Buy Before You Sell

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A common concern for homeowners is that if they sell their home first, they may not be able to find another home to buy. It is understandable with the low inventories currently available in most markets, but a strong argument can be made to buy your replacement home first.

In fact, there are some advisors that would tell you not to sell at all. Instead, keep the home for a rental investment and refinance it to pull out some cash for the down payment and closing costs for the new one.

Many homeowners recognize that their home has been an excellent investment for them. Their home may have outperformed their retirement and other investments. In all likelihood, homeowners understand the management and benefits of a single-family home far better than they understand stocks, mutual funds, annuities, or ETFs.

Just as there are low inventories of homes for sales, there are shortages of available single-family homes for rent, as is evidenced by rent continuing to rise. Rising prices and rents contribute to the rates of return that rental properties enjoy.

A homeowner, assuming they have good credit, can borrow the difference in their unpaid balance and 80% of the fair market value of their home. The proceeds are most likely not a taxable event and can be used to purchase the replacement home.

It is likely that the rent could cover the total payment on the refinanced former home. The seller, then, benefits from income, depreciation, equity build-up, appreciation, and leverage.

There is even a window of opportunity possible for the homeowner to rent it for a while, which covers his payment, allows the home to continue to appreciate, and then, sell and close it within two years and still be eligible for the section 121 exclusion of gain in a principal residence.

The homeowner may find that the investment is providing a better return than alternative investments and keep the rental beyond the two years. At some later date, if the homeowner wanted to dispose of the property and buy another more expensive rental, a section 1031 exchange may be available to avoid capital gains for a while longer.

Many economists feel that the low inventory situation in most of America is going to be a long-term event due to over a decade of underbuilding and maturity of the millennial generation. This will continue to propel both home values and rents; both of which are good for investors.

Buy before you sell but they don’t have to be at the same time; they can be years apart. Do a cash-out refinance on your current home for the proceeds to buy another home that meets your needs now. Then, convert your current home to a rental investment. Don’t wait because rising interest rates will increase your payments on not only the new home but the refinanced home also.

Talk to your real estate professional about what the fair market value of your current home is now, what you can expect to pull out of it and what it would rent for. Download our Rental Income Properties guide for more information.

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When are the Negotiations Over?

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The primary negotiation in a home purchase takes place when the contract is agreed upon that includes the price, closing and possession. With inventory down over 19% in the past year and multiple offers being more of the norm than the exception, the first round of negotiations can be challenging.

Buyers and sellers alike feel relieved once it has resulted in an agreement, but experienced agents know there is more to come if there are contingencies for financing, inspections, or other things. The competition for the home may be so tough that the buyer waived their rights for what would be normal contingencies.

Financing is one of the most common contingencies in normal situations but when multiple offers are involved, the cash offers tend to have the advantage. If you don’t have the resources to make a cash offer, the next best position is to be pre-approved with a commitment letter from the lender. Arrange for the lender to confirm the pre-approval directly with the listing agent prior to the listing agent presenting the offer.

There have been buyers who know they don’t have the cash to close and apply for a mortgage anyway and try to reinsert the provision outside of the contract. Experienced listing agents will advise the seller to have the buyer provide proof of funds necessary to close and verify that they do indeed exist.

The purpose of an inspection is for the buyer to receive an objective evaluation about the condition of the home and its components to identify existing defects and potential problems. The expense for inspections can be several hundred dollars and it’s reasonable for buyers not to want to spend the money before they find out if they can come to terms with the seller. From a different perspective, sellers want to know quickly if the buyer is going to reject the home due to the inspections because they could be losing time. For that reason, inspection time frames are limited to a few days from acceptance of the offer.

Sometimes, buyers will expect sellers to make all the repairs listed on the report and this is where the second round of negotiations begins. If the seller refuses, the negotiations can go back and forth until the other party accepts the offer on the table.

When purchasing a new home from a builder, it is expected for everything to be in working order; after all, it is new. However, it is reasonable to expect that existing homes, that are not new, have a different standard. While it’s understandable that buyers would want to be aware about major items that are not in "working order", normal wear and tear of components based on its age should be expected.

In a highly competitive seller’s market, buyers might do whatever they can to get their contract accepted, realizing that there is another place to negotiate when they’re not competing with other buyers’ offers to purchase.

The negotiations involved in a home purchase are not complete until the buyer and seller have signed the papers and the title has passed to the buyer. Up until the closing is finished, any item that comes up could prolong the negotiations.

For this to be a WIN-WIN situation, both seller and buyer must feel good about the negotiations that led to transaction closing. Neither party should feel that the other party had an unfair advantage over them.

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Become a Victim of Inflation or Benefit from It

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In inflationary times, currently the highest in 40 years, the purchasing power of your money diminishes each day; essentially, buying you less. The biggest threat is to be without capital assets, like a home, that are benefiting from the increase in prices.

Your money buys less gasoline now, than it did a year ago, by close to 50%. Beef prices are up about 20% since last year. Used cars are about 35% more expensive than they were a year ago. Mortgage rates are near 5% after reaching their lowest of 2.65% in January 2021.

And then, there is the price of houses. CoreLogic reports that home prices increased year over year by 20% in February 2022. Their Home Price Index indicates an annual five percent increase in prices from 2014 to 2021.

For many people, the American dream of owning a home is slipping away. Adjusting your expectations for the perfect home and when you expect to achieve it, can be a legitimate, long-term strategy to making the dream come true. By delaying the gratification of getting everything you want in a home now and making compromises that would allow you to stair-step your way into the "forever home" could be the plan to incrementally reach your goal.

Owning a home in today’s market, even if it isn’t the ultimate home, provides a significant hedge against inflation. Not only is the home appreciating faster than the rate of inflation, the mortgage on the home produces leverage that increases a homeowner’s return on their equity.

Homeowners have both the home’s appreciation and its amortization working in tandem to increase their equity. Money in a bank account or the stock market can’t compare to the potential.

$40,000 invested in a certificate of deposit earning 1% would be worth $42,040 in five years. If the same amount was invested in the stock market that earned 6% annually, it would be worth $53,529. However, if the $40,000 were invested in a $400,000 home, with a mortgage at 5% for 30 years, that appreciated at 5% annually, the equity would be close to $180,000 at the end of the same five-year period.

Connect with us and let’s put together a plan to help you benefit from inflation.

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You don’t have to give an arm to get a lower rate

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Rising interest rates compounded with increasing home prices are causing affordability issues for many buyers. To keep payments low, you won’t have to give an arm, but more buyers are considering getting an ARM, adjustable-rate mortgages.

Mortgage rates are near its highest point since 2009. "While housing affordability and inflationary pressures pose challenges for potential buyers, house price growth will continue but is expected to decelerate in the coming months." said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist.

A $400,000 home with 10% down payment and a 30-year term has the choice of a 5.27% fixed-rate or 3.96% for a 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage. The principal and interest payment will be $1,992.40 for the fixed-rate and $1,710.40 for the adjustable rate saving the buyer $281.99 per month for five years.

There is an additional savings for the buyer choosing the adjustable-rate mortgage because the unpaid balance at the end of the five-year first period is $6,429 less than the fixed-rate. The total savings to the buyer on the adjustable-rate during the first period is $23,348 or $389.13 per month for sixty months.

At the end of the first period, the rate on the mortgage can adjust according to the then, current index plus the margin subject to the caps as specified in the note. These safeguards remove control from the lender or servicer from arbitrarily raising the rate.

The caps restrict the payments from going up more than a certain amount at each period or overall, for the life of the mortgage. A common cap might be that it cannot adjust more than 2%, up or down, at any given adjustment period or 6% above or below the initial note rate.

Adjustable-rate mortgages must adjust downward if the index indicates a reduction at the anniversary of the adjustment period. The overall trend has been lower rates for the past thirty years until recently.

Using an Adjustable Rate Comparison tool, you can project a breakeven point to determine at what point the ARM would be more expensive than the fixed-rate, assuming a worst case situation where the rates would increase the maximum at each period.

In the case of the previous example, the breakeven would occur at 7 years and 6 months. This means that if the buyer were to sell the home prior to that projection, the ARM would provide the cheapest cost of funds to purchase the home. On the other hand, if the buyer knew they would stay longer than that, it might be a safer option to go with the fixed-rate.

It is good to be aware of available options when financing a home. Analyzing, using the best information available, can help you make an informed decision. Make your own comparison using our ARM Comparison. Current interest rates can be found on Freddie Mac.

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Helping the Seller See Your FHA/VA Offer More Favorably

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With multiple offers the norm on many listings these days, the seller relies on their listing agent to help them determine which one to accept. In some cases, offers subject to FHA or VA mortgages tend to move to the bottom of the list.

Some sellers consider all cash offers first and then, conventional offers with at least 20% down payments as the next most likely to close. It may be because of a common misconception that FHA or VA buyers are poor credit risks and have a higher likelihood of not being approved. Both FHA and VA do not require as strict credit requirements as conventional loans but if a buyer has been preapproved, that should alleviate that worry.

A legitimate concern regarding FHA and VA contracts could be that if the appraisal doesn’t come in at the sales price, the buyer has an option to void the contract. This means that the property would have to go back on the market and valuable time could be lost. However, that could also be true for a conventional mortgage.

One major advantage for buyers using these government insured, or guaranteed loans is that a lower down payment is required. Just because buyers prefer not to put 20% down payment does not mean that they are not credit worthy. In the case of veterans, the VA loan is a perk for serving their country that provides one of the lowest cost mortgages available.

For FHA buyers wanting a low-down payment option, the mortgage insurance could be considerably less expensive than on a conventional loan. Conventional loans usually want a 740-credit score for the best rate and lowest mortgage insurance. As the credit score gets lower on conventional loans, the price for mortgage insurance goes up. This is not true with FHA; the price is the same on any acceptable mortgage.

For buyers to increase the odds of getting their contract considered seriously or even accepted, the first step is to identify a mortgage professional who specializes in FHA and VA loans and get pre-approved before starting to look at homes. Another option is to attach the pre-approval letter to the offer when it is made along with the contact information of the loan officer.

Have the mortgage professional personally call the listing agent as soon as the offer is made so they can go to bat for you and provide verified information that can be communicated with the seller. Some agents have a predetermined idea that all FHA and VA loans are difficult and fraught with problems. The mortgage officer, who specializes in these types of mortgages, can give the listing agent factual information about the way the loans work in today’s market.

For the buyers who have the resources, another tactic may be to let the seller know that your first preference is to use an FHA or VA loan but if during the approval process, a snag develops, making it not possible, you would be willing to go with a conventional loan.

There are real estate agents who have never participated in an FHA or VA loan and there are agents who specialize in them and have lots of experience. It is to your advantage to be working with an experienced agent. They are going to be the agent who recommends a mortgage professional, writes your offer, presents it to the listing agent, and works with all the other professionals to get your FHA or VA transaction to settlement.

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Today is a Skills Market

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In today’s ultra-competitive real estate market where there is only 1.7 months supply of inventory compared to 6 months in a balanced market, and the average home is getting 4.8 offers per sale, it is more important than ever to have the right person "champion" your cause.

In the Middle Ages, it became customary for a person of nobility to appoint a "champion" to fight for them in their stead. Trial by combat ended in the 15th to 16th centuries but the practice of "fighting" or speaking in one’s behalf continues even to this day.

Lawyers will take up the cause of their client to win justice for them. Professional athletes are recruited for their abilities to help their team become victorious. Craftsmen of every type imaginable are in high demand because of their finished product.

Sellers’ and buyers’ objectives are different and, in many cases opposing in nature. Sellers, rightfully so, believe they should get the most for their home while minimizing expenses and avoiding any issues that could cause delays. Buyers want to be treated fairly; have an opportunity to buy the home of their choice and enjoy the protections of normal contingencies for things like mortgage approval and inspections.

In most situations, there are two real estate agents involved in a single sale. While there could be legal agency distinctions, it is commonly felt that the agent on their side of the transaction is "championing" their cause. It is natural to want your champion to be the most capable person available.

There are skills that agents need in today’s market not the least of which is negotiations. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, your agent needs to be skilled in negotiating on your behalf. Every part of the contract is a negotiation starting with the price, then, whether it is cash or subject to a mortgage. What’s a reasonable amount of earnest money? Can it be "as is" and still allow the buyer inspections so they’ll be fully aware of what they’re buying?

The buyer wants to negotiate the best terms possible with the seller and they are depending on their agent to work for them to get them. The home inspector has been hired by the buyer to determine the condition of the home and will most likely, ask the seller to make any necessary repairs.

The lender hires an appraiser to determine the value of the home so that the loan will be secured by the property. Recent sales are used as comparables, but they trail the market which becomes a challenge in rapidly appreciating markets, especially, when there are multiple offers.

And since multiple offers are the norm currently, how is the best way to handle them based on the seller’s or buyer’s perspective. There could be legal and ethical procedures that must be followed but an agent’s experience may also contribute to the favorable outcome.

The skilled and experienced negotiator understands that every transaction is different because of dealing with individuals, their families, their needs, and their emotions. The role of the third-party negotiator can be invaluable to the success of the transaction based on not only their experience but the juxtaposition to the principals and their objectivity of trying to reach a compromise.

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Existing Homeowners May be Facing Higher Payments

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As a current homeowner, you may be basking in the consolation that you bought before the market got crazy with higher prices and interest rates. However, it doesn’t mean that you may not be facing higher mortgage payments for next year.

Most homeowners pay their taxes and insurance into an escrow account with their mortgage payment. The lender monitors the account to be sure there are enough funds available when the taxes and insurance are due. If there is a shortage, it could cause your payment to increase.

In 2021, the national average increase in home prices was just under 20% but may have been considerably higher in some local markets. The increased value of homes doesn’t just affect buyers, in can affect the assessed value of properties across the board resulting in their property taxes going up.

Various taxing authorities, like state, city, school, and other special districts, can establish the rate they charge and exemptions that apply. In most situations, there is a state assessment procedure for establishing the value subject to tax.

When the assessment is published, there is usually an opportunity for the owner to challenge the value. The owner can submit evidence to justify lowering the assessment like comparable sales that indicate a lower value, mistakes in the size of the improvements or lot size, or possibly, deteriorated condition of the property.

There are companies who will represent sellers in the effort to lower the assessment. Typically, they may charge a flat fee and a percent of the property taxes saved by lowering the assessment. This particular year, some assessed values have gone up as much as 35-40% and it may not seem fair, but it really does accurately reflect market value.

Start investigating your situation as soon as you are notified of this year’s assessment. In most cases, the owner can represent themselves in the matter, but they will need to accumulate accurate, comparable sales, not use automated value models, found online.

Your real estate agent may be able to provide you a list of comparable sales.

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Homeownership and the Three M’s

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Homes are valuable assets and must be maintained so they function properly, are safe, enjoyable and hold their value. Attention to maintenance, minimizing expenses and managing debt & risk will protect your investment.

Maintenance

It is interesting that people understand the necessity to maintain a car and regularly have the car inspected, repaired and do regular maintenance. Even though a house could be worth many times more than a car, homeowners regularly neglect what should be routine maintenance.

Failure to maintain a home properly adversely affects the value. Many times, buyers will discount the price they are willing to pay for a home more than the actual cost of the repair or expenditure. A home in good condition instills confidence while a home in less than good condition generates concern about unknown items that may also need repair.

HVAC systems, as well as appliances, run more efficiently when they are maintained which will result in lower utility bills. Another big benefit is that small items in need of repairs, many times, turn into more expensive repairs or having to replace the items completely.

For example, failure to replace the air filters regularly could lead to a more expensive repair like having to clean the coils or it could even lead to a larger issue like burning out a HVAC motor. In this example, the aggregate cost of replacing the filters is much less than the cost of a new furnace or A/C unit.

It can be more expensive to fix something that is not working rather than rather than prevent it from failing by regularly maintaining it.

Minimize Expenses

Every dollar you spend on maintenance, increases your cost of housing. Some maintenance items may be easily done yourself and you’ll save the cost of having a professional do them, like changing the filters. However, the list of minimizing expenses goes way beyond maintenance.

Replacing all your light bulbs with energy efficient alternatives like LEDs is a great example. In the spirit of Ben Franklin’s adage that "a penny saved is a penny earned", every dollar you save on utilities lowers your overall cost of housing.

Windows and doors whose seals are not adequate, or a home not properly insulated could be using considerably more energy than necessary. The cost of making these adjustments could be recaptured in utility savings in a short period of time.

Knowing the right service providers can be a big source of savings as well as give you peace of mind. Your real estate professional has developed a wide range of trusted service providers who are both reputable and reasonable. You should feel comfortable asking for a recommendation whenever you need one.

Manage Debt & Risk

Refinancing your home to get a lower interest rate can be a big savings but you’ll need to analyze it to determine how long it will cost you to recapture the cost involved. A Refinance Analysis calculator can help.

Other cost-saving items could be investigating multi-policy discounts for insurance, lowering your property tax assessment, low-flow toilets, smart thermostats, unplugging small appliances when not in use, and adjusting the temperature on HVAC units and water heaters.

While you are talking to your insurance agent about possible discounts, ask about your liability coverage also. Homeowner policies have a stated amount of coverage, but your financial situation or exposure may indicate that you need to increase those amounts. Generally, homeowners with pools or boats have increased risk and you’ll want to ask your agent about your other extracurricular activities.

Owning a home has a lot of responsibility and having a good source of information is valuable. Your real estate professional is uniquely qualified to be your source of credible real estate information. If you are wondering why they would be helpful even when you are not buying or selling a home, it is because they want to establish long-term relationships so that whenever you need their help or services, not only will you feel comfortable asking but that you’ll feel confident to refer them to your friends.

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Will Selling Your Home Increase Your Tax Bill?

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With home prices rising 20% nationwide in the past year and in some markets, even dramatically more, many homeowners are excited about the equity in their homes. In the past, most homeowners were not concerned about profit from the sale being taxed but some may be surprised.

The profit homeowners make on the sale of their homes have enjoyed a generous exclusion. Since 1997, for qualified sales, single taxpayers exclude up to $250,000 of capital gain and married taxpayers filing jointly, can exclude up to $500,000 of gain.

Prior to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, homeowners over the age of 55 were only allowed a once in a lifetime exclusion of $125,000. The new rule greatly increased the amount of excluded profit to the extent that most homeowners did not think about paying tax on the profit from their principal residences.

Section 121, commonly called the Home Sale Tax Exclusion, requires that you owned and used the property as your principal residence for two out of the previous five years. This allows for a temporary rental of the property and still be able to qualify for the exemption. It can be claimed only once every two years.

Cost basis is determined by Purchase Price plus certain closing costs at acquisition plus capital improvements made to the home during ownership. Sales price, less selling expenses, is considered net sales price from which the cost basis is subtracted to arrive at capital gains on the sale.

If the capital gain is less than the applicable exclusion, no tax is owed. When the gain exceeds the exclusion amount, the overage is taxed at long-term capital gains rate which could be 0%, 15% or 20% depending on the taxpayer’s taxable income.

Capital improvements made to a home increase the cost basis and effectively, lower the gain in the sale. It is important for homeowners to keep records of the money they spend during the time they own the home.

Some improvements are apparent like a swimming pool, new fence, or roof but some are not so obvious. Replacing a faucet or a light fixture can be a capital improvement and even though the cost is small, lots of these items over the lifetime of owning the home add up.

The three rules for identifying capital improvements listed in IRS publication 523 are: 1) does it materially add value to the property? 2) does it extend the useful life of the property? 3) does it adapt a portion of the home to a new use?

While taxpayers are allowed to reconstruct a register of the improvements made during the time they owned their home, some things will undoubtedly, be overlooked. It is much better to have a written record of all money spent on the home in a contemporaneous manner and keep receipts for items over $75.

It is better to have the record of all items available when you are ready to make the capital gain determination. You’ll save time and probably pay less taxes having the list readily available whether you do your taxes or have a professional do them.

For more information, download the Homeowners Tax Guide.

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Buying a Home…Ask for a CLUE Report

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People purchasing a used car have most likely heard of CARFAX vehicle history reports to help them avoid buying a car with costly hidden problems. Less likely are buyers to know that there is a way to discover some of the repair history of homes they are interested in.

Lexis Nexis C.L.U.E. (Claims Loss Underwriting Exchange) is a claims history database that enables insurance companies to access consumer claims for the previous seven years when they are underwriting a risk or rating an insurance policy.

An insurance underwriter could identify a previous claim for substantial damage to a property and try to find out whether the repairs were completed properly before assuming the risk as a new insurer. Similarly, a buyer could benefit from knowledge of former claims that may affect the value of the property or possible, future repairs.

A CLUE report can discover insurance claims on a home to investigate whether the repairs were done properly. These reports are not directly available to potential buyers, but their property casualty insurance agent could order a report subject to successful negotiations with the seller to agree on a contract of sale.

If a buyer had a CLUE report on a home that they were buying and were concerned about specific issues, the buyer could address those things with the inspector during the inspection period. Conversely, the CLUE Report could detect items that may not be visible during a home inspection.

In some cases, a listing agent might suggest a seller get a CLUE report in the spirit of full disclosure to potential buyers. Even if there were claims and the work was done properly, a high number of claims could affect the premium paid by a new homeowner.

A current homeowner can request one free CLUE report every twelve months consumer.documents. Please be ready to provide your first and last name, social security number, driver’s license number and state in which it was issues, date of birth, current home address and phone number. For more information, see Lexis Nexis Consumer Portal.

If a buyer doesn’t have a property casualty insurance agent, your real estate agent can recommend one.

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