Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Writing a Successful Offer in a Low Inventory Market



With at least 40% less homes on the market currently than there were a year ago, serious buyers have probably experienced the disappointment of losing a home they wanted to buy from increased competition.  Today's buyers are looking for ways to improve their odds of being the best contract without having to use the purchase price as their only tool.

Buyers should reconsider, rethink, and re-evaluate their "must have" features and amenities.  It is probably unrealistic in a normal market to think you can have the perfect home at the price you want but in today's market it is less possible.  List the things you must have and the things you would like to have and prioritize them.  Try to identify the critical from the convenient.

The next step is to put together your "home" team.  You are the captain of this process, but it is essential to have a strong first officer and that is your real estate agent.  This professional will oversee the process, advise you on current market conditions and normal procedures.  Your agent will even help you assemble the rest of the team like mortgage officer, title, insurance, warranty, inspectors and can recommend service providers.

Your agent can advocate your cause personally to the listing agent by personally delivering the offer and expounding on your strong points to lobby your position.  Obviously, your agent will not share anything that you do not expressly give them permission to.

Even before you write the offer, your agent can inquire with the listing agent about any preferences of the seller not mentioned in the listing agreement as well as to use the proper contract forms and addendums.

The following list of suggestions are provided for your consideration realizing that some may not be appropriate for your individual financial situation or comfort level.

  • Get pre-approved from a local lender and include documentation with offer to purchase.
  • Have lender phone and email listing agent to expound on pre-approval.
  • Increase the amount of earnest money.
  • Acknowledge flexibility on closing and occupancy dates.
  • Eliminate unnecessary contingencies.
  • Waive the appraisal and have proof of funds to meet the difference in the purchase price (if paying cash).
  • Avoid concessions like asking the seller to pay the buyer's closing costs or points.
  • Avoid including personal property to go with the sale unless specified in listing agreement.
  • Purchase "as is" with right of quick inspection to cancel contract if condition is unacceptable.
  • Shorten time frames on necessary contingencies.
  • Attach proof of funds for down payment or full purchase price if cash.
  • Arrange bridge financing to be able to pay cash.
  • Buyer should pay their own normal closing costs.
  • Write a personal note to the seller explaining why you like and want their home.  Some listing agents are advising sellers to not accept them due to potential discrimination liability.
  • Escalation clause...offer to pay $X,000 more than highest acceptable offer up to a limit.
  • Offer to pay $X,000 of seller's closing costs or pay their current year taxes.
  • Make your best offer first because they may not make a counteroffer.

When a new listing hits the market, it is commonplace for there to be a rush of interested buyers that result in multiple offers.  It is prudent for you to research and consider which of these ideas you can implement before you find the home; it is much better to have more time to make these decisions, especially, if it involves a mortgage officer or an attorney.

Your real estate professional will be able to tell you if these suggestions are viable and may be able to offer additional recommendations.  If you do not have an agent, contact me at (616) 402-3535 or Linda@BuyTheLakeshore.com to discuss a plan to craft your offer in the most favorable way possible.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

How long do I have to keep this stuff?



"How long do I have to keep this stuff?" is the usual question you ask yourself when feeling that you are running out of room for all this "paper" that may never be needed. 

The paper receipt you get from your fast-food lunch may go directly into the trash.  The prudent consumer may keep it to reconcile it with their monthly statement and then, trash it.  The natural hierarchy with receipts and documents associated with purchases is that as the price or value goes up, the more important it is to keep them.  The question becomes "but for how long?"

The following table will give you an indication on how long certain documents related to your home need to be kept according to best practices of tax professionals.  IRS recommends that records are kept for three years from the date the taxpayer files their original return or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later.  There is no time limit in the case of fraud or failure to file a tax return.

 

Document

Length of time to keep

Home Purchase/Sale Documents

Home purchase documents

Duration of ownership + 3 years

Closing documents & statements

Duration of ownership + 3 years

Deed to property

Duration of ownership

Home warranty or service contract

Until expiration

Community/Condo Association Covenants

Duration of ownership

Receipts for capital improvements

Duration of ownership + 3 years

Mortgage Payoff statements or Release of Lien

Forever, in case proof is needed

Annual Tax Deductions

Property tax statement & cancelled check

3 years after IRS due date for return

Year-end mortgage statements

3 years after IRS due date for return

Federal tax returns

3 years after filing return or
2 years after paying tax, whichever is later

Insurance and Warranties

Home Inventory

Keep current

Homeowners insurance policy

Until the replacement is received

Service contracts and warranties

Until warranty/service contract expiration

Home repair receipts

Until warranty/service contract expiration

 

Going digital with your records can make them easy to keep as well as to find when you need them.  Create a folder on your computer that automatically backs up to the cloud like Dropbox, Google Docs or OneDrive so that if something happens to your computer, you have them safely tucked away. 

The main folder could be the address of your home with subfolders for purchase documents, capital improvements, warranties, etc.

When you receive statements that are already in digital format, simply move them to the correct folder and subfolder.  If it is a paper format, scan it and save it in the proper folder so you will have it when you need it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Rent your home tax free



There is a little-known provision in the tax code that allows homeowners to rent their principal residence or second home for up to 14 days a year without having to recognize the income.  In this situation, the taxpayer does not deduct the rental expenses associated with the income.

There is no restriction on how much you earn.  If your first or second home is in a desirable area where people are looking for short-term rentals, it could provide a windfall to the homeowner.

In cities where any big sports championships are played, there could be a market for a temporary rental of a home.  Events like PGA tournaments, college basketball tournaments, Bowl games, NFL playoffs and others can create a demand for this type of rental.

For instance, there are people in Augusta, Georgia who rent their homes during the Master's Golf Tournament each year.  There are not a lot of hotel rooms in the area relative to the number of people who usually attend in non-pandemic years and the homes can fetch a nice daily rate.

There can be confusion about the different types of properties and what constitutes a home.  The intended use coupled with actual experience will usually determine the type of property.

There are four types of property.  A principal residence is the home you live in.  There is income property that you rent and do not live in.  There is investment property that is primarily held for an increase in value.  And, there is inventory, which is related to your business like homes that are built or purchased to be flipped.

A second home is one that is used for the primary enjoyment of the owner in addition to their principal residence.  Taxpayers are allowed to deduct the mortgage interest and property taxes on a first and second home up to specific limits.  A vacation home could be another name for a second home but more accurately, it is a rental property that has more than 14 days of personal use during the year.  It becomes a hybrid.

You might want to check with your insurance agent to see if your current policy covers temporary rentals, including liability in case of an accident involving personal injury.  This could affect your decision as to whether you want to consider the rental.

For more information, see IRS facts about renting out a residential property or consult your tax professional.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Before you pay cash for a home



Before you pay cash for a home, ask yourself if there is a possibility, at some point in the future, you might put a mortgage on the home and would want to deduct the mortgage interest on your federal tax return.

Current federal tax law allows homeowners to deduct the interest on up to $750,000 in acquisition debt used to buy, build or improve a property.  When a person pays cash for a home, the acquisition debt is zero.  The only way to increase the acquisition debt is to make and finance the improvements to the home.

As with many IRS regulations, there are exceptions to this rule.  If a mortgage is secured on the first or second home within 90 days of the purchase closing, the debt is considered acquisition debt.  The interest on the funds used to purchase the home can be deducted on up to $750,000 of the mortgage balance.

Assuming a borrower has good credit, the ability to repay the loan and the home justifies the loan, lenders are willing to make mortgages for homeowners.  It does not mean that the interest on the mortgage will be deductible.

Additional information can be found in Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, of the Internal Revenue Service at IRS.gov.

To deduct home mortgage interest, you must file Form 1040 or 1040-SR and itemize deductions on Schedule A.  The mortgage must be secured debt on a qualified home in which you have an ownership interest.  Interest on home equity loans is only deductible if the borrowed funds are used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer's home that secures the loan.

If you answered yes or even maybe to the question first posed in this article, contact your tax professional to determine the best way to approach your individual situation.  For more information, download the Homeowners Tax Guide.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Optimize Your Sales Price



Doing a lot of work to a car before you trade or sell it to a dealer is not generally a good idea.  In most cases, you won't recapture the cost of the repairs.  They can do the repairs for a less than you can.  Not to mention, you are selling to a wholesaler who needs to sell it again to the end user and still make a profit.

A home sale is totally different.  The owner is selling the home to an end user.  Since the buyer, in many cases, is using their available funds for the down payment and purchase costs, they don't have money to spend on repairs or decorating the home.  They would need to live in it "as is" for a while which may not be as appealing as finding a home that is refurbished, up-to-date, and ready to move into.

Even if the buyer would be willing to get a home improvement loan after the sale, it would be a separate loan at a higher interest rate making their payment higher than financing it all in one mortgage at the lower first mortgage rates.

The seller may experience some inconvenience going through the remodeling process, but it will, most likely, result in a higher sales price in less time.  Occasionally, sellers say they'll let the buyer choose their own colors but not all people have the imagination to know what something will look like after it is finished.  It is better to go ahead and get the work done before putting it on the market.

The bathrooms and kitchen are the most important rooms to update.  If the finish on the cabinets is bad, have them painted.  New countertops and appliances can make a world of difference.  Paint, countertops, and fixtures in the bath give the home a great feel.

In addition to the repairs, a major cleaning and decluttering can make a home look and feel better than the competition.

The first step is to go through the home and pack up or get rid of things you don't need or things that detract from the home like excess furniture, exercise equipment, personal artwork, etc.  Now, do the same with the closets and cabinets.  By getting rid of things, there will be more room and they'll look larger.

Next, walk across the street from your house and give it a critical look.  How is the drive-up appeal?  Would you want to go inside to see the rest if you were a buyer?  Are the trees and shrubs trimmed?  Yard cleaned up?  Do you have blooming flowers in the beds?  Does the front door and mailbox need a new coat of paint?  Do you need to power wash the outside of the home and the sidewalks and driveway? Do the windows need washing?

Buyers are visual people and beauty is always rewarded.  Restaurants know that people eat with their eyes first and they go to a lot of effort to plate the food so it is visually appealing.  The same approach works for selling a home.  Ask your agent if they have ever taken a buyer to a home that refused to go inside because they didn't like the looks from the street.

Your real estate professional can make specific recommendations and assist you in finding someone to do the work.  This is what they do.  TRUST THEM!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Say "NO" to FSBO



To understand the reasoning behind why a homeowner should not sell their home by themselves, we need to identify the motivation.  Probably, more times than not, the homeowner wants to "save" the cost of the commission.  It certainly represents a significant amount of money.

In 1981, homes sold For Sale by Owner represented 15% of the homes closed while 85% were agent-assisted.  The percentage of sellers handling their own homes alone has declined over the decades to only 8% of homes sales in 2020.  Interestingly, half of the sellers knew the buyers and the other half did not.

The FSBO sellers who knew the buyers, who were predominantly a friend, relative or neighbor, had a market time of less than a week and received 100% of the asking price, less expenses of course.

According to the NAR 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 50% of FSBO sellers determined the asking price of their home by recent home sales in the area while slightly more than 1/3 used an appraisal. 41% of sellers stated they did not want to pay a fee or commission as the reason they sold it FSBO.  Another 30% did so because they had a relative, friend or neighbor who wanted to buy their home.

A significant problem encountered by For Sale by Owners was exposing their home to the marketplace.  They run the risk of selling the home for a lower price because it is not marketed to the highest pool of available buyers.

Negotiating on their own behalf is another concern many for sale by owners share.  There are so many different things as well as people with whom to negotiate.  For instance, besides the sales price in the contracts, other negotiable terms include financing concessions, closing and possession dates, inspections and earnest money.  However, the negotiations could continue well up to the moment of closing with repairs, appraisals and other unforeseen things.

While the seller might feel uncomfortable negotiating directly with a buyer, there could also be negotiations with the appraiser, inspectors, mortgage company or escrow company.  The layer of separation that exists between the seller and other parties is the real estate professional.  They are trained to de-escalate sensitive areas so that feelings are not hurt as well as acting as a go between so the way something is said can be minimized.

Difficulties experienced by FSBOs include negotiations with the buyer, not familiar with the process and standards that are involved in the 92% of the transactions that are agent assisted. 89% of Sellers say they were satisfied with the service their agents gave and would use them again and recommend them to others. 

A seller should realize the motivation of a buyer wanting to deal directly with a seller without an agent.  They are trying to save the commission but both buyer and seller cannot save the commission.  The more knowledgeable and possibly, the better negotiator will usually benefit the most.

13% of the sellers were contacted directly by the buyer.  It is conceivable that these buyers may have been trying to take advantage of an unknowledgeable seller to eliminate competition and purchase a home at a lower than market value.

In a seller's market, a FSBO can sell their home.  The question will be whether they received the highest price with the best terms and the fewest problems.  Protecting a large financial asset is important and sellers deserve the peace of mind that a real estate professional provides along with the fiduciary duties that accompany them.

The median price achieved by For Sale by Owners is considerably less than the median price sold by agents.  While there may be other factors involved, it certainly introduces the question "is the FSBO is selling below fair market value?"

Before embarking on the sale of your home by yourself, talk to a real estate professional or possibly two, to get as much information as possible to make an informed decision.  Your objective should be to maximize the proceeds from the sale.  For more information, download the Sellers Guide.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Homeowner Equity and Wealth Accumulation



National homeowner equity grew in the fourth quarter of 2020 by $1.5 Trillion or 16.2% year-over-year based on a CoreLogic analysis.  The study was done on the six out of ten homeowners who have mortgages on their home.

The fourth quarter of 2020 also saw the number of mortgaged residential homes with negative equity decrease by 8% from the third quarter.  Compared to the same quarter in 2019, negative equity decreased by 21%.

Equity is defined as the value of the home less the mortgage owed.  Negative equity means that the homeowner's debt is more than the value of the home.  Appreciation is the dynamic that is moving homeowner's equity to the positive position.

On a national basis, according to National Association of REALTORS®, annual price growth for the last ten years has been 6.4%.  In the last five years, it has grown at 7.3% annually.  According to the CoreLogic Home Price Index, home prices in December 2020 were up 9.2% from the year before.

Frank Nothaft, Chief Economist for CoreLogic, is quoted as saying "the amount of home equity for the average homeowner with a mortgage is more than $200,000."

Equity in a home is a significant component of net worth.  The latest Survey of Consumer Finances reports the median homeowner has 40 times the household wealth of a renter: $254,000 compared to $6,270.  According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances by First American, housing wealth was the single biggest contributor to the increase in net worth across all income groups.

The study also concluded that housing wealth represented nearly 75% of total assets of the lowest income households.  For homeowners in the mid-range of income, it represented 50-65% of total assets and 34% of total assets for the highest income households.

Renters do not benefit from the appreciation of housing or the amortization of the mortgage which are significant contributors to home equity that results in net worth.  Examine what a down payment can grow to in seven years with a Rent vs. Own.