Making additional principal contributions on your mortgage will save interest, build equity and shorten the term. An extra $100 a month in the example shown will save thousands in interest and shorten the term of the mortgage as well.
Reducing your cost of housing is another way to improve the investment in your home. Becoming debt free is a worthy goal that is achieved with discipline and good decisions. Suggestions like this are part of my commitment to help people be better homeowners when they buy, sell and all the years in between.
Check out what would happen if you were to make additional payments on your mortgage.
Homeowners can raise the basis or cost in their home by money spent on capital improvements. The benefit is that it will lower their gain and may save them taxes when they sell their home.
Improvements must add value to your home, prolong its useful life or adapt it to new uses. Repairs are routine in nature to maintain the value and keep the property in an ordinary, operating condition.
Additions of decks, pools, fences and landscaping add value to a home as well as new floor covering, counter-tops and other updates. Replacing a roof, appliances or heating and cooling systems would be considered to extend the useful life of the home. Completing an unfinished basement or converting a garage to living space are common examples of adapting a portion of the home to a new use.
Other items that can raise the basis in your home are special assessments for local improvements like sidewalks or curbs and money spent to restore damage from casualty losses not covered by insurance.
Here’s a simple idea that could save you money years from now.
Every time you spend money on your home other than the house payment and the utilities, put the receipt or canceled check in an envelope labeled “Home Improvements.” Regardless of whether you know if the money would be classified as maintenance or improvements, the receipt or cancelled check goes in the envelope.
Years from now, when you’ve sold your home and you need to report the gain on the property, you or your accountant can go through the envelope and determine which of the expenditures will be adjustments to your basis.
Some people disregard this idea because of the generous exclusion allowed on principal residences. At the unknown point in the future when you sell your home, circumstances may have changed and the proof of these expenditures will be valuable. The tax laws could lower the exclusion amount or eliminate it altogether. Your marital status may change because of death or divorce. The market value of your home may skyrocket.
Since the future is unknown, it is better to keep track of the improvements as they are made and how much is spent on them. Download an Improvement Register and examples or read more in Publication 523 on Increases to Basis.
These precautions should be taken before the photos or virtual tours are made. Having these items in plain sight in the pictures posted on the Internet can unwillingly provide prospective criminals with a menu of what is available.
Agents cannot protect a seller’s valuables other than to inform the owner of potential threats to their security. In most cases, the seller’s agent will not be present at home showings and even if they were, it is not always practical nor desirable to follow the buyers and their agent through the home.
The problem is that it is expensive and a homeowner’s goal should be to eliminate it as soon as possible to lower their monthly payment and avoid putting good money down the drain.
FHA loans made after 6/1/13 that have 90% or higher loan-to-value at time of purchase have mortgage insurance premium for the life of the loan. FHA loans made prior to 6/1/13, can have the MIP removed after five years and if the unpaid balance is 78% or less than the original loan-to-value.
VA loans do not require mortgage insurance.
Conventional loans, in most cases, with higher than 80% loan-to-value require mortgage insurance. The cost of that insurance varies but with a $250,000 mortgage, it could easily be between $100 and $200 a month.
Your monthly mortgage statement should itemize what your monthly fee is for the mortgage insurance. Unlike interest that is deductible, most homeowners are not able to deduct mortgage insurance premiums.
If you plan to remain in the home or to stay there for a considerable number of years, the solution may be to refinance the home. If the home has increased since it was purchased, the loan-to-value at its new appraised value may not require PMI. You might even be fortunate enough to obtain a lower rate than you currently have.
The challenge is how often it should be changed to keep the system working efficiently and extend the equipment life. Too often and you’re wasting money and not often enough and your increasing the operating and maintenance costs.
Fiberglass panel filters are inexpensive and easy to find but they’re not very efficient and they allow most dust to pass through. They were popular years ago but there are much better products available currently.
Pleated air filters are available in MERV ratings from 5 to 12. As these filters collect dirt and other particles, they become less efficient to the point of impacting air flow. Allergy sufferers can benefit from this type of filter. These should be changed every two to three months based on local conditions.
HEPA filters stand for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. They are very efficient and more expensive than previously described filters. Since they are very efficient, they require changing more frequently; possibly, every month.
Electrostatic air filters are permanent and washable. They generally cost more initially but the savings will be based on how long they last. This type does not add to landfill issues or produce ozone.
Improperly maintained filters will lower the quality of the air in the home, have a negative impact on air flow, cause it to use more electricity and eventually require maintenance to the systems.
In an attempt to easily compare filters, a rating system was created called MERV, an acronym for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. The rating from 1 to 16 indicates the efficiency of a filter based on standards set by ASHRAE. Higher ratings indicate a greater percentage of particles are being captured in the filter.
To create a system to remind you when to change your filters, set a reminder on your electronic calendar to recur for whatever frequency you determine is best for you. Be sure to keep a supply of filters on hand to be ready to change them out when the time comes.
With all of the encouragement from celebrity spokespersons like Fred Thompson, Robert Wagner and Henry Winkler, there is a growing awareness of reverse mortgages. The fact is that our population is getting older and more than 25 million homeowners meet the age requirement.
There are no payments on a reverse mortgage but the homeowner is still responsible for property taxes, insurance, maintenance and other home costs.
When the borrower dies, moves or fails to fulfill the terms of the loan, the lender is paid from the sale of the home. The borrower or their estate is not responsible for more than the proceeds of the sale. However, if the proceeds are greater than the amount owed to the lender, the remainder goes to the homeowner or their heirs.
Unlike normal mortgage requirements, the borrower’s income and credit are not used to determine the amount of the loan. The homeowner must occupy the home as their principal residence and it must be free and clear of encumbrances or have substantial equity.
Reverse mortgages are an opportunity to generate income or funds for capital expenditures but they can pose risks to homeowners. HUD, the largest insurer of reverse mortgages, is concerned about misleading or deceptive program descriptions encouraging borrowers to obtain HUD reverse mortgages also known as the HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage). As of June 18, 2014, FHA will only insure fixed rate reverse mortgages where the homeowner is limited to a single, full draw made at closing.
A reverse mortgage, like any financial decision involving a home, is an important decision that deserves careful consideration, due diligence and expert advice.
For more information, check out The National Association of REALTORS® Field Guide to Reverse Mortgages, FAQs about HUD’s Reverse Mortgages and Reverse Mortgages – Alternative Home Equity Funding by Real Estate Center at Texas A & M.
In an attempt to compare homes, one of the common denominators has been price per square foot. It seems like a fairly, straight forward method but there are differences in the way homes are measured.
The first assumption that has to be made is that the comparable homes are similar in size, location, condition and amenities. Obviously, a variance in any of these things affects the price per square foot which will not give you a fair comparison.
The second critical area is that the square footage is correct. The three most common sources for the square footage are from the builder or original plans, an appraisal or the tax assessor. The problem is that none of sources are infallible and errors can always be made.
Still another issue that causes confusion is what is included in measuring square footage. It is commonly accepted to measure the outside of the dwelling but then, do you include porches and patios? Do you give any value for the garage, storage or other areas that are not covered by air-conditioning?
Then, there’s the subject of basements. Many local areas don’t include anything below the grade in the square footage calculation but almost everyone agrees that the finish of the basement area could add significant value to the property.
Accurate square footage matters because it is used to value homes that both buyers and sellers base their decisions upon.
Let’s say that an appraiser measures a home with 2,800 square feet and values it at $275,000 making the price per square foot to be $98.21. If the assessor reports there are 2,650 square feet in the dwelling and the owner believes based on the builder, there is 2,975 square feet, you can see the challenge.
If the property sold for the $275,000, based on the assessor’s measurements, it sold for $103.77 per square foot and by the owner’s measurements, it sold for $92.44 per square foot. Depending on which price per square foot was used for a comparable, valuing another property with similar square footage could have a $30,000 difference.
The solution to the dilemma is to dig a little deeper into where the numbers come from and not to take the square footage at “face value”. It is important to recognize that there are differences in the way square footage is handled.
Let’s assume a buyer wants to purchase a $200,000 home and can get a 4.5% interest mortgage for 30 years.
A FHA loan would require a $7,000 down payment plus $3,377.50 in up-front MIP which can be rolled into the mortgage. The monthly mortgage insurance premium would be $221 per month for a total payment of $1,215.94.
The VA loan doesn’t require a down payment. There is a 2% VA funding fee that can be rolled into the mortgage which would make the principal and interest payment on $204,400 much less at $1,035.66.
The revised loan limits for 2014 are published by VA and can change each year especially based on high-cost areas. However, a lender can allow a home purchase in excess of these amounts with a 25% down payment on the amount above the limit.
If a purchaser wants to buy a $600,000 home in an area where the VA limit is $417,000, the lender could require a $45,750 down payment and make a $554,250 mortgage. In this example, the purchaser is able to get in for less than 10% down payment and no mortgage insurance.
Veterans with the available funds for a down payment should compare all loan products to consider which will provide the lowest cost of housing. A skilled real estate professional and a trusted mortgage advisor can be valuable resources.
To illustrate what the opportunity cost might be, let’s compare what the value of the down payment two years from now would be if it was invested in a certificate of deposit, the stock market or used to purchase a home today.
A 3.5% down payment on a $175,000 home is $6,125.00. If it was invested in a CD that would earn 2%, a person would have $6,372 in two years. The earnings would be taxed as ordinary income tax rates. It wouldn't earn much but it would be safe and secure.
The same amount would grow to $7,013 in the stock market if you picked the right stock or fund and it yielded 7%. The earnings would be taxed at the long term capital gains rate. The return could be greater but so is the risk involved.
If this person were to purchase a home today that appreciated 2% in value over the next two years, the equity in the home would grow to $18,769 due to value going up and the unpaid balance going down.
The question, we all must ask ourselves is “where should our money be invested?” Try Your Best Investment to see the difference it will make based on your price range, down payment and earning rate.
First-time buyers have a higher tendency to use a minimum down payment and are very concerned with affordable payments. It is understandable that the majority of these buyers select 30 year, fixed-rate mortgages.
Consider a $200,000 mortgage at 30 year and 15 year terms with recent mortgage rates at 4.2% and 3.31% respectively. The payment is $433.15 less on the 30 year term but the interest rate being charged is higher. The total interest paid by the borrower if each of the loans was retired would be almost three times more for the 30 year term.
Another interesting thing about the 15 years mortgage is that more of the payment is going to principal than interest from the very first payment. It would take over 13 years on the 30 year mortgage for the principal to exceed the interest allocation.
Some people might suggest getting a 30 year loan and making the payments as if they were on a 15 year loan. That would certainly accelerate amortization and save interest. The real challenge is the discipline to actually make the payments on a consistent basis when it is not required. Many experts cite that one of the benefits of homeownership is a forced savings that occurs due to the amortization that is not necessarily done by renters.
This would allow a married couple who each have an IRA to withdraw a lifetime maximum of $10,000 each, penalty-free for a home purchase.
In many cases, the money would be used for a down payment or closing costs. However, some buyers might consider this source to increase their down payment so they could qualify for a loan without mortgage insurance.
If the taxpayer qualifies for the penalty-free withdrawal, there may still be taxes due. Contributions to traditional IRAs are made with before-tax dollars and the tax is paid when the funds are withdrawn. Since Roth IRAs are made with after-tax dollars, there is no tax due when the funds are withdrawn.
Another interesting fact about this provision is that the taxpayer making the withdrawal can help a qualified relative which includes children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents.
Homebuyers who are considering using IRA funds for a home purchase should get expert advice from their tax professional concerning their individual situation.
On the other hand, capital improvements to a home will increase the basis and affect the gain when you sell which may save taxes.
Additions to a home or other improvements that have a useful life of more than one year may be considered an increase to basis or cost of the home. Other increases to basis may include special assessments for local improvements like sidewalks or streets and amounts spent after a casualty loss to restore damage that was not covered by insurance.
Unlike repairs, improvements add to the value of a home, prolong its useful life or adapt it to new uses.
You can read more about improvements and see examples beginning on the bottom of page 8 of IRS Publication 523. For a form to keep track of money you spend, print this Improvement Register.
The total house payment would be approximately $1,508 per month. However, once you consider the equity build-up due to normal amortization, a monthly appreciation estimated at 2% annually for this example, the tax savings and paying maintenance that a tenant wouldn’t be required to do, the net cost of housing is $772 a month. This is almost half of the full mortgage payment.
If this person was paying $1,750 a month for rent, it would cost him almost $978 more to rent than to own. In the first year alone, it would accumulate to over $11,000 which is more than the down payment required of $7,000.
Owning a home is the largest investment that most people make and the down payment of $7,000 to purchase this home would grow to $58,837 in equity by estimating a 2% appreciation and normal amortization.
To check out what your real housing costs might look like, go to Rent vs. Own or contact your real estate professional.
If a person only plans to be in the home a few years, the adjustable-rate can offer significant savings.
Not only is the interest rate on the adjustable-rate lower than the fixed in the initial period, amortization on a lower interest rate amortizes faster than a higher interest rate.
In the example shown below, a $200,000 mortgage for 30 years is compared using a 4.25% fixed-rate to a 3.25% 5/1 FHA adjustable rate. The first five years of the ARM generates a $113.47 a month savings which accumulates to $6,808.20. In addition, due to faster amortization on lower interest rate loans, the unpaid balance at the end of five years will be $3,001 lower on the ARM for a total savings of $9,801.
Assuming the adjustable-rate mortgage was to escalate the maximum allowed at each period, the breakeven would occur in 8 years and 6 months. If a person were to sell the home prior to this point, the ARM would provide a lower cost of housing for the homeowner.
For some people, the uncertainty of how the interest rate may change is not acceptable. On the other hand, for the risk tolerant individual who may be more confident in financial matters or who may know when they’ll be moving next, the ARM can be a smart choice.
To make projections using your individual numbers, see the Adjustable Rate Comparison.
Section 1031 exchange for rental and investment real estate is a tool that allows investors to move the gain from one property to another without immediate income tax consequences.
An instant benefit is to postpone the tax due which gives the investor a larger amount of proceeds to invest. In the example shown, the investor has 21% more proceeds to invest and grow over time than if he had paid the taxes due instead of exchanging.
A legitimate long-term goal might be to make qualified exchanges from one property to another until the investor dies. The heirs would then receive a stepped-up basis on the property based on the market value at the time of the decedent’s death and possibly avoiding taxes altogether.
There are specific requirements to be met in order for the exchange to qualify. For more information on exchanges, see IRS publication 544. In addition to enlisting the services of a real estate professional familiar with investment property, seek the help of Qualified Intermediary to facilitate the intricacies of the exchange. Your real estate agent can help you locate one.