How Earnest Are You?

“If I tell you it’s going to rain, you can put the buckets on the porch.” If you grew up in the south, you made have heard this expression when a person is testifying to the veracity of his word. If you know a person and/or their reputation, you know whether you can trust their word or not.

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However, with a stranger such as a buyer, the seller doesn’t know whether they’ll live up to the terms of the contract or not. Buyers submit earnest money along with a contract to demonstrate their commitment to the terms of the offer.

The more earnest money that the buyer deposits indicates to the seller a higher level of commitment to the contract. Except for stated contingencies in the sales contract, if the buyer fails to close on the sale, the earnest money may be forfeited. Significant earnest money makes the seller feels more secure that the contract will close.

There certainly are a lot of things that can dictate how much earnest money is appropriate. Local customs, price of the home and type of mortgage can all help to determine the proper amount. In some areas, it may be common for it to be 1-5 percent of the purchase price. In other areas, it might be a specific amount like $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the sales price. It really comes down to whatever the buyer and seller agree is the proper amount.

Another strategy is to put up an adequate amount initially until you get through the inspections or contingency period and then, to put up an additional amount when the contingencies have been removed.

The earnest money demonstrates the buyers’ sincerity in making the offer and proceeding according to the agreement so the seller can take their home off the market and start making plans to move and give possession of their home. Ultimately, both parties want to close as anticipated according to the contract and the earnest money helps facilitate that.

More Money in Your Paycheck

A homeowner’s tax savings benefit is generally realized when they file their federal income tax return after the money has been spent for the interest and property taxes. Some people look forward to the refund as a means of forced savings but some people need to realize the savings during the year.

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It is possible to adjust the deductions being withheld from the homeowner’s salary so they realize the benefit of the savings prior to filing their tax returns in the form of more money in their pay checks. Employees can talk to their employers about increasing their deductions stated on their W-4 form.

By increasing the exemptions or deductions, less is taken out of the check and the employee will receive more each pay period. If a person over-estimates their exemptions and therefore, underpays their income tax, they might incur interest and would have additional tax to pay when they filed their tax return.

Buyers considering this strategy should seek tax advice and discuss it with their human relations department at work. Additional information is available on the Internal Revenue Service website about Completing Form w-4 and Worksheets.

Postponing a Purchase: Right time to buy

Postponing a Purchase

You might be surprised how many people contact real estate offices because they want to buy a home but they don’t have the down payment or the credit to qualify. Occasionally, an agent will be working with someone who does have the down payment and credit but for whatever reason, decides to postpone the decision to purchase now for some point in the future.

It’s not uncommon that once they’re out of the market, the money starts burning a hole in their pocket and they end up buying a boat or a motorcycle or some other thing that cannot positively affect their lives and security the way a home does.

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If the money had been put away somewhere safe like a certificate of deposit, it wouldn’t earn a lot but it would be there when they decided the time was right to buy a home. $8,750 would grow to $9,286 in three years in a 2% CD.

For the person who could tolerate a little more risk, they might consider investing in the stock market. If you found a mutual fund that would earn 7%, at the end of the same three year time frame, the $8,750 would have grown to $10,719.

Alternatively, if the would-be buyers used the same amount to purchase a $250,000 home that appreciated at only a modest one percent, the equity in the home at the end of the same three year period would be $29,597.

The dynamics of earning appreciation on the value of the home rather than just the down payment combined with the amortization of the mortgage makes the equity in the home almost three times greater than the mutual fund. If you used a 2% appreciation, the equity would be over $37,000 in the same period.

Obviously, there are legitimate reasons for postponing the purchase of a home. An important thing to remember is to safeguard the hard-earned down payment so it is ready when you are to buy in the future.

Worth the Effort

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible…” While Judge Learned Hand was talking about federal income taxes, it can be applied to property taxes as well.

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States have a process of assessing the value of a property based on a number of things that can include size, amenities, location and what the owner paid for the property. Most states make adjustments to that value annually. Once it has been published to the owner, there is a process available for those who disagree with the value.

  1. Learn the assessment process and what the filing deadlines are to apply. Since different states have different requirements, it is important to know the process in your area.
  2. Obtain your assessment records – they may be available online and you can find out how your value was determined. Check for mistakes in square footage, bedrooms, amount of land, etc. Then, verify if the comparable sales in the neighborhood support their position or not. Your real estate agent can be valuable in this area.
  3. Proceed to make your case from the lowest to the highest level necessary. It isn’t necessary to hire someone to represent you. Sometimes, just talking to employees at the tax assessor’s office may be enough. If not, there is a process for a hearing where you present your evidence and so does a representative from the assessor’s office. If this still doesn’t give you the remedy you want, you may need to proceed to the courts.

Challenging your assessment really isn’t an adversarial position. Their job is to assess a fair value and your job is to pay the least amount of taxes. Whether it be an employed assessor or a voluntary board, they have a job and they appreciate being treated professionally and courteously.

Leverage- A Maximum Benefit

Leverage gives the user a maximum advantage whether it is physically lifting a large object or rapidly building equity in a home. In the case of the home, the high loan-to-value mortgage allows the profits made to be greater than simply the cash invested.

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A $250,000 home can be purchased on a FHA loan with a 3.5% down payment of $8,750. If the home appreciates at 2% a year, in seven years the equity will grow to $75,920 due to the appreciation and the amortization of the mortgage. That would be a remarkable 36.2% rate of return.

It is estimated that homeowners have a 45 times higher net worth than renters. Since the obvious difference is that renters don’t own a home, owning a home is a distinct advantage. The leverage that allows a borrower to control a much larger asset with a small down payment gives them a return on the much bigger asset than on just the down payment.

Another interesting contribution is the forced savings that occurs with each payment made on the mortgage. A portion of the payment is applied to principal so that the loan will be paid in full by the end of the term, usually 30 years. The amortization on the 4% mortgage example from above has approximately $4,300.00 paid in the first year to reduce the principal which increases the owner’s equity in the home.

For people who have the necessary funds for the down payment and good credit, buying a home can be a financially stabilizing event. While research on the Internet can provide valuable information, there is no substitute for having a face-to-face meeting with a trusted professional to determine your specific facts.

Digital Showings

Digital Showings

Ask any real estate professional if they have sold a house without the buyer having physically seen it and they’ll most likely tell you they have. While it may have been an unconventional sale, it is more prevalent today than it was twenty or even ten years ago.

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The digital world of the Internet has changed the process of buying a home. It is evolving as people have become more comfortable with the reliability of the information available.

Getting in a car and driving around all day looking at homes that may or may not fit your needs or wants is not productive for buyers or the agents.

The quality and the quantity of pictures has dramatically improved in the last twenty years. Buyers and agents alike can view a property online and get a fairly accurate idea of the condition and layout of home and whether it warrants a physical visit. Videos can “walk” you through the house to be able to assess if the floorplan will work for you.

The 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers reports 89% of all buyers cited an online website as an information source with real estate agents being a close second at 87%. 42% of all buyers looked online for properties for sale as the first step taken during the home buying process.

Interestingly, 87% of buyers in 2015 purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker compared to only 68% in 2001. The agent services deemed most valuable to buyers were help finding the right home to purchase (53%) and help to negotiate the terms of sale (12%) and the price (11%).

A challenge for sellers is to understand that the digital showings are a critical part of today’s process. They save time and money for both buyers and are convenient because they can be done at any time of day and from anywhere. The difficulty is the seller’s feelings of inactivity when they believe their home is being shown frequently.

Agents can share statistics that show a variety of digital activity like number of unique visitors, length of time spent on the listing site as well as the other features that were accessed. 65% of all buyers walked through the home they purchased after they viewed it online.

Pay Yourself First!

The principle to pay yourself first has been referred to as the Golden Rule of Personal Finance.

The concept is that one of the first checks you write each month is for your own savings. The rationale is that if there is no money left after a person pays their bills, there is nothing to contribute to savings or investments that month.

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By establishing a priority to save, a person realizes that the balance of their monthly income must cover living expenses and other discretionary spending. This is a much different strategy than saving what is left over from monthly expenses and other spending.

Many financial experts have likened an amortizing mortgage to a forced savings account because a portion of each payment is applied to the reduction of the principal amount owed. Some homeowners have taken that concept further with a shorter term mortgage to build equity faster.

In the example below, a $250,000 mortgage at 4% interest is compared with two different terms. The 30 year mortgage would have payments of $1,193.54 each month with the first payment having $360.20 being applied to the principal. Each payment would have an increasingly larger amount applied to the principal.

The 15 year mortgage would have payments of $1,849.22 each month with the first payment having $1,015.89 being applied to the principal. The $665.68 difference in payments goes toward reducing the loan amount and acts like a forced savings.

A homeowner might opt for the longer term and intend to put the difference in the two payments in a bank savings account each month or make an additional principal contribution to pay the mortgage down. However, as any person responsible for paying household bills knows, there will always be something that comes up that could hijack your intentions.

By committing to the shorter term mortgage, a borrower is committing to make the higher payment each month and the benefit is that it will reduce your principal balance faster.

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It’s a Big Difference

Let’s say that you just won $8,750 on a lottery scratch-off ticket. You’ve decided to be frugal and invest the money and have decided on three alternatives: buying a certificate of deposit, a mutual fund or use the money as a down payment for a $250,000 home.

To compare the three alternatives, let’s look at the equity in each one three years from now.

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The certificate of deposit can be invested at 1.3% in today’s market and you believe you can reasonably earn 5% on a mutual fund. You expect the home to appreciate at three percent a year.

The certificate of deposit would be worth $9,096 at the end of three years and the mutual fund would be worth $10,129. However, the equity in the home at the end of three years would be $45,204. That is a four time’s higher yield on the home.

One of the main reasons for the big difference is that the buyer benefits from leverage: the use of borrowed funds to increase the results. The $8,750 down payment is controlling a $250,000 investment. The appreciation is determined by the price and not merely by the cash invested. Another factor is that the loan balance is smaller at the end of five years than originally borrowed due to amortization.

There are certainly other factors to consider such as maintenance and other expenses but when the financial benefits are as strong as they are, it certainly deserves a much closer investigation. One of the first things to consider is whether the borrower can qualify for a mortgage and the only satisfactory way to be certain is to get pre-approved by a trusted mortgage professional.

Use the Your Best Investment calculator to make your own projections.

Introducing Juliet Hillbrand as our new Team Office Manager

We are excited to welcome Juliet Hillbrand as our new Team Office Manager.  Juliet is a Communications student at the University of Houston and has also successfully completed all of her Texas Real Estate classes and we hope that she will obtain her license soon.

She is a great addition to the team – please help me welcome her!

 

 

 

The Valery Blank Team’s Houston, TX real estate and lifestyle blog.

Welcome to The Valery Blank Team’s blog about the Houston real estate market and area lifestyle. Check back often for informative blog posts on the area, its unique lifestyle and complex real estate market. All from a real estate professional who is passionate about the area.