Home Selling


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

Despite repeated highly publicized reports of a home sales slump and pricing slides, there’s a surprising amount of positive consumer sentiment, says RISMedia — and perhaps a good measure of homeowner denial as well: Even in a negative home pricing environment, 77% of homeowners from around the country believe the value of their home has increased or remained the same in 2007, according to a recent Zillow.com survey conducted by Harris Interactive(R).What’s more, sizable fractions of all homeowners — not just those who believe their homes appreciated in 2007 — say they are planning to do things in 2008 — even before the Fed’s latest interest rate cuts – that you might not expect during the housing, construction and credit slumps:

– 82% will spend the same or more on minor home improvements (install new garbage disposal, repaint or wallpaper a room).
– 67% say they will spend the same or more on major home improvements (replace the roof, remodel the kitchen) this year.

– About a third say they are more likely or equally as likely to:
– Take out a home equity loan (35%)
– Refinance their mortgage or take out a second mortgage (36%)
– Sell their homes (34%)

How Bad It Is in the Reality-based World

The Zillow(R) Q3 Home Value Report says U.S. home values dropped 5.7% nationwide year over year (2007 to 2006). Zillow plans to release its Q4 report Feb. 12 and preliminary results indicate home values in most U.S. markets have continued their descent. In a recent report, Merrill Lynch predicted “housing prices will remain in free fall,” declining 15% in 2008 and 10% in 2009, “with more depreciation likely beyond the forecast period,” even if the Federal Reserve continues to cut interest rates.

How Homeowners Perceive the Situation

About a third of homeowners (36%) in the Zillow.com Home Value Survey said their homes had actually increased in value during 2007. Zillow’s Zindex(R) data proves the contrary, showing median value declines across regions as of October 2007.

What’s Driving Homeowner Perception?

“This survey reveals that despite the data to the contrary, people either aren’t paying attention to their housing market or are in denial about their own home’s value,” said Dr. Stan Humphries, Zillow.com vice president of data & analytics. “This likely reflects the fact that most Americans have not realized home-related losses because they’re staying in their homes. Even in declining markets where a greater percentage of new homeowners are underwater on their mortgage, it’s important to remember most people are not really affected by declining values unless they absolutely must sell or need to immediately refinance or withdraw equity. This has contributed to the healthy investment intent, particularly in home upgrades, despite the downward trending markets.”

How to Stay on Top of a Home’s Value?

Zillow recently increased its database of homes with Zestimate valuations to 67 million, which equates to about three out of four U.S. homes. People can easily check a home’s value by visiting Zillow.com and typing in an address. Full Story

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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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According to Iconoculture’s latest consumer observations newsletter, a backlash against Mansion Mania is taking place in America and is seeking to put the squeeze on house size. Here’s what they say is happening and their comments about what this means to business…

WHAT’S HAPPENING

  • More than 300 communities in 33 states have tried to limit both the number of older homes torn down, the number of new homes going up, and the size of additions (ArchRecord.Construction.com 10.10.07). Why? It’s a backlash against McMansion mania.
  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation cites demolition waiting periods, size limits and creation of conservation districts as means some communities have used to limit bloated building.
  • City planners aim to encourage neighborhood collaboration with respect to home values, character and sustainability.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO BUSINESS

  • McMansions and SUVs — they’re flashpoints for ongoing debates about first-world consumption. Get realers want to see their fellow consumers use restraint, even if it has to come via government decree.
  • The current downturn of the housing market helps the mega-house backlash. New home building has slowed or stopped in most communities, as cash-strapped consumers make due with what they have. When the economy picks up again, homebuilders may respond with fewer, more modest constructions.

Full Story

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You’ve all had that experience with a client where you drive up to a house and they don’t even want to go inside. It’s an immediate “un-appeal.” You may know the inside of the house shows much better, but you just can’t convince them to spend the time to even go inside. In today’s market where lots of choices in housing are available to the buyer, why should they?

RISMedia offers us some easy, inexpensive fixes that will help create that outside appeal and get you one giant step further to a sale.

1. Paint or stain the front and garage doors, especially if they show any weathering. These are the first visuals where a potential buyer focuses. If garage doors are metal and dented, they may need to be replaced.

2. Any old, basically abandoned sheds or small structures, must be removed, the area graded and the grass replaced.

3. Change any dated, outside light fixtures.

4. Fix that driveway. If it is blacktop, make sure cracks and crumbling areas are dug out and filled and then the whole driveway sealed. If it is cement, have large cracks filled and repaired professionally. The buyer must at least feel they can drive the moving truck in confidently!

5. Make sure landscaping bricks are in their proper placement. Mowing, weed-whipping sometimes moves them and this is something the homeowner rarely notices, but makes the property look unsightly.

6. Fill in bare dirt under large shade trees. Plant shade-tolerant plants in defined planters or groundcover. Landscape properly for that area.

7. All landscaping beds should be cleaned out and updated for the time of year it is in your region. Place new bedding material down.

8. Have trees and bushes pruned and trimmed. If a bush or tree is looking old or about to expire, remove it and replace it with a similar size and type if you can. If there is a tree limb(s) over the roof, have them removed.

9. If the house needs painting and a full paint job is not in the cards; have it touched up professionally in the worst, most visible spots. Paint shutters and fix them if they are hanging crooked. At least this may help get your client in the front door, even if they negotiate a full paint job into the sale later.

10. If the house is sided, have it power-washed and have gutters and windows cleaned. Window cleaning inside and out makes the house feel updated and fresh, rather than old and dingy.

11. Make sure grass is in good shape, weeds are removed, trimming done regularly. So many sellers fall down on this job the minute the house is listed, and this is critical to selling a house quickly, especially one where the owners have already moved out. In snowy climates, removal must be done regularly too. If owners have moved out, make sure you have an HWA Home Warranty to re-assure buyers.

12. Keep garbage and recycle containers inside the garage, along with all toys and equipment. Make sure the garage is neat and organized. Painted walls and floors also go a long way in this area and are inexpensive to do.

13. Decks should be washed and repainted or re-sealed; plantings around them cleaned, weed-free and looking good. Patio furniture should be in excellent condition. Even though it is in the backyard, this is the area where the family can envision enjoying the warm days and the new yard.

14. If the roof has missing shingles and they can be replaced inexpensively, suggest this be done as it may save negotiation over a completely new roof. Roof repair needs and costs should be minor or the homeowner might as well replace the entire roof.

15. If the homeowner wants to do a bit more, suggest solar lights lining the driveway or installing a more attractive front door with lead glass inserts and replacing plain doorknobs with something more custom.

16. If you have an evening showing, make sure lights are on outside and inside the house. This is warm and inviting.

17. If it’s a holiday season, by all means decorate the home! Just like sugar cookies or vanilla scent on the inside of the house, this really says “it’s a home” and I can see myself enjoying life here! In the least, always have some greenery or flowers for the season on the front step or porch; even a birdbath with a little garden around it says home.

Remember, most home buyers cannot visualize even these simple changes and clean ups in a house and the ones who can, will be looking for a reduced price. So to sell the house at top dollar and quickly, make it “appeal” to the many who will be seeing it rather than the few who are looking for a “fixer upper.” These people know what they want, go after it and need less assistance.

Finally, have neighbors or friends look at the finished results to see if you or the home owner has missed anything key that would be quick and easy to do. Use this article in your listing presentations so they can get started right away on these easy, inexpensive fixes and adapt the ideas to their home. When that home looks fabulous, update that picture on the Internet! This is especially important if the season has changed too and it’s a reward to your client too! Story

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We’ve all seen those fashion faux pas: muscle shirts that only accentuate middle-age spread, or tight, low-cut jeans that turn soccer moms into muffin-top casualties.

According to MSN Real Estate and bankrate.com, you can make a home unfashionable in the same way by choosing the wrong pre-sale improvements.

Few real-estate agents will object to any upgrades made to your house prior to putting it on the market. But rushing ahead with improvements you think will elevate the asking price can seriously deplete financial reserves that should be used to fix more fundamental flaws.

Making targeted improvements

There are age-appropriate makeovers based on the vintage of your home that may yield a faster sale at a better price. Such targeted improvements also save you money when compared to full-monty, state-of-the-art renovations throughout the home.

A great starting point, says Sid Davis, a Salt Lake City real-estate broker and author of “Home Makeovers That Sell,” is to spring for a pre-sale home inspection. At an average cost of $300 to $350, you can find your home’s flaws, have a handyman fix them and document the work in a pre-sale buyer’s folder.

And to uncover the top age-appropriate home improvements and repairs, Bankrate asked Combs, LeForce, Davis and Wendy Patton (co-author of “Making Hard Cash in a Soft Real Estate Market“) to share their suggestions for houses by era: pre-1960s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Here’s a quick list of upgrades for the ages and what you should look for first to avoid a home-makeover misstep:

  • Pre-’60s homes: Add power, check pipes, remove carpeting
  • ’60s homes: Replace windows, update cabinets, evict termites
  • ’70s homes: Update kitchens and baths, lose wild colors
  • ’80s homes: Upgrade countertops, ditch wallpaper, detail
  • ’90s homes: Upgrade appliances, clean or replace carpeting

Read on for the full story and further explainations.

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