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February 2017 - Hoeting Realtors

Get Ahead of the Spring Buying Season

It’s February and snow is still covering much of the country, but the spring buying season is just around the corner. Wage increases and low inventory in many U.S. markets is making this year particularly advantageous for home sellers.

Read more: 5 Money-Saving Tips for Spring House Projects

Brokers who are looking for sales meeting fodder can offer agents these tips from Century 21 Real Estate’s Chief Operating Officer Greg Sexton, which will help sellers get their homes ready to win over buyers.

1. Repairs. A seller may need to do work to their house before putting it on the market. Agents could suggest that a seller get a home inspection before listing the property, which will help identify problem areas and repairs that need to take place. “Take a look at the home with a critical eye and eliminate any issues a home inspector may discover – make sure all items are up to code, seal any cracks, and fix a leaky roof,” Sexton says.

2. Landscaping. It’s never too early in the season to think about curb appeal. Offer sellers tips for sprucing up landscaping, such as trimming hedges and cleaning up flowerbeds. Add a pop of color with cold-hardy plants.

3. Declutter. One of the easiest ways to prep a home for sale is decluttering. This may include removing family photos, papers, even furniture to help make the interior of a home look more spacious and allow potential buyers to picture themselves living in the home. The walls may also need a new coat of paint to come alive.

4. Finances. Agents should be aware of any financial obstacles that may come into play, Sexton says, whether it’s liens on the house or a second mortgage, which would be paid from the seller’s proceeds upon sale. Prepping a home for the market also includes talking to clients about their goals and setting realistic expectations, he adds.

—Erica Christoffer, REALTOR® Magazine

Consumers Will Compromise to Buy Homes

Consumers view homeownership as a priority and say they’re willing to make significant compromises in order to purchase a home, according to a survey of more than 1,000 consumers considering a home purchase in 2017, conducted by the online brokerage firm Owners.com.

Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents say they’re concerned they won’t have enough cash for a down payment in order to buy a home. As such, they’re willing to forgo some financial goals and investments to make sure they save enough.

Respondents said that saving for a home takes priority over saving for an emergency (61 percent) or contributing to retirement funds (60 percent). Seventy-two percent of survey respondents said they would limit their contributions to other investment funds in order to save enough to buy a home.

Surveyed consumers also say they’re willing to compromise on some elements of the home if it means they can move into a home this year. For example, 51 percent said they would consider buying a fixer-upper, and 36 percent said they would purchase a smaller home than what they desire.

Source: “Americans Are Making Big Compromises to Buy Homes,” USA Today (Feb. 1, 2017)

Are You Getting the Home Tax Deductions You’re Entitled To?

By: Dona DeZube

Published: January 12, 2016

Here are the tax tips you need to get a jump on your returns.

Owning a home can pay off at tax time.

Take advantage of these home ownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:

Mortgage Interest Deduction

One of the neatest deductions itemizing homeowners can take advantage of is the mortgage interest deduction, which you claim on Schedule A. To get the mortgage interest deduction, your mortgage must be secured by your home — and your home can be a house, trailer, or boat, as long as you can sleep in it, cook in it, and it has a toilet.

Interest you pay on a mortgage of up to $1 million — or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately — is deductible when you use the loan to buy, build, or improve your home.

If you take on another mortgage (including a second mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit) to improve your home or to buy or build a second home, that counts towards the $1 million limit.

If you use loans secured by your home for other things — like sending your kid to college — you can still deduct the interest on loans up $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) because your home secures the loan.

Prepaid Interest Deduction

Prepaid interest (or points) you paid when you took out your mortgage is generally 100% deductible in the year you paid it along with other mortgage interest.

If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.

But if you refinance to get a better rate or shorten the length of your mortgage, or to use the money for something other than home improvements, such as college tuition, you’ll need to deduct the points over the life of your mortgage. Say you refi into a 10-year mortgage and pay $3,000 in points. You can deduct $300 per year for 10 years.

So what happens if you refi again down the road?

Example: Three years after your first refi, you refinance again. Using the $3,000 in points scenario above, you’ll have deducted $900 ($300 x 3 years) so far. That leaves $2,400, which you can deduct in full the year you complete your second refi. If you paid points for the new loan, the process starts again; you can deduct the points over the life of the loan.

Home mortgage interest and points are reported on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

Your lender will send you a Form 1098 that lists the points you paid. If not, you should be able to find the amount listed on the HUD-1 settlement sheet you got when you closed the purchase of your home or your refinance closing.

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Property Tax Deduction

You can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account, the amount of real estate property taxes you paid shows up on your annual escrow statement.

If you bought a house this year, check your HUD-1 settlement statement to see if you paid any property taxes when you closed the purchase of your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.

PMI and FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums

You can deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance (PMI) as mortgage interest on Schedule A if you itemize your return. The change only applies to loans taken out in 2007 or later.

What’s PMI? If you have a mortgage but didn’t put down a fairly good-sized down payment (usually 20%), the lender requires the mortgage be insured. The premium on that insurance can be deducted, so long as your income is less than $100,000 (or $50,000 for married filing separately).

If your adjusted gross income is more than $100,000, your deduction is reduced by 10% for each $1,000 ($500 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) that your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). So, if you make $110,000 or more, you can’t claim the deduction (10% x 10 = 100%).

Besides private mortgage insurance, there’s government insurance from FHA, VA, and the Rural Housing Service. Some of those premiums are paid at closing, and deducting them is complicated. A tax adviser or tax software program can help you calculate this deduction. Also, the rules vary between the agencies.

Vacation Home Tax Deductions

The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes are complicated. Do yourself a favor and keep good records about how and when you use your vacation home.

If you’re the only one using your vacation home (you don’t rent it out for more than 14 days a year), you deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A.

Rent your vacation home out for more than 14 days and use it yourself fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), and it’s treated like a rental property. Your expenses are deducted on Schedule E.

Rent your home for part of the year and use it yourself for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days you rent it and you have to keep track of income, expenses, and allocate them based on how often you used and how often you rented the house.

Homebuyer Tax Credit

This isn’t a deduction, but it’s important to keep track of if you claimed it in 2008.

There were federal first-time homebuyer tax credits in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

If you claimed the homebuyer tax credit for a purchase made after April 8, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2009, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years, with no interest.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe each year until it’s paid off. Or if the home stops being your main home, you may need to add the remaining unpaid credit amount to your income tax on your next tax return.

Generally, you don’t have to pay back the credit if you bought your home in 2009, 2010, or early 2011. The exception: You have to repay the full credit amount if you sold your house or stopped using it as primary residence within 36 months of the purchase date. Then you must repay it with your tax return for the year the home stopped being your principal residence.

The repayment rules are less rigorous for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community workers who got sent on extended duty at least 50 miles from their principal residence.

Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

The Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credit lets you claim a credit for installing energy-efficient home systems. Tax credits are especially valuable because they let you offset what you owe the IRS dollar for dollar, in this case, for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain upgrades.

The credit carries a lifetime cap of $500 (less for some products), so if you’ve used it in years past, you’ll have to subtract prior tax credits from that $500 limit. Lucky for you, there’s no cap on how much you’ll save on utility bills thanks to your energy-efficiency upgrades.

Among the upgrades that might qualify for the credit:

  • Biomass stoves
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
  • Insulation
  • Roofs (metal and asphalt)
  • Water heaters (non-solar)
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

File IRS Form 5695 with your return.

Related: A Homeowner’s Guide to Taxes

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

When Should Buyers Lock in a Mortgage Rate?

A rate lock helps protect your buyers from fluctuating mortgage rates as they’re getting ready to buy a home. It locks in the interest rate for a loan for a certain period of time until the buyer makes it to closing. Your buyers will know what to expect and won’t then fall mercy to a week of rising rates, for example. However, if rates dip, they could get stuck paying a higher rate too. So it can be a catch-22.

Here is when your buyers likely will want to lock in their mortgage rate right away:

1. An offer has been made, accepted, and is under contract. Many lenders will lock in a rate for free for 30 days. But you may want to lock in for longer, for example, if the buyer is giving sellers more time to find a home or if they’re self-employed and a lender needs longer in underwriting their loan. As such, lock-ins are also available for 90 days, 120 days, or even 150 days. But expect to pay to get longer lock in periods.

2. Interest rates are rising. If interest rates are trending higher, lock in sooner rather than later, say mortgage experts.

3. Interest rates are volatile. If interest rates are going both up and down, buyers may want to lock in sooner for greater stability during their house hunt. “Rates today are unusually volatile—they are making large moves up and down in short periods of time,” says Joe Parsons, a loan officer at Caliber Home Loans in Dublin, Calif. “For this reason, prudent borrowers are locking their rates early in the process.”

4. You may not qualify for a loan otherwise. A buyer may need to lock in a rate sooner if they are borrowing near their limits. A fluctuation in rate could prevent them from getting their loan approved. For instance, if a higher interest rate pushes a buyer’s monthly mortgage payment above a 28 percent threshold (most lenders believe a house payment should be no greater than 28 percent of your gross monthly income) then a lender may not approve her for a mortgage.

“An early rate lock means there are no hidden surprise down the road,” says Mark Livingstone, president of Cornerstone First Financial, a mortgage lender in Washington, D.C.

Source: “When to Lock in Mortgage Rates: 4 Signs It’s Time,” realtor.com® (Jan. 23, 2017)