Some Mortgage Interest May Not be Deductible

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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.

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Seven Questions to Ask Before You Choose an Agent

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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.

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

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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.

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Selling or Buying Smart Homes

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More and more homeowners are employing smart home technology within their homes. It may start with a video doorbell or lights and progress to other devices. The smart-home device market is rapidly growing and Forbes research expects it to grow from $55 billion in 2016 to $174 billion in 2025.

The popularity of these high-tech features will require a few additional steps to consider when selling a home. The seller should determine which items will and will not stay with the sale of the home and identify them in the listing agreement.

Confusion can arise when a home’s marketing mentions its smart-home technology and is unclear if a piece like the hub, which is easily considered personal property but is integral to the working of the system. Some might consider it an accessory and others a component.

A smart home can contain multiple technology devices connected to the Internet that allow them to be controlled or accessed from computers, tablets or most commonly, on mobile apps. Many of the devices can also be accessed through a hub like an Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Thermostats and lights may have been some of the first such devices but the video doorbells added a new level of WOW factor by being able to see and talk to the person at your door and even get a video recording. Porch pirates are now seeing their images on social media caught in the act thanks to these devices.

Homeowners sometimes start with one item like a smart sprinkler system control. When they find out how cool it is and that it actually saves them money not to mention how convenient it is, they starting planning their next smart-home device purchase. Some of these items absolutely are permanent and become real property and others, border between personal and real property.

If the seller is including smart devices with the sale of the home, they should have administrative access and any personal information removed and return the devices to the default settings. The seller should also review the privacy settings and delete the permissions for their personal mobile devices. For the benefit of the buyer, any manuals or warranties should be left for the new owner.

Equally as important, the buyer should verify that the smart devices have been returned to their factory settings and no longer coupled with the seller’s mobile devices. The buyers can create their own account to register the devices in their name. Then, as security updates are available, they will be notified. At the same time, the buyer will want to create new access codes and preferences.

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Alternative Investments

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In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal reported that investors have rarely been this flush with cash. The economic uncertainty due to the pandemic and the volatility of the stock market has caused assets in money-market funds to increase to approximately $4.6 trillion, the highest level on record according to Refinitv Lipper.

The question becomes should an investor be “out of the market” until things settle down or should they seek to find alternative investments to produce satisfactory results. Even in the middle of this uncertainty, residential rental property has been a stable performer.

Rents are continuing to increase along with values. Investor mortgages are available at 80% loan-to-value at fixed interest rates for 30-year terms. Most other investments must be purchased for cash or at best, are limited to low loan-to-value loans, at floating interest rates for relatively short time frames.

The use of borrowed funds, especially at today’s low interest rates, contribute to the rate of return and in some cases, increase it. This characteristic is known as leverage.

Income properties enjoy specific tax advantages like long-term capital gains rates lower than ordinary income rates, standard depreciation, which is a non-cash deduction, as well as expensing many big-ticket items in the year purchased.

Tax deferred exchanges are available for investors wanting to avoid the tax due on sale and defer the profit into the replacement property.

One of the most cited reasons people invest in rental homes is that they feel they are more in control. They understand a rental home because it is the same type of property and requires the same maintenance as the home they live in. They can make the decisions to improve it, repair it, what rent to charge and when to sell it. For most owners, a home represents their largest financial asset. That familiarity becomes a natural bridge to decide to invest in rental property rather than something they are less familiar.

If you’d like to know more about the benefits, download the Rental Income Properties guide and call me at (303) 880-5585 to discuss what kind of opportunities are available.

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Grilling Safety

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More people grill in July, June & August than any other months and correspondingly, there are more injuries, as well as fires, due to grilling accidents in those months. Even though Labor Day is in September, we still need to be aware of safety.

Close to 20,000 patients per year visit the emergency room due to injuries involving grills. Approximately half of the injuries involving grills are thermal burns. If you are around fire, there’s a chance of getting burned.

About 2/3 of American households own at least one outdoor barbecue, grill or smoker. Interestingly, gas grills contribute to more fires than charcoal grills. In addition, there are over 10,600 home fires started by grills each year.

While grilling is associated with celebrations, good food, fun and friends, it is important to make sure that accidents don’t interrupt your activities.

  • Only use BBQ grills outdoors and in ventilated areas
  • Place the grill away from home or anything that could be flammable
  • Keep grill stable
  • Keep fire under control
  • Keep children away from grill
  • Never leave the grill unattended
  • The grill lid should always be open before lighting it.
  • Grease should not be allowed to build up in the grill
  • Use long-handled utensils

Gas/Propane

  • Check the tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year by using a light soapy water solution to see if bubbles appear.
  • You should not smell gas when the grill is lit. Move away from the grill and call the fire department.
  • If the flame goes out, turn off the gas for 15 minutes and open the lid before re-lighting it.

Charcoal

  • Never add any starter fluid or other flammable liquid to a fire
  • Only use charcoal starter fluid and not gasoline, kerosene or other flammable liquid.
  • Keep starter fluid away from heat sources and out of reach of children.
  • Electric starters have a coil that ignites the charcoal.
  • When finished cooking, close off the grill vents to suffocate the fire and save some of the remaining charcoal.

Practice safe grilling and enjoy any occasion to cook outdoors and share time with your family and friends.

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Forbearance is Not Forgiveness

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Forbearance is a temporary postponement of mortgage payments. The lender can grant this option to a borrower instead of forcing the property into foreclosure. The CARES Act provides protections for homeowners with mortgages that are federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise backed or funded such as FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

A mortgage holder should contact the lender to explain the temporary difficulty they are having making payments and ask for relief under forbearance or other options. Once the lender grants approval, it is important for the borrower to get the terms of the forbearance agreement in writing to be clear about when the payments will resume and how the missed payments will be recovered.

Generally speaking, homeowners in a forbearance plan will not incur late fees and it should not adversely affect their credit. Unfortunately, borrowers must be vigilant to see that the lender is protecting them from delinquent credit marks according to their agreement.

Forbearance is easy to receive but not so easy to recover from. Free credit reports can be obtained on a weekly basis until April 21, 2021 at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Reports are available from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. This will allow borrowers to monitor whether the lender has inadvertently reported items inaccurately.

Prior to the end of the forbearance period, borrowers should contact their loan servicer, the company that accepts their payments. Review the terms of the forbearance plan and expectations for repayment. Verify the unpaid balance and that there are not any payments marked as late or delinquent during the forbearance period.

One more item to discuss with the loan servicer is the payment of the property taxes and insurance. Since multiple mortgage payments may have been missed and most payments include 1/12 of the annual amounts for these items, there may not be enough to pay for them when they become due.

Since it is estimated that there are over four million borrowers in forbearance currently, it may be difficult to talk to the servicer but starting the process early and being persistent will be helpful.

At the end of forbearance, the borrower needs to resume regular payments and establish a plan with the lender to repay the missed payments. The terms are negotiated between the borrower and the lender.

One way is through a loan modification which can restructure the loan. In some cases, it would add the missed payments to the loan balance and recalculate the payments for the remainder of the term.

A borrower could pay the forbearance money in cash but the practicality of that is not realistic. If the person couldn’t make the payments during forbearance, they probably don’t have the liquidity to pay them afterward. This option is entirely at the buyer’s election.

Forbearance is a temporary way to postpone the mortgage payments with the understanding that you will be able to resume repaying the loan. If the circumstances that caused the issue initially become permanent, then, other remedies must be considered. If there is equity in the property, selling the home may be the way to materialize it for the homeowner.

Please contact us at (303) 880-5585 if you need to know what your home is worth and how long it would take to sell it. We’re happy to provide this information as a service without obligation so you can be aware of your options.

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Building a Pool Is Just the Beginning

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During the first major stay-at-home event that most of us have experienced in this country, a pool can give you and your family enjoyable recreation without leaving the home. For those without a pool, the NPD group reports that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased pool building by 161% this year.

When your children are small, pools become a magnet for not only your children but their friends as well. It can also be a great place for the summer holidays, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Any day during the summer, especially on the weekends, can be an opportunity to enjoy the pool, cook outside and bask in the sun.

Some of you may have even made the transition from your children enjoying the pool to your grandchildren. Usually, there is an interim where you may have wished that your home didn’t have a pool so you would not have the maintenance and required upkeep. Then, the new generation of family starts using it regularly and again, you are glad you have a pool, so you’ll see the grandchildren more.

For those people who don’t have a pool but are considering one, there are some things that you need to think about.

If you’ve watched some of the TV shows like Pool Kings, most of those builds look like resorts or water parks and the price tag that comes with them can be staggering. Even a modest gunite, in-ground pool with a limited amount of decking can be as expensive as a luxury car, especially after including the cost of landscaping and pool furniture.

If you finance the pool as a home improvement, the term will probably be between seven to fifteen years. If you refinance your current mortgage and wrap the cost of the pool together, you could get a 30-year term.

Pool cleaning and chemicals depend on the size of the pool but will generally start at about $175 a month through a service. Your utilities will see an increase because you’re going to use more electricity and water than you did before you had a pool.

Then, of course, there is food and refreshments to consider for not only your family but your guests. There are also pool toys, floats, sunscreen, towels and other minor things that do add up.

People going through the pros and cons of building a pool usually tell themselves that the house will go up in value. It is true but not nearly as much as the cost of the pool. Long time pool owners will tell you that they have had lots of great memories and it has been a good investment in their family. It just may not be a good financial investment.

Once you’ve made the decision to build a pool, find a reputable pool builder, ask for references and check them out. Ask friends who have pools, who built them and would they use the company again. Most pool companies hire and coordinate with subcontractors to do the work. It is important to know that the builder will be around if something goes wrong and how they’ll solve the issue.

The Better Business Bureau has some suggestions about hiring a pool contractor and they warn about scammers who are eager to take advantage of the increased demand for pools.

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Three Reasons to Refinance

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Three reasons to refinance a home include lowering the cost of housing, shortening the term of the mortgage to pay it off sooner or to using the equity to accomplish another purpose.

Replacing the mortgage at a lower interest rate, which is entirely possible in today’s market, would reduce the payment. On the other hand, shortening the term of the mortgage could make the payments increase but would allow the home to be paid for sooner. In either case, the equity would not be reduced unless the refinancing costs were rolled into the new mortgage.

Refinancing the home to take money out would increase the mortgage on the property and lower an owner’s equity; careful consideration should be made before doing so.

Mortgage rates are considerably lower than credit card rates and usually lower than short term borrowing like student loans or car loans. For that reason, homeowners will sometimes refinance to payoff higher cost debt.

Some people refinance for more than their current balance to improve their cash position, possibly, to have funds available in case they need it. Other reasons could be to use it for an investment such as rental property or other things. Still others may use it to make capital improvements on their home like remodeling or a pool.

Another legitimate reason to refinance may be to combine a first and second lien on the home that might result in lower payments and a savings in interest.

One more situation that causes a person to refinance a home is to remove a former spouse or co-borrower from the existing mortgage. In the case of a divorce, a couple may no longer be married and one of the former spouses may have no financial interest in the home any longer but because they signed the note originally, they are still liable along with the other spouse. This could be an untenable position.

There can be a lot of reasons that cause a homeowner to refinance the home. The equity is a valuable asset that has powerful borrowing power combined with the good credit and income of the homeowner. A Refinance Analysis can help you to determine the new payments and how long it will recapture the cost of refinancing.

For the recommendation of a trust lender, give me a call at (303) 880-5585.

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Things Have Changed

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The soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar issued his famous warning “Beware the Ides of March.” Who knew that in 2020, around the middle of March, the world, as we knew it, would force such dramatic changes on us from the Coronavirus.

In America, it has brought our economy to its knees as we sheltered in place for over four months. During this time, changes have affected our lives and many of those changes could be permanent.

Previously, smaller homes were becoming the trend for not only efficiency but upkeep so owners would have more time to do things including travel. Now, travel is minimal and our world, in some respects, is reduced to our home.

For families with children, their home has become a school. With so many people working from home, it has become our office or store or studio. If there is more than one working adult in a home, it needs to have space for each party to work. The home fitness industry is experiencing record sales in exercise equipment so the home can become a gym.

Since we’re all spending more time at home, it is also the place to recreate. We’re cooking more; a larger kitchen and dining area would be nice. We want to enjoy the yard, garden, pool or balcony and our current home may not even have them or we’d like to upgrade.

People are wanting and needing more space to do all of these things at home. Many experts are anticipating that these changes we thought were temporary may be part of the new normal even after a vaccine and cure have been discovered.

If you have had any of these thoughts and would like to know more about how to buy or sell a home in our current market, we would love to tell you about the many options available while being responsible to stay safe. Whether it is buying for the first time, moving up or moving on, I would like to help. Call me at (303) 880-5585.

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