’ll need to sign up at least two weeks in advance to receive your reader.

Unless you’re having an estate sale, keep your home locked. You don’t want people wandering through your home while you’re outside. If you start to accumulate a lot of money, take some of it inside. Don’t discuss how much money you’ve made during the sale or how successful it has been.

People will want to bargain; it’s the nature of the game. Consider this strategy: less negotiations early in the sale and possibly, more toward the end of the sale.

Downsizing Might Make Sense

downsizing.pngWith roughly 12.5% of the population over 65 years of age, it is understandable that some of them are thinking of downsizing because they may not need the amount of space they did in the past. There is something to be said for the freedom acquired by divesting yourself of “things” that have been accumulated over the years but are no longer needed.

Moving to a less expensive home, could provide cash that could be invested for additional income or savings for unanticipated expenditures.

Savings can also be recognized in the lower utility costs associated with a smaller home, not to mention, the lower premiums for insurance and property taxes.

Going from the home where you reared your family to one of the new tiny homes may be a bit extreme but downsizing to 2/3 or 50% of your current home may certainly be reasonable. In some situations, your interests may have changed so that a different area or city might be a possibility.

At one time, IRS had a once-in-a-lifetime exclusion of $125,000 of gain from a principal residence but it was changed so that homeowner’s are eligible for an exclusion of $250,000 of gain for single taxpayers and up to $500,000 for married taxpayers who have owned and used their home two out of the last five years and haven’t taken the exclusion in the previous 24 months.

Homeowners should consult their tax professionals to see how this may apply to their individual situation.