Leveraging Your Home During Tax Season

The financial benefits of owning your own home are plentiful, including the resounding advantage of building equity over time and offering far greater long-term benefits over renting. However, at tax time, the financial benefits become even more apparent with homeowners given substantial tax breaks from the time you purchase it until the time you decide to sell.

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

Whether you are still in the process of filing your taxes or need one more reason to visit with a mortgage lender, you should be well aware of these housing tax breaks.

The following can be eligible for tax deductions:

  • Property taxes, state and local.
  • Mortgage interest on your home as well as if you own a second home, boat or RV – “as long as it has cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities,” according to Bankrate. For most homeowners, a large portion of their monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest, which is deductible, thus this is usually homeowner’s most lucrative tax break.
  • The interest borrowed for a home equity loan – up to $100,000.
  • Home improvements that were required for medical care.
  • According to Fox, millions of people every year claim a home office deduction, meaning they regularly and exclusively dedicate a portion of their home to meet with clients or conduct work. The deduction is $5 per-square-foot of space and is good up to 300 square feet.
  • Energy efficient home improvements, up to 30 percent of the cost, for new and existing homes. Rentals do not apply. Possible energy efficient upgrades that qualify for tax credits include installing geothermal heat pumps, small residential wind turbines, solar energy systems and fuel cells. Federal tax credits in regard to energy efficient improvements expire every year until Congress approves a new set of standards, so these same tax credits may not apply next year. Visit Energy Star’s website to learn more.
  • If you sold your home and made a sales gain. If you lived in a recently sold home for at least two of the last five years before the sale, you can avoid paying tax on the sales gain from the sale of the residence – up to $250,000 if you’re filing single and $500,000 if you’re filing jointly. If you don’t meet the resident requirements, you will owe tax on the profit unless you can prove that you were forced to sell before you could live in the property for two years due to “unforeseen circumstances” such as death, job loss, divorce or multiple births from a single pregnancy.

According to Turbo Tax, you cannot deduct the insurance on your home, appraisal fees or dues to a homeowners association.

We always advise you to speak with a professional tax consultant before submitting your taxes to ensure you’re legally and financially correct.

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Atlanta Real Estate Industry Remains Stagnant for February

The shortest month of the year saw a mix of positive and negative factors in the Atlanta residential real estate market following a month of incredible growth. The February Cal-Culator, Atlanta’s leading residential real estate index, will hold steady at 6.3 for another month due to a continued decline in mortgage delinquency rates and a long awaited increase in inventory offset by declining home sales and investment in the Atlanta market.

The February Cal-Culator

The February Cal-Culator

Let’s Start With the Bad

Investors’ Dollars in Atlanta & Home Sales: The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that home sales in metro Atlanta fell 37 percent from December 2014 to January 2015 and were also down 9.7 percent year over year. The decline was attributed to investors buying fewer homes in the area.

Substantial Decline in First-time Homebuyers: The National Association of Realtors also released data that nationwide, existing-home sales fell 4.9 percent ­to the lowest rate in nine months. First-time homebuyers, a vital demographic in the housing industry, declined to 28 percent, the lowest rate since June 2014. According to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, “January housing data can be volatile because of seasonal influences.”

Now for the Good News

Inventory: According to the latest data from the Atlanta Board of Realtors’ latest Market Brief, Atlanta housing inventory increased 13.6 percent year-over-year and by a staggering 54 percent from the previous month. Last year’s local real estate industry was tainted by the Atlanta housing crunch, which seems to be easing thus far in 2015.

Mortgages: For the 12th straight quarter, mortgage delinquency rates (defined as the rate of borrowers who are 60 days or more late on their mortgages) declined, according to TransUnion’s latest mortgage report. The vice president of research and consulting at TransUnion noted that the mortgage delinquency rate “continues to be well controlled as it slowly recedes to pre-recession levels.”

It’s no surprise that the short month combined with multiple threats of snow around Georgia didn’t propel the real estate market as far as hoped. However, housing experts are still extremely optimistic about the remainder of 2015 and are not overly concerned with this brief bout of sluggishness.

“Low interest rates, rising sale prices, economic expansion and balanced inventory support my expectation that the market will continue its strong and steady growth,” said Atlanta Board of Realtors President Ennis Antoine. “I believe the dynamic economic recovery we are seeing is going to have a major impact on the 2015 Atlanta housing market.”

The next Cal-Culator will be released March 7. Stay tuned to see if next month will reflect a positive come back after a month of stagnation.

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How To Revive Your Credit

This week, we are reviving one of our most popular columns

In the last column, we discussed multiple ways that a home sale can crumble, including problems that arise from a consumer’s credit during the loan approval process. Since the credit crisis, having poor credit is one of the most common ways to kill a deal. With poor credit, a potential homebuyer can be denied a mortgage or receive an unaffordable interest rate. However, bad credit is mendable and not out of a consumer’s control.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

 

Review Your Credit Report and FICO

The first step in deciding if credit damage control is needed is obtaining all three credit reports, which can be found for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, as well as one’s FICO score on myFICO.com. A FICO score measures an actual credit score, which is indicative of financial risk. The FICO score is helpful for determining eligibility for a loan and what rates may be given on a loan. Credit reports are a credit history that can pinpoint where credit can be improved.

Pay Off Delinquencies

When mortgage lenders look for low risk and reliable borrowers, one of the first telling signs is the status of delinquent accounts, which include collections, late accounts and charge-offs.

“Getting rid of those debts on your report is definitely in your best interest,” said Director of Counseling Natalie Lohrenz at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County. “When a debt goes to a collection agency, the original creditor has given up, which is a danger sign to lenders.”

Reduce your debt-to-income ratio as much as possible by paying off these accounts on or before the due date and not accruing any further debt. Yahoo’s “How to Prepare for Your Mortgage Application” recommends having no higher than a 12 percent debt-to-income ratio to receive a good interest rate.

Don’t be Afraid to Dispute

Inaccurate charges or false information on credit reports are not uncommon and can severely damage a credit score unfairly. Fortunately, errors can be reported and corrected, although it can be a lengthy process. Review the reports, highlight the errors and make copies of the pages where errors are found. Smart Asset recommends mailing, rather than submitting online, the copies, evidence and explanation to each bureau that is reporting the inaccuracies.

Continue Conscious Spending

Don’t apply for any new credit or purchasing any large items right before or during a mortgage application process. Even after you have been approved for a loan, continue to hold off on heavy spending. Credit reports and scores can still be pulled before your closing date and you don’t want any changes that could cause a lender to change their mind about their approval or rates.

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The 2014 Buyer and Seller Trends Report

Mortgage Loan Originators have seen the best and the worst of the housing industry in a span of less than 10 years with a flood of heavily fluctuating trends.  MLO’s saw a surge of first time homebuyers followed by a major shift that caused a drastic decrease in first time homebuyers.  Other trends indicated consumers more frequently buying second homes followed by a historic number of underwater mortgages.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

To better understand the more recent trends, The National Association of Realtors releases an annual trend report that provides an inside look into buyer and seller demographics, home buying purchasing trends and consumers’ experience in the housing market. The 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers evaluated almost 7,000 recent home buyers from around the U.S. who recently purchased a home.

Close evaluation of these trends empowers MLO’s with a broader knowledge base and an opportunity to tweak their marketing and service techniques.

 

Who Is Buying Homes?

  • 33 percent of recent home buyers were buying their first home ­– 7 percent lower than the historical norm.
  • The typical first-time buyer was 31 years old, and the typical repeat buyer was 53.
  • The median income of buyers was $84,500 in 2013. First-time buyers had a median income of $68,300 while repeat buyers had a $95,000 median income.
  • 65 percent of buyers in 2014 were married.

How Are People Searching For Homes?

  •  92 percent of buyers used the Internet in their home search process and 50 percent used a mobile website or application.
  • Realtors were seen as a source of useful information by 98 percent of buyers who used a Realtor.
  • The average buyer searched for 10 weeks, two weeks shorter than the 2013 report, and viewed 10 homes before choosing their home.
  • More than half of buyers cited finding the right home was their biggest obstacle in the buying process.
  • Nine out of 10 buyers were at least “somewhat satisfied” with the entire process.

How Are People Paying For Their Home And What Do They Think About the Process?

  • Almost nine out of 10 buyers financed their recent home purchase and, on average financed 90 percent of the home purchase.
  • First-time home buyers were 11 percent more likely to finance their homes than repeat buyers.
  • 26 percent of buyers reported the mortgage application and approval process was “somewhat more difficult” than expected and 18 percent said it was “much more difficult.”
  • 12 percent of buyers cited saving for the down payment as the most difficult process in the home buyer process.

For the full report, click here. To view a NAR webinar that delves even deeper into the report, click here. We hope that you’re able to leverage this extensive research to make 2015 the best year yet for your career.

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Atlanta Residential Real Estate: Poised for Massive Recovery

The first Atlanta residential real estate index of 2015 positions this year to be one of the most memorable years for the Atlanta housing industry in recent history. Strong employment, a growing economy, new government legislation, and an increase in new and existing home sales contributed to the Cal-Culator’s 0.3 increase to a 6.3 in January.

January Cal-Culator The U.S. Economy

When employment and the economy are on the rise, housing almost always follows suit.  The U.S. experienced nearly 4 percent economic growth in the latter half of 2014 with employment gains of over 250,000 per month, according to National Mortgage Professional Magazine. For the first time in eight years, Georgia saw job growth during the month of December. It appears that Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, was accurate when she predicted 2015 would be “the year of normalcy” with the economy and labor force returning to normal for the first time since the Great Recession.

Home Sales

The latest data from the National Association of Home Builders revealed that sales of new, single-family homes rose a staggering 11.6 percent in December nationwide and 17.7 percent in the South. NAHB experts have noticed more serious buyers in the market and are expecting the trend to continue into the New Year.

“After a slow start to 2014 precipitated by bad weather conditions, new home sales have ramped up in the second half of the year,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “We can expect this momentum to continue into 2015 with the release of pent-up demand, particularly as existing home owners are trading up.”

Existing-home sales also bounced back in December by rising 2.4 percent after a dip in November, according to the National Association of Realtors. NAR also agreed that 2014 got off to a slow start in the housing industry, but 2015 is primed for massive recovery.

“Home sales improved over the summer once inventory increased, prices moderated and economic growth accelerated,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Sales were measurably better in the second half – up 8 percent compared to the first six months of the year.”

FHA premiums

Another factor that is expected to affect the housing industry well into 2015 is decreased FHA insurance premiums that will lower annual insurance premiums and incentivize families to purchase homes. In January, President Obama announced that the Federal Housing Authority would reduce insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent.

According to President Obama, this change could save millions of families “as much as $900 a year, which obviously makes a big difference if their payment is $900 a month. It could be a full month’s payment that they’re saving, and that could make all the difference for a family that is owning its first home.”

The next Cal-Culator will be released March 10. Stay tuned for the latest updates on   the housing industry, the U.S. economy, and whether we’ll continue headed toward the first “year of normalcy.”

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Three Reasons to Call Your Lender Now

During a typical winter season, the housing industry hibernates as hopeful homebuyers and sellers hunker down until springtime thaws the cold to make real estate moves. However, this year appears to be far from the norm. The New Year has barely begun and already the stars are aligning for those ready to stick their heads out early – a rarity in January.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

“Conditions are very favorable for first-time homebuyers to start getting back into the market,” said global ratings agency Fitch Ratings Director Sean Nelson. “Mortgage rates are falling, Federal Housing Authority Insurance premiums are coming down, home prices are cooling and employment is steady.”

FHA insurance premiums

Earlier in January, President Obama announced that the FHA would reduce annual mortgage insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent.  According to President Obama, this change could save millions of families “as much as $900 a year, which obviously makes a big difference if their payment is $900 a month. It could be a full month’s payment that they’re saving, and that could make all the difference for a family that is owning its first home.”

Employment Levels

The end of last year saw one of the most telling economic factors report positive growth in nearly every pocket of the nation: the employment rate. Last year was the nation’s best year for job growth in 15 years, and economists predict that 2015 will be equally as strong, if not stronger. For once, Georgia wasn’t left out of the good news regarding employment. For the first time in eight years, Georgia saw job growth during the month of December.

Mortgage applications and rates

Expecting homebuyers are taking advantage of these changing tides, in addition to the continued low rates, and are filling out mortgage applications at levels not seen since June 2013. The low rates, hovering around 4 percent, are expected to continue into at least the first half of 2015, according to Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac’s vice president has gone as far to urge the country to take advantage of the current state of affairs.

“On balance there are a lot of positive opportunities in the U.S. economy at the start of the year, and the real question is whether or not households and businesses will be able to seize these opportunities and make the most of them,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist. “Until rates start to rise later in the year, housing markets should respond positively and we anticipate increases in home sales and continued improvement in construction activity.

With employment and mortgage applications on the rise, combined with lowered gas prices, interest rates and insurance premiums, 2015 is ripe to be one of the best years for the housing market and economy in recent memory.  Don’t sit on this dawn of a new recovery era. Call your trusted lender to make one of the best possible investments while the economic landscape is in your favor.

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Atlanta Housing Industry: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

After a year of significant progress in the housing industry with strides made in increased inventory, reduced foreclosures and rising home prices, the final month of 2014 didn’t provide many boosts for the Atlanta residential real estate market. The Cal-Culator, Atlanta’s residential real estate index, dropped 0.2 to a 6.0 due to declines in three dominant, telling factors: existing-home sales, housing starts and home prices.

The December Cal-Culator

The December Cal-Culator

Existing Home Sales

In October, existing home sales propelled the housing industry forward as sales hit their highest level of the year. Unfortunately, the momentum proved short-lived with the industry taking a step backward the following month. Existing home sales slid 6.1 percent in November, according to the latest data released by the National Association of Realtors.

“Fewer people bought homes last month despite interest rates being at their lowest levels of the year,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “The stock market swings in October may have impacted some consumers’ psyches and therefore led to fewer November closings. Furthermore, rising home values are causing more investors to retreat from the market.”

Housing Starts

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that privately-owned housing and single-family starts both declined from October to November. Privately-owned housing starts fell 1.6 percent from the previous month and 7 percent from the previous year, while single-family starts fell 5.4 percent from the previous month. Housing completions also fell 6.4 percent in November. The South posted a drastic 10 percent drop in privately-owned housing starts from the previous month and a 4.1 percent drop from the previous month.

Home Price Deceleration

The industry is showing improvements on a yearly basis when it comes to home prices, but the prices are not building on the previous month’s successes. Home price deceleration continues to cripple the nation, according to data released by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices on December 30. However, experts are optimistic entering into 2015.

“After a long period when home prices rose, but at a slower pace with each passing month, we are seeing hints that prices could end 2014 on a strong note and accelerate into 2015,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Two months ago, all 20 cities were experiencing weakening annual price increases. Last month, 18 experienced weakness. This time, 12 cities had weaker annual price growth, but eight saw the pace of price gains pick up.”

Despite the index’s drop from the previous month, the beginning of 2015 is still shining brighter than last year’s kickoff column. A year ago, the column rose 0.4 to stand at 5.5 ­– a significant 0.5 difference from this month’s index. Atlanta’s housing recovery seems to be falling into a “two steps forward, one step back routine.” In the lending industry, we have faith that steadily the Atlanta housing industry will hit prerecession levels in terms of housing activity.

To monitor Atlanta’s progress in the housing industry, please be sure check The Cal-Culator the second Tuesday of every month. The January Cal-Culator, to be released on February 10, will reveal how the housing industry fared in the first month of the New Year.

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Why “Location, Location, Location” Actually Matters

This week, we are reviving one of our most popular columns.

Though the saying’s origin is unknown, everyone is familiar with the phrase that three most important factors when searching for a new home are “location location location.” However, location goes beyond a great school system and grocery store convenience. A great location is also determined by commuting capabilities, a city’s economy and future resale value.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

The Basics

It doesn’t take a real estate expert to know that a safe neighborhood and a good school system are on the top of most every house hunter’s list. In major cities, public transportation is also vitally important to many residents. Being near a train or bus station will lure commuting workers.

In areas where many residents rely heavily on driving to work, such as Atlanta, being close to a freeway or highway exit adds value, but not so close where you hear the constant flow of traffic. Whether it is a home near a park, a house beside a subway station, or a great school system nearby, prioritize what is imperative in your home’s location. By determining which factors are the most important to you, you will greatly improve your quality of life in your new home.

Cities’ Economies Matter

If economics is fueling your home search (compared to a specific location-based search such as a job relocation or school system) then you’ll want to take into account a location’s housing market and economy as some cities are making quicker progress toward recovery than others.

In this case, it boils down to what you are looking for in a city’s real estate market. Would you rather live in a struggling area with high foreclosure rates meaning less expensive homes? Or would you prefer an area that is further on its way to recovery with more expensive homes on the market?

Resale value

Fox Business warns, “When you buy a home, you should always think like a future seller.” Even if a good school system, close proximity to public transportation or a financially stable area is unimportant to you, be conscious of the future resale value. Don’t give up the idea of your dream home, but be wary that you may have to add some value to the home later if it doesn’t appeal to many people.

“When it comes to buying any home, the location is key; where you choose to purchase affects everything from the properties you have to choose from to your potential to obtain a good return on your investment,” according to Business Insider.

While looking for a property, keep in mind that future resale value, transportation proximity and a city’s economics goes a long way in picking the best location (location, location).

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Atlanta Real Estate Celebrates Successful Year

With 2014 quickly coming to a close, a look back reveals we have a lot to celebrate.  The past year proved to be promising for the Atlanta real estate industry and the overall economy showing consistent traction toward recovery.  Since the beginning of 2014, the inventory crunch has eased, home prices have elevated, home sales increased, foreclosure levels continued to decline and rates remained historically low.

The November Cal-Culator

The November Cal-Culator

Despite an overall successful 2014, Atlanta’s real estate industry experienced a standard winter decline in the housing market with the Cal-Culator, Atlanta’s residential real estate index, dipping 0.1 to a 6.2.

Among the factors that contributed to the slight decline in the monthly index include a decline in pending home sales, decelerating home prices and a decline in developers’ sentiment.

Home Prices

The latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices reflected that though 2014 has been an overall good year for home prices compared to 2013, the last few months have demonstrated decelerating price growth. The National Index reported a month-over-month decrease in home prices for the first time since November 2013.

While the 20-City Composite, where Atlanta is featured, posted a 0.1 percent decline, Atlanta reported a deeper decrease of 0.3 percent in month-over month numbers. However, Atlanta posted a 4.5 percent increase in 1-year change, one of the highest growths in the Southeast.

Home Sales  

Recent home sales reports indicate improvement in the industry compared to 2013, however the reports also indicate more recent decline. Pending home sales, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, declined in October, according to the latest report by the National Association of Realtors. While pending home sales decreased 1.1 percent month-to-month, pending home sales rose 2.2 percent compared to October 2013. The NAR reported that tight credit and a lack of wage growth are contributing to the decline.

“Demand is holding steady but would be more robust if it weren’t for lagging wage growth and tight credit conditions that continue to hamper those individuals looking for relief from rising rents,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Developers’ Sentiment

The National Association of Home Builders’ Multifamily Production Index released its third quarter numbers in November. The index reached 54 – four points below the previous quarter’s reading. However, despite the four-point drop, the score reveals that more builders and developers reported an improvement in the housing industry over those who reported worsening of the industry.

Though the Atlanta residential real estate index experienced a slight decline in December, we have plenty of reasons to celebrate a successful 2014 and anticipate a promising year ahead.  Stay tuned – the first Cal-Culator of 2015 will be released January 13.

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‘Tis the Season to Search for a Home

This week are reviving one of our most popular columns.

Though you most likely don’t have visions of house hunting dancing in your head during the winter months, the holiday season is surprisingly a great time to buy a new home. “House shopping during the off-season can mean fewer competitors, fewer multiple offers scenarios and the lower likelihood of being outbid,”  “Five Unexpected Upsides to Off-Season House Hunting.”

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Less competition

“There’s no place like home for the holidays – and that’s doubly true if you’re looking to buy a home right now,” reported consumer expert Clark Howard.

In hot zip codes, such as Atlanta, the lack of housing inventory still affects cities, and bidding wars popped up as buyers outnumbered sellers this year. However, most buyers evaporate from now until mid-January. The decrease in competition increases your chance of “winning” your dream home. Less competition also means that sellers who are still trying to sell their home may lower their asking price as prices are often at a 12-month low during December.

“So if you are an interested buyer, this could be an opportunity for you in a market that feels like it might be stretching out of your price range,” according to Howard.

More individualized attention

Fewer buyers mean less work and more time per client for real estate industry employees such as Realtors and mortgage loan originators. Some lenders and Realtors even reduce fees in hopes of gaining more business during the off-season. Less consumer volume can also result in faster loan approval, which may enable you to move into your dream home before the New Year.

Money pits become clear

Though almost all homes on the market undergo inspections, the property inspection report often comes with a list of caveats. Inspectors can’t make a call on some things due to the season when the house is viewed, which is often in the warmer months. Off-season house hunters have the advantage of seeing the less-glamorous side of a home during the winter months. The wintery weather will reveal the true state of drainage systems, basements, leaks and the roof.

However, the disadvantage of viewing a home in the winter is that the same weather that will reveal the true nature of some home features could also hide exterior home features. If snow is on the ground, you may not be able to see any cracked or unsightly sidewalks or the roof. Make sure to extensively view pictures of how the home looks during the summer months as well.

This year’s home buying season not over yet

According to the Realtor.com’s Winter Home Buyer Report, this winter housing market is still going strong with rising home prices and an increase in mortgage applications.

“Instead of the usual seasonal slowdown, October data show the 2013 fall market moving at a fast pace,” said Realtors.com’s President Errol Samuelson.

Though conventional wisdom advises against buying a home between Thanksgiving feasts and New Year’s celebrations, today’s experts disagree.

“So heed these words: If you’re looking to buy, I don’t want you to sit out the holiday season,” said Howard.

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