Uncategorized January 31, 2017

Four Ways to Jumpstart Your Credit Score

Improving your credit score can sometimes be a lengthy project. Consumer advisor Brian Acton tells Yahoo Finance if you are planning to apply for a mortgage or other major loan, there are five strategies you can use that can help bump up your credit score in as little as 30 days:

Become an authorized user. You can piggyback off someone else’s good credit by having them add you as an authorized user to an account they’ve had for some time. As an authorized user, you can benefit from this responsibly managed account once it is added to your credit profile. (Understand, however, that if you use the account irresponsibly, both your credit scores will suffer.)

Request a credit limit increase. If you have a timely payment history with your credit card issuer, the issuer will likely grant you a limit increase if you ask for it. Since your credit utilization rate figures heavily in your credit score, an increase in the limit can help your score—so long as you resist increasing your spending.

Pay down your cards. Because—as indicated above—a lower balance positively affects your credit utilization rate, make the effort to curb your current spending and use any extra funds you can muster to pay down existing debts.

Check for credit report errors. An error on your report can weigh down your score, while removing one can result in great improvement. Since most credit reporting errors are resolved in about 30 days, pull your report from AnnualCreditReport.com and go over it with a fine-tooth comb. If something seems amiss, such as an unreported debt payoff, disputing it right away can make a big difference in your credit score.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Uncategorized January 30, 2017

Newlyweds: Here Are 5 Factors to Consider when Buying Your New Home

Now that the wedding is over, you and your spouse are ready for the next exciting milestone: homeownership. There are so many factors you need to keep in mind and you want it to be a pleasant house-hunting experience. The following are just a few things you should take into account when you’re in the market for a new home.

Marriage is a big transition and it may come with some adjustments to your lifestyle. Have a talk with your spouse and discuss your long-term goals, such as whether you want to start a family or move to a different location for job possibilities. You also should take into account the safety of the neighborhood, the school district in which you live and the amount of families that reside in the area. If you’re thinking about having kids in the near future, having great public schools nearby is important.

Required Space
Discuss what your expectations are for square footage and the general space you want within your home. Keep in mind the space you need for day-to-day activities, family gatherings and your future children. Create a list that helps you prioritize what kind of space is important to you as individuals and as a couple. For example, if you host a lot of parties, you may want to prioritize a large kitchen and living room. If one of you works from home or needs office space, put that on the top of your list.

Keep in mind that compromise is often necessary. Identify which spatial features are and aren’t deal-breakers. House Simple compares some of the things you may want to compromise on, such as the amount of space versus the location, and the fixable faults, like ugly hardware or kitchen countertops.

Bed and Bath Layout
The number of bedrooms and bathrooms in your home is another important factor you should discuss. Talk about whether or not you want your home to be able to lodge many bodies or if you would prefer to not have visitors. Just make sure you don’t go over your budget, because the number of rooms and bathrooms has a major influence on the asking price of the house. Decide if you really need that extra guest bedroom if it means sacrificing a large kitchen or the perfect location.

If you intend to add on an extra bedroom or bathroom in the future, check the county’s code and permit requirements and the potential cost of the addition. HomeAdvisor puts the cost of a total bathroom remodel at an average of $9,348. If this is less than what it would cost to buy a house with an extra bathroom, then it may be worth it to wait and build a bathroom that is to your exact specifications.

Hidden Expenses
When you determine your budget for your home, make sure you include any ongoing expenses the home has. Utilities are a major cost that vary based on the sustainability and efficiency of your house. Consider the cost it may take to upgrade your heating and cooling system, major appliances, and windows and doors. It may cost more upfront but save you a lot of money in the future, so it’s important to figure out what you can afford in the short and long term. You also should be aware of costs like homeowners association dues, structural update costs, property taxes, insurance and any other regional fees.

Home Security
Look for a home that you can keep safe and sound with solid security features. Search for houses that have trees and tall shrubbery around the lot’s perimeter so they can block the street view of your home. This natural barrier is pleasant to look at and helps prevent burglars from scoping out or monitoring your home.

You also should protect your new valuable asset with a security camera system. Take note of houses you are looking at that have existing CAT5e or BNC security camera cabling. This can save you time and money on security camera installation. Even if your dream house doesn’t have these wires already doesn’t mean that you can’t have this safety feature, though. Installing a full security camera system is not as complex as it once was and doesn’t necessarily require professional installation. Once you know what you’re looking for, you should choose a security camera system that has the security features you need to feel safe and protected night and day, such as HD resolution, long-range night vision, audio capabilities, or ultra-wide angle lenses.

Shopping for your first home as a newlywed couple should be a fun and memorable experience. Be sure to discuss your needs ahead of time, stick to your budget and enjoy the process.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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Uncategorized January 24, 2017

Making the Jump: Transitioning from a Tenant to a Homeowner

Becoming a homeowner for the first time is an exciting and stressful process. However, once the papers are signed and the keys are in your pocket, your work really begins. Homeownership can be fraught with financial and emotional perils, especially if you’ve been renting from a landlord up until now. Landlords are on the hook for not only minor repairs, but also major upgrades, yard work, taxes and fees associated with building ownership, as well as normal upkeep such as painting and cleaning carpets.

Before You Buy
The best way to make a smooth transition to your new home starts before you buy. A proper inspection can alert you to problems that already exist with the property. New homes shouldn’t have many issues, but it’s always wise to get an inspection anyway to ensure that everything has been installed properly. After inspection, you want to work on your budget. You should build home maintenance and upkeep into your monthly budget.

A basic rule of thumb for your maintenance budget is to put aside 1 percent of your home’s purchase price per year. This means if your home costs $300,000, then you should put aside about $250 a month for major home repairs. Of course, new homes shouldn’t need immediate major repairs, but by saving this money from the get-go, you’ll never have nasty surprises when an appliance breaks down, or when you need a new roof in 10 years.

Tips to Maintain Your Home
Once you’re in your home you’ll want to stay on top of maintenance. This doesn’t just mean yard work, gardening, snow removal and window cleaning, although all those things are important. You’ll want to do an annual survey of your major appliances. This should include things you don’t usually see or think of, such as your water heater, furnace or boiler, and air conditioner.

You should know what these things look like when they’re performing properly, and you should have the name of a trusted HVAC professional, plumber and electrician just in case you should ever need them. You should also keep a close eye on your roof and any plumbing pipes that are visible, as these can often be some of the most expensive repairs. Catching a problem early is always ideal.

Financial Changes
Another difference between renting and owning is your financial state. The first year you own a home your taxes will be much different, so even if you do file your taxes yourself, this year might be the year to turn to a tax professional.

You’ll also have to have money to spend to fill up your new home! Chances are you have a lot more square footage to work with now, and you may need additional furniture or even appliances if your new home didn’t come with them. Start reading reviews and comparison-shopping early on for things like washers, dryers and lawn mowers if you can. Buying a lawn mower in May is far more expensive than buying one in January. While it might seem silly, the last year models are usually very similar when it comes to appliances, so figure out when the new versions are released. Floor models (appliances that have been out for people to look at) are also a great choice, as they haven’t actually been used.

The best part of owning your own home is that it is all yours. You can paint, arrange and decorate to your heart’s content. However, the worst part of owning your own home is that it’s all yours, and if there’s three feet of snow to be shoveled, water pouring out of the toilet or a dryer that just won’t dry, these are all problems you’ll have to figure out how to fix—with a little help from the pros, of course.

Meghan Belnap is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time with her family. You can connect with her on Facebook here and Twitter here.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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Uncategorized January 21, 2017

5 Signs Your Selling Agent Is Wrong for You

A world of difference lies between a good selling agent and a bad selling agent. Unfortunately, for first-time home sellers, determining the difference can be difficult. You might have to interview several real estate agents before you find someone who works for you, so be sure you’re asking the right questions before you start.

No References
You should always check references before signing on with a selling agent. Talk to people whose homes the agent recently sold, not the best sales of their careers that may have happened years ago. You don’t need to talk to everyone the agent sold for in the past year (in fact, many of them won’t give out their information to strangers) but the agent should have a couple people willing to give them a good reference. If not, look elsewhere.

Part-Time Work
Your selling agent should be a full-time real estate agent. Doing everything required to sell a house well is a full-time job. A lot more goes into it than just showing it to a few potential buyers and determining a good listing price. A part-time agent will have divided attention between selling real estate and another job. Hire someone who spends their entire work week in the real estate industry.

Unrealistic Advice
A good selling agent will have advice for you about improvements your home needs before you list it for sale. Unless your entire home has been renovated in the last year, you must take care of some things. Outdated appliances have an impact on how potential buyers see your home. If your agent tells you, for example, that repairing a 20-year-old AC unit instead of replacing it is adequate, they’re not giving you the best advice about preparing your home for sale.

Lowest Commission
Commissions are not like interest rates. You don’t necessarily want to go with the person who offers you the very lowest. Most agents in your area work for the same commission percentage. Commissions are negotiable, but if someone is willing to negotiate down too readily, they might not have the negotiating chops to represent you well while selling your home.

A Friend or Family Member
It’s often better to go into business with someone you don’t know personally. If problems arise or you have disagreements with your agent, do you want this to turn into a fight that could damage a friendship or a relationship with a family member? You can certainly interview your friends or family members to see if they’re the best for the job, but they need to understand that you’ll pick the agent that’s right for you, and not choose them because of your existing relationship.

With the wrong selling agent, your house might sit on the market for too long. Choosing your agent is an important step in selling your home, because the right selling agent will get you the right price on a timeline that works for you.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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Uncategorized January 21, 2017

Where the Cost of Your Home Inspection Really Goes

Home inspections are most commonly ordered by homebuyers before closing on a home, and can also be used by current homeowners who want to learn more about the condition of the property they live in. These home inspection reports are often a dozen pages or more in length, and they contain very detailed information about components that range from the plumbing and electrical system of the home to the foundation, roof and more. However, depending on your location and the size of the home, a property inspection may cost several hundred dollars or more. With closer examination of where this money goes, you will see that this is a fee well worth paying for.

The Tools and Equipment an Inspector Uses
Because a property inspector will walk through every room of the home–most will even examine the roof, basement and foundation—a wide range of tools and equipment are needed to complete the task at hand. Common equipment used by all inspectors are flashlights, ladders and screwdrivers. Many will also use electrical testers on each outlet in the home, a thermometer to test the heat level in an oven, moisture testing equipment to look for signs of water leaks and more. If your property inspector conducts additional tests, a mold test kit, an asbestos test kit, a radon test kit and other certified material testing products may also be required.

The Time and Experience Required
Each state has different licensing and certification requirements. Some states require a license renewal with continuing education every year or two. The property inspector must pay to maintain and improve his or her level of education, as well as to remain licensed and insured to complete the task that you have asked him or her to do. In addition, there is value in an inspector’s time.

Depending on the size of the home, a typical property inspection may take two to four hours or more to complete. The price you pay for a home inspection will directly relate to how much time he or she spends at the property, as well as the types of special services he or she provides.

Through a home inspection, you can learn about issues that range from mold growth in the home and a cracked foundation to broken support beams in the attic, wiring issues in the walls and even pest infestation. These and other things that are noted in the report can help homebuyers make a more informed decision about which property to buy. They can also be used to help current homeowners take steps to improve the condition of their home. With how beneficial a property inspection report is, you can see that the fee for an inspection report is well worthwhile.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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Uncategorized January 18, 2017

How to Sell a Home in a Flood-Prone Area

Selling a home in a flood-prone neighborhood is a challenge for novice and experienced REALTORS® alike. Even regions considered low risk for weather-related floods can experience ruptured water lines, clogged storm drains and more. The added threat of severe storms and designated flood zones make the highly-complicated process of selling a home even more challenging.

Understand Business Inside Designated Flood Zones
FEMA currently maintains numerous flood designations that span all corners of the U.S. The various labels are used to indicate the severity of any potential flooding within specific regions across the country. Inland areas are prefixed with the letter A, and coastal communities are labeled with a V.

A comprehensive database of flood maps, information and statistics is available at the FEMA Flood Map Service Center, which is a free resource. You can recommend the searchable site to your clients so they can enjoy a greater peace of mind.

Upgrade Hardware Inside and Outside of the Home
You can perform many different hardware upgrades, both on the interior and exterior of the home, that can increase its flood defenses. You may have to point out some of the additions and explain their usefulness to some buyers, but it could mean the difference between closing on a sale and finding another interested party.

Outdoor equipment such as external air conditioning units and propane fuel tanks should be properly anchored to the ground and elevated beyond the ordinary flood level. Doing so can spare homeowners from costly repairs in the wake of a disaster, as well as ensure the continuity of AC and fuel sources when trying to ride out such conditions.

The inside of your home can be safeguarded by installing backflow valves, or gate valves, on any internal plumbing to prevent the backup of sewage or storm water. Backup can occur in the absence of regional flooding, too. Pointing out the features to any prospective buyers is a great way to show preparedness on your behalf.

Repair, Restore or Upgrade Landscaping
Landscaping can have a significant effect on the aesthetic appeal of any residential property. It’s typically the first feature someone notices about a home, so it’s important to give the outside lawn some attention. This is especially true when cleaning up a neighborhood or restoring a home after a recent flood.

Major landscaping projects, such as modifying the existing slope of a yard to supplement flood protection, may require the use of specialty equipment or machinery. Mini excavators are adept at moving earth in a small space, which makes them ideal for small yards and tightly packed city blocks. These vehicles can also be used for digging trenches or holes, repairing sewer lines and even demolition of damaged, outdated or unnecessary structures.

In-ground sprinkler systems should be inspected and flushed to rid the lines of any contaminants or foreign objects, while flooded or damaged irrigation timers will require complete replacement. Any internal rotors, gears or related components should also be examined and cleaned before restoring irrigation service to the property.

Offset the Costs of Flood Insurance
Homeowner’s insurance doesn’t typically cover flood protection, and any prospective buyers will probably be well aware of the caveat. In fact, homeowners who live in high-risk zones must maintain separate flood insurance to comply with their federal mortgage requirements.

Residents in low- and moderate-risk areas are not federally required to keep an active flood insurance policy, but in a federal or insured mortgage, the added protection has the potential to pay for itself after the first occurrence.

When trying to sell a home or property that requires additional insurance, REALTORS® are faced with yet another obstacle. To overcome the added challenge, REALTORS® sometimes offer incentives meant to offset some of the costs associated with flood insurance. Reduced or discounted prices on a short- or long-term basis can help close a deal.

Initiatives like the National Flood Insurance Program support flood victims as well people living in at-risk areas. Drawing attention to similar local and regional initiatives, REALTORS® can make the idea of living in a designated flood zone more attractive to prospective buyers.

Provide Peace of Mind as a REALTOR®
As a REALTOR® working with residential homes and properties in flood-prone regions, part of your job includes making your new and prospective clients feel at ease with the buying process. You also aim to help your clients feel at home within the community. It can be an overwhelming task, especially in areas at frequent risk of flooding, but REALTORS® who offer that additional peace of mind are more likely to enjoy success.

The best REALTORS® can take something potentially negative, such as a home in a flood-prone area, and spin it to focus on what’s positive. In an area prone to flooding, homebuyers can enjoy lower prices and the peace of mind that comes with the right insurance policy and safety updates to the home.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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Uncategorized January 17, 2017

Cost vs. Value: Which Home Improvements Offer the Highest ROI in 2017?

With the many different projects reported annually in Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, not much has changed from last year…and that’s not a bad thing. The 29 projects found on this year’s report paid back an average of 64.3 cents on the dollar in resale value. Looking at the 24 most tracked projects (projects consistently tracked for the last six years), their payback for 2017 was also 64.3 cents—only three-quarters of a penny higher than 2016 projections.

Why the little change? Simply put: the differences in underlying numbers were minimal year-to-year. The average cost for those 24 projects rose a meager 3 percent, while the value that real estate professionals put on said projects only rose 4.2 percent. Minor gains, yes, but we’ll take what we can get.

Recent and long-time trends continued, reports Remodeling. Curb appeal projects like changes to doors, windows and siding garnered a higher ROI than work done inside the home. Replacement projects, like doors or windows, scored higher among real estate pros than did remodels.

On a national scale, the top five projects with the greatest ROI in the report’s “midrange” cost category are:

  1. Attic Insulation (Fiberglass)(107.7% ROI)
    Average Cost: $1,343
    Average Resale Value: $1,446
  1. Entry Door Replacement (Steel)(90.7% ROI)
    Average Cost: $1,413
    Average Resale Value: $1,282
  1. Manufactured Stone Veneer(89.4% ROI)
    Average Cost: $7,851
    Average Resale Value: $7,019
  1. Minor Kitchen Remodel(80.2% ROI)
    Average Cost: $20,830
    Average Resale Value: $16,699
  1. Garage Door Replacement(76.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $1,749
    Average Resale Value: $1,345

The top five projects with the greatest ROI in the report’s “upscale” cost category are:

  1. Garage Door Replacement(85.0% ROI)
    Average Cost: $3,304
    Average Resale Value: $2,810
  1. Entry Door Replacement (Fiberglass)(77.8% ROI)
    Average Cost: $3,276
    Average Resale Value: $2,550
  1. Window Replacement (Vinyl)(73.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $15,282
    Average Resale Value: $11,286
  1. Window Replacement (Wood)(73.0% ROI)
    Average Cost: $18,759
    Average Resale Value: $13,691
  1. Grand Entrance (Fiberglass)(70.1% ROI)
    Average Cost: $8,358
    Average Resale Value: $5,855

Regionally, the Pacific division (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii) saw an average payback of 78.2 percent for all projects, with 10 projects posting cost-recouped levels of at least 90 percent. The East North Central states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, however, saw an average of just 54.9 percent, with no single project offering a payback of as much as 80 cents on the dollar.

At the other end of the spectrum are projects with the lowest returns on investment—improvements generally not in demand by the market. Again on a national scale, the five projects with the lowest ROI in the “midrange” cost category are:

  1. Bathroom Remodel(64.8% ROI)
    Average Cost: $18,546
    Average Resale Value: $12,024
  1. Master Suite Addition(64.8% ROI)
    Average Cost: $119,533
    Average Resale Value: $77,506
  1. Backyard Patio(54.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $51,985
    Average Resale Value: $28,546
  1. Backup Power Generator(54.0% ROI)
    Average Cost: $12,860
    Average Resale Value: $6,940
  1. Bathroom Addition(53.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $43,232
    Average Resale Value: $23,283

The five projects with the lowest ROI in the “upscale” cost category are:

  1. Major Kitchen Remodel(61.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $122,991
    Average Resale Value: $76,149
  1. Master Suite Addition(59.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $250,687
    Average Resale Value: $150,140
  1. Bathroom Remodel(59.1% ROI)
    Average Cost: $59,979
    Average Resale Value: $35,456
  1. Bathroom Addition(57.1% ROI)
    Average Cost: $81,515
    Average Resale Value: $46,507
  1. Deck Addition (Composite)(56.4% ROI)
    Average Cost: $39,339
    Average Resale Value: $22,171

The 2017 Cost vs. Value Report compares, across 99 markets, the average cost of 29 popular remodeling projects with their average value at resale one year later. Average resale value is calculated based on estimates provided by real estate professionals. View the full report, including project descriptions and city-level data, here.

Nick Caruso is RISMedia’s senior editor. Email him your real estate news ideas at nick@rismedia.com.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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Uncategorized January 16, 2017

Are Closing Costs Tax-Deductible?

(TNS)—When you purchase your home or buy land for your new home from a seller, you’re responsible for paying closing costs on top of the negotiated contract price. These costs are sometimes shared by the seller, depending on how you negotiate the deal. As you sign the dotted line, you might wonder, “Are closing costs tax-deductible?”

The IRS has some specific rules on itemized deductions for homeowners regarding deducting real estate closing costs. Here’s what you need to know.

Can You Deduct Closing Costs on Your Taxes?
Homeowner tax deductions aren’t always easy to calculate, but the IRS does break down what types of tax deductions you can take when you file Form 1040. The only way to deduct closing costs, such as property tax, is by using itemized deductions. You cannot take a standard deduction and also deduct your closing costs, so you have to decide which one offers the most tax advantages for your situation.

Deductible Closing Costs
If you decide to itemize, you’ll need to know what closing costs you can actually deduct. The IRS identifies them as:

•    Home mortgage interest paid at settlement that is found on the mortgage interest statement provided by the lender
•    Certain real estate taxes paid at closing
•    Real estate taxes—listed on your real estate tax bill—the lender paid from escrow to the taxing authority
•    Sales taxes paid at closing
•    Points—also known as loan origination fees, maximum loan charges, loan discounts or discount points—which are a one-time closing cost that provide you a discounted rate on your mortgage and can be deducted only over the life of the mortgage
•    Mortgage insurance premiums, except for mortgage insurance provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs or Rural Housing Service

About Deducting Points
Some situations enable you to deduct the full amount of points in the year if you pass several tests set forth by the IRS. If you meet the following criteria, you have the option of deducting the full amount of points in the year you take out the mortgage or deducting them over the life of the loan, beginning with the year you close your loan:

•    The loan is for your main residence
•    Paying points is typical in the area where you get your loan
•    You didn’t pay more than the points typically charged in your area
•    You use the cash method of accounting
•    Points were not paid in lieu of paying other fees, such as appraisal fees, inspection fees, title order fees, attorney fees and property tax fees
•    The money you paid at or before closing, plus any points the seller paid, were at least the equivalent of the points charged
•    You’re using your loan to buy or build your main residence
•    The points were calculated as a percentage of the mortgage’s principal amount
•    The points charged are clearly shown on the Uniform Settlement Statement, Form HUD-1

Non-Deductible Closing Costs
There are several settlement costs and closing costs you can’t deduct or add to the basis of your home. The following closing costs are not tax-deductible:

•    Fire insurance premiums
•    Charges for using utilities or services if you occupied the home before closing
•    Rent paid if you moved into the home before closing
•    Charges associated with getting or refinancing a mortgage loan, such as credit report ordering costs, loan assumption fees and fees for a lender-ordered appraisal

Although you’re permitted to deduct some types of real estate taxes, you can’t deduct the following types:

•    Itemized charges for services, even if the charge is paid to the taxing authority
•    Taxes for local benefits that increase the value of your property
•    Transfer taxes or stamp taxes
•    Homeowners association assessment costs

How to Deduct Home Closing Costs
If you’re eligible to deduct certain types of expenses related to home settlement fees, you can do so on Form 1040 on lines six through 13 when you file your tax return. Here’s the breakdown of where to report different closing costs on the form:

•    Real estate taxes: Line 6
•    Home mortgage interest and points reported on Form 1098: Line 10
•    Home mortgage interest not reported on Form 1098: Line 1
•    Points not reported on Form 1098: Line 12
•    Qualified mortgage insurance premiums: Line 1
•    State and local general sales tax reduction: Line 7

Some of your closing costs are tax-deductible, so it pays to know what expenses you can deduct as itemized homeowner tax deductions come tax time. Keep in mind that if your total itemized deductions for the year are less than the standard deduction, it doesn’t make financial sense to deduct closing costs. Consider working with an accountant or tax professional to make sure you’re reporting all of your real estate taxes accurately and deducting only expenses that have the IRS seal of approval.

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Uncategorized January 15, 2017

Six Key Post-Home Purchase Moves

(TNS)—Buying a new home was probably your best financial move in 2016. Now you can continue to reap the financial benefits of homeownership in the new year and take some steps to help protect your investment.

Follow these tips to position yourself going forward to be a happier homeowner with a great house and a few extra bucks in your pocket while being proactive financially in the coming months.

Get a Property Tax Break
In a number of states, you can benefit from a homestead exemption, which gives you a break on your property taxes.

“This differs vastly not only from state to state, but from county to county as well,” says Bill Golden, an independent real estate agent with RE/MAX Atlanta Cityside.

Some states allow those who have their principal residence in the state to file for a homestead exemption, while others only offer the property tax break to certain groups, such as those over the age of 65 or disabled military veterans.

When You’re Planning a Late Retirement
Along with being a place to call your home, one of the biggest benefits of buying a house is the federal income tax deductions it provides.

“Take advantage of every tax benefit you can,” says Bill Brown, 2017 president of the National Association of REALTORS®.

Now is the time to familiarize yourself with the tax deductions, such as the mortgage interest you paid, your real estate property taxes and the points you paid on your mortgage, Brown says.

You can benefit financially if you don’t wait until the last minute to pay your property tax bill, says Henry Grzes, a lead technical manager for the tax section of the American Institute of CPAs.

If the property taxes on your home are due in February, and you pay your bill in December, you can write off the taxes you paid on your 2016 income tax return. At the same time, many jurisdictions will give you a discount if you pay your property taxes before the deadline.

Earn Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency
If you made your home more energy-efficient in 2016, you can earn a federal tax credit, Grzes says.

For example, if you installed a solar electric system or solar water heater by the end of 2016, you can claim a credit when you file your taxes next year.

You also can earn a tax credit if you’ve installed energy-efficient doors, windows or skylights. These tax credits are scheduled to end after 2016.

Trim Your Utility Bills
Those energy efficiency improvements you make not only can help cut your federal income tax, they also can help cut your utility bills.

In many places, you can schedule an appointment to have your utility inspectors visit your home, and they can assess what changes you should make to improve your home’s energy efficiency and lower your heating and cooling costs, Golden says.

Your utility company or local government might even provide financial incentives to aid you in making such improvements.

Upgrade Your Insurance
In the same way you have updated your new home, you’ll also need to update your homeowners insurance policy to reflect those changes.

“Common upgrades like installing hardwood floors, updating a kitchen or bath or adding a deck can all affect the cost to rebuild,” says Angi Orbann, second vice president of Property Design and Strategy at Travelers.

That’s why it’s important to check with your insurance agent to see if you need to increase the coverage on your house.

Protect Your Home
Because you want to protect your investment as well as your family, you might consider reinforcing your home and installing smart technology that can help keep your house and your loved ones safe.

Making certain modifications to your home can make it better able to withstand a natural disaster, earthquake or hurricane.

You can add such things as smart smoke detectors, fire alarms and security systems, which use your smartphone to alert you of trouble.

Be sure to notify your insurer once you’ve made these changes. By adding that extra protection, you might earn a discount on your homeowners policy, Orbann says.

©2017 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Uncategorized January 11, 2017

When Packing a Storage Unit, Strategy Is King

Whether you’re in the process of downsizing or simply looking to open up your home a bit (without saying goodbye to your belongings for good), self-storage units offer a practical solution to the issue surrounding lack of space homeowners are faced with on a day-to-day basis.

While factors such as security, cleanliness, temperature control, customer service and price will likely play a large role in determining which self-storage unit best fits your needs, the process doesn’t end there. In fact, much like packing to move from one house to another, maximizing the space within your self-storage unit begins with having a plan in place.

  1. Be Prepared. Once you’ve made the decision to rent a storage unit, even if it’s a short-term solution, it’s important to come up with a plan before you begin haphazardly shoving items into the space. While this may save time on the front end, it will undoubtedly work against you when it comes time to clear the unit out.
  1. Use the Space Wisely. If you’re storing bigger items—or anything that’s awkwardly shaped—take the time to break them down (if possible) in order to get the most use out of the space. This means disassembling tables, workout equipment, kitchen carts, etc.
  1. Take Inventory. Good memory or not, you’re bound to forget every last item stored in the unit. Even if it only makes an appearance once every few years, you’ll want to remember where your fine china from Great Aunt Gertrude is when she comes calling.
  1. Label Everything. If you plan to fill your storage unit up with boxes, be sure to label them so that you can quickly and easily identify what’s inside. It’s also important to make sure all labels are facing the same way.
  1. Map It Out. In addition to making note of everything that’s stored in your storage unit, it’s a good idea to map out where everything is located. This way you can easily grab something when needed.
  1. Place Items Strategically. Keeping like items together (or packing things according to which room or family member they belong to) is a simple way to add a level of organization to the process.
  1. Leave a Walkway. For those renting a large self-storage unit, don’t forget to leave a walkway down the middle when filling the space with your belongings. Not only will this make it easy to grab things when you need them, it will keep you from having to climb over boxes and other items when you need to grab something from the back of the unit.

Paige Tepping is RISMedia’s managing editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at paige@rismedia.com.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends. Like Housecall on Facebook and follow @HousecallBlog on Twitter.

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