Posted on: February 16, 2016
From mortgage interest to property tax deductions, here are the tax tips you need to get a jump on your returns.
Owning a home can pay off at tax time.
Take advantage of these home ownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:
Mortgage Interest Deduction
One of the neatest deductions itemizing homeowners can take advantage of is the mortgage interest deduction, which you claim on Schedule A. To get the mortgage interest deduction, your mortgage must be secured by your home — and your home can be a house, trailer, or boat, as long as you can sleep in it, cook in it, and it has a toilet.
Interest you pay on a mortgage of up to $1 million — or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately — is deductible when you use the loan to buy, build, or improve your home.
If you take on another mortgage (including a second mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit) to improve your home or to buy or build a second home, that counts towards the $1 million limit.
If you use loans secured by your home for other things — like sending your kid to college — you can still deduct the interest on loans up $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) because your home secures the loan.
Prepaid Interest Deduction
Prepaid interest (or points) you paid when you took out your mortgage is generally 100% deductible in the year you paid it along with other mortgage interest.
If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.
But if you refinance to get a better rate or shorten the length of your mortgage, or to use the money for something other than home improvements, such as college tuition, you’ll need to deduct the points over the life of your mortgage. Say you refi into a 10-year mortgage and pay $3,000 in points. You can deduct $300 per year for 10 years.
So what happens if you refi again down the road?
Example: Three years after your first refi, you refinance again. Using the $3,000 in points scenario above, you’ll have deducted $900 ($300 x 3 years) so far. That leaves $2,400, which you can deduct in full the year you complete your second refi. If you paid points for the new loan, the process starts again; you can deduct the points over the life of the loan.
Home mortgage interest and points are reported on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.
Your lender will send you a Form 1098 that lists the points you paid. If not, you should be able to find the amount listed on the HUD-1 settlement sheet you got when you closed the purchase of your home or your refinance closing.
Property Tax Deduction
You can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account, the amount of real estate property taxes you paid shows up on your annual escrow statement.
If you bought a house this year, check your HUD-1 settlement statement to see if you paid any property taxes when you closed the purchase of your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.
PMI and FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums
You can deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance (PMI) as mortgage interest on Schedule A if you itemize your return. The change only applies to loans taken out in 2007 or later.
What’s PMI? If you have a mortgage but didn’t put down a fairly good-sized down payment (usually 20%), the lender requires the mortgage be insured. The premium on that insurance can be deducted, so long as your income is less than $100,000 (or $50,000 for married filing separately).
If your adjusted gross income is more than $100,000, your deduction is reduced by 10% for each $1,000 ($500 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) that your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). So, if you make $110,000 or more, you can’t claim the deduction (10% x 10 = 100%).
Besides private mortgage insurance, there’s government insurance from FHA, VA, and the Rural Housing Service. Some of those premiums are paid at closing, and deducting them is complicated. A tax adviser or tax software program can help you calculate this deduction. Also, the rules vary between the agencies.
Vacation Home Tax Deductions
The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes are complicated. Do yourself a favor and keep good records about how and when you use your vacation home.
- If you’re the only one using your vacation home (you don’t rent it out for more than 14 days a year), you deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A.
- Rent your vacation home out for more than 14 days and use it yourself fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), and it’s treated like a rental property. Your expenses are deducted on Schedule E.
- Rent your home for part of the year and use it yourself for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days you rent it and you have to keep track of income, expenses, and allocate them based on how often you used and how often you rented the house.
Homebuyer Tax Credit
This isn’t a deduction, but it’s important to keep track of if you claimed it in 2008.
There were federal first-time homebuyer tax credits in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
If you claimed the homebuyer tax credit for a purchase made after April 8, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2009, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years, with no interest.
The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe each year until it’s paid off. Or if the home stops being your main home, you may need to add the remaining unpaid credit amount to your income tax on your next tax return.
Generally, you don’t have to pay back the credit if you bought your home in 2009, 2010, or early 2011. The exception: You have to repay the full credit amount if you sold your house or stopped using it as primary residence within 36 months of the purchase date. Then you must repay it with your tax return for the year the home stopped being your principal residence.
The repayment rules are less rigorous for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community workers who got sent on extended duty at least 50 miles from their principal residence.
The Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credit lets you claim a credit for installing energy-efficient home systems. Tax credits are especially valuable because they let you offset what you owe the IRS dollar for dollar, in this case, for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain upgrades.
The credit carries a lifetime cap of $500 (less for some products), so if you’ve used it in years past, you’ll have to subtract prior tax credits from that $500 limit. Lucky for you, there’s no cap on how much you’ll save on utility bills thanks to your energy-efficiency upgrades.
Among the upgrades that might qualify for the credit:
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
- Roofs (metal and asphalt)
- Water heaters (non-solar)
- Windows, doors, and skylights
File IRS Form 5695 with your return.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.
Posted on: February 10, 2016
From babies who adore you to teens who ignore you, kids change — and so do their storage needs. Here’s how to organize kids’ rooms from cradle to college.
Transformer cribs. An ordinary crib accommodates baby for two to three years — until he learns how to escape over the rail. Boost storage with a convertible crib with storage drawers ($145 to $350) that’ll convert and adapt to your toddler’s needs and beyond.
Some convertible cribs change into toddler beds, daybeds, or full-size headboards, giving you options as your youngster gets older. If you can’t find a crib with storage below, use the space between the legs for stowing bins or baskets for diapers, toys, and more.
Pimping the closet. Remove the door on the nursery closet for easy access, and install a variety of cool storage features. Drawers, bins, and shelves can round up onesies, booties, baby towels, diapers, and toiletries. A simple wire rack storage system is $90 to $350 at home improvement centers.
Install lower rods so baby, as he grows, can easily latch onto duds (and maybe even hang them up). Expandable hangers ($14 for a 3-pack) fit tiny baby clothes but open up to accommodate larger sizes when needed.
Toddlers and Elementary Age
Look ‘em in the eye. Stow books and puzzles on a low magazine rack or shelving unit so toddlers and elementary-age children can grab a good read or brain teaser on a whim. As children grow, paint the shelf to suit changing tastes and use it for teen magazines, framed photos, and school books.
Cornering the market. Young kids love nooks, so create a cozy hideaway by arranging storage units — open shelves, a desk top, and cabinets — so they (mostly) enclose one corner of your kid’s room. Bookshelves and kids’ desks range from $50 to $200.
Stock up with plenty of games, books, toys, and crafts supplies. Paint cabinet doors with blackboard paint to add an eye-level creative opportunity.
Corral the bling. Little girls often possess a cartload of hair ribbons, barrettes, and bows. Look for special organizers that keep them on display, orderly, and within easy reach. One option: Sort items into the pockets of a clear vinyl shoe holder ($10) that fits on the back of the door.
Tweens, Teens, and Beyond
A magnetic personality. A bulletin board is a great way for your tween or teen to organize and display all those photos of friends and Fido. Or, coat a vertical surface (such as a closet door) with magnetizing primer ($25/quart) and paint over the primer with a hip color. Use assorted magnets and magnetic clips and holders to display artwork, sports schedules, and homework reminders.
Making a (book)case. A bookcase headboard ($100 to $200) is a grown-up way for your teen or college student to keep reading materials organized and the tablet reader handy. Platform storage beneath the bed provides room for drawers or cubbies that can hold baskets and bins for corralling small stuff.
Explore the shallows. Commandeer space between wall studs and create a shallow storage niche outfitted with hooks, shelves, or rods for organizing jewelry and other smallish gear. Add a mirrored door to keep clutter out of sight.
Lofty ambitions. For a small bedroom, a loft-style bed offers a fun spot for snoozing and space below for bookcase storage, a futon, or a study desk. Loft beds for kids’ rooms start at $150 and range to $3,000 or more.
Keep rolling. Give your tween or teen a rolling caddy ($25 to $80) for storing personal bath supplies, jewelry, cosmetics, and hair gear. The caddy stores in the bedroom and rolls to a nearby bath and back.
Posted on: February 3, 2016
When you buy a fixer-upper house, you can save a ton of money, or get yourself in a financial fix.
Trying to decide whether to buy a fixer-upper house? Follow these seven steps, and you’ll know how much you can afford, how much to offer, and whether a fixer-upper house is right for you.
1. Decide what you can do yourself.
TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult remodeling job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results that won’t increase the value of your fixer-upper house.
- Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.
- Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate your fixer-upper house? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?
2. Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an offer.
- Get your contractor into the house to do a walk-through, so he can give you a written cost estimate on the tasks he’s going to do.
- If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies.
- Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that often arise with a fixer-upper house.
3. Check permit costs.
- Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home.
- Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit.
- Factor the time and aggravation of permits into your plans.
4. Doublecheck pricing on structural work.
If your fixer-upper home needs major structural work, hire a structural engineer for $500 to $700 to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full extent of the problems.
Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.
Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:
- You’re getting it at a steep discount
- You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem
- You know the problem can be fixed
- You have a binding written estimate for the repairs
5. Check the cost of financing.
Be sure you have enough money for a downpayment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings.
If you’re planning to fund the repairs with a home equity or home improvement loan:
- Get yourself pre-approved for both loans before you make an offer.
- Make the deal contingent on getting both the purchase money loan and the renovation money loan, so you’re not forced to close the sale when you have no loan to fix the house.
- Consider the Federal Housing Administration’s Section 203(k) program, which is designed to help home owners who are purchasing or refinancing a home that needs rehabilitation. The program wraps the purchase/refinance and rehabilitation costs into a single mortgage. To qualify for the loan, the total value of the property must fall within the FHA mortgage limit for your area, as with other FHA loans. A streamlined 203(k) program provides an additional amount for rehabilitation, up to $35,000, on top of an existing mortgage. It’s a simpler process than obtaining the standard 203(k).
6. Calculate your fair purchase offer.
Take the fair market value of the property (what it would be worth if it were in good condition and remodeled to current tastes) and subtract the upgrade and repair costs.
For example: Your target fixer-upper house has a 1960s kitchen, metallic wallpaper, shag carpet, and high levels of radon in the basement.
Your comparison house, in the same subdivision, sold last month for $200,000. That house had a newer kitchen, no wallpaper, was recently recarpeted, and has a radon mitigation system in its basement.
The cost to remodel the kitchen, remove the wallpaper, carpet the house, and put in a radon mitigation system is $40,000. Your bid for the house should be $160,000.
Ask your real estate agent if it’s a good idea to share your cost estimates with the sellers, to prove your offer is fair.
7. Include inspection contingencies in your offer.
Don’t rely on your friends or your contractor to eyeball your fixer-upper house. Hire pros to do common inspections like:
- Home inspection. This is key in a fixer-upper assessment. The home inspector will uncover hidden issues in need of replacement or repair. You may know you want to replace those 1970s kitchen cabinets, but the home inspector has a meter that will detect the water leak behind them.
- Radon, mold, lead-based paint
Most home inspection contingencies let you go back to the sellers and ask them to do the repairs, or give you cash at closing to pay for the repairs. The seller can also opt to simply back out of the deal, as can you, if the inspection turns up something you don’t want to deal with.
If that happens, this isn’t the right fixer-upper house for you. Go back to the top of this list and start again.
Posted on: January 28, 2016
By knowing how much mortgage you can handle, you can ensure that homeownership will fit in your budget.
Homeownership should make you feel safe and secure, and that includes financially. Be sure you can afford your home by calculating how much of a mortgage you can safely fit into your budget.
Why not just take out the biggest mortgage a lender says you can have? Because your lender bases that number on a formula that doesn’t consider your current and future financial and personal goals.
Think ahead to major life events and consider how those might influence your budget. Do you want to return to school for an advanced degree? Will a new child add day care to your monthly expenses? Does a relative plan to eventually live with you and contribute to the mortgage?
Consider those lifestyle issues as you check out these four methods for estimating the amount of mortgage you can afford.
1. Prepare a detailed budget.
The oldest rule of thumb says you can typically afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. So, if you earn $100,000, you can typically afford a home between $200,000 and $300,000.
But that’s not the best method because it doesn’t take into account your monthly expenses and debts. Those costs greatly influence how much you can afford. Let’s say you earn $100,000 a year but have $1,000 in monthly payments for student debt, car loans, and credit card minimum payments. You don’t have as much money to pay your mortgage as someone earning the same income with no debts.
Better option: Prepare a family budget that tallies your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.
See what’s left over to spend on homeownership costs, like your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.
2. Factor in your downpayment.
How much money do you have for a downpayment? The higher your downpayment, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.
The lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.
But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.
3. Consider your overall debt.
Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.
Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a homebuyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:
1. Your gross annual income is $100,000.
2. Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.
3. Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.
4. All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.
You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it. Evidence from studies of mortgage loans suggest that borrowers who go over the limit are more likely to run into trouble making monthly payments, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns.
4. Use your rent as a mortgage guide.
The tax benefits of homeownership generally allow you to afford a mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — of about one-third more than your current rent payment without changing your lifestyle. So you can multiply your current rent by 1.33 to arrive at a rough estimate of a mortgage payment.
Here’s an example: If you currently pay $1,500 per month in rent, you should be able to comfortably afford a $2,000 monthly mortgage payment after factoring in the tax benefits of homeownership.
However, if you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for homeownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.
Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.
Posted on: January 21, 2016
Elfant Wissahickon Realtors recognizes its professional and successful agents for another record breaking year. The following are the company’s 2015 top producers!
Shauli David – Top Individual Producer (Center City and Company Wide)
Joanne Colino – Top Individual Producer (Chestnut Hill Office)
Karrie Gavin Group – Top Producing Team (Volume)
The Christopher Plant Team – Top Producing Team, Under 5 Agents (Volume)
Philadelphia Moves – Top Producing Team, Under 5 Agents (Volume)
Neil Kugelman Team – Top Producing Team, Under 5 Agents (Transactions)
Mary Jo Potts and Associates – Top Producing Team (Transactions)
Leah Strenger – Rookie of The Year (Volume)
Patrick Walsh – Rookie of The Year (Transactions)
Multi-Million Dollar Producers:
Mary Louise Butler
Mary Jo Potts
Kelly McShain Tyree
Posted on: January 13, 2016
File these six upgrades under wish fulfillment, not value investment.
Life is a balancing act, and upgrading your home is no different. Some upgrades, like a kitchen remodel or an additional bathroom, typically add value to your home. Others, like putting in a pool, provide little dollar return on your investment.
Of course, homeowning isn’t just about building wealth; it’s also about living well and making memories — even if that means outclassing your neighborhood or turning off future buyers. So if any of these six upgrades is something you can’t be dissuaded from, enjoy! We won’t judge. But go in with your eyes wide open. Here’s why:
1. Outdoor Kitchen
The fantasy: You’re the man — grilling steaks, blending margaritas, and washing highball glasses without ever leaving your pimped-out patio kitchen.
The reality: For what it costs — on average $12,000 to $15,000 — are you really gonna use it? Despite our penchant for eating alfresco, families spend most leisure time in front of some screen and almost no leisure time outdoors, no matter how much they spend on amenities, according to UCLA’s “Life At Home” study. And the National Association of Home Builders’ 2013 “What Home Buyers Really Want” report says 35% of mid-range buyers don’t want an outdoor kitchen.
The bottom-line: Instead, buy a tricked out gas grill, which will do just fine when you need to char something. If you’re dying for an outdoor upgrade, install exterior lighting — only 1% of buyers don’t want that.
2. In-Ground Swimming Pool
The fantasy: Floating aimlessly, sipping umbrella drinks, staying cool in the dog days of summer.
The reality: Pools are money pits that you’ll spend $17,000 to $45,000+ to install (concrete), and thousands more to insure, secure, and maintain. Plus, you won’t use them as much as you think, and when you’re ready to sell, buyers will call your pool a maintenance pain.
The bottom-line: If your idea of making it includes a backyard swimming pool, go for it. But, get real about:
- How many days per year you’ll actually swim.
- How much your energy bills will climb to heat the water ($760 to $1,845 depending on location and temperature).
- What you’ll pay to clean and chemically treat the pool ($20 to $100 per month in-season if you do it yourself; $75 to $165 per month for a pool service).
- The fact that you’ll likely need to invest in a pool fence. In fact, some insurance carriers require it.
3. In-Ground Spa
The fantasy: Soothing aching muscles and sipping chardonnay with friends while being surrounded by warm water and bubbles.
The reality: In-ground spas are nearly as expensive ($15,000 to $20,000) as pools and cost about $1 a day for electricity and chemicals. You’ll have to buy a cover ($50 to $400) to keep children, pets, and leaves out. And, like in-ground pools, in-ground spas’ ROI depends solely on how much the next homeowner wants one.
The bottom-line: Unless you have a chronic condition that requires hydrotherapy, you probably won’t use your spa as much as you imagine. A portable hot tub will give you the same benefits for as little as $1,000 to $2,500, and you can take it with you when you move.
Your fantasy: No more climbing stairs for you or for your parents when they move in.
The reality: Elevators top the list of features buyers don’t want in the NAHB “What Buyers Really Want” report. They cost upwards of $25,000 to install, which requires sawing through floors, laying concrete, and crafting high-precision framing. And, at sales time, elevators can turn off some families, especially those with little kids who love to push buttons.
The bottom-line: If you truly need help climbing stairs, you can install a chair lift on a rail system ($1,000 to $5,000). Best feature: It can be removed.
5. Backup Power Generator
Your fantasy: The power in your area goes kaput, but not for you. You were smart enough to install a backup power generator. While the neighbors eat cold hot dogs by a flashlight beam, you’re poaching salmon in your oven and pumping out Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes.
The reality: Power outages may seem to go on forever, but they don’t. Fifty dollars worth of batteries can power portable lights, radios, and TVs; a car adaptor will charge your cell phones and iPods; and some dry ice will keep freezer food cold for at least a couple of days.
The bottom-line: If you live in areas where power shortages are the rule, not the exception, spend the money for reliable backup power: Your still-frozen steaks, home office fax, and refrigerated medicine will thank you. But if the power goes out rarely, then installing a standby generator is overkill.
6. New Windows
The fantasy: Brand new windows that don’t stick, and slash energy bills.
The reality: A $15,000 vinyl window replacement project will return about 80% of your investment at resale, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. And if they’re Energy Star-qualified, they can save you around $300 in energy bills per year. So, plan to live in your house about another 10 years to recoup the cost of new windows.
The bottom-line: We get it — new windows are sturdy, pretty energy savers. But unless old window frames are thoroughly rotten, most windows can be repaired for a fraction of replacement costs. And if you spend about $1,000 to update insulation, caulking, and weather-stripping, you’ll save 10% to 20% on your energy bill.
Posted on: December 17, 2015
Inspect windows and doors regularly to stop air and water leaks that mean costly energy and repair bills. We’ll show you how.
Take a close look at your windows, doors, and skylights to stop air leaks, foil water drips, and detect the gaps and rot that let the outside in. You can perform a quick check with a home air-pressure test, or a DIY energy audit.
Luckily, these inspections are easy to do. Here’s how to give your house a checkup:
How to Check for Air Leaks
A home air pressure test sucks outside air into the house to reveal air leaks that increase your energy bills. To inspect windows and other openings:
- Seal the house by locking all doors, windows, and skylights.
- Close all dampers and vents.
- Turn on all kitchen and bath exhaust fans.
- Pass a burning incense stick along all openings — windows, doors, fireplaces, outlets — to pinpoint air rushing in from the outside.
How to Pinpoint Window Problems
Air and water can seep into closed widows from gaps and rot in frames, deteriorating caulking, cracked glass, and closures that don’t fully close.
To stop air leaks, give your windows a thorough inspection:
- Give a little shake. If they rattle, frames are not secure, so heat and air conditioning can leak out and rain can seep in. Some caulk and a few nails into surrounding framing will fix this.
- Look deep. If you can see the outside from around — not just through — the window, you’ve got gaps. Seal air leaks by caulking and weather stripping around frames.
- Inspect window panes for cracks.
- Check locks. Make sure double-hung windows slide smoothly up and down. If not, run a knife around the frame and sash to loosen any dried paint. Tighten cranks on casement windows and check that top locks fully grab latches.
Some older windows can be repaired and save you money over new windows. However, if you think you’ll automatically gain energy savings, think carefully — there may be other, cheaper ways to cut utility bills, such as sealing air leaks.
Inspecting Doors for Leaks
- Check doors for cracks that weaken their ability to stop air leaks and water seeps.
- Inspect weather stripping for peels and gaps.
- Make sure hinges are tight and doors fit securely in their thresholds.
Checking Out Skylights
Brown stains on walls under a skylight are telltale signs that water is invading and air is escaping. Cut a small hole in the stained drywall to check for wetness, which would indicate rot, or gaps in the skylight.
To investigate skylight leaks, carefully climb on the roof and look for the following:
- Open seams between flashing or shingles.
- Shingle debris that allows water to collect on roofs.
- Failed and/or cracked patches of roofing cement put down the last time the skylight leaked.