Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Alternative Investments



In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal reported that investors have rarely been this flush with cash.  The economic uncertainty due to the pandemic and the volatility of the stock market has caused assets in money-market funds to increase to approximately $4.6 trillion, the highest level on record according to Refinitv Lipper.

The question becomes should an investor be "out of the market" until things settle down or should they seek to find alternative investments to produce satisfactory results.  Even in the middle of this uncertainty, residential rental property has been a stable performer.

Rents are continuing to increase along with values.  Investor mortgages are available at 80% loan-to-value at fixed interest rates for 30-year terms.  Most other investments must be purchased for cash or at best, are limited to low loan-to-value loans, at floating interest rates for relatively short time frames.

The use of borrowed funds, especially at today's low interest rates, contribute to the rate of return and in some cases, increase it.  This characteristic is known as leverage.

Income properties enjoy specific tax advantages like long-term capital gains rates lower than ordinary income rates, standard depreciation, which is a non-cash deduction, as well as expensing many big-ticket items in the year purchased.

Tax deferred exchanges are available for investors wanting to avoid the tax due on sale and defer the profit into the replacement property.

One of the most cited reasons people invest in rental homes is that they feel they are more in control.  They understand a rental home because it is the same type of property and requires the same maintenance as the home they live in.  They can make the decisions to improve it, repair it, what rent to charge and when to sell it.  For most owners, a home represents their largest financial asset.  That familiarity becomes a natural bridge to decide to invest in rental property rather than something they are less familiar.

If you'd like to know more about the benefits, download the Rental Income Properties guide and call me at (616) 402-3535 to discuss what kind of opportunities are available.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Smart Sprinkler Controller



It seems like most homes have sprinkler systems and if they do, they have some form of controller to automatically turn the water on and off for the time and days you feel necessary.  It seems like basic functionality and if it isn't broken, you may not feel the need to replace it. 

Today, there are so many smart home devices that are not only convenient, but they'll end up saving you enough money to pay for the upgrade.  There are different manufacturers, but you should at least consider the Rachio if for no other reason than the easy installation procedure. 

The process is simple.  Unplug the old controller and disconnect the wires being sure to label which wires went to which stations.  Using the Rachio template, mark three spots on the wall, drill holes in the drywall, insert the anchors into the holes and screw the new controller to the wall. 

This model has convenient wire connectors that do not require crimping a wire around a screw.  It is quick and easy to put the numbered wires in the corresponding slot.  The directions are simple and easy to follow.  When complete, connect the power source and plug it into a wall socket. 

Now, install the Rachio app to your phone and continue following the instructions to connect the controller to the Wi-Fi.    In minutes, you'll be sitting in a lawn chair making adjustments and seeing what it will do. 

Some of the features you'll find very convenient are the multiple schedules that can be created and easily switched from one to another.  As you set up each zone, you can take a picture of the area and be able to identify with a glance which area you want when individually selecting one. 

Another thing you might like is that when you're trying to track down a broken head or just need to adjust it, you can turn on a zone from your phone while looking at the yard.  When you identify which head is the culprit, turn the water off from your phone, make the adjustment or repair and turn the water back on to test it without having to go back and forth to wherever your controller is located. 

Rachio will even monitor the weather to skip a scheduled cycle in case of rain, high wind or freezing temperatures.  You could literally be anywhere in the world where you have an Internet connection and you'll be able to adjust your watering cycle.  This device really does save time and money while being fun to operate. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

How Does It Measure Up?



People are always looking for a "down and dirty" way to determine the value of a home and square footage seems to be one of the most common things used by people whether they are buyers, sellers or real estate agents.  While it seems straight forward, there are several variances that can lead to inaccurate determinations.

The market data approach to value uses similar properties in size, location, condition and amenities to compare with the subject to arrive at a price.  Differences in any of these things can affect the price per square foot.  Appraisers are trained and licensed to make these adjustments but the differences are not necessarily objective and that is where opinions start to influence the value.

Even if a person were to make accurate adjustments, they would be based on the assumption that the square footage of the comparable properties is correct.  That leads to the next area of concern: how was the subject property measured.

It is commonly accepted to the measure the outside of the dwelling on detached housing.  Is it customary in this area to include porches and patios under roof and if so, do they get full value or only partial value?  Is there any value given to the garage since it isn't living area?  What about other areas that do not have HVAC coverage?

Some areas don't give consideration to basement square footage at all.  Others might give some value if it is finished or has access directly to the outside like a walk-out basement.  Similarly, attic space could be finished and under HVAC but if the ceiling height is not standard for the home, it may not receive value.

The problems become exacerbated when different comparables are not treated consistently and yet the common denominator ends up being an average of the square foot price of each.   This is calculated by taking the sales price and dividing it by the number of square feet being quoted.

The source of the square footage should be listed to help determine the accuracy.  It could be what the builder said it was to the original purchaser.  If there is a set a plans available, that might seem credible but it is not uncommon for the builder to make changes while the home is being built which could increase or decrease the square footage.

Another source is the tax assessor.  In many cases, they don't actually measure the home but take the word of the builders or appraisers for it.  If permits were obtained to add on to the home since it was built, it should be reflected in the square footage.  However, sometimes permits are not secured properly.

After reading this, you may think that more doubts have been introduced than solutions and you are correct.  It takes diligence on the part of all parties to determine the correct amount.  The most highly trained person will be the appraiser and they should be measuring the home in its "as is" condition but understand that even a competent person can inadvertently make a mistake.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

It's Worth Digging a Little Deeper



There are hundreds of thousands of people who believe, for one reason or another, they cannot afford to buy a home currently.  Some people may not, for any number of reasons, but it would be very surprising to know how many who can buy but have gotten some bad information along the way.  It's worth digging a little deeper to find out the facts.

John and Karen have been renting a home for the last five years at $2,000 a month.  During that time, the value of the home they were renting went up by $30,000 in value while the unpaid balance decreased by $18, 400.  Even though they were fortunate enough the rent remained constant over the five years, they missed out on close to $50,000 of equity that the owner realized instead of them.

Another thing to consider with today's low interest rates, it is quite common for a mortgage payment to be lower than a tenant is paying rent for a similar property.  So, in this example, John & Karen paid more to rent than a house payment would have been and missed out on the equity build-up that occurred due to appreciation and amortization.

The simple fact is when tenants like John and Karen pay their rent, the landlord is the beneficiary of the rent received as well as the equity earned.  Over time, the rent paid by John and Karen and other tenants will pay for the landlord's rental.  It a great concept and a good investment.

True, not everyone can afford a home.  A buyer needs money for a down payment and closing costs.   They also need to have income and good credit to qualify for the mortgage.  Some of these may seem insurmountable but instead of imagining that buying a home is not in the cards at the current time, talking to a real estate professional is a better route to take.

There are lots of low-down payment mortgages available including 100% financing for qualified veterans and USDA eligible buyers.  It is sometimes more difficult to find sellers willing to pay all or part of a buyers closing costs when inventory is low, but lenders do allow it.  It is a matter of finding the willing seller.

The source of the down payment could be a gift from a family member as long as there is no repayment expected.  It's amazing how many parents or grandparents might be willing to help a relative get into a home.  Funds for a down payment may be available as loans or withdrawals from qualified retirement programs like IRAs or 401k plans.  It's worth investigating based on what retirement programs you have.

Good credit is necessary to qualify for a loan but buyers should not assume that theirs is not adequate.  A trusted mortgage professional can assess a situation and may be able to suggest some things that will not only raise the score enough to be approved but possibly, even raise the score enough to qualify for a better interest rate.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about whether a person can or cannot qualify for a home at this time.  Instead of relying on second hand information or something that might be floating around on the Internet, spend some time with a real estate professional who can give you the facts, assess your situation and if necessary, point you in the right direction to get help from a trusted mortgage professional.  Call (616) 402-3535 to schedule an appointment where we'll help you dig deeper to determine whether you can buy a home now.

Download our Buyers Guide to give you more information.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Grilling Safety



More people grill in July, June & August than any other months and correspondingly, there are more injuries, as well as fires, due to grilling accidents in those months. Even though Labor Day is in September, we still need to be aware of safety.

Close to 20,000 patients per year visit the emergency room due to injuries involving grills.  Approximately half of the injuries involving grills are thermal burns.  If you are around fire, there's a chance of getting burned. 

About 2/3 of American households own at least one outdoor barbecue, grill or smoker.  Interestingly, gas grills contribute to more fires than charcoal grills.  In addition, there are over 10,600 home fires started by grills each year.

While grilling is associated with celebrations, good food, fun and friends, it is important to make sure that accidents don't interrupt your activities. 

  • Only use BBQ grills outdoors and in ventilated areas
  • Place the grill away from home or anything that could be flammable
  • Keep grill stable
  • Keep fire under control
  • Keep children away from grill
  • Never leave the grill unattended
  • The grill lid should always be open before lighting it.
  • Grease should not be allowed to build up in the grill
  • Use long-handled utensils

Gas/Propane

  • Check the tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year by using a light soapy water solution to see if bubbles appear.
  • You should not smell gas when the grill is lit.  Move away from the grill and call the fire department.
  • If the flame goes out, turn off the gas for 15 minutes and open the lid before re-lighting it.

Charcoal

  • Never add any starter fluid or other flammable liquid to a fire
  • Only use charcoal starter fluid and not gasoline, kerosene or other flammable liquid.
  • Keep starter fluid away from heat sources and out of reach of children.
  • Electric starters have a coil that ignites the charcoal.
  • When finished cooking, close off the grill vents to suffocate the fire and save some of the remaining charcoal.

Practice safe grilling and enjoy any occasion to cook outdoors and share time with your family and friends.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Forbearance is Not Forgiveness



Forbearance is a temporary postponement of mortgage payments.  The lender can grant this option to a borrower instead of forcing the property into foreclosure.  The CARES Act provides protections for homeowners with mortgages that are federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise backed or funded such as FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

A mortgage holder should contact the lender to explain the temporary difficulty they are having making payments and ask for relief under forbearance or other options.  Once the lender grants approval, it is important for the borrower to get the terms of the forbearance agreement in writing to be clear about when the payments will resume and how the missed payments will be recovered.

Generally speaking, homeowners in a forbearance plan will not incur late fees and it should not adversely affect their credit.  Unfortunately, borrowers must be vigilant to see that the lender is protecting them from delinquent credit marks according to their agreement.

Forbearance is easy to receive but not so easy to recover from.  Free credit reports can be obtained on a weekly basis until April 21, 2021 at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.  Reports are available from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.  This will allow borrowers to monitor whether the lender has inadvertently reported items inaccurately.

Prior to the end of the forbearance period, borrowers should contact their loan servicer, the company that accepts their payments.  Review the terms of the forbearance plan and expectations for repayment.  Verify the unpaid balance and that there are not any payments marked as late or delinquent during the forbearance period.

One more item to discuss with the loan servicer is the payment of the property taxes and insurance.  Since multiple mortgage payments may have been missed and most payments include 1/12 of the annual amounts for these items, there may not be enough to pay for them when they become due.

Since it is estimated that there are over four million borrowers in forbearance currently, it may be difficult to talk to the servicer but starting the process early and being persistent will be helpful. 

At the end of forbearance, the borrower needs to resume regular payments and establish a plan with the lender to repay the missed payments.  The terms are negotiated between the borrower and the lender.

One way is through a loan modification which can restructure the loan.  In some cases, it would add the missed payments to the loan balance and recalculate the payments for the remainder of the term. 

A borrower could pay the forbearance money in cash but the practicality of that is not realistic.  If the person couldn't make the payments during forbearance, they probably don't have the liquidity to pay them afterward.  This option is entirely at the buyer's election.

Forbearance is a temporary way to postpone the mortgage payments with the understanding that you will be able to resume repaying the loan.  If the circumstances that caused the issue initially become permanent, then, other remedies must be considered.  If there is equity in the property, selling the home may be the way to materialize it for the homeowner.

Please contact us at (616) 402-3535 if you need to know what your home is worth and how long it would take to sell it.  I am happy to provide this information as a service without obligation so you can be aware of your options.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Building a Pool Is Just the Beginning



During the first major stay-at-home event that most of us have experienced in this country, a pool can give you and your family enjoyable recreation without leaving the home.  For those without a pool, the NPD group reports that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased pool building by 161% this year.

When your children are small, pools become a magnet for not only your children but their friends as well.  It can also be a great place for the summer holidays, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  Any day during the summer, especially on the weekends, can be an opportunity to enjoy the pool, cook outside and bask in the sun.

Some of you may have even made the transition from your children enjoying the pool to your grandchildren.  Usually, there is an interim where you may have wished that your home didn't have a pool so you would not have the maintenance and required upkeep.  Then, the new generation of family starts using it regularly and again, you are glad you have a pool, so you'll see the grandchildren more. 

For those people who don't have a pool but are considering one, there are some things that you need to think about.

If you've watched some of the TV shows like Pool Kings, most of those builds look like resorts or water parks and the price tag that comes with them can be staggering.  Even a modest gunite, in-ground pool with a limited amount of decking can be as expensive as a luxury car, especially after including the cost of landscaping and pool furniture.

If you finance the pool as a home improvement, the term will probably be between seven to fifteen years.  If you refinance your current mortgage and wrap the cost of the pool together, you could get a 30-year term.

Pool cleaning and chemicals depend on the size of the pool but will generally start at about $175 a month through a service.  Your utilities will see an increase because you're going to use more electricity and water than you did before you had a pool.

Then, of course, there is food and refreshments to consider for not only your family but your guests.  There are also pool toys, floats, sunscreen, towels and other minor things that do add up.

People going through the pros and cons of building a pool usually tell themselves that the house will go up in value.  It is true but not nearly as much as the cost of the pool.  Long time pool owners will tell you that they have had lots of great memories and it has been a good investment in their family.  It just may not be a good financial investment. 

Once you've made the decision to build a pool, find a reputable pool builder, ask for references and check them out.  Ask friends who have pools, who built them and would they use the company again.  Most pool companies hire and coordinate with subcontractors to do the work.  It is important to know that the builder will be around if something goes wrong and how they'll solve the issue.

The Better Business Bureau has some suggestions about hiring a pool contractor and they warn about scammers who are eager to take advantage of the increased demand for pools.