Archives for 2012

Boost Your Home’s Value: 4 Projects with the Greatest “Bang for Your Buck”

No matter if the housing market is up or down, you always want to ensure home remodeling projects are wise investments.  According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report 2011-2012, there are several home improvement projects that will provide significant enjoyment to you now and could recoup a majority of your dollars whenever you decide to sell.

Beautiful bathrooms:  According to the report, a mid-range bathroom remodel ($16,000) can recoup up to 62% of the investment when it is time to sell…and in the meantime, add significant enjoyment with a new, relaxing retreat.  To start determine which updates matter most and how much assistance you will need for each.

Complex projects, such as structural, electrical or plumbing changes or installing countertops or flooring, may be best left to the professionals.  However, there are many updates you can tackle yourself.  Painting is an easy and ideal do-it-yourself task that can make a large impact with minimal cost.  Similarly, installing new faucets, accessories and showerheads can be simple, even for a novice. 

Classy kitchen:  Once you have updated your bathrooms, the kitchen is a rewarding home renovation that when done moderately can recoup up to 72% of your investment.  Based on your budget, you will need to determine whether to update with a lower-cost laminate or a higher-priced option, such as granite or marble, that can offer an upscale look, added durability and functionality.

Lighting, while functional, also adds a significant style element to a kitchen.  Replacing fluorescent fixtures with recessed cans or pendants will add ambiance and luxury to your room.  Update your old appliances.  Add a splash of paint to the walls and trim for a polished look.  Finish off the counter area with a new high-end kitchen faucet.

Envious entry:  It is the first thing your guests and future home buyers see when they approach your home, so if your front door is not appealing or does not have significant features, it is time for an upgrade.  A new entry door adds instant curb appeal for a minimal price and can recoup up to 60% of your investment.

When choosing a new door, fiberglass options are an ideal choice.  The material resists denting and scratching, is easy to maintain and can make your home more energy efficient.

Wonderful windows:  Similar to the front door, replacing your existing windows with new vinyl windows will give your whole home a new look and feel, both inside and out, and payback of up to 68% of your investment.  As a larger-scale project, this is likely a project left for the professionals.

Look to your local window distributor to refer you to a reputable contractor to ensure your new windows are installed properly.  When it comes to selecting windows, vinyl is an all-around excellent choice.  Unlike wood, vinyl windows resist rotting and do not require repainting.  Unlike aluminum, vinyl windows will never pit or flake.  Plus, you can enjoy a pay off immediately with increased comfort and lower utility bills, while potentially adding significant resale value to your home in the future.

 

Make cost-effective home improvements

Imagine walking into an important job interview looking like you just dragged yourself out of bed. You’d be unlikely to make a good impression and diminish your chance of securing the job.

The same goes for selling a home. First impressions are lasting. Some buyers won’t even look at the inside of a listing that doesn’t have good curb appeal.

Today’s buyers are picky. There is no sense of urgency in the market, so buyers are holding out for the best home they can find that will work for them for years to come. In some areas, there are a lot of homes for sale. It’s important to make sure that buyers will be attracted to your home before they even walk through the front door.

Fortunately, exterior improvements needn’t be expensive. The recent Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report 2010-2011 found that the improvements that yielded the highest return on the investment when sold were a new steel front door and a new garage door.

The average cost nationally for a new front door was $1,218; the return was 102 percent. The average cost for a new garage door was $1,191; the return was 83.9 percent. The top nine of 10 most cost-effective improvements nationally were for exterior projects. Curb appeal is as important as ever, and may be more so in this market.

The Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report is a collaborative report done annually by Remodeling Magazine and the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. It compares construction costs with resale values, which are based on estimates from more than 3,000 REALTORS® and appraisers.

Sprucing up the front yard for sale needn’t be costly. Clean out weeds and dead plants. Add flowering plants for color and mulch to tidy up areas that aren’t heavily planted. Replace a lawn that has seen better days with less lawn and a border bed of flowering shrubs.

Do in-ground planting well in advance, if possible, so that plants have a chance to get established before your home goes on the market. If you have no choice and must plant at last minute, be sure to remove the ID tags from the nursery.

A deteriorated fence should be removed, repaired or replaced. Any peeling paint on the front walk and steps and house exterior and trim should be refreshed. The side of the house that gets the most exposure needs the most maintenance. If you’ve let it go, you’ll be docked dollars by the buyers unless you repaint where needed before you sell.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: The amount returned on home improvement investments varies from one location to the next. It’s important to consult with your local real estate agent before you embark on an upgrade to make sure that you don’t overpay on an improvement that won’t generate the desired result. Most homeowners assume they’ll get their money back and more when they sell. In fact, most upgrade investments often don’t return 100 percent of the amount invested, particularly in a down market.

A minor mid-range kitchen remodel returns 72.8 percent nationally, according to the 2010-11 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Index. In the Pacific region of the U.S., you’re likely to recoup 84.1 percent.

However, a major upscale kitchen remodel pays back only 59.7 percent nationally and 66 percent in the Pacific region. It makes sense to take on a major remodel project only if you’re staying in your home and can enjoy the use of the improvements before selling. A deck addition ranked high on the list of popular exterior improvements. Although, nationally the cost recouped is only 72.8 percent, it may be an essential enhancement if your home has no outdoor living space and all the homes for sale in your neighborhood do.

THE CLOSING: Supply and demand in your local area will also impact how much you’ll recoup from your fix-up investments.

Real Estate Information for Sellers

Negotiation is back in style. It’s not uncommon for buyers and sellers to have many rounds of counteroffering back and forth before they arrive at a contract that is completely agreeable to all involved. When this is accomplished, the contract is ratified.

However, there is another important element involved in ratifying a contract. Until a residential purchase contract is completely signed, and the final signed documents are delivered back to the other party or that party’s agent, the listing is not sold.

Let’s say you decide to offer the sellers less than their asking price. They don’t accept your offer, but issue a counteroffer. Before you respond to the seller’s counteroffer, another buyer makes an offer. If you haven’t signed the sellers’ final counteroffer and delivered it back to them, they can withdraw their counter and sell the house to someone else.

Or they could decide to withdraw the counteroffer to you and issue a new one. This time it could be a multiple counteroffer if the sellers also decide to counter the other buyer’s offer. You end up in a multiple-offer competition, which often means paying more or not getting the house at all.

You can’t rely on verbal negotiations when you’re buying or selling real estate. To be binding on the parties involved, real estate contracts and the addenda to them must be written.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Timing is critical. If the seller issues you a counteroffer you can live with and you want the house, sign the document as soon as possible, even if the seller gives you several days to think about it. During that time, another buyer could make an offer and your counteroffer could be withdrawn.

After you sign the counteroffer, make sure that your agent delivers it to the sellers or their agent immediately. Whoever receives the document should sign to acknowledge receipt of the document so that there’s no question that the contract is ratified.

Then if another buyer wants to make an offer, you won’t have to compete or risk losing the house altogether. Once you have a ratified contract in place, the sellers can negotiate with other buyers, but only for backup position subject to the collapse of your contract.

Don’t let yourself be lulled into thinking that because the housing market is generally slow there’s no chance you’ll end up in competition. The best listings — ones in good condition and priced right for the market — can sell quickly, particularly in areas where the inventory is low.

Many buyers have busy work or travel schedules. Often you find the right house to buy at the least opportune time in terms of what else might be going on in your life. Make sure that your home purchase contract states that faxed signatures are binding. This could save you hours of driving in traffic to sign a critical document in time.

Sometimes faxes aren’t the answer. If you’ll be available only by phone or e-mail, consider giving power of attorney — one specific to buying a house in a certain area — to someone whom you trust completely. This person should not be your real estate agent. It should be someone who will be available on short notice.

Electronic signatures are becoming more popular. But, they haven’t become standard in the home-sale business. If a seller who has had no experience with electronic signatures is considering a couple of offers — one with electronic signatures and one that was signed in person — he would probably feel more comfortable accepting the latter.

THE CLOSING: That is, unless the price on the electronically signed offer is a lot higher!

Six Paths to Success for Buyers in Tight Markets

In low-inventory markets, some buyers are having a hard time finding a home to buy. There are steps you can take to improve your odds of finding a home at a time when interest rates are at record lows and affordability is high.

One approach is to broaden your search. You should be clear about what it is you want to buy. But, homebuying involves making compromises. Just make sure you don’t give in on the essentials. You need a home that will last you for the long term. Avoid listings with major defects that will be expensive or impossible to fix.

The sorts of features you should be willing to give up, if necessary, are house style, or a large yard, which can be a maintenance drain. If you’re having no luck buying in your first-choice neighborhood, check out the adjacent areas. These could be the next turn-around neighborhoods when the overall housing market improves.

You could also do an about-face and consider condos rather than single-family homes. This might have the advantage of shortening your commute to work.

Ask your agent to cull the inventory of expired, withdrawn, and canceled listings that didn’t sell in the last year or two. These may not have sold because they were priced too high. If the sellers are still interested in selling, and aren’t locked into a lease, you might be able to work out a mutually acceptable price.

Be open to making improvements rather than holding out for a home that’s in move-in condition. Major fixers will probably be snapped up by investors to rehab and resell at a profit. This is a competitive market and not one for novice homebuyers.

However, if a listing isn’t receiving attention because of its dated décor, this could work if you intend to live in the property and not try to flip it for a profit. Be sure to work with an agent who has experience with cosmetic renovations, or consult with a decorator.

You’d be surprised what updated plumbing and light fixtures, new paint, floor finishes, appliances and improving the outdoor living can do to turn a dowdy listing into a comfortable abode. Just make sure you don’t tackle too much. You don’t want to over-improve for the neighborhood, and structural issues are taboo.

Don’t exhaust yourself by bidding on a house you can’t get. A home was recently listed for $985,000. Seventeen buyers made offers. It sold for $1.2 million. Underpriced listings are often bid up in a low-inventory market. Wait to make an offer until you find a listing that’s priced within your affordability range.

Don’t be afraid of accepting a backup offer if your bid isn’t accepted. The transaction fallout rate is pretty high in this market. Keep looking for another listing while you’re waiting to see if the first deal goes through.

All-cash offers tend to win in multiple-offer competitions. To be competitive, try to put yourself in a position to pay all cash. If you have savings you can tap and you can secure a private temporary loan from parents or borrow from a 401(k), you might be able to make a cash offer.

If your parents are providing some of the financing, ask them to write a letter that you can provide to the sellers that confirms your source of funds. This should be accompanied with documentation of the parents’ funds. You can refinance into a conventional mortgage later.

THE CLOSING: If the market where you’re looking is too hot, you can take the watch-and-wait approach. The market is always changing. When inventories increase, there will be more opportunities for buyers.

Lack of Homes for Sale Boosts Sales Prices

Tight housing inventory hurts September home sales

A continued shortage of available homes for sale lowered California home sales in September, while the median price reached the highest level in more than four years, C.A.R. reported this week.  Sales in September were down 5.2 percent compared with August and down 1.2 percent compared with September 2011.  The statewide median price of an existing single-family detached home inched up 0.3 percent from August’s $343,820 median price to $345,000 in September.  The September figure was up 19.5 from a revised $288,700 recorded in September 2011, marking the seventh consecutive month of both month-to-month and year-to-year price
increases.  September’s median price was the highest since August 2008, when the median price was $352,730.  The year-to-year increase was the largest since May 2010.
“For the state, at 3.7 months of supply, unsold inventory is still less than half what it would be in a normal market,” said C.A.R. Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young.  “As a result of the constrained supply at the moderate and lower end of the market, sales of homes priced under $200,000 dropped nearly 28 percent, and homes priced $200,000-$300,000 fell more than 15 percent in September.  By contrast, in the upper price range, where inventory isn’t as much of an issue, sales of homes priced $400,000-$500,000 rose more than 14 percent, and those priced above $500,000 increased more than 15 percent.”

Tax-Deferred Exchanges…Just the Basics

Exchange of Property: The transaction must be structured as an exchange, rather than as a sale and purchase.   A qualified intermediary should be involved with the sale of the relinquished property and acquisition of the replacement property.  The investor must sign an exchange agreement, assignment of the purchase contract, as well as other documentation before the relinquished property sells, and the intermediary must hold the proceeds until they are used the buy the replacement property.  As long as the appropriate documentation is signed, the intermediary does not need to take title to the property.

Like-Kind Requirement: The like-kind requirement is fairly broad for real property exchanges.  Basically any real property held for investment qualifies as like-kind.  Vacant land can be exhanged for an office building; a single family rental home can be exchanged for an office building and so on.

Same Taxpayer Rule: The same taxpayer selling the relinquished property must purchase the replacement.

Deferring All Tax: The property the investor is purchasing must be equal or greater in value, equity and debt, but the debt can be replaced with cash.

Timing and Identification: The investor has 45 days from the closing of the relinquished property to identify the replacement property.  The investor can only acquire property which has been properly identified during the 45-day identification period.  If an investor wants to identify more than one replacement, there are several options:  The Three Property Rule: The investor may identify up to three properties without regard to their fair market value; The 200% Rule: The investor may identify any number of properties so long as the total fair market value of all of the listed properties does not exceed 200% of the value of the relinquished property.

Once escrow closes on the relinquished property, the investor has the lesser of 180 days from the date of closing or the date on which the investor’s tax return for the year the relinquished property was sold is due, to close the purchase transaction and complete the exchange.  For exchanges closing in the final quarter of the year, the taxpayer will need to get an extension to file his tax return to get the full 180 days.

I have completed a tax-deferred exchange for my own investment properties.  We sold a four-unit apartment house and purchased a condominium.  The condo needed deck repairs and the seller was going to credit us with $10,000 at close of escrow.  I contacted the intermediary and was told that that $10,000 could be construed as “boot,” which is not allowed in an exchange.  We arranged for a price reduction in that amount, so we were able to complete the exchange.  One of my clients was asked to carry a 2nd trust deed on the relinquished property and was told by his accountant that the note could be considered boot as well.  It is critical to keep in mind that the investor cannot receive any cash (boot) from the exchange.

Be sure to check with your tax advisor before entering into an exchange of investment property and I highly recommend that you use an intermediary.