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9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have

by The Schnoor Team

These must-haves will make things a lot easier in the first few weeks.

When Lauren Hunter and her husband moved into their first home in Hilliard, Ohio, the previous homeowner had left behind a ladder. "It turned out to be awesome," Hunter says. "You don't realize how many situations where ladders make things easier. Hanging pictures is one thing, but try hanging curtains in a two-story great room."

Whether it's the need to hang a clock just a few feet higher or the realization that you really can't hold a flashlight and get that nut loosened under the sink, there's always something catching you by surprise as a homeowner.

With the right items on hand, however, you can be prepared for every scenario -- just like Hunter was, thanks to that ladder. When her family moved to a larger home, they paid it forward by leaving the ladder behind for the new owners.

Do yourself a favor by stocking your home with the following items, and you'll be ready for every home ownership challenge.

#1 Wet-Dry Vacuum

You're gonna be spilling stuff. Look for a wet-dry vacuum that can handle everything from paint to nails and small stones. "We inherited one of those with our first house, and it was an awesome thing to have for vacuuming the car and cleaning the garage," Hunter says. Unlike the ladder, "we kept that Shop-Vac when we moved."

#2 (The Right) Fire Extinguisher

"Whenever anyone I know moves, I give them a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift," says Nina Patel, a Silver Spring, Md., homeowner who, years ago, accidentally set her apartment on fire with a homemade candle. "I was able to put out the fire with a pan of water, but it was a panicked moment. I've had my own fire extinguisher ever since."

But before going out and buying the first extinguisher you see, check out the U.S. Fire Administration's guide. There are five different types of fire extinguishers with different uses, from extinguishing cooking oils to wood and paper. Choose the best type or types for your home.

#3 Extension Cord Organizer

Home ownership seems to breed extension cords that grow into a tangled nest. Save yourself time and hassle, and splurge on one of several cord management devices. Or make your own with a pegboard, hooks, and velcro straps to keep each cord loop secure. Either way, your cords will be knot-free and easy to find. And be sure to include a heavy-duty extension cord in your organizer that's outdoor-worthy. You don't want to really have to use that fire extinguisher.

#4 Big-Kid Tools

Odds are you already own a bunch of the basics: drill, screwdriver, hammer, level, tape measure, wrench, pliers, staple gun, utility knife, etc. But home ownership may require a few new ones you might not have needed before, including a:

  • Stud finder. You can make as many holes in the walls as you want now. Use the stud finder to figure out where to hang those heavy shelves so they're safely anchored.
  • Hand saw. Much easier (and cheaper!) than a power saw, you can get a good cross-cut saw for smooth edges on small DIY projects.
  • Ratchet set. Every bolt in your new house belongs to you, so you'd better be able to loosen and tighten them when needed. Crank that ratchet to get to spots where you can't turn a wrench all the way around. Great for when you're stuck in a corner.
  • Pry bar. Get one with a clawed end to pull nails and a flat end to separate drywall, remove trim or molding, and separate tile.

#5 Tool Kit

You'll need something to carry all those tools around from project to project. Create a tool carrier using a tool bucket liner and an old 5-gallon bucket. Or invest in a handyman belt filled with the basics to keep on hand in the kitchen.

#6 Headlamp

Take that flashlight out of your mouth and work hands-free. From switching out a faucet to figuring out what's making that clicking noise behind the washer, there are plenty of homeowner tasks that require both hands and a little artificial light.

#7 Emergency Preparedness Kit

FEMA has a great list of supplies you should have in your kit, including cash, food, water, infant formula and diapers, medications, a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, matches, sleeping bags, and a change of clothing. The agency recommends you stock enough for every member of your household, including pets, for at least 72 hours.

#8 Ladder(s!)

But not just any old ladder. Consider:    

  • How high you need to go. If you use an extension ladder for a sky-high job, school yourself on safety tips, such as not standing above the support point.
  • Where you'll use it. Make sure all four legs on a stepladder rest safely on a flat area. A straight ladder must be set up at a safe angle, so if a ceiling is too low, it might be too long for the room.
  • How heavy-duty it is. Check the ladder's duty rating so you know how much weight (you, your tools, paint cans, etc.) it'll support.

And don't forget about the all-important escape ladder. The Red Cross recommends them for sleeping areas in multistory homes.

#9 Confidence

“Especially for first-time home buyers. You're inheriting the responsibilities a landlord would have if you were renting," says Hunter. "Mowing isn't a big deal, but maybe fixing a shingle or changing a faucet is." But with a little self-confidence — and some YouTube tutorials — there's (almost) no DIY project you can't master.

Source: "9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have"

 

Tips for Managing Property Taxes

by The Schnoor Team

Understand how they affect your budget when you’re shopping for homes.

This article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, author, speaker, and founder of Workable Wealth. She provides financial coaching for individuals and couples in their 20s to 40s across the country, helping them make smart, educated choices with their money.

If you’re in the market for your first home, you’re probably trying to figure out how to calculate what the property tax is going to cost you. Chances are you’ve considered how property taxes are going to impact the amount of home you can (or can’t) afford.

Property taxes are taxes that are assessed on real estate and are typically based upon the value of the property (land included) that you own. They’re assessed by the governing authority of the jurisdiction where the home is located and can vary greatly depending upon the state, county, and school district lines you live within.  They typically go towards the creation of roads, school or park maintenance, trash collection, and other similar needs.

Where to Find Local Rates

Property rates vary significantly across the country, so instead of using a generalized assumption, it’s best to do your research to narrow in on what to expect for your area. A simple Google search of the name of the county or city and state and the term “property tax rates” should provide you with the rate you can anticipate paying.

How Property Taxes are Calculated

The amount of property taxes you’ll pay is determined by multiplying the current assessed value of the property by the property tax (mill) rate. For example, a home in San Diego County worth $800,000 will have a property tax rate of 1.17%. Therefore, the annual property taxes owed would be $800,000 x 1.17% = $9,360.

If you’re not up for calculating out and researching rates in your area, you can typically find a good estimate of what you’ll pay through home listings or by using an online home affordability calculator.

Considerations for Your Budget

Property taxes are important to keep in mind as a part of your home buying budget. Due to the huge range you can experience, be sure to factor this into your expenses early in your shopping.

For example, while a home in San Diego, California may cost $800,000 with a 1.17% property tax rate, a similar home in McKinney, Texas, could cost $400,000 with a 2.66% property tax rate (and an annual property tax bill of $10,640). You’ll pay more in property taxes in McKinney than you’d pay for a home in San Diego at double the price.

However, it’s important to note that putting down 20% and making payments on a mortgage on a home valued at $400,000 versus one valued at $800,000 will look significantly different when it comes to your overall budget. So while some areas may have higher property taxes, if their homes are priced more moderately, you’re likely looking at saving more money on an overall basis.

Keep in mind that in general, property taxes tend to increase over time, so allow for some wiggle room in your budget when it comes to your housing budget; don’t tap yourself out by spending the max early on.

Federal Deduction for Property Taxes

You’ll be able to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes combined if you itemize.

Property taxes may get a bad reputation, but the fact is they can go towards supporting some substantial needs in your community and they may provide you with some tax savings depending your circumstances. They’re going to be a factor no matter where and what type of home you purchase, so ensure you evaluate your budget and determine how they impact the amount of home you can afford.

Source: "Tips for Managing Property Taxes"

Renting Out Your Home? Get Landlord Insurance

by The Schnoor Team

If you’re renting out your home, it might not be covered by home owners insurance, so look into landlord insurance instead.

Maybe you’re moving up to a bigger home and holding on to your former residence as a rental property. Or maybe you’ve tried to sell your home without success. Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking about renting out your home, you need to look into landlord insurance.

Homeowners insurance covers your house if it burns down, your possessions if there’s a break-in, and medical and legal bills if someone gets hurt on your property. Problem is, homeowners insurance might not offer protection if you decide to rent out your home. Landlord insurance does. Set aside half a day to research policies.

Renting Out Your Home Raises Risks

Homeowners insurance typically covers owner-occupied, single-family residences, says John W. Saunders, president of Slemp Brant Saunders, an independent insurance brokerage in Marion, Va. When your home doesn’t meet that definition because it’s being rented out regularly, it’s no longer covered.

Most homeowners policies will cover an occasional short-term rental if, say, you’re going away for a few weeks, says Dave Millar, a partner at Riley Insurance Agency in Brunswick, Me. “But if you have a summer home you’ve decided to use as an income property and are putting different people in there every week,” he explains, “that’s a lot higher risk for the insurance company.”

The risk is also higher for both you and your insurer when you rent out your home on a full-time basis. You have an increased responsibility for injuries on the property, whether to your tenants or your tenants’ guests, says Bob O’Brien, vice president of Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance in South Portland, Me.

Insurers also experience more claims on tenant-occupied properties because tenants typically don’t care for properties as well as owners would. Renters are less likely to either identify or report maintenance needs, says O’Brien, and may be unfamiliar with a home’s systems like the location of the water shut-off.

Look Into Landlord Insurance

When you decide to become a landlord, inform your insurer and ask about a specific landlord insurance policy, sometimes known as a dwelling fire policy or special perils policy. Coverage from a basic landlord policy isn’t quite as broad as a homeowners policy, says O’Brien, but it includes big risks like fire, wind, theft, and ice damage.

There are several levels of dwelling fire policies: DP-1, DP-2, and DP-3. The higher the number, the better the coverage. “A DP-3 policy might provide replacement cost on the house and theft of contents coverage for your belongings,” says Millar.

Expect to pay 15% to 20% more for landlord insurance than you did for homeowners insurance. In recent years the average cost of homeowners insurance was $822 a year. Tack on 20%, and that would put the average annual premium on landlord insurance at about $986.

A landlord policy covering a one-year rental for a home in Maine insured for $370,000 and personal property for $10,000 would cost $1,170, for example, says Millar. Expect to pay even more if you allow short-term rentals. The same insurance for the home if rented by the week for 12 weeks during a year would be $2,170.

Other Insurance Policies to Consider

Landlord insurance typically covers the house itself, other structures on the property such as sheds, the owner’s possessions (but not the tenant’s possessions), lost rental income if the house is damaged and uninhabitable, and some liability protection for the owner in case of injury or a lawsuit. Policies vary, however, so read the fine print. If lost rental income isn’t included, you might be able to add the coverage for an additional $50 a year, says Saunders.

Also consider an umbrella policy, that provides additional liability protection beyond the limits of your landlord policy. “If you’re talking about owning more than one house, and your net worth is starting to build up, then you should consider an umbrella policy,” says O’Brien. You can usually get an additional $1 million worth of liability coverage for $250 to $300 a year.

Finally, O’Brien advises that you require tenants to buy renters insurance that protects their own property. Remember, landlord insurance only covers the owner’s property. In recent years, the average cost of renters insurance has run $182 annually.

Source: "Renting Out Your Home? Get Landlord Insurance"

5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

by The Schnoor Team

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It’s like that with energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us believe we’re doing the right things to lower energy costs, and almost half of us think our homes already are energy efficient. Yet, 59% of us say our bills are going up, not down, despite our efforts to economize.

Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, a marketing agency that specializes in energy efficiency and that did this research, says we’re rationalizing: “I bought these [LEDs] so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.” Denial much?

Her research also shows consumers, on average, made fewer than three energy-efficient improvements in 2012 compared with almost five in 2010. It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements really will make the biggest difference to lower your bills. There are five, and the good news is that they’re really (seriously) cheap.

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

That mindfulness is important because your relationship with energy is getting more intense. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government), but to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. Energy improvements should pay for themselves. Nice wish, but it doesn’t work that way. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.

Unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. (Sorry.) Even if you do all the right things, the most you should expect is a 20% to 30% reduction annually, says Head, which is still significant over the long term.

What does 30% translate into? $618 in savings per year or $52 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,060 per year, according to Lawrence Berkeley and EIA.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; can increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).

But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster.

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective.

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

Source: "5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills"

 

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.

#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. Protect your precious trees by packing mulch loosely, letting water filter properly toward the trunk.

#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 firts 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: "The 7 Worst Habits Homeowners Need to Break Now

Tax changes for 2019 change the landscape for homeowners.

Tax season is upon us once again, and to make it even more interesting this year, the tax code has changed- along with the rules about tax deductions for homeowners. The biggest change? Many homeowners who used to write off their property taxes and the interest they pay their mortgage will no longer be able to.

Stay calm. This doesn’t automatically mean your taxes are going up. Here’s a roundup of the rules that will affect homeowners — and how big of a change to expect.

Standard Deduction: Big Change

The standard deduction, that amount everyone gets, whether they have actual deductions or not, nearly doubled under the new law. It’s now $24,000 for married, joint-filing couples (up from $13,000). It’s $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,550). And $12,000 for singles (up from $6,500).

Many more people will now get a better deal taking the standard than they would with their itemizable write-offs.

For perspective, the number of homeowners who will be able to deduct their mortgage interest under the new rules will fall from around 32 million to about 14 million, the federal government says. That’s about a 56% drop.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pay more taxes,” says Evan Liddiard, a CPA and director of federal tax policy for the National Association of REALTORS® in Washington, D.C. “It just means that they’ll no longer get a tax incentive for buying or owning a home.”

So will you be able to itemize, or will you be in standard deduction land?

If the answer is standard deduction, you’ll be pleased to know that tax forms are easier when you don’t itemize, says Liddiard.

Personal Exemption Repealed

One caveat to the increase in the standard deduction for homeowners and non-homeowners is that the personal exemption was repealed. No longer can you exempt from your income $4,150 for each member of your household. And that might temper the benefit of a higher standard deduction, depending on your particular situation.

For example, a single person might still come out ahead. Her $5,500 increase in the standard deduction is more than the $4,150 lost by the personal exemption repeal. 

But consider a family of four with two kids over 16 in the 22% tax bracket. They no longer have personal exemptions totaling $16,600.  Although the increase in the standard deduction is worth $2,420 (11,000 x 22%), the loss of the exemptions would cost them an extra $3,652  (16,600 x 22%).  So they lose $1,232 (3,652 – 2,420).

But say their two kids are under 16, giving them a child credit worth $2,000. That offsets the loss resulting in a $758 tax cut.

The takeaway: Your household composition will probably affect your tax status.

Mortgage Interest Deduction: Incremental Change

The new law caps the mortgage interest you can write off at loan amounts of no more than $750,000. However, if your loan was in place by Dec. 14, 2017, the loan is grandfathered, and the old $1 million maximum amount still applies. Since most people don’t have a mortgage larger than $750,000, they won’t be affected by the cap.

But if you live in a pricey place (like San Francisco, where the median housing price is well over a million bucks), or you just have a seriously expensive house, the new federal tax laws mean you’re not going to be able to write off interest paid on debt over the $750,000 cap.

State and Local Tax Deduction: Degree of Change Varies by Location

The state and local taxes you pay — like income, sales, and property taxes — are still itemizable write-offs. That’s called the SALT deduction in CPA lingo. But. The tax changes for 2019 (that’s tax year 2018) mean you can’t deduct more than $10,000 for all your state and local taxes combined, whether you’re single or married. (It’s $5,000 per person if you’re married but filing separately.)

The SALT cap is bad news for people in areas with high taxes. The majority of homeowners in around 20 states have been writing off more than $10,000 in SALT each year, so they’ll lose some of this deduction. “This is going to hurt people in high-tax areas like New York and California,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and expert for TurboTax in California. New Yorkers, for example, were taking SALT deductions around $22,000 a household.

Rental Property Deduction: No Change

The news is happier if you’re a landlord. There continue to be no limits on the amount of mortgage debt interest or state and local taxes you can write off on rental property. And you can keep writing off operating expenses like depreciation, insurance, lawn care, and utilities on Schedule E.

Home Equity Loans: Big Change

You can continue to write off the interest on a home equity or second mortgage loan (if you itemize), but only if you used the proceeds to substantially better your home and only if the total, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t go over the $750,000 cap ($1 million for loans in existence on Dec. 15, 2017). If you used the equity loan to pay medical expenses, take a cruise, or anything other than home improvements, that interest is no longer tax deductible.

Here’s a big FYI: The new rules don’t grandfather in old home equity loans if the proceeds were used for something other than substantial home improvement. If you took one out five years ago to, say, pay your child’s college tuition, you have to stop writing off that interest.

4 Tips for Navigating the New Tax Law

1. Single people may get more tax benefits from buying a house, Liddiard says. “They can often reach [and potentially exceed] the standard deduction more quickly.

2. Student loan debt is deductible, up to $2,500 if you’re repaying, whether you itemize or not.

3. Charitable deductions and some medical expenses remain itemizable. If you’re generous or have had a big year for medical bills, these, added to your mortgage interest, may be enough to bump you over the standard deduction hump and into the write-off zone.

4. If your mortgage is over the $750,000 cap, pay it down faster so you don’t eat the interest. You can add a little to the principal each month, or make a 13th payment each year.

Source: "Tax Deductions for Homeowners: How the New Tax Law Affects Mortgage Interest"

10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For

by The Schnoor Team

Never underestimate the power of an extra iPhone charger.

You're expecting houseguests. Fun! You want them to feel welcome, comfortable, and — dare we say it? — maybe even a tad envious of your hosting prowess.

No need to moonlight at hospitality school. We asked Airbnb hosts with tons of great reviews on their cozy bungalows and light-filled island condos for some quick, easy (and cheap!) ideas to turn your guest quarters into a vacation haven. Be careful, though – your guests may not want to leave!

#1 Stock Up on Extra Chargers and Cords

A dead phone equals getaway misery. Airbnb host Valarie D’Elia sets out a bowl with power strips and cords, outlet converters, and even an iHome speaker. Nothing sets the stage for feeling at home IRL like feeling at home digitally.

And that includes posting your Wi-Fi name and password in the guest room so they don’t have to bug you.

#2 Offer Sample-Size Toiletries in Your Bathroom

Put your stockpile of Sephora samples and hotel toiletries to good use. Tiny shampoos and lotions arranged in a basket or vintage apothecary jar are as welcoming as they are practical. Guests will be relieved if they forgot their own, but even if they didn’t, they’ll love the luxury of washing their hair on the house.

#3 Raise Your Cleanliness Standards

When you miss a dust bunny at home, it’s just your own skin flakes and dried up sneezes in your own corner. To guests, it’s disgusting at best and insulting at worst.

So clean it all. Airbnb even tells hosts to scrub the entire bathroom, not once but twice, including the toilet, sink, bath, and floors after every guest.

“We make sure you can smell the cleaner,” says Cheryl Trotta, who rents out her vintage bayside cottage in Warwick, R.I.

#4 Give It Your Personal Touch

People choose Airbnbs over sterile hotel rooms because, in part, they want an authentic, personal experience.

So give it to them!

Trotta intentionally markets her rental as a family cottage and scatters pictures and family treasures throughout the cottage. Frame a couple of your childhood photos and hang them up alongside some mementos from your own travels.

How else would your guests discover that you were drum major of your high school marching band?

#5 Put a Radio in the Bathroom

Your guests may like to sing along in the shower, but the real reason for putting some tunes in the bath is to provide them with plenty of, well, privacy. Add an essential oil diffuser — or poo-pourri drops — and you’re in business.


#6 Set Up a DIY Cafe

If your guests are early birds — or will just want some occasional alone time — put a coffeemaker in their room along with a well-stocked basket of coffee and tea. Maybe even blow their minds with a mini fridge full of snacks.

To pull this off right, ask how they take their coffee in advance, and stock up appropriately.

#7 Designate Drawer and Closet Space Just for Guests

If your guest room closet could be featured on Storage Wars, it’s time to rethink your stuff strategy.

Consider some serious Marie Kondo-izing — maybe donate your to-be-regifted pile and sell those designer jeans you’ll never fit into again — to make room in the closet and dresser for guest to have plenty of space (and the key word is plenty).

Label a few guest drawers and crack the closet so they can see there’s space to hang their clothes.

#8 Fancy Yourself a Travel Agent

Give guests a local’s-eye view by filling a basket with menus from nearby restaurants, brochures from local businesses that cater to tourists, and a current issue of your community newspaper. It’s a great way for guests to feel like a local and customize their time in your town.

#9 Hang a Robe – or Two – in the Closet

Bonding with their host over morning coffee is one of the best parts of staying with friends. But they can miss it completely when they realize they only packed a ratty grandma nightgown or — even worse — NSFW lingerie.

Help your guests feel right at home by hanging a couple of cozy (and freshly laundered), one-size-fits-all robes in the guest-room closet.

Not only can they wear their pajamas to breakfast without feeling self-conscious, but they’re also super-comfy and great to wrap up in after a shower.

#10 Expect the Unexpected with Extra Personal Supplies

And let your guests know where they are so they won’t feel guilty for bothering you (or worse, go without!). Here’s a list of things that rock-star Airbnb hosts always keep in stock:

  • Disposable razors
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • First-aid kit
  • Towels, pillows, and extra blankets
  • Umbrella
  • Flashlight
  • Replacement light bulbs

Being the perfect host is perfectly achievable. With a little forethought, you’ll start racking up your own stellar reviews from your friends and family. Get ready to be the house everyone vies to visit.

Source: "10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For"

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.

Your Money, Save Money, Add Value, Money-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.

#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. Protect your precious trees by packing mulch loosely, letting water filter properly toward the trunk.

#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: "The 7 Worst Habits Homeowners Need to Break Now"


4 Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell

by The Schnoor Team

You could be nose blind. Here’s how to find and eliminate the funk you can’t smell.

Stand in your kitchen and take a deep breath. Smell that? From last night’s fish to your son’s nasty lacrosse pads (why did he leave them on the table?), you probably can’t detect any of your home’s rankest odors. You’ve got nose blindness.

“You adapt to the smells around you,” says Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

On a sensory level, your processing mechanism becomes less sensitive to the continuous stimuli. Or, on a cognitive level, you can become habituated to the smells and basically learn to ignore them. Or you can do both.

Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to ban them from your home.

#1 Pet Funk

There’s one easy way to tell if your home smells like pets: Do you have them? Then yeah, unless you’re an obsessive cleaner and groomer, your abode has at least some Fido funk.

It could be pee, but more likely it’s just hair, gunky ears, and weeks-old slobber.

The first step to cleaning up pet smells is — sorry, pets — cleaning the pets themselves. Bathe and groom them regularly.

Then, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. If they have a favorite couch or cushion, cover it with a blanket and run it — and the cushion cover — through the wash weekly. Every time you vacuum, start with a hearty sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet.

And use that crevice tool liberally; pet hair loves tight spaces like the border between the carpet and the wall, the edges of your steps and that little crack of space between the stove and your cabinets.

Hopefully urine isn’t the issue, but to be sure, you can use a black light to out any dried stains your pet was hoping you’d never notice.

Use more of that baking soda followed by a half-water, half-vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. Lots of people also swear by store-bought neutralizers, like Nature’s Miracle.

#2 Mustiness

Fortunately, nose blindness only affects one of your senses, and you don’t need your nose to verify a basement with a musty smell.

Mustiness is caused by mildew and mold, which — for better or for worse — your eyeballs can easily detect. Do a careful inspection of your basement, from the darkest corner to the surface of every cardboard box or bookshelf. If you find gray or white splotches anywhere, it’s probably mildew. If it’s fuzzy, (oh no!) it’s mold.

First, you’ll want to bust up those existing odors. Then, you’ll want to make sure they never return. Some elbow grease with regular household cleaner will scrub away mildew. Bleach isn’t the cure-all for mold. If often can exacerbate the problem.

To prevent mildew and mold from returning, consider running a dehumidifier or improving air circulation and sunlight exposure in the affected area if possible.

For chronic mustiness, you can deodorize rooms by setting out bowls of vinegar, cat litter, baking soda, or — as crazy as this sounds — an onion also will do the trick. Cut one in half and let it sit in a bowl in the room. The onion smell goes away in a few hours, and so will the dankness.

#3 Smelly Bedding

Similar to pet odors, knowing if your mattress could smell is easy: Do you have a human body with skin and oils? Do you sleep on it?

Eventually, all the dead skin and body oils you shed while sleeping are going to build up, and stink they will, especially if your bedding is older.

You can’t exactly toss your mattress in the washing machine, so you’ll have to deal with it where it lies.

But it’s an easy fix: Sprinkle baking soda on it, let it sit for an hour or more, and then vacuum up the soda. (This works for memory foam, too.) Add a couple drops of essential oil to the soda (drip directly into the box and shake it well to mix evenly) for a pleasant smell. Bonus: Lavender has been shown to help you sleep.

#4 Fridge and Freezer Grime

It’s your fridge and freezer’s job to keep your food fresh, but they need a little help staying fresh themselves.

Itty bitty food bits hang out long after you’ve tossed the item from which they came. Although you might not notice the odor creep, you may notice your ice starting to taste funny or see those food morsels start to accumulate in the corners of your fridge shelves.

If you see or taste something icky, you can bet others can smell something icky.

To zap odors from from your freezer and fridge, unplug and empty them and do a thorough cleaning with a mix of hot water and baking soda.

You can sanitize with a solution of one tablespoon bleach and one gallon of water. Let it air out for 15 minutes. Try wiping it down with vinegar for extra odor eliminating, or even leave the door open for a few days.

What better excuse is there for a long weekend away, or to treat yourself to takeout?

Source: "4 Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell"

 

Will My Taxes Look Different Now That I’m a Homeowner?

by The Schnoor Team

Magic 8 ball says yes. Here’s what to know to itemize tax deductions as a homeowner.

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.

Taxes? Gross! Who wants to think about government paperwork, especially when your hand still aches from signing the 977 forms required to buy your first house? But listen up: As a new homeowner, you can typically wave bye-bye to the 1040-EZ form and say hi to itemizing your deductions on Schedule A.

That means you can combine the thousands you’re now paying in mortgage interest and property taxes with what you’re already paying in state and local income taxes. And bam! Suddenly, you’ve got more to deduct than the $6,300 standard deduction.

For recent first-time homeowners Ben and Stephanie Liddiard, buying a rambler in Layton, Utah, led to tax savings that fattened Ben’s paycheck by $100 every two weeks. If you’re like the Liddiards, home ownership will give you more deductions, so your taxable income will decrease and you could owe less in taxes.

What Deductions Should I Itemize?

  • Loan costs and fees
  • Mortgage interest
  • Property taxes
  • Private mortgage insurance

Not everyone who buys a home will end up itemizing and owing less in taxes, says Anna Berry Royack, an accountant who sees many first-time home buyer tax returns at her Liberty Tax office in Catonsville, Md.

To find out if you’re eligible to itemize, add up your deductions with your handy home closing paperwork, says Berry Royack. The document you’re looking for is either a HUD-1 Settlement Statement or a Closing Disclosure. (Lenders used the HUD-1 until late 2015, when they switched over to the more consumer-friendly Closing Disclosure.)

Here are the details on what you need to look for:

One-Time Deductions

Loan costs and fees. “Different lenders call their loan costs and fees different things,” Berry Royack says. “Look for an ‘application fee’ or ‘underwriting fee.’ Also, if you paid points to get a lower interest rate, that’s often deductible in the first year. Your lender might have called that ‘buying down the rate’ or ‘discount fee’ instead of ‘points.’ Points are easy to find on the Closing Disclosure because they’re at the top of page 2 and labeled ‘loan costs.’”

Recurring Deductions (Woo Hoo!)

1. Mortgage interest. Most homeowners can deduct the interest portion of monthly mortgage payments — not the principle — each year. Exception: When your mortgage is close to being paid off, the interest is less than the principle. So even when combined with other deductions, you might not have enough to exceed the standard deduction. But that’s a loooong way off for most of us.

To see how the mortgage interest deduction plays out in real life, consider first-time homeowners Ben and Stephanie Liddiard. They moved from a $1,000-a-month rental apartment to a $168,000, five-bedroom, two-story, 2,300-square-foot house outside Salt Lake City.

They had some deductions as renters, but those expenses were less than the $6,300 standard deduction they each got ($12,600 for marrieds), so as renters, they opted to take the standard deduction.

When they bought their home, the combination of mortgage interest, property taxes, Utah’s 5% income tax, charitable contributions, and some unreimbursed medical expenses incurred during Stephanie’s pregnancy, added up to more than $12,600. Hello, itemization.

All these deductions reduced their income, so they owed about $2,600 less in federal and state income taxes.

Once they knew how much lower their tax bill was going to be, the Liddiards had two choices:

  1. Leave their payroll tax withholding as it was and get a $2,600 refund the following year.
  2. Adjust their tax withholding so the extra $2,600 wasn’t taken out of their paychecks any more.

The Liddiards went with No. 2. “I changed my withholding so I get about $100 more [in each] paycheck instead of a big refund,” Ben says. That’s smarter than letting the IRS hold on to that until refund season since the IRS pays zero interest on the money you overpay in taxes.

Tip: You know what would be an even smarter move? Opting to automatically divert that $100 per paycheck into a home repair savings account. Once you’ve saved a tidy 1% of the value of your home, you could use that money to fund your 401(k) or your kid’s college costs.

2. Property taxes. Property taxes are also deductible, but they can be tricky in the year you buy the home because both you and the sellers owned the property during that year. Sadly, you only get to deduct the property taxes you owed for the portion of the year you owned the home; the seller gets the rest of the deduction.

This info shows up on the Closing Document as “adjustments for items paid by seller in advance” or “adjustments for items unpaid by seller.”

Tip: Who pays the property taxes in the year of the sale — the buyer or seller — is negotiable, but not who gets the deduction. Say you live in a sellers’ market and to sweeten the deal agree to pay the full year of property taxes for the seller. Nice negotiating! But you still can’t claim the full year deduction under IRS rules.

Other stuff on the not-so-deductible list:

  • Transfer fees for changing title from the sellers to you.
  • Recordation fees to put the title change into public record.
  • Homeowner or community association fees. They feel like a tax because you gotta pay ‘em, but they’re not.

3. Mortgage insurance. Private mortgage insurance, which many homeowners pay each month if they put down less than 20%, is deductible for many every year you pay it.

Private mortgage insurance protects lenders when they accept low down payments. To claim the deduction, your adjusted gross income (AGI) must be no more than $109,000. The deduction phases out once your AGI exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) and disappears entirely at an AGI of more than $109,000 ($54,500 for married filing separately).

Other types of insurance, like homeowners insurance, aren’t deductible unless you can claim a portion of the home insurance because you work at home exclusively. “People can get those two confused,” Berry Royack says.

Other Deductions You Might Overlook

As the Liddiards found, sometimes buying a house is the trigger that, combined with other deductions you might have, makes it worth busting out Schedule A. That stuff you donated so you didn’t have to move it was probably a charitable donation. Those state and local taxes you paid could pay you back via itemization. Hopefully, you don’t have to, but you can maybe tack on medical and dental expenses above 10% of your income and casualty and theft losses.

Special Circumstances to Keep in Mind

If this is your first year doing your taxes as a homeowner, it’s worth splurging on an accountant to make sure everything goes down without a hitch. This is especially true if one of these special circumstances apply:

  1. You work from home. If you take conference calls in the same place your dog lives — that is, your home office is your exclusive, regular place of business — you might be able to deduct a portion of your home ownership costs under the home office deduction. “That’s a $1,500 deduction for a 300-square-foot office. Or you can deduct more if you have a larger office or the actual costs for you home office are higher,” Berry Royack says. The standard home office deduction is $5 per square foot. If you’re self-employed, you’ll be taking this deduction on Schedule C.
  2. Your lender sold your mortgage to a different lender. “That happens to a lot of people about five minutes after they walk out of the closing,” Berry Royack says. “If you’re one of them, you’ll need to remember to look for two sets of year-end disclosures — one from each company that had your loan.”

Add the numbers from both year-end forms to get the amount to deduct. If the numbers don’t look right, call the agency or company that services the mortgage and double-check the figures or ask your accountant to do it. “We see a lot of returns [at our firm], so we usually can tell if your property tax figure looks right, and we know where to check,” Berry Royack says.

Source"Will My Taxes Look Different Now That I’m a Homeowner?"


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