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How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed

by The Schnoor Team

Two freelancers buy their first home in a sellers’ market.

After nine years in a 550-square-foot apartment, Kaitlin Wadley and Bryce Bordenkecher were ready for more space and their own place. And since Kaitlin works from home, they weren't just shopping for a house; they were shopping for a workplace, too. But they had a challenge: These creative professionals were both self-employed. Getting a mortgage can be a little harder when you're a freelancer.

Professions: She's a freelance illustrator who also runs an online vintage clothing store; he's a photo retoucher.

Home style: 103-year-old bungalow

Sale price: $249,900

Year of home purchase: 2018

City: Minneapolis

Names: Kaitlin Wadley, 30, and Bryce Bordenkecher, 32

Plus, they were in a seller's market, with houses getting multiple offers as soon as they were listed. Here's how they made it work.

You'd been in the same apartment for nearly a decade. What finally made you say, “House. Now."?

Kaitlin: I work from home. I was like, “I need out of this tiny apartment.” I was the one pushing to buy. I wanted another cat, and we needed more room for that, too.

Did you know what kind of house you wanted?

Kaitlin: We wanted something older, with architectural details. We didn't want anything built after 1950. We didn't want a 1970s house covered with carpet and paneling.

What was the first thing you looked at?

Kaitlin: A condo, because it was cheap, $150,000. It was seven blocks from where we were living, and it was in a 1915 building. We went the first week it was listed and put in an offer. It wasn't accepted. We realized we needed to be serious.

And being serious meant?

Kaitlin: Zeroing in on what we wanted. You couldn't just casually browse in that [seller’s] market. We sat with [our agent] Mike Smith and had a candid conversation about what we were looking for in a house. The style, condition, number of bedrooms, price range, and neighborhood. He took us on a first round of showings, so he could get an idea of what we wanted.

Then he set up a custom search that would email us new listings every night that fit our criteria, and we would go through those and see if there were any we wanted to look at. You had to put in an offer that minute in that market, so screening the houses helped us move faster.

How long did you shop before you found The One?

Kaitlin: Two-and-a-half weeks. But we looked at a lot of homes. We saw a three-bedroom house we liked and decided we wanted to make an offer, only to be told that the seller had accepted an offer while we were looking at it. We had to pick up the pace of things because homes were going fast.

 

How did you know that a bungalow was the house for you?

Kaitlin: The size and the architecture were right. It's Arts and Crafts, a style that goes with any type of furniture. It had two bedrooms, so we would have one to use as an office/studio space and one to sleep in. We liked the neighborhood, and there were mature trees in the yard. It didn't need a lot of work. The price was right, too.

You were in a tough market. Was it hard to get the house?

Kaitlin: There were three offers in addition to ours. One was an escalating offer. But the owner took ours because our agent has a good relationship with the seller's agent. He convinced the seller to take our offer. I don't know why, but I think it was because we were a young couple buying our first house.

Getting a mortgage when you don't have a W-2 is tougher than when you do. What was it like for a couple of self-employed creatives to get a six-figure loan?

Kaitlin: It was tricky. Bryce had two years where his income was, like, $16,000 less from one year to the next, because he had taken on fewer clients. He had to provide a couple of years [of tax returns] to show it was a one-time dip. He also had to write a letter explaining that it was because he had taken on [fewer] clients.

[The lender] didn't ask for lists of clients, and we were glad. A friend of ours who's a freelancer referred us to our broker, and I think the fact that [our broker] had worked with freelancers in the past probably worked in our favor.

What type of mortgage did you get?

Kaitlin: We went with traditional. We had enough to put 20% down without using up our savings, and we didn't want a mortgage where we had a lower down payment because it felt good to get a chunk of that house paid for.

What's your advice to first-time home buyers?

Kaitlin: Don't start looking until you have saved up your down payment. Get an agent. It's worth it to get one to help you hone your search. Know what you're willing to compromise on because the faster you can come to a consensus on a house, the better.

There's also a really scary period between when the offer is accepted and your financing is secured and when you close on the house. It's totally normal to get cold feet and worry you've made a mistake. Chances are, you haven't.

Finally, did you get that cat you wanted?

Kaitlin: Yes. We got our fourth one when we knew we were moving. It was another one of those things where I had to convince [Bryce]. Now that's his favorite cat.

Source: "How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed"

How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?

by The Schnoor Team

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and that takes time: It takes 50 days on average to just close on a home.

How long does it take to buy a house? A lot depends on how much time you spend shopping for one. But once you have a contract, it takes an average of 50 days to close on a house.

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and any of them could drag out the timeline, especially if you’re not prepared. Here’s the home-buying timeline, broken down step-by-step, so you can be in control:

1. Do Your Homework

Time: 1-14 days

Dreaming about owning your own home is one thing; making it happen is another. To get beyond the dream stage, you need to do some critical research to help you figure out what you do and don't want — along with how much can you afford.

It’s mighty disappointing to fall in love with a house only to find out you can’t afford it. A quick chat with your bank can help you avoid that heartbreak — it’s called pre-qualifying. But it’s no guarantee you’ll get a mortgage (that comes later), only an indication of how much you can afford.

2. Find An Agent

Time: 1-7 days

Finding an agent who suits you is key to the home buying process. They should be your most trusted adviser. Look for one with intimate knowledge of your desired community. If they know the inside scoop, they’ll know a great deal (or a bum one) when they see it.

3. Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Time: 5-8 business days

Getting pre-approved for a loan signals you’re a serious buyer. Most agents recommend you have a pre-approval in hand before you make an offer, and they can offer reccomendations of lendrs. But pre-approval goes deeper than pre-qualification. It needs a ton of documents from you. A couple of tips to help make this a speedier process:

Get all your documents for mortgage pre-approval organized and ready to go.

Compare rates from lenders within a 14-day window: Credit bureaus will count all their checks as just one. (That’s good news for your credit score).

4. Shop

Time: A few days to a few months

 

Here’s where things really vary. There are so many variables. If you’re set on a particular neighborhood where the inventory is low, it could take longer… or you could discover “the one” on day one. It all depends on what you’re seeking and what’s available. But the typical buyer actively searches for 10 to 12 weeks and looks at a median of 10 homes.

5. Make an Offer, Negotiate, and Sign a Contract

Time: 1-7 days

Work with your agent on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal. A couple of tips to help make this step proceed smoothly:

  • Include the pre-approval letter from your lender in the offer, and put down earnest money. (Commit 3% to 4% of the sale price instead of the standard 1% to 3%, and you might really put a fire under them.)
  • If you receive a counteroffer, respond ASAP. You don’t want to give another buyer time to jump in with a better offer.

6. Get Final Mortgage Approval

Time: A few days to 3 weeks

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage doesn’t automatically mean you get a loan on the home you have under contract. The lender has a few other requirements once the home is chosen, such as an inspection and appraisal. And they’ll want to see even more current copies of your financial documents.

From this point on, the steps to buying a house will often overlap, so you’ll have several wheels in motion.

7. Get a Home Inspection

Time: 3-7 days to schedule; 2-3 hours to inspect

As soon as your contract is accepted, contact an inspector to get on their books. The inspection itself will only take two or three hours, but unfortunately, they’re not quite Amazon. They seldom show up the next day.

However, they can get the report to you quickly. Many inspectors take pictures and fill out the report as they go, then send it to your inbox within hours of completion. But it can take up to a couple of days if they’re backed up.

If the inspection turns up issues, it can cause some delays. This can range from a day or two to renegotiate, or longer if, for example, you have an FHA loan that requires certain safety standards. A home with peeling lead paint may need to be repainted, which can take weeks.

8. Get a Home Appraisal

Time: Up to 5 days to schedule; a few hours to do the appraisal; up to 5 business days to get the report to the lender

 

The appraisal is key to getting a mortgage. If the home fails to appraise for the mortgage amount, you may have to put more down or renegotiate the contract. That’s why you want to line up an appraiser as soon as you have a house under contract. And unlike the home inspection, this report goes to the lender instead of you and takes longer because the appraiser has to do additional research on what homes are selling for in the area.

9. Get Title Insurance

Time: 1-3 business days for title check; 2 weeks for insurance policy

Your title company will perform the check, which means they’ll look at deeds and other documents to make sure you will own the home free and clear of any liens or former claims to the property.

10. Get Homeowners Insurance

Time: Up to 2 weeks

Your company may send someone out to assess the property for potential risks, which can take several days. And your mortgage lender may require other types of coverage, such as flood insurance.

11. Arrange for Closing Funds

Time: A few minutes to a few days

Find out from your agent whether you need to bring a cashier’s or certified check or transfer funds digitally. Transfer the funds to the right account, and get your money ready to release.

If you ever receive wiring instructions by email, call your agent or lender to confirm one of them sent it. Call the phone number you have on record for your agent, not the one listed in the suspect email.

12. Conduct a Final Walk-Through

Time: 1 hour, the day of or day before closing

This is your chance to make sure the sellers made any agreed-upon repairs and left the property in as good (or better!) condition than the last time you saw it.

13. Close on the House

Time: 50 days on average; 1-2 hours to actually sign the paperwork

Each step after you’ve got a contract on a home is part of the closing process. And that process —  which includes getting the loan, inspection, appraisal, title, insurance, etc. —  takes the average home buyer about six weeks.

When it’s time for the main event, bring your photo ID, and stretch your hand muscles; you’ve got a lot of signing to do! But getting the keys? Takes hardly any time at all.

Source: "How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?"

Little-Known Ways You Can Buy A House With No Down Payment

by The Schnoor Team

The city where you plan to buy a home may offer loans with no money down.

Can you buy a house with no down payment?

Yes, you can.

“Paying 20% down is, quite frankly, a myth,” says Karen Hoskins, vice president at NeighborWorks and bearer-of-great-news. “Most buyers pay only 5% to 10% down — some even pay zero.”

The key to finding a no-money-down home loan is finding the right assistance program. And there’s no shortage of them if you qualify.

Of the roughly 2,500 home-buying programs tracked by Down Payment Resource, a nationwide database of home ownership programs that helps match buyers and properties, 69% offer down payment assistance.

Even better: The average amount of assistance from those programs nationwide tops $11,000 — though amounts would vary greatly between disparate cost-of-living markets like Southern California and Iowa, according to Down Payment Resource. Some 87% of properties are eligible for some kind of assistance.

Here’s where to find the financial help you need to buy a home:

National Government Programs

Because they’re at the national level, they’re often the ones people turn to first:

  • FHA. Helps first-time buyers — especially those with lower credit scores — buy with down payments as low as 3.5% (low-down).
  • USDA Rural Development Loans. For low-to-middle income families buying homes in towns with populations of 10,000 or fewer people or that are “rural in character.” That means some areas with bigger populations have been grandfathered into the program (zero down).
  • VA Home Loans. Helps service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses (zero down).
  • Government-sponsored enterprises. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which set the rules for mortgages nationwide, both offer programs allowing eligible buyers to put down as little as 3% of the purchase price. That’s even lower than FHA (low-down).

But those aren’t the only options. Too often, buyers neglect to look for help locally, which may offer even better assistance.

State and Local Home-Buying Programs

Responsible homeowners are vital to a community’s stability and economic health, so municipalities and states have a vested interest in helping you buy a home — even if you don’t have the down payment.

Qualifications vary based on the agency or the community requirements, but assistance programs generally:

  • Have income limits
  • Have purchase price limits
  • Require participants to take home buyer counseling

Other requirements — like whether you’re a first-time buyer, how good your credit is, where you have to buy, whether you have to rehab the home, or if you need to be part of a group, such as active military, veterans, or teachers — depend on the program.

Assistance comes in these forms (Note: Specific programs named as examples below may change or close over time.):

Forgivable loans and grants. These are literal gifts for some or all of the down payment and closing costs, which means there’s no recorded lien or mortgage on that money. Eligibility and terms will vary and funds are limited. Example: The National Home Buyers Fund, Inc. offers down payment and closing cost assistance up to 5% of the mortgage loan amount as a gift or zero-interest second mortgage that’s forgiven after three years.

Second mortgages. As the name suggests, these loans are in addition to your primary home mortgage. They take a variety of forms, and the differences can be confusing. The most important thing isn’t the terminology, though; it’s knowing they exist, because they can offer substantial down payment assistance (DPA) and favorable terms.

  • Soft mortgages. These DPA loans are deferred for some period of time based on a particular program’s requirements. Occasionally, they’re forgivable. Example: The Home Purchase Assistance Program in Washington, D.C., defers payments for five years for moderate-income borrowers.
  • Silent seconds. DPA repayment is deferred until you sell or refinance. The city of Napa, Calif., for instance, offers eligible first-time buyers up to $58,000 or 30% of the purchase price, whichever is less, at 1% interest. The loan can be deferred for the 30-year term if you stay in the home.
  • Hard seconds. You start paying off the DPA loan as soon as you close. Programs offer a variety of loan amounts and interest rates (some below-market) depending on your eligibility.

First mortgages at below market interest rates. Local and state agencies subsidize a mortgage to make it more affordable for the buyer by reducing the interest rate, or offering 100% financing (which means no down payment), and sometimes waiving mortgage insurance, too.

Mortgage credit certificates (MCCs). Issued by some state or local governments, MCCs allow taxpayers to claim a tax credit (Form 8396) for some portion of the mortgage interest paid during a given tax year. A credit, unlike a deduction, is a dollar-for-dollar savings on your tax liability.

You don’t have to itemize to use this credit, according to Greg Zagorski, senior legislative and policy associate at the National Council of State Housing Agencies. It’s capped at $2,000 per year, and you can claim it throughout the life of the loan.

A cool tax benefit of MCCs is that if your tax liability one year is lower than the credit, you can roll over the amount you can’t claim to the next year. If you make more the next year (and therefore have more tax liability), you can claim what you couldn’t before.

How to Find a Program You Qualify For

  • Housing counselors, who are free (!) and can discuss what mortgage options are best for you, are available through housing finance agencies and organizations like NeighborWorks. Find HUD-approved housing counselors by state here. Or contact your state’s housing finance agency.
  • Check your eligibility for a host of DPA programs at Down Payment Resource.
  • Find a good mortgage broker, who should have information about down payment programs in your area and can help you determine your eligibility.
  • Talk to your real estate agent.

A final note: When you put down less than 20%, you pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) each month to protect the lender’s interest. On the other hand, not having to save up for a 20% down payment can get you into a home a lot faster. And you can cancel PMI (except for FHA loans) once you reach 20% equity.

Source: "Little-Known Ways You Can Buy A House With No Down Payment"

8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying

by The Schnoor Team

Application fees, appraisal, inspection … a lot of little costs start to add up. Here’s how to be prepared.

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.

With your focus on building your down payment fund and figuring out what your mortgage payment will be, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller fees that come along with a home purchase. Here are eight and what they could cost you.

#1 Home Inspection

A home inspection helps protect you from purchasing a home that could be a lemon. So you don’t want to forgo it. Inspectors will look for signs of structural issues, mold, and leaks; assess the condition of the roof, gutters, water heater, heating and cooling system; and more. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee.

#2 Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. This report worked in our favor a couple of years ago when our home came back appraised for $10,000 less than our bid; the sellers had to reduce their asking price in order to move forward. An apprasial can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425

#3 Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

#4 Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

#5 Lender’s Origination Fees

Your lender will charge you this upfront free for making the mortgage loan. This includes processing the loan application, underwriting the loan (researching whether to approve you), and funding the loan. These fees are quoted as a percentage of the total loan you’re taking out and generally range between 0.5 to 1.5%.

#6 Survey Costs

This report ($150 to $400) confirms the property’s boundaries, outlining its major features and dimensions.

#7 Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase PMI, which is a policy that protects the lender from losing money if you end up in foreclosure. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

#8 Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.

Source: "8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying"

How I Bought My First House From Out of State

by The Schnoor Team

And how I survived when my loan fell through before closing.

Name: Andrea Lawson, 36

City: Madison, Wis.

Year of Home Purchase: 2014

Sale Price: $222,500

Home style: 2006 condo

Profession: Social worker

When Andrea Lawson got a dream job in a new city, she knew exactly where she wanted to live: an urban, walkable neighborhood near her new job in downtown Madison. Though she was hesitant to commit to buying a home before knowing for sure the job and city were the right fit for her, rental prices made buying the smarter financial move.

In just a two-day trip to Madison, she found a place she liked, made an offer, and had it accepted by the seller. All was great until her loan fell through prior to closing.

Before we talk about the horror story of your deal collapsing at the eleventh hour, let’s start with your house hunt. What made you take the plunge and buy a home in a new city, even before you’d started your new job?

Andrea: Actually, I wasn’t ready to buy. I wanted to rent a place. But prices of rentals were steeper than I expected, because of pressure from the University of Wisconsin and the tech industry. Students snapped up the best rentals, and lots of people wanted to be in the city center.

You switched gears in 24 hours, going from looking-to-rent to looking-to-buy. How did you manage that fast of a change?

Andrea: I only had a weekend to look because I was still working in Michigan at my previous job. I had to make a decision fast. I got my agent Kari Manson Hvam [a referral from a friend], to help me find listings of houses for sale. Her access to the MLS helped me see what was available. I had a price limit and geographic requirement. The agent said, “These are the four properties that fit what you are looking for.” I looked at all of them in one day.

How did you know when you found The One?

Andrea: The condo had all the things I wanted. It was open and had south-facing windows that let in a lot of light. It has one bedroom, but it also has a Murphy bed so I would have room for guests. It was in the city center where it’s happening, not out in the boring ‘burbs.

There were waiting lists for rentals. Was it tough to get the condo?

Andrea: Not really. I was the only interested buyer. The developer still had it and was renting it out. It was listed at $234,000. My agent was helpful in determining where to start negotiations, telling me not to lowball too hard. I started at $215,000, and I ended up paying $222,500.

Was it hard to get a mortgage?

Andrea: No. I had been saving for six years, so I had the down payment. I have great credit. My agent gave me a couple of names of lenders. I called each one and went with the one that had an appointment that afternoon. I made an offer in June and did the paperwork in July. I met with the lender midway through the process, and the lender assured me everything was fine.

But you got to the closing, and everything was not fine.

Andrea: No, it was not. We got ready to sign the paperwork, and the lender said they could not underwrite the loan because they were missing some information on their end. We were unable to close. So I was there with my cashier’s check, and I couldn’t get my condo. I couldn’t move in.

Good grief. Were you crushed?

Andrea: I was disappointed — mostly in the lender. I feel like they dropped the ball. Worst of all, I was staying in an Airbnb until I closed on the condo, and my time was up there. I had no place to go.

So you had no mortgage and no home. What did you do?

Andrea: Thankfully, my agent was able to talk to the seller, and they let me move into the condo immediately and rent it until I could buy it. My agent also helped me find a local lender, a local bank. The condo association recommended them, too, and said there were several other people in the building who had gotten mortgages from them.

Things went better with the local bank?

Andrea: Yes, they did a great job. I was able to close a week after the first deal fell through. The woman I worked with at the local bank was nice. She said, “I don’t know what the problem was [with the other lender] because everything you need is here.”

Did you ever find out the problem with the other lender?

Andrea: No. The lender seemed to be interpreting some requirements for offering a loan on a condo very strictly. But I’m not sure because the first lender didn’t respond to any communication after the deal fell through. My agent and the condo people both said they had never seen anything like that happen.

Your advice for a first-time home buyer?

Andrea: Confirm if things are on track [with the loan], then confirm again. And if you’re debating between renting or buying, like I was, buy. For me, the total cost of my mortgage was a little more than a rental would have been, but it’s worth the investment.

Is living in a city condo all you had hoped it would be?

Andrea: Yes, I’m three miles from my job, and I bike to work at least once a week.

Even in the winter?

Andrea: In Wisconsin? Ha! No, I take the bus.

Source: "How I Bought My First House From Out of State"

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?"


Make an Offer Like a Boss

by The Schnoor Team

 

These 10 money- and time-saving steps can help you craft a winning bid.

Ah, the offer!

Cinematically speaking, this is the iconic moment — we’d forgive you if you imagined, say, putting a hand on your agent’s shoulder and whispering (in your best Vito Corleone) that you’re going to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

In reality, it’s not that simple (or dramatic). Your offer marks the beginning of a back-and-forth between you and the seller, typically with real estate agents advising you both.

The more intentional you are about your offer, the better your chances of making a successful bid. Follow these 10 steps, and you’ll be well prepared — that’s a true story. (“The Godfather” again. We couldn’t resist.)

#1 Know Your Limits

Your agent will help you craft a winning offer. You can trust your agent’s advice on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The more collaborative you are with your agent, the more quickly you’ll be able to move.

But ultimately, it’s you who decides what the offer will be — and you who knows what your financial and lifestyle limits are. Buying a home means mixing strong emotions with business savvy, so now is also a good time to reflect on your “musts.”

Have a top limit to your offer price because you’re also saving for retirement and love beach vacations? Stick to it. 

Want a vegetable garden or to paint your home’s exterior purple? Make sure your homeowners association rules permit it. 

Besides reading HOA rules, find out how much the HOA has in reserves to cover common area repairs. You don’t want to be slapped unexpectedly with a special assessment. 

Want a dog-friendly community? Make sure there are no pet weight limits or preventing you from cohabitating with your (extra-large) 

#2 Learn to Speak "Contract"

Essentially, an offer is a contract. The documents and wording vary across the country.

In the spirit of due diligence, take time to review sample offer forms before you’ve found a house (LawDepot.com has purchase agreements for each state). If you’re high-maintenance, a real estate attorney can explain the documents to you so you’re familiar with their vocabulary when you’re ready to pull the trigger on an offer with your agent. Your agent will have offer forms for your state. 

#3 Set Your Price

Homes always have a listing price. Think of it as the seller’s opening bid in your negotiation to buy a home.

As the buyer, your offer will include an offer price. This is the first thing home sellers look at when they receive a bid.

Your agent will help you determine whether the seller’s listing price is fair by running comps (or comparables), a process that involves comparing the house you’re bidding on to similar properties that recently sold in the neighborhood.

Several factors can also affect your bargaining position and offer price. For example, if the home has been sitting on the market for a while, or you’re in a buyer’s market where supply exceeds demand, the seller may be willing to accept an offer that’s below the list price. Or if the seller has already received another offer on the home, that may impact the price you’re willing to offer. Your agent will help you understand the context here.

#4 Figure Out Your Down Payment

To get a mortgage, you have to make a down payment on your loan. For conventional loans (as opposed to government loans), making a 20% down payment enables borrowers to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), a monthly premium that protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan.

But 20% isn’t always feasible — or even necessary. In fact, the median down payment was 10% in 2017, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Your lender will help you determine what the best down payment amount is for your finances. Depending on the type of loan you get, you may even be able to put down as little as 0% on your mortgage.

You might qualify for one of the more than 2,400 down payment assistance programs nationwide. Many of them make funds available to households earning as much as 175% of area median income. In other words, middle-income households. And the savings can be substantial: Home buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766 over the life of their loan, according to real estate resource RealtyTrac. Find out more about down payment assistance programs in your state.

You can use an online mortgage calculator to see how different down payments would affect your mortgage premiums and how much you’ll pay in interest.

#5 Show the Seller You’re Serious: Make a Deposit

An EMD — short for earnest money deposit — is the sum of money you put down as evidence to the seller that you’re serious (read: earnest) about buying the house. If the seller accepts your offer, the earnest money will go toward your down payment at closing. However, if you try to back out of the deal, you might have to forfeit the cash to the seller.

A standard EMD is 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home (so, that would be $2,000 to $6,000 on a $200,000 loan). But depending on how hot the market is where you live, you may want to put down more earnest money to compete with other offers. 

In most cases, the title company is responsible for holding the earnest money in an escrow account. In the event the deal falls through, the title company will disperse the funds appropriately based on the terms of the sales contract. Title companies also check for defects or liens on a seller’s title to make sure it can be transferred cleanly to you.

#6 Review the Contingency Plans

Most real estate offers include contingencies — provisions that must be met before the transaction can go through, or the buyer is entitled to walk away from the deal with their EMD.

For example, if an offer says, “This contract is contingent upon a home inspection,” the buyer has a set number of days after the offer is accepted to do an inspection of the property with a licensed or certified home inspector.

If something is wrong with the house, the buyer can request the seller to make repairs. But most repairs are negotiable; the seller may agree to some, but say no to others. Or the seller can offer a price reduction, or a credit at closing, based on the cost of the repairs. This is where your real estate agent can offer real value and counsel on what you should ask the seller to fix.

Just remember to keep your eye on the big picture. If you and the seller are bickering over a $500 repair to the hardwood floors, keep in mind that’s a drop in the bucket in relation to the size of the bid.

In addition to the aforementioned home inspection contingency, other common contingencies include:

A financing contingency, which gives home buyers a specified amount of time to get a loan that will cover the mortgage.

An appraisal contingency, where a third-party appraiser hired by the lender evaluates the fair-market value of the home to ensure the home is worth enough money to serve as collateral for the value of the mortgage.

A clear title contingency, where the buyer’s title company verifies that the seller is the sole owner of the property and can legally convey ownership to the buyer.

A home sale contingency, where the transaction is dependent on the sale of the buyer’s current home.

Although contingencies can offer protection to buyers, they can also make offers less appealing to the seller because they give buyers legal ways to back out of the sale without any financial repercussions. So, if you’re going up against multiple offers, making an offer with fewer contingencies can potentially give you an edge over the competition.

In other words: A chill offer is an attractive offer. But keep in mind you have to be comfortable with the risks that come with this strategy. If you don’t have a financing contingency, for example, and you can’t get a mortgage, you’d likely lose your earnest money deposit since you’re on the hook. (An outcome that’s decidedly un-chill for you.)

#7 Read the Fine Print About the Property

The sales contract states key information about the property, such as the address, tax ID, and the types of utilities: public water or private well, gas or electric heating, and so on. It also includes a section that specifies what personal property and fixtures the seller agrees to leave behind, like appliances, lighting fixtures, and window shades. The seller provides prospective buyers with a list of these items before they submit an offer. This can be another area of negotiation.

Carefully reviewing the property description also helps you know, for example, if the seller plans to take that unattached kitchen island with them when they move. (Stranger things have happened.)

#8 Make a Date to Settle

The sales contract you submit to the seller must include a proposed settlement date, which confirms when the transaction will be finalized. The clock starts as soon as the purchase agreement is signed. If you don’t close on time, the party that’s responsible for the delay may have to pay the other party compensation in the form of “penalty interest” at a predetermined rate.

A 30- to 60-day settlement period is common because it gives the typical home buyer time to complete a title search and obtain mortgage approval, but settlement periods can vary. Some sellers, for example, prefer a longer period so they have more time to move or look for their next house. Being flexible, with respect to the closing date, could give you more negotiating power in another area of the deal.

One thing that’s the same no matter where you live is that you’ll have a three-day period prior to settlement to review the Closing Disclosure, or CD — a five-page form that states your final loan terms and closing costs.

Once the sales contract is signed, the parties can change the settlement date if they both sign an addendum specifying the new day.

#9 Write a Fan Letter to the Seller

Want to make a truly compelling offer? Pull on the seller’s heartstrings by attaching a personal letter to the bid documents. Tell a compelling story about your family and your connection to the area. Get deep about your roots.

Also, sincere flattery can go a long way. Compliment the seller on how their kitchen renovation looks Apartment Therapy–worthy, for instance, or how the succulents in their landscaping remind you of a resort in Palm Springs.

Your agent can help you gather background on the sellers (e.g., are they crazy about their labradoodle, like you are about yours? Did they run a small business from the home, like you dream of doing?). And you should — of course — refer to information you gleaned during the open house or private showing. Use this intel to write a message that really speaks to the seller, and it may very well seal the deal.

#10 Brace Yourself for a Counteroffer

If you’re making a lowball bid or going up against multiple offers, the seller may decide to make you a counteroffer — a purchase agreement with new terms, such as a higher sales price or fewer contingencies.

At that point, it’s up to you to accept the new contract, make your own counteroffer to the sellers, or walk away.

Don’t panic: The next part of our guide walks you through the counteroffer process, and it offers strategies to give you more negotiating power.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/how-to-buy-step-by-step/tips-for-making-an-offer-on-a-house/?site_ref=mosaic

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