Home Buying


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With the constant barrage of negative media surrounding real estate these days, it’s no wonder that newlyweds and other first-time home buyers are putting their dreams of buying their first home on hold. But 2008 promises to be as good a time as any to buy your first home and here’s why:

It’s a buyer’s market

With foreclosures adding houses to a market already hungry for buyers and economists predicting that residential housing sales and prices will not pick up until 2009, sellers who need to sell are lowering prices and often throwing in additional incentives.

Perfect timing is rarely achieved

Although you should educate yourself and use caution when buying into a declining market, a buyer waiting for prices to hit absolute bottom, usually waits too long and then pays the cost of buying into a rising market with increased home prices. If you’re planning on staying put for a while, now is a great time to buy your first home because the market will eventually balance itself and turn once again to a seller’s market and when it does, your home’s value will increase too.

Interest rates are low

Recent Federal Reserve decisions have lowered interest rates yet again making the Federal funds rate drop to 2.25% (down from 5.25% a year ago) and the prime rate drop to 5.25%. And today a Bankrate.com index showed that the national overnight average for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is being offered at 5.74% and a 15-year fixed at 5.09%, both of which are buyer-friendly rates.

Labor and materials are readily available

Even if you don’t qualify for enough financing to buy the home of your dreams due to tightening lending practices, it’s easier than ever to fix-up and maintain properties with the number of home improvement stores, tips, do it yourself classes and handymen readily available. And because new construction has slowed down in most markets and all trades that depend on it are eager for employment, buyers are likely to get better work, done faster and maybe a little cheaper in 2008 than at anytime in the future.  

A need to sell makes sellers flexible

Remember, sellers who don’t need to sell right now generally don’t have their properties for sale. And those who do need to sell tend to be more flexible in negotiations, so buyers should consider proposing terms that ask sellers to help make the deal work beyond just lowering their price. Sellers may have the ability to finance part of the purchase price to make it easier on the buyer, they may be able to fix or replace something that needs updating, and they can always pay more than the customary share of closing costs and taxes.

 

Happy House Hunting!! 🙂

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Green is the new black during this, the final weekend of the 2008 Parade of Homes Spring PreviewSM presented by Builders Association of the Twin Cities’ members.

This year’s Guidebook includes plenty of great Green articles to help us make sense of this growing movement and the homes in this year’s 14-home earth-friendly mini tour are built to showcase Green building practices, products and design, and many of them will host education seminars and other interesting events to give home buyers a better understanding of their Green options.  

Some of the seminars that are taking place this weekend include: “Landscaping for a Green Community”, “Light up Your Home AND Your Energy Bill” and “Geothermal Heating and Cooling: A Systems Approach.” And I’m thinking about checking out an event with eco-friendly design expert, Jackie Kanthak, who will be will answering questions, giving green design ideas, and offering advice on the the hard to find eco-friendly products for the kitchen and bathroom.

Green or not, the homes on parade cover a broad spectrum of prices to fit the needs of every buyer, ranging from the lowest priced home by S.W. Wold Townhomes, Inc. in Cambridge, priced at $119,900, to the most expensive home by Stonewood LLC, located on Loring Drive in Minnetrista and priced at $2,950,000.

So come on out this weekend to take advantage of the longer days and beautiful spring weather that’s rolled our way, and peruse the preview parade!

For more information go to http://www.paradeofhomes.org.

Happy house hunting!!! 🙂

:: Kelly ::

Greetings everyone!

I wanted to take a moment and introduce myself. My name is Kelly Carlson, Marketing Manager for the Don Edam Group, and I’m going to be contributing to this blog (and to the real estate industry in general) in the days to come, from a completely new and different perspective than your typical real estate professional.

Hoping to utilize a trifecta of my favorite hobbies (trend hunting, exploring new places, and trying new things), as well as tapping back into the service journalism and editorial voice that my U of M education once afforded me, my intentions are to keep you posted on all the latest news, statistics, tips, and trends in real estate and to scope out and share with you all of the food and dining, shopping and style, arts and entertainment, health, education, and local events that make our Twin Cities neighborhoods unique and fabulous places to live!

Although I am relatively new as a licensed real estate agent, I’m excited to know that the combination my background, work and educational experience, and personal interests can lend something new to the industry. While my expertise (& nearly a decade of experience!) lies primarily in promotions, marketing, and trend research, I also have 2 years experience as a credit analyst for a local mortgage services company and 4 years experience in title insurance research, giving me a range of knowledge and skill that can only add to our clients’ success.

I get a kick out of being a social anthropologist and spotting changes in consumer behavior, scoping out new trendsetting products and services, and just about any super-smart thinking on where our societies are headed at large. I look forward to developing new and innovative ways of marketing your homes and neighborhoods so that others can see why you called it “home” for so long, and I hope you enjoy the information I can share with you about the people, places, and events that form our great Twin Cities communities.

In the meantime, happy house hunting and speedy sales to all! )

Kelly

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Owning a home tops the dream list for most Americans, and for plenty of good reasons. It’s a shelter for your family, a gathering place for your friends and a good long-term investment.

Tax breaks are also frequently cited as motivation for moving from renting to owning, and there are many ways a home can cut your tax bill.

But, as is often the case with the U.S. tax code, homeownership tax benefits are not always clear-cut. That frequently leads to some bad information floating around.

While myths, half-truths and misconceptions may abound, Bankrate.com has narrowed it down to five that, if you buy into them, could cost you.

1. My mortgage interest will reduce my tax bill.
This is true for the majority of homeowners, but not for all. And this tax break won’t work forever.

To take tax advantage of your home loan’s interest, you must itemize and come up with a total that exceeds your standard amount. On 2007 tax returns, the standard deductions are $5,350 for single taxpayers, $7,850 for head of household filers and $10,700 for married couples who file jointly. These amounts increase a bit each year to account for inflation.

“Given home prices these days, most owners are itemizing,” says Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst with CCH of Riverwoods, Ill. By the time they count mortgage interest, property taxes and other nonhome deductions, such as state taxes and charitable gifts, their itemized totals easily surpass their allowable standard deductions.

But most is not all.

Taxpayers who buy a home late in the year, for instance, might find the standard deduction is more beneficial, at least initially, says Kathy Tollaksen, a CPA at Sikich in Aurora, Ill. In these cases, where you make only a few payments in a tax year, depending on your loan you might not pay much interest, at least not enough to exceed standard amounts.

Timing also could reduce or eliminate other home-related tax breaks.

“Quite a few states have real-estate taxes that are calculated in arrears. That is, they have already been paid or mostly paid (by the seller) by the time you buy,” says Tollaksen. “In the first year, you’re seeing taxes that are someone else’s responsibility so you’re not getting the full tax value of your real-estate taxes.”

The benefit of mortgage interest also could be a myth if you’ve lived in your home for a long time. In this case, you likely are paying more toward your loan’s principal instead of interest. So homeowners at the end of a loan term don’t get much, if any, from this tax break.

Or, as Bob D. Scharin, senior tax analyst and editor of Warren, Gorham & Lamont/RIA’s monthly tax journal “Practical Tax Strategies,” puts it, “Every deductible expense you incur may not produce a deduction.”

2. All costs related to my home are deductible.
There are no two ways about this one. It’s flat-out false.

“Some buyers think, hope, they can write off everything connected with the house,” says Tollaksen. “Not so. Association fees and property-insurance costs are not deductible.”

Neither, in most cases, is private mortgage insurance, which your lender probably required if your down payment was less than 20%. However, a new law changes the deductibility of PMI for mortgages originated or refinanced between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2009.

If you got your mortgage and policy in that time frame, you might be able to deduct your insurance-premium payments. The law also extends beyond private insurance to others, including FHA, VA and rural housing.

There are some limits, though. The PMI deduction is phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $100,000 and is totally eliminated once adjusted gross income reaches $110,000.

Don’t try to deduct basic maintenance, repair or home-improvement costs either.

Tollaksen says, “I’ve had people say, ‘I put a new roof on my home; can I deduct that?’ No.”

If you try to write off these expenses, expect to hear from the Internal Revenue Service and to pay a higher tax bill (and possible penalties and interest) after you refigure your taxes without the disallowed deductions.

However, you still need to keep track of these expenses.

“If you convert the home to rental property or sell it,” she says, “these costs will affect the property’s tax basis.”

A home’s basis is critical when it comes time to sell. And selling is also a tax area in which many people fall for myth No. 3.

3. I must use money from my home sale to buy another residence.
This used to be the only way to get around a tax bill on a home sale. Even then, you were only able to defer taxes by purchasing a new residence of equal or greater value with the profits from your other house. When you sold your final house, you’d owe those long-deferred taxes you had rolled over throughout the years. Home sellers age 55 or older were allowed a once-in-a-lifetime tax exemption of up to $125,000 in sale profit.

But on May 7, 1997, home-sale tax law changed. Still, a decade later, many homeowners are confused about the tax implications of selling.

“I recently heard some neighbors talking about having to buy another house when they sell to avoid the taxes,” says Scharin. “If the last time you sold the house was before 1997, you’re thinking of those old rules.”

Don’t worry. Most taxpayers still get a nice break. Now, if you live in the house for two of the five years before you sell, the IRS won’t collect tax on sale profit of up to $250,000 if you’re single or $500,000 if you and your spouse file a joint return.

“The law change has really affected people’s behavior,” says Luscombe. “Before, it didn’t really matter much whether you sold frequently or held onto your home for a long term. You basically could roll over the gain into a larger home and people could avoid tax until they sold for the final time without putting it into a replacement home.

“Now the law rewards people who sell frequently. In this current market, people who sell every couple of years can get and keep their gain,” Luscombe says. “But people who buy and hold might find they have reached the point where the gain exceeds the exclusion.”

That means they face unexpectedly high tax bills, even at the lower 15% capital-gains rate. The profit could also push them into a higher overall tax bracket, meaning they would make too much to claim some deductions, credits or exemptions. They also might even end up owing alternative minimum tax.

Another problematic consequence, says Luscombe, is that when the new rules took effect, people basically quit keeping records related to their homes.

“They thought: Since we’re never going to be taxed on the sale, there’s no need to keep track of what we paid and what improvements we made,” he says. The improvements add to your home’s basis, which you subtract from the sale price to determine your profit and whether any of it is taxable.

“Now with inflation in the housing market, a lot of people are selling homes in excess of the gains without any way to show that their tax bill should be less,” says Luscombe.

4. Putting my child on my home’s title is a smart tax move.
Worries about taxes on a residence sometimes lead homeowners to fall for this myth. It’s a particularly tricky one, because it combines confusion about residential taxes with the even more complex estate-tax area.

“Sometimes we’ll hear about taxpayers who, in doing some quick back-of-the-envelope estate planning, decide to put their home in the children’s names,” says Tollaksen. “The thinking is: My son or daughter won’t have to worry about this when I die.”

The goals: Avoid probate, keep the home in the family and get the property out of the parent’s estate for those tax purposes. Such a move, however, could produce other tax problems for your children.

Unless the child moves into the newly deeded house with the parent and lives there long enough (two of the previous five years) to make the house the child’s main residence, too, says Tollaksen, the son or daughter won’t get the $250,000 or $500,000 residential tax break when the child later decides to sell. Without establishing primary residency in the house, either before or after the parent passes away, the child’s ownership is viewed as an investment property.

Other parents opt to simply add a child’s name along with theirs on the title to the house, known legally as a joint tenancy. It doesn’t mean that all the owners live in the home, but simply that two or more people hold title to the property.

This, too, can produce tax complications.

Generally, when someone inherits a property, its value is stepped up. That means when the owner dies, the property becomes worth its fair market value that day.

But if the child co-owns the property with his parent, the child doesn’t get to fully use stepped-up basis. Tax law considers the addition of the child’s name to the title as a gift. And, along with that half of the home, the child receives half the basis that his or her parent has in the property.

This is known as the property’s carry-over basis. And it could be costly.

Consider, for example, that you bought your house many years ago and your basis in the property is $50,000. You add your daughter to the title. When you die, she inherits your half of the home, which by then is worth $250,000. A buyer offers $300,000 for the home.

Pretty good deal, right? From a real-estate perspective, yes. But not when it comes to your daughter’s tax bill on the sale.

Rather than owing taxes on just $50,000 more than the house’s stepped-up market value, your daughter will owe on three times that amount. Here’s the math:

Parent owns home with a basis of: $50,000
Parent adds child to title, “giving” child carry-over basis of: $25,000
At parent’s death, house is worth $250,000, producing on the inherited half a stepped-up basis of: $125,000
Home subsequently sells for: $300,000
Child’s total adjusted basis (line 2 plus line 3) is: $150,000
Taxes due on sale profit (line 4 sale price less line 5 basis) of: $150,000

What had been done with the best parental intention turned out to carry a big price because of this homeownership tax myth.

5. If I take a capital loss when I sell my home, I can write it off.
This myth, like No. 2, was probably started by wishful homeowners. Sorry, it’s just as wrong.

It is true that real estate, like any other asset, has the potential to go down as well as up in value. But unlike most of those other holdings, you cannot write off any loss you suffer if you must sell your main residence for less than what you paid.

That’s because your residence, under tax law, is considered personal property.

“When you sell your home for a loss, it’s not like other capital items,” says Scharin. “You don’t get to deduct personal property that you sell for a loss.”

“It’s the same as any personal property that declines in value,” says Luscombe, “like that old TV you sold to the neighbor kid so he could take it to college. You sold it for much less than you paid, but you can’t take a loss.”

You do, however, have to pay tax on gains you make when selling personal property.

But at least you now know the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to your residential property, which will help you make appropriate real-estate and tax decisions in the future. Full Story

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Looking for a commanding view of the collapsing housing market? According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some 138 mountaintop acres next to the landmark Hollywood sign in Los Angeles are going on sale Wednesday for $22 million.

Abutting the largest urban park in the country –- and just west of the giant sign’s H, the property atop Cahuenga Peak has been privately owned for years. Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes bought it before World War II in hopes of building a mountain hideaway for his then-girlfriend Ginger Rogers. She demurred. It passed undeveloped into Mr. Hughes’s estate and was sold in 2002 to Chicago-based Fox River Co. for $1.68 million.

Two years ago, city officials, residents and conservationists launched a fundraising drive to buy the property atop the 1,820-foot-high peak, which affords sweeping views of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and the San Gabriel mountains. Their stated goal was to make the peak part of Griffith Park, the municipal land that practically envelopes it. Safe to say, they didn’t raise anywhere near the current $22 million asking price.

Griffith Park has suffered two damaging wildfires in the past year. Any potential developer is certain to face obstacles getting building permits.

Still, rare hill properties in Los Angeles can attract determined buyers, while the overall housing market remains depressed. In Los Angeles County, notices of default outnumbered home sales in the fourth quarter of 2007, and the median price of homes continues to fall, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla, Calif., real-estate research firm. From the lofty heights of Cahuenga Peak, the view isn’t necessarily rosy. Full Story

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Donating money to charitable causes is all very well and good, but there’s usually an abstractness about it that makes one wonder if the funds are really helping those who need it. According to the folks at Springwise however, a new project by California eco-urban design firm LJ Urban aims to make giving more concrete—quite literally—by matching its sales of homes domestically with funds to build homes in the impoverished African nation of Burkina Faso.

LJ Urban has designed a new eco-urban community of 35 LEED ND Certified homes in the urban core of Sacramento, its home town. The community is suggestively named Good, and for each home within it that gets sold, LJ Urban has committed to funding the complete training of a West African mason to build sustainable homes for families in Burkina Faso. By partnering with the Association La Voûte Nubienne (AVN), which has already trained about 60 local masons to build durable homes out of earth bricks and mortar, LJ Urban aims to go beyond just providing homes to impart enduring skills and jobs to the local community. Taking the notion a step further, LJ Urban has also opted to skip the expensive marketing campaign to promote its Good community, and to use that money to train more African masons instead. So, for every 100,000 people who visit LJ Urban’s new, dedicated website by July 1st, the company will fund the complete training of another local Burkina Faso mason—up to 20 in all through this viral approach.

The Good project was inspired by Toms Shoes, a project that donates a pair of shoes for every one it sells. “[That] approach captivated us because it broke through the ‘charity fatigue’ all of us have felt at one time or another,” LJ Urban’s team explains. “The question then became: ‘What if we could do something like that with our houses?’…” The project is also reminiscent of One Laptop Per Child’s (OLPC’s) “Give One Get One” campaign last year through which consumers could donate a laptop and get one for their own use at the same time.  www.dosomegoodnow.com

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According to RISMedia, another batch of dismal housing data hit the economy Tuesday, including worsening foreclosure rates, piling more pressure on the government to take action that could help pull real estate out of its tailspin.

“We’re still in the middle of all this,” said Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Home Loans in Livonia, Mich., “I would expect the data to get worse before it gets better.”

The numbers, in three reports released Tuesday, showed that:

More than 1% of all U.S. households were in some stage of foreclosure last year, a significant increase, according to RealtyTrac, a housing data firm;
Home values took a major swoon, with prices in a 20-city index tracked by Standard & Poor’s declining by a record 7.7% in November. The study said Chicago-area prices that month were 3.9% lower than the year before;
The rate of homeownership saw its biggest one-year drop on record, and the number of vacant homes climbed to 2.18 million from 2.07 million, the Census Bureau reported.

The numbers likely mean that the decline has further to go, observers said. Full Story

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