Monday, April 25, 2011

Home Selling Tax Tips for Accidental Landlords

I read an article today that I felt was worth passing along as many home sellers are now becoming landlords.  In this article Stephen Fishman, a real estate Tax Expert and Attorney shares some thoughts:

Stephen Fishman:

Due to the precipitous decline in the housing market over the past few years, many homeowners who would otherwise sell their homes are renting them out. This may be because prices are too low, or because they have to move before they can sell due to a job change.

Such accidental landlords should understand that if they rent out their homes too long before they sell them, they could lose the biggest tax break available for most people: the home sale exclusion.

Homeowners who qualify for the home sale exclusion don't have to pay any income tax on up to $250,000 of the gain from the sale if they're single, or up to $500,000 if they're married and file a joint return. Of course, this exclusion is useful only for homeowners who have equity in their homes, not the millions who are "under water" and will receive no profit if they sell their homes.

To qualify for the exclusion, a homeowner must satisfy the ownership and use tests. This means that during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale, the homeowner must have:
  • owned the home for at least 2 years (the ownership test), and
  • lived in the home as a primary residence for at least 2 years (the use test).
However, the homeowner need not be living in the house at the time it is sold. The two years of ownership and use may occur anytime during the five years before the date of the sale.

This means that a homeowner can move out of the house for up to three years and still qualify for the exclusion. Moreover, a homeowner can rent out a home and count that time as ownership time.

This rule has a very practical application: A homeowner may rent out a home for up to three years prior to the sale and still qualify for the exclusion. However, the exclusion works a bit different for homeowners who have rented out their homes.

They cannot exclude from their income the part of their gain equal to the depreciation they claimed (or could have claimed) while renting the home. Moreover, if the home is rental property at the time of the sale, the sale must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service on Form 4797: Sales of Business Property.

Example: Connie purchases a house on Feb. 1, 2007, and lives in it for two full years. She then moves to another state to take a new job. Rather than sell the house in a down market, she elects to rent it out.

If she sells the house by Feb. 1, 2012, she'll qualify for the $250,000 home sale exclusion because she owned and used the house as her principal home for two years during the five-year period before the sale. If she waits even one more day to sell, she will get no exclusion at all.

Thus, accidental landlords who have equity in their homes need to sell them before the three-year rental period expires, or they'll lose the home sale exclusion. If they can't or don't want to sell, they would have to move back into the home to preserve the exclusion.

Homeowners who don't qualify for the exclusion will have to pay a 15 percent capital gains tax on their gain from the sale (assuming the home was owned for at least one year).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Tips for a Healthy Lawn

Not really sure if it Spring is truly here as in the past week we actually had snow in various parts of the midwest but according to the calendar its Spring! That being said, I continue to get visits weekly now from many companies vying for my business to help make my average lawn beautiful.  I'm sure this happens by you as well and for those not willing to spend the big bucks for one of these companies then hopefully the following tips will be of help.

The best lawn care tip you can get is to start with a solid plan.

1. Do you need to plant grass? Do some research on the best seed for your area, where to buy it cheap, and when it"s available. Depending on where you live, you"ll plant either cool season or warm season grass.

Cool season grass, planted in northern areas, is usually best planted in early fall, but if you missed planting then, plant it in the spring when soil temperatures reach 50 F.

Warm season grass needs soil temps of 70F to thrive and is the choice for southern plantings. Don"t make the mistake of thinking you can plant warm season grass in the upper Midwest. Warm season grasses are bred to thrive in southern climates and are not winter hardy in the north.

2. Of course, you"ll keep new grass plantings moist, but once grass reaches a height of three inches, water it deeply once a week.

A healthy lawn needs about an inch of water a week. When watering, remember to consider recent rainfalls. Shallow watering techniques keep grass from sinking the deep roots that your lawn needs to compete with deep-rooted weeds.

3. Do you already have a lawn? Aerate it in the spring while it"s still moist and before the spring rains are done.

Aerating your lawn in the springtime gives microbes and other small life forms a breath of fresh air after winter. Aeration also makes new paths for drainage and keeps your lawn from becoming saturated.

4. A lot is written about lawn fertilizer and the big question is why? Grass is the most efficient user of nitrogen on earth!

Feed your soil with nutrient rich compost and let your lawn get its nutrients the natural way. The more chemicals you use, the more you disturb the natural biological processes that convert organic matter into nutrients and the microbes and other small organisms that take natural care of your lawn.

5. Mow your grass high. A 2 ½ to 3-inch high cut makes your lawn look fuller, feel softer, and helps keep it healthy. Taller grass shades pesky weed seeds and keeps them from getting established. In addition, a taller lawn is better able to absorb sunshine and better able to retain moisture, the two main contributors to a healthy lawn.

6. Enjoy your lawn. After all, isn"t that your main reason for having a yard?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Advice from Warren Buffett on the Real Estate Market

Warren Buffett, the man the myth the legend.  Commonly known as the worlds number one investor.  A man that despite his means, lives a very humble life.  Meeting him, you'd never know he was a billionare and known as the Oracle of Omaha.  His wisdom and investing strategies are such that when he speaks, Wall Street listens.  Well with his influence over the masses it sure would be nice to hear his thoughts on the housing market wouldn't it?  Well here he shares some tips for us all to buy into and learn from if you feel his advice is warranted, which i do :)

1. The Basic Premise of Home Ownership -- That Homes Increase In Value Over Time -- Is Sound

Last spring, the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission called Buffett in for an interview. He was asked to explain some of his bubble-era investment decisions, as well as to give his take on what in the heck had happened to the economy. In the process, Buffett expressed his belief that the housing bubble was inflated by an irrational, widespread belief that home prices would only ever go up -- an extreme corruption of a generally valid premise. "It's a totally sound premise that houses will become worth more over time because the dollar becomes worth less," Buffett declared.

The sound premise, Buffett explained, got distorted and eventually caused the housing crisis when Americans started buying multiple homes to cash in on what they assumed was guaranteed appreciation, taking out "liar's loans," buying homes with no down payment and with unaffordable monthly payments -- and lenders let them -- all because of the assumption that prices could never go down.

Clearly, this assumption was wrong. As Buffett said in an earlier shareholder's letter: "A pin lies in wait for every bubble."

2. Buy Low (And Now Would Be a Good Time for That)

Buffett writes a letter to Berkshire Hathaway's shareholders every year that is chock-full of his review of the company's fortunes (literally) over the preceding year, his analysis of the stock market and the economy in general, and his smart, plain English tips on life and money and on life.

In last month's annual shareholder letter, Buffett addressed the industry-leading 2010 performance of one of his company's holdings, which sells and finances manufactured homes. During that discussion, the money maven declared that now would be a sensible time to buy a home, in light of record-high affordability: "Home ownership makes sense for most Americans, particularly at today's lower prices and bargain interest rates."

And Buffett didn't stop there. He pointed out his own tenure as a homeowner as an example. "All things considered, the third-best investment I ever made was the purchase of my home, though I would have made far more money had I instead rented and used the purchase money to buy stocks," he wrote. Then, to clarify for the readers who'd want to know what numbers one and two were, Buffett elaborated: "The two best investments were wedding rings."

3. But Don't Wait Too Long To Take Advantage of Low Prices

Buffett wrote a 2008 Op-Ed in the New York Times, explaining that buying while prices are low is stressful, because economic markets are volatile and impossible to predict in the short term, even for him. So, when conditions make an investment -- in stocks or in a home -- particularly advantageous, Buffett says not to hesitate too long. Painting a vivid verbal image to illustrate the likelihood that market prices "will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up," Buffett warned: "if you wait for the robins, Spring will be over."

4. The Smart Way to Own a Home Has Three Elements

Those elements are: fixed mortgage, affordable payments and long-term hold. Detailing why his manufactured housing holding has done so much better than the rest of the real estate market, Buffett pointed out that "[o]ur approach was simply to get a meaningful down-payment and gear fixed monthly payments to a sensible percentage of income. This policy kept [the company] solvent and also kept buyers in their homes." And that was the ultimate difference between smart home-buying and the home-buying that led to the real estate bubble and the foreclosure crisis.

"If home buyers throughout the country had behaved like our buyers, America would not have had the crisis that it did."

 In the stock world, Buffett has been quoted as advising investors to "only buy something that you'd be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years." Well known for practicing what he preaches, we can presume a long-term hold strategy would also be an integral part of Buffett's advisory to homeowners, too. Despite his net worth of somewhere around $50 billion, according to the latest Forbes tally, Buffett still lives in the 5-bedroom Nebraska home he bought 52 years ago for $31,500.

5. Buying Your "Dream Home" May Lead to Nightmares

In the 2010 shareholder letter, after he pointed out the right way to own a home, Buffett went on to caution Americans against the wrong way. When dream homes are bought for ever-escalating prices, using rapidly adjusting mortgage payments and unsustainable monthly costs vis-a-vis the homeowners' income, the dream can go bad quickly. Buffett warned, "a house can be a nightmare if the buyer's eyes are bigger than his wallet and if a lender -- often protected by a government guarantee -- facilitates his fantasy. Our country's social goal should not be to put families into the house of their dreams, but rather to put them into a house they can afford."

I can't agree more with Mr. Buffet that now is a wonderful time to buy and that timing the market perfectly may not be feasible.  If you are currently renting or thinking about moving into a larger home, the opportunities that we are seeing daily are amazing and shouldn't be ignored. 

If you find this blog useful or beneficial, please as always forward to any friends or family that may also benefit.  Thanks and have a wonderful day! :) Ben