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Boost Your Refund with Home-Related Tax Breaks

March 12, 2012 4:18 am

Homeownership is not only a long-term investment for your family and your future, but an important annual tax benefit. The tax experts at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® advise homeowners not to overlook the many credits and deductions that can add thousands of dollars to their refund amounts.

Be sure to review the following tax breaks available covering home-related areas, such as:
  • Mortgage Interest: The amount of mortgage interest paid on a principal residence or second home is deductible and generally reported on Form 1098. Taxpayers can also deduct all the points paid to purchase the residence, even if some have been paid by the seller. If certain requirements are met, the points may be deducted in full in the year paid. Otherwise, they may be deducted over the life of the mortgage. Seller-paid points that taxpayers claim as an itemized deduction reduce the cost basis of the home.
  • Buying a Home: Most of the expenses incurred when buying a home are not deductible. However, there are certain closing costs that are added to the basis of your residence. Keeping track of the basis of your home is important because when selling, it is needed to calculate any gain or loss.
  • Property Taxes: Taxpayers may deduct real estate property taxes in the year paid. They may be reported on Form 1098, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage. Taxpayers may also be able to deduct some of the taxes paid during closing. The taxes must be the responsibility of, and paid by, the taxpayer.
  • Energy Credits: There are energy credits available for making energy efficient changes to a home. For 2011, the credit is limited to 10 percent of the cost of improvements, up to a lifetime total of $500. The credit will be further limited for each category of improvement.
  • Home Improvements: Home improvements are not generally deductible on a tax return. Instead, the cost of improvements is added to the basis of the home and helps keep any gain below the $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing jointly) exclusion amount when the house is sold.
For those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of a foreclosure or short sale on their home, there are tax breaks available as well. Foreclosures and short sales are treated as both a home sale and a canceled debt. When the house is a taxpayer's primary residence, and they have lived in and owned the home for two of the last five years, any gain up to $500,000 on the disposition is tax-exempt. In addition, the canceled debt (mortgage still owed) is excluded from taxable income, as long as it is less than $2 million and is for the taxpayer's principal residence.

Source: www.jacksonhewitt.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Know When You’re Done

March 9, 2012 4:12 am

If you’re like most people, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Worse yet, when we finally do get on a productivity roll, there always seems to be a distraction waiting in the wings to throw us off course. But the reality, says author Jason Womack, is that we could actually accomplish a lot more each day if we can learn to recognize and acknowledge when we’re done.

“One of the biggest time wasters we all face is spending too much time on those things that don’t require it,” says Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach, and author of the new book, Your “Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.” “When we do so, we lose the time we actually should be spending on more difficult or time-intensive tasks. But when you learn to recognize when you’re done with a task, you’ll have valuable minutes and maybe even hours added back into your day.”

Womack offers the following five tips for learning how to recognize when you’re done:
  • Stop majoring in the minors. Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then, we convince ourselves that we “just didn’t have enough time” to get to the harder stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you’re done and freeing up time during your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential.
  • Before you start your work day, think about what your high leverage activities are and what your low leverage activities are, says Womack. For the low leverage activities, force yourself to move through them as quickly as possible. With these tasks, often perfection isn’t necessary. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice.
  • Don’t overwrite emails. Much of your time each day gets eaten up by email. Make a conscious effort to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened, advises Womack.
  • Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls. Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you’ve allotted for them. Set an hour for a meeting and you’re sure to go the full hour. Pay close attention to how much of your meeting is actually spent focused on the issues at hand. Know the meeting’s objectives before you begin so that you can get to them right away.
  • Set your own deadlines and stick to them. It’s very easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or things others think you should do. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions.
  • Know when it’s time to ask for help. Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? Did you walk away from it for a while and then come back to it hoping you’d suddenly know what to do? Sometimes knowing when you’re done is knowing when you, specifically, can’t take a project any further. Wasting time on something you’re never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Tips for Refinishing Your Hardwood Floors

March 9, 2012 4:12 am

Gleaming hardwood floors have long been a valuable component of any home. They are susceptible to wear and tear, however, so maintaining and refinishing when necessary is a must. The process doesn’t have to be as daunting or costly as it seems, however. Let the following steps be your guide:

Step 1 - Determine if Your Floor Needs Refinishing
Refinishing hardwood floors is often a better choice than simply replacing the flooring, because it costs less and takes less time. In some cases though, a floor might be damaged beyond repair. Consult a professional to determine whether to opt for a hardwood floor refinishing technique or new flooring.

Step 2 - Determine if Some of the Floor Planks Need Replacing
Sometimes 90 percent of the floor might be in good shape and only a few planks are in need of repair. Be sure to replace those boards before beginning the refinishing process. Since most planks will be connected using a groove-tongue joint, it will be slightly difficult to get one out, but it's not impossible.

Step 3 - Filling the Gaps
It's considered good practice to fill in the gaps at the ends of the floor planks before sanding, but you shouldn't waste time with every little crack. They're unavoidable, as wood tends to expand and contract due to humidity. Unless the gap is big enough that you think it might create problems during the hardwood floor refinishing process, feel free to skip it and save some time and energy.

Step 4 - Getting the Right Equipment
Some of the equipment you'll need for refinishing your floor will need to be bought or rented: sand paper (different weights); a drum sander; a palm sander; an edge sander; claw hammer; a vacuum cleaner; a buffer; a scraper; a brush; safety goggles; a dust mask; protection gloves; and knee pads.

Step 5 - Preparation
Since it usually gets quite messy when you refinish hardwood floors, a little preparation goes a long way. Make sure you turn off all vents that might take dust and sand particles across the house and only use ventilation that connects the room to the outside. It's also a good idea to use some wet sheets across entrances to the room you're working on for the same reasons.

Step 6 - Sanding
Sanding is probably the most important part of the process and you need to put all focus into it if you want your floor to look great at the end.

Step 7 - Cleaning
Use a broom and the vacuum to pick up the dust from the floor; never use any moisture to clean the floor. You'll also have to clean the walls and ceiling.

Step 8 - Buffing

Make sure the floor is clean before you start buffing it. You'll want to choose a screen for the buffer at the rental or hardware store that's around 100 grit, then carefully sweep it across the entire floor.

Step 9 - Staining
Staining is one of the last steps you'll have to take, but it's also the step where many make mistakes. Take extra care and time for this part of the process.

Step 10 - Finishing

If you're sloppy with finishing, all your work thus far is for naught. Take your time with this final step to achieve the best results for your floor.

Source: building-protection-plus.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Consider the Emotional Side of Downsizing your Home

March 9, 2012 4:12 am

You may be confronted with the need to downsize your home for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’re suddenly an “empty-nester,” or maybe you need a smaller home due to a financial hardship. No matter what the reason, Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale offers the following advice as you prepare to downsize.

First focus on how you want to live. Use this as an opportunity to think about any lifestyle changes you’d like to make. Downsizing offers the perfect chance to exchange the costs of maintaining a large property for the luxury of having more leisure time. Make sure your new home helps you take advantage of this new chapter of your life.

Emotional ties to the family home is one of the main barriers to downsizing, but equally, deciding on where to move to, and what style of property will best suit your lifestyle, can be just as daunting a prospect, says Tisdale.

During the downsizing process you may be surprised at how attached you have become to your possessions and how difficult it might seem to part with them. A good tip is to start getting rid of your items a few months before your move, so take the time to donate or recycle items no longer needed. You can even take advantage of eBay to get rid of items you don’t really need. This will make your actual move much easier and your new home will be fresh and uncluttered.

Decorators recommend sketching floor plans for your new home to see where all your current furniture will fit. You shouldn’t wait until you move in to discover that there’s just no room for that armoire or extra stools, Tisdale advises.

Whether it’s by choice or out of necessity, downsizing offers many advantages. Make sure you’re prepared to fully capitalize on the possibilities of a smaller home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Code Violations Can Prolong Home-Buying or -Selling Process

March 8, 2012 3:52 pm

Going through the buying or selling process can be a stressful experience, however, bringing in a home inspector to thoroughly evaluate the home and check for any code violations should be at the top of the list, no matter what side of the transaction you’re on.

Not only is a quality home inspector well-versed in all local codes dealing with electrical, plumbing, building/structural, and more, they can also help sellers understand any code violations that may be present before they place their home on the market.

In many instances, code violations have a way of popping up on paperwork. When the city records a code violation, a fee is assigned to the property, but because the violations don’t appear as a lien on a title search, it can be difficult to ascertain whether a sanction has been assessed that will delay closing.

According to Code Violation Services Inc., violations can include the presence of garbage in the yard, maintenance issues, overgrown lawns, non-sanctioned improvements, safety issues or other dangerous items needing repair.

In addition, all bedrooms must have an operating window with 30 square inches of clearance for fire escape, and they must be equipped with a heating system. In fact, if a home is listed with four bedrooms, and one room does not meet both of these requirements, it cannot be considered a bedroom.

Electrical issues that are often problematic include electrical junctions not enclosed in a junction box, a lack of GFCI outlets in bathrooms and kitchens or reverse-polarity on outlets. While all of these repairs are inexpensive, taking the time to repair them can keep the transaction moving smoothly.

Also, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are required in most areas, and not having them—or the proper kind—will be considered a violation.

Plumbing issues are also very common, and violations can include everything from dripping faucets to loose toilets to improper drainage.

When it comes to structural problems, which can be more expensive to fix, ignoring them can either prolong the sale of your home or even cause the sale to fall through altogether. Violations in this area include rotten wood trim around windows and doors, or rotten or delaminating siding. Rotting window and door trim is often caused by missing flashing on roofs or above windows. This can also lead to roof leaks.

If you’ve finished your basement or added a sunroom to your home in the time you’ve spent living there and never got the proper permits, that will need to be taken care of before any sale can go through.

Some problems may be grandfathered into a home, such as a wooden deck that’s nailed instead of bolted, as required by code. Although you may be able to sell the home in this condition, it’s still a safety hazard and the inspector will point it out to the buyer.

Don’t hurt your sale because of code violations that can be easily fixed. Get an inspector, make the changes and enjoy the comfort it brings when the closing comes to fruition.

For more information about code violations, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Tax Tips - What You Need to Know if You Bought or Sold a Home Last Year

March 8, 2012 3:52 pm

With tax season in full swing and the dreaded April deadline right around the corner, there are a number of important things that those who were on either side of a home transaction last year should keep in mind when it comes to filing this year’s taxes.

A look at the Internal Revenue Service’s tax tips page shows that if you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may qualify to exclude all or part of that gain from your income.

The IRS explains that if you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).

Real estate broker’s commissions, title insurance, legal fees, advertising costs, administrative costs, and inspection fees are all considered selling costs and may be used to reduce one’s taxable capital gain by the amount of the selling costs, which could result in a big savings depending on the final sale price.

When it comes to interest paid on a mortgage, much of that is tax deductible. A married couple filing jointly can deduct all of their interest on a maximum of $1 million in mortgage debt secured by a first or second home.

Buyers may also be able to deduct some of the interest they paid on a home equity loan or similar line of credit.

One deduction that most buyers tend to forget about deals with points or origination fees on a home loan, which are paid during the purchase of a home and are generally tax deductible in full for the year that they were paid.

Refinanced mortgage points are also deductible, but only over the life of the loan, not all at once. Homeowners who refinance can immediately write off the balance of the old points and begin to amortize the new.

If your lender required private mortgage insurance, the PMI premiums are tax-deductible for mortgages taken out between 2008 and 2011.

Making home improvements to the home prior to the sale or once one moves in might qualify for an interest deduction on your home improvement loan. Qualifying capital improvements are those that increase your home’s value, prolong its life, or adapt it to new uses, such as adding a porch or installing energy-efficient windows.

Many times during a sale, the seller will send the local tax collector’s office a check for real estate taxes prior to the closing. In many circumstances, however, the buyer will pay a pro-rated portion of the taxes for the year at closing. This tax deduction is one that is also quite often forgotten.

For those working from their new home, if a room is used exclusively for business purposes, you may be able to deduct home costs related to that portion, such as a percentage of your insurance and repair costs, and depreciation.

In some instances, if you have moved because of a new job, moving costs may be deducted. These can include travel or transportation costs, expenses for lodging, and fees for storing your household goods.

For those that took advantage of the first-time homebuyer credit, if within 36 months of the date of purchase, the property is no longer used as your principal residence, you are required to repay the credit.

Every year the tax laws change and certain tax deductions become available while others phase out. If you have recently bought or sold a home, it’s probably a good idea to seek out a professional tax consultant to do your taxes, as missing deductions that you can legally claim can add up to quite a bit of money.

For more information about tax deductions, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Downsizing Trend Gains Steam as Homeowners Opt for Less Space

March 8, 2012 3:52 pm

As we continue to move away from the era of the McMansion, downsizing has become a popular trend in real estate markets across the country. The trend has gained a lot of momentum within the past few years as well, as homeowners are being forced to downsize due to the financial problems that have wreaked havoc on our nation and the housing industry as a whole.

No matter what the reason is behind your need to downsize, if you’re ready to trade in some space, a good way to start the process is by creating a list of expenses and figuring out what you truly can and can’t afford. This will enable you to pick a home that will fit your needs now and well into the future. The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a situation where you may end up in financial trouble a few years down the road.

While trading in a large home for less space may seem like the only option, it’s important to note that there may be other solutions that can keep you in your current home. For instance, some homeowners have supplemented their income by renting out the extra space in their home. If this is an avenue you’re considering, be sure to research all local zoning laws and consult with a real estate attorney to make sure it is legal where you live.

Faulty finances aside, there are numerous other reasons why homeowners choose to downsize. Some get divorced, some are widowed, or as some people get older and the kids move out, these empty nests become too big or too hard to care for. Other factors include the desire for a more simplified and stress-free style of living without snow to shovel or grass to cut, which is especially true with seniors.

“Before any move, focus on how you want to live. People don’t think enough about why they’re moving,” said Mary Jo Zeller, director at Gero Solutions, which manages moves for seniors. “Increasing numbers of downsizers these days want to exchange the worry and expense of maintaining a large property for the luxury of low maintenance and the opportunity for more leisure time.”

One of the main barriers to downsizing are the emotional ties to the family home. However, deciding where to move and what style property will suit your lifestyle best can be just as daunting.

During the process of downsizing you may be surprised at how attached you have become to your possessions and how difficult it might seem to part with them. A good way to avoid becoming overwhelmed throughout the process is to start clearing out your home well in advance. Instead of getting rid of everything you won’t need in your new home, put the items to good use by donating or recycling them. You can even take advantage of eBay or give things to friends, family and neighbors.

To make sure all the items you plan on bringing to your new home fit, decorators recommend sketching floor plans of your new home to figure out how everything will fit. This way you won’t encounter any surprises when moving day arrives.

For more information about downsizing, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Get a Head Start on the Spring Selling Season - List Your Home Now

March 8, 2012 3:52 pm

Now that March has arrived, homeowners across the country are getting ready to bid winter farewell and usher in spring, and the growing number of buyers that come with the season. While this winter has been anything but normal, those looking to sell their home should take into consideration that winter’s not over yet. In fact, in years past, some of the largest snowfalls and the coldest weather have occurred during the month of March. However, home sellers shouldn’t view this as a negative thing when it comes to selling their home. Preparing your home for sale and listing it on the market during March can also provide an edge over the competition in your area.

While the warmer months are generally regarded as the best time for home sellers to get their property ready for sale, marketing your home at the tail end of winter shouldn’t be taken out of the equation entirely. Even though the weather is colder this time of year, it’s important to remember that prospective buyers are out looking for homes 12 months a year and there’s no reason to drop the ball on getting your home on the market in March, before the spring selling season arrives.

If you’re preparing to list your home for sale this March, the first thing you need to do is make sure the home feels toasty when prospective buyers come to look around. If you are planning an open house or have showings scheduled, be sure to turn up the thermostat and make the home warm and inviting. If the house is cold, prospective buyers will more than likely race through the house. They may even start to question the windows and insulation.

If your home has a fireplace, winter showings provide the perfect opportunity to show the potential buyer how cozy a fireplace can be. Go the extra step and leave some marshmallows and sticks nearby and invite open house attendees to test the fireplace out.

For those selling in areas with heavy winter climates, if there’s snow on the ground, make sure the walkway is clear and the driveway is shoveled. Be sure to put down salt to control any icy surfaces as well. If a buyer pulls up to the house and has to slush through inches of snow, they may not even bother to get out of the car and tour the home. If you aren’t currently living in the home you’re trying to sell, hire someone who can come and clear away the snow before a showing.

While too much snow hasn’t been an issue in many parts of the country this winter, if the property is blanketed in snow, you may want to use photographs to help sell what the buyer can’t see. If you have a beautiful lawn, stellar landscaping or an outdoor pool or deck, many times these are quickly overlooked or passed by because of snow. Display any eye-catching photos of these amenities so buyers can get a better understanding of what the property truly offers.

There are still many real estate professionals and home sellers alike who don’t believe that trying to sell a home during the winter is a good idea, so the month of March is a great time to take advantage of the smaller competition. Many serious buyers often come out during the winter months, including corporate clients who usually need to relocate within the first quarter of the year.

Since a lot of people are waiting until spring to put their home on the market, being ready in March is a great way to beat the rush.

To learn more about getting a jump start on the spring selling season, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Creating a Favorable Impression among Prospective Buyers

March 8, 2012 3:52 pm

If you’ve gone through the process of getting your home ready for sale recently, or are in the process now, you know just how important it is to put your home’s best foot forward. While making sure your home stands out from the competition visually is an important piece of the puzzle, appealing to prospective buyers’ other senses can be just as important, especially when it comes to the smell of your home.

While you may not think your home has a smell to it, freshening the air and filling the home with sweet aromas can do wonders in making a favorable impression among prospective buyers.

Most people know the trick of baking bread or cookies to entice the noses of those looking around a home. To achieve that fresh bread smell, buy a large loaf of bread, open up its belly and pour a bottle of vanilla essence into it. Then pop it into the oven at medium heat for half an hour before the showing.

REALTORS® also recommend the smell of cinnamon, French vanilla, butter cream or coffee to perk up those looking around.

“Scent impacts the atmosphere,” said Michelle Bardwell, an aromatherapist in Dallas, Texas. “You can create a delightful but subtle, aromatic space by using therapeutic grade essential oils.”

Bardwell recommends using Cardamom Essential Oil in the kitchen to create a sense of warmth, Lavender Essential Oil for the bedroom to evoke thoughts of relaxation, and a combination of Eucalyptus and Ravintsara for the bathroom.

“This will give the bathroom a fresh, clean aroma, and simultaneously kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces and in the air,” she said. “You should put several drops directly on surfaces and wipe down, and you can even put a few drops on the shower floor and in the toilet.”

Scented candles are another way to achieve a fragrant aroma within the home, but there’s not always time to let them burn before a showing. Another alternative is to use electrical plug-in products that have oil in them or potpourri pots to help provide continual fragrance.

While pets are often the most obvious odor that you want to mask, it’s best to stay away from scented sprays, as these are obvious indicators that you’re trying to cover something. Plus, some people find the smell of these sprays offensive, not to mention that some may be allergic to them.

Garbage cans also get smelly in a hurry, and sometimes you may not even realize the strong scents that come from opening your fridge.

“You want to send a positive image about every aspect of your home,” Bardwell said. “Kitchen trash does not send a positive message.”

Scents register in our brain and frequently remind us of our past experiences, so creating pleasant aromas in a house can help a prospective buyer experience an emotional connection with the home that may ultimately lead to a faster sale.

For more information about getting your home ready for a showing, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: Downsizing, Code Violations

March 8, 2012 3:52 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines the importance of appealing to prospective buyers' senses when it comes to your home standing out from the competition. Other topics covered this month include how to get a jump start on the spring selling season and tax tips you should be aware of if you recently bought or sold a home. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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