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When It’s Time to Get an Accountant to Do Your Taxes

by The Schnoor Team

 

Do you need a CPA? Or will a regular accountant do?

The federal tax law signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, 2017, may affect home ownership tax benefits described in this article. The new law goes into effect for the 2018 tax year and generally doesn’t affect tax filings for the 2017 tax year. Here’s a detailed summary of the changes.

You are soooo dreading doing your taxes this year. Gone are the days when you used to sit down with a glass of wine and fill out your 1040 EZ. Remember that time you finished and hit the “submit” button just as you swallowed the last sip?

Not this year. Unless you want to pay a ton in taxes, you’re going to have to itemize. You did it last year, and it wasn’t too bad. But this year, you did some freelancing. And you moved. And it’s going to take a whole lot more time than one glass of wine. 

Maybe it’s time to hire a pro. But do you really need a certified public accountant? And can you justify the expense?

The Differences Between CPAs and Other Tax Experts

First you need to know there are different types of tax experts. And not all accountants are CPAs. So if you’re thinking that an independent CPA and someone at H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt (or your buddy who studied accounting in college) are pretty much the same, don’t count on it. Basically,

  • An accountant is someone who studied accounting.
  • CPAs are accountants who pass rigorous testing from their state board on a regular basis. The designation usually requires a degree. Not every CPA specializes in taxes.
  • An “enrolled agent,” or EA, is an accountant who has received certification from the IRS. Being an EA doesn’t require a degree like CPA. But it does verify they know tax law.
  • A tax preparer at pop-ups like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt is trained on tax software to help taxpayers file their returns. They aren’t required to be CPAs or EAs.
  • Only CPAs and EAs can legally represent you if the IRS challenges your return.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting a pop-up preparer like H&R Block if your return isn’t all that complicated, says Cathy Derus, CPA and founder of Brightwater Accounting in Illinois.

“It’s when you start generating other income — perhaps you launch a business or own rental property — [or experience a big financial change] when it makes sense to ask for a little extra help,” she said.

When It's A Good Idea to Hire a Tax Pro

When you buy your first house. Many of the expenses related to buying a home and having a mortgage are deductible. But only if you itemize. And that’s what the experts are best at.

When you move to a new state. There’s a good chance you’ll have to file two state returns for the year you move. And each state is a little bit different in terms of state tax owed — zero in some states, a flat amount in others, and graded by income bracket in most.

When you become a landlord. “When you own investment property, you become a small business owner,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. That means new records to keep and a new tax form, Schedule E, to complete.

When you buy a vacation property. Especially if you rent it. And especially if it’s in a different state.

When you work from home. There’s a lot of potential money-saving deductions that can vary widely depending on the type of business and how much space it takes up in your home. “If you have a 

Tax Tip

Avoid the onerous record keeping for the regular home office deduction with the simplified method — $5 per sq. ft. up to 300 sq. ft., capped at $1,500. Trade-off: Much less paperwork, but possibly a smaller deduction, too.

home office, you can deduct for the square footage you use for work as well as a portion of your utilities, mortgage interest, and property taxes,” says Stewart.

When you make home improvements. Energy-efficient upgrades like installing a new heating and cooling system, water heater, or insulation may qualify for tax credits. But that can change depending on the year. Same goes for medically necessary home improvements that aren’t paid by your employer or insurance.

When your home’s value is reassessed.The tax man doesn’t always get it right, and sometimes your home may be valued at more than it should be. An expert will be able to pull the data together to appeal it.

So, How Much Do Accountants Cost?

H&R Block will do your taxes for about $150, while a CPA or EA may add $100 or more to that fee ($260 on average last year).

You can definitely DIY all these tax scenarios and save the fees, but with CPAs and EAs, the extra cost may be worth it. Especially if you run your own business. Or you own more than one home. “An accountant can help you analyze your spending choices and even act as a consultant,” says Stewart. Best of all, they’ll be by your side if the tax man ever comes after you. That alone could be priceless if the time comes.

Oh, and one last tip: If you decide you want to hire a CPA or EA, best not to wait until the last minute. You may not find one.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/taxes/do-i-need-an-accountant/

ALAINA TWEDDALE

is a freelance writer who writes about money, home, and investing. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, the Huffington Post, and Time.com. When she’s not writing, she’s working with her husband to slowly renovate what seems like every square inch of their home.

The 7 Worst Habits Homeowners Need to Break Now

by The Schnoor Team

 

Guilty of buying cheap stuff? Pack-ratting? Here’s how to change your ways.

Bad habits are so easy to fall into. But in the end, we know they only make us miserable. 

They’re “the opposite of what makes you happy. They’re what make you miserable,” says M.J. Ryan, author of “Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals.” Especially when they cost you money.

Here are 7 bad habits to break now for a happier you (and a fatter bank account):

#1 Taking Long, Steamy Showers

Spending 20 minutes in the steam may be good for your pores, but it’s also great for mold and mildew. Run the exhaust fan while you’re singing in the shower, squeegee the walls afterward, and scrub that grout every few months.

“Once you let the grout go, it gets worse and worse, and harder and harder to maintain,” says Mylène Merlo, a REALTOR® in San Diego. Grungy grout is a big turnoff for buyers. And redoing it is a pain and expensive to hire out.

#2 Keeping Out the Sun

Shutting your shades on winter days might seem smart. More insulation from the chilly weather, right? Your energy bill disagrees. A sunny window can warm your home and lower your heating costs. And as a bonus, you could see a decrease in seasonal depression.

But your original idea wasn’t totally wrong. Closing those blinds at night can keep your home toasty.

“Bad habits are the opposite of what makes you happy. They're what make you miserable.”

M.J. Ryan, author of "Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals"

#3 Compulsively Buying Bargains

Finding a deal feels so good, but cheaper isn’t always better. In fact, budget buys might cost you more in the long run. For instance, dollar paintbrushes will leave annoying streaks, requiring a costly re-do.

And when it comes to appliances, permit a little splurge — especially if selling your home is on the horizon.

“I always err with going for high-quality appliances,” Merlo says. “There is a noticeable difference between the cheapest and next-cheapest models. And buyers want to see stainless steel.”

#4 Running a Half-Full Dishwasher

You get a gold star for always remembering to start your dishwasher before bed, right? Clean dishes every morning! Go you! Yeah, about that: Your dishwasher wastes water unless it’s completely full.

Dishwashers do save more water than washing by hand (just try telling that to your mom), but most machines use the same amount of water regardless of how many plates you’ve stuffed inside, making a half-empty cycle significantly less efficient. For a household of one or two, once a day can be overkill.

#5 Mega-Mulching

A “tree volcano” might sound like a grand ol’ time, but it’s actually damaging your foliage. Too much mulch suffocates your tree, causing root rot and welcoming invasive insects. 

#6 Going on a Remodeling Rampage

Don’t break out the sledgehammer for a demo three weeks after moving in unless your home needs serious, obvious work. Give yourself time to understand the home’s quirks before renovating.

“You don’t know what your needs are when you first move into a home,” says Merlo. “You should live there for at least six months to figure out the space you need. If you do too much too soon, you’ll regret it.”

For instance, you could dump $15,000 into a kitchen remodel — only to realize the original layout would have worked better for holiday parties. Or you paint a room your favorite color, Wild Plum, only to realize the natural light in the room makes it look more like Rotten Plum. Whoops.

#7 Packratting

You know clutter is bad, but you just… can’t… help it. You had to put that unused exercise bike in the spare room instead of by the road as a freebie because what if? Plus, there’s so much in there already, and decluttering seems like such an insurmountable goal — even though every jam-packed square foot is space you can’t enjoy.

If the task seems impossible, Ryan recommends starting small.

“Do one small thing,” she says. “Clean out a drawer or reorganize your counter, and then you feel the satisfaction of having done it. It becomes easier to do the next small thing.”

Just remember: Breaking habits takes time and a lot of slip-ups. “It’s important to be kind to ourselves when we blow it,” Ryan says. “When we create new habits, we’re building new wiring, but it’s not like the old wiring disappears. Don’t turn goof-ups into give-ups.”

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/save-money-add-value/money-saving-diy/preventive-home-maintenance/

JAMIE WIEBE

is a writer and editor with a focus on home improvement and design. Previously, she worked as a web editor for “House Beautiful,” “ELLE Decor,” and “Veranda.”

Home Improvement with Heart — Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

by The Schnoor Team

 

Roses are red; violets are blue — here are romantic improvements that add value, too.

A steam shower is a romantic, luxurious improvement for your bathroom, but be sure it's airtight.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: home improvement ideas to make you and your home feel, look, and sound sexier.

The sensual shower

What makes your honey feel better than a long, soothing shower? (OK. It’s a rhetorical question.) But showering exactly the way you want it is a little luxury that can set the mood for a lot of love.

Programmable showers ($290 to $3,500) let you digitally determine water temperature, pressure, even type of spray. Pulsating, anyone? 

And if you want things to get a little steamy in the bedroom, start in the bathroom with a steam shower ($7,000 to $10,000). You’ll need space to put the steam generator — an adjacent closet will do — and you’ll have to make your shower airtight to trap the steam. Or you can buy a prefab unit ($1,000 to $5,000) that you can install yourself or hire a pro to do the wet work ($500 to $1,000).

Squeaky clean

We know you’ll want to be extra clean and coiffed for Valentine’s Day night, so get ready for the fun with an electronic toilet seat that washes and warms, plays music, and sprays pleasant scents.

A couple of years ago, these deluxe seats were hard to come by. Now, big box stores around the country sell these bathroom accessories that fit on top of your toilet ($150 to $600). They come with a host of features, some with slow-closing lids and germ-resistant seats. 

If you want to go whole hog, buy complete high-tech toilets that also include LED lights for late night bathroom breaks and no-touch flush ($450 to $1,100).

Dim the lights

Help romance along by avoiding harsh overhead lights and instead installing dimmers on bedroom lights ($16 to $38) or just replacing a few lamps with lower wattage bulbs.

Not only will dim lighting set the mood, but lowering brightness extends the life of bulbs, saving energy and money — and what’s sexier than that?

Surround yourself with sound

Isn’t it romantic to listen to music in the dining room, bedroom, even the bath? 

You can go high-end — and high-effort — and have a sound specialist install whole-house sound, which entails running speaker wires through ceilings and walls ($700 to $2,700 per room), and hooking up a pair of speakers ($100 to $2,000 each pair).

Or, you can save some money and install a wireless system yourself. The music is distributed by a computer and sent via router into small player boxes in each room ($400 per room). This DYI project takes a couple of hours.

Fireplaces turn up the heat

Lounging by the fireplace on Valentine’s Day, sipping champagne, eating chocolate-covered strawberries is a dream celebration. But, let’s get down to earth and just settle for the fire.  

If you already have a wood-burning fireplace, sweep it out and perform chimney maintenance so your V-Day doesn’t go up in flames. 

If you’re missing a place for flames, you could go all out and add a fireplace. If you have a wood-burning fireplace one but never use it because of the hassle, you can retrofit with a gas fireplace insert that gives you light and heat with just a flick of a switch ($3,000 to $4,000).

Or, if you’re in a hurry, install a plug-in, electric fireplace that supplies a realistic-looking flame and even heat. Installation is a DIY project. Your biggest hassle will be selecting the location — along a wall or stand-alone — and picking the most romantic-looking mantle surround or fireplace shelf (with mantle package $800 to $1,600).

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/remodel/home-improvement-ideas-valentines-day/

LISA KAPLAN GORDON

is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.

Before Buying, Real Estate Pros Insist on Doing These 4 Things

by The Schnoor Team

 

What you really need to know about buying — from the people who house hunt for a living.

Take the long view when you’re buying, says Chicago agent Pekarsky. He plans to start a family in a few years, so he set his sights on a single-family with plenty of bedrooms.

One house you’re looking at has the wraparound porch you’ve fantasized about, but it’s on a high-traffic street. The condo you like has a doorman in the lobby (you can order online now!), but it has no dedicated parking. What to choose?

It’s not every day that you buy a home and make decisions about the next three, five, or 10 years of your life. Since you can’t exactly take a home on a test drive, how do you decide? That got us to thinking about real estate pros. When they’ve seen practically everything on the market, how do they choose?

Four pros who’ve seen it all share their advice and their stories of hunting for just the right home.

Compromise for Your Priorities

Veteran real estate agent Nancy Farkas knew exactly what she wanted in her home: ranch style, three bedrooms, high ceilings. But you know what she bought? A two-story Colonial.

Huh?

For Farkas, an associate partner with Coldwell Banker Heritage REALTORS®, in Dayton, Ohio, the home’s location and price trumped style. “I had a dog I had to go home and walk at noon, and the house was close [to work] and the right price,” she says.

Her advice: Make sure your practical and functional priorities don’t get lost in all the home buying hoo-ha (sparkling granite counters, new hardwood floors, a steam shower!). Remember, you can always add the hoo-ha, but you can’t make a home fit all priorities, such as location and price.

Dig Into the Details (Dull, Yes, But Worth It!)

When Grigory Pekarsky, co-owner and managing broker with Vesta Preferred Real Estate in Chicago, was looking for his first home, one of his priorities was to minimize his maintenance costs. He made sure to find out if the house had a newer roof, good siding, and a newer furnace. But he recommends you go even deeper to uncover a home’s not-so-obvious maintenance costs:

Scope out the sewer line — especially if you’re interested in an older home — to make sure there aren’t any tree branches or other debris clogging up the works. Otherwise, you might find some nasty sludge in the basement.

Look at the trees. How mature are they? Roots from older trees can invade the sewer line; untrimmed branches can pummel your gutters during storms.

Know what’s not covered by homeowners insurance. “I learned seepage isn’t covered. Shame on me,” he says.

Ask how old the appliances are. You might need to budget for something new in a few years. Sellers are only required to fix what the inspector finds is broken; they’re not going to upgrade working appliances for you.

Seek a House That Matches Your Lifestyle

Having lived the high-rise apartment life as a renter, Pekarsky knew a single-family home was just what he wanted. He was tired of living in a relatively small space with no yard. He wanted a house he could “grow into in the next three to five years.” That meant multiple bedrooms and bathrooms for the family he plans on having. So what he bought — a three-story, single-family with a finished attic bedroom (shown below) on Chicago’s North Side — suits his lifestyle perfectly.

In addition, “you get the biggest value from owning the land,” he says. “In a single-family [home], people aren’t telling you what to do with the investment.”

On the other hand, Matt Difanis wished he’d bought a condo when he bought his first home, a small bungalow ranch in a charming, historic neighborhood in Champaign, Ill. It was first-home love — until it rained.

“If I didn’t clean out the gutters before every rainstorm, the basement would leak,” says the broker-owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Champaign. He didn’t realize that taking care of a single-family home wouldn’t be his cup of tea. “I should have opted for a condo without gutters to clean and a lawn to mow,” he says.

Agent Amy Smythe Harris of Urban Provision REALTORS®, in Woodland, Texas, bought a home with a sizable downstairs suite her parents could use now (and she could use years from now). She says her millennial clients aren’t forward-thinking about their lifestyles. Some are childless and say they don’t care about schools, pools, and tennis courts. Then they become parents a few years later and have to move.

“Once they have kids, the first question [they] ask is about school districts, and the second is about where the parks and pools are,” she says.

The pros’ bottom-line advice: Think of your lifestyle preferences and how those might change in the next few years. After all, the typical homeowner lives in a house for a median of 10 years before selling, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® data shows.

Look at the House Through the Lens of Resale

All the real estate pros we talked to — no surprise here — emphasized resale. Take appraiser Michelle C. Bradley of Czekalski Real Estate Inc. in Natrona Heights, Pa. When she built her current home — a 2,200-square-foot ranch — she included a full, unfinished basement, even though she has no use for one and rarely ventures into it.

Why would she do that? Because basements are standard in her southwest Pennsylvania market. But Bradley’s not going to finish the basement until she’s ready to sell. That way, she avoids having to clean it and ensures she’ll install the most fashionable bathroom fixtures at sell time.

Her advice: “Don’t buy or build something unique that you can’t resell. If you’re not in an area with log homes, don’t choose a log home. If you’re not in an area with dome homes, don’t choose a dome home.”

Don’t Overspend for the Neighborhood

If you buy a home priced higher than average for the area, it’ll be difficult to resell at a higher price.

don't buy a home that's not in line with the neighborhood's average price . When you go to resell, you’ll find yourself in an uphill battle to maintain your higher price.

Other advice from the pros: Watch out for unfixable flaws that could affect resale, like:

What’s next to the home, such as vacant land that could be developed, high-traffic businesses, noisy power generation stations, a cell tower, etc.

Lot issues, such as a steep driveway that could double as a ski slope in winter, or a sloped yard that sends water special delivery to your foundation.

Of course, a home isn’t just about resale. It’s just one factor to consider. Remember the first point: Be willing to compromise for your priorities. If the home meets your priorities and you’re going to stay there awhile, then resale might be where you compromise.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/house-hunting/what-to-look-for-when-buying-a-house/?site_ref=mosaic

DONA DEZUBE

has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

3 Must vs. Lust Buying Tips to Avoid Overspending

by The Schnoor Team

 

3 Must vs. Lust Buying Tips to Avoid Overspending

The super-simple (and fun) way to separate needs from nice-to-haves.

When you embark on the home-buying process, your heart is filled with all the dreams in the world. It’s really easy to get caught up in the “I have to have’s”

Make a List of Wants

Start by making a list of everything you want in your house. If you love it, jot it down. Have your spouse or partner do the same thing in a separate document.

Once you and your partner have everything down, start sorting your wants by order of importance. What’s your No. 1? Do you need large windows? How about a sunroom? Double sinks in the master? You get the idea. 

Come up with your top 10, and then compare your list to your partner’s top 10. What things appear on both lists? Those items should carry more weight because you both want them in your home.

Highlight the Important Stuff

The things that can’t be changed without a massive investment. I’m talking things like square footage, window size, and number of bedrooms. This is your heavyweight list. These things should take priority in your home-buying decision.

Features that are purely cosmetic, especially things that can be DIYed. These items should be moved way down the list or taken off entirely. Backsplash tile, paint color, and lighting can all be changed inexpensively and after you’re living in your house. You don’t want to pass up a fantastic house because you can’t see past a red accent wall.

At this point, you should have a combined list of 10 or so items. 

My last tip is to figure out the priority of each one of the items. Ask yourself, would you be willing to give up item number 4, say, to have item number 5? Would you be willing to give up hardwood floors for a home theater room? This is the hardest question to answer, but it’ll put your must-haves in the right order.

I always picture this activity like an eye appointment when the doctor says, “1 or 2? OK, now 2 or 3?” Do that with your list! Pool or flooring? Flooring or yard size? Yard size or square footage? Make sense?

Bring Your List When You Look at a Home

As you’re out looking at houses, keep your list handy. Maybe you’re not willing to give up hardwood floors for a jetted tub, but would you be willing to compromise for a jetted tub and extra square footage? Refer back to your must-haves list often. It’s easy to get distracted.

Here’s a quick checklist that I use when searching for a home. If you answer “yes” to all of these, then a “want” may be worth the splurge — that is, if you can be sure that you’ll be able to afford the feature (in terms of your monthly mortgage payments and living expenses).

Is it on both of your lists?

Is it something that’ll be extremely expensive and difficult to change or add?

Would you be willing to sacrifice something else to have it?

Would you feel like your house would be incomplete without it?

Happy house hunting!

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/house-hunting/must-have-items/?site_ref=mosaic

MANDI GUBLER

is the creator of Vintage Revivals, a DIY / shelter blog unlike any other. She loves to share her thrift store finds and inspire her fans with DIY projects.

 

 

 

5 Hush-Hush Secrets to Get Sellers to Choose Your Bid

by The Schnoor Team

 

5 Hush-Hush Secrets to Get Sellers to Choose Your Bid

How to get the home you want — even if your bid isn’t the highest

Touring prospective houses can feel like wandering through an infinite, imaginary desert: You’re tired, you’re cranky, and you’re not sure if the experience is EVER. GOING. TO. END.

So when you’ve finally found “The One,” it’s an amazing feeling. You can already picture your first brunch in its adorable breakfast nook.

But wait. Before you summon the moving truck, your dream home’s seller has to pick you, too. Luckily, the key to locking down your ideal abode doesn’t always mean offering the most cash. Here are five ways to tip the odds in your favor.

#1 Negotiate with a Smile

Unlike most commercial real estate transactions, the buying and selling of a home is complicated by all kinds of emotions, explains Sara Benson of Benson Stanley Realty in Chicago. Often, how the seller feels about you can be more important than your money.

“People tend to do business with those they like and trust,” she says.

One of Benson’s favorite examples of this phenomenon occurred when one of her clients was second in line for a home. While the first-place bidders were negotiating their contract, they whipped out a long list of unreasonable demands for the seller.

“This infuriated the homeowner, who finally told them, ‘My property isn’t for sale to you at any price!’” Benson recalls. The seller ended up offering Benson’s clients the house, even though their bid was $10,000 below that of the first buyers.

Lesson learned? “Don’t nitpick over items that are insubstantial, like a torn window screen or a $50 valve on a hot water heater,” says Benson. “This will anger a seller more than anything.” And that, she says, could be a deal breaker.

#2 Get Personal

Bruce Ailion, an agent with RE/MAX in Woodstock, Ga., agrees that profit isn’t always the seller’s primary motivation. He recalls a recent deal in which he was representing an older couple selling their long-time family home.

“We had two offers: one from an investor paying cash, the second from financed first-time buyers.”

Despite Ailion’s recommendations, the sellers chose the first-time buyers, even though the cash offer was higher and would have been a much simpler transaction. Ultimately, what mattered most for Ailion’s clients was to pass their beloved home on to a deserving young family.

#3 Figure Out the Seller's Unique Motivation

Understanding why the sellers have put their home on the market is yet another powerful tool a buyer can bring to the negotiating table, says Ailion.

“Some sellers want a quick sale; others need time to find a home. Some are focused on price, others on certainty,” he says. “There are so many intangibles. It takes a deep understanding to make a good deal for everyone.”

See what information you can glean about the seller — from your agent or even from the seller’s neighbors — to arm yourself with as much information as possible.

“The more flexible a buyer can be on closing and possession, the more likely they’ll be able to negotiate a lower price,” agrees Benson. “They’re giving the seller peace of mind and the comfort of not having to rush out.”

#4 Write a Love Letter

Sometimes, a heartfelt note from a potential buyer can make all the difference, even when the chances seem pretty slim.

Darcey Regan, a Chicago-based HR executive, had already bid on another home when she and her husband stumbled upon a gorgeous old Victorian. Instantly, they were smitten. “I grew up in an old house, and the sellers had done a really great job of maintaining and renovating this one,” she says.

Unfortunately, multiple people had already placed offers on the house, including several developers who were planning to demolish the property. Regan felt her only hope was to write the sellers a letter. In it, she talked about growing up in a similar house, and how much she respected the owners’ efforts to preserve their home.

Within 24 hours, the sellers told her the house was hers. “It turns out they really wanted someone who would keep the house rather than tear it down,” she says.

Though it felt like a long shot, Regan believes her note was successful because it was genuine. Her advice? “Write a letter only if you’re really in love with the house, not because someone told you to.”

#5 Work With a Pro

It also helps to have a knowledgeable, well-respected pro on your side — someone who understands market realities and who will work well with the seller’s agent.

How do you find that seasoned pro with the sterling reputation? “Ask for referrals from your personal and professional network, and interview at least three different [agents] before you choose the one you feel most comfortable working with,” advises Benson.

Residential real estate is a game of both head and heart. Smart buyers who employ both are the ones most likely to win the home of their dreams.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/house-negotiating-closing/negotiating-home-price-when-buying/

LISA KAHN

writes extensively on home improvement, interior design, luxury real estate, and travel for media outlets including About.com, “The New York Times,” “The Ledger,” and “New York Spaces.” She has also edited dozens of books on home design, landscaping, cooking, and travel.

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

by The Schnoor Team

 

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/sell/preparing-your-home-to-sell/5-tips-prepare-your-home-sale/

G. M. FILISKO

is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to publications including Bankrate, REALTOR Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.

 

 

Umbrella Insurance and Homeowner Liability

by The Schnoor Team

Umbrella Insurance and Homeowner Liability

Umbrella insurance offers added homeowner liability protection that kicks in after homeowners insurance reaches its coverage limits.

Accidents happen at home: A visitor trips on your front steps, or a neighbor cleaning your gutters falls off a ladder. As the property owner, you can be held legally liable. Standard homeowners insurance typically offers some liability coverage, but it might not be enough to cover a major claim.

Umbrella insurance provides additional homeowner liability protection that kicks in after your homeowners insurance hits its policy limit. A lawsuit, even one seemingly unrelated to homeownership, can wipe out your net worth—including your home. That’s why protecting yourself against lawsuits is an essential part of protecting your home.

Understand homeowner liability

Liability insurance covers you in the event you get hit with a lawsuit. Some of the liability risks faced by homeowners are more apparent than others. For example, a house guest takes a tumble after slipping on your hardwood floors, or a neighbor’s kid falls off a swing in your backyard. Insurance agents call swimming pools, jungle gyms, and trampolines “attractive nuisances” because they draw children unable to appreciate their dangers.

If someone gets hurt on your property—whether inside or outside, and whether you think it’s your fault or not—you can get sued. Travelers, an insurance provider, says you could even face a lawsuit if your dog bites someone. If your pet or a member of your residence causes accidental damage to the property of others, you’re liable too. Automobile accidents can also lead to lawsuits.

In addition, you can face lawsuits from personal injury, which includes a wide variety of problems, such as emotional distress or sickness or disease. You can be sued for malicious prosecution, humiliation, libel, slander, defamation of character, or invasion of privacy. Although many of these scenarios seem to have little to do with homeownership, the end result of an unfavorable lawsuit judgment can be the loss of your home.

Brian Mittman, an attorney in White Plains, N.Y., says the reality is that anyone can be sued for anything at any time, though it’s less likely that juries will side with a plaintiff where there’s no obvious fault on the homeowner’s part. Some states also have so-called homestead laws that can protect homes from creditors. Consult an attorney.

Start with your homeowner policy

Homeowners are more likely to see a lawsuit if there’s a foreseeable incident with knowledge of a defect. Consider a homeowner whose front steps have loose bricks. A lawyer could argue the homeowner should’ve known about the problem and fixed it. This is an example of what could be a low-payoff situation—a trip to the emergency room and a sprained ankle that heals quickly. Many lawyers would pass on the case.

On the other hand, a visitor’s tumble down rickety basement steps could lead to a long hospital stay and a permanent limp. The homeowner could be found liable and have to pay, even if the injured party has medical and disability insurance. An injured party’s own insurance situation doesn’t necessarily let the homeowner off the hook.

The good news is a limited amount of liability insurance is standard in most homeowner policies. Although terms can vary, $300,000 is typical. Check your policy. For about another $300 a year, you should be able to add $1 million of liability coverage to your homeowners insurance.

Umbrella insurance adds layer of protection

Many financial advisers prefer umbrella insurance over increasing the liability coverage of a homeowner policy because the umbrella insurance applies to your vehicles as well as your residence. Remember, umbrella insurance is an overarching policy that covers liability issues at home and in the car. This is critical since you could lose all of your assets including your home as a result of a major lawsuit stemming from an auto accident.

Umbrella insurance, in general, runs about $300 a year for $1 million of coverage. Premiums can vary greatly depending on a host of factors including your credit and claims history, where you live, and who’s covered. In most cases you can get a policy issued in a couple of hours. The process is faster, and you might receive a multi-policy discount, if you get umbrella insurance through your current insurer.

Keep in mind that umbrella policies by nature come with very high deductibles. They only pay off after a homeowner’s other liability coverage is exhausted. If you use the same insurer, it’s easier to coordinate claims and ensure your homeowners insurance dovetails with your umbrella’s deductible.

Umbrella coverage has its limits

Generally, anything business-related isn’t covered by umbrella insurance. Bob Gustafson, a certified financial planner in Marlborough, Mass., notes that people connected with a home-based business aren’t covered under typical homeowner or umbrella policies. However, many homeowner policies will allow the purchase of a rider for small businesses, which will increase your annual premium between $300 and $400.

Businesses you work with and de facto employees, such as domestic workers, also are unlikely to be covered. Riders are available for full-time domestic workers; occasional house cleaners and babysitters should be covered under a standard policy. Major outside contractors, such as roofers, for example, should have their own insurance. Ask for proof before you hire any contractor.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/home-insurance/umbrella-insurance-and-homeowner-liability/?site_ref=mosaic

RICHARD KORETO

is a freelance writer. He’s been editor of many financial magazines and is the author of “Run It Like a Business,” a practice management book for financial planners. He and his wife own a pre-Civil War house in New York.

Are You Getting the Home Tax Deductions You’re Entitled To?

by The Schnoor Team

Are You Getting the Home Tax Deductions You’re Entitled To?

Here are the tax tips you need to get a jump on your returns.

The federal tax law signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, 2017, may affect home ownership tax benefits described in this article. The new law goes into effect for the 2018 tax year and generally doesn’t affect tax filings for the 2017 tax year. In 2018, HouseLogic will be providing information on the tax provisions affecting home ownership. In the meantime, here’s a detailed summary of the changes.

Owning a home can pay off at tax time.

If you’re eligible, take advantage of these home ownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:

Mortgage Interest Deduction

To claim the mortgage interest deduction, you must itemize using Schedule A, and your mortgage must be secured by your primary or second home. That 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 substantially 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, and the interest is still deductible.

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. However, this rule changes for 2018, and the interest on such loans will no longer be deductible unless the proceeds are used to substantially improve a home.

Beginning with tax year 2018, the mortgage interest deduction cap is $750,000, and fewer people will likely itemize (and therefore take the MID) because of the increase in the standard deduction. 

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. However, you must itemize to take it.

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 refinance 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 refinance again down the road?

Example: Three years after your first refinance, 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 refinance. 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 closing docs you got when you purchased your home or refinanced.

Property Tax Deduction

Again, for 2017, you can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay if you itemize, without limit. 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.

For tax year 2018 and beyond, you can deduct local and state taxes, including property taxes, up to $10,000 combined. This again depends on whether you itemize, which many homeowners will not be able to do in 2018 due to a large increase in the standard deduction.

If you bought a house this year, check your closing documents to see if you paid any property taxes when you purchased your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.  

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.

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.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/taxes/home-tax-deductions/?site_ref=mosaic

DONA DEZUBE

has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound. 

5 Doable DIY Projects To Send Your Home Equity Soaring

by The Schnoor Team

5 Doable DIY Projects To Send Your Home Equity Soaring

 

A new front door has the highest ROI, not to mention the boost in curb appeal.

 

You’re going to save money with DIY home improvement projects. Sure, everybody knows that.

 

But did you know how much? Cut professionals out of the equation and you can save half the cost of a project — or more. 

 

What’s more, you get a great return on your investment. Meaning, the financial value you get out of a DIY project is much more than what you put in.

 

Here’s a rundown of some top money-saving projects, using cost and recovered costs data from the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

 

#1 New Steel Front Door

 

Few replacement projects have as much upside as a new steel entry door. Not only will you recover about 75% of the cost of having an entry door professionally installed, but you’ll spruce up your curb appeal big time. Want proof? Ninety-six percent of homeowners responding to the “Remodeling Impact Report” say they are happy or satisfied with their new front door.  

 

Of course, you’ll save even more if you tackle this project yourself. Know your door parts (jambs, threshold, stops) before digging in. You’ll be putting in a pre-hung door that includes jambs, so the old stuff has to come out. If you can, preserve the old casing (trim) that goes around the door. Otherwise, plan to buy new casing.

 

This is a good one to have a friend or spouse lend a hand. It’ll take six to eight hours if it’s your first time. Remember the three-legged mantra of door installation: Plumb, level, square.

 

#2 New Garage Door

 

Tired of looking at that big blank billboard every time you pull into your driveway? Change out your old garage door for a spiffy new steel model and the whole neighborhood will thank you. Save some cash by keeping the same motorized 

 

A steel garage door comes in four panels that are relatively lightweight but awkward — get a friend to lend a hand and you’ll have this project done in a day. Then stand back and admire along with 95% of homeowners in the “Remodeling Impact Report” who said they were happy or satisfied with their new garage door. 

 

 

#3 New Vinyl Windows

 

If you want to replace four or more windows, or a second-story window, then hire the work out. Being up on a ladder with an object as bulky as a window is no place for a non-professional. Pros bring scaffolding, which takes time to set up but ultimately makes the work faster and safer.

Replacing one, two, or maybe three first-story windows is a good DIY job. Anything more and the pros will get the job done with better efficiency in terms of time and hassle.

 

If you’ve measured your rough opening correctly and bought the right window, then one window should take you three to four hours. You’ll get faster with subsequent windows.

 

#4 New Wood Flooring

 

Few projects are as satisfying, while recovering such a high percentage of your investment, as new wood flooring. According to the “Remodeling Impact Report,” 96% of homeowners were happy or satisfied with their professionally installed hardwood floors. Combine that with a 91% return on your investment, and you’ll likely be a very happy homeowner.

For the DIYer, installing hardwood flooring is a bit labor intensive, but the techniques are fairly easy to master. Once you get the hang of it, installing prefinished hardwood flooring should go smoothly.

 

#5 Insulation Upgrade

 

OK, maybe it’s not the sexiest project. After all, it’s tucked out of sight in your attic. But you can feel it with increased comfort, and see the savings on your energy bill. Those are big pluses. 

Upgrading an under-insulated attic space can save you up to 50% per year in energy costs. With a pro cost of $2,100, it’ll take at least a couple of years to pay off your investment with savings. Do it yourself, however, and you’ll only spend about $700 for enough 10-inch-thick fiberglass batt insulation to cover a 20-foot-by-40-foot attic space. You’ll pocket the savings much sooner. 

 

It’s also an awkward project, it can be messy, and you’ll need to bundle up behind protective clothing. However, insulating your attic is a low-skill project that most DIYers can pull off. Just be sure not to stick your foot through the drywall under the attic floor joists!

 

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/save-money-add-value/money-saving-diy/diy-how-much-do-you-save/?site_ref=mosaic

 

JOHN RIHA

 

has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

 

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