Pikes Peak Homes and Land
Chris J Clark, REALTOR®
Broker/Owner
Phone (719) 464-5839
Chris@PPHAL.com

Blog

Understanding the Mortgage Interest Deduction

Mortgage interest paid on your principal residence is deductible today as it was in 1913 when 16th amendment allowed personal income tax.  The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act reduced the maximum amount of acquisition debt from $1,000,000 to $750,000.

Acquisition debt is the amount of debt used to buy, build or improve a principal residence, up to the maximum amount.  A common misunderstanding among taxpayers is that you are entitled to that much debt even if you refinance a home during your ownership years.

Acquisition debt is a dynamic number that changes over time.  It decreases with normal amortization as the principal amount of debt is reduced.  The only way to increase acquisition debt after a home is purchased is to borrow additional funds that are used for capital improvements.

Assume a person buys a home with a new mortgage and after the home has enjoyed significant appreciation, refinances the home for much more than is currently owed.  Let’s also say that the refinance amount is less than $750,000 which might lead the borrower to an erroneous conclusion that all the interest will be deductible.

The current acquisition debt is transferred to the new mortgage.  Only the portion of the funds used to pay for new capital improvements can be combined to equal the increased acquisition debt.  The interest on that part of the mortgage is deductible as qualified mortgage interest.

The remainder of the refinanced mortgage is attributed to personal debt and the interest paid on that is not deductible.

Lenders are not generally concerned with making a homeowner a fully tax-deductible loan.  Lenders are interested in making a loan which will make a profit and be repaid according to the terms.  The annual statements that most lenders issue to borrowers indicate how much interest was paid in a calendar year as they are required to do by federal law.

Part of the confusion may be because homeowners believe they can deduct interest on debt up to $750,000 and this annual statement shows the interest paid for the year.  It is up to each homeowner to keep track of their acquisition debt and only deduct the qualified mortgage interest.

Your tax professional can be very helpful in determining this amount.  It is important to notify them that you have refinanced a home during the tax year for which the taxes are being reported.  For more information, see IRS Publication 936 and Homeowners Tax Guide.  Home equity debt has not been allowed since the beginning of 2018.

 

Title Insurance

Most people who have car, home and health insurance have probably made claims and wouldn’t consider being without it. However, it might be difficult to find a homeowner who has made a claim on their title insurance which could lead a person to think that it may not be necessary.

Title insurance covers the largest investment most people have and if there was a loss, it could be devastating. Title insurance indemnifies the policy holder from financial loss sustained from defects in the title to the property. The policy holder is determined by their interest in the property.

An owner’s title policy protects the owner of the property from title issues that may arise other than the mortgages that are being placed on the property at the time of purchase. The title of the property goes back in time to check that clear title (no unsatisfied liens or levies and poses no question to legal ownership) was passed from owner to owner up to the current seller.

A mortgagee’s or lender’s policy protects the lender by guaranteeing they have an enforceable lien on the property and legal claims from parties asserting they have a claim against the property. Lender’s generally require the borrower to provide this coverage.
The title search is an examination to determine and confirm legal ownership and if there are clouds on the title so the seller can pass a clear title. A cloud is defined as any document, claim, unreleased lien or encumbrance that might invalidate or impair the title to real property.

If a person passes title to a buyer that has unsatisfied liens on the property, the new buyer could become responsible for the money owed and it could affect their ability to sell the property in the future.
Unlike most insurance that has a specific term and periodic premiums, title insurance covers the insured for a single premium. An owner’s policy lasts for as long as they or their heirs have an interest in the property. It guarantees the title up to the date and time that the property was deeded to you and recorded in the public records.

The majority of homes purchased in America have title policies insuring the new owner. You could live in the home for five, ten or twenty years without an incident. Then, when you’re ready to sell the home, a title claim could happen. The title policy would still protect you at that point. It is a peace of mind coverage that is part of the investment in your home.

7 Reasons to Buy a Home

Some people don’t need a reason to buy a home, they just want it.  That can be enough justification by itself.  Other people need some solid logic before they’re ready to make the commitment.  The following reasons might help you to make a decision.

  1. Pride of ownership … among the most popular reasons given by homebuyers is that they want a place they can call their own and decorate and improve it the way they want.  It is a place to feel safe and secure and a place for their family.  They can share it with their friends and enjoy living in it.
  2. Good investment … Homeowners have a 80 times greater net worth than renters.  By investing in a home that appreciates over time, it contributes to an increasing equity.  The high loan to value mortgages that are available combined with the low mortgage rates also contribute to the investment through leverage which has been described as “using other people’s money” to control an investment.
  3. Interest and property tax deductibility … Homeowners can deduct their qualified mortgage interest and up to a maximum of $10,000 of their property taxes as itemized deductions on their federal income tax return.  In some instances, the standard deduction may benefit them more, but they can elect to choose either method each year, whichever helps them the most.
  4. Capital gain exclusion … A single homeowner can exclude up to $250,000 of capital gain and if married filing jointly, can exclude up to $500,000 of gain on their principal residence.  The need to have owned and occupied it as their home for two of the last five years.
  5. Cash out refinance … Generally speaking, a lender will allow an owner with good credit and income to borrow the difference in their current unpaid balance and 80% of the fair market value.  This money can be used for any purpose and is not a taxable event.
  6. Equity buildup …The difference in the value of the home and the unpaid mortgage balance is called equity and it increases with each payment made.  It is like automatic savings.
  7. No landlords … Instead of dealing with landlords who may impose restrictions on things like painting, improvements and pets.  Owners are not concerned about rent increases and will have a fixed principal and interest payment for as long as they have a mortgage.

A bonus reason to buy a home now are the low mortgage rates available. The lowest rate recorded by Freddie Mac is 3.35% in December 2012.  Today’s rates are 3.75% on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage and 3.21% on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage.  So, they are certainly very close to all-time lows.

The highest rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 18.45% in October 1981.  When you put today’s rates in perspective, they are an incredible bargain.  Many industry experts expect that they will not remain as low as they are now.  Locking in a low rate can keep your housing costs low.

A $275,000 mortgage at 3.75% for 30 years has a principal and interest payment of $1,273.57.  If the rate goes up by 1%, the payment would increase to $1,434.53 or $160.96 per month for the 30-year term. Check the Rent vs. Own to see how the numbers look in your situation.

What’s the Difference in Pre-Qualification and Pre-Approval?

Before looking for a home, you need to know how much you can afford. While you may have a number in your head, the lender has the final say. Securing a pre-approval from a lender helps make the home buying process easier and helps to avoid delays.

Many buyers confuse the terms pre-qualification and pre-approval. They mean two different things. In simple terms, a pre-qualification is an estimate of what you can afford. A pre-approval is a conditional approval based on the proof you provide.

The pre-qualification is a preliminary step some borrowers take to get a feel for what price home they can afford. Based on your income, assets, and estimated credit score, lenders can estimate what you can afford.

It’s important to know, there’s nothing binding about a pre-qualification. It’s simply a starting point.   When you are serious about buying a home, though, you want a pre-approval.

Before you shop for a home, meet with a recommended lender to get a pre-approval letter. Sellers and/or Realtors value this letter because it shows you are likely to secure the necessary financing and serious about buying a home.

Lenders meet with you in person to create the pre-approval. You’ll provide the lender with all the following:

  • Permission to order your credit report
  • Paystubs, W-2s and/or tax returns to prove your income
  • Asset statements, investment statements or any other proof of assets
  • Proof of employment
  • Any other miscellaneous documentation required by lender

Lenders evaluate the documents and determine your conditional approval. The letter will state the mortgage amount you qualify for, the loan’s terms, and any conditions the approval is contingent upon.

Normally, final approval is contingent on a fully executed sales contract of the property to be purchased, a satisfactory appraisal and clear title on the property.

Once a purchase contract is signed, the lender completes the underwriting on your loan. They will confirm that the property meets the necessary requirements. The lender will also re-confirm your income, assets, employment, and credit information before closing on the loan.

Securing a pre-approval prior to beginning the home buying process will give you confidence and can help your negotiations with the seller. Your REALTOR® can provide you more information in an Buyers Guide and recommendations of trusted lenders.

Buy Your Retirement Home Now

Maybe you’re not ready to move into it but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take advantage of the present opportunities to acquire the home you want to live in during retirement. The combination of the low mortgage rates, high rental rates, positive cash flows and tax advantages can help you get it paid for by the time you’re ready to move into it.
Your tenant could literally buy your retirement home for you. One idea would be to finance it with a 15-year loan that will have a lower rate than a 30-year loan and it will obviously be paid for in half the time. With every monthly rental check from your tenant, you make the payment on the mortgage which includes a portion that reduces debt and builds equity. Even if you don’t have the home paid for by the time you retire, your equity will be larger.
Consider you sell your current home which could be paid for by then when you are ready to move into this retirement home . Taxpayers can exclude up to $500,000 of tax-free gain for a married couple. That profit could be used to fund your retirement.
Even if you don’t retire to this home, it could be a placeholder to control the costs of the home you do move into. For example, you could buy a home in a destination location now, rent it out and build equity in it until you’re ready to use it as your principal residence. That home would have kept pace with other homes in the area so that you would not be priced out of the market you want to retire to.
With home prices and mortgage rates certain to rise, this may be one of the best decisions you can make. We want to be your personal source of real estate information and we’re committed to helping from purchase to sale and all the years in between.
Contact us if you’d like to talk about the idea or if you need a recommendation of real estate professional in another city.

A Good Time to Buy a Home

You may have noticed that REALTORS® seem to always think now is a good time to buy and they can usually justify it with solid reasoning.  While it can be true in general, a good time to buy has more to do with the individual than anything else.  There are four things to consider.

It is a good time to buy a home when you have good credit.  Since the Great Recession and the housing crisis, lenders have been required to be sure that the borrowers have good credit.  This actually benefits not only the lenders but the borrowers because no one wants to buy something that they cannot afford and run the risk of losing it to foreclosure.  FHA has the most lenient FICO credit score of 580+.  VA requires a little higher at 620 while Fannie Mae guidelines on conventional mortgages require a 700 score.

It is a good time to buy a home when you have a good job that gives you the income to qualify for the mortgage and the likelihood that you’ll continue to be employed in the future.  Two years of steady employment in the same industry with no significant gaps is a measure that lenders consider.

Lenders use qualifying ratios to make a determination.  The total house payment, principal, interest, taxes and insurance, should not exceed 28% of the borrower’s monthly gross income.  Their total monthly debt including the house payment should not exceed 45% of monthly gross income.  There is some flexibility in the ratios for the right circumstances.

It is a good time to buy a home when you have the available funds for the down payment and closing costs plus a little cushion for the unexpected.  The down payments can range from 0% for VA loans to 3.5% for FHA and 3% to 20% for conventional.

In addition to the down payment, borrowers will have closing costs that can range from 2 to 3.5% depending on the loan type.  It is possible for the seller to pay the buyer’s closing costs but it needs to be negotiated in the sales contract.  The lender’s underwriter wants borrowers to have cash available for unexpected expenses related to the house and their normal living expenses.

It is a good time to buy a home when you have stability … In addition to employment, stability applies to not moving soon, marital status, children and unanticipated expenses.  Market or economic conditions could also affect stability.

So, the answer to the question “is it a good time to buy a home” depends on several things that are relative to the buyer.  While it might be a great time to buy for one buyer, it may not be the best time for another buyer.

Make a self-assessment to the best of your knowledge on these issues and then, schedule an appointment for a live interview with a trusted mortgage professional to get their opinion based on what underwriting will look at.  Call me at (719) 464-5839 if you’d like a recommendation.  After you determine it is a good time to buy a home, it is time to meet with your real estate professional.

Time for a Toilet Upgrade

Whether it is a cosmetic or a mechanical reason for upgrading a toilet, you may not know all the choices that are involved to choose the right one for your home.  The current toilet may have cracks or leaks in the bowl or tank.  It could be the aggravation of constant clogging or inefficient flushing.  Maybe there is damage in the porcelain bowl or built-up mineral deposits that are clogging the inlet holes or syphon tube.

If frequent repairs have you on a first name basis with the plumber, it may be time to consider replacing the toilet.  There are a lot of things to consider and the following list may help you sort through the choices.

  • Round, oval or compact oval … There are two basic shapes of toilets: round and oval.  The round bowl requires less space and are less expensive.  The oval or elongated tend to be more comfortable but require more space from the wall than round ones.  Most manufacturers produce a compact oval model also.
  • One-piece, two-piece and wall hung … Manufacturers make one-piece models that mold the tank and bowl into one unit.  These can be a little more expensive, but they take up less space.  The two-piece with separate tank and bowl are more common.  The wall hung requires less space and make the room look larger, but installation will be more expensive.
  • Height … Standard toilet height is 15 inches.  An alternative to the standard is a comfort height which is more like a chair at 17-19 inches tall.  This can be an advantage for older and taller people as well as those with a mobility problem.
  • Trapway – The trapway is a channel from the bottom of the bowl to the drainpipe that also keeps gas entering the home from the sewer.  While the trapway shows on the outside of most models, there are skirted or concealed models available for a more aesthetic appearance.
  • Single or dual flush … Single flush toilets use the same volume of water each time it is flushed.  Dual flush toilets have two options for flushing liquid or solid waste.  This gives the user the ability to conserve water when appropriate.
  • Water per flush … In an effort to save water, in 1995 the Department of Energy required toilets to use 1.6 gallons per flush.  Since then, California and Georgia, increased the restriction to 1.28 gpf which saves 20% more water.
  • Gravity-feed or pressure assisted – For four hundred years, gravity has been used to move the water through a flushable toilet bowl to eliminate the waste.  As water restrictions were added, pressure assisted toilets were introduced to assist the lower volume of water.  A sealed cylindrical tank inside the ceramic toilet tank provides the additional pressure.  These types of toilets are nosier than conventional flush types.

Once you’ve decided on what features are important, you can shop brands that fit your needs.  If you’re curious to what kind of a job it is to install it, there are lots of videos on YouTube that will show you in detail what to expect.  Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, you’ll understand the process more.

Interior Condensation Solutions

Condensation occurs when the air has too much moisture in it which is felt as high humidity.  The water deposits on various surfaces that are cooler than the air itself.  Several things can contribute to the high humidity such as cooking, dishwashers, clothes dryers, bathing and long showers.

If the home has a crawl space under the floor, inadequate ventilation or insulation can cause moisture in the home.  There seems to be a difference of opinions about whether to vent or not vent.  First, determine if you are having a problem and then, weigh the options available to find the best solution.

Condensation that forms on windows and other surfaces in your home can cause damage to window trim, frames, drywall, floor coverings and sub-floors as well and the interior framing.

To reduce condensation in a home, the moisture saturating the air needs to be reduced.  Just as steam from a shower can fog a mirror, warm air holds more moisture.  When the air cools, it releases the moisture.  There are other things that can be done to reduce the moisture and the condensation.

  • Adjust humidifier
  • Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans
  • Circulate the air; ceiling fans can help with this
  • Open windows to release warm air
  • Raise temperature
  • Add weather stripping
  • Window insulation kits
  • Storm windows
  • Move plants that release moisture in the air

The average life of a bathroom exhaust fan is about ten years with kitchen fans lasting about fifteen years.  Regular cleaning can increase the life of the fans.  Bathroom exhaust fans should be vented to the outside and should be run for 15-20 minutes after using the bath or shower to remove the moisture that causes mold and mildew.

Regulating the humidity in a home can protect against damage but it also promotes comfort in the form of breathing, relieving dry skin, sinus problems and sickness in general.  Breathing is easier and the air feels more pleasant.

Selecting an agent

When a whole lobster was presented at the table of a restaurant, the customer noticed there was only one claw on it.  He asked what happened to the lobster and the waiter said, maybe he lost a fight with another lobster.  The customer replied to the explanation by saying “then, bring me the winner.”

There are approximately 1.3 million REALTORS® in the U.S.  The July 2019 Existing Home Sales annualized about 5.4 million units with a listing side and a selling side that totals 10.8 million transactions.  That means that the average number of units sold per agent is 8.

In any given market, 20% of the agents are selling 80% of the homes.  260,000 agents are selling 8,480,000 or an average of 32 transactions sides.  Some markets are dominated by 10% of these successful agents selling 90% of the market.  If that were the case, 130,000 agents are selling 9,720,000 or an average of 75 transactions sides.

The question you should ask yourself is who do you want representing you in the purchase or sale of the largest asset that most people have?  Do you want an average agent, or do you want a powerhouse agent who can provide you the best advice, avoid issues that can cost time, and maximize the results that you expect and deserve?

Finding the right property is listed as the most difficult experienced by buyers (56%), according to the Home Buyers and Sellers Profile, together with the paperwork (20%) and understanding the process and steps (16%) makes these the most important areas of expertise needed when evaluating your agent.

An agent provides valuable services for buyers and sellers during the transaction that can make a difference in finding the “right” home or buyer, negotiating the best terms, and closing on time.  The answers to the following questions can help you decide who to work with in your next purchase or sale.

  • Describe your experience in real estate?
  • What are your personal sales stats compared to the market? (For sellers, list price to sales price ratio, days on market; for buyers, average # of houses shown and closure rate)
  • Describe your strategy to accomplish my needs?
  • Do you have references and/or reviews?
  • What makes you different than your competition?
  • Can you help me find the other professionals and vendors?
  • What is your fee and who pays it?

For more information, download the Sellers Guide and Buyers Guide.

Price It Right the First Time

The Internet has empowered all buyers with information and home buyers are no exception.    The amount of information available to public includes details on size, condition, sales history, current inventory, recent sales, photographs, videos, school info, drive-times, entertainment and much more.

When a seller realizes that buyers are educated with facts, it becomes unlikely that they will pay more than a home is worth.

If a home is priced too high in the beginning, it may stay on the market longer than normal which could adversely affect the ultimate sales price.  It is a natural reaction from people, personally or professionally, to assume that something must be wrong with a home that doesn’t sell in a reasonable time for that market.

The seller is entitled to maximize the equity in their home and pricing it properly in the beginning is the best way to achieve that.  Overpricing can reduce buyers activity because they assume that the best homes are purchased soon after they are offered for sale and if one has been on the market longer than normal, there must be a problem with it.  Similarly, sales associates may come to the same conclusion.

After buyers have seen a few homes in a certain price range, they begin to expect similar amenities in each home they look at.  If a home is overpriced, it will not compare favorably with the other homes that are being viewed.  Sometimes, the buyer may even think that another home could be a bargain because it offers much more for the same price as the overpriced listing.

Shopping the market means looking at the homes that meet a buyers’ wants and needs and selecting the one that gives them the most, whether it is in price or amenities.  The overpriced listing doesn’t compete well, and it extends the market time.  There is a documented study that shows that the longer a home stays on the market, the lower the price will be.

It is essential that a seller receive factual information to price their home to compete favorably in the current market.  Some of the obstacles can include:

  • Failure to objectively compare the current and sold homes with theirs
  • Neighbors who mislead the seller as to how much they got for their home
  • Fear of making a mistake and thinking they can start high and always lower the price
  • Loss of perspective because the seller is emotionally involved
  • Expecting the home to sell for more than fair market value because they need the money
  • Agents who will accept a listing at any price in order to tie up the property until the seller realizes the price is too high

What a seller paid for the home or the cost to rebuild it today do not affect market value.  Neither does the amount spent by sellers on certain improvements that were made for their own pleasure and enjoyment.

It is unrealistic to expect a buyer to pay more than market value for a home.  The seller sets the price of a home but the buyer determines the value.  If the home is priced properly in the beginning, it is more likely to sell for a higher price, in a shorter period and with less problems.