Date Archives: January 2013

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January
29

House hunting is a complicated process. From finding the right home, to locking down a mortgage rate you can afford, it is a process that requires an attention to detail and a well-thought-out plan. Below are seven steps to take as you begin house hunting to ensure you stay focused and on budget. 1. Establish your goal. Searching for your dream house? Upgrading your current digs or looking to downsize? Whatever the goal is behind your impending home purchase, be sure you understand it clearly before beginning your house hunt. This will eliminate wasted time spent viewing homes that don't meet your top priority. 2. Create a wish list. Once your primary objective is in place, it's time to list all of the additional features and amenities you expect from the property you eventually buy. Do you want a swimming pool in the backyard, a balcony off of your master bedroom or crown molding throughout? Brainstorming must-haves and also-nice-to-haves helps to further narrow down your search field. 3. Hire a real estate agent. No one understands the intricacies of a local housing market like a real estate agent with years of experience helping others buy and sell property within it. Save yourself time and headache and hire a highly rated agent to see you through the process. 4. Get pre-approved. Knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend ahead of time helps the house hunting process goes much smoother, not to mention, eliminates the disappointment of learning you don't have enough saved for the home you've had your eye on all this time. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage will set your budget straight off. 5. Ask questions and take notes. This is probably the biggest purchase you'll ever make, so don't hold back if you have questions or concerns. Ensure you have no lingering questions about the property, mortgage financing terms or anything else that could lead to regret down the line. And don't forget to write down important notes as you view house after house - things that seem important in the moment are easily forgotten after five open houses. 6. Do some recon work. Spend time hanging around the house you have your eye on, and during different times of the day. Does it get noisy? Is the traffic a nightmare? What are the neighbors up to? The worst thing would be to lock into your mortgage, only to find that while you love your house, you hate the neighborhood around it. 7. Look out for hidden expenses. Finally, it's important to investigate more than just the house itself to find out if there are potential money traps within. For example, find out when the home's appliances, water heater, roof, etc. were last replaced so that you aren't surprised with a big expense shortly after moving in.
January
18

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January
18

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January
17

With the New Year underway, many are already thinking about the upcoming tax season. For new homeowners or those who have recently sold a home for the first time, you may be wondering how this tax season will differ from the previous years. Below, Michael Litzner, Broker of Century 21 American Homes walks us through what you can and cannot deduct.   Capital gains: "If you sold your primary residence, you're in luck," says Litzner. "You may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain, and $500,000 for married couples, from your federal tax return."   What is your gain? Your gain is defined as your home's selling price, minus deductible closing costs, minus your basis-the original purchase price of the home, plus improvements, less any depreciation.   However, there are a few rules: your home must have been owned by you and used as your main home for a period of at least two out of the five years prior to its sale. You also must not have excluded gain on another home sold during the two years before the current sale. Sorry, investors.   Sales Loss: "Unfortunately, you cannot deduct any sales losses from your taxes," says Litzner. Why? Sales losses are considered personal losses, and so they aren't deductible the way stock and investment losses can be.   Selling Costs: If you sell your home and realize a taxable gain even after the exclusion, you can reduce your gain with selling costs. "Selling costs can include broker commissions, title insurance, legal fees, inspection fees, and the like," Litzner explains.   Home Improvements: These can be deducted if you have sold your home, as they add to your basis. But what constitutes an "improvement?" The IRS defines improvements as those items that "add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses" – such as putting in new plumbing or wiring or adding another bathroom.   Seller-Paid Points: "These are deductible for the buyer, but not the seller, even though the seller pays them," states Litzner. Since the early 1990's, home-buyers have been able to deduct points paid by the seller; before then, they could only deduct the actual points they paid on the home loans themselves.   "Of course, it's always smart to speak to a tax accountant or finance professional when it comes to any major tax changes," cautions Litzner.   For more information on real estate and your taxes, please contact Century 21 American Homes at 1-800-270-6318.   Century 21 American Homes is one of the fastest growing real estate brokerages serving Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn. To find out more about an exciting career in real estate contact us at careers@c21amhomes.com.
January
8

Buyers looking to score a great real estate deal often consider purchasing a short sale-a property that sells for less than the balance owed on its mortgage. There are many different types of short sale properties, from upside down homes to vacant land. While purchasing a short sale can be financially beneficial to the buyer, it can also be good for the seller and lender, as it keeps the property from facing foreclosure. "If you think purchasing a short sale property may be right for you, seek an agent specializing in short sales, as the process is often more complex than a traditional real estate transaction," says Michael Litzner, Broker of Century 21 American Homes. There are some extra steps that buyers need to take when entering into a short sale, which can require doing some additional homework and assembling the right paperwork-this is why having a short sale specialist on your team is crucial. You need to assemble an arduous proposal that includes a specific short sale request application, an authorization letter, the purchase and sale contract, a hardship letter, a statement of the property's value, a detailing of the costs and liabilities, and a settlement statement, which can be prepared by your agent. According to Litzner, paperwork aside, many short sales involve a series of extensions and can often take longer than other real estate sales. This may not be a big deal if you're an investment buyer, are purchasing a second home, or have a relaxed move schedule. However, if you're relocating for work or otherwise facing a time crunch, a short sale purchase may not be the smartest move. One of the biggest headaches that comes along with short sales can come from the bank. "Keep in mind that just because a property is listed with short sale terms, and the seller accepts your offer, this doesn't necessarily mean the lender will accept," Litzner warns. This can create extra stress and extend the time until closing. Before you make an offer, do your research. Decide how much work, if any, will need to be done on the property, and factor that into deciding whether or not the property is really a steal. "You don't want to purchase a short sale home at a low price only to find out you need to sink thousands of dollars into renovations," Litzner emphasizes. Your agent can help with the research by finding out who is in title of the home, whether a foreclosure notice has been filed and how much is owed to the lender. This information is vital when deciding how much to offer on the home. For more information on short sales, please contact Century 21 American Homes at propertyinfo@C21AmHomes.com, or 1-800-270-6318. Century 21 American Homes is one of the fastest growing real estate brokerages serving Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn. To find out more about an exciting career in real estate contact us at careers@c21amhomes.com.
January
3

Generation Y-also known as the Millennials-are now of the age where they may be thinking about home buying. And as the market picks up, we will start to see many renters in their mid 20s to early 30s jumping on the home-buying bandwagon. To help educate those considering becoming a first time homeowner, Michael LitznerBroker of Century 21 American Homes highlights the top 6 benefits to owning your own home. 1. Appreciation "Real estate is the best financial investment you can make," says Litzner. And despite the fact that the market moves in cycles, in general, real estate continues to appreciate. "Putting your money into a home is financially smarter than letting it sit in the bank, or sinking it into stocks," says Litzner. "You are literally living in your investment." 2. Property Tax Deductions Real estate property taxes paid for a first home are fully deductible. "For Gen Y, or anyone unfamiliar with property tax deductions, it's a good idea to take a look at the tax information on IRS Publication 530," Litzner suggests. 3. Mortgage Interest Deductions There has been some talk recently of doing away with mortgage interest deductions, but for now, they hold strong. "Interest is a large component of your mortgage payment," says Litzner, "so being able to deduct it on your tax return is huge." 4. Capital Gains Exclusion Whenever you're ready to sell, you can make the most of the capital gains exclusion, Litzner notes, which enables you to pocket a large chunk of the money-250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a married couple--you make from a home-sale without being taxed. "This makes real estate an even smarter investment," says Litzner. 5. Equity Loans "Being a homeowner makes you eligible for home equity loans," Litzner notes. "These are smart because the interest is both low and tax deductible." This is smarter than carrying a high credit card balance, which has a higher interest and is not deductible. "While most think home equity loans can only be used for home improvement, they can also be used to pay for college, medical bills, or to start up a business," Litzner explains. 6. Pride of Ownership "This may be the number one reason to own a home," says Litzner. "Owning a home is not only a financial investment, but an investment in your future, something your family can benefit from, and something that will provide you with a sense of security and stability that is hard to find elsewhere." For more information on buying a home, please contact Century 21 American Homes at 1-800-270-6318, or propertyinfo@c21amhomes.com. 
January
3

Foreclosure usually begins after the borrower has missed three consecutive mortgage payments. Then, the lender will record a notice of default against the property and unless the debt is satisfied, the lender will foreclose on the mortgage and proceed to set up a trustee sale, where the property is sold to the highest bidder. "Foreclosure is one of homeowners' biggest fears," says Michael Litzner, Broker of Century 21 American Homes. "Not only have they lost their home, but they worry they may never be able to buy again." However, if your property has been foreclosed on, it is possible you can buy again--but a lot will depend on your circumstances and the mortgage interest rate you are willing to pay. "Generally, most lenders will consider your request for a home loan two to four years after your foreclosure," says Litzner. The past two years are what most lenders focus most heavily on, and foreclosure can lower your credit score by anywhere from 200 to 300 points for the first two years afterward. So in terms of credit, the longer you wait, the better. "Check with a few local lenders, as laws are different in each state, and predatory lenders will issue a home mortgage in less time." But beware, Litzner cautions, as they routinely charge high mortgage interest rates, fees, and penalties for this privilege. A quality lender will expect you to show that you have cleaned up your credit, so spend a few years after your foreclosure really trying to improve your rating. Providing a reasonable explanation about the circumstances that led to the foreclosure – such as exorbitant medical expenses, job loss, or the like – is also helpful. While improving your credit, try and save as much money as possible for a future downpayment, as lenders often require a significantly larger downpayment-sometimes 30 percent or more-for those who have a previous foreclosure on their record. For more information on buying after a foreclosure, please contact Century 21 American Homes at MLitzner@C21AmHomes.com, 1-800-270-6318, or Century 21 American Homes. Century 21 American Homes is one of the fastest growing real estate brokerages serving Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn. To find out more about an exciting career in real estate contact us at careers@c21amhomes.com.

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