Tag Archives: buying a home

5 Things to Consider When Shopping for an Investment Property

Real estate investments can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Passive income, stability, return on investment, tax benefits, appreciation – the financial advantages of hold-to-rent real estate can’t be denied. Understanding what type of investment property you’re looking for and who your target renters will be is essential in delivering a desirable product to the rental market.

 

Focus on these five critical criteria when shopping for an investment property to ensure your money works for you.

 

1. Desirable location. Location, location, location. In real estate, that timeless phrase holds true. Your property’s location will ultimately determine the overall success of your investment, affecting the amount of rent you can charge, the types of renters applying and your vacancy rate. Offering a rental surrounded by attractive amenities, shopping, convenient traffic routes, parks, entertainment and more will draw a steady stream of prospective tenants.

 

Before purchasing, research the local school ratings, job market, shifts in the rental market, design trends, local crime rates and any city codes that could potentially affect your property. The more desirable your location, the lower the risk becomes.

2. The numbers. Underwriting is a critical element of deciding which investment property to purchase. Allowing emotion to drive your decision making when searching is a detrimental mistake. Separate yourself from your likes and dislikes and focus on what the market is demanding in a rental. Positive cash flow is the end goal, as this is a source of income for you, not the home you’re planning to live in.

Constructing a financial plan and budget prior to purchasing is key as you’ll be covering not only the mortgage, but also taxes, maintenance, design costs, improvements and unforeseen complications. Accounting for overhead and average vacancy rates is something to be factored in when underwriting a potential purchase. Calculating what your true profit will be against your initial investment is what matters.

 

3. Low overhead. One key way to ensure you maximize your return is to choose an investment property that won’t require much maintenance and overhead. Commonly, longer-term rentals are lower maintenance than, say, vacation or student rentals. Steady long-term tenants will yield the best returns on your investment.

 

Often the less flashy, more median-priced rentals yield the steadiest returns year-over-year as compared to high-end, luxury rentals that require more maintenance. Also, consider whether you’ll be hiring a property manager or if you’ll be doing any maintenance yourself. Proximity to your income property will be important if you’re handling this aspect on your own.

 

4. Appreciation. The smartest investment is one that appreciates in value. As an investor, appreciation is two-fold: When you buy the property and when you sell it. The best approach is to find a property where only a few cosmetic updates will allow you to charge more per month and won’t cost you a lot. You will also save on your initial investment rather than hiring contractors to do the work, like a fresh coat of paint.

Generally, most land is going to appreciate a little over time, but you want an investment that increases in value more than the rest. Try and find an up-and-coming or already desirable area that has plans for future development. On the flipside, a neighborhood that’s safe and quiet for families could be just as desirable.

Consider the specific location of the property within its community. Is it on a busy thoroughfare or on a private cul de sac? Close to great local schools or in a high-density urban environment? These are all things that will help you forecast your property’s appreciation over time.

 

5. Practical wins the race. Of course you want your income property to be aesthetically appealing, but there’s a smart way to approach this aspect. A long-term rental is a strong, stable investment, but only when not trying to reinvent the wheel. Low risk equals “normal.” You don’t want to limit your audience of potential tenants by purchasing a highly specific property such as a historical Tudor-style home with unique interior features. You should be aiming for bright, open, clean and tasteful.

 

The more specific the rental is, the higher the risk your investment becomes. A practical rental property will ensure a steady flow of tenants, like a two-bedroom traditional house with 2 1/2 baths in good shape, close to shopping centers, local schools, nearby parks and on a quiet street. Or a more modern one-bed, one-bath in downtown with open layout and building amenities such as a gym and pool for a younger crowd. Educate yourself on the market where you’ll be investing, and choose a property that meets the demand and is appealing to a wide audience.

Post courtesy of realestate.usnews.com

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Should You Go Big With Your First House or Stick to a Starter Home?

For a majority of people, buying your first home is financially daunting. Beyond the paperwork and negotiating, there’s that big mortgage looming. Taking on such a substantial financial responsibility is enough to leave you wondering if you can even afford it. And if you’ve figured out that you can, there’s still the question of just how much house you can afford. The question inevitably looms: Even though it’s your first piece of property, should you extend your budget and reach for something a little bigger, shinier, and newer?

It’s certainly not a case in which you want to throw caution to the wind. First and foremost, you have to set a realistic price range.

“The most important factor in your success as a first-time home buyer is to live within a budget,” says Michele Lerner, author of “Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time.” “It’s crucial to look realistically at your assets and your current and future income to evaluate what you can comfortably afford.”

Take it to the limit

There are some cases in which pushing your budget a bit could be a good idea. If you’re absolutely certain your income will rise—for example, if you’re about to finish medical school and know your salary as a doctor will be substantial in coming years—you might be a little safer stretching to your maximum purchase price.

If you do decide to go big from the get-go, keep in mind the costs you’ll incur beyond your mortgage payment. Lerner says you should include space in your budget for home repairs and maintenance (about 1% to 2% of the cost of the home you purchase), and you should have emergency savings for three to six months.

“It’s tempting to spend down to your last dollar to get the home you want, but that’s a risky proposition,” she says. “Owning a home can bring some unexpected surprises that renting doesn’t, such as a plumbing bill or a leaky roof.”

“I always try to get first-time buyers into manageable homes for them,” says Sean Keene of the Keene Group in Oregon. “It is no fun being house poor.“

Buy now or buy later?

If you determine that your needs won’t be met in a less-expensive home, or you’ll grow out of it quickly, you might want to wait until your income increases or you have more funds for a down payment.

Typically, it’s best to stay in a home for five to seven years in order to recoup your investment and build equity, Lerner says. That means looking ahead to see if the house you’re buying now is a good fit down the road.

In some markets, however, it makes sense to get into a hot market even if the house isn’t quite right, says Kathryn Bishop, a Realtor® in Studio City, CA.

“Buy the smaller house and get into the real estate market,” says Bishop. “Even if you don’t remodel it, it can appreciate in value faster and higher than interest from your bank.”

How to up your buying power for your first home

There are several down payment assistance programs for first-time home buyers.

If you’re considering buying a smaller home and remodeling it to meet your needs, Lerner suggests talking to your lender about financing your purchase and renovations with one loan. Home improvement loans may include the FHA 203(k) loan program and Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle loan program.

It can be tempting to extend your budget to get the house of your dreams but don’t get into a nightmare situation by stretching it too far.

Article courtesy of realtor.com

6 Financial Perks of Being a First-Time Homebuyer

From mortgage points to PMI, unlock the essential info about how homeownership affects your tax burden.

Hours after we closed on our first house, my husband and I sat in our empty new living room and stared at the walls. He was the first to speak, saying simply, “I thought it was painted.”

We learned a lot about that old house over the next 15 years. While we knew to expect some of the work, other tasks, such as needing to paint the walls, we figured out as we went along. One of the changes we didn’t anticipate was needing to make some adjustments to our tax forms.

The forms you fill out when you buy your house are just the beginning. We quickly understood that first-time homeowners have years of mortgage and insurance paperwork to look forward to. Then, of course, there are the taxes. To help you sort through that pile of paperwork and ensure you’re saving as much money as possible we did some research into tax benefits that can come from buying.

Six Tax Benefits for New Homeowners

1. You can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage.

The home mortgage interest deduction is probably the best-known tax benefit for homeowners. This deduction allows you to deduct all the interest you pay toward your home mortgage with a few exceptions, including these big ones:

  • Your mortgage can’t be more than $1 million.
  • Your mortgage must be secured by your home (unsecured loans don’t count).
  • Your mortgage must be on a qualified home, meaning your main or second home (vacation homes count too).

Don’t assume that if you are married and file a joint tax return, you have to own your home together to claim the interest. For purposes of the deduction, the home can be owned by you, your spouse, or jointly. The deduction counts the same either way.

And don’t worry about keeping track of how much you’re paying in interest versus principal each month. At the end of the year, your lender should issue you a form 1098, which reports the amount of interest you’ve paid during the year.

Warning: Since, as a first-time homeowner, you pay more interest than principal in the first few years. That number can be fairly sobering.

2. You may be able to deduct points.

Points are essentially prepaid interest that you offer upfront at closing to improve the rate on your mortgage. The more points you pay, the better deal you get.

You can deduct points in the year you pay them if you meet certain criteria. Included in the list (and it’s a long one): Points must be paid on a loan secured by your main home, and that loan must be to purchase or build your main home.

Pro tip: Points that you pay must also be within the range of what’s expected where you live — unusual transactions may cause you to lose the deduction.

3. Depending on the year and your income level, you may be able to deduct PMI.

Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, protects the bank in the event you default. PMI may be required as a condition of a mortgage for first-time homebuyers, especially if they can’t afford a large down payment.

For most years, PMI is not generally deductible, but the specific rules around it change annually. In 2016, if you made less than $109, 000 a year as a household, you could claim a tax deduction for the cost of PMI for both their primary home and any vacation homes. Check to see if the PMI deduction is a possibility as you are working on your taxes.

4. Real estate taxes are deductible.

Real estate taxes are imposed by state or local governments on the value of your property. Most banks or other mortgage lenders will factor the cost of your real estate taxes into your mortgage and put those amounts into an escrow account.

You can’t deduct the amounts paid into the escrow, but you can deduct the amounts paid out of it to cover the taxes (you’ll see this amount on a form 1098 issued by your lender at the end of the year).

If you don’t escrow for real estate taxes, you’ll deduct what you pay out of pocket directly to the tax authority.

And don’t forget about those taxes you paid at settlement. If you reimburse the seller for taxes already paid for the year, you get to deduct those too.

Those amounts won’t show up on a form 1098; you’ll need to check your settlement sheet for the totals.

5. Your other tax deductions may matter more.

To take advantage of these tax benefits, you have to itemize your deductions on your tax return.

For most taxpayers, this is a huge shift: in many cases, you’re moving from a form 1040-EZ to a form 1040 to list expenses on Schedule A.

In addition to interest, points, and taxes, Schedule A is where you would report deductions for charitable donations, medical expenses, and unreimbursed job expenses.

For itemizing deductions to make good financial sense, you generally want to have more total deductions than the standard deduction (for 2015, it’s $6,300 for individuals and $12,600 for married couples). Most taxpayers don’t reach those numbers — unless they’re homeowners.

The home mortgage interest deduction, in particular, tends to tip most homeowners over the standard deduction amount, making those other deductions (such as medical expenses) that might otherwise go unclaimed more valuable.

6. You’ll get capital gains tax relief down the road.

I know you just bought your home, but admit it: Resale value is something you considered when you chose your home. And different from other investments for which you’re taxed on the full value of any gain, you can exclude some of the gain attributable to your home when you sell.

Under current law, you can avoid paying tax on up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for married filing jointly) so long as you have owned and lived in the property for two of the last five years (those years of owning and inhabiting don’t have to be consecutive).

Gain over that amount is taxed at capital gains rates, which are generally more favorable than ordinary income tax rates.

 

Post courtesy of trulia.com

What’s Really Included In Closing Costs?

Expect property taxes, homeowners insurance, and lender’s costs to be part of your settlement-day tab.

With your house-hunting and lender searches now in the rearview mirror, you can start steering your way around the final bend that leads to the driveway of your new home: settlement day and closing. A few days before you meet with your real estate agent, a title company representative, and your loan officer for this joyous event, you should have received from the title company a copy of your closing documents. Read these documents carefully — they will include details on the closing costs that are due upon settlement.

  • What are closing costs?

    Closing costs are lender and third-party fees paid at the closing of a real estate transaction, and they can be financed as part of the deal or be paid upfront. They range from 2% to 5% of the purchase price of a home. (For those who buy a $150,000 home, for example, that would amount to between $3,000 and $7,500 in closing fees.) Understanding and educating yourself about these costs before settlement day arrives might help you avoid any headaches at the end of the deal.

  • What’s included in closing costs?

    Closing costs will cover both recurring and nonrecurring fees that are a part of your transaction. Recurring costs are ongoing expenses that you will continue to pay as a homeowner, with a portion due upon closing; nonrecurring fees are one-time fees associated with borrowing money and the services that were required to purchase the property.

    Recurring closing costs are placed in your escrow account, which you might view as a forced savings account for those upcoming home expenses you’ll be facing. They can vary, but the most common ones are property taxes (one to eight months’ worth, depending on when your home purchase coincided with the local tax billing cycle), homeowners insurance (the annual premium is typically due at closing, plus another two or three months’ worth of payments), and prepaid loan interest (for the number of days you’ll have the loan until its first payment is due). Also placed into escrow are costs for title insurance, which is considered a must because it protects you in case the seller doesn’t have full rights and warranties to the title of the property.

    Nonrecurring closing costs are fees paid to your lender and other professionals involved in the transaction. They include: any home inspection fees; any discount points you’re paying upfront to lower your interest rate; an origination fee, which is charged by the lender to process your loan; a document-prep fee, which covers the cost of preparing your loan file for processing; an appraisal fee, which covers the cost of a professional estimating the market value of the home; and a survey fee for verifying the home’s property lines. Also expect as nonrecurring costs: an underwriting fee for the cost of evaluating and verifying your loan application; a credit report fee for pulling your credit scores; title search and recording fees; and a wire-transfer fee for wiring funds from the lender to your escrow account.

  • How to prepare for closing costs

    The best time to study closing costs is when you’re shopping for a lender and can compare your desired loan amount with interest rates you’re offered (plus any discount points you might plan to pay upfront to lower those rates). Then use a closing-cost calculator to determine what your costs might be. The calculator will gauge your monthly mortgage payments, based on whether you’re financing the closing costs into your mortgage or whether you’ve decided to pay them upfront.

Buying a Short Sale: 4 Tips to Make Yours the Winning Offer

Bargain shoppers know that buying a short sale can score you a sweet deal on a home. Since the sellers are set on avoiding foreclosure, buyers can jump in and nab a house below its market value. It might even sound like the easiest transaction ever: The seller is determined to sell a house and you have the means to buy it. It’s good as gold, right? Not necessarily.

Though they might appear simple, short sale transactions are different from traditional home sales. There are a number of pitfalls and extra costs that can arise with a short sale.

What is a short sale and how does it differ from other sales?

Simply put, a short sale is when a home sells for a price that won’t cover the cost of the outstanding mortgage.

Short sales are different from both traditional home sales and foreclosures. In a traditional home sale, you work with only the seller and the seller’s agent to make an offer. In a foreclosure, the lender has already bought the property, so you’ll make an offer directly to the lender, without a buyer involved.

In a short sale, the home is being sold at a loss. So, while the seller still owns the property, the lender must approve any offers.

Below are tips on what to expect and how to have your offer stand out from the crowd.

1. Have your finances sorted

Solid financing always makes an offer appear stronger, but this is especially true in a short sale.

According to Mark Ainley of GC Realty Investments in Chicago, “You can increase your chances of having an offer accepted by either being a cash buyer or having a pre-approval letter from a lender. The pre-approval will carry more weight than a pre-qualification letter because it shows that a lender has already vetted your finances and approved you for that loan amount.”

In addition to the pre-approval, being prepared to put down a sizable earnest money deposit can help move your offer to the top of the pile.

2. Be ready to wait for approval

The approval process is a bit different with short sales. The seller first has to approve your offer, as usual, but then it must be sent to the lender for review before the sale can move forward.

“Be patient. Banks take their time approving a short sale,” advises, Kathryn Bishop, a Keller Williams agent in Los Angeles.

Several individuals, including the lender, will need to look at your offer before a consensus can be reached. The lender must decide how much of a loss it’s willing to take on the loan and it’ll likely vet your finances to make sure you are financially sound enough to buy the home.

This process could take weeks, but in most cases, it will take three to four months.

3. Don’t expect contingencies

In a typical home sale, you can negotiate contingencies with the seller to reduce closing costs, cover fees, or make repairs before you finalize the deal. However, in a short sale, the lender also needs to be taken into consideration, and it is less likely to approve your contingencies.

Keep in mind that the lender is already taking a loss on the loan and won’t want to lower its profits any further.

The lender “is the one making the final decision on whether or not to accept your offer,” says Karen Hanover, a former short sale negotiator with a major lender. “They are going to look at the net after all costs of sale, not just the asking price. They also want to see the properties sold as is.”

4. Don’t navigate a short sale alone

The bank will be trying to recoup as much of its investment as possible, and the seller will be focused on unloading the property before it’s foreclosed. So who has your interest at heart? It’s important to have someone in your corner who can advocate for you and make sure you leave the negotiating table satisfied.

“The buyer must be able to control who does the short sale negotiation and have the legal right to communicate with that negotiator and receive status reports,” says James Tupitza, a real estate lawyer with Tupitza & Associates in West Chester, PA.

Before you even consider making an offer, make sure to bring on a real estate agent—or even legal council—who specializes in this type of transaction.

Post originally found on realtor.com

3 Common Moving Nightmares (and How to Prevent Them)

There’s no other way to put it: Moving is stressful. But it doesn’t have to be a waking nightmare. Here’s how to avoid a move from … you know where.

Nightmares aren’t supposed to take place in broad daylight, but some common life events bring so much tension, uncertainty and anxiety that they can easily rank as “quality nightmares.” Moving house tops the list of stressful experiences that can feel like a bad dream — and it can easily come true unless you take precautionary measures.

Problems can occur at every stage of the relocation process: A violent storm hits just when the moving truck is parking in front of your door. The elevator is out of order when you arrive at your new high-rise building. You lose the keys to your car on the morning of moving day. The list goes on.

However, the most common moving nightmares fall into three main categories. Here’s how they typically play out — and how to avoid them.

Bad movers

Many moving horror stories involve rogue or incompetent movers.

  • The movers are late or don’t show up at all. The agreed-upon time comes and goes, but you see no sign of an approaching moving truck. When you call the moving company to demand an explanation, your relocation nightmare begins. Regardless of the excuses you receive (a traffic jam, a breakdown, a delay on a previous job, a mistaken date, etc.), the inevitable result will be lots of stress and wasted time. Worst of all, you may not be able to reach the moving company at all: fraudulent movers may have taken your deposit money and disappeared with it.
  • The movers are careless or inexperienced. If your movers arrive late, in a smaller moving truck than needed, or lack the required know-how and the proper equipment to handle your items safely and efficiently, your relocation can quickly turn into a nightmarish experience. The amateur movers may drop your plasma TV, break your heirloom china, scratch your antique dresser, dent the floors, or cause other overwhelming emotional and financial damage.
  • The movers are scam artists. In the worst case scenario, you may fall victim to unscrupulous moving scams. Rogue movers will often request much more money than previously negotiated based on some alleged extra services. They may hold your belongings hostage until you pay a considerable extra “fee” as ransom, or steal your more expensive belongings and just discard the rest.

The good news is that there is an easy way to avoid such nightmares. All you need to do is carefully research your movers before hiring them to make sure you are dealing with licensed and experienced professionals you can trust. It’s also a good idea to purchase appropriate insurance for your belongings, just in case.

Traffic problems

Heavy traffic or road accidents can also turn your move into a real nightmare.

  • Traffic jams. The moving truck is delayed and there may not be enough time to proceed with your move as planned. You may have to postpone the relocation to another day, or you may miss your flight.
  • Traffic accidents. if there has been an accident on the road, the moving truck will have to wait until the damaged vehicles are removed and normal traffic is restored. However, the scenario could get much worse: You may lose all your possessions or receive them badly damaged if the moving truck crashes, catches fire, or gets trapped somewhere because of adverse weather conditions like heavy snowfall or torrential rains. It’s even possible that thieves could break into the vehicle and steal your goods.
  • Breakdown. If the moving truck breaks down on the road, you’ll have to wait for the moving company to send another vehicle. What’s more, your items can easily get damaged while being transferred.
  • Parking issues. The moving truck has to circle the neighborhood for hours until an appropriate parking space is vacated, or the movers have to park far away from the entrance to your home. In such cases, you’ll not only lose valuable time, but will also have to pay an extra fee for the delay or an additional long-carry fee.

Of course, there’s nothing you can do to prevent traffic accidents or breakdowns. But you can at least reserve a parking place directly in front of your old and new homes, and choose a moving company that has experienced drivers and several moving vehicles in good condition.

Poor organization

The only way to avoid problems when moving house is to plan each phase of your relocation adventure in meticulous detail and stay one step ahead all the time. Otherwise, you may find yourself facing any of the following all-too-common moving ordeals.

  • Packing chaos. It may turn out that you’ve packed more items than previously discussed with the movers; packed items that can’t be loaded onto the moving truck; haven’t labeled the boxes properly; or forgotten to prepare an “essentials box.” Worst of all, you may not be ready when the movers arrive. All these packing mistakes will result in lost time and money.
  • Furniture troubles. If your large furniture doesn’t fit through the doors, you may be forced to leave some treasured pieces behind, or request hoisting services that will cost you dearly and will delay your move considerably.
  • Paperwork problems. If you forget to transfer the utilities, you won’t have electricity, gas, and water on move-in day. If you forget to change your address, you won’t have your mail delivered to your new home. If you forget to update your driver’s license and car registration in time, you’ll be fined. Not taking proper care of your documents will most certainly get you in trouble.
  • Overspending. If you book your movers at the last moment, require too many extra services, fail to create a realistic moving budget, pack all your items without sorting them out first, or allow any other financial imprudence, you’ll end up paying much more than you expected.
  • Safety issues. Make every effort to prevent injuries and accidents on moving day, as getting hurt is one of the worst things that can happen during your relocation endeavor.

Post courtesy of zillow.com

Homeownership 101: Are You Ready?

Owning your own home is part of the American dream. But it takes more than just dreaming of buying and maintaining a home. Before you take the plunge, here are some things to ask yourself.

Does it make sense to buy?

Buying instead of renting needs to make sense financially. To help you decide, play with Zillow’s Buy vs. Rent calculator to see how many years it will take before the cost of buying equals the cost of renting. It’s called the breakeven horizon, and it varies by area of the country.

If you plan to stay in your home past your breakeven horizon, then buying makes financial sense. If you think you’ll move earlier, then renting may be the way to go.

Are you financially ready?

Buying a house involves raising a down payment and paying a monthly mortgage, which lasts anywhere from 5 to 30 years, depending on the home loan you can afford and are offered. There are other costs as well, but let’s focus on the big money.

Down payment: It’s the lump sum you’ll pay upfront that funds equity in the property and proves to lenders that you’ve got skin in this homeowner game. Down payments vary. In the go-go days that led up to the housing collapse, some lenders dismissed the down payment altogether – and we see how well that ended. Today, 20 percent is preferred and often gets you the best rates, but some loans allow down payments as low as 3 percent. Sometimes parents or friends can offer help with the down payment. If you have a choice, take a gift rather than a loan, not only for obvious reasons, but because lenders will add that debt to other monthly obligations and potential mortgage payments to determine your debt-to-income ratio, which generally can’t top 43 percent to qualify for a home loan.

Monthly mortgage payments: This is what you’ll pay each month. In most cases, a mortgage includes the loan principal and interest (both amortized over the life of the loan) plus homeowners insurance and property taxes (pro-rated). When credit was tight, getting a mortgage at any rate was reserved for only the most credit-worthy borrowers. Things have loosened, but lenders still want to know that you’re a responsible, gainfully employed and credit-worthy candidate.

Are you emotionally ready?

Owning a home is a huge commitment so before jumping in, consider if you are ready to make lots of decisions, from picking an agent to picking paint colors. Are you confident enough to select a neighborhood where you’ll want to stay for a while? And are you up for devoting the time and attention to maintaining a home? Weekends will disappear under chores like pulling weeds, cleaning gutters, shoveling snow, sealing counters and decks, and on and on. Taking care of your biggest investment can be gratifying but only if you’re ready.

Do you have the skills?

Your home will require regular maintenance and repair, and there’s no landlord to call for help. You’ll need some basic handyperson skills so you won’t go broke hiring a repair professional to remedy every odd sound or smell. Here are some things every homeowner should learn how to do:
• Change a toilet flapper
• Shut off the main water valve and outdoor faucets
• Change a furnace filter
• Clean gutters of debris
• Change smoke detector batteries
• Locate and flip breaker switches
• Locate studs to hang shelves
• Paint a room

Post courtesy of zillow.com