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Alexandria, Virginia Area Real Estate Blog

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Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 135

How to have a Dust-Free House!

by Stone Realty Services®

Having a dust-free home isn’t difficult, but it takes a serious commitment and a housekeeping strategy that addresses the dust and its causes. Whether your motive is cleanliness or to eliminate the cause of some allergies and asthma symptoms, it will be worth it.

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  • Try to dust your home at least twice a week. Dust the tallest items and work your way down. Dust picture frames, blinds, baseboards and anything that stands out from the wall.
  • Feather dusters can spread more dust than they collect compared to microfiber cloths that attracts dust because they have an electrostatic charge.
  • Filters on heating and air-conditioning systems should be changed often not only to remove dust from the air but to increase the efficiency of the units themselves. Special HEPA filters can improve the overall indoor air quality.
  • Frequently changing the bag or emptying the container in your vacuum is helpful in eliminating dust.
  • Vacuum the floors at least once a week. Vacuum under furniture and periodically, move appliances to clean behind and underneath. Use the proper attachments to vacuum upholstered furniture and under cushions.
  • Eliminate dust magnets like carpet, heavy drapes and upholstered furniture. Consider hard surface flooring like wood or tile instead of carpet.
  • Keep windows closed to keep dust out.
  • Clean your pillows and drapes.
  • Damp mopping and dusting with plain water helps hold the dust and is environmentally friendly.
  • A humidifier can eliminate static electricity which holds dust.
  • Air purifiers circulate are and capture dust and other pollutants.

Choose a Lower Tax Rate

by Stone Realty Services®

During campaign season, it is not unusual to hear a candidate criticized because they make a lot of money but pay little in income tax. While it might not seem fair, taxpayers are allowed to arrange their affairs so that they minimize the amount of tax paid.

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Salary, wages and commissions, along with interest and dividends are taxed at ordinary income rates which can range from 10% to 39.6%. However, capital gains rates, for property held more than 12 months, are much lower ranging from 0% to 20%. Taxpayers in the 25-35% brackets pay LTCG rates of 15%.

The profit on rental property enjoys the lower long-term capital gains rates as compared to the profit on “flipped” property which is taxed at ordinary income rates.

Investments in rental homes generate income, provide depreciation for tax shelter, have equity build-up due to the amortizing loan, leveraged growth due to the borrowed funds and appreciation. The profits could be considerably higher than alternative investments and the profits taxed at lower rates.

The advantage is available to people who understand the tax laws and choose to arrange their activities so they pay a minimal amount of tax. The advantage is available to all taxpayers, not just the rich. In fact, implementing these types of strategies could lead to an increase in wealth.

 

If you're going to play, GET IN THE GAME

by Stone Realty Services®

If competition is a buyer’s biggest concern, for goodness’ sake, get in the game. In a new survey of close to a thousand home buyers conducted by Redfin, affordability is still the number one concern but due to low inventories, competition from other buyers is moving its way up the poll.

26% identified affordability while 19% mentioned competition and 15% mentioned low inventory as their respective top concerns.

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To win, athletes study the competition to come up with a plan and buying a home is not different.

  1. Ask what terms are important to the seller before you write the offer.
  2. Once you decide to make an offer, do it as fast as you can, hopefully, to be the only one the seller is considering.
  3. Make a good (or possibly, your best) offer in the beginning; you may never get a chance at improving it. In highly competitive situations, offer above the list price.
  4. Attach your pre-approval letter from a respected lender. This means you’ll need to get pre-approved before you even think about writing an offer.
  5. Have your lender call the listing agent to reassure them of your ability to qualify.
  6. Include a higher than normal amount of earnest money to show you are serious.
  7. Eliminate unnecessary contingencies.
  8. Write a personal, hand-written letter telling the seller what you like about their home and why you want it. Consider including pictures of your family.
  9. Minimize seller expenses paid for the benefit of the buyer.
  10. Shorten inspection times.
  11. Don’t ask for personal property.
  12. Be flexible on closing dates to accommodate the seller’s move.

Once you find your dream home, don’t take a chance on losing it. Write a winning offer that will be good for both the sellers and the buyers.

 

The Obvious Alternative Investment

by Stone Realty Services®

Rental homes can be a natural alternative investment choice for homeowners because they are already familiar with houses. Maintenance on a rental is not that much different than on your personal home. The same plumbers, painters and other workmen can be used to make repairs.

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Single family homes offer an investor high loan-to-value mortgages at fixed interest rates for long terms on appreciating assets with defined tax advantages and more control than other investments.

  1. High loan-to-value mortgages – most investments require that you pay cash but rental properties can be purchased with 20% down payment.
  2. Fixed interest rates – most commercial loans are based on a floating rate such as prime interest plus one or two percent compared to real estate loans as fixed rates for the term.
  3. Long terms – commercial loans are generally short-term such as six months or a year with the possibility of being renewed for another six months or a year unlike real estate where a 30-year mortgage is commonplace.
  4. Appreciating assets – real estate has a long-term history of going up in value.
  5. Defined tax advantages – many investments are taxed as ordinary income but rental real estate enjoys a non-cash deduction called cost recovery, the profits from sale are taxed at lower long-term capital gains rates or may be eligible for a tax-deferred exchange.
  6. Control – rental homes don’t require partners and afford the investor more options than investing in mutual funds and other traditional investments.

The demand for good rentals is strong and the rents continue to go up in most markets.  There are people who choose not to buy or cannot buy a home who would prefer to live in a single family home rather than an apartment.

 

You may never stop paying for some improvements...

by Stone Realty Services®

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You've saved the money and are ready to pay cash to build a new pool for your home.  However, that's just the beginning of your soon to be increased expenses which will include maintenance, higher utilities and higher taxes.

Homeowners obviously benefit by a larger equity when their home increases in value due to appreciation.   A not-so-obvious effect that will also more than likely take place is that their property taxes will increase.  In most cases, a property's assessed value is generally tied to market value to calculate the property taxes based on the tax rate for that year.

Similarly, a homeowner can affect the value of their home by making capital improvements.  Some small items may never be recognized by the taxing authority but items that require a permit, certainly are brought to their attention.  Items such as a fence, roof, remodeling, windows, new rooms or swimming pools can easily increase the assessed value of a property.

Most states have an established time frame in which to challenge the current tax assessment for that year.  The process is relatively simple and doesn't require professional representation.  It generally involves showing that there is an error which has overstated the value or that current comparable sales indicate a lower value.

If you'd like more information or need the comparable sales data, please let us know.  We would be happy to help you investigate the possibility of lowering your property taxes.

Temporary Buy Down

by Stone Realty Services®

There is an infrequently-used mortgage program available that could be the solution to a buyer's or seller's problem.

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A temporary buydown is fixed rate mortgage that the seller has prepaid interest at closing to lower the payments for a number of years.  The borrower must qualify at the note rate but gets the benefit of lower payments for the early years.

A 2/1 is a common buydown that the first year's payment is calculated at 2% lower than the note rate and the second year's payment is calculated at 1% lower than the note rate.  The third through thirtieth years' payments are the note rate.

Let's set the scene.  A buyer is using their available cash for down payment and closing costs to get into the home.  They'd like to put their own touches on the home when they move in but may not be able to for a year or two since most of their cash was used.

In this example, a $250,000 home is purchased with a 3.5% down payment and a 4% mortgage for 30-years.  Normally, the principal and interest payment would be $1,151.76 for the full 30-year term.  If the seller will pay the lender $4,736 at closing, it can be applied to pre-pay part of the interest for the first two years.

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The first year, the buyer's P&I payment will be $891.71 for 12 months based on a 2% interest rate or 2% lower than the 4% note rate.  It is $260.06 lower per month in the first year.  The second year, the buyer's P&I payment will be $1,017.12 for the next 12 months based on a 3% interest rate or 1% lower than the 4% note rate.  It is $134.64 lower per month in the second year.

A bonus for the buyer will be that the cost of the buydown paid at closing by the seller becomes prepaid interest that is deductible by the buyer in the year of purchase.  The buyer gets lower than normal payments for the first two years and a sizable tax deduction.

This type of program can be very beneficial to a seller who wants to offer terms to improve the marketability of their home rather than lower the price.  The challenge will be explaining it to not only potential buyers but even agents who are not familiar with this program.

Postponing a Purchase

by Stone Realty Services®

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. 

Digital Showings

by Stone Realty Services®

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

by Stone Realty Services®

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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Homeowner Advisory

by Stone Realty Services®
Similar to an annual wellness physical, homeowners should consider an annual review of the financial elements of their home. It’s particularly valuable based on the fact that their home and its equity is generally, one of their largest assets.

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  • List of similar properties recently sold and currently available
  • Information on challenging property tax assessment
  • Refinance Analysis to:
    • lower your rate
    • shorten the term
    • make improvements
    • eliminate mortgage insurance
    • remove a person from the loan
    • eliminate credit card debt
    • combine loans
    • take cash out of the equity
  • Equity Accelerator to retire the mortgage within a specific period of time
  • Repairmen and contractors recommendations
  • Information on rental property opportunities

We’d be happy to provide this information at no obligation as part of our on-going commitment to providing homeowner information, both in general and specifically, to our contacts. It is part of a long-term strategy whereby we hope to earn your loyalty and referrals when you do need our services to buy or sell.

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 135

Contact Information

Photo of Stone Wood Team Real Estate
Stone Wood Team
Keller Williams Realty
2165 Jamieson Avenue
Alexandria VA 22314
Office: (703) 739-4663
Office: (703) 739-HOME
Fax: 703-683-9692