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Alexandria, Virginia Area Real Estate Blog

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Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 79

Get Ready to Garage Sale

by Stone Realty Services®

A well-planned garage or yard sale can make room in your home, get rid of unused items and make some money but it needs some planning to be successful.

  • Start early to research and plan
  • Promotion is key
  • Display items attractively
  • Price items right
  • Organize checkout

Saturdays are generally the best day but there may be some exceptions.  Experienced garage-salers believe that a well-planned one-day event will do as well as a multi-day event.  Serious purchasers will look for the “new” sale and most people don’t come back multiple days.

Advertise in local newspapers and free online classified sites like craigslist.  If several families are going together for the sale, mention that in the ad; it will be a big draw.  Mention your bigger-ticket items like furniture, equipment and baby items.

Garage sale signs can be purchased or made at Staples, Fedex Office or Kwik Signs.  Signs need large lettering so they’re easy to read while people are driving. Most important info: Garage or Yard Sale, address, date and time.  Directional signs are also important.  Balloons and streamers to attract attention to the signs are very helpful.

Consider using the service Square so that you can take credit cards.  The cost is 2.75% per swipe and can be done on your smartphone or iPad.  You’ll need to sign up at least two weeks in advance to receive your reader.

Unless you’re having an estate sale, keep your home locked.  You don’t want people wandering through your home while you’re outside.  If you start to accumulate a lot of money, take some of it inside.  Don’t discuss how much money you’ve made during the sale or how successful it has been.

People will want to bargain; it’s the nature of the game.  Consider this strategy: less negotiations early in the sale and possibly, more toward the end of the sale. 

Downsizing Might Make Sense

by Stone Realty Services®

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With roughly 12.5% of the population over 65 years of age, it is understandable that some of them are thinking of downsizing because they may not need the amount of space they did in the past.  There is something to be said for the freedom acquired by divesting yourself of “things” that have been accumulated over the years but are no longer needed.

Moving to a less expensive home, could provide cash that could be invested for additional income or savings for unanticipated expenditures.

Savings can also be recognized in the lower utility costs associated with a smaller home, not to mention, the lower premiums for insurance and property taxes.

Going from the home where you reared your family to one of the new tiny homes may be a bit extreme but downsizing to 2/3 or 50% of your current home may certainly be reasonable.  In some situations, your interests may have changed so that a different area or city might be a possibility.

At one time, IRS had a once-in-a-lifetime exclusion of $125,000 of gain from a principal residence but it was changed so that homeowner’s are eligible for an exclusion of $250,000 of gain for single taxpayers and up to $500,000 for married taxpayers who have owned and used their home two out of the last five years and haven’t taken the exclusion in the previous 24 months.

Homeowners should consult their tax professionals to see how this may apply to their individual situation. 

Reducing Interest Expense

by Stone Realty Services®

Debt Free Home.png0% financing has induced car buyers into taking the plunge because it doesn’t cost anything to use someone else’s money.  While mortgage rates are not at zero, they’re close enough that many buyers are applying similar logic.

Qualified mortgage interest is deductible on taxpayers' returns subject to the maximum acquisition debt of one million dollars.  For the fortunate homeowners who have paid off their mortgage, their acquisition debt was reduced to zero and only the interest on a maximum home equity debt of $100,000 is deductible.

If you have to pay interest, deductible interest is preferable because it reduces your actual cost.

Consider the following example of a taxpayer with a $500,000 debt-free home.  If they did an 80% cash-out refinance of $400,000, $100,000 would be considered home equity debt and the interest on that would be deductible on their income tax.  The other $300,000 of debt is considered personal debt and the interest is not deductible.

However, because the rates are currently so low, the loss of deductibility of the interest doesn’t have as much impact as if the rates were higher.  The key is to have a good purpose for the money that would offset the actual cost of the interest.

Paying off a higher rate debt such as credit cards, student loans, possibly, business debt could all have significantly higher interest rates.  Refinancing a home and eliminating debts like these could be a big savings.

All lenders are not the same.  Call for a recommendation of a trusted mortgage professional. 

Homeowner Tax Benefits

by Stone Realty Services®

tax benefits.pngThere are many reasons for wanting to have a home of your own like a place to raise your family, share with friends and feel safe and secure.  While investment opportunities rank high for most people based on the fact that homeowners’ net worth is over forty times higher than that of renters, so do the tax benefits that reduce tax liability.

  • Taxpayers who have owned and used a home for at least two out of the last five years, can exclude a maximum of $250,000 of gain as a single taxpayer and up to $500,000 of gain for married taxpayers filing jointly.
  • If the gain on a principal residence exceeds the allowed exclusion, the balance is taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate rather than the marginal tax rate of the homeowner.
  • Homeowners can deduct the interest paid on up to $1,000,000 of acquisition debt used to buy, build or improve their first or second home.  They may also deduct the interest on up to $100,000 over acquisition debt that is a recorded lien on their first or second home.
  • IRS will allow taxpayers to decide each year whether to take the higher of the itemized deductions or the standard deduction.
  • Points paid on new loans for home purchases are considered interest and can be deducted in the year paid. On the other hand, points paid for refinancing a home must be amortized over the life of the mortgage.

For more information, talk to your tax professional and see IRS publication 523 and IRS Publication 936

ICE Can Save Lives

by Stone Realty Services®

ICE.pngEveryone knows that ice can make a drink cool or reduce swelling, but if you put it on your cell phone, it might just save your life.

The concept is simple.  Make a contact record in your address book with the name “ICE”, which stands for In Case of Emergency.  In the note section of the record, you would list your name, blood type and medical conditions along with prescriptions and physicians.  You’d also list the people and their phone numbers that can be contacted in case of an emergency.

Several years ago, a British first responder came up with the idea when his emergency unit responded to a call where the victim was unable to communicate due to illness or trauma.  The victim’s wallet didn’t indicate specific persons to be notified in an emergency.  The fireman went through his cell phone to try to identify a relative and wasn’t successful.

That’s when he came up with the idea of a universal entry into the address book for ICE where the necessary parties and special information could be kept.  The story received a considerable amount of publicity and spread across the pond to the United States and into many other countries.

While it isn’t recognized everywhere, it is becoming increasingly more popular.  Even if emergency technicians didn’t find it, the slight possibility that they would find it and it would make a difference would justify the few minutes it will take to create it.  Click here to download a card to carry in your wallet or purse. 

Don't Consider Appreciation or Tax Savings

by Stone Realty Services®

iStock_000004701496XSmall.jpgAppreciation and tax savings are legitimate contributors to an overall rate of return on rental real estate but what if you didn’t consider them at all.  If you only looked at one or two, very conservative measurements, you might decide to invest especially knowing that there are more benefits that will accrue to your investment.

If we bought a property for cash, collected the rent and paid the expenses, the amount left would be called Net Operating Income.  In the example below, if would generate $7,200 a year which would be a 7.02% cash on cash rate of return which is considerably higher than the current 10 year treasury rate of around 2.3%.

If we place a mortgage on that property, the rate of return actually increases due to leverage.  After the principal and interest are paid, the net operating income obviously decreases but the cash on cash rate of return increases to 9.10% because the borrowed funds means less cash invested.

Another contribution to the investment’s rate of return occurs with the mortgage due to amortization: the principal reduces with each payment made which increase the investor’s equity.  In this example, the equity build-up divided by the initial investment yields a 5.25% rate of return in the first year.

Single family home for rental purposes offer the investor high loan-to-value mortgages at fixed interest rates for long terms on appreciating assets with tax benefits, reasonable control and an opportunity to earn higher than normal rates of return.  Call if you'd like to talk about what kind of rental opportunities are available.

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Being a Good Neighbor

by Stone Realty Services®

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A good neighbor might be characterized as someone who’ll look after your home when you’re out of town by picking up your mail and watering your plants.  You’d most likely reciprocate for anyone who’d be so generous toward you.

In some cases, you might only be able to name one or two of your neighbors who would step up to that level of service.   Wouldn’t it be nice if more people on your street would be happy to make that offer?

The solution may just start with being a better neighbor first.  The following suggestions go a long way to improving your neighborhood and making new friends at the same time.

  • Meet your neighbors and exchange phone numbers and email addresses.  Agree with each other that you’ll let them know if you see something strange going on at their home. 
  • Slow down when driving through the neighborhood; it will make it safer and everyone will appreciate it. 
  • Control your dog: keep it on a leash; pick up after it; don’t let it bark too much.
  • Don’t park in front of your neighbor’s home.
  • Notify your immediate neighbors when you’re having remodeling done and ask them to let you know if any of the contractors cause damage to their property.
  • Let your neighbors know when you’re having a party and that there will be more cars on the street than usual.
  • Maintain your home and yard so that it adds to the beauty of the neighborhood.
  • Put your garbage out for collection on the correct day and bring the containers back in promptly.

In reality, it is fairly obvious; you just have to think of the things that you’d want from your neighbors.  Be friendly; don’t be noisy; offer a helping hand when available and respect each other’s boundaries.  Having a sense of community and that you all share the neighborhood can be underlying principles that will guide your behavior.

A good neighbor would be aware of suspicious activity and would call their neighbors and the police if warranted.  This might be something you can discuss with your neighbors.  Click here for a template to record your immediate neighbor’s contact information and keep readily available if needed. 

Holiday Tree Safety

by Stone Realty Services®

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Fresh holiday trees are beautiful, smell great and really add to the spirit of the season.  Following some proven safety tips might help you avoid a disaster and keep the Grinch away.

  • Select a tree with fresh green needles that don’t fall off when touched or when the trunk is tapped on the ground.
  • When trees are cut too early, they have a greater risk of drying out and can become more dangerous especially with electrical lights.
  • Cut 1” to 2” off the base of the tree before placing it in the stand to facilitate it drawing water to the limbs and quills.
  • Trees require water similar to cut flowers or they’ll dry out. Tree stands should hold at least one gallon of water and it should be checked every day.  A six foot tree could use up to a gallon of water every two days.
  • Position the tree a minimum of three feet or further from heat source like fireplaces, space heaters, heat vents or candles.  Do not allow the tree to block an exit.
  • Lights should be labeled from an independent testing laboratory and intended for indoor use.
  • Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for how many strings of lights can be connected to each other.
  • Turn off all tree lights when you go to bed or leave the home.
  • If the tree becomes dry and begins shedding needles, it can be a fire hazard and should be removed from the home.  Even if the holidays are not over, it is not worth the risk to keep it in your home.
  • After the gifts have been opened, don’t return the paper and boxes under the tree.
  • Remove the tree as soon as possible after the holidays.
  • Trees should never be burned in a fireplace.  The trees will burn very hot and quickly when they are dry and could spread outside of the fireplace which could cause an unfriendly fire.
  • Check to see if there is a recycling program for holiday trees in your community.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that “one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical failures and a heat source too close to the tree causes roughly one in every six of the fires.”

Verify with Your Lender

by Stone Realty Services®

iStock_000030685604-200.jpgIf you have a mortgage with an escrow account to pay your property taxes and insurance, you expect the company servicing your loan to pay this year’s taxes this year so that you can deduct them on your 2014 income tax return.  After all, your monthly payment includes 1/12 the annual amount so there will be money available for them to be paid on time.

IRS requires that expenses must actually be paid in the year that a deduction is to be taken.

The predicament occurs when you’ve made your payments but the mortgage company didn’t pay the taxing authority in the tax year they were due.  If they paid your 2014 taxes in January of 2015, they wouldn’t be deductible for you until you file your 2015 income tax return.

Verify with your lender after you make the December payment that they did indeed pay your property taxes.  The question for your lender’s customer service is: "Have you or will you pay the 2014 property taxes this year so I’m eligible to deduct them on my 2014 income tax return?” 

Consider an Adjustable Rate

by Stone Realty Services®

ARM vs FRM.pngWith fixed rate mortgages as low as they are, most purchasers or owners wanting to refinance might not even consider an adjustable rate loan.  The determining factor should be how long the person plans to be in the home and which mortgage will provide the cheapest cost of housing.

For instance, if you compare a $300,000, 30 year term mortgage with a 4.125% rate on the fixed and a 3.25% on the 5/1 adjustable, the breakeven point would be almost seven years assuming the rates adjusted the maximum that they could in each year.

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Therefore, if a person is going to stay in the house less than 7 years, the ARM would provide the cheapest cost of housing.  This example shows that at the end of five years, the ARM would generate almost $13,000 savings over the fixed-rate. 

On the other hand, this could be a good time for homeowners with an existing adjustable rate mortgage to consider refinancing into a fixed-rate mortgage.  The longer that they intend to stay in their home, the more advantageous it might be for them to convert their mortgage to lock-in their payment and fix their housing costs.

A trusted mortgage professional can analyze the alternatives to provide you with the information necessary to make a good decision.  You can try the Adjustable Rate Comparison with your own numbers to see the effect.

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 79

Contact Information

Brenda Stone and Stone Realty Services®
Keller Williams Realty
2165 Jamieson Avenue
Alexandria VA 22314
Office: 703-739-HOME (4663)
Cell: 703-615-4862
Fax: 703-683-9692