5 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Save for a Down Payment

5 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Save for a Down Payment

Published: October 26, 2015

One of the biggest misconceptions of homebuying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy a home with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1.  Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2.  Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

Related: New Law Protects You from Surprise Closing Costs

3.  Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4.  Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back. Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5.  Take Advantage of Special Lender Payment Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

 

 

By: Erik Sherman © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

 

5 Things You Need to Ask Yourself Before Turning Down a Low-Ball Offer

5 Things You Need to Ask Yourself Before Turning Down a Low-Ball Offer

A low-ball offer on your home feels insulting, but before you say ‘no,’ ask yourself these questions.

It’s the place you’ve lived for years — maybe even decades. The pencil marks measuring each kid’s height are still behind the pantry door, and the sapling you planted in the front yard is now a towering tree.

You’ve invested a great deal in this house. So when the time comes to put it on the market, you expect potential buyers to recognize its true value. But sometimes, you get an offer that’s so far below your asking price it feels like someone pitched a baseball straight at your stomach.

Should you simply walk away from such a number? Or does it make sense to pause and weigh your options? Here are some points to consider before you decide:

1.  Is It Really Low-Ball, or Just Lower Than I Wanted?

Some agents define a low-ball offer as 25% or more below list. In areas where there’s a shortage of available homes, that figure may drop to 20%.

“What defines low-ball varies from market to market and even submarket to submarket, but certainly from price range to price range,” says Steve McLinden of Bankrate.com. In other words, it’s likely that an offer of $80,000 on a $100,000 home will be more quickly dismissed than a $1.6 million offer on a $2 million home, he says.

2.  Should I Immediately Reject a Low-Ball Bid?

Although your feelings may be hurt, giving in to the drama monster won’t get your house sold. “When the low-ball offer comes in it can be upsetting, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Bill Gassett of RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton, Mass. “The fact that someone wants to buy your home is a good thing and you should deal with every offer — unless it’s just completely ridiculous.”

What constitutes a “ridiculous” offer? Anything significantly less than 25% below your list price should probably trigger warning bells. However, it pays to rely on your agent’s expertise to help you decide on the right response.

Countering, rather than ignoring, a low offer is often the smartest strategy. A low-ball offer “shows buyers you’re willing to work with them,” says Eric Snyder of Douglas Elliman in Boca Raton, Fla. After all, he reasons, “it’s not about where buyers start, it’s where they end up.”

And you’ll never have a chance of getting to that final number if you allow your emotions to cloud your judgment.

3.  Is My Price Too High?

Sometimes when a seller receives one — or more — low-ball bids, it may be because the asking price for the home is out of step with the market.

Before you set a price, your agent will provide you with comps – for-sale listings of similar properties in the area —  along with a pricing recommendation. Your best bet is pricing that reflects the comps. If you decide to “test” a higher price, you might have to tweak your price to invite more reasonable offers, which is just going to delay the sale.

4.  What Do I Really Need?

There may be factors involved in selling your home that are more important to you than price. Perhaps you need to sell quickly because you’re buying another home. Maybe an all-cash deal would make your life a lot easier. There are a number of potential deal sweeteners that a potential buyer could provide that may make a low offer more appealing. These include:

  • A preferred closing date
  • A solid mortgage pre-approval letter from the buyer (not just a pre-qualification)
  • A larger down payment
  • Fewer inspection contingencies

5.  Will I Look Too Desperate?

Don’t worry about how your willingness to entertain a low-ball offer is perceived. What matters most is the result, says McLinden.

“Some sellers get so wrapped up in righteous indignation following an ‘insulting’ offer that they tell their agent to refuse all further communication from the offender,” he says. And while that may soothe your wounded ego, it won’t help sell your house.

 

 

By: Lisa Kahn:© Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

The Truth About How Sellers Choose Their Buyers

The Truth About How Sellers Choose Their Buyers

How you negotiate when buying a home isn’t just about the price. It’s about being nice.

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

So when you’ve finally found “The One,” it’s an amazing feeling. You can already see your family celebrating holidays by your dream home’s stately fireplace and savoring countless brunches in its adorable breakfast nook.

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

1.  Negotiate with a Smile

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Get Personal

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

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

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

3.  Figure Out the Seller’s Unique Motivation

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

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

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

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

4.  Write a Love Letter

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

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

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

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

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

5.  Work With a Pro

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

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

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

 

 

By: Lisa Kahn © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

 

6 Homeowner Tax Mistakes Accountants Say to Watch For

6 Homeowner Tax Mistakes Accountants Say to Watch For

Get every deduction you’re entitled to without the fear of making mistakes that’ll bring the tax man to your door.

Hooray — it’s tax time! OK, few people get quite that excited about filling out government forms, but there’s good reason to appreciate the annual ritual. Tax deductions are a serious perk for homeowners, and they can be a major boon to your family’s finances.

But unless you’re a CPA, it can be easy to miss these deductions, or worse: raise a red flag with the IRS because you got deduction happy. Here are the top six homeowner tax blunders accountants see the most.

1.  Missing the Mortgage Interest Deduction

Itemized deductions can be a great way to lower your tax bill. But homeowners, particularly newbies, may be used to claiming the standard deduction because they haven’t had enough of the expenditures that qualify them for itemized filing.

You can deduct the interest portion of your mortgage payments. That might mean your itemized deductions will now exceed the standard, saving you tax dollars.

The savings are at their maximum early on, when most of your mortgage payments go to interest, not principal. Over the years, the balance shifts, and for some it might seem that they lose the itemized advantage. But there’s a way to keep the savings maximized.

The trick is to use an alternating approach to filing, according to Chris Hardy, a certified financial planner with Paramount Investor Advisors in Suwanee, Ga. One year you maximize every deduction you can, including MID, and prepay whatever you can for the next year, such as property taxes and charitable contributions. The next year, you take the standard deduction. Overall, says Hardy, you may end up saving more money.

2.  Assuming Everything House-Related is Deductible

Deductions are great, but you can’t write everything off on your taxes. And to stay in the good graces of the IRS, you don’t want to over-deduct.

Talk to your accountant or tax preparer to be straight on allowable deductions, which, for a homeowner, generally means mortgage interest and real estate taxes. You may also deduct points charged on the mortgage in the year you purchased the home.

Related: How — and When — to Deduct Mortgage Points

“A lot of people will try to take homeowners association fees or condo association fees as deductions even though it’s not an allowable deduction,” Hardy says. “I see them try to deduct keeping up the yard as an expense.”

Although claiming unallowable deductions might not immediately flag you for an audit, according to Hardy, if you do get audited for something else, the IRS will look to see what else it can find. The result could then be back taxes, interest, and penalties. And the IRS will likely check as many back years as it legally can.

3.  Neglecting Your Home Office

Many people fail to take the home office deduction for fear of being audited, or because it’s just plain hard to calculate if you don’t use the newer, simplified method. (More on that math-saving gem later.) However you compute this deduction, it’s a great way to save some cash.

To qualify for the deduction, your office space must be used regularly and only for business. If you work for someone else, says Hardy, there has to be documentation — it could be an email from a supervisor — that your work at home is required as part of the job and is for the employer’s convenience. In addition, employees can’t take the deduction if they rent any part of their home to their employers and use the rented portion to perform work for the employer.

If your use is legitimate, you can deduct a proportionate amount of a number of expenses, including insurance, repairs, utilities, services, and depreciation, which can really add up. Or you can use the uber-simple method of multiplying the square footage of the office by $5 for your total deduction. Check IRS Publication 587 for details.

And, better yet, if the home office is your base of business, you may get additional deductions from your business income, such as mileage for driving to and from your clients’ locations because now it’s considered a business expense rather than commuting.

Related: 12 Tough Questions (and Answers) About Home Office Deductions

4.  Understanding Rental Income

Renting out a room or wing of your house on Airbnb can be a fun way to meet new people and make extra income. It can also have several important tax implications.

When renting out a room in your personal residence, says Greg Freyman, managing partner with Freyman CPA in New York City and Westwood, N.J., the amount of mortgage interest and real estate taxes you can claim as itemized deductions changes. You can only deduct MID and real estate taxes for the portion of the house that isn’t rented. So, if you have a 2,000-square-foot house and rent out a room of 100 square feet, you can deduct 95% of the mortgage interest and taxes on Schedule A.

However, because the rented space is now converted to investment property, you can also take deductions on your rental expenses. Some examples are the rental area’s portion of overall maintenance and utilities, again calculated by the percentage of overall square footage.

But (there’s always a but when it comes to taxes) you can only claim those rental expenses for the time period you rented the space, says Honolulu-based Crystal Stranger, president of 1st Tax Inc. and an enrolled agent who can represent taxpayers before the IRS. If you rented that 100-square-foot room mentioned above, which is 5% of the total space, for a total of six months, you’d take 5% of the maintenance and utilities, divide them by half, and then deduct that amount on Schedule E.

5.  Paying a Relative’s Mortgage

Good on you for helping someone in need by covering their mortgage payment, but be a smart philanthropist. No one will get any deductions for those payments if you directly pay the lender, Freyman says, unless you’re listed on the deed.

To increase the chances that someone snags the deduction, make a gift of the money to your parent or other beneficiary and let her be the one to pay the bills — although you won’t get any tax benefit unless you can claim her as a dependent. Treating a relative who doesn’t live with you as a dependent means meeting certain requirements. For instance, you need to have a certain type of relationship with the person and the relative must pass a gross income test.

Also, remember that there’s a limit on the amount of money you can give someone in a year — $14,000 — without incurring a gift tax. If you exceed the annual total, you may have to pay the tax.

6.  Never Challenging Property Tax Bills

For many, local property tax is a big chunk of their paycheck, and sometimes that chunk is bigger than it needs to be. “Values go up and down over time,” says REALTOR® and Atlanta attorney Bruce Ailion. “The assessor reassesses areas of town in bulk from time to time. Often these bulk reassessments result in a valuation 10%, 20%, even 50% more than a home’s value.”

Reassessments happen at different times, depending on location, and local and state laws will govern what you must do. Typically, you have fewer than 30 days to challenge the assessment, and, in a large metropolitan area, the process could take as long as a year.

You’ll want to start by checking the assessment data — size of the lot, number of rooms, bathrooms, etc. — to be sure that the facts are correct. If not, the appeals process may be easy.

You can also check to see if the assessment seems reasonable. Work with your real estate pro to get market data, such as info on comparable properties — known as “comps.” Then look at local tax records to see if the value of your property seems overly high in comparison to like properties. You could even hire an independent appraiser, although that can run $350 to $600, undercutting the savings you might ultimately receive.

You then appeal the property tax bill first to the assessor’s office. If the result is unsatisfactory, you may be able to appeal to a local board or possibly to a court. The odds are good enough that appealing usually makes sense. “I’ve done about 150 appeals and never had an increase,” Ailion says. “The worst case is the value stays the same.”

 

 

By: Erik Sherman © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

A Great Way to Clean a Smelly Disposal

A Great Way to Clean a Smelly Disposal

Published: January 7, 2013

An inexpensive and easy way to clean a garbage disposal.

We’ve poured all kinds of things down our kitchen garbage disposal to make it clean and sweet-smelling — orange and grapefruit peels, dried-out lemons, baking soda and vinegar.

But we never thought of throwing salt down there — until we read this tip.

Here’s how it works:

  • Fit a stopper into the sink, and fill with hot water and a squirt of dish detergent.
  • Turn on the disposal and let the soapy water drain, pushing gunk down the drain with it.
  • Throw 3 or 4 ice cubes and a handful of large-grain salt, such as Kosher, down the drain and run the disposal.
  • Flush with water, and you’ve got a clean disposal. Grind up a few lemons if you want a fresh, citrus smell.

Voila! A fresh-smelling drain!

Do you know what one of the worst things is you can put down your disposal?

Leave a comment below if you have garbage disposal tips or questions.

 

By: By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

 

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