Deciding to move is a major decision and location is one of the most important aspects you should consider when planning a move. Whether it’s a new neighborhood, a new city, or a new state–once you get there, you want to make sure your new community truly makes you feel welcome.
First-time home buyers today face a tough road, shopping for homes during a pandemic, high housing prices, and deep economic uncertainty. For military families deployed overseas, it’s all even trickier to figure out.
In this second story in our new series “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we talked with husband and wife Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson. They were renting an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, when they decided to start shopping for their own home in the area in April.
At the time, LaVallee was stationed in the Middle East as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yet even though he was thousands of miles away, he managed to attend every home tour with Johnson via FaceTime. In July, they closed on a brick, ranch-style three-bedroom that LaVallee would not see in person until a long-awaited trip home in October.
Here’s the couple’s home-buying story, the hardest challenges they faced, and what LaVallee thought of his new house once he home managed to lay eyes on it for the first time.
Location: Fayetteville, NC
House specs: 1,166 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms List price: $111,900 Price paid: $115,000
A pandemic plus deployment seems like a tough time to buy your first house. What convinced you to forge ahead?
Johnson: Kyle was deployed in October 2019 while we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville. Kyle wasnât fond of renewing the apartment leaseâwe had been there for two years and were running out of space. We wanted to get a dog; we wanted a yard, and our own property where we can do anything we wanted.
We started educating ourselves on the process. We knew a mortgage was going to be significantly less than what we were paying in rent. Kyle thought it would be smart to buy because [nearby] Fort Bragg is one of the biggest military bases in the world. If we ever leave or get stationed somewhere else, weâre not going to have a problem finding anyone to rent it. And we could always come back.
LaVallee:Â I was interested in gaining equity and ownership, rather than just paying to rent something I’d never own in the end.
Johnson:Â We started looking at houses back in January. In April, we kept seeing information about lowering interest rates. Thatâs why we got serious about the process in the middle of the pandemic, and when we connected with our real estate agent, Justin Kirk with Century 21.
How much did you put down on the houseâand how’d you save for it?
Johnson: We put 20% down.
LaVallee: I was making a lot of money while I was deployed, and I had no expenses really. I was just saving everything I had, knowing I wanted to invest it in a house.
Johnson: I cut spending. I didnât buy things I wanted, just what I needed. The pandemic helped a lot, honestly because we obviously couldnât go out.
LaVallee:Â We qualified for a VA loan, but we just wound up using a conventional loan. Most people in the military will use a VA loan where you donât put any money down, but [since we had enough saved] we wanted the lowest monthly mortgage payments.
What were you looking for in a house?
LaVallee:Â We knew we might [eventually] be moving, so it wasnât like it had to be a house we would stay in forever, more of an investment property.
Johnson: We were looking for things that would be attractive to future renters. We had a military family in mind because Fayetteville’s got more than 50,000 active-duty. We looked for a location close to a Fort Bragg entrance. We thought three bedrooms was perfect for us because our families are close with each other, so theyâll all come down at the same time so weâll have two extra bedrooms for them. Kyle really wanted a garage, so that was a huge thing.
LaVallee: Garages arenât very common down here, so that limited a lot of options for us. A lot of houses have carports, or they finish the garage and turn it into a bonus room.
Johnson: We wanted something that needed a bit of fixing up, because we like to be handy and put our personal touch on everything, and we ultimately knew that would be a lower-cost house.
How many homes did you see in person, and how did Kyle participate from overseas?
Johnson:Â It was 10 or 12 homes. We were out three to four times a week looking at places with our real estate agent. We wore our masks for the tours, and I used hand sanitizer since I was opening and closing drawers and closets. Most were vacant, but we did tour one house that still had people living in it, although they were gone during the tour, so we avoided touching a lot of things.
During tours we FaceTimed Kyle in. We figured that was probably the most convenient way to do it since he could see every single house and room in detail.
LaVallee:Â Well, I couldnât really see all the details.
Johnson: He got to know our real estate agent really well via FaceTime. Our agent would say, “Let me know if you need me to hold Kyle while you go look in this room.” I felt so bad, though, because I work full time, so I’d tour homes around 5:30 in the evening, which for Kyle was 2:30 in the morning. But he stayed up for every single tour.
LaVallee:Â I was sometimes frustrated not being able to be there. I left it all up to her. I had to trust the feelings and vibes she got from each house.
How many offers did you make before you had one accepted?
Johnson:Â We put three earlier offers in.
LaVallee:Â They would be listed and the next day would be sold. The first three offers we put in were asking price, and Iâm pretty sure everybody else offered more, and ours were never even considered.
Johnson:Â It was ridiculous. It was definitely a sellerâs market, so you had to act really fast and you had to be really competitive. On our fourth offer, we ended up at $3,100 over asking. I felt like we had to fight for this house.
Were you competing with other offers for the house you bought?
LaVallee:Â There were multiple offers.
Johnson: Our real estate agent told us, “You should definitely write a letter and talk about how Kyleâs gone right now and youâre first-time home buyers and this one really clicked with you,â which it did. The second I walked in, itâs this adorable brick house, itâs super homey, it has a great yard. In the letter, we just talked about how all of that was so attractive to us as first-time home buyers, and we were really excited and could see ourselves in this home.
Our real estate agent suggested going in higher than asking, so we just rounded up to $115,000. He also suggested doing a higher due diligence paymentâwe usually did $200, but this time around we did $500. And the earnest fee we put in was $500 or $600.
After our offer was accepted, we knew it was going to be kind of difficult with the home inspection. They were already redoing the roof, which was a huge cost on their part, so asking for more was definitely going to be a challenge. So we didnât ask for much.
What surprised you about the home-buying process?
Johnson:Â How fast it went, for me at least. Our first home tour was in April and then by June, we had found our house and the contracts were written up. I guess I was expecting it maybe to be double the time that it actually was, but houses were just turning over so fast, we had to act fast.
LaVallee:Â From my side, I thought it happened very slowly! I felt like so much was happening in between each step in the process. I had to be patient because I had so little control of the situation, other than just trying to stay involved and be a part of it.
Johnson:Â You never really think that when youâre married, youâre going to buy your first house while your husband is on the other side of the world. But we got through it.
So Natalie, you were living in the house for a few months before Kyle returned from deployment in October to see it. What was that homecoming like?
Johnson:Â He came home a few days shy of the 365-day mark. We were anxious and excited. Several other families and I waited outside of a hangar on base, and soon after hearing their plane landing, we saw the group walking toward us and everyone start cheering and crying.
Because it was dark when we got home, Kyle couldnât see the outside of the house much, or the “Welcome Home” decorations I hung up! But the moment he set foot in the front door, he just stood there and looked around with the biggest smile on his face.
I gave him the grand tour the next morning. He said it looked much bigger than what he saw on FaceTime. We celebrated with a home-cooked meal and the wine our agent gave us when we closed. It was really special.
LaVallee:Â I came home to a nice house. Natalie was worried I would come back to culture shock. But Iâve felt at home ever since Iâve been here.
What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?
Johnson:Â I would say to go with your gut. Some of the houses youâll tour are really logical to buy, but if they have a bad vibe or theyâre just not really welcoming, then look at others. A healthy balance between logic and feeling is important.
LaVallee:Â We didn’t even know what we wanted until we saw five or six houses, so itâs definitely important to shop around and see what’s out there.
Johnson: We really didnât know much. I told our real estate agent, “Hey, listen, weâre really going to need some guidance. We donât know what things mean, we need you to break it down for us. You have to be patient with us.” I reached out to three different real estate agents, and Justin was the one who not only answered all my questions but was giving a ton of positive feedback. It was nice to have that encouragement, and it definitely made us more confident. You learn a lot by looking at houses, you learn a ton about yourself.
The post What This Military Family Facedâand FoughtâTo Buy Its First House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.comÂ®.
When you apply for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage, you want to secure the lowest interest rate possible. Any opportunity a borrower can exploit to shave dollars off the cost is a big win.
This explains the allure of no-fee mortgages. These home loans and their promise of doing away with pesky fees always sound appealingâa lack of lender fees or closing costs is sweet music to a borrower’s ears.
However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.
No-fee mortgages have experienced a renaissance given the current economic climate, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified. “No-fee programs are popular among those looking to refinance … [and] first-time home buyers [have] also increased as far as interest” goes.
Be prepared for a higher interest rate
But nothing is truly free, and this maxim applies to no-fee mortgages as well. They almost always carry a higher interest rate.
âOver time, paying more interest will be significantly more expensive than paying fees upfront,â says DiBugnara. âIf no-cost is the offer, the first question that should be asked is, âWhat is my rate if I pay the fees?ââ
Randall Yates, CEO of The Lenders Network, breaks down the math.
âClosing costs are typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount,â he explains. âOn a $200,000 loan, you can expect to pay approximately $7,500 in lender fees. Let’s say the interest rate is 4%, and a no-fee mortgage has a rate of 4.5%. [By securing a regular loan], you will save over $13,000 over the course of the loan.â
So while you’ll have saved $7,500 in the short term, over the long term you’ll wind up paying more due to a higher interest rate. Weigh it out with your financial situation.
Consider the life of the loan
And before you start calculating the money that you think you might save with a no-fee mortgage, consider your long-term financial strategy.
âNo-fee mortgage options should only be used when a short-term loan is absolutely necessary. I donât think itâs a good strategy for coping with COVID-19-related issues,â says Jack ChorosÂ of CPI Inflation Calculator.
A no-fee mortgage may be a smart tactic if you don’t plan to stay in one place for a long time or plan to refinance quickly.
âIf I am looking to move in a year or two, or think rates might be lower and I might refinance again, then I want to minimize my costs,â says Matt Hackett, operations manager at EquityNow. But “if I think I am going to be in the loan for 10 years, then I want to pay more upfront for a lower rate.â
What additional fees should you be prepared to pay?
As with any large purchase, whether itâs a car or computer, there’s no flat âthis is itâ price. Hidden costs always lurk in the fine print.
âMost of the time, the cost for credit reports, recording fees, and flood-service fee are not included in a no-fee promise, but they are minimal,â says DiBugnara. âAlso, the appraisal will always be paid by the consumer. They are considered a third-party vendor, and they have to be paid separately.â
âAll other costs such as property taxes, home appraisal, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance will all still be paid by the borrower,â adds Yates.
Itâs important to ask what additional fees are required, as it varies from lender to lender, and state to state. The last thing you want is a huge surprise.
âDeposits that are required to set up your escrow account, such as flood insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, are normally paid at closing,â says Jerry Elinger, mortgage production manager at Silverton Mortgage in Atlanta. âMost fees, however, will be able to be covered by rolling them into the cost of the loan or paying a higher interest rate.â
When does a no-fee mortgage make sense?
For borrowers who want to save cash right now, but donât mind paying more over a long time frame, a no-fee mortgage could be the right fit.
âIf your plan is long-term, it will almost always make more sense to pay the closing costs and take a lower rate,â says DiBugnara. âIf your plan is short-term, then no closing costs and paying more interest over a short period of time will be more cost-effective.â
The post What Is a No-Fee Mortgage? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.comÂ®.
The coronavirus has galvanized many die-hard city dwellers to pack up and flee for the suburbs or beyond. But how easy is it to pull off such a drastic move during a pandemic?
Just ask Angela Caban, a former Broadway dancer and decorative painter who, after 28 years of living in New York City, reached her breaking point in April. Quarantined in a cramped apartment in Queens, hearing sirens wailing all night, she decided to buy a house in Charleston, SC,Â an area she’d grown to love during her frequent work trips there over the years.
Yet since Caban was on lockdown in New York, she had to shop for homes remotely and make offers without seeing places in person. Here’s what it was like to buy a house sight unseen, and the lessons she learned that might inspire other longtime urbanites and first-time home buyers to make the leap themselves.
Location: Hanahan, SC House specs: 1,804 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, separate barn List price: $234,000 Price paid: $232,000
How did the pandemic play into your decision to leave NYC?
You give up a lot to live in New York because it has a lot to offer, but when those things go away, you start to question why youâre giving up so much.
Once COVID-19 hit in March, April, and May, I was stuck in my apartment for three months straight with no work. I wasn’t getting unemployment because that hadnât kicked in. I had no outdoor space to speak of. I just wanted to have some room to roam, be in nature, and not feel desperate. Thatâs what put me over the edge.
I felt like no matter how difficult New York had been in the past, this was a whole new ball of wax. I was there for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. When other tragedies had hit New York City, people were saying, “Weâre in this together.”
When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden there was suspicion. Everybody was frightened of everyone else.
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The ambulance sirens were nonstop. Plus, my small apartment was directly on the street, with the garbage cans right outside my window. So when I tried to open the windows during the pandemic, there were roaches coming in. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”
What made you choose Charleston as your new home?
Iâd have work meetings down here, and I had fallen in love with the area. I liked the sense of history, the weather. And financially it was doable. My mortgage now is less than half my rent for my tiny apartment in New York City.
How did your house hunt go?
I started looking near the end of April. I put an initial offer in on a house that fell through after the home inspector I’d sent to look at it said it would fall down in two years. Then I was in a panic because Iâd already given notice on my New York apartment. So basically I had six weeks total to find another house and close on it.Â
What were your biggest challenges?
There was no inventory. Every house I looked at and said, “Oh, that’s a possibility,” would be gone by the time I called. An hour after being listed, the house would no longer be accepting offers!
How did you find the house you eventually bought?
Lucky for me, this house had been on the market for 60 days. I don’t know if it was because the photos were crappy, or the fact that the neighborhood was considered a little dicey. But Iâm from New York, so the neighborhood seemed comfortable to me. I put an offer in within 48 hours of losing the other house.Â
Wasn’t it scary to buy a house you hadn’t seen in person?
I was emboldened because I could always back outâyou have two weeks to do so when bidding on a house. So I got in the car and drove down to look at it two days after my offer was accepted. I literally did it all in one day; it took me 12 hours to drive down. I saw the house and drove around for about two hours, and then I drove back because I had to start packing! I literally didn’t sleep for 26 hours. It’s probably why I have more gray hair now than I should.
How did the house look once you saw it, compared with the photos online?
It was much better than I thought. There is a lot of detailing, dental molding, wainscoting, and paneling in the living room, along with 16 windows that let in a lot of light. Plus, there’s the barn in the back that is another 600 square feet or so. My eventual plan is to make a workshop and a place to make art and teach.
How was the mortgage process?
It was a nightmare. Nobody wants to give mortgages to a single, female, sole proprietor who does not have pay stubsâespecially during COVID-19, when theyâre afraid people may default on their loan. They had also enacted new COVID-19 regulations that meant I had a boatload more paperwork. I had to submit letters from clients, proposals for work that was going to happen, invoices for work that I was still waiting to be paid for. … It was insane. I joked with them that I had to give them everything except a bone scan.
How did you finally secure the loan?
Thanks to the help of my real estate agent, John Bell of Southern Bell Living, and his mortgage broker, Ethan Lane at Mortgage Network. They were amazing, and I was an absolute basket case: “What else do you want from me? I have no place to go. I’m going to be homeless!”
I look forward to giving them both a hug someday after COVID-19 is under control.
How did you close on the house during the pandemic?
That is a whole additional saga. I was finishing up a painting job in New York when all of a sudden on Friday they said, “You’re closing on Monday,” so I had to get an attorney to attend the closing for me. To get that, I had to get a statement notarized. In the middle of COVID-19! I met the notary on the street, but then I had to have two witnesses! It took me asking 18 strangers to find two people who said they’d help.
How did you pull off a move during the pandemic?
I couldnât get a truck in New York. So I packed my car and drove down to Charleston, where I dropped off my cats in the new house. Then I rented a U-Haul and drove it back to New York, hired two guys who then met me at my old apartment, packed the truck. Drove it back down to South Carolina, where I hired two more guys to help me unload the truck, and voilÃ .
Was leaving New York hard after living there for 28Â years?
Leaving was difficult because you almost feel like itâs a badge of honor that you’re a survivor in New York City. But down here, I finally feel like I can actually live my life instead of just trying to make it from one month to the next. I can think big thoughts and make big things happen, for which I simply didnât have the energy in New York.
Now that you’ve lived in Charleston for a few months, how are you feeling?
It’s like I can finally breathe, and I absolutely love it. I sit every morning out on my back patio and watch woodpeckers, blue jays, and cardinals. I have roses that are blooming that I planted.
What advice would you give first-time home buyers and others looking to move now?
When you’re looking at homes online, don’t immediately discount a property just by how it looks in its photos. It’s like online dating that way. You need to see how it feels once you’re face to face and interacting with the space. Luckily, though, the minute I saw it in person, I knew I would be very happy here.
The post ‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.comÂ®.
Economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and civil unrest could cause many rental real estate properties to run up tax losses in 2020 and maybe beyond. This column covers the most important federal income tax questions and answers for rental property owners. Here goes.
What can I write off?
Nothing new here. You can deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on rental properties. You can also write off all standard operating expenses that go along with owning rental property: utilities, insurance, repairs and maintenance, care and maintenance of outdoor areas, and so forth.
What about depreciation write-offs?
For many rental property owners, the tax-saving bonus is the fact that you can depreciate the cost of residential buildings over 27.5 years, even while they are (you hope) increasing in value. You can generally depreciate the cost of commercial buildings over 39 years.
Example: You own a small apartment building that cost $1.5 million not including the land. The annual depreciation deduction is $54,545 ($1.5 million/27.5). The deduction can shelter that much annual positive cashflow from income taxes. So, depreciation write-offs are nice tax-savers, especially if you own an expensive property or several properties.
Variation: As stated earlier, commercial buildings must be depreciated over a much-longer 39-year period. Even so, the annual depreciation write-off for a $1.5 million commercial building is $38,462. The deduction can shelter that much annual cash flow from income taxes.
Can I claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation?
Yes, for qualified improvement property (QIP) expenditures on a nonresidential building. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a retroactive correction to the statutory language of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The correction allows much faster depreciation for commercial real estate qualified improvement property (QIP) thatâs placed in service in 2018-2022. QIP is defined as an improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building thatâs placed in service after the building was placed in service. However, QIP doesnât include any expenditures attributable to: (1) enlarging the building, (2) any elevator or escalator, or (3) the internal structural framework of the building. Thanks to the CARES Act correction, you can write off the entire cost of QIP in Year 1, because it qualifies for 100% first-year bonus depreciation.
Alternatively, you can choose to depreciate QIP over 15 years using the straight-line method. That alternative might make sense if you expect higher tax rates in future years. Discuss your QIP depreciation options with your tax pro.
What else do I need to know about depreciation write-offs?
You ask such good questions. Thereâs more. The TCJA increased the maximum Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction for qualifying real property expenditures to $1 million, with annual inflation adjustments. The inflation-adjusted maximum for tax years beginning in 2020 is $1.04 million. The Section 179 deduction privilege potentially allows you to deduct the entire cost of qualifying real property expenditures in Year 1. I say potentially, because Section 179 deductions are subject to several limitations. Ask your tax pro for details.
The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying property to include expenditures for nonresidential building roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.
Finally, the TCJA further expanded the definition of qualifying property to include depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. Examples of such property include beds, other furniture, and appliances used in the living quarters of an apartment house.
Can I claim the qualified business income (QBI) deduction base on my net rental income?
Maybe. For 2018-2025, the TCJA established a new personal deduction based on qualified business income (QBI) passed through to your personal Form 1040 from a pass-through business entity (meaning a sole proprietorship, LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, partnership, LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes, or S corporation). The deduction can be up to 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that kick in at higher income levels. For a while, it was unclear if you could claim QBI deductions based on net rental income passed through to you from one of the aforementioned pass-through entities. The IRS eventually issued taxpayer-friendly guidance that allows QBI deductions in most such cases, but you must follow complicated rules to collect the tax-saving benefit. As your tax pro for details.
What about the passive loss rules?
Ugh. If your rental property throws off tax losses (most properties do, at least during the early years and during years when the economy is suffering â like now), things can get complicated. The so-called passive activity loss (PAL) rules may come into play. Losses from rental properties will usually be classified as passive losses.
In general, the PAL rules only allow you to currently deduct passive losses to the extent you have current passive income from other sources, like positive income from other rental properties or gains from selling them. Passive losses in excess of passive income are suspended until you either have enough passive income or you sell the property that produced the losses. Bottom line: the PAL rules can postpone any tax-saving benefit from rental property losses, sometimes for years. Fortunately, there are several exceptions to the PAL rules that can allow you to deduct rental property losses sooner rather than later. Your tax pro can explain the exceptions and help you plan to become eligible, if possible.
Is that the end of the bad news?
Not exactly. Say you manage to successfully clear the hurdles imposed by the PAL rules for your rental property losses. So far, so good. But the TCJA established another hurdle that you must also clear to currently deduct those losses. For tax years beginning in 2018-2025, you cannot deduct an excess business loss in the current year. An excess business loss is one that exceeds $250,000 or $500,000 for a married joint-filing couple. Any excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for net operating loss (NOL) carry-forwards. This loss disallowance rule applies after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your rental losses, this rule is a nonfactor.
COVID-19 Relief: Thankfully, the CARES Act suspends the excess business loss disallowance rule for losses that arise in tax years beginning in 2018-2020. Thatâs good news.
Whatâs the deal with net operation losses (NOLs)?
Say you manage to successfully clear both of the preceding hurdles for your rental property losses. Now we are talking, because you can generally use those losses currently to offset taxable income from other sources. If losses for the year exceed income from other sources, you may have a net operating loss (NOL) for the year.
COVID-19 Relief: The CARES Act allows a five-year carryback privilege for an NOL that arises in a tax year beginning in 2018-2020. So, you can carry an NOL from one of those years back to an earlier year, deduct it, and recover some or all of the federal income tax paid for the carryback year. Because federal income tax rates were generally higher in years before the TCJA took effect, NOLs carried back to those years can be especially beneficial. The TCJA kicked in starting with tax years beginning in 2018.
What if I have positive taxable income?
Eventually your rental property should start throwing off positive taxable income instead of losses, because escalating rents will surpass your deductible expenses. Of course, you must pay income taxes on those profits. But if you piled up suspended passive losses in earlier years, you can now use them to offset your passive profits.
Another nice thing: positive taxable income from rental real estate is not hit with the dreaded self-employment (SE) tax, which applies to most other unincorporated profit-making ventures. The SE tax rate can be up to 15.3%. Something to avoid when possible.
One bad thing: positive passive income from rental real estate owned by a higher-income individual can get socked with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and gains from selling properties can also get hit with the NIIT. Ask your tax pro for details.
The bottom line
There you have it: most of what you need to know about the federal income tax issues that can come into play for rental property owners. The economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and recent civil unrest increase the odds that rental properties will suffer losses in 2020, but tax relief provisions may soften the blow.
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