Homeownership and the Three M’s

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Homes are valuable assets and must be maintained so they function properly, are safe, enjoyable and hold their value. Attention to maintenance, minimizing expenses and managing debt & risk will protect your investment.

Maintenance

It is interesting that people understand the necessity to maintain a car and regularly have the car inspected, repaired and do regular maintenance. Even though a house could be worth many times more than a car, homeowners regularly neglect what should be routine maintenance.

Failure to maintain a home properly adversely affects the value. Many times, buyers will discount the price they are willing to pay for a home more than the actual cost of the repair or expenditure. A home in good condition instills confidence while a home in less than good condition generates concern about unknown items that may also need repair.

HVAC systems, as well as appliances, run more efficiently when they are maintained which will result in lower utility bills. Another big benefit is that small items in need of repairs, many times, turn into more expensive repairs or having to replace the items completely.

For example, failure to replace the air filters regularly could lead to a more expensive repair like having to clean the coils or it could even lead to a larger issue like burning out a HVAC motor. In this example, the aggregate cost of replacing the filters is much less than the cost of a new furnace or A/C unit.

It can be more expensive to fix something that is not working rather than rather than prevent it from failing by regularly maintaining it.

Minimize Expenses

Every dollar you spend on maintenance, increases your cost of housing. Some maintenance items may be easily done yourself and you’ll save the cost of having a professional do them, like changing the filters. However, the list of minimizing expenses goes way beyond maintenance.

Replacing all your light bulbs with energy efficient alternatives like LEDs is a great example. In the spirit of Ben Franklin’s adage that "a penny saved is a penny earned", every dollar you save on utilities lowers your overall cost of housing.

Windows and doors whose seals are not adequate, or a home not properly insulated could be using considerably more energy than necessary. The cost of making these adjustments could be recaptured in utility savings in a short period of time.

Knowing the right service providers can be a big source of savings as well as give you peace of mind. Your real estate professional has developed a wide range of trusted service providers who are both reputable and reasonable. You should feel comfortable asking for a recommendation whenever you need one.

Manage Debt & Risk

Refinancing your home to get a lower interest rate can be a big savings but you’ll need to analyze it to determine how long it will cost you to recapture the cost involved. A Refinance Analysis calculator can help.

Other cost-saving items could be investigating multi-policy discounts for insurance, lowering your property tax assessment, low-flow toilets, smart thermostats, unplugging small appliances when not in use, and adjusting the temperature on HVAC units and water heaters.

While you are talking to your insurance agent about possible discounts, ask about your liability coverage also. Homeowner policies have a stated amount of coverage, but your financial situation or exposure may indicate that you need to increase those amounts. Generally, homeowners with pools or boats have increased risk and you’ll want to ask your agent about your other extracurricular activities.

Owning a home has a lot of responsibility and having a good source of information is valuable. Your real estate professional is uniquely qualified to be your source of credible real estate information. If you are wondering why they would be helpful even when you are not buying or selling a home, it is because they want to establish long-term relationships so that whenever you need their help or services, not only will you feel comfortable asking but that you’ll feel confident to refer them to your friends.

Will Selling Your Home Increase Your Tax Bill?

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With home prices rising 20% nationwide in the past year and in some markets, even dramatically more, many homeowners are excited about the equity in their homes. In the past, most homeowners were not concerned about profit from the sale being taxed but some may be surprised.

The profit homeowners make on the sale of their homes have enjoyed a generous exclusion. Since 1997, for qualified sales, single taxpayers exclude up to $250,000 of capital gain and married taxpayers filing jointly, can exclude up to $500,000 of gain.

Prior to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, homeowners over the age of 55 were only allowed a once in a lifetime exclusion of $125,000. The new rule greatly increased the amount of excluded profit to the extent that most homeowners did not think about paying tax on the profit from their principal residences.

Section 121, commonly called the Home Sale Tax Exclusion, requires that you owned and used the property as your principal residence for two out of the previous five years. This allows for a temporary rental of the property and still be able to qualify for the exemption. It can be claimed only once every two years.

Cost basis is determined by Purchase Price plus certain closing costs at acquisition plus capital improvements made to the home during ownership. Sales price, less selling expenses, is considered net sales price from which the cost basis is subtracted to arrive at capital gains on the sale.

If the capital gain is less than the applicable exclusion, no tax is owed. When the gain exceeds the exclusion amount, the overage is taxed at long-term capital gains rate which could be 0%, 15% or 20% depending on the taxpayer’s taxable income.

Capital improvements made to a home increase the cost basis and effectively, lower the gain in the sale. It is important for homeowners to keep records of the money they spend during the time they own the home.

Some improvements are apparent like a swimming pool, new fence, or roof but some are not so obvious. Replacing a faucet or a light fixture can be a capital improvement and even though the cost is small, lots of these items over the lifetime of owning the home add up.

The three rules for identifying capital improvements listed in IRS publication 523 are: 1) does it materially add value to the property? 2) does it extend the useful life of the property? 3) does it adapt a portion of the home to a new use?

While taxpayers are allowed to reconstruct a register of the improvements made during the time they owned their home, some things will undoubtedly, be overlooked. It is much better to have a written record of all money spent on the home in a contemporaneous manner and keep receipts for items over $75.

It is better to have the record of all items available when you are ready to make the capital gain determination. You’ll save time and probably pay less taxes having the list readily available whether you do your taxes or have a professional do them.

For more information, download the Homeowners Tax Guide.

Buying a Home…Ask for a CLUE Report

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People purchasing a used car have most likely heard of CARFAX vehicle history reports to help them avoid buying a car with costly hidden problems. Less likely are buyers to know that there is a way to discover some of the repair history of homes they are interested in.

Lexis Nexis C.L.U.E. (Claims Loss Underwriting Exchange) is a claims history database that enables insurance companies to access consumer claims for the previous seven years when they are underwriting a risk or rating an insurance policy.

An insurance underwriter could identify a previous claim for substantial damage to a property and try to find out whether the repairs were completed properly before assuming the risk as a new insurer. Similarly, a buyer could benefit from knowledge of former claims that may affect the value of the property or possible, future repairs.

A CLUE report can discover insurance claims on a home to investigate whether the repairs were done properly. These reports are not directly available to potential buyers, but their property casualty insurance agent could order a report subject to successful negotiations with the seller to agree on a contract of sale.

If a buyer had a CLUE report on a home that they were buying and were concerned about specific issues, the buyer could address those things with the inspector during the inspection period. Conversely, the CLUE Report could detect items that may not be visible during a home inspection.

In some cases, a listing agent might suggest a seller get a CLUE report in the spirit of full disclosure to potential buyers. Even if there were claims and the work was done properly, a high number of claims could affect the premium paid by a new homeowner.

A current homeowner can request one free CLUE report every twelve months consumer.documents. Please be ready to provide your first and last name, social security number, driver’s license number and state in which it was issues, date of birth, current home address and phone number. For more information, see Lexis Nexis Consumer Portal.

If a buyer doesn’t have a property casualty insurance agent, your real estate agent can recommend one.

Coordinating the Sale and Purchase of Your Home

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Usually, it is easier to buy a home than to sell a home but that isn’t necessarily the case currently. In today’s market, it can be scary to sell your home before buying another because you could find yourself without a home.

Most sellers will not accept a contingency on the sale of a buyer’s home in today’s market. So, let’s look at some of the alternatives that homeowners are using to facilitate the transactions.

If you have the income, credit, and cash available, the replacement home can be purchased with a new 80-90% loan-to-value mortgage and sell the existing home after you have moved into the new home. This would require making two payments for a while but probably gives the seller the least amount of pressure to find the replacement property before the existing one is put on the market.

If the mortgage on the new home has the option to recast the payment, additional down from the equity in the previous home after it sells would lower the payments without causing any additional expense to refinance.

Another alternative may be available if your home has enough equity to borrow against it in a Home Equity Line of Credit or a bridge loan. This type of loan is generally made by banks who will loan qualified owners up to 80% of the appraised value less the current mortgages on the property. Freeing up the equity in your existing home will give you a down payment for purchasing the new home before you sell the previous one.

If a seller has assets in qualified retirement programs, it is possible to do temporary loans against them to facilitate the interim purchase. There can be penalties on some of these if they are not repaid in a timely manner. It would be good to investigate with your tax professional to see if this is a viable option.

Hard money lenders provide a source that will be more common to investors than homeowners. These types of loans are generally approved and funded quickly, have less requirements than bank loans and provide funding for projects that cannot be financed elsewhere. Interest rates are higher than bank loans, are written for short terms (1-2 years), and usually require 25-30% down payment or equity.

Power Buyers and iBuyers offer to purchase your home for cash and provide a quick closing. Deeper investigation into these options may reveal that you will not receive the full equity of your home because they have to discount the home to cover the expenses they will incur as a seller.

In today’s very complicated market, the value of a real estate professional representing your best interests, providing you advice, options and experience has never been greater. While there are similarities in transactions, each one is unique, and you certainly need a professional to be guiding you through the process.

Agents are trained and experienced in coordinating the purchase and sale of homes. This can be especially beneficial in navigating unfamiliar waters.

A New Opportunity for Homebuyers

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You may not have heard of anyone assuming an existing mortgage for over thirty years and didn’t know they were even possible any longer. The reason is simple, it didn’t make financial sense but now that interest rates are increasing, it may be an opportunity for some homebuyers.

Conventional loans added clauses to mortgages back in the early 80’s that gave the noteholder the right to raise the interest rate if a loan was assumed, as well as require the new buyer to qualify for the loan. This essentially ended the practice of assuming conventional mortgages.

Then, in the late 80’s, FHA and VA mortgages did impose the right to qualify the new buyers, but the big difference was that the mortgage rate would remain the same as the original borrower. Even so, it still effectively ended the assumptions of FHA and VA mortgages because rates on mortgages trended down for the next thirty years.

There was really no benefit to assume a mortgage that still required qualifying because it was possible to obtain a new mortgage with a lower rate. Generations of buyers have never even contemplated assuming a mortgage but now, in 2022, it might well be an alternative that will lower the cost of buying a home.

Mortgage rates hit a bottom in early 2021 and have been increasing since, this year especially.

Since qualifying is required for assuming an FHA or VA mortgage and only owner-occupants are eligible, you might be asking what are the benefits? If the interest rate on the existing mortgage is less than the rate on a new mortgage, there could be a savings.

In addition to that, there are fewer closing costs involved on assumptions of FHA and VA mortgages than originating new mortgages. Another benefit is that assuming an existing mortgage will be further into the amortization schedule than a new one which means equity-buildup occurs faster. And finally, lower interest rate loans amortize faster than higher rate loans.

The rub in this situation is that many buyers don’t have enough money to purchase an equity but there is a remedy for that. Let’s assume the buyer was considering a 90% conventional loan. If they identified a home with an assumable mortgage, they could put the same 10% down payment in cash, subtract the existing mortgage balance from what would be the 90% new mortgage and secure a second mortgage for the difference.

There are lenders that make this type of loan and buyers need to shop and compare rates and fees on them just like they would if they were getting a new first mortgage. Your agent can suggest lenders for second mortgages.

Most search filters on portal websites do not include assumable mortgages. You will need to rely on your agent to ferret them out. If the agent you are working with hasn’t suggested assumptions, it may be that they are unaware of their existence.

Cost of Waiting to Buy in Both Price and Interest Rates

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Have you ever been shopping on a website where you were looking at something that was on sale? You were interested in it but there wasn’t a sense of urgency and maybe, you had a lot going on and didn’t get back to it for a few days. When you did go back to the website, the price on the item had returned to its regular price.

How did you feel? Did you go ahead and purchase it for the current price? How did that make you feel knowing that if you had acted more decisively, you would have saved money and had the product by now?

In 2021, homes across the United State went up 19.1% on average. There were some markets where the prices soared 30 to 40%. Fortunately, last year the mortgage rates did remain relatively stable but that isn’t the situation this year, in 2022.

At the end of 2021, economists from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, felt like prices would go up around 7% for 2022. The Mortgage Bankers Association and the Home Price Expectation Survey predicted more like 5% and Zelman Research and the National Association of REALTORS´┐Ż forecast closer to 3%.

While the number of sales did decline at the end of February 2022 to 7.2% month-over-month and 2.4% year-over-year, that could be explained as a lack of houses for sale. In the same month, inventory was 1.7 months which is down from 2 months in February 2021. The median sales price had a year over year increase of 15.0% to $357,300.

The Fed had their first of what may be four or five interest rate hikes this year to try and get control of the inflation rate. We have already seen mortgage rates at the 4.5% price and that is for borrowers with the best credit. Those with less than sterling credit can expect to pay more.

It is anyone’s guess at where rates will end a year from now, but many experts think this decade of low rates is over and we’ll not likely to see them again.

There is a pent-up demand for houses to buy and an urgency to buy before the rates get higher. If a buyer waits a year to purchase a home but the price goes up by 5% and the interest rate goes up by 1%, it will have a dramatic effect on the payment.

5% price increase 10% price increase
Sales Price $400,000 $420,000 $440,000
Mortgage $360,000 $378,000 396,000
Current Rate vs Possible 1.00% increase 4.5% 5.5% 5.5%
Monthly Payment $1,824 $2,146 $2,248
Payment Difference $322.18 $424.38
Additional Cost for 7 years $27,063 $35,648
Additional Cost for 30 years $115, 983 $152,776

If the appreciation is closer to 10% increase, the negative effect of waiting is exacerbated.

The equity in a person’s home contributes greatly to their overall net worth and wealth position. The effect is very apparent in contrast to renters compared to homeowners whose net worth is 1/40th of the homeowners $300,000 or $8,000 for the renters.

As people stair step their way into larger homes to not only meet their increasing demands but also to enjoy the amenities of a nicer home, the equity will continue to grow based on two dynamics: appreciation and equity-build up. The renters do not benefit from either of these.

To run your own comparison, using your own numbers and what you believe will happen in the marketplace, go to Cost of Waiting to Buy. If you haven’t developed a plan to purchase in today’s market whether it be your first home or a move-up, you need facts and a trusted team of professionals to work for you.

It starts with finding an agent who will be as committed to find your home as you are. We would love to help you or your friends. It is what we do.

Why a Home Should Be Your First Investment

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Real estate has been described as the basis of all wealth. Without considering income or investment property, buying a home to live in is an incredibly powerful way to build wealth or financial net worth.

A home is an asset measured by the size of the equity. Equity is simply the difference between the value of the home and the amount owed. There are two powerful dynamics at work to increase the equity which include appreciation and amortization.

Appreciation occurs when the fair market of the home increases. The shortage of available inventory coupled with high demand has contributed to an 18% increase in value in the past year on average for homeowners in the U.S.

Most mortgage loans are amortized with monthly payments that include the interest that is owed for the previous month and an increasing amount that is paid toward the principal loan amount so that if all the payments are made, the loan would be repaid by the end of the term.

A 30-year mortgage at 3.5% interest on a $400,000 loan amount would have a principal and interest payment of $1,796.18 every month for 30 years. After the interest is applied from the first payment, $629.51 would reduce the loan amount, thereby, increasing the owners’ equity.

Each succeeding payment would have an increasingly larger amount applied to the principal and a decreasingly lower amount applied to interest.

Recently, CoreLogic reported that homeowners with mortgages have seen their equity increase 29.3% since the second quarter of 2020. Equity rich is defined as when combined loans secured by a property are no more than 50% of estimated market value. ATTOM reported that 42% of mortgaged homes in the U.S. are considered equity rich as of the fourth quarter of 2021.

Another advantage of this powerful asset is that borrowing money against the equity of your home is a non-taxable event. Regardless of whether it is a refinance or a home equity loan, the borrowed money is not income and not taxable.

A homeowner could stay in the home for years and as the home increases in value due to appreciation, they could borrow against their equity as many times as the value will justify. They could continue to pull money out of their home for decades and under the current tax law, they could die and will the home to their heirs who would receive a step up in basis and the taxes would never have to be recognized.

Lastly, let’s consider the home as an investment by looking at the rate of return. Obviously, it is a personal asset that the homeowner will be able to live in, enjoy, raise a family, and share with their friends. In calculating the rate of return, we consider a $375,000 home with a 3.00% 30-year FHA mortgage with a 3.5% down payment. Using an annual appreciation of 3% and normal amortization, the $13,125 down payment in this home turns into a $148,062 equity in seven years. The rate of return calculated is over 40% per year for the seven-year holding period.

Even if you discounted the ROI by half for all the unforeseen other expenses that may affect the real equity, it is still a 20% return on investment which could easily justify why purchasing a home should be your first investment.

It is challenging, particularly in some markets with low inventory, multiple offers, rising prices and increasing interest rates, but the advantages of owning a home are significant. Would-be homeowners need the facts about their market and how to get into a home. Start with downloading the Buyers Guide and make an appointment with a trusted real estate professional.

Paying Points to Lower the Rate

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Two commonly known ways to lower your mortgage payments are to make a larger down payment especially if it eliminates private mortgage insurance and improve your credit score before applying for a mortgage.

Another way to lower your payment would be to buy down the interest rate for the life of the mortgage with discount points. A discount point is one percent of the mortgage borrowed. Lenders collect this fee up-front to increase the yield on the note in exchange for a lower interest rate.

A permanent buy down on a fixed-rate mortgage is available to borrowers who are willing to pay discount points at the time of closing.

Let’s look at two options on a $315,000 mortgage for 30 years at 4% interest with no points compared to a 3.75% interest rate with one-point. The principal and interest payment on the 4% loan would be $1,503.86 compared to $1,458.81 on the 3.75% loan.

The $45.04 savings is available because the buyer is willing to pay $3,150 in points. By dividing the monthly savings into the points paid, you can determine the breakeven point. In this example, if the buyer is planning to stay in this home for at least 70 months, they would recapture the cost of the points and each month after that would be savings.

Another interesting thing to consider is that lower interest rate loans amortize faster; in other words, they build equity faster by paying off the loan sooner. If the buyer stayed in the home for 10 years, their unpaid balance in this same example would be $2,117.38 lower than the 4% mortgage. Combine that with the $2,259.29 in savings from the breakeven point to the end of 10 years and the buyer, in this situation, is $4,372.67 better off buying down the mortgage by paying the additional points.

For a person buying a home, it may be difficult to come up with the extra amount for the points but one benefit is that the points paid are considered interest by IRS and can be deducted in the year paid.

A rule of thumb commonly used is that one discount point lowers the quoted mortgage rate by ┬╝% or 25 basis points. A lender may quote X% + .6 points for a mortgage. Using this scenario, to lower the mortgage rate by .25%, the buyer would need to pay 1.6 points. It is important to note that each lender determines the pricing of points for the loans they make.

It may be beneficial to a buyer to pay points depending on how long they plan on being in that home. To help you determine whether paying points should be considered, use this Will Points Make a Difference and download the Buyers Guide

I wish I knew then…

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We have all heard this expression that implies that had a person known earlier in life what they know now, they would have done things differently. The subject possibilities are endless While no one has a crystal ball to see into the future, it may be possible to learn from people who have experienced similar situations.

In the late sixties, mortgage rates hit 8.5% but before the decade had finished, the rates had come down to 7% where they stayed for some time. Homeowners who purchased at the higher rate, could buy a larger, more expensive home for the same payment if they could get out from under the obligation of their existing mortgage.

FHA and VA mortgages, up until the late 80’s, could be assumed by anyone, regardless of credit worthiness. Since these homes were purchased one or two years earlier, the sellers didn’t really have much equity in them, and many homeowners were willing to “give” them to investors so they could qualify on a new, lower rate mortgage.

It was a fantastic opportunity for investors who could afford the negative cash flow because the homes wouldn’t rent for the payment. As the 70’s economy, started heating up, so did inflation. Most people consider inflation an undesirable thing but for people who owned rental property, it meant the values were going up and so were the rents.

Soon, the rentals no longer had negative cash flows and the investments turned the corner. If you talk to investors who purchased those homes during that period, you’ll very likely hear, “I should have bought more of them.”

If we could fast forward into the future to see how people will be talking about the period we’re currently in, we might see an even greater opportunity in our present time. Interest and mortgage rates have been on a downward trend for thirty years. In the past ten years, they hit an historic low. They are trending up currently and it appears they will continue to do so.

Homes are in short supply which has caused the prices to go up. Builders haven’t returned to the number of new units needed to meet demand and that has been going on for over ten years. Even when the supply does increase, it will take a long time to catch up with demand.

Combine that with supply chain shortages due to the pandemic and prices look like they are unaffordable. Many millennials and some Gen Xers believe the “window of opportunity” has closed.

For tenants, rents are continuing to increase due to the same causes that home prices are increasing. Buyers, by acting now, can lock in their mortgage rate and the purchase price of the home. As prices continue to increase and the amortization of the mortgage pays down the unpaid balance, homeowners’ equity increases and so does their net worth.

Unfortunately, for tenants, the rents will continue to rise, along with prices which will make it more difficult in the future to purchase. Their rent is used to pay the landlord’s mortgage who benefits in the principal reduction for each payment made.

The market is changing and people who don’t own a home currently must find a way to buy one. The longer they wait, the harder it will be to buy one.

People wanting to purchase a home in today’s market must educate themselves with facts and not hearsay. There are all sorts of programs available to address low down payments, varieties of mortgages, credit issues and other things.

It starts by meeting with a real estate professional who can recommend a trusted mortgage professional. Download our Buyers Guide and check out your numbers using the Rent vs. Own.

Your Home is a Hedge Against Inflation

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The concern about inflation is the sustained upward movement in the overall price of goods and services while the purchasing value of money decreases. Tangible assets like your home consistently become more valuable over time. In inflationary periods, your home is a good investment and a hedge against inflation.

Money in the bank loses purchasing power due to inflation and the interest you may be earning is almost always less than inflation.

Home prices are going up but so is rent. With mortgage rates near historic lows, the interest is, generally, less than the appreciation the property is enjoying. Combine this with the leverage that occurs using borrowed funds to control an asset and your equity is most likely, growing at a faster rate than inflation.

A 90% mortgage at 3.5% for 30-years on a $400,000 home that appreciates at 4% a year will have an estimated equity of $220,000 in seven years due to appreciation and amortization. That is a 27.5% annual rate of return on the down payment. That is a significant hedge against a current inflation of 4%.

If a person were to put that same $40,000 in a certificate of deposit that earned 2%, it would be worth only $45,947 in seven years. If it was invested in the stock market that earned 7% annually, the $40,000 would grow to $64,231. The equity in the example for the home would be almost 3.5 times larger.

The assets that are considered to be good bets against inflation include some bonds, gold and other commodities and real estate. Another distinct advantage of investing in a home is that you would be able to live there with your family and enjoy it which is not possible with bonds and commodities.

There are certainly other considerations in a comparison like this such as maintenance, but it could be offset, at least partially, by the cost of housing being less than you would be paying for comparable rent. And with the shortage of rental units available, the rent will certainly continue to increase annually where your housing costs are fixed with the exceptions of increases in property taxes and insurance.