If you already own a home, you probably already know that having a home mortgage can reduce your tax liability. But first-time buyers or people who have never owned a home typically have no idea that this deduction is available! If you’ve been thinking about buying a home, it’s too late to make an impact on your taxes this year, but you can buy now to see a big reduction in next year’s tax liability. How do you get money back just by owning a home?


How it Works

Homeowners are eligible to deduct the interest that they pay on first and second mortgages up to $1,000,000 in mortgage debt. People who are married and filing separately can deduct up to $500,000. You can also deduct home equity loans up to $100,000, or up to the amount of equity that you currently have in your home. The math can get complicated, but it’s calculated using an annual effective interest rate. These deductions can reduce your tax liability, which means you’ll owe less in taxes – and you’ll get a bigger refund at the end of the year!


Maintain a Mortgage to Take Advantage of This Deduction

In order to qualify for this tax deduction, you must maintain a mortgage on your home. Some people work to pay down mortgages early in order to eliminate a monthly payment. However, most financial advisors will recommend that you actually maintain a mortgage because the reduction in tax liability typically surpasses the amount you pay in interest. In other words, the tax advantages of maintaining a mortgage are valuable enough that you shouldn’t try too hard to pay it down early, but should instead use extra cash to make other investments that can help your long-term financial goals. The second you pay off your mortgage, you lose your tax deduction!


Around the country, real estate sales are increasing. Depending on where you live, sales may be up anywhere from 7 percent to 27 percent – or more. As sales increase and inventory shrinks, more people are coming quickly off the sidelines to snap up a home before they miss out on a great deal. If you’ve been waiting for the ideal time to buy, it’s now – before the best deals are gone.


Shrinking Inventory Motivates Buyers

Many buyers have been watching the housing market for the past couple of years, waiting to see signs that the housing market is rebounding before they buy. People have been reluctant to buy for fear that the housing market hadn’t hit bottom yet, and they might end up underwater on their mortgages. Unfortunately, people who have been waiting may have already waited too long to get the best deals – and people are finally waking up to realize that now is the time to buy.


The shrinking home inventory around the country is motivating buyers to jump into the arena before all the deals are gone. Home buyers are making offers faster on the best homes, and the best deals are going quickly. With more buyers in the arena, that translates to two things: more competition, and rising prices.


Prices are Rising in Many Areas

Homes sell at prices that the housing market will bear. When the housing market is good and inventory is selling quickly, prices rise – homeowners can charge more because buyers are more eager to buy. With the uptick in activity in the housing market, buyers are also finding that home prices are rising in many areas. If prices are going up near you, now is the time to buy – before you miss out on the best deals. If you live in a part of the country where prices aren’t yet rising, or where they’re rising only modestly, you should still consider buying now to be ahead of the curve. Being in a proactive position is best for buyers – when you get reactive, you only end up paying even more for your home.

The Spring Market is in full gear right now, and many people are using this opportunity to view a ton of homes and make offers on the most desirable. Spring market is a great time to shop for homes, because buyers have a ton of options available and can get the home that comes closest to their dream home. But the best homes go quickly in the spring market, and desirable spots or well-priced homes can quickly spawn a bidding war as multiple buyers attempt to win their dream home. How can you avoid a bidding war in the spring market?


Find More than One Property

It can be difficult to be objective when you find your dream home, but one of the best strategies you can employ to avoid a bidding war is to be willing to walk away from the home you want. Find multiple homes that could work for you, and try not to get too attached to any of them. Think about the things you like best about your favorite home, and ponder whether you can make modifications to your “back up” homes to make them just as good as your top pick. It may be cheaper to re-paint some walls, re-floor an area or even remodel a kitchen or bathroom than to bid up the price of a desirable home $15,000 or $20,000.

Have a back-up option, and be willing to walk away when the price rises above your ceiling.


Make a Compelling Offer

The other way to avoid a bidding war completely is to make a compelling offer. You may start out offering more than a seller is asking, offering extremely favorable terms or concessions to the seller, or demonstrating that you’re ready to close by having a big down-payment and mortgage pre-approval. These things can be more valuable to sellers than a few thousand dollars extra, and they can make the difference between a quick acceptance and a costly, drawn-out bidding war.

When you’re looking at homes, one of the things you’re evaluating is the outdoor space. Maybe you’ve got pets and you’re looking for a large, fenced-in back yard. Or maybe you have kids and you want enough space to set up a swing set. When you’re shopping for homes, don’t forget to consider this important piece of the puzzle. You may not be able to take the seller’s word for where your property line is located – make sure you follow up and confirm that the property lines are where you think they are.


Don’t Use Existing Amenities to Judge Property Lines

When looking at homes, you can’t use existing amenities to judge property lines. It’s easy to see a fenced yard and imagine that’s where your property line is located. But a fence may not actually be on the property line – the property could actually extend beyond the fence, or in some cases, the fence may even be on a neighbor’s property. There are a ton of reasons that this could occur, and in many scenarios, the sellers may not even be aware of an issue. You as a buyer must do the appropriate checking before assuming that all is well.


Check Legal Documentation, and You May Need a Survey

Check the legal documentation on file with the city or with the county property registrar. The documentation on file for the property should list a legal description, which tells you exactly where the property line is located.


In cases where a legal description follows geography of the property, such as along a creek, cliff or ridge, it may be easy to judge a property line visually. But in a place like a sub-division or other flat, grassy neighborhood setting, you may need a formal survey to confirm that the property line is actually where you think it is. Check with your real estate agent to discuss whether you need to order a survey in your particular circumstances, but don’t assume just by looking at a property that you know where the property line is located.


The spring market is upon us, mortgage rates have reached a record low, and the real estate industry is improving in many parts of the country. For many aspiring homeowners, this confluence of events means that now is the time to buy! If you’re a first time buyer, a move up buyer or if you are looking to hire a new realtor, here are just a few tips that can help you make sure you find the right person for your team:


Find Out Your Realtor’s Areas of Expertise

This applies both to locale and to types of real estate and home sales that your realtor handles. You want to find a realtor who really knows the region you’re considering, and can make useful recommendations on location. But you also want a realtor familiar with the home type you’re considering, or the type of sale you want to pursue, such as short sale, foreclosure or standard sale.


How Experienced is Your Realtor?

Find out how long your realtor has been an agent. More experienced realtors can be extremely valuable, but may not have as much time to devote to you. Newer realtors may not have all the answers, but may be able to spend more one-on-one time working with you on your home sale. Decide which is most important to you.


What’s Your Strategy for My Needs?

Ask a realtor about their strategy to meet your needs. You want to know things like how a realtor intends to search for your home, how  many homes you’re likely to visit before selecting one, and what assistance the agent provides when making an offer. Make sure the agent has the right strategy for your needs.


What’s Your List-Price to Sale-Price Ratio?

You want the best deal, so you want to find a realtor who has a track record of negotiating a sale price that is lower than the list price. The better this ratio, the better the deal you’re likely to get.

These are just some of the questions to ask as you begin your search.  You want the best person for the job on your team and answers to these questions will hopefully lead you to a knowledgeable, local real estate professional you can trust to help you find the home you are looking for.

Nearly 40% of the new homes sold last year underwent an energy audit at completion, which certified their level of efficiency and confirmed that they would offer savings on utility bills. But many homeowners don’t seem to realize that you can also perform an energy audit on an existing home, too, with only a tiny percentage of last year’s resales undergoing such an audit. What’s the value of an energy audit, and how can you get one on a home you’re thinking of buying?


The Value of an Energy Audit

An energy audit can be an extremely valuable tool for new homeowners. Highly efficient homes can save you hundreds of dollars a month in utility bills, or thousands of dollars in utilities over the course of a year. It may be worthwhile to pay more for the more efficient home up front, knowing you’ll be saving after you buy.


An energy audit can also reveal a need for correction to improve efficiency. If you’re about to buy an energy guzzler, you can find out before you buy, and use that to negotiate a lower asking price, require the seller to fix the problems, or find yourself a more energy-efficient home.


How to Get an Energy Audit

The best-known energy audit is called HERS, the Home Energy Rating System. HERS audits are performed by an organization called Resnet, which conducts the training and certifies inspectors. Resnet has partnered with a couple of the largest home inspection networks, so in some areas of the country, you may be able to add on an energy audit to your home inspection for a few hundred dollars.


In other areas, you may need to ask your real estate agent how to get a HERS audit, as many agents don’t always speak up about the option. But paying a few hundred dollars for this audit up front can save you thousands of dollars per year in utility costs, or it can give you leverage to negotiate a lower asking price, so it’s worth the cost.  If HERS is not available in your area, you can also check with the local utuility company for an energy audit, too!

This question comes up so often.  With mortgage rates at a record low, more and more people who couldn’t afford homes before are thinking about buying. But if you’re a first time buyer, you might not know much about how mortgage rates work. Just because rates are at an all-time low doesn’t mean you’ll get a record-low rate. Many factors go into a mortgage rate, including the type of mortgage, the term of the mortgage, and the borrower’s credit. What do you need to know about mortgage rates to help you get the possible rate on your new home?


Type of Mortgage

The type of mortgage plays a role in the mortgage rate. Lenders want to be compensated for lending, so a riskier or more unusual type of mortgage comes hand-in-hand with a higher rate. Many lenders have multiple “products” – that is, types of mortgage or mortgage program – so you’ll need to talk with a lender about your specific situation and needs to determine what type of mortgage you qualify for, and what your rate will ultimately be.


Term of Mortgage

The term of your mortgage also plays a role in your rate. Typically, longer-term mortgages come with higher rates; you may be able to get a lower rate with a shorter mortgage. Currently, 15-year mortgage rates are at an all-time low. 30-year mortgage rates are about three-quarters of a percent higher. When mortgage rates are higher, you may see more than a percentage point of spread from a long-term to a low-term mortgage. If you can afford the higher payments on a shorter term, like a 15-year mortgage, you can save money on interest because you’ll have a lower rate.


Borrower’s Credit

Of course, the borrower’s credit is one of the most important factors in mortgage rate. Depending on your credit score, you may not be able to qualify for the lowest-rate product a lender has; you may only qualify for a high-risk product that comes along with a higher interest rate. Generally speaking, the better your credit score, the lower your mortgage interest rate – and vice versa.


These are just a sample of the most common items that determine your mortgage rate.  Be sure to ask your lender what factors determine your rate specifically, so you are in the know as to what goes into your mortgage rate.


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