What is included in the square footage.

Square footage is commonly used to determine if a home will fit a buyer’s needs.  The price per square foot can be used to compare the costs of different homes and even, determine the value of a property.

The challenge is what is the source of the square footage measurement and how was it done.

County records use square footage to determine assessed value for property tax purposes.  They are assumed to be reliable but there can be inaccuracies in their tax rolls.  Another source of square footage could be from the house plans but the problem there is that the builder may have made modifications, or a subsequent owner could have made additions.

Appraisers are required to measure the home to determine square footage and they generally, adhere to a standard method which leads to uniformity in the industry.  The ANSI, American National Standards Institute, guidelines are considered the standard but there are no laws governing the process.

Because basements are below grade level, regardless of whether they are finished, they are typically not counted toward gross living area.  Attics because they are above grade level can be included in gross living area if they are finished to the same standard as the rest of the home and they meet the minimum height requirement of seven feet.

Unfinished areas are usually not considered in the square footage because it is not livable.

For detached properties, it is common to measure the perimeter of the house but to only include the living areas, not porches, patios or garages.  Gross living area includes stairways, hallways, closets with minimum height and bathrooms.  Covered, enclosed porches would only be considered if they use the same heating system as the house.

By contrast, condominiums, generally measure the inside area of the unit. Some appraisers may add six inches to account for the wall thickness.  If you were to compare the total of the interior room measurements of a detached home, it would be far less than the stated square footage using the normal method.

If the county records are significantly different from the appraisal or the plans, it will be necessary to determine which one is more accurate.  This may require getting the home measured by an appraiser which should be less than paying for a complete appraisal.

Building equity in your home.

 

Owning a home is the first step to building equity.  Tenants build equity but not for themselves; they build it for the owners.

Equity is the difference in the value of the home and what is owed on the home.  There are two dynamics that cause this to grow: appreciation and principal reduction.

As the home increases in value, it is said to appreciate.  Various authorities will annualize an appreciation rate based on average sales prices from one year to the next.  Since appreciation is based on supply and demand as well as economic conditions, it will not be the same year after year.

If you looked at a ten to twelve-year period, some would be higher than others and there may even be some individual years that it is flat or even declined.  For the most part, values tend to appreciate over time.

Most mortgages are amortized which means that a portion of the payment each month is applied to the principal in order to pay off the loan by the end of the term.  A $300,000 mortgage at 4.5% for 30 years has $395.06 applied to the principal with the first payment.  A slightly larger amount is applied to the principal each following month until the loan is paid with the 360th payment.

If additional principal payments are made, it will save interest, build equity faster and shorten the term of the mortgage.  Using the previous example, if an additional $250.00 principal contribution was made with each payment, it would only take 270 payments to retire the loan instead of 360.  It would save $69,305 in interest and shorten the mortgage by 7.5 years.

To see the dynamics of equity due to appreciation and principal reduction, look at the Rent vs. Own.  To see the effect of making additional principal contributions on your equity, look at the Equity Accelerator.

Will you have capital gain on the sale of your home?

Whether you’re an owner now or expect to be one in the future, it is important to be familiar with the federal tax laws that affect homeownership.  Since personal income tax was enacted in 1913 with the 16th amendment, homes have had preferential treatment.

The mortgage interest deduction is based on up to $750,000 of acquisition debt used to buy, build or improve a principal residence.  In addition to the interest, the property taxes are deductible, limited to the new $10,000 limit on the aggregate of state and local taxes (SALT).  The taxpayer may also deduct interest and property taxes subject to limits on a second home.

Homeowners can decide each year whether to take itemized personal deductions or the allowable standard deduction which was significantly increased under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Single taxpayers may exclude up to $250,000 of capital gain on the sale of their home and up to $500,000 if married filing jointly.  They must have owned and lived in the home for at least two of the last five years.  For gains more than these amounts, a lower, long-term capital gains rate is paid rather than one’s ordinary income tax rate.

Capital improvements made to a home will increase the basis and lower the gain.  Homeowners are probably familiar that large dollar expenses like roofs, appliances or major remodeling are capital improvements.  However, many lower dollar items may also be considered improvements if they materially add value or extend the life of the property or adapts a portion of the home to a new use.

Homeowners are urged to keep records of money they spend on the home that they own over the years so that their tax professional can decide at the time of sale what they must report to IRS.

You can download a helpful Homeowners Tax Guide that explains in more detail and includes a worksheet to keep track of the basis of your home and capital improvements.

SERIOUS BUYERS

June and July are the busiest home sale months of the year. When inventory is in short supply and you may be competing with other offers, it is important to show the seller you’re serious. Make your offer look as good as possible because you may not get the chance to make or accept a counter-offer.

Put yourself in the seller’s shoes.  Your home has just gone on the market.  There is lots of activity and suddenly, there is more than one offer to purchase.  The seller’s first consideration may be to accept the highest offer but there are many other things to consider like closing dates, closing costs, possible repairs, contingencies and of course, the ability of the borrower to get a loan.

Offer a fair price for the property in your initial purchase agreement.  It shows sincerity and good faith that you’re actually trying to purchase the home and not trying to take advantage of the seller.  The old adage that you can always go up later may never happen if there are multiple offers on the property in the beginning.

  1. Remove the uncertainty that you may not be approved for a mortgage by having a pre-approval letter from your mortgage company.
  2. Show your sincerity by increasing the normal amount of earnest money customary for the area and price of the home.  The earnest money will be applied toward your down payment and closing costs.  Consider placing even more money in escrow when the contingencies have been met.
  3. Specify a closing date in the contract but acknowledge that you can be flexible to accommodate the sellers’ moving date.  If it becomes an issue, it still must be mutually agreed upon.
  4. Make the contingency periods shorter if possible to make the seller feel that they’ll know sooner that the offer is solid.
  5. If the contingency really isn’t important to you, leave it out of the offer.  The more contingencies included in a contract, the more the seller will wonder what might happen to keep it from closing.
  6. Write a personal note to the seller explaining why you like and want their home.  Consider including a picture of your family and pets.
  7. If you’re not using a digital contract, physically sign the offer with a felt tip pen of contrasting color.  You’d be surprised how this adds a personal touch to the offer.

One way to eliminate the competition of multiple offers is by not procrastinating.  When you have decided to write a contract, don’t wait; do it immediately and ask your agent to deliver it quickly.  Your agent will be able to help you craft a solid offer that makes you look serious and can give you advice that may be unique to your situation.

PROTECT YOUR HOME WHILE YOU ARE AWAY.

You been planning this trip for some time and almost every detail has been considered…or has it?  Have you thought about how to protect your home while you’re out of town?  What’s going to make sure that everything you left is still there in you return?

Nothing could ruin a trip more than coming back to find out your home has been burglarized or worse.  It makes sense to spend a little time before you leave on making sure your home is as safe and sound as it can be.

There are a host of devices to use across the Internet including camera door bells, video cameras, door locks, garage door openers, light and thermostat controls.  You can monitor your home whenever you have an Internet connection.  The question is whether you want the distraction from your trip.

Consider these low-tech suggestions along with your other normal efforts:

  • Tell your neighbors you’ll be out of town and to be aware of any unusual activity.
  • Notify your alarm company
  • Discontinue your postal delivery
  • Use timers on interior lights to make it appear you’re home as usual.
  • Don’t make it easy for burglars by leaving messages on voice mail or posting on social networks.
  • Post on social networks after you’ve returned about your vacation.
  • Remove the hidden spare keys and give it to a trusted neighbor or friend.
  • Lock everything, double-check and set the alarm.
  • Take pictures of your belongings in case you need them.
  • Disconnect TVs and other equipment in case of unexpected power surges.
  • Adjust your thermostat.
  • Arrange for lawn care.
  • Consider disconnecting the garage door opener.
  • Put irreplaceable valuables in a safety deposit box.

It’s nice to go out of town on a well-deserved trip and it’s always nice to get back home…especially when it is just the way you left it.

When do you have to pay capital gain in selling your home?

IRS has provisions for homeowners regarding the sale of a principal residence that allows for temporarily renting the home without losing the ability to exclude the gain if the home is sold under the correct conditions.

The rules for the exclusion of gain on the sale of a principal residence are:

  • Up to $250,000 of gain may be excluded for single taxpayers and up to $500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.
  • Ownership and Use must have been a principal residence for two of the five years preceding the date of sale (closing date).  This allows for a temporary rental for up to three years maximum.
  • Either spouse may meet the ownership test.
  • Both spouses must meet the use test.
  • No exclusion has been used in the previous 24-month period.

Let’s pretend that a person had owned a home from more than two years.  This person married and moved into their new spouse’s home two years, six months ago.  That person decided to sell the home and would have approximately $200,000 of gain in the sale.

If the property is put on the market, sold and closed prior to the three-years that they moved out, the home would still be eligible for the section 121 exclusion on the sale of a principal residence.  If the sales closes after that three-year period, the owner would owe tax on the gain.  If the long-term capital gains rate for the owner was 15%, they would owe approximately $30,000 in taxes.

If you or a person you know is in a situation like this, they should certainly seek professional tax advice as well as discussing the marketing and value of the property with their real estate professional.  This is something that I have experience with; call me at (830) 708-7199.  The timing is very important and critical to a favorable outcome.

HVAC is one of the most important component of your home. It pays to take care of it.

Heating and air-conditioning are frequently referred to as the “comfort systems.”  If one has gone out in the dead of winter or the heat of summer, lack of comfort becomes a primary concern.  Regular maintenance with a HVAC checklist is something that homeowners can do themselves to ensure that the units operate properly.

Periodically

  • Change your filter every 90 days; every 30 days if you have shedding pets.
  • Maintain at least two feet of clearance around outdoor air conditioning units and heat pumps.
  • Don’t allow leaves, grass clippings, lint or other things to block circulation of coils.
  • Inspect insulation on refrigerant lines leading into house monthly and replace if missing or damaged.

Annually, in spring

  • Confirm that outdoor air conditioning units and heat pumps are on level pads.
  • Pour bleach in the air conditioner’s condensation drain to clear mold and algae which can cause a clog.
  • Avoid closing more than 20% of a home’s registers to keep from overworking the system.
  • Replace the battery in the home’s carbon monoxide detector.

While using this list will provide some things that may impede the comfort system’s proper performance, it is recommended that you have your units serviced annually by a licensed contractor.  Furnaces should also be inspected for carbon monoxide leaks. Preventative maintenance may help avoid costly repairs.

Discount Buyer Companies

There are an increasing number of real estate companies, termed iBuyers, like Open Door, Offerpad, Zillow, Knock and others that market a service that has an appeal to homeowners.  The pitch for these quick cash offer companies will include some variation of “let us buy your home in days without the normal hassles of listing.”

This approach attempts to provide an alternative to selling a home in a normal manner at the expense of not realizing the full equity a homeowner is entitled. There is no fiduciary relationship requiring the broker to put a seller’s best interest above their own interest.  An iBuyer does not represent a seller and does not owe client-level services like loyalty, obedience disclosure among other things required by most state license laws.

The offer is based on an automated valuation model, many times, without a physical inspection of the home.  In some cases, a contract is written but there are provisions that allow iBuyers time to possibly “flip” the property to an investor or use an “out” in the contract to void the sale.

The reality is that a company cannot stay in business if they pay too much for the property.  The iBuyer becomes the Seller who now must be concerned with pricing the home properly to cover the normal selling expenses as well as repairs, improvements, and holding costs that will be incurred until the property sells.

There could be circumstances that make it necessary for a homeowner to sell their home at a discount.  The seller could be in a distressed situation needing immediate cash.  They might need a quick sale and don’t want to be bothered with repairs or marketing efforts.  Or possibly, they may have found their next home   and need to act quickly. The instant liquidity comes at a cost to the seller in lower proceeds from the sale.

To realize the maximum possible equity, a real estate professional in your area can advise you about the fair market value of your home, a reasonably expected sales price, the costs involved and how long it will take.  Before accepting a price to sell your home to a wholesaler, you owe it to yourself and your family to find out what you can expect if you take a conventional sales route.

LOVE IT OR HEAVE IT!!!

Periodically, you need to rid yourself of things that are taking up you time and space to make room for more of what you like and want.

There’s a frequently quoted suggestion that if you haven’t used something for two years, maybe it isn’t essential in your life.

If you have books you’ll never read again, give them to someone who will.  If you have a deviled egg plate that hasn’t been used since the year your Aunt Phoebe gave it to you, it’s out of there.  Periodically, go through every closet, drawer, cabinet, room and storage area to get rid of the things that are just taking up space in your home and your life.

Every item receives the decision to keep or get rid of.  Consider these questions as you judge each item:

  • When was the last time you used it?
  • Do you believe you’ll use it again?
  • Is there a sentimental reason to keep it?

You have four options for the things that you’re not going to keep.

  1. Give it to someone who needs it or will appreciate it
  2. Sell it in a garage sale or on Craig’s List.
  3. Donate it to a charity and receive a tax deduction
  4. Discard it to the trash.

Start with your closet.  If you haven’t worn something in five years, get rid of it.  Then, go through the things again and if you haven’t worn it in two years, ask yourself the real probability that you’ll wear it again.

Another way to do it is to move it from your active closet to another closet.  If a year goes by in the other closet, the next time you go through this exercise, those clothes are on their way out.

If the items taking up space are financial records and receipts, the solution may be to scan them and store them in the cloud.  There are plenty of sites that will offer you several gigabytes of free space and it may cost as little as $10 a month for 100 GB at Dropbox, to get the additional space you need.  It will certainly be cheaper than the mini-storage building.

Purchase and Upgrade the home with the same loan.

The FNMA HomeStyle conventional mortgage allows a buyer to purchase a home that needs renovations and include them in the financing.  This facilitates the purchase of the home and the renovations in one loan rather than getting a separate second mortgage or home equity line of credit.

The combination of these loans should save closing costs as well as interest rates which would typically be higher on a home improvement loan.

The borrower will need to have an itemized, written bid from a contractor covering the scope of the improvements.  Any type of renovation or repair is eligible if it is a permanent part of the property.  Improvements must be completed within 12 months from the date the mortgage loan is delivered.

15 and 30-year fixed rate and eligible adjustable rate loans are available.

Typical FNMA down payments are available starting as low as 3% for a one-unit principal residence to 25% for three and four-unit principal residence and one-unit investment properties.

Borrower must choose his or her own contractor to perform the renovation.

Lender must review the contractor hired by the borrower to determine if they are adequately qualified and experienced for the work being performed. The Contractor Profile Report (Form 1202) can be used to assist the lender in making this determination.

Borrowers must have a construction contract with their contractor. Fannie Mae has a model Construction Contract (Form 3734) that may be used to document the construction contract between the borrower and the contractor.

Plans and specifications must be prepared by a registered, licensed, or certified general contractor, renovation consultant, or architect. The plans and specifications should fully describe all work to be done and provide an indication of when various jobs or stages of completion will be scheduled (including both the start and job completion dates)

Up to 50% of the renovation funds may be advanced for the cost of materials after the closing of the loan.

This mortgage does have a provision for the borrower to do a portion of the work themselves if it doesn’t exceed 10% of the total project and it must pass inspection on completion just as the contractor’s work.

It is recommended that borrowers thoroughly research this program before they commit to a loan.  For detailed information, see FNMA HomeStyle Renovation Mortgage and Selling Guide Announcement SEL-2017-02.   It is important to work with a mortgage officer who is familiar with these loans who can guide you through the process.