Selling Your Home? Do This First
Scott Gamm | Learnvest | June 22, 2012 | link
With the troubled housing market of the past five years and banks still reluctant to lend, it’s no wonder homeowners hoping to sell are sitting on the market for months at a time. Buyers, meanwhile, are trying to find a balance between their dream home and one that’s affordable.
For those trying to sell a house, what are some quick and easy DIY projects that can help sell your home faster? We asked experts to share step-by-step instructions for completing projects bound to modernize your home, from resurfacing cabinets to eliminating home odors to re-caulking bathroom grout.
1. Create a Welcoming Entrance
If you don’t immediately impress potential buyers as they enter the home, you’re setting yourself up for a tough sell. Creating a welcoming entrance is arguably the most effective way to sell your home faster.
Doug Perlson, co-founder and CEO of RealDirect.com, shares the following tips for instantly improving curb appeal:
- Remove weeds and make sure plantings are trimmed and don’t appear overgrown.
- Replace old address numbers with modern exterior ones. It’s a quick and inexpensive update.
- Paint the front door and refrain from excessive decoration.
- Part of what makes an entrance appealing is what you don’t see. Specifically, your entrance should not be crowded with shoes, keys, mail, etc.
Applying mulch to your front and back yards is another inexpensive way to make your home more appealing to buyers.
Jason Cameron, TV host and TruGreen partner, shares these strategies for mulching:
- Apply a one- to three-inch layer of mulch–any thicker, and roots will begin growing in the mulch instead of the soil, making them susceptible to drought and low temperatures.
- Check the depth of the mulch in your landscape beds. It should be two to three inches deep. Add more mulch if you do not have the minimum level in place, but do not exceed four inches. When rainfall is limited, mulch not only conserves soil moisture, but moderates soil temperature and helps deter weeds.
- Make sure your mulch is not too close to the base or trunk of the plant, as it could cause decay and winter injury.
3. Eliminating Odors
You may not notice odors in your home, but prospective buyers will.
Jill M. Banks of Happily Better After Room Redesign & Home Staging suggests using baking soda as a way to fight odors: “Baking soda is a natural odor neutralizer, so if a spot in the carpet still smells funky after cleaning, try sprinkling some baking soda on it, leave it for 15 minutes or so, then vacuum.”
She says baking soda can also be used in garbage disposals, trash cans, washing machines and refrigerators to knock out mystery smells.
4. Resurfacing Cabinets
Replacing your cabinets is undoubtedly a major expense and will likely require a professional to complete. Resurfacing your cabinets is a cost-effective way to spruce up your kitchen, though.
Design expert Kathy Peterson offers the following steps to a perfect cabinet:
- Step 1: Remove hardware, doors and drawers.
- Step 2: Clean the surface.
- Step 3: Deglaze it with liquid sand, then clean again.
- Step 4: Paint and, depending on the style you’re looking for, add a tint over the paint (design kits can help you with this).
5. Baseboard Repairs
The baseboards in your home are subject to plenty of wear and tear over the years. To make some easy repairs, Frank Foti, business manager adviser for Mr. Handyman, offers these tips:
- Strike nails flush with face of trim board using a nail punch or awl tool.
- Patch holes and/or small cracks/dents with wood filler; sand; re-paint.
- Caulk or re-caulk top of trim to wall.
6. Nail-hole Repairs
While nail holes are hard to notice, buyers typically inspect every inch of the house. You don’t want to let a small nail hole dissuade potential buyers. Here are more simple suggestions for Foti:
- Step 1: In drywall/plaster, use a four-inch drywall knife to apply drywall spackle.
- Step 2: On trim, use fingers to apply wood filler.
- Step 3: Repaint.
Speaking of caulking, the grout in your bathroom or shower is likely to become moldy and dirty. To re-caulk, consider Foti’s tips:
- Step 1: Make sure the area to be caulked is clean, dry and free of debris and contaminants.
- Step 2: Fashion the correct size of tube opening for the desired size bead of caulk (cut tube tip for a small opening initially).
- Step 3: Ensure the proper tube is bought for the job at hand: latex (interior), acrylic (exterior/kitchen/bath) or silicon (kitchen/bath, not intended to be painted).
- Step 4: The gap between surfaces to be caulked should not exceed one-fourth to three-eighths of an inch. Use backer rod for larger gaps.
- Step 5: Allow caulk to set-up/cure according to manufacturer recommendations before exposing to water.
- Step 6:Use a slightly damp rag to smooth excess caulking from your project.
8. Spruce Up Your Appliances
Instead of replacing older appliances that work for the sole purpose of having a more updated kitchen, update their knobs—its costs less and adds some “curb appeal.”
For tips on how to complete this DIY project, we turned to Steve Ash, senior repairman at PartSelect.com for advice.
“You can remove most knobs and replaced them without using any tools, or with minimal use of needlenose pliers,” he says.
As for how to complete the project, here are his steps:
- Step 1: Grip the old knob and pull it from the knob shaft gently but firmly.
- Step 2: Check to ensure the metal or plastic insert of the knob remains in the knob, not on the shaft.
- Step 3: Press the new knob onto the shaft (some knobs screw into place.) A knob or dial that screws in is generally used when the function of the knob is a push or pull as opposed to a turn. For these types you will screw the dial on and off instead of sliding.
9. Changing a Handle
Believe it or not, changing an appliance’s handle is slightly different. Here are Ash’s steps:
- Step 1: Before you start, check to see how the old handle is attached. There will be at least two screws holding the handle onto the appliance. In some cases, there may be a keyhole slot as well.
- Step 2: Remove the screws and remove the old handle gently to avoid damaging or scratching the door.
- Step 3: Replace the handle, starting with the keyhole slot if there is one, followed by the screws.
- Step 4: Secure the screws tightly.
10. Clean Out Those Clients
And a final DIY project that doesn’t require any tools or experience: Cleaning out your closets.
“While shoving everything into a closet has been your go-to clean-up plan since your teen years, potential buyers will undoubtedly look behind every door in your home. Keep bedroom, linen closets and storage spaces neat and tidy to avoid any embarrassing surprises,” advises Sure Fit creative director Sheryl Boltze.
A Deduction Unevenly Used
Lisa Prevost | New York Times | May 16, 2013 | link
A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts reinforces what many economists have been saying for some time: the mortgage interest deduction primarily benefits high-income homeowners.
The report charts the geographic distribution of those using the deduction across and within the 50 states. The states with the largest percentages of tax filers claiming the deduction are clustered along the East and West Coasts, in more affluent areas with relatively high property values.
The illustration isn’t completely predictable, however, particularly when it comes to the varied usage within states. And those nuances could help inform the current debate in Washington over whether to shrink or even eliminate the interest deduction, which, at $72 billion in 2011, is the third largest in terms of foregone tax revenue.
A minority of tax filers benefit from the deduction, primarily because it is restricted to those who itemize deductions on their federal income tax returns. According to the Tax Policy Center of the Urban and Brookings institutes, only about 30 percent of taxpayers itemize, rather than take the standard deduction.
The Pew report found that Maryland taxpayers take greatest advantage of the mortgage deduction, with 37 percent having claimed it in 2010. Connecticut comes in a close second, at 34 percent. North Dakota and West Virginia taxpayers derive the least benefit, with claim rates of 15 percent.
That seeming anomaly reflects the higher level of construction activity in Western states, said Michael Lea, the director of the Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate at San Diego State University. “People have been moving there and buying newer houses,” he said, “and those have been larger houses, in part because they get the benefit of the tax deduction.”
Shrinking the focus on claims to the metropolitan level, the New York area shows a claim rate just shy of 20 percent, considerably below the national average. Anne Stauffer, a project director at Pew, says the low average can be explained partly, but not completely, by the area’s high rental rate.
Ms. Stauffer outlined two ways in which altering the mortgage interest deduction could affect states. If their tax codes are directly linked to the mortgage interest deduction, any change in the deduction could affect state revenues. Also, economic activity within states could shift along with a revision that increases or decreases income taxes.
The real estate and building industries have opposed changes to the deduction, cautioning that it could set back the housing market recovery. In the estimation of Mr. Lea, the degree to which lowering the deduction would depress real estate prices in high-use areas would probably depend on how the change was administered.
“If it was phased in,” he said, “we would probably see some decline in house prices in the short run, but over time I think that the forces of supply and demand in those areas would dominate.”
Mr. Lea’s preference would be a much lower cap on the deduction than the current $1 million in mortgage debt.
“I would actually advocate going one step further and replacing it with a first-time home-buyer tax credit,” he added. “If your real intent is to stimulate homeownership, that’s a much better way.”
Practical Renovations for Investment Properties
If you’re a new rental property owner, or even someone just considering becoming a landlord, you’re probably wondering which home improvements make the most sense when updating your investment property. Should you replace the windows or flooring? What about painting the walls and upgrading fixtures and finishes in the bathrooms and kitchen?
The nicer your property, the longer you’ll likely keep your tenants. With that in mind, these improvements should make your property desirable without putting too much strain on your wallet.
New paint in a lighter shade is always nice. Glidden Soft Ecru, for example, is light and bright, and you can use a flat or semi-gloss finish for walls. Whatever color you choose, make it a lighter color and paint the whole house the same shade, except ceilings, which should be white.
Carpeting can be relatively inexpensive but usually only lasts a few years. Plus many tenants get the “ick” factor seeing worn wall-to-wall carpet filling a space. Many landlords are opting instead for wood laminate flooring, which looks great and is tough as nails while being less expensive than hardwoods. Laminate is easy to clean between tenants, and there’ll be no arguments over who should pay for carpets to be cleaned. It’s better, however, to stick to tile in the kitchens, bathrooms and other high-plumbing areas.
If the property is reaching its second decade, you should consider having a plumber change out all the water valves, hose bibs, supply hoses and sink faucets (you can skip the in-wall supply or drain lines, as they typically last a much longer time). Check the dishwasher supply and drain lines, and especially the washing machine supply hoses and drain hose, which should be changed out every few years. Doing this upfront work will help reduce the risk of a pricey water-related disaster.
Changing out old towel bars, toilets and sink faucets shouldn’t be too expensive. A new vanity top, medicine cabinet and/or light fixtures can be installed by a good handyman. If the property is 30-plus years old, it might be time to change out the shower, tub and floor tile as well.
The kitchen gets more expensive, so hopefully it’s been updated a little. If not, having the cabinets sanded and painted, and adding nice doorknobs should update the space without too much expense. Switching out old fluorescent ceiling lights for new track lighting and adding a newer countertop (laminate isn’t too pricey) could really update the look for years going forward. Consider changing out the sink/faucet, too, if you’re doing the countertop. You can find reasonably priced replacement combo packs at home improvement stores.
Door knobs and locks
These aren’t too expensive, and you can switch them out yourself. Interior knobs make the unit look much nicer, and exterior knobs and locks add security. Try Kwikset’s Smartkey exterior locks, which can be re-keyed in place between tenants.
Protect yourself against loan lock scams
Jack Guttentag | Inman News | April 1, 2013 | link
A price quote means nothing until it is properly locked with the lender. A rate lock, as it is commonly called, is the lender’s commitment that it will make the specified loan at the specified price within a specified future period.
The price includes not only the interest rate but also points, which are upfront charges expressed as a percent of the loan; fixed-dollar charges; and (if the loan is adjustable-rate) the margin and maximum rate.
Locking has become more difficult: Before the financial crisis, if you started early enough in the day, it was relatively easy to contact a lender and lock the price the same day. Today, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Delays are more frequent today than before the financial crisis, and the delay periods are longer. Before the crisis, income and asset documentation as well as appraisal requirements were often waived, facilitating the locking process. There are few, if any, waivers today.
Determining the property value, which has a major bearing on the terms of a loan, is particularly problematic. Before the crisis, lenders would lock based on the borrower’s or broker’s estimate of value if it was a refinance, or based on the sale price if it was a purchase, confident that in the great majority of cases the appraisal would confirm the value. Appraisals in buoyant markets generally did.
Today, lenders cannot have this confidence because appraisals have become conservative, and they also take longer. So lenders do one of two things: Either they require an appraisal before they lock, or they lock without it but require that the appraisal, when it materializes, show a value above some level for the lock to remain valid.
Lock delays carry risk to borrowers: Because market prices are highly volatile, lenders reset them every morning, and often during the day as well. This makes it very likely that the price on the lock day will not be the same as the price quoted to the borrower earlier, on which the borrower’s decision to proceed was based. While prices may change in either direction, the risks to the borrower are not symmetrical. Borrowers waiting to lock will always pay more if the price has risen, but they won’t necessarily pay less if the price has declined.
Lock scamming is all too easy: A lender who locks at the current price when that price is higher than the one quoted to the borrower earlier should do the same when the current price is lower. However, few borrowers are likely to object if they are locked at the price they were quoted previously, and my soundings suggest that this is a common occurrence. The irony is that the borrowers who consider themselves victimized are the ones who pay a higher price following an increase in the market price, whereas the real victims are those who pay the same price following a market decline.
The good faith estimate (GFE) doesn’t help: The GFE is a federally required disclosure of rates, fees and other loan characteristics that must be provided to the borrower within three business days of the submission of a loan application. It is designed to protect borrowers against a variety of hazards, but it does not protect them against lock scamming.
If the loan has been locked at the time the GFE is issued, any scamming has already occurred. If the loan is not locked when the GFE is issued, the rates and fees shown on the GFE are pre-lock quotes similar to those quoted to the borrower orally, but many borrowers don’t understand this. The GFE states that “the interest rate for this GFE is available through [date],” and if the loan has not been locked, the lender enters a day that has already expired. This is a horribly roundabout and confusing way to tell the borrower that the loan is not locked.
Protecting yourself against lock scamming: When the market price changes between the time the lender quotes a price to the borrower and the time the loan is locked, the lock price should be based on the “twin sibling rule”: That rule states that the price locked will be the price the lender would quote on the same day on the identical transaction to the borrower’s twin requesting a price quote. If the new market price is below the price quoted to the borrower earlier, the lender will lock the lower price. If the new market price is higher than the price quoted earlier, the lender should not lock until explicitly authorized to do so by the borrower.
How does a borrower verify that the lender has followed this rule? One way is to monitor market changes on a day-to-day basis. The best tool for this purpose is my daily series on wholesale mortgage prices.
Even better is to deal with lenders who provide access to their pricing systems through third-party multi-lender websites, where borrowers can check their price on the system when they lock. Three sites that provide this facility are mortgagemarvel.com, zillow.com and mtgprofessor.com, which is mine.
Lenders Embrace Home Equity Loans Again
As housing values rise, home-equity loans and lines of credit are staging a comeback, MSN Money reports.
In late 2008 as the housing market slowed dramatically, home-equity borrowing came to nearly a standstill as lenders became cautious because values were falling so quickly. By late 2011, nearly a third of U.S. homes with mortgages owed more on their loan than their house was worth.
In markets where home prices are rising, though, lenders are starting to issue equity loans once again. New players have jumped in too. For example, Discover Financial Services announced in March that it will offer fixed-rate home-equity loans of $25,000 to $100,000. The offer is for current customers, but eventually will be extended to others.
While lenders may be more willing to extend a home-equity loan, they are being more cautious than they were in the past. Lending on 100 percent of owners’ equity is now rare, and borrowers won’t likely get more than 85 percent of that amount.
Uninsured losses on property theft and fraud are tax deductible
Fraud by building contractors is a distressingly common occurrence.
How’s this for a nightmare scenario: You agree to pay a contractor $400,000 to tear down part of your house and put in an addition. While the work is going on, you, your spouse, and five children stay with the wife’s parents. The contractor tells you that the work is progressing according to schedule and you make multiple payments.
Suddenly, the contractor dies. He was only 30 years old. It turns out he was a drug addict. You discover that the contractor failed to do much of the work he said had been done. Moreover, considerable damage was done to the house during construction because the contractor failed to protect it from the weather.
Naturally, you sue everybody you can. The only entity that has any money you can collect from is the deceased contractor’s insurer. Unfortunately, it turns out that the insurance policy lapsed because the premiums weren’t paid. In the end, you settle with the insurer for $10,000.
All this happened to James and Gaetana Urtis. They figured that at least they could deduct some of their losses from their income taxes. They claimed a $188,070 theft loss deduction — the amount they paid the contractor that they determined he had pocketed instead of doing the promised work.
But — you guessed it — the IRS denied the deduction.
However, this story has a somewhat happy ending. The Urtis’s appealed their case to the U.S. Tax Court and won. The court rejected the IRS’s claim that the Urtis’s were not entitled to a theft loss deduction because the contractor’s actions did not constitute theft under state law. The contractor had committed criminal fraud when he knowingly induced the Urtis’s to enter into a contract which he had no intention of carrying out. Thus, the Urtis’s were entitled to a $188,070 theft loss deduction. (Urtis v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2013-66.)
Uninsured losses of property due to theft are tax deductible. In the case of personal property, however, a theft loss deduction is a personal itemized deduction claimed on Schedule A. Such losses are deductible only if, and to the extent, they exceed 10 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Moreover, the first $100 of such losses are not deductible.
For tax purposes, theft includes far more than a mugging or burglary. It includes “any criminal appropriation of another’s property by swindling, false pretenses, and any other form of guile.” Thus, you can be entitled to theft loss where you can show that a contractor deliberately lied and deceived you to get your money.
However, you don’t have a theft loss where a contractor does the promised work, but you don’t like the quality. Poor workmanship is not fraud and thus does not result in a theft loss. At most, it is negligence and/or breach of contract. For this reason, the Urtis’s could not claim a theft loss for the damage done to their home due to the contractor’s negligence in failing to protect it from the weather during contraction.
- See more at: http://www.inman.com/2013/03/29/uninsured-losses-property-theft-and-fraud-are-tax-deductib/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+inmannews+%28Inman+News+-+Headlines%29#sthash.4I3ZRLL3.dpuf