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Federal Tax Credits

Feb 12

First-Time Home Buyer – Fix Up or Move In

by Mary Teresa Fowler
First Time Home Buyers

Do first-time home buyers prefer to buy a "fixer-upper" or a "ready to move in home?" Obviously, the choice will vary from buyer to buyer. Yet it is an interesting topic to explore on different levels.

Fix Up or Move In

On the average, do today's first-time buyers respond differently than a generation ago? Do urban buyers make different choices than rural buyers? Does modern society encourage home owners to want 'instant' results – the perfect home right from the start – no "fixer-uppers."

Starting Out

The traditional perception of the 'first-time buyer' is the newly-married bride and groom just starting out in life. Of course, in our enlightened world, we don't (or shouldn't) put limits on our definition of couples. Yet still, many of today's first-time home buyers are young couples who are just setting up their first home together. Others might have lived previously in apartments as a family.

First-time home owners, however, are not always couples. Three friends could purchase a home. Individuals could even just pool their resources together and buy a home as an investment. Obviously, people must exert caution in all steps of such a major transaction.

First-Time Home Owner

Regardless, buying a home for the first time is a new and 'starting out' experience – whether you are 20 or 40. Remember that not every first-time home buyer is just a few years out of high school. First-time home owners can be nearer middle age. Many people rent for years before buying that first home. Actually, for the purposes of qualifying for the expired Federal First-Time Home Buyers' Tax Credit, home owners could be real first-timers or people who had not owned a principal residence for three years.

First-Time Survey

The results of a recent Coldwell Banker Real Estate survey shed a little light on the contemporary first-time home buyer. In many housing markets with low prices, first-time buyers can afford to pick and choose, and they do not have to select that home in need of renovation. If prices were higher, maybe first-timers would make a different choice. For example, young families could be carrying a heavy financial load. Probably they would go for the 'fixer-upper' in a market with more expensive houses.

With affordable prices, however, starter homes with imperfections get left behind for a more 'ready to move in' type of home. According to the Coldwell Banker Real Estate survey, first-time buyers are not even searching for homes in need of repair. Eighty-seven percent of home owners who purchased their first home in the past year mentioned that a move-in-ready house had mattered to them.

Almost all of the 300 first-time home owners in the survey said that they had been pleased with the purchase price. The new home owners found that they could stretch their dollar and get a home to suit their lifestyle. Sixty-seven percent said that market conditions allowed them to buy a home sooner than their original expectation.

Half of the home owners found homes in a better neighborhood than they expected and 61% bought a home at a more affordable price. Many home owners (40%) said they got more space for their dollar and 43% of respondents locked in a lower mortgage rate. According to this survey, first-time buyers do not have to fix up before they move into their new homes.

First-time buyers forgo starter homes: survey

Do You Prefer A "Fixer-Upper' Or A "Move-In-Ready" Home?

Image courtesy of house2uonline.com

Feb 1

2011 – Year of the Landlord

by Mary Teresa Fowler
Year of the Landlord

2011 is shaping up to be the "Year of The Landlord." As many people face the winter winds, we are reminded of a wise old saying.

"It's an ill wind that blows no good." ~ John Heywood (1497-1580)

In the case of the winds of change in real estate, falling house prices and slow sales have challenged many sellers but benefited more than a few apartment building landlords. More people are choosing to rent but others can find no suitable alternative to apartment living. Everyone has their own reason for deciding to rent property rather than buy a home.

Rent or Own

Sometimes renting is the best choice for an individual. Indeed, many renters prefer the apartment lifestyle. After all, renting a luxurious NYC condo does not seem like such a bad deal. Even renting any apartment has its perks such as more flexibility in relocation and less maintenance responsibilities.

Of course, other renters would sooner own a home. Often foreclosure forces homeowners to become renters. Sometimes potential first-time buyers discover that they cannot afford the financial commitment of a home. The Federal First-Time Homebuyers' Tax Credit is no more and not everyone has an "angel investor."

Whether people choose to rent or have no other choice, landlords are gaining tenants. Banks and lenders are also smiling – especially if the apartment building owner had been previously under financial duress. Borrowing has become less expensive with low interest rates.

This effect is noticed with commercial real estate of all types. The low rates have a positive effect on borrowing for office buildings, retail outlets, and company warehouses. The apartment market, however, is the healthiest of the commercial categories – mainly because of cheap financing.

Investing in Apartments

Obviously, investors are interested in apartment buildings. Actually, 'flipping' properties is coming into vogue again. The practice of reselling quickly for profit is somewhat prevalent at all times.

Yet 'flipping' is as popular now as in earlier thriving economic periods. This practice can have its place - if done responsibly for the right reasons. Illegal flipping, however, is a different matter. It involves scams, disregard for others, and a goal of profit at any cost.

Higher Values

Apartment building values have risen to levels not seen since the middle of 2007. According to the brokerage firm Marcus & Millichap, values of apartment buildings rose 16% in 2010. Green Street Advisors, a research company tracking REITs, say that present values are now within 10% of their 2007 peak value.

Of course, apartment values in major centers such as New York and Washington, D.C., have shown signs of recovery since 2009. Currently, increasing apartment values can be seen in additional markets including Los Angeles and Seattle as well as other U.S. cities. At the end of 2010, TIAA-CREF paid $62 million for the 261-unit Newbury Commons in Stamford, Connecticut. According to Real Capital Analytics, this sale price was 65% more than the amount paid by Seaboard Properties in February 2009.

Apparently, even Las Vegas is seeing the high values. Keep in mind that Las Vegas was affected greatly by the economic downturn. Yet in December 2010, the Croix Townhomes complex in the Las Vegas Henderson suburb sold for nearly $20 million - $143,000 for each unit – a price even far above the national average. The 'apartment advantage' might be the start of the next big trend in investment property.

Housing Woes Fuel Apartment Surge

Will 2011 Continue To Be The "Year Of The Landlord?"

Image courtesy of architecturelist.com

Jan 5

Home Buying Incentives:Good Deal-Bad Plan

by Mary Teresa Fowler
Home Buying Incentives

Tempting incentives for home buyers – especially first-timers – seem to be the 'in' thing. At one point or another, governments, builders, and property groups will offer enticing incentives to encourage home purchases. This practice is widespread in a troubled or recovering economy. Yet these offers are around to a certain degree in every real estate market.

Government initiatives have been shown to benefit home buyers. These programs assist buyers who meet the qualifications. The plans might offer a credit (as the expired Federal First-Time Homebuyers' Credit) or access to RRSP savings (Canada's 2009 Expansion of the Home Buyers' Plan).

Yet numerous builders and property groups also make offers to home buyers. Should potential buyers take the bait or resist the temptation? What types of incentives are being put on the table?

Huge Incentives


Home buyers can find all kinds of offers out there in the marketplace. Sometimes builders and a property group combine to offer huge incentives. The Satterley Property Group and 17 builders in Australia are making a concerted effort to provide affordable housing in specific estates.

With their campaign named "The Lot," offers of cash rebates, bonuses, and incentives can add up to $30,000 savings per home. Satterley provides cash rebates up to $10,000 plus landscaping, fencing, and other attractions. Builders’ bonuses include free pools, kitchen and bathroom upgrades, as well as home entertainment packages, and reverse cycle air-conditioning. Nigel Satterley, spokesman for The Lot, explained the reasoning behind the offers.

“People have been wary of interest rates and in retail, as well as in land and housing, buyers have become cautious. And research shows that a large percentage of young people are pessimistic about 2011," says Nigel Satterly, spokesman for Satterly Property Group.

$30,000 incentives to first-home buyers


Of course, Australia builders are not the only ones adding on incentives. U.S. home buyers can also receive offers of new pools with a home purchase. In fact, home buyers might be enticed with free vacations, free entertainment centers, or even free cars (leases). Check out a current incentive in Fort Myers, Florida.

The Background of Builders' Incentives

Before buyers accept builders' incentives, they should inform themselves about the practice. The most important point to remember is that builders are in business to make a profit. An incentive should make sense for a home buyer in the long term. Usually, offers come in with a catch.

What could the free vacation cost the home buyer? Is a quick purchase required to claim the vacation? Does the buyer have to make a substantial non-refundable "earnest money deposit"? This deposit is not to be confused with a down payment. When buyers execute a purchase contract, the agreement specifies an amount to secure the contract or "show good faith."

The free vacation or the free product sounds great but the builder will be getting it at a discount. It might make more sense for buyers to shop later for affordable holidays or special sales on products. When buyers factor in required conditions, the 'free' stuff might not seem like such a good deal.

Good Deal or Bad Plan

Indeed, accepting the incentives might be a bad plan. Home buyers do not have to stay away from all builders offering incentives. Yet buyers must understand the builders' goal.

The home purchase – a long-term commitment – must be the buyer's priority. The thrill of a tropical vacation cannot compare to finding the perfect home at the best price. Skip the incentives - if it means that you sacrifice your dream.

Incentives for Home Buyers

Would You Accept Home Buying Incentives?

Image courtesy of homebuyingabout.com

Dec 1

Residential Energy Property Credit

by Mary Teresa Fowler
Residential Energy Property Credit

U.S. homeowners have only until December 31, 2010 to take advantage of the current Residential Energy Property Credit. This 'green' program is available to home owners who make energy-efficient improvements to their houses. New homes or rentals are not eligible for this credit and the home must be the person's principal residence.

Federal Tax Credit

This property credit is about to expire and qualifying items must be bought and installed before the end of 2010. People can make purchases such as heating and cooling systems, insulation, roofing, windows and doors, water heaters, and biomass stoves. The credit is a dollar-to-dollar reduction on the amount of tax owed and home owners can receive up to 30% of the cost – up to $1500 per home. Two or more unmarried people living in the same home with joint ownership are each eligible for the tax credit on money spent for improvements. Yet the total credit cannot exceed $1500 for a single home.

The credit includes installation costs in certain categories but not for all purchases. For example, installation costs are covered for heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC). The tax credit, however, does not include installation costs for insulation. As well, not all ENERGY STAR qualified products are included in this initiative. Homeowners are advised to check out the rules of eligibility for this credit.

Associated Components

People are wondering if the tax credit applies to components associated with a product. If a homeowner purchases a biomass stove, will the cost of a hearth, stovepipe, and chimney be eligible for the credit? The IRS administers this program and they have not issued any written guidelines about eligible components.

Homeowners can contact the IRS for the official word. Yet it has been widely suggested informally that components are covered if they are critical pieces of the product's energy efficiency. If the component can be used with a non-qualified product, it does not meet eligibility guidelines for this credit.

How To Apply

For products installed in 2010, homeowners must file the IRS Form 5695. They must submit the form with their 2010 taxes by April 15, 2011. Homeowners must save receipts and the Manufacturer's Certification Statement for their records. A Manufacturer’s Certification Statement is a signed statement from the manufacturer certifying that the product or component qualifies for the tax credit. Manufacturers should provide these certifications on their website.

Income Limit

There is no income limit with this program but it is a 'non-refundable' credit. Homeowners' credits cannot exceed their tax liability (the amount they pay in taxes).

Future Energy

If a homeowner cannot make the December 31 deadline, there are other opportunities to take advantage of energy-efficiency programs. Indeed, new homes and second homes (as well as existing homes) are considered for a tax credit in two additional incentives. The programs vary and cover from 30% of the cost with no upper limit to 30% of the cost and up to $500 per .5 kW of power capacity. These credits do not expire until December 31, 2016. Learn more about Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency.

Last chance for homeowners to get green tax credit

Have You Applied For The Residential Energy Property Credit?

Image courtesy of billshrink.com

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