Chugging Along

 

The real estate market keeps chugging along.

Here’s news from the Mortgage Banker’s Association…

Last week, applications to purchase a home hit their highest level since April 2010. This is clearly a sign that the spring selling season is starting off in full swing.

You may remember that the reason why April 2010 was so active is because of the Home Buyer Tax Credit that was in effect. In order to get a special income tax incentive, buyers had to go under contract in April 2010 and close by June 30, 2010.

Today, purchase applications are at their highest level in 9 years and are up 14% over last year. Interest rates are roughly 0.5% lower than 6 months ago and roughly 3.0% below their long-term average.

Let the Spring Selling Season begin!

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The Risks, Rewards, and Benefits of Owning Rental Property

PiggyBankSavings

One area of the real estate market that is thriving right now is rental property. In the first quarter of this year, landlords and property managers across the country rented more apartments and homes than they have during the first quarters of the past ten years. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the amount that renters are willing to pay has also jumped to a nationwide average of $991 per month.

All indications suggest that the rental market will continue to improve because of the combination of low vacancy rates and rising rents. In fact, the demand for rentals is predicted to far exceed supply through 2015, with some 4.5 million new renters expected to enter the market in the next five years.

What to consider before buying a rental
Being a landlord has its challenges. The recession took a toll on rental prices for a few years and any future economic downturns could do the same. Once the job market returns to normal, there’s a strong possibility that more people will choose to move from rentals into homes of their own. And the demand for rental properties could become oversaturated at some point, resulting in an investment bubble of its own.

What’s more, while the income from a rental property can be significant, it can take at least five years before you’re making much more than what you need just to cover the mortgage and expenses. In other words, the return on your investment doesn’t happen overnight.

However, in the long run, if you select the right property, it could turn out to be one of your best investment decisions ever—especially since rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.

Tax deductions for the taking
One of the great things about owning rental properties is the fact that you’re able to deduct so many of the associated expenses—including a sizable portion of your monthly mortgage payment.

The commissions and fees paid to obtain your mortgage are not deductible, but the mortgage interest you pay each month is—including any money you pay into an escrow account to cover taxes and insurance. Whatever your mortgage company reports as interest on your 1098 form at the end of each year can likely be deducted.

For example, you may be eligible to deduct credit card interest “for goods and services used in a rental activity,” repairs made to the building, travel related to your rental, expenses related to a home office or workshop devoted to your rental, the wages of anyone you hire to work on the building, damages to your rental property, associated insurance premiums, and fees you pay for legal and professional services. However, as is the case with any transaction of this type, be sure to consult your attorney or accountant for detailed tax information.

What to look for
As with any real estate investment, the location of the property and its overall condition are both key. But with rental properties, there are some other factors you’ll also want to consider:

 Utilities: Look for a building with separate utilities (water, electric, and gas, etc.) for each rental unit. This will make it far easier to legally charge for the fair use of what can be a very costly monthly expense.

 Competition: If your property is one of the few rentals in the neighborhood, there will be less competition for interested renters.

 Transportation: Rentals that are near popular public transportation options and / or major freeways (without being so close that noise is an issue) are usually easier to rent—and demand more money.

 Landscaping: Properties with small yards and fewer plantings are far easier and less expensive to manage.

 Off-street parking: Not only is off-street parking a desirable feature (people with nice cars usually don’t like to park on the street), it’s also a requirement for rental properties in some communities.

How to start your search
Unlike homes, rental properties do not typically have a visible ‘for-sale’ sign standing out front (as landlords don’t want to irritate, bring attention to their current renters, or turn off any prospective renters). Therefore, if you are interested in a rental property, your best option is to schedule an appointment with your real estate agent/broker to discuss your investment goals and identify what opportunities currently exist in your market place.

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Investing in home: building a foundation for memories

Posted in BuyingSellingCommunity, and Living by Tara Sharp 
“Of course, thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.”

Gaston Bachelard, the Poetics of Space

I have been following the news about the housing market pretty closely and am pretty disappointed with some of the articles declaring a case against homeownership. I couldn’t disagree more. If anything, I see the value of homeownership: responsible financial investment, social stability and community connection as more important than ever.

I was particularly moved by the story in the Seattle Times yesterday about the Lutz family in Ballard, a family with seven adopted siblings that are helping their parents move from their family home to a smaller condo now that their children have left the nest. Though their story is far from typical, it really resonates how home is the center of family life, a place where memories are created and how houses tell the stories of the lives we build while in their shelter.

Homes do that for people. They are the places where some of our most intimate stories unfold.

Finding and creating a home is an emotional, psychological, social and financial investment.  There is a lot of energy involved in finding the place to envision the future, raise a family, and perhaps retire. There is no other investment as enjoyable as your own home. Investments in gold or stocks cannot compare to the feelings about a place where you collect memories, create spaces that reflect your ideals and develop to fit your needs over time.

Beyond the emotional ties to home, a number of studies have shown that home ownership has a great impact on feelings of personal autonomy, life satisfaction and increased investment in the community. The sense of satisfaction goes beyond the ability to paint walls whatever color we want, or make improvements to our homes on our own terms. It goes deeper by improving our sense of well being. Furthermore, when we have a stake in the community we live in, we participate more, making our neighborhoods safer and healthier for all members.

Not all the news about the housing market is negative, actually there are many great articles: “in defense of home ownership”, “ten reasons to buy a home “and “a dream house after all” to name a few. But regardless of where you stand on the housing market right now, we can all likely agree that there is no place like a home.

All of our experiences of home are unique. Please share your best memories of home.

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Posted on February 19, 2019 at 5:00 am
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Are You Better Off Paying Your Mortgage Earlier or Investing Your Money?

Posted in BuyingSelling, and Living by Guest Author 

Photo Credit: Rawpixel via Unsplash

Few topics cause more division among economists than the age-old debate of whether you’re better off paying off your mortgage earlier, or investing that money instead. And there’s a good reason why that debate continues; both sides make compelling arguments.

For many people, their mortgage is the largest expense they will ever incur in their lives. So if given the chance, it only makes logical sense you would want to pay it off as quickly as possible. On the other hand, a mortgage is also the cheapest money you will ever borrow, and it’s generally considered good debt. Any extra money you obtain could be definitely be put to good use elsewhere.

The reality is, however, a little less cut and clear. For some homeowners, paying off their mortgage earlier is the right answer. While for others, it would be far more advantageous to invest their money.

 

Advantages of paying off your mortgage earlier

  • You’ll pay less interest: Each time you make a mortgage payment, a portion is dedicated towards interest, and another towards principal (we’ll ignore other costs for now). Interest is calculated monthly by taking your remaining balance, the length of your amortization period, and the interest rate agreed upon with your lending institution.

If you have a $300,000 mortgage, at a 4% fixed rate over 30 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,432.25. By the time you finish paying off your mortgage, you would have paid a total of $515,609, of which $215,609 were interest.

If you wanted to lower the total amount you pay on interest, you don’t need to make a large lump sum to make a difference. If you were to increase your monthly mortgage payment to $1,632.25 (a $200 a month increase), you would be saving $50,298 in interest, and you’ll pay off your mortgage 6 years and 3 months earlier.

Though this is an oversimplified example, it shows how even a small increase in monthly payments makes a big difference in the long run.

  • Every additional dollar towards your principal has a guaranteed return on investment: Every additional payment you make towards your mortgage has a direct effect in lowering the amount you pay in interest. In fact, each additional payment is, in fact, an investment. And unlike stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles, you are guaranteed to have a return on your investment.
  • Enforced discipline: It takes real commitment to invest your money wisely each month instead of spending it elsewhere.

 

Your monthly mortgage payments are a form of enforced discipline since you know you can’t afford to miss them. It’s far easier to set a higher monthly payment towards your mortgage and stick to it than making regular investments on your own.

Besides, once your home is completely paid off, you can dedicate a larger portion of your income towards investments, your children or grandchildren’s education, or simply cut down on your working hours.

 

Advantages of investing your money

  • A greater return on your investment: The biggest reason why you should invest your money instead comes down to a simple, green truth: there’s more money to be made in investments.

Suppose that instead of dedicating an additional $200 towards your monthly mortgage payment, you decide to invest it in a conservative index fund which tracks S&P 500’s index. You start your investment today with $200 and add an additional $200 each month for the next 30 years. By the end of the term, if the index fund had a modest yield of 5% per year, you will have earned $91,739 in interest, and the total value of your investment would be $163,939.

If you think that 5% per year is a little too optimistic, all we have to do is see the S&P 500 performance between December 2002 and December 2012, which averaged an annual yield of 7.10%.

  • A greater level of diversification: Real estate has historically been one of the safest vehicles of investment available, but it’s still subject to market forces and changes in government policies. The forces that affect the stock and bonds markets are not always the same that affect real estate, because the former are subject to their issuer’s economic performance, while property values could change due to local events.

By putting your extra money towards investments, you are diversifying your investment portfolio and spreading out your risk. If you are relying exclusively on the value of your home, you are in essence putting all your eggs in one basket.

  • Greater liquidity: Homes are a great investment, but it takes time to sell a home even in the best of circumstances. So if you need emergency funds now, it’s a lot easier to sell stocks and bonds than a home.

 

Misael Lizarraga is a real estate writer with a passion for teaching real estate concepts to first time buyers and investors. He runs realestatecontentguy.com and is a contributing writer for several leading real estate blogs in North America.

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A History Lesson

One of the most common questions we hear from clients is “Where do you think interest rates are going?”

Virtually all of the experts we follow put rates above 5% going into next year and some see rates approaching 5.5% by the middle of 2019. What’s certain is that there are economic forces at work that are pushing rates higher.

So, how about a little history lesson? How do today’s 30- year mortgage rates compare to this same date in history going all the way back to 1990?

• Today = 4.85%
• 2017 = 3.94%
• 2015 = 3.82%
• 2010 = 4.27%
• 2005 = 5.98%
• 2000 = 7.84%
• 1995 = 7.75%
• 1990 = 10.22%

While today’s rates feel high only because they are higher than 2017, they are quite a bit lower than at many times in history.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Securing a Mortgage Loan

Entering into debt is a concept I grew up diametrically opposed to. I was raised, like many with frugal family members, to understand that anything you couldn’t pay for on the spot was something you couldn’t afford. But as we age we learn the pathway to financial growth requires a commitment beyond what many of us can deliver up front. Building and stabilizing wealth is, for many families, tied to home ownership. To reach that initial threshold, most aspiring homeowners will need to apply for a mortgage loan. That process can be daunting, but the long-term rewards of securing your home are worth it.

Step One – Break down your budget

A major financial decision like this can’t be made lightly. Many experts recommend a 50-20-30 style plan for finances, particularly for first-time homeowners. That means 50% of your budget is committed to core, unavoidable, monthly expenses like rent, groceries, loan payments, utilities, insurance, etc. The 20% segment is savings, placed in reserve towards a general or specific future financial goal. The final 30% (at maximum) is left as a remainder for personal spending, however, is most desired. Once this is set, you’re ready to evaluate the rate at which you can repay your loan and adjust accordingly.

Step Two – Take the time to get it right

It’s exciting to be in a position to purchase your first home, but if you find the right spot and realize the funds aren’t there yet it can be a huge disappointment. That’s what makes seeking pre-approval for a loan a must – particularly if it’s your first time. Having your credit in order, along with all key financial documentation (bank statements, tax returns, debt copies, prior records of significant ownership). If your credit isn’t in a great place, it’s likely worth taking the time to amend it before applying for your mortgage loan. When you earn lower interest rates and more manageable monthly payments you’ll be thankful for your prudence.

Step Three – The bigger the down payment the better

It’s rare that first-time homebuyers have significant cash on hand, but whatever you can muster makes a difference. Typically, the greater a down payment you can muster, the lower your subsequent interest rates will be. For many, there’s only so much that’s tenable as a bulk sum up front, of course. If that fits your situation, seeking a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) can earn you a healthy loan for a down payment of just 3.5% of your home’s total value. To calculate the limitations of your target home’s loan options, you can input your information on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website here.

Step Four – Stick to the plan!

After all the effort you’ll go through to secure a mortgage loan, you’ve earned the home it’s helped you purchase. That loan, like any loan, is contingent on your continued monthly payments. It can feel daunting and dispiriting after a time to continually be paying for a home you’re already living in, but maintaining your financial balance is vital. You’ll never be able to predict every expense that comes up but maintaining your budget towards paying off your mortgage loans will set you up to be more financially flexible in the future. Should you ever hope to purchase a second home or other major investments requiring of loans, having a record of consistent mortgage loan payment can help you secure far more favorable interest rates in the future.

A mortgage loan, like any loan, is a major commitment, but entering into homeownership is a massive step towards financial stability and future life-planning. With proper patience and focus, you can get the loan you need at the rate you can afford.

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How Tax Reform Affects Homeowners

 

New tax legislation was signed into law at the end of 2017, and it included some significant changes for homeowners. These changes took effect in 2018 and do not influence your 2017 taxes.  Here’s a brief overview of this year’s tax changes and how they may affect you*.

The amount of mortgage interest you can deduct has decreased.

Under the old law, taxpayers could deduct the interest they paid on a mortgage of up to $1 million. The new law reduces the mortgage interest deduction from $1 million to $750,000. These changes do not affect mortgages taken out before December 15, 2017.

The home equity loan deduction has changed.

The IRS states that, despite newly-enacted restrictions on home mortgages, taxpayers can often still deduct interest on a home equity loan, home equity line of credit (HELOC) or second mortgage, regardless of how the loan is labeled. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, enacted December 22, suspends from 2018 until 2026 the deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and lines of credit, unless they are used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.

The property tax deduction is capped at $10,000.

Previously taxpayers could deduct all the state, local and foreign real estate taxes they paid with no cap on the amount. The new law limits the deduction for all state and local taxes – including income, sales, real estate, and personal property taxes – to $10,000.

The casualty loss deduction has been repealed.

Homeowners previously could deduct unreimbursed casualty, disaster and theft losses on their property. That deduction has been repealed, with an exception for losses on property located in a federally declared disaster area.

The capital gains exclusion remains unchanged.

Homeowners can continue to exclude up to $500,000 for joint filers or $250,000 for single filers for capital gains when selling their primary residence as long as they have lived in the home for two of the past five years. An earlier proposal would have increased that requirement to five out of the last eight years and phase out the exclusion for high-income households, but it was struck down. Find out more about 2018 tax reform.

How does tax reform affect your plans for buying or selling a home?

The changes in real estate related taxes may change your strategy. Contact your Windermere agent to learn more. If you need help finding an agent, we’re happy to help.

 

*Please consult your tax advisor if you have any questions about how the new tax reform impacts you

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5 Things to Consider if You’re Behind on Your Mortgage

Financial setbacks like the loss of a job or large medical bills can make it tough to make ends meet. If you find yourself behind on your mortgage payments, it helps to be proactive.  It’s also good to know that federal and local agencies, even banks, are working to help those who are behind on their mortgages from going into foreclosure.

If you are behind on your mortgage, here are 5 steps you can take.

1)  Call your lender as soon as possible.

As uncomfortable as that call can be, the problem will not go away by avoiding your lender. If you are having trouble making your payments, the sooner you contact your lender, the more options you will have. Some homeowners postpone communicating with their lender for so long, that foreclosure becomes the only option.  Don’t let that happen to you.

2) Talk to a housing counselor.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a list of approved nonprofit housing counselors, who will provide free counseling for homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. They’ll go over options and suggest next steps. Call HUD at 888-995-4673 or visit the HUD site to find a counselor in your area.

3)  See if you can lower your mortgage payment.

You might be able to refinance or do a loan modification to make your monthly payment more affordable. There are a number of programs available depending on your circumstances. A HUD housing counselor or your lender can help you explore your options.

4)  Find out if you qualify for a short sale.

A short sale is an alternative to foreclosure when a homeowner needs to sell and can no longer afford to make mortgage payments. The lender agrees to accept less than the amount owed to pay off a loan, rather than going forward with a lengthy and costly foreclosure process.

Although every homeowner’s situation is unique, the basic criteria for qualifying for a short sale are:

  • You need to sell your home.
  • You owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth.
  • You have a personal financial hardship that will prevent you from making future payments. (Examples of hardship include loss of job, divorce, death of a spouse and medical emergency or illness.)

In most instances, a short sale makes more sense than foreclosure. In general, when you want to obtain a loan to purchase a property in the future, more opportunities will be available to you if you do a short sale. Find out more about how short sales work.

5) See if you qualify for cash incentives tied to a short sale.

Several programs offer cash incentives to homeowners to do a short sale in order to avoid foreclosure.

The federal government’s Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program might provide $3,000 in relocation assistance to homeowners who do short sales.

Lenders, including Chase and Bank of America, have paid significant cash incentives to encourage sellers to do a short sale and avoid foreclosure. In the past few months, we have had homeowners receive checks from their lender at closing in amounts that range up to $35,000. And these large incentives are not restricted to owners of high-end properties. The owner of a short sale property that recently sold for $164,000 received a check for $25,000. The checks are given for relocation assistance and can be used however the homeowner sees fit. There are no restrictions.

It’s important to note that the seller incentive is determined by the investor, so not every lender is paying incentives. However, if you are considering a short sale, it’s a good time to find out if you qualify.

Richard Eastern is a Windermere broker in Bellevue, WA and co-founder of Washington Property Solutions, a short sales negotiating company. Since 2003 he has helped more than 700 homeowners sell their homes. A Bellevue native and a University of Washington grad, Richard is an avid sports fan and a devoted Little League and basketball coach. You can learn more about Richard here or atwww.washortsales.com.

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Rate Recap

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.25% this week. It was their 3rd rate increase this year.

This has us thinking about mortgage rates.

Today, 30-year mortgage rates are 3.93%.

Let’s put this in context with a little history lesson. Mortgage rates were…

  • 3.90% 6 months ago
  • 4.13% 1 year ago
  • 3.54% 18 months ago
  • 3.32% 5 years ago
  • 5.96% 10 years ago
  • 7.15% 20 years ago

So where are rates headed? Given that the Federal Reserve is expected to raise their rate three to four more times in 2018, we expect mortgage rates to be higher one year from today.

The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts rates to be 4.8% in the 4th quarter of next year. Freddie Mac’s prediction is 4.4%. If these predictions are true, that would mean mortgage rates would be back to where there were 6 to 7 years ago.

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