Purchasing a Home vs. Renting: 5 Tax Advantages

While renting a home gives you the freedom of picking up stakes and moving whenever you want, realizing the dream of home ownership can give you far more benefits, the most obvious being the growth of your nest egg coming from normal market appreciation and the additional equity increase that you gain from making home improvements over time.

Home ownership can also enhance your financial status with some of the following tax advantages.

1. Making monthly principal and interest payments on your loan may qualify you for a mortgage interest deduction, which reduces your income tax liability proportionately.

2. Owning your own home means paying property taxes and, with some limitations, may give you an additional tax deduction on your income taxes.

3. If your loan includes a mortgage insurance premium and your income qualifies, that premium is deductible and also lowers your tax liability.

4. A percentage of some home improvements can increase your tax deductions, especially if they are eco-friendly. Solar panels and wind turbines are examples.

5. Having a home-based business and the improvements that are associated with that business may also contribute to decreasing your tax liability. The square footage percentage of the portion of your home where you conduct business may give you additional tax deductions.

If you feel that owning your own home will benefit your financial future, then we are here to take you down that path.

4 Reasons to Consider Buying a Home in the Off-Season

As a home buyer, you can optimize your home buying if you move forward with your search during the off-season of where you wish to live. In very hot climates, the off-season will be during the summer, while in most other parts of the country, it would be during the winter months. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider buying your home out of season.

1. A seller who lists his or her house during the off-season is more likely to be very motivated to get the home sold. Therefore, you can benefit because the seller will be more willing to negotiate on price and terms, especially if you present a fair offer.

2. There are usually fewer buyers when you decide to shop when it’s not peak market time. Fewer buyers mean less competition and no price wars. Buyers tend to be more focused on the holidays during the winter, while communities in hotter climates draw virtually no competing home-buying snowbirds during the summer.

3. Since the off-season can mask the usually attractive curb appeal of a home, it can also provide a more realistic viewing of a home without the gingerbread. You can better see the “bones” of a home with minimal landscaping and possible deferred maintenance.

4. The durability of a prospective property can be better tested when you shop off-season since the mechanics of the home are being put to use on a daily basis. The furnace output is being tested to its maximum capability in cooler winter zones, while the air conditioning is being constantly challenged in the desert climates during the summer. The insulation and soundness of doors and windows are also best evaluated during these times.

Even though the market traditionally slows down during the off-season, we are here 365 days a year to improve the results of your home-buying experience.

Determining Home Appraisal Value: 7 Contributing Factors

The valuation of your home will consider a variety of contributing factors. The appraised value will weigh everything from location and demographics to the physical attributes of your home. These are key influences.

1. First is the location. The neighborhood’s location value will be relative to its proximity to area schools, amenities and accessibility to those amenities. A home’s location within the neighborhood can add positive value if it is in a cul-de-sac or on a large lot and does not back up to any main roads. Location value is reinforced if surrounding homes are clean, neat and owner-occupied.

2. Value will be influenced by what upgrades and updates are contributing to making a home more current in quality, energy efficiency and safety.

3. Appraised value is enhanced when a home has been built in the last 20 years because it presents a lower risk for needed repairs and has newer amenities.

4. Buyers will pay higher prices when the design of a home is timeless and has good appeal for the majority of buyers.

5. As important as the value of the interior of a home is in the appraisal process, so is the exterior landscaping and overall curb appeal. Landscaping that is easy to care for and complements the home’s exterior will yield more value.

6. The value of the number of bedrooms and baths will be of prime importance when comparing to competing sold and listed homes. As the bedroom and bath count goes up, so does the value of the property.

7. The square footage and the efficiency of the floor plan contribute to the value. Finished livable basements add value, but not to the same extent as those living spaces that are above grade.

If you have any questions about home appraisals, call or email us. We are always here to help guide you so you can make the decisions that are best for your goals.

Wire Fraud in Real Estate: How to Protect Yourself

In a world of scamming via Internet connections and communications, we want to warn you of the wire fraud that could be a product of sending or receiving emails that takes root during the closing process in a real estate transaction where large sums of money are being transferred to consummate home sales.

Once scammers gain access to a real estate agent’s or title company’s email account, they can deceive home buyers by “forging” emails to falsely convey closing money wiring instructions. If successful in convincing a buyer to send closing funds to an account other than that of the title company’s financial institution, the scam won’t likely be discovered until the funds cannot be recovered.

It is important to protect yourself from this potentially huge loss of your life savings. Whenever you receive an email from a title company or your agent with wiring instructions for closing, you always need to call the source to confirm the content of the instructions that you have received. Typically, real estate agents should not be in receipt of wiring instructions because it provides another avenue for potential fraud.

Most title companies protect themselves and their clients by communicating wiring instructions via encrypted email once the buyer calls to ask for those instructions. While nothing is foolproof, email encryption helps assure the secure transfer of closing funds.

We are aware of the perils associated with this part of the closing process and are here to assist you in the verification process. We can direct you to title companies with encryption capabilities.

What Factors Impact the Timeline for Selling a Home?

A number of factors can come into play when it comes to the timeline for selling your home. Let’s take a look.

Location and neighborhood desirability have traditionally impacted marketing the most. Good location and community appeal attract more interested buyers and can greatly reduce the number of days your home is on the market.

When interest rates are low and the economy is doing well, there will be more qualified buyers. An often-overlooked factor in the loan qualification process is that the house must also qualify for the sought-after loan. A home with lots of deferred maintenance or significant code violations runs the chance of receiving a negative appraisal for the buyer’s loan, potentially causing the deal to fail and the house going back on the market in search of a cash buyer.

A home’s age and amenities will influence a buyer’s decision to make an offer. A home will sell faster if it is in move-in condition, with a buyer having to do very little to make it “home.”

Your house should “hit the market running” and can do so by having a competitive listing price that comes from a proper valuation of recent comparable sales and active listings. Most buyers have done their homework and will be drawn to those properties that present good value and will appraise near the sales price.

Knowing the market trends of who is buying, what the present supply of housing inventory is and the demand for that inventory are also key factors that will influence your days on the market.

We want to help you enhance the positive factors so that they can offset those influences that we cannot control. Our goal is to make the marketing time for a home sale as predictable as possible.

If you have any questions about factors that impact the selling timeline, please give me a call or send me an email. I would be happy to go over them with you. I’m always here to help.

8 Ways to Increase Your Home’s Value without Breaking the Bank

Elevating your home’s value does not mean having to drain your savings. Take a look at these great suggestions.

Under $200

Outdoors are as important as indoors. Liven up your yard by planting a new tree or some native shrubs. Older carpets and rugs can harbor odor-causing soil, so invest in new fresh floor coverings.

$200-400

For a few hundred dollars, you can enhance the first impression of your home by hiring someone to help detail your yard, especially if it is starting to look rough around the edges. Having things clean and fresh will attract even the most finicky buyer, so indulge in a professional cleaning service to scrub your home from floors to ceilings. Visually decluttering your home and giving it a more spacious feeling can be accomplished by changing out bulky curtains with blinds or shutters.

$400-1000

Revitalizing your kitchen and baths with new tile flooring can often be done for under $1,000 and reap far greater rewards. Consider replacing some appliances, a sink, or a plumbing or lighting fixture in these areas and notice how much your kitchen and baths will shine. Take care of the deferred maintenance issues around your home so buyers will have a positive perception of how it has been maintained.

When it comes to increasing home value without breaking the bank, our sellers have always looked to us for guidance and for professional recommendations. Call or email us today and we’ll help you choose the options that are right for you.

Six Easy Ways to Boost Curb Appeal in Just One Day

Top-notch first impressions of your home can help ensure its successful marketing but also create an inviting feeling to your casual visitors when they step onto your property. Boosting curb appeal doesn’t have to be an expensive undertaking or one that takes weeks to accomplish. As a matter of fact, a whole lot can be achieved in just one day. Here are six easy ways to create a first impression that is a lasting one.

1. Start with a thorough cleaning of the front porch slab, door, windows, walls and ceiling. This will set the stage for your curb appeal makeover.

2. If scrubbing down the front door doesn’t make it visually “pop,” then paint it a color that complements the color of the house but also brings a visitor’s eye to the entry with some brightness.

3. An easy and fun fix is to find a new doormat with a classy look, often incorporating color that coordinates with the front door. What an inexpensive way to take your curb appeal up a notch!

4. While shopping at the home improvement store for paint and a doormat, be sure to check out the aisle with new house numbers, especially if your old ones are dingy and cannot be cleaned up. Be sure the style of the numbers is in tune with the character of the front of your home.

5. If you shop carefully, you can also find reasonably priced new door hardware to harmonize with the new house numbers.

6. To add additional color, introduce well-placed potted flowers on the porch and the entry walkway. Low-maintenance plants will endure through the season without requiring a lot of attention.

If you’d like additional ideas to boost curb appeal, we’re always here to provide guidance. We’re just an email or call away.

Ready to Buy a Home? Here’s How to Prepare

To help avoid being a victim of homebuyer anxiety, we would like to give you some pointers to better prepare yourself for what lies ahead when you set out to buy a home.

A good starting point is to go to your lender of choice and get preapproved for a loan. In doing so, two major things will be accomplished. You will know what kind and price of home that you can afford to buy, and you will be able to accompany any offer to purchase with a loan preapproval letter, which adds strength to your offer.

Before you set out on your search, if you list the characteristics of a home that will suit your family, your time will be rewarded more quickly because we can help you target amenity-specific homes. In today’s market of limited inventory, you want to be mentally prepared to pull the trigger when you view a home that fits your needs. Hesitation can result in missing out on the property that really works for you.

To assist in the decision-making, evaluate your funds on hand so you can afford to do fix-its or be able to enhance a new build home if that’s what you would choose to purchase.

Have your yellow pad filled out with these items when you call upon us to partner with you in the homebuying process. By understanding your needs and what you qualify for, we can then move forward efficiently, meet your needs and not miss your best opportunities. We can help you determine what is right for you, given your individual financial circumstances and goals. Call or email us today.

Prepare Your House for the Fall with This Maintenance Checklist

What better way to start the fall season than to have a home maintenance checklist to guide you through the preparations needed to avoid any casualties during the winter season or any unwelcome surprises in the spring? We are providing you with this checklist to show you that getting ready for fall goes far beyond just changing the wreath on your front door.

1. Take a tour of your home and check all of the window and door weather stripping. Any cracked or missing stripping will compromise your heating efficiency and can be remedied with new weather stripping rather inexpensively.

2. Replace your furnace filters as often as every 3-6 months. Air filters are rated and priced per air filtration effectiveness and estimated longevity.

3. Now is a good time to check your gutters and downspouts if you didn’t do so after last winter. Autumn leaves will soon be your gutter’s nemesis, so consider having some sort of leaf guards to save gutter-cleaning time and possible water damage from clogged drainage.

4. Check for concrete cracks that can get worse when water freezes and expands, causing the cracks to widen and the concrete to deteriorate. Patching compounds are an easy remedy and will help maintain the concrete’s integrity.

5. To avoid freezing pipes, drain your outdoor faucets. Stash your hoses out of the weather.

6. When springtime comes knocking, you will enjoy your yard more if your lawn turns green quickly after the cold weather. Be sure and fertilize your lawn prior to winter, and feed your evergreens at the same time.

7. Protect the investment in your outdoor furniture by storing everything or protecting it from the elements with furniture covers, readily available for a reasonable cost.

Please call us with any concerns that we may be able to give you additional guidance on.

Don’t Skip These Important Estate Planning Tasks

ou may not be subject to estate tax, which is applied to estates with values that exceed the exclusion limit set by law, but that does not mean you should avoid estate planning.

Here are five tasks for everyone to consider that fall under estate planning.

Check your beneficiaries. If you have filled out beneficiary designation forms for your financial accounts (such as your life insurance or 401(k) plan), they override any other estate planning documents, so review them and ensure they are up to date.

Create two wills. That is correct: two wills. You need a living will to indicate how you would like to be cared for if you become unable to express your wishes, and you need a last will and testament to explain how you’d like your assets distributed after your death.

Draft two powers of attorney. You also need two powers of attorney to indicate who will handle your affairs if you are incapacitated. One will specify who will handle healthcare decisions, and another will specify who will handle financial matters. You can designate one person to handle both.

Designate guardians if necessary. If you have children, you will want to name a guardian to look after them (day to day and financially) if you are unable to care for them.

Name an executor. When you die, your executor will make sure your assets are distributed in accordance with your will. You can specify a family member or a professional, such as a bank trust officer.

Just be sure to tell your executor that you have named him or her.

How Smart Homes are Getting Smarter and Safer

As smart technology continues to leap forward, so does its integration into our living spaces. Per Google Dictionary, the definition of “smart” has been expanded to also mean “a device programmed so as to be capable of some independent action.” “Smart” in our homes now means an automated home with artificial intelligence, or AI, connecting to smart home automation and beyond.

In recent years, we have become intimate with the ability to use control devices and appliances with the help of the Internet, but now AI takes us to new heights. Imagine “smart wellness” that can help identify early signs of some illnesses or automation that sets the stage for a perfect night’s sleep, regulating bedroom lighting, temperature, and even the firmness of your mattress. How smart is it that AI can track your grocery-buying habits and automatically keep your shelves stocked by ordering what it knows are your dining preferences?

When it comes to protecting some of the physical aspects of your home, artificial smart intelligence can be set up for things such as leak detection in attics, walls, and basements. Couple that with the ability to detect water loss in your plumbing system, and you can rest easy knowing that water will not cause damage to or create mold conditions in your home.

While monitored home security systems have been around for years, new technology now allows you to be your home’s best security monitor with systems that include facial and voice recognition, smart locks, fingerprint entry capabilities, and customized motion zones, creating fewer false alarms and saving dollars typically paid to security companies.

We look forward to helping you navigate today’s new smart home innovations. If a smart home is on your wish list, we can help you find the available homes that have already taken advantage of smart technology and organize safe showings for you.

Here’s How to Get the Most out of Your Virtual House Hunt

What better way to kick off your house hunt than to log on to your computer to “virtually” check out the availability of homes that will complement your lifestyle? We have tuned into the online needs of buyers, putting comprehensive property information at their fingertips. Search filters, property data, and media production quality are better and easier to access than ever before.

Your virtual house hunt enables you to insert yourself into a prospective home without physically being there, all through virtual tours, 3D images, a multitude of still photos, floor plans, and written descriptions that accurately depict the property you are viewing. Not only can a comprehensive online presentation leave you feeling like you just physically toured the home, it will also give you a great picture of the exterior spaces and the neighborhood and how the house is located by incorporating satellite imaging links.

Be aware of possible “red flags” that result from omissions in the virtual viewing. Missing views of exteriors or some living spaces may be a sign that a property has some deficiencies. This will be an opportunity to have us investigate what is not in view so you can decide if the property is worth pursuing.

Your online tour will often provide uploaded seller disclosures, giving you further insight into a home’s physical being. After you have completed your virtual house hunt, we can help you coordinate safe viewing appointments of the properties that you feel will fulfill your needs. We’re here to help you through every step of the process.

What Every Buyer Needs to Know Before House Hunting

Before you begin your hunt for a new home, even if it’s online, we suggest that you do some important information gathering ahead of time so that the fruits of your labor will be more immediate and more satisfying.

The place that you will call “home” will be the result of understanding what your needs are now and into the future. Condo or loft living may be your chosen lifestyle if you don’t want to deal with much maintenance and have no outdoor living requirements.

If so, be sure and note that there will be added monthly housing costs via homeowners association fees. To give yourself or your family room to grow, a detached single-family home with ample outdoor spaces may head your list of criteria.

“What location is best?” Probably the most important part of your information gathering will be how you answer this question. The value of your new home will be influenced by its location, so you will need to analyze your needs regarding how and where you work and play.

The type and locale of a home will determine your overall cost of ownership. Will it be city life, country living, or nesting in the suburbs? Additionally, you will want to include the cost of home maintenance and commuting costs as part of your cost of living fact-finding.

Once you decide whether you are a candidate for a remodeling project or if a newer home better suits your way of life and patience, you will want to get prequalified for a loan that is tailored for the type and location of the home that works for you.

Please remember that we are here to make your information gathering easier so that the end result is a home that is a perfect fit for you and your family.

How a Coat of Paint Increases the Value of Your Home

Any improvement you make to your home should be done with the forethought of improving its value and increasing its appeal to prospective buyers. One of the least expensive ways to accomplish this is to grab a can of paint and a brush and get to work to create a positive first impression of your home.

HomeGain, a leading provider of marketing ideas to real estate agents, has found that the return on investment (ROI) for interior painting is 107% and 55% for new exterior paint. This makes the ROI for interior painting the top home improvement.

Selecting warm neutral colors can make buyers more easily visualize themselves living in your home. Color choice will determine if an interior space appears larger and more spacious or smaller and cozier. Light tones can help increase the openness of a small space, while darker tones tend to create more intimacy.

Since buyers seem to home in on kitchens and bathrooms during the hunt for a new home, you will want to prioritize your painting to transform these two areas. The right colors and application will help define important spaces. Consider creating colored accent wall areas to draw attention to any unique architectural features, such as alcoves, recesses, and soffits.

For exterior painting, focus on the true “first impression” of your home by selecting colors that will appeal to a wide array of buyers. If in doubt, give me a call or send me an email so I can share more helpful hints for increasing your home’s value and marketing success.

When Is the Best Time to Buy or Sell a Home?

The opportune time to buy or sell a home is not carved in stone. There are three primary factors that will influence you as to when you should move forward with buying or selling a home.

Buyers and sellers can benefit from knowing what their local market activity is at any given time. I can help you with that. Since supply and demand of available properties dictate price and availability, our role is to provide you with the statistics to properly time listing or selecting your home.

As a buyer, you will want to house shop when there are a lot of homes on the market, but that may not always be possible. You will have not only many choices but also more opportunity to negotiate with anxious sellers.

Conversely, sellers will want to list their homes during times of shrinking inventory so they can attract more buyers and be tighter with their pricing.

The direction of trending interest rates will also be key in determining if you can buy more or less of a home than you like and when you should move forward with your search. During times of low rates, sellers can be rewarded with stronger pricing, knowing that more buyers will qualify to buy their homes.

The seasons and where you live play a part in any real estate market. While buying and selling during the late spring through early fall may seem to be the most logical time to enter the market, it doesn’t hold true across the board.

Wintertime markets can even cause attraction in zones with better buying options. However, sellers should always give consideration to listing during these perceived slow market times because their competition will be far less and there will always be a number of buyers on the prowl.

With my experience, I can put the market numbers and the seasons together for your recipe for buying or selling success.

6 Things EVERY First-Time Home Buyer Should Do

It’s time to prepare for the closing on the purchase of your first home. Before you are handed the keys, there will be several tasks to do so you can set the stage for being a homeowner.

Speaking of keys, you should change the locks, which can be a DIY project for you, or contact a locksmith.

Notifying all of your contacts of your new address should also be on your task list. An email blast will accomplish this very efficiently.

Having all of the utilities on and in your name the moment you flick on the switch will assure power, hot water, heat, and AC to make your first night comfortable.

Be sure to allow a few days of cushion when switching the utilities in case the title company and lender expedite an early closing.

Prior to closing, familiarize yourself with the amenities that are near your neighborhood so you know where the nearest hardware store and grocery stores are located to get you through the moving-in process.

Create a repair fund as soon as you are under contract to take care of the maintenance your home will eventually require.

Our resources are here to guide you through your task list, and we are just a phone call away.

Increase Your Home’s Value with These Landscaping Ideas

A picture is worth a thousand words if it can create a memorable first impression. What better way is there to achieve a positive reaction to the presentation of your home than to start at the curb with your detailing and exterior design features? You want to capture the attention of a casual visitor or prospective buyer from the moment they step foot on your property.

A well-thought-out plan for the curb appeal of your home can increase its value by 10% to 15% and give a buyer a good reason to select your home to purchase.

You will want to create a landscape design that complements the style of your home. A Victorian cottage demands colorful flowering gardens along with a curvy stone walkway, while a craftsman bungalow is more suited for hedges and perennial borders with a paver entry. Whatever the style, the addition of evergreens will provide year-round color, and deciduous trees will provide great shade and intimacy to a residence when properly placed. Making the right choices for great curb appeal doesn’t need to come at a high price or with extensive upkeep. Flower beds are easily planted and are inexpensive. Selecting plants that do not grow quickly or shed will create a low-maintenance yard.

A major asset to a property’s value is the installation of landscape lighting. The illumination of landscape elements and interesting features of the architecture lets your home command attention 24 hours a day. Another great way to bolster your home’s desirability is to install an irrigation system that will keep your landscaping fresh and inviting, even during the warmest months.

We can help you locate the best sources for creating the wonderful first impression that will be the lasting impression for those who appreciate the attention to detail that you give to your home.

What to Expect if You Stay at Home During a Kitchen Remodel

According to Remodeling magazine, a kitchen remodel will generate a substantial return on dollars spent for this kind of home improvement, with an 83% average return. This, coupled with the eventual increase in the marketability of your home, should be a great motivator to step up to the next level in design and function for the area where your family always seems to gather.

You will want to prepare for what lies ahead for being a “stay-at-home” family during your kitchen makeover. Planning ahead will help alleviate the stress that comes with decision-making and the construction process.

Once immersed in the project, you will experience the pros and cons of living on-site while your kitchen is demoed and given new life. You will find that grilling and using an inexpensive microwave will be your food prep salvation, while your laundry sink temporarily doubles as a dishwashing basin and a small rental refrigerator comes to the rescue for food storage. Once you establish a dining area that is removed from the action in the kitchen, you should have conquered the primary “cons” of the dusty disarray.

The major advantage of staying in your home is your direct oversight of the design elements as they come together. It will enable you to tweak things as they evolve from the original concept on paper to better protect your invested dollars. Our experience with clients who have gone through home renovation can guide you to a happy outcome for your kitchen remodel.

It’s Tempting, but Don’t Do It: The Perils of Moving in Prior to Closing

It is not a given that every sale will close on the contracted closing date. With this in mind, it is important to have contingency plans to cover any delays that will hinder moving plans for both buyer and seller. The buyer who wants to move in prior to a delayed closing and the seller who accommodates such a request may find themselves in a predicament if things don’t go according to plan. Keep in mind that even if there is a written agreement to allow an early move-in, a legal dispute can still evolve from the unforeseen.

Early occupancy by a buyer means that the seller will have to maintain insurance on the property until closing, but there will be a potentially costly change to that policy. The new coverage would be landlord insurance to cover the now “tenant-occupied” home. Part of the closing process is the funding of the buyer’s loan and a final check of clear title. If a final verification of employment is not in order for the underwriter, funding will not occur and may cause the lender to withdraw the loan commitment. If the final title check reveals a last-minute recorded encumbrance against the property, the sale closing could be indefinitely delayed. These are all good reasons for early occupancy to be avoided.

While the buyer benefits the most from an early move-in, the seller potentially suffers great loss in the event of any buyer default. The seller will have vacated their home, thinking it was sold. This, coupled with the house possibly having been altered or damaged by the buyer during early occupancy, could create unanticipated financial hardship. The seller still owns the house and remains liable for activities on the property.

In any of these scenarios, it wouldn’t be long before buyer and seller would find themselves entangled in a legal battle over monetary damages. The message is loud and clear. Both the buyer and seller need to plan their moves with a flexible timeline and avoid early buyer possession in the event unexpected delays cause a late closing.

If you’re considering upsizing or downsizing, let me know what I can do to help make that transition as smooth as possible for you.

Getting a Pest Inspection Before You List

Before your real estate agent places the “For Sale” sign in your front yard, you want to be sure that no stone has been left unturned when preparing your home for marketing. The “To Do” checklist that your agent gives you is created to help protect you from the unknown once you are under contract to sell. It is also a great checklist for taking care of everyday preventative maintenance of your home.

One of the key items on your list will be the recommendation to obtain a professional structural pest inspection prior to listing instead of waiting for an acceptable offer to see if your home is the subject of hidden pest or water damage.

For a fee of $100-$200, a state-licensed pest inspector will scrutinize everything from the rafters down to the foundation, looking for signs of active wood-boring invaders and/or dry rot.

Termites and certain beetles can be causing behind-the-scenes damage to the structure, while water could be causing wood to rot where it is not properly protected. Once the inspection is complete, you will receive a report with suggested remedies and estimated costs for any areas of active infestation or dry rot. If and when you want to correct any problems is up to you.

Having this information before you move ahead with an offer gives you great advantages when selling your home. You will know the cost to get a clear pest report prior to agreeing on a selling price. Your buyer’s loan approval may depend on having a clear report so closing delays will be avoided.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the home selling or buying process. I’m here to be your resource.