66 Questions to Ask When Buying a House

As a first-time homebuyer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed even before you begin your homebuying journey. After all, this is a new process for you and, simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. First off, there are no silly questions you can ask during any stage of the homebuying process. So always feel free to ask a question, no matter how trivial you think it might be. You owe it to yourself – and your family – to find out everything you can about a home, especially since it will most likely be the largest investment you’ll ever make. To help you get started, we’ve created a list of 66 questions to ask when buying a house, broken down into each stage of the homebuying process to help keep you informed.

11 questions to ask before you go house hunting

As you well know, buying a house is a significant investment. Before you start house hunting, think through your goals for homeownership. Why do you want to buy a house? 

  1. Do you want to earn equity and build wealth by owning a house? 
  2. Do you expect you might need more space for a future family? 
  3. Do you have a pet or see one in your future and you want a backyard? 
  4. Do you want to live in a quiet, established area or somewhere more lively? 
  5. Do you enjoy yard work, gardening? How much backyard space do you require?
  6. Have you considered the local schools and neighborhoods? 
  7. Have you looked at crime rates around the neighborhoods you’re interested in? 
  8. Is it essential for you to live close to your work? Or, is a commute ok? 
  9. Have you narrowed down a range of purchase prices you can afford?
  10. How much money do you need for a downpayment? 
  11. Are you pre-approved for a mortgage

When you’re wrapped up in the excitement of house hunting, you may forget which questions to ask when buying a house.. If you are a pet owner looking at condos, you’ll have to be sure the homeowners’ association allows pets. Or, let’s say you want to live in a popular downtown neighborhood, but plan to have children in a few years – will this neighborhood still suit your needs? It’s always worth giving some thought to the type of home and area to help focus your search. 

Also, be aware that being approved for a home loan saves time for everyone by ensuring that you, as the buyer, can actually afford the home and be able to follow through an offer. 

7 questions to ask when you interview agents

Contacting the agent listed on the for-sale sign of a house you’re interested in may not be the best way to protect your interest as a buyer. When you work with your own agent, that agent’s job is to represent your interests. They help research the house, find answers to all of your questions, and serve as your professional intermediary for communicating with the seller’s agent and homeowner.

Naturally, you will want to choose a great real estate agent that you are comfortable with and feel like they have your best interests in mind. Most real estate experts recommend that you interview at least three agents identified by recommendations from friends and family who have bought or sold a house recently. Here are some questions to ask potential agents to see if they are the right agent for you.

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent? 
  2. What kind of experience do you have in this specific market area?
  3. Do you usually work with buyers or sellers? 
  4. How do you usually communicate with clients? What should I expect for response time? 
  5. How will you help me search for homes? 
  6. What days and times are you typically available for showings? 
  7. How will you ensure transparency about any issues you see with a house? 

When you set your expectations for communication, home tours, and other information you count on your agent to provide, you have a good chance to establish a productive relationship from the start – which will help you through your homebuying journey.

stylish living room

stylish living room

37 questions to ask when touring homes

This is an extensive list, and not every question applies to every situation. For example, if your goal is to purchase a single-family home, questions relating to condominiums don’t apply. However, this list of questions to ask when touring a house should give you an excellent start in making well-informed decisions when buying your first home. 

  1. What’s the reason for the sale? How long have the sellers lived there?
  2. How long has the house been on the market? 
  3. What is the neighborhood like?
  4. When was the house built? 
  5. What are the property taxes?
  6. Are there any upcoming condo or homeowners association fees?
  7. What are the average utility costs? 
  8. Have there been any major repairs to the property? If so, do you know if they provided a warranty?
  9. Are there any boundary disputes with neighbors?
  10. Are there any shared driveways or communal spaces?
  11. Are there any public rights of way passing through – or near – the property? 
  12. How old are the major appliances and systems?
  13. Are the appliances included in the sale?
  14. What is the sales history of this house, and how would it affect my offer?
  15. Is there enough storage space? Room to grow? 
  16. Is there any evidence of water problems? Can you see damp drywall, basement floors, or open leaks? Can you smell mildew? Or is there a smell of fresh paint that might be intended to cover up a water issue?
  17. Are the walls structurally sound? Look for cracks and look for evidence of cracks covered over by wallpaper that doesn’t look right or paint applied over filler.
  18. Is the chimney in good condition?
  19. Are the windows sound? Will any of the glazing need to be replaced?
  20. Do the ground floor windows have working latches to lock the windows? 
  21. Is the attic insulated? If so, when was the insulation installed?
  22. Is there any soundproofing in the house? (Try viewing the home at different times to hear road noise or neighbors.)
  23. Are there working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms?
  24. Is there adequate cell phone reception indoors? How’s the broadband service in the area?
  25. What type of system is used to heat and cool the house? 
  26. Ask to see the circuit box – does the wiring look up to date?
  27. How is the condition of electrical outlets and switches? (You can bring something to plug into try outlets.) 
  28. Do all of the lights work? If not, why not?
  29. Does the property have any lead pipes? Do you see any issues with pipes in need of repair?
  30. What kind of drainage system does the property have? Is it on the city sewer, or is there a septic tank? 
  31. Is there any asbestos in the property, or has there ever been an asbestos survey completed?
  32. What kind of roof does the property have? When was it last replaced, and what is its current condition? 
  33. Do you see any gutter leaks? Are the gutters cleaned out, or do they need work? 
  34. Are there any trees growing within 15 feet of the property? Can you discern if roots are likely to be a problem? 
  35. Which way does the yard face, and is there any part of the yard that doesn’t receive sunlight throughout the day? 
  36. Would the real estate agent buy this house? If not, why not?
  37. What’s the lowest price you think we could offer for this house and still close the transaction?

You can ask these questions when buying a house – and others as applicable – to understand your likely overall costs to own this home. When you understand all of your costs, you’ll confidently be able to make an offer you can afford

open concept new kitchen

open concept new kitchen

11 questions to ask when making an offer and closing on a home

Real estate agents make offers on homes every day. Their job is to help you make the best offer while protecting you against potential risks with the transaction. 

  1. How does the offer work? Do we communicate with the seller or seller’s agent? 
  2. What contingencies do you recommend including in the offer? 
  3. How much earnest money should we put in the offer? 
  4. When do we need to provide earnest money? 
  5. When should we expect to hear back from the seller? 
  6. If we receive a counter-offer, when do we need to reply? 
  7. How can we sign the paperwork? Digital? In-person? 
  8. If the offer is accepted, what are the next steps? 
  9. How far out is the potential closing date from an accepted offer? 
  10. What are our next steps once the offer is accepted?
  11. What do we do at closing? 

Your real estate agent wants to make the home buying transaction as smooth as possible. If they do not provide this information upfront, be sure to ask. 

You should prepare a list of your own questions to ask when buying a house. It can include any given here, or others that represent your own interests and concerns. Answers to these questions will ease your mind and help you understand what you can expect during each stage of the homebuying process. Completing your research is perfectly acceptable, but don’t skip asking questions of your mortgage broker, real estate agent, and title company. When you gather enough information, you can make the best decision buying your first home. 

Source: redfin.com

How to Create or Claim Your Small-Business Listing on Manta

Manta.com is one of the most popular local business information websites in the United States. According to its own data, Manta draws about 11 million unique visitors per month and boasts more than 5 million small, mostly local businesses in its database — a significant fraction of all U.S.-based small businesses with physical storefronts.

Does this site’s popularity mean you, a small-business owner eager to reach more potential customers in your hometown (and perhaps beyond) should invest the time and effort necessary to create, optimize, and maintain a Manta listing?

Perhaps. It depends on what type of business you operate, how much effort you can devote to your listing, and whether business directory websites like Manta truly complement your marketing efforts — or whether you’d do just fine without them.

Pros & Cons of Creating a Listing on Manta.com

Does it make sense to create a small-business listing on Manta.com? This is the first question you need to ask before putting in the effort to create your Manta listing.

The truth is, Manta works better for certain types of businesses. Its most popular searches relate to customer-facing service businesses, such as retailers, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and others:

  • Automotive businesses
  • Hotels and travel services
  • Beauty shops and spas
  • Cleaning services
  • Plumbing, electrical, and other trade services
  • General contracting services
  • Health and medical

Like many other business information directory sites, Manta sorts listed companies geographically, down to the municipality or neighborhood level. This is vital for location-bound businesses, such as restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers, that cater mostly or exclusively to local customers.

Manta is less useful, although not entirely useless, for companies that don’t rely on physical locations or local marketing to drive sales. E-commerce businesses that sell through platforms like Shopify or Etsy and rely more on word of mouth and social media marketing aren’t guaranteed to find Manta and its ilk valuable.

Pros of Listing Your Business on Manta

Why create a business profile on Manta? Advantages include the inherent legitimacy of a claimed business listing, SEO benefits, and the importance of sites like Manta in customers’ research process.

1. Claiming Your Listing Makes Your Business Seem More Legitimate

Manta’s “Claim This Listing” button makes clear which of its listings are “claimed” — acknowledged and maintained by the featured business — and which are not.

The simple act of claiming your business, therefore, confers substantial legitimacy upon it, if only because doing so shows Manta-using consumers that you care enough about your establishment to take two minutes to make its listing your own. Rightly or wrongly, consumers might take an unclaimed listing as a sign you aren’t really interested in attracting new customers.

I’m guilty of this myself. All else being equal, I try to avoid businesses with unclaimed online directory listings unless I know of them by other means — such as word of mouth — or they’re part of a recognizable business franchise that I trust.

2. Manta Listings Are Good for SEO

Popular search engines’ ranking algorithms have a “black box” quality to them — no one knows exactly how they work except the people responsible for them — and maybe not even they do. Still, conduct 10 Google searches for 10 of your favorite local businesses and you’re liable to deduce that business directory sites like Manta rank well in organic search results — the list of results you see below the paid search ads on search engines like Google or Bing.

Moreover, Manta’s featured product or service pages often rank separately from the main directory pages. This means that your Manta listing could end up being responsible for several discrete search results, depending on how many featured products or service pages it appears on.

The bottom line is this: Unless your business’s name is easily confused with common or generic terms (“Quality Plumbing,” “Fast Oil Change,” “Tasty Sandwiches”), your Manta listing is likely to appear on Google’s or Bing’s first results page of a search engine. This is crucial because many consumers never venture past the first results page.

3. Consumers Rely Heavily on Directory Listings for Research

If you thought a PCMag study that found roughly 40% of online reviews to be fake would deter shoppers from relying on them, you’d be wrong. According to a 2017 ReportLinker survey, 60% of consumers give online reviews as much weight as recommendations from real-world acquaintances.

Setting aside the question of whether this is a wise policy for consumers to abide by, it’s a compelling case for taking the time to maintain listings on business directory sites with user-generated reviews, such as Manta.

Cons of Listing Your Business on Manta

Manta is a useful part of many a business’s online presences, but it’s not appropriate for every enterprise. Drawbacks include the time and resources involved in maintaining a profile and the fact that listings display potentially sensitive information — which may, in turn, invite abuse.

1. Maintaining Your Profile Takes Time and Effort

Although the initial step of claiming your Manta listing takes just a few minutes, keeping your listing optimized and up-to-date requires real ongoing work. Uploading photos, analyzing user data, responding to reviews, changing listing information that’s no longer relevant — all these activities take time and effort.

If you have an online store, other business directory listings, and multiple social media accounts, staying on top of your digital presence could prove overwhelming.

And, if you’re a cash-poor small business without the means to hire a part- or full-time marketing employee or social media manager, or even work with an outside PR or marketing firm, you’ll need to do this work yourself. If you can — otherwise, there’s no shame in waiting until your business has grown a bit to invest in a first-rate directory profile.

2. May Not Be a Great Resource for User Reviews

Although Manta never experienced the sorts of high-profile fake review scandals that bedeviled Yelp in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the platform is certainly mindful of the potential for inauthentic reviews to interfere with and dilute genuine user feedback.

Indeed, Manta and reputable business directory sites like it take measures to combat fraudulent reviews that can at times be overzealous — filtering out real reviews that you might want your customers to see.

Separately but relatedly, many Manta business listings simply don’t have many user-generated reviews, making them less useful for consumer research. Many of my favorite businesses — enterprises I know to be legitimate — have zero Manta reviews, likely through no fault of their own.

If you want to ensure your customers see every review of your business, good or bad, you’re better off investing in a more “social” directory like Facebook or Yelp.

3. Directory Listings Contain Sensitive Information

Certain types of businesses, such as restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers, have no choice but to reveal their business addresses, phone numbers, and other basic bits of important-if-sensitive information. Customer-facing businesses like these can’t survive in anonymity.

That said, other types of local businesses — including those that make house calls, like home service providers — might prefer to conceal their physical locations, and possibly contact information, from the public. For example, you might not want your clients to know that you work out of a home office or coworking hub rather than an office suite.

To be clear, if an unclaimed listing exists for your business, it may well list your true place of business, be it a residential address, coworking space, or virtual office. You’ll need to claim your listing to remove this information — but once that’s done, you can feel free to let it lapse.

4. Your Listing Could Attract Abuse

There’s a small but real possibility that your listing could become a forum for abusive or hateful reviews or feedback from misguided customers — and, potentially, members of the public with no connection to your business.

Unlike some online retailers, business directory sites like Manta tend not to require would-be reviewers to verify that they’ve patronized a listed business in the past. This makes it easier than it should be for people with a political agenda or personal grievances to single out individual businesses for criticism.

When they occur, such campaigns typically revolve around controversial actions or stances taken by the targeted business’s owners or employees. For example, in early 2015, the owners of an Indiana pizzeria made headlines for publicly announcing that they’d follow their state’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was widely interpreted to condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The stance prompted a backlash that saw thousands of comments, some of which were obscene and threatening, posted to the restaurant’s website. Citing safety concerns, the shop closed shortly thereafter, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Reasonable people can disagree with the restaurant owners’ politics without condoning threats to their and their employees’ safety. And, even if you have no plans to publicly announce your business’s support for controversial legislation, your digital presence might nevertheless become a venue for customers to air their grievances.

If you’d rather not deal with such backlash, perhaps it’s best to lay low.


How to Claim or Create Your Manta.com Listing

Follow these processes and tips to claim or create your Manta business listing.

Claiming an Existing Business Listing

Manta uses user-submitted and publicly available information to generate business listings, which legitimate owners can claim. Claiming your Manta profile allows you to do the following:

  • Update Your Listing Information. Claiming your listing unlocks the ability to edit your business name, contact information, business hours, brands carried, payment accepted, business categories (such as “doctors’ offices”), and other basic information. You can also add a brief, customized description of what your business does and provide links to your company website or social media pages.
  • Add Logos and Photos. You can upload your business’s logo or another representative photograph to appear at the top of your listing.
  • Highlight Products or Services. Basic Manta profiles allow for three highly detailed product or service pages, which are useful for describing core or high-value offerings to prospective customers. You can add photos, list prices or price ranges, and include a “Purchase Info” button, which prompts visitors to take a specific action like “call for a free quote.”

Manta has a good primer on claiming a legitimate business listing. To finalize your listing claim and any changes you’ve made, you’ll need to create a user account with your email address, Facebook account, or Google account. If you create a listing with an email address, you’ll need to input your full name, email, and a unique username and password.

If desired, you can add a headshot. Your profile doesn’t contain a ton of personal information about you — it’s more about managing your own business listing, recommendations for other businesses, and account privacy.

Once your profile is created, you can find out whether your business is listed by searching Manta’s database for your exact business name and city. If a listing already exists, click the “Verify Now” button next to it to sync it with your personal profile.

Unlike Yelp, Manta doesn’t require verification of ownership, but you can follow a similar process to earn a “Verified” badge, which Manta claims confers legitimacy. With your listing synced to your profile, you can begin editing and improving to your heart’s content.

Creating a New Listing

If your business isn’t yet listed, simply click the “Add Business” button that appears at the top of every Manta page. Doing so leads you to a form to list your company, where you’ll fill out some basic information about your business: exact company name, exact location, and contact details. This unlocks your listing and syncs it with your personal profile.


How to Optimize Your Manta Listing

Use these tips and resources to optimize your Manta listing once it’s claimed or created:

1. Create a Compelling “About Us” Section

A detailed About Us section is great for boosting your page’s visibility on search engine results pages. Use Google Keyword Planner or a similar tool to identify keywords that your business already ranks for, and then sprinkle them into your About Us copy.

Make sure your About Us is comprehensive, but not awash in detail — the goal is to create a high-level look at your business that shows why you’re different from the competition without overwhelming the reader with granularity.

2. Take Full Advantage of the Product and Service Showcases

Manta lets you highlight up to three products, services, or packages on separate pages within your listing, and there’s no reason not to take full advantage. Focus on popular, preferably high-margin products and services that somehow stand out from what the competition offers. Include images, pricing information, and keywords — check Google Keyword Planner.

3. List as Many Contacts and Links as Possible

In addition to your main business phone number and company website link, include as many relevant contact numbers and web property links as necessary to provide one-stop access to your entire business.

If your business has multiple departments — such as a dining room, bakery, and catering service — provide names and direct lines for the manager of each. Likewise, link to each of your social media properties and your online store, if you have one.

4. Solicit and Curate Customer Recommendations

Manta doesn’t make customer feedback a core part of its appeal. Manta frowns upon customer feedback manipulation, so don’t offer special deals to customers who provide glowing recommendations.

However, it does still allow customers to leave what are essentially reviews on companies’ directory listings, so you can certainly ask and encourage customers to leave feedback if they wish.

5. Use Educational and Social Resources

Manta publishes educational articles on how to get the most out of your Manta profile, as well as general tips on running and marketing your business. It also hosts discussion forums that allow you to connect with other Manta users, talk about your experience on the platform, and seek out advice from more experienced users.


Final Word

Manta isn’t the only free business listing site that small-business owners like you should consider using. Dozens of other sites, including some you’ve probably heard of — Yelp, for example — can increase your company’s name recognition and promote its services to more potential customers than you’d reach via more expensive marketing channels.

Not all such sites are created equal, of course. Some are free or nearly so, while others require a one-time fee or monthly subscription. And many are ill-suited to certain types of businesses or have other drawbacks that might give you pause.

Instead of spending time and money chasing after every directory site that might possibly help your business, take some time to research the most popular options and develop a narrower, more manageable list that works within the constraints of your marketing plan and budget.

Along the way, feel free to speak with peers and competitors about their own experiences on these platforms, assuming they’re willing to talk. With so much else on your plate, you certainly don’t need to make an investment that has little chance of paying off.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Stock Market Today: Tech Gets Respite From Recent Selling

Wall Street flipped the week’s script on Friday, with a cooling-off in interest rates stunting value-oriented stocks while providing much-needed relief for “growthier” names.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lagged the broader indices with a 1.5% decline to 30,932, while the S&P 500 declined 0.5% to 3,811. The Nasdaq Composite, meanwhile, got a lift from the recently sold-off technology and communications sectors; stocks such as Facebook (FB, +1.2%), Nvidia (NVDA, +3.1%) and Microsoft (MSFT, +1.5%) helped lead a modest 0.6% rebound in the tech-heavy index.

Despite the rebound, the Nasdaq remained down 4.9% for the week, the result of interest-rate fears, versus 1.8% and 2.4% losses for the Dow and S&P 500, respectively.

“Many market participants have referenced the infamous ‘Taper Tantrum’ in 2013 as a similar playbook to today as a reason why we’re seeing equity market weakness,” says Brian Price, head of investment management for Commonwealth Financial Network. But he also points out that “the notable difference today … is that the Fed seems very committed to letting the economy run a little hotter than normal and will tolerate higher inflation.” 

Other action in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 eked out a marginal gain to 2,201.
  • U.S. crude oil futures sank 3.2% to $61.50 per barrel, but still finished February up 18%.
  • Gold futures sank, too, dropping 2.6% to $1,728.80 per ounce, plumbing nine-month lows.
  • Bitcoin prices, at $48,870 on Thursday, dropped 5.1% to $46,381. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)

stock chart for 022621stock chart for 022621

Earnings Estimates Are Looking Up!

Whatever the market faces in the short term, analysts see better times further on in the year.

Economic expectations are improving as more Americans are inoculated against COVID-19; nearly 14% of the population has received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That has analysts quickly scaling up their earnings estimates. Current-quarter profit expectations have improved by 5% over the first two months of Q1. According to FactSet Senior Earnings Analyst John Butters, that’s “the second-highest increase in the bottom-up EPS estimate during the first two months of a quarter since FactSet began tracking this metric in Q2 2002,” trailing only Q1 2018’s 5.7% increase.

That augurs well for much of the market – including a number of dividend-rich sectors and industries. Many real estate investment trusts (REITs), especially in the retail and hospitality industries, are poised for better results as foot traffic picks up. And an economic recovery bodes well for business development companies (BDCs), as well as the small and midsized businesses in which they invest.

Investors will find plenty of attractive income opportunities across the equity board – though if you’re looking for somewhere to start, we suggest you begin with our list of 21 high-quality (and high-yielding) stocks that are suitable for those looking to retirement (or even in it). These names offer an appealing blend of payout potential and income stability that just about any long-term buy-and-holder can appreciate.

Kyle Woodley was long NVDA and Bitcoin as of this writing.

Source: kiplinger.com

Using a Personal Cash Flow Statement

If you’re often surprised when you open up your credit card and bank statements and see how much money you spent, or you worry that your cash outflow may be exceeding your cash inflow, there could be a simple solution: A personal cash flow statement.

Creating a personal cash flow statement can give you a clear picture of your monthly cash inflow (money you earn) and your monthly cash outflow (money you spend) to determine if you have a positive or negative net cash flow.

And while it may sound intimidating, creating a personal cash flow statement is relatively simple. All you need to get started is to gather up your bank statements and bills for one month (or more). Then, it’s a matter of some basic calculations.

Once you have your personal financial statement, you’ll know where you currently stand. You’ll also be able to use your personal financial statement to help you create a budget and goals for increasing your net worth.

Here’s how to start getting your financial life back into balance.

What Is a Personal Cash Flow Statement?

“Cash flow” is a term commonly used by businesses to detail the amount of money flowing in and out of a company.

Companies can use cash flow statements to determine how well the company is generating cash to pay its debts and operating expenses.

Just like the ones used by companies, tracking your own cash flow can provide you with a snapshot of your financial condition.

You might learn, for example, that you have less leftover at the end of each month than you thought, or that you are indeed going backwards.

Once you have the numbers down in black and white, you can then make any needed changes, such as reducing costs and expenditures, increasing income, and making sure that your spending is in line with your goals.

So, how do you set up a personal finance cash flow statement?

It might seem overwhelming to get started, but these steps can simplify the process.

Listing all Your Sources of Income

A good first step when creating a personal cash flow statement is to get out all of your pay stubs, bank statements, credit card statements, and bills.

Next, you’ll want to start listing any and all sources of income–the inflow.

Cash inflows generally include: salaries, anything you make from side hustles, interest from savings accounts, income from a rental property, dividends from investments, and capital gains from the sale of financial securities like stocks and bonds.

Since a cash flow statement is designed to give a snapshot into the overall flow of where your money is coming from and where it is going, you might want to avoid listing money in accounts that aren’t available for spending.

For example, you may not want to list dividends and capital gains from investment accounts if they are being automatically reinvested, or are part of a retirement account from which you aren’t actively taking withdrawals.

Since income can vary from one month to the next, you might choose to tally inflow for the last three or six in order to come up with an average.

Once you’ve collected and listed all of your income for the month, you can then calculate the total inflow.

Listing all of Your Expenses

Now that you know how much money is coming in each month, you’ll want to use those same statements and bills, as well as any statements for any debts (such as mortgage, auto loan, or student loans) to list how much was spent during the month.

Again, if your spending tends to fluctuate quite a bit from month to month you may want to track it for several months and come up with an average.

To create a complete picture of how much of your money is flowing out each month, you’ll want to include necessities like food and gas, and also discretionary expenses, such as trips to the nail salon or your monthly streaming services.

Small expenses can add up quickly, so it’s wise to be precise.

Once you’ve compiled all of your expenses, you can calculate the total and come up with your total outflow for the month.

Determining Your Net Cash Flow

To calculate your net cash flow, all you need to do is subtract your monthly outflow from your monthly inflow. The result is your net cash flow.

A positive number means you have a surplus, while a negative means you have a deficit in your budget.

A positive cash flow is desirable, of course, since it can provide more flexibility, and can allow you to decide how to best use the surplus.

There are a variety of options. You could choose to save for an upcoming expense, make additional contributions to your retirement fund, create or add to an emergency fund, or, if your savings are in good shape, consider a splurging on something fun.

A negative cash flow can signal that you are living a more expensive life than your income can support. In the future, maintaining this habit could lead to additional debt.

It’s also possible to have net neutral cash flow (all money coming in and going out is fairly equal).

In that case, you may still want to jigger things around if you are not already putting the annual maximum into your retirement fund and/or you don’t have a comfortable emergency cushion.

The Difference Between a Personal Cash Flow Statement and a Budget

A personal cash flow statement provides a comprehensive look at what is currently coming in and going out of your bank accounts each month.

A cash flow statement tells you where you are.

A personal budget, on the other hand, helps you to get where you want to go by giving you a spending plan that is based on your income.

A budget can provide you with some general spending guidelines, such as how much you should spend on groceries, entertainment and clothing each month so that you don’t exceed your income–and end up with a negative net flow.

Creating a budget can also be a good opportunity to check in with your financial goals.

For example, are you on track for saving for retirement? Do you want to amp up your emergency fund?

Are you interested in tackling the credit card debt that has been spiraling due to high interest rates?

Perhaps you want to work toward paying off your student loans.

Whatever your goal, a well-crafted budget could serve as a roadmap to help you get there.

Using Your Personal Financial Statement to Create a Simple Budget

Because a cash flow statement provides a comprehensive look at your overall spending habits, it can be a great jumping off point to set up a simple budget.

When you’re ready to create a budget, there are a variety of resources online, from apps, like SoFi Relay®, to spreadsheet templates and printable worksheets .

A good first step in creating a budget is to organize all of your monthly expenses into categories.

Spending categories typically include necessities, such as rent or mortgage, transportation (like car expenses or public transportation costs), food, cell phone, healthcare/insurance, life insurance, childcare, and any debts (credit cards/ loans).

You’ll also need to list nonessential spending, such as cable television, streaming services, concert and movie tickets, restaurants, clothing, etc.

You may also want to include monthly contributions to a retirement plan and personal savings into the expense category as well.

And, if you don’t have emergency savings in place that could cover at least three to six months of living expenses, consider putting that on the spending list as well, so you can start putting some money towards it each month.

Once you have a sense of your monthly earnings and spending, you may want to see how your numbers line up with general budgeting guidelines. Financial counselors sometimes recommend the 50/30/20 model, which looks like this:

•  50% of money goes towards necessities such as a home, car, cell phone, or utility bills.
•  30% goes towards your wants, such as entertainment and dining out.
•  20% goes towards your savings goals, such as a retirement plan, a downpayment on a home, emergency fund, or investments.

Improving Your Net Cash Flow

If your net cash flow is not where you want it or, worse, dipping into negative territory, a budget can help bring these numbers into balance.

The key is to look closely at each one of your spending categories and see if you can find some ways to trim back.

The easiest way to change your spending habits is to trim some of your nonessential expenditures. If you’re paying for cable but mostly watch streaming services, for example, you could score some real savings by getting rid of that cable bill.

Not taking as many trips to the mall or cooking (instead of getting takeout) more often could start adding up to a big difference.

Living on a budget may also require looking at the bigger picture and finding places for more significant savings.

For example, maybe rent eats up 50% of your income and it’d be better to move to a less costly apartment. Or, you might want to consider trading in an expensive car lease for a less pricey or pre-owned model.

There may also be opportunities to lower some of your recurring expenses by finding a better deal or negotiating with your service providers.

You may also want to look into any ways you might be able to change the other side of the equation–the inflow.

Some options might include asking for a raise, or finding an additional income stream through some sort of side hustle.

The Takeaway

One of the most important steps towards achieving financial wellness is cash flow management–i.e., making sure that your cash outflow is not exceeding your cash inflow.

Creating a simple cash flow statement for yourself can be an extremely useful tool.

For one reason, it can show you exactly where you stand. For another, a personal cash flow statement can help you create a budget that can bring the inflow and outflow of money into a healthier balance.

Creating–and sticking with–a budget that creates a positive net cash flow, and also allows for monthly saving (for retirement, a future purchase, or a rainy day) can help you build financial security and future wealth.

If you need help with tracking your spending, a SoFi Money® cash management account may be a good option for you.

With SoFi Money, you can see your weekly spending on your dashboard, which can help you stay on top of your spending and make sure you are on track with your budget.

Check out everything a SoFi Money cash management account has to offer today!



External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank.
SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . The umbrella term “SoFi Invest” refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.

SOMN19163

Source: sofi.com

Mortgage and refinance rates today, February 26, 2021

Today’s mortgage and refinance rates 

Average mortgage rates soared yesterday, rising by a greater amount than we’ve seen in a long time. Of course, they’re still very low in a historical context.

Markets often correct themselves after sharp movements such as yesterday’s. And I’m expecting that mortgage rates may fall today but probably modestly. However, during such volatile times, markets can shift direction quickly and they certainly read as jittery at the moment.

Find and lock a low rate (Feb 26th, 2021)

Current mortgage and refinance rates 

Program Mortgage Rate APR* Change
Conventional 30 year fixed 3.058% 3.061% +0.08%
Conventional 15 year fixed 2.488% 2.497% Unchanged
Conventional 20 year fixed 2.983% 2.99% +0.09%
Conventional 10 year fixed 2.567% 2.587% +0.01%
30 year fixed FHA 2.816% 3.495% +0.06%
15 year fixed FHA 2.517% 3.1% Unchanged
5 year ARM FHA 2.5% 3.213% +0.01%
30 year fixed VA 2.375% 2.547% Unchanged
15 year fixed VA 2.25% 2.571% Unchanged
5 year ARM VA 2.5% 2.392% +0.01%
Rates are provided by our partner network, and may not reflect the market. Your rate might be different. Click here for a personalized rate quote. See our rate assumptions here.

Find and lock a low rate (Feb 26th, 2021)


COVID-19 mortgage updates: Mortgage lenders are changing rates and rules due to COVID-19. To see the latest on how coronavirus could impact your home loan, click here.

Should you lock a mortgage rate today?

Overnight, CNBC summed up what happened yesterday:

The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note [which mortgage rates often shadow] briefly surpassed 1.6% on Thursday, its highest in over a year, fueled by expectations for higher economic growth and inflation.

We’ve been highlighting the same two factors for some time now. And they haven’t gone away.

So my personal rate lock recommendations remain:

  • LOCK if closing in 7 days
  • LOCK if closing in 15 days
  • LOCK if closing in 30 days
  • LOCK if closing in 45 days
  • LOCK if closing in 60 days

But, with so much uncertainty at the moment, your instincts could easily turn out to be as good as mine — or better. So be guided by your gut and your personal tolerance for risk.

Compare top lenders

Market data affecting today’s mortgage rates 

Here’s a snapshot of the state of play this morning at about 9:50 a.m. (ET). The data, compared with roughly the same time yesterday, were:

  • The yield on 10-year Treasurys edged up to 1.48% from 1.45%. (Normally, bad for mortgage rates. But yesterday’s rise was reflected in yesterday’s rates and yields are now falling.) More than any other market, mortgage rates normally tend to follow these particular Treasury bond yields, though less so recently
  • Major stock indexes were mixed on opening. (Neutral for mortgage rates.) When investors are buying shares they’re often selling bonds, which pushes prices of those down and increases yields and mortgage rates. The opposite happens when indexes are lower
  • Oil prices fell to $62.54 from $63.02 a barrel. (Good for mortgage rates* because energy prices play a large role in creating inflation and also point to future economic activity.) 
  • Gold prices fell to $1,756 from $1,785 an ounce. (Bad for mortgage rates*.) In general, it’s better for rates when gold rises, and worse when gold falls. Gold tends to rise when investors worry about the economy. And worried investors tend to push rates lower
  • CNN Business Fear & Greed index — Fell to 59 from 69 out of 100. (Good for mortgage rates.) “Greedy” investors push bond prices down (and interest rates up) as they leave the bond market and move into stocks, while “fearful” investors do the opposite. So lower readings are better than higher ones

*A change of less than $20 on gold prices or 40 cents on oil ones is a fraction of 1%. So we only count meaningful differences as good or bad for mortgage rates.

Caveats about markets and rates

Before the pandemic and the Federal Reserve’s interventions in the mortgage market, you could look at the above figures and make a pretty good guess about what would happen to mortgage rates that day. But that’s no longer the case. The Fed is now a huge player and some days can overwhelm investor sentiment.

So use markets only as a rough guide. Because they have to be exceptionally strong (rates are likely to rise) or weak (they could fall) to rely on them. But, with that caveat, so far mortgage rates today look likely to dip a little or hold steady.

Find and lock a low rate (Feb 26th, 2021)

Important notes on today’s mortgage rates

Here are some things you need to know:

  1. The Fed’s ongoing interventions in the mortgage market (way over $1 trillion) should put continuing downward pressure on these rates. But it can’t work miracles all the time. And read “For once, the Fed DOES affect mortgage rates. Here’s why” if you want to understand this aspect of what’s happening
  2. Typically, mortgage rates go up when the economy’s doing well and down when it’s in trouble. But there are exceptions. Read How mortgage rates are determined and why you should care
  3. Only “top-tier” borrowers (with stellar credit scores, big down payments and very healthy finances) get the ultralow mortgage rates you’ll see advertised
  4. Lenders vary. Yours may or may not follow the crowd when it comes to daily rate movements — though they all usually follow the wider trend over time
  5. When rate changes are small, some lenders will adjust closing costs and leave their rate cards the same
  6. Refinance rates are typically close to those for purchases. But some types of refinances are higher following a regulatory change

So there’s a lot going on here. And nobody can claim to know with certainty what’s going to happen to mortgage rates in coming hours, days, weeks or months.

Are mortgage and refinance rates rising or falling?

Today and soon

I’m expecting mortgage rates today to edge lower or remain unchanged. But, as always, that could change as the day progresses. Indeed, such intraday swings have become an irritating feature of markets. And they’re especially likely at times like this when investors are so skittish.

Nothing’s changed. And, if there is a fall in mortgage rates today, it will likely be markets correcting themselves after too sharp a rise yesterday. This is a common phenomenon after exceptional volatility.

So don’t think such a fall means the pressures that have recently been pushing those rates higher have suddenly evaporated. It seems to me highly improbable that we’ll see those falling back to record-low levels anytime soon.

Indeed, more rises seem more likely for the time being, absent some sudden and very bad economic news.

For more background on my wider thinking, read our latest weekend edition, which is published every Saturday soon after 10 a.m. (ET).

Recently

Over much of 2020, the overall trend for mortgage rates was clearly downward. And a new, weekly all-time low was set on 16 occasions last year, according to Freddie Mac.

The most recent weekly record low occurred on Jan. 7, when it stood at 2.65% for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. But rates then rose. And Freddie’s Feb. 25 report puts that weekly average at 2.97%, up from the previous week’s 2.81%, and the highest it’s been since mid-2020.

Expert mortgage rate forecasts

Looking further ahead, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) each has a team of economists dedicated to monitoring and forecasting what will happen to the economy, the housing sector and mortgage rates.

And here are their current rates forecasts for each quarter of 2021 (Q1/21, Q2/21, Q3/21 and Q4/21).

The numbers in the table below are for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. Fannie’s and the MBA’s were updated on Feb. 18 and 19 respectively. But Freddie now publishes forecasts quarterly and its figures are from mid-January:

Forecaster Q1/21 Q2/21 Q3/21 Q4/21
Fannie Mae 2.8% 2.8% 2.9% 2.9%
Freddie Mac 2.9% 2.9% 3.0% 3.0%
MBA 2.8% 3.1% 3.3% 3.4%

However, given so many unknowables, the current crop of forecasts may be even more speculative than usual. And there’s certainly a widening spread as the year progresses.

Find your lowest rate today

Some lenders have been spooked by the pandemic. And they’re restricting their offerings to just the most vanilla-flavored mortgages and refinances.

But others remain brave. And you can still probably find the cash-out refinance, investment mortgage or jumbo loan you want. You just have to shop around more widely.

But, of course, you should be comparison shopping widely, no matter what sort of mortgage you want. As federal regulator the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says:

Shopping around for your mortgage has the potential to lead to real savings. It may not sound like much, but saving even a quarter of a point in interest on your mortgage saves you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

Verify your new rate (Feb 26th, 2021)

Compare top lenders

Mortgage rate methodology

The Mortgage Reports receives rates based on selected criteria from multiple lending partners each day. We arrive at an average rate and APR for each loan type to display in our chart. Because we average an array of rates, it gives you a better idea of what you might find in the marketplace. Furthermore, we average rates for the same loan types. For example, FHA fixed with FHA fixed. The end result is a good snapshot of daily rates and how they change over time.

Source: themortgagereports.com

What to Know Before Exercising Your Pre-IPO Stock Options

First of all, if you are reading this for personal financial reasons, then congratulations. As a recipient of employer stock options, you have the opportunity to own shares of your company. Stock options can be a powerful wealth-builder. If granted, chances are you have a windfall headed your way. Be sure to have a plan in place regarding the exercise of those options and subsequent sale of stock.

There are several considerations that should factor prominently in your decision-making process. These actions may have major tax implications and, if done improperly, could effectively reduce the amount of that windfall.

When formulating a plan to exercise your stock options, there are some important questions to ask: What exactly is your stock option? When can you move on that stock? What are the tax implications? What valuation does your company have?

Stock Options

Understanding what type of stock options you own is significant when considering your financial position and determining your next move. Stock options come in a few varieties. Incentive stock options (ISOs) are a company benefit that give an employee the right to buy shares at a discounted price, while delaying taxes due until those shares are sold. With non-qualified stock options (NSOs) taxes are due both when you exercise the option (purchase shares) and sell those shares.

Another common employee compensation package is restricted stock units (RSUs). RSUs give an employee interest in company stock but have no tangible value until vesting is complete. It is important to know which type of options you have, and the implications of each.

Timing the Sale of Your Stock

Be sure to understand the earliest date at which your stock can be sold as a long-term capital gain. This tax-advantaged rate applies to stock held more than one year. Additionally, two years must have passed since the option to buy those shares was granted. Remember, you may have a post-IPO lockup period during which you will not be able to sell stock. A lockup period is a window of time when company insiders are not allowed to redeem or sell shares of their company. Lockup periods can vary but typically span six months post-offering.

A common strategy is exercising options six months before the IPO, which starts your stock holding period. Assuming a six-month lockup, any stock you sell thereafter will be taxed as a long-term gain, as you have now held the stock for one year. This strategy gives you flexibility to exit your position at the lower capital gains rate and earliest calendar date possible if you have concerns about your company’s prospects or need liquidity. On the contrary, if you think the stock could soar, you can hold it. Regardless, the early exercise of options gives you, well, options.

Plan Ahead for Alternative Minimum Tax Issues

If you exercise ISOs be aware of the rules surrounding the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT.) The AMT applies to taxpayers with high income by setting a limit on deductions and exclusions. It helps to ensure that certain taxpayers pay at least a minimum amount of tax.

If you are subject to the AMT, exercising ISOs may count against you in the year in which they are exercised, so take into account the probability that your company will be successfully brought to market. Early exercise could negatively affect your balance sheet if the IPO is delayed or canceled and you were planning to pay that AMT with proceeds from the sale of stock to the public. For example, COVID-19 surely threw a wrench in the gears of recent IPOs such as Airbnb and likely in the plans of many executives standing to profit from it.

On the other hand, if you pay AMT on exercised ISOs when company stock is low, you may not get hit with it again after selling the stock at a later date. If it soars after the IPO, then exercising and paying AMT early would have been a smart move.

Valuation: Get an Idea of What Shares Are Worth

In the public stock market, there is a published bid-ask spread for each security throughout the trading day, thus providing a means of valuation for a stock or option. In the private marketplace, the valuation of a company is less clear because it is calculated infrequently. While there are some “exchanges” for private shares, transactions occur infrequently, and the bid-ask spread is often wide. You could certainly estimate based upon the most recent funding round or Venture Capital firm valuation.

Additionally, many private company values are based on the most recent 409(a) valuation. A 409(a) is an independent appraisal of the fair market value (FMV) of a private company’s common stock. Long story short: You can’t make a decision to exercise an option without understanding what a share of stock is worth.

Hire a Pro

DIY projects frequently end up costing a homeowner more money than just hiring a pro in the first place. As you review your stock options, it’s important to consider all variables. Having a team of trusted advisers by your side who can properly evaluate your stock options, portfolio and goals can bring you confidence that you are making informed decisions.

A certified public accountant (CPA), a financial planner and estate attorney should be vital members of your decision-making team when navigating your ownership interests from private to public. A CPA can typically model your estimated tax liabilities given your unique circumstances. If your windfall is substantial enough, a financial planner and estate attorney will strive to ensure your wealth is preserved for yourself and future generations through proper planning. Be sure to hire the right person for the job — preferably someone who has dealt with the complex circumstances surrounding private stock, stock options and IPOs.

Every company is different, as is every IPO. It is important to read the fine print regarding your rights and requirements as the holder of options or stock in a private company before deciding what to do in the months before and after an IPO. If uncertain, be sure to consult professionals with experience in this area.

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice, tax advice or recommendations for any individual. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax adviser. Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Adviser, Member FINRA/SIPC.

Source: kiplinger.com

What’s the Best Online Tax Prep Software? – TaxAct vs TurboTax vs H&R Block

In recent years, it’s taken me much longer than I’d like to complete and e-file my state and federal income tax returns. That’s because I’ve spent some time evaluating the most popular online tax preparation software available to filers in the United States, including TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block.

All three have a similar set of core features and capabilities, including the ability to e-file. That can make it challenging to differentiate among them at a glance. But there are differences.

Before choosing one, learn how TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block stack up — and what’s new for the 2020 tax year.

Online Tax Preparation Software Evaluation Method

I’ve done my own taxes and run this comparison for several years in a row. As my tax situation has changed, so have my experiences. For example, during the 2014 tax year, I moved across state lines, forcing me to file two state tax returns.

For the 2020 tax year, I used the same mock tax situation for all three programs to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. Though it’s a bit more complicated than my actual tax situation, it allows me to explore each platform in greater depth than I otherwise would. Its highlights include:

TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct all have a maximum refund-minimum tax liability guarantee. That means each service waives your prep fees if you can prove another program produces a higher tax liability or lower refund on an identical tax situation.

With these three programs, my federal and state tax liabilities have always been identical across the board. However, the time and expense of preparing with each service vary considerably.


Key Features

TaxAct, TurboTax, and H&R Block have many features and capabilities in common. TurboTax and H&R Block are especially close cousins, offering tax prep assistance from human experts for users who want it. However, each program is distinct enough to warrant close examination on the merits.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing

Each of these tax prep services can handle virtually any personal income tax situation, from straightforward to very complex. All offer multiple DIY tax prep plans that correspond to general positions on the complexity spectrum. Notably, all offer a free plan for filers with relatively simple situations.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for H&R Block

Pricing for H&R Block’s DIY tax prep plans rises as the tax season progresses. Early birds get better deals (at the lower end of the ranges specified here) than those who prep and file as the deadline approaches.

  • Free. This plan offers free federal and state filing for simple to moderately complex situations. If you can file your taxes using Form 1040 without any additional schedules, the free plan is for you.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $23.99 to $49.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for filers who need to itemize deductions, import a prior-year tax return from another tax prep service, or access H&R Block’s in-house phone support team.
  • Premium. The premium plan costs $39.99 to $69.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state, depending on the filing date. It supports a range of more complex activities, including investment activity and rental property ownership.
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $67.99 to $84.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for TurboTax

Like H&R Block, TurboTax varies pricing as the tax season progresses. But its plans are a bit more expensive than either H&R Block’s or TaxAct’s.

  • Federal Free Edition. This plan offers free state and federal filing for relatively simple situations — filing using Form 1040 with no attached schedules. A state fee may apply as the filing deadline approaches, so prep early to avoid surprises.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $40 to $60 for federal DIY tax prep and filing and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for filers who wish to itemize deductions. It also has some additional features, such as prior-year return importing from other tax prep programs, live phone support, and online tax return editing for up to three years after filing.
  • Premier. The premier plan costs $70 to $90 for federal DIY tax prep and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for many complex tax situations, including active investing and rental property ownership, but can’t support situations involving pass-through income via a formal legal business structure.
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $90 to $120 for DIY tax prep and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners with pass-through income.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for TaxAct

Like H&R Block and TurboTax, TaxAct pricing is subject to change, depending on when you file. Lower prices represent early-season discounts that may disappear at any time.

  • Free Edition. Like TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s free plans, TaxAct’s covers federal and state prep and filing fees. It’s appropriate for most people who can file using Form 1040 only with no additional schedules.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $24.95 to $44.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for people who wish to itemize deductions.
  • Premier. The premier plan costs $34.95 to $69.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for equities market investors, rental property owners, people with foreign financial accounts, and people who earn passive income reported on Schedule K-1 (but not those actively involved in self-employment or business ownership activity).
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $64.95 to $79.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners. It also includes additional features for these groups, such as a deduction-maximizer tool that supports year-round expense tracking from your TaxAct account.

Tax Prep Assistance From Human Experts

H&R Block and TurboTax both offer varying degrees of hands-on tax prep assistance from in-house trained tax preparers, Enrolled Agents (EAs), or certified public accountants. H&R Block makes these resources available online and in-person (albeit at a much higher fee), while TurboTax limits hands-on assistance to the online realm only. TaxAct does not offer expert tax prep assistance.

H&R Block’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

H&R Block offers two online expert-assistance packages: Online Assist and Tax Pro Go. Online Assist only provides human experts to review the client’s return for accuracy and tax optimization. Tax Pro Go is a true full-service package in which remote human preparers complete clients’ returns for them.

  • Online Assist. H&R Block bases Online Assist pricing on the complexity of your return, but it generally adds at least $40 to your prep costs. Covering a thorough review by a tax professional and their corrections to your return, you can access it as an add-on to any DIY package.
  • Tax Pro Go. Tax Pro Go users upload their tax documents, such as income statements, to H&R Block’s secure portal. Human preparers do the rest. Pricing is also custom and based on the complexity of the return. It’s comparable to what human CPAs charge for hands-on tax prep (and what H&R Block charges for its own in-office tax prep services). My total state and federal filing cost would have been upward of $250 for the 2020 tax year.

H&R Block also offers in-person tax prep assistance at thousands of storefront office locations across the U.S. If you find yourself at a tax prep impasse at any point and don’t want to use one of H&R Block’s digital expert-assistance packages, you can make an appointment at an H&R Block office and complete it with truly hands-on help.

TurboTax’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

TurboTax also offers two expert tax prep assistance packages: TurboTax Live and TurboTax Live Full-Service. TurboTax Live involves on-demand consultation with and tax advice from TurboTax CPAs or EAs as you prepare your own taxes. TurboTax Live Full-Service is a hands-on prep package that only asks the filer to upload their tax documents and sign off on their completed returns.

  • TurboTax Live. Appropriate for all situations, this package is available as an add-on to any DIY tax prep plan. It adds $50 to $80 to the final plan cost, depending on the plan level. Early-bird pricing ranges from $90 for deluxe clients to $170 for self-employed clients. Late-filing pricing is generally $30 higher, regardless of the plan.
  • TurboTax Live Full-Service. Ideal for very complicated situations, such as business ownership, TurboTax Live Full-Service is priced on par with full-service independent CPA tax prep. As with H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go package, I would have paid upward of $250 for state and federal filing for the 2020 tax year.

TurboTax does not have a network of brick-and-mortar locations and thus does not offer in-person tax prep. However, TurboTax Live Full-Service can accommodate virtually any prep-related issues, no matter how tricky or unusual.

TaxAct’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

TaxAct doesn’t offer expert tax prep assistance, making it best for experienced DIY filers who are confident they won’t need professional help. If you get stuck while prepping with TaxAct, you can always take what you have so far to a professional tax preparer in your area.


Federal Tax Prep Process

I’ve prepared my taxes with these three programs for several years running. What follows is a condensed summary of my experience with each, including total prep time, total cost, version used, and observations of key features and functions.

H&R Block’s Federal Tax Prep Process.

  • Time Spent Preparing: 90 minutes
  • Version Used: Premium (In past years, I began with the free version and upgraded only after being prompted, but in 2019 and 2020, I went straight to premium)
  • Total Cost: $76.98

H&R Block is one of the most popular online tax preparation programs around. Despite its plethora of brick-and-mortar offices, filing online is both more convenient and — in most cases, at least — significantly cheaper than filing in person. H&R Block’s software uses an interview-style process that takes you through your taxes step by step, ensuring you don’t miss any crucial forms or schedules.

The platform’s drag-and-drop return upload feature is a big time-saver over the more cumbersome importing tools common to truly bare-bones discount tax prep platforms, such as TaxHawk and FreeTaxUSA.

Also helpful is the last page of each section, which includes a concise summary of the information you enter. If anything looks amiss, you can go back to the corresponding page and edit the erroneous information with one click.

These features also appear in H&R Block’s mobile-friendly Web version and its powerful mobile tax prep app, which has all the main features and capabilities of its standard Web version. You can move seamlessly between the mobile app and Web version to work on your saved return as needed. And you can e-file your return right from the app if that’s most convenient for you.

Another bonus of the service is H&R Block’s transparent pricing. You know exactly how much you’ll pay to file before you do so, and H&R Block makes any pricing increase crystal-clear before you upgrade.

But thanks to the impressive help button on the left sidebar, you may not need to upgrade. When clicked, it produces a pop-up window that lists popular help topics in question form and features a search bar for less common queries.

That makes it easy to get clarification without having to exit your work or open a new window. I’ve played around with this feature quite a bit in the past and never failed to learn something new each time.

TurboTax’s Federal Tax Prep Process

  • Time Spent Preparing: 100 minutes
  • Version Used: Premier. (In past years, I’ve started with the federal free version and upgraded in steps as TurboTax prompted me to move to the cheapest version that could handle my mock situation each time I provided an interview answer the current version couldn’t; this year, I had enough experience to know what I needed)
  • Total Cost: $110

TurboTax is another top-rated online tax filing program owned by Intuit, one of the country’s best-known financial software firms. Appropriately, its interview-style preparation process is extremely intuitive, demystifying tax issues for novice filers.

TurboTax also has a clean, mobile-friendly layout and a high-quality mobile app, not to mention excellent customer support at all plan levels. Phone support is available only with deluxe and higher plans, but it also has a dynamic, user-supported knowledge base.

I have experienced some functionality issues with TurboTax in the past, but these haven’t been disruptive of late. Overall, TurboTax seems to grow more user-friendly every season.

One feature that sets TurboTax apart is the ability to import prior-year returns from any tax prep service as long as the return is in PDF format. TurboTax has long been a leader in this respect, with competitors — namely H&R Block — only belatedly joining it. (To be fair, H&R Block now offers seamless prior-year importing as well.) Robust PDF importing capability is hugely helpful for first-time users.

TurboTax eases you into the interface with helpful pop-up windows that explain the platform’s key features, such as the help bar and internal navigation tools. TurboTax has consistently been (and continues to be) among the most user-friendly tax prep programs around.

TurboTax’s prep interface is blissfully easy to navigate. Its questions are more pointed and easier to understand than H&R Block’s, and the platform rarely presents confusing or vague information. At the beginning of each section, TurboTax takes care to call out less common situations and forms, subtly directing you toward tax forms or rules that are more likely to apply.

The platform also places helpful pop-up buttons next to elements that may require explanations, such as schedules and types of income. Clicking on the button creates a pop-up window that explains the topic in detail. For filers in a rush, it’s a time-saving alternative to searching the knowledge base.

TurboTax waits until you’re done with state taxes to review everything. It’s a marginal time-saver compared to H&R Block’s federal-only and state-only reviews. However, when I attempt to move backward in my federal return to check something manually, I’m occasionally stymied by an HTML error. It happens less frequently than it used to but is worth noting nonetheless.

TurboTax Live — first introduced in the 2017 tax year — is a huge help for filers with complicated situations and comes at a substantial discount to the cost of filing with a CPA. TurboTax Live Full-Service, a new addition for the 2020 tax year, costs still more but is ideal for taxpayers who don’t want anything to do with the prep process but don’t want to visit a CPA in person.

TaxAct’s Federal Tax Prep Process

  • Time Spent Preparing: 115 minutes
  • Version Used: Premier. (In the past, I’ve used the free version, but recent updates have rendered it unsuitable for situations as complex as my mock situation)
  • Total Cost: $79.90

TaxAct’s prep process and fee structure have changed significantly since the early 2010s, when the free version supported the vast majority of available tax forms and schedules and could therefore accommodate virtually any individual tax situation. Today, its pricing model and process are much more in line with TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s, albeit at a slightly lower price point.

TaxAct’s prep interface uses interview-style questions, but the interface is more exhaustive and less responsive to user answers than TurboTax’s or H&R Block’s. Specifically, the system may ask you questions about specific situations that don’t apply to you based on previous answers, whereas TurboTax and H&R Block seem to learn better from earlier responses.

This aspect of TaxAct is less tedious and time-consuming than it has been in the past, though overall prep time is still higher than with TurboTax or H&R Block. With large text and buttons and straightforward navigation, TaxAct’s main website is nearly as mobile-friendly as TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s and significantly more so than true discount programs, like FreeTaxUSA. TaxAct also has a dedicated mobile and tablet app that supports relatively simple tax situations, but this solution isn’t appropriate for filers with self-employment income.

No matter how you choose to use the platform, TaxAct has long had some free or low-cost features designed to simplify and streamline the tax prep process. For instance, early-bird filers can lock in their pricing at the beginning of tax season, even if TaxAct raises its prices in the interim.

The at-a-glance help feature gives you real-time advice and commentary from tax experts as you work through your tax return. The bookmark feature lets you flag interview questions for review at a later time. And it’s easier than ever to call up prior-year tax returns as you prepare your current-year return.


State Tax Prep Process

Some people are fortunate enough to live in a state with no income tax. The rest of us must prepare and file state income taxes every year. All three programs support that endeavor at roughly equivalent cost.

H&R Block’s State Tax Prep Process

H&R Block’s state preparation process unfolds similarly to the federal return — except with state-specific questions. Once you check your federal return for accuracy, the program immediately whisks you into the state section and automatically imports all relevant information from your federal return.

During the 2014 tax year, when I lived in two states, I found it simple to fill out my second state return. H&R Block remembered I’d moved during the year, and the software automatically brought me back to the beginning of the state return process after completing the first. I haven’t moved since and can’t claim income in any other states, so this hasn’t come up since, but the process appears to work much the same today.

TurboTax’s State Tax Prep Process

As with H&R Block, TurboTax automatically transfers all the information from your federal return to your state return. The process for adding a second state, if necessary, is slightly more cumbersome, as you have to navigate an additional drop-down menu. But that’s a pretty minor issue most taxpayers (being single-state filers) don’t have to worry about.

TaxAct’s State Tax Prep Process

TaxAct’s state return section is similar to the other two services’, with automatically imported information and thorough, state-specific questions. As with the federal return, it’s sometimes too thorough. It starts immediately after you finish your federal return, though you’re free to leave it for later.


Accuracy Check

All three programs include a post-prep accuracy check designed to ensure your return is prepared correctly and you’re not set up to pay more than you should.

H&R Block’s Accuracy Check

Every year, before filing, H&R Block has rechecked my entire return for accuracy. I can view my federal and state returns and specify how I want to pay the tax I owe. When I’m eligible for a refund, which doesn’t happen every year, it asks how I’d like to receive it as well.

The process ends smoothly and takes less time — without being any less thorough — than the other two options.

TurboTax’s Accuracy Check

TurboTax follows your state return by reviewing the entire package for accuracy and assessing your audit risk with a handy thermometer graphic. And TurboTax is nothing if not thorough, presenting each accuracy- or audit-related issue and recommended solution in turn before walking you through how you’d like to pay your taxes or receive your refund. Though this thoroughness does lengthen the process of filing taxes, it’s a trade-off some filers may be willing to make.

TaxAct’s Accuracy Check

Like TurboTax, TaxAct waits until you’ve completed all your returns to review them for accuracy, saving some time. However, the review process is more complicated than TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s, with different alert levels (red, yellow, and green) that identify issues of varying severity. TaxAct uses these alerts to assess your overall audit risk, though it doesn’t display this risk in a handy graphic like TurboTax.

You can also skip the alerts altogether if you’re confident you’ve kept everything aboveboard — a nice perk for seasoned filers. One drawback is that there’s no easy way to run your completed return by a professional tax preparer. Both H&R Block and TurboTax offer that option for an additional fee.

Once you pay for TaxAct’s prep services, the platform asks you how you’d like to receive your refund or make any tax payments you owe, then walks you through how to prepare for next year’s taxes. That includes introducing its Donation Assistant app, which can help you track and quantify noncash charitable donations throughout the year, and DocVault, a secure mobile-friendly storage service for important tax-related documents. Despite these services’ genuine usefulness, this part of the process drags on too long when the end is in sight.


Additional Features & Capabilities

All three platforms have some additional features and capabilities worth noting. These include the ability to pay tax prep fees with your tax refund (if you’re entitled to one), digital self-help resources and tax reference materials, and optional tax audit assistance or defense add-ons.

H&R Block’s Additional Features & Capabilities

H&R Block’s refund bonus and user-friendly online help database set it apart.

  • Refund Bonus. H&R Block is one of the few remaining online tax prep platforms to offer a refund bonus. Despite shrinking from 10% in the early 2010s to 3.5% in 2020, it’s better than nothing — $35 for every $1,000 refunded. You do have to take your refund on an Amazon gift card, which is a drag for people who prefer straight-up debit cards. You can still receive your federal refund on a reloadable prepaid debit card, just without any extra cash. See H&R Block’s refund bonus terms for more information.
  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your federal and state tax prep fees with your federal refund for an additional service charge of $39.95 (subject to change).
  • Audit Defense. H&R Block’s Worry-Free Audit Support package is a bargain at about $20 per year. It pairs you with an H&R Block EA to help you interpret and respond to IRS correspondence, prepare for an IRS audit, and deal with the audit itself (with the option for in-person representation if needed).
  • Online Help Resources. H&R Block has an extensive online knowledge base covering a slew of common and not-so-common tax questions as well as H&R Block’s tax prep software itself. The database is searchable and mobile-friendly.

TurboTax’s Additional Features & Capabilities

TurboTax doesn’t have a refund bonus, but its reasonable pay-with-your-refund fees and extensive online help resources shine.

  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your TurboTax prep fees with your federal refund for an additional $34.99 processing charge (subject to change and may vary by state). There’s no option to pay with your state refund.
  • Audit Defense. TurboTax offers free basic audit support for all clients. This service extends to interpreting IRS correspondence and preparing a response. For help preparing for an audit and representation during the audit process, you must add TurboTax’s Max package, which costs about $60 and includes audit representation and identity theft monitoring.
  • Online Help Resources. TurboTax has a searchable help database and an extensive knowledge base filled with user-generated questions and answers. It’s immensely useful for the tax-curious, if a bit overwhelming.

TaxAct’s Additional Features & Capabilities

TaxAct doesn’t offer a refund bonus but does have a cheap pay-with-your-refund option and a reasonably priced audit defense add-on.

  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your TaxAct tax prep fees with your state or federal refund for a processing fee of about $20 (subject to change).
  • Audit Defense. TaxAct only offers audit defense through its Protection Plus add-on, a third-party package that includes full IRS and state representation in the event of an audit. TaxAct does have a self-service audit assistance portal that helps clients interpret IRS and state tax letters but doesn’t make human employees available for this function.
  • Online Help Resources. TaxAct has an extensive online help database that’s fully searchable and organized by tax year. It’s a helpful resource for clients with questions about prior-year returns or tax topics.

The Verdict: Should You Choose H&R Block, TurboTax, or TaxAct?

None of these tax prep platforms is perfect. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and you should choose the software you use based on your tax situation and personal preferences.

You Should Use H&R Block If…

H&R Block is relatively easy to use and has moderate pricing and robust customer support. The experience is straightforward, with none of the bugs that plague TurboTax and without the overwhelming detail inherent in TaxAct’s interview process.

However, H&R Block could be a bit more friendly — and a bit more cost-competitive for filers who need some extra help. In general, H&R Block is suitable for people who have some tax filing experience and comfort with the basic contours of the process, including choosing the appropriate filing status and selecting the correct forms.

H&R Block might be the right choice for you if:

  1. You Value Transparent Pricing. H&R Block has transparent pricing. You always know exactly how much you’ll pay to file — and how much you’ll add to the final cost of your return if you need to upgrade to a higher-priced plan.
  2. You Want to Save Time. H&R Block has consistently been the fastest of these tax prep programs, at least for me. It hasn’t won by a mile, but the difference is notable enough to mention. The contrast with TaxAct is particularly acute.
  3. You Want a Refund Bonus. H&R Block continues to offer a refund bonus to filers who consent to transfer their tax refunds to Amazon gift cards. It’s impossible to say how much longer that will continue, but for now, it’s an advantage over TurboTax and TaxAct.
  4. You Need In-Person Support During or After Filing. H&R Block has a network of more than 10,000 branches across the U.S., making it easy to switch from online to in-person preparation if needed. TurboTax and TaxAct can’t say the same. H&R Block also offers free in-person audit assistance for all online filers, a key perk for folks who worry the IRS will audit them.

See our full H&R Block review for a complete analysis.

You Should Use TurboTax If…

TurboTax is significantly more expensive than H&R Block or TaxAct. Though its free plan has grown more robust in the past couple of years, it’s still lacking.

That said, you do get what you pay for: an intuitive interview process, a user-focused (and mobile-friendly) layout, and lots of support. It’s nice to be able to import from so many sources too. So TurboTax is ideal for novice tax filers as well as more experienced filers for whom affordability isn’t a top concern.

TurboTax is the right choice for you if:

  1. You Value User-Friendliness. TurboTax is the most user-friendly of these programs. Its design and aesthetic are intuitive and easy on the eyes, unlike the more cluttered, less intuitive TaxAct. Its questions are both simply worded and logical, whereas H&R Block’s interview questions and explanations can be confusing. And in addition to offering a powerful app, TurboTax’s regular version is very mobile-friendly. That’s good news for taxpayers who prefer to prepare their returns on a tablet.
  2. You Like Impressive Importing Capabilities. TurboTax has long been a leader in prior-year tax return importing. If you can upload your return in PDF format, you can import it to TurboTax without manually reentering information.
  3. You Depend on Good Customer Service and Help Functions. TurboTax has some useful support features, including a customer service hotline with extensive hours and a comprehensive knowledge base. I’ve referred to TurboTax’s knowledge base more times than I can count and have almost always had my questions answered to my satisfaction.

See our full TurboTax review for a complete analysis.

You Should Use TaxAct If…

TaxAct has always been the cheapest option of the three, and its functionality has improved significantly over the years. Now, it’s nearly (but not quite) on par with TurboTax and H&R Block.

That said, my TaxAct return has consistently taken longer than my TurboTax and H&R Block returns. The support infrastructure is unimpressive, though the tax audit defense no longer costs an arm and a leg — just $10 when you upgrade to the premium plan.

But TaxAct is no longer the best game in town for ultra-frugal filers.

In general, TaxAct is ideal for somewhat more experienced filers who don’t mind exchanging time for money. Though its interface has gotten more user-friendly over the years, it’s still not the best software for first-timers.

TaxAct is a solid choice if:

  1. You’re Set on Paying Less. TaxAct is the cheapest of these services. I have a complex tax situation, but I was able to walk away from my most recent filing without spending more than $79.90 (though that would have been $114.90 had I waited until later in the season to file). That’s less than I spent for tax prep with H&R Block and TurboTax. So while TaxAct has grown more expensive in recent years, it’s still the cheapest option among them.
  2. You Want a Price-Lock Guarantee. TaxAct offers a price-lock guarantee to all customers at sign-up. Once you create your account, you’re locked into TaxAct’s pricing at that moment, even if you leave your return for months and TaxAct raises prices during the intervening period. Since tax prep companies frequently raise prices close to the filing deadline, that’s great news for frugal filers. One caveat: TaxAct’s first price-lock step-up happened extremely early in 2020 (for the 2019 tax year), in late January. Another step-up occurred in mid-March. It’s likely the 2020 tax year will play out similarly.
  3. You Crave Useful Apps to Help You Keep Track of Important Forms and Records. TaxAct has useful tools that help you keep track of any necessary documentation you need to complete your return, including receipts, bills, and tax forms. You can add photographic records to a secure, mobile-accessible storage area (DocVault) throughout the year, potentially eliminating the need to file tax-related papers for reference at tax time. You can use a separate app, Donation Assistant, to calculate the fair value of noncash charitable donations, an extremely helpful tool for filers who donate valuable items, such as vehicles and furniture. In the past, I’ve had to scour the Internet for fair-value charts from reputable sources without any clear guarantee they’re accurate.

See our full TaxAct review for a complete analysis.

All Are Great If…

Despite clear differences, all three of these tax prep software programs have some selling points in common. If you have a simple tax situation or don’t want to visit a tax preparer’s office in person but otherwise aren’t too picky about how you get your taxes done, you can’t go wrong here.

Any of these tax prep options are good if:

  1. You Have a Simple Tax Situation. Whatever else you can say about TaxAct, TurboTax, or H&R Block, all three are effective — and dirt cheap if not free — for simple tax situations that don’t require attached schedules.
  2. You Need to Import a Prior-Year Return From Another Tax Prep Program. Although this hasn’t always been the case, all three programs now have robust prior-year return importing tools that make it easy to switch from another provider.
  3. You Don’t Want to Visit a Tax Preparer’s Office or Pay CPA Prices for Tax Prep. With the exception of TurboTax Live Full-Service and H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go, you’ll pay far less to prep your taxes with any of these services than with a full-service human tax preparer. And you won’t have to visit a physical office location, either — unless you’re prepping with H&R Block and decide you’d like to do that before filing.

Final Word

TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block are three of the most popular online tax software options, but they’re not the only ones out there. A bevy of other options exists, from relatively well-known providers like TaxSlayer and eSmart Tax to lesser-known options like Circle CPA and FreeTaxUSA.

And the federal government can help with free tax preparation options thanks to the Free File Alliance (a consortium of about a dozen tax prep companies that offer free filing services to filers who meet certain income and residency criteria) and Free Fillable Forms, which are available to filers regardless of income or residency.

With all these options, depending on your tax situation, you might find one that’s easier, faster, or simply less stressful to use.

And if you don’t want to face a potentially hefty processing charge to pay your tax prep fees with your tax refund but don’t want to pay out of pocket immediately, use a rewards credit card to pick up the tab. If you stay within your card’s spending limit and pay your balance in full by the statement due date, you avoid processing fees and earn a small return on your outlay. Check out our roundups of the best cash-back credit cards and best travel rewards credit cards for ideas.

Source: moneycrashers.com

66 Questions to Ask When Buying a House – Redfin

As a first-time homebuyer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed even before you begin your homebuying journey. After all, this is a new process for you and, simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. First off, there are no silly questions you can ask during any stage of the homebuying process. So always feel free to ask a question, no matter how trivial you think it might be. You owe it to yourself – and your family – to find out everything you can about a home, especially since it will most likely be the largest investment you’ll ever make. To help you get started, we’ve created a list of 66 questions to ask when buying a house, broken down into each stage of the homebuying process to help keep you informed.

11 questions to ask before you go house hunting

As you well know, buying a house is a significant investment. Before you start house hunting, think through your goals for homeownership. Why do you want to buy a house? 

  1. Do you want to earn equity and build wealth by owning a house? 
  2. Do you expect you might need more space for a future family? 
  3. Do you have a pet or see one in your future and you want a backyard? 
  4. Do you want to live in a quiet, established area or somewhere more lively? 
  5. Do you enjoy yard work, gardening? How much backyard space do you require?
  6. Have you considered the local schools and neighborhoods? 
  7. Have you looked at crime rates around the neighborhoods you’re interested in? 
  8. Is it essential for you to live close to your work? Or, is a commute ok? 
  9. Have you narrowed down a range of purchase prices you can afford?
  10. How much money do you need for a downpayment? 
  11. Are you pre-approved for a mortgage

When you’re wrapped up in the excitement of house hunting, you may forget which questions to ask when buying a house.. If you are a pet owner looking at condos, you’ll have to be sure the homeowners’ association allows pets. Or, let’s say you want to live in a popular downtown neighborhood, but plan to have children in a few years – will this neighborhood still suit your needs? It’s always worth giving some thought to the type of home and area to help focus your search. 

Also, be aware that being approved for a home loan saves time for everyone by ensuring that you, as the buyer, can actually afford the home and be able to follow through an offer. 

7 questions to ask when you interview agents

Contacting the agent listed on the for-sale sign of a house you’re interested in may not be the best way to protect your interest as a buyer. When you work with your own agent, that agent’s job is to represent your interests. They help research the house, find answers to all of your questions, and serve as your professional intermediary for communicating with the seller’s agent and homeowner.

Naturally, you will want to choose a great real estate agent that you are comfortable with and feel like they have your best interests in mind. Most real estate experts recommend that you interview at least three agents identified by recommendations from friends and family who have bought or sold a house recently. Here are some questions to ask potential agents to see if they are the right agent for you.

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent? 
  2. What kind of experience do you have in this specific market area?
  3. Do you usually work with buyers or sellers? 
  4. How do you usually communicate with clients? What should I expect for response time? 
  5. How will you help me search for homes? 
  6. What days and times are you typically available for showings? 
  7. How will you ensure transparency about any issues you see with a house? 

When you set your expectations for communication, home tours, and other information you count on your agent to provide, you have a good chance to establish a productive relationship from the start – which will help you through your homebuying journey.

stylish living room

stylish living room

37 questions to ask when touring homes

This is an extensive list, and not every question applies to every situation. For example, if your goal is to purchase a single-family home, questions relating to condominiums don’t apply. However, this list of questions to ask when touring a house should give you an excellent start in making well-informed decisions when buying your first home. 

  1. What’s the reason for the sale? How long have the sellers lived there?
  2. How long has the house been on the market? 
  3. What is the neighborhood like?
  4. When was the house built? 
  5. What are the property taxes?
  6. Are there any upcoming condo or homeowners association fees?
  7. What are the average utility costs? 
  8. Have there been any major repairs to the property? If so, do you know if they provided a warranty?
  9. Are there any boundary disputes with neighbors?
  10. Are there any shared driveways or communal spaces?
  11. Are there any public rights of way passing through – or near – the property? 
  12. How old are the major appliances and systems?
  13. Are the appliances included in the sale?
  14. What is the sales history of this house, and how would it affect my offer?
  15. Is there enough storage space? Room to grow? 
  16. Is there any evidence of water problems? Can you see damp drywall, basement floors, or open leaks? Can you smell mildew? Or is there a smell of fresh paint that might be intended to cover up a water issue?
  17. Are the walls structurally sound? Look for cracks and look for evidence of cracks covered over by wallpaper that doesn’t look right or paint applied over filler.
  18. Is the chimney in good condition?
  19. Are the windows sound? Will any of the glazing need to be replaced?
  20. Do the ground floor windows have working latches to lock the windows? 
  21. Is the attic insulated? If so, when was the insulation installed?
  22. Is there any soundproofing in the house? (Try viewing the home at different times to hear road noise or neighbors.)
  23. Are there working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms?
  24. Is there adequate cell phone reception indoors? How’s the broadband service in the area?
  25. What type of system is used to heat and cool the house? 
  26. Ask to see the circuit box – does the wiring look up to date?
  27. How is the condition of electrical outlets and switches? (You can bring something to plug into try outlets.) 
  28. Do all of the lights work? If not, why not?
  29. Does the property have any lead pipes? Do you see any issues with pipes in need of repair?
  30. What kind of drainage system does the property have? Is it on the city sewer, or is there a septic tank? 
  31. Is there any asbestos in the property, or has there ever been an asbestos survey completed?
  32. What kind of roof does the property have? When was it last replaced, and what is its current condition? 
  33. Do you see any gutter leaks? Are the gutters cleaned out, or do they need work? 
  34. Are there any trees growing within 15 feet of the property? Can you discern if roots are likely to be a problem? 
  35. Which way does the yard face, and is there any part of the yard that doesn’t receive sunlight throughout the day? 
  36. Would the real estate agent buy this house? If not, why not?
  37. What’s the lowest price you think we could offer for this house and still close the transaction?

You can ask these questions when buying a house – and others as applicable – to understand your likely overall costs to own this home. When you understand all of your costs, you’ll confidently be able to make an offer you can afford

open concept new kitchen

open concept new kitchen

11 questions to ask when making an offer and closing on a home

Real estate agents make offers on homes every day. Their job is to help you make the best offer while protecting you against potential risks with the transaction. 

  1. How does the offer work? Do we communicate with the seller or seller’s agent? 
  2. What contingencies do you recommend including in the offer? 
  3. How much earnest money should we put in the offer? 
  4. When do we need to provide earnest money? 
  5. When should we expect to hear back from the seller? 
  6. If we receive a counter-offer, when do we need to reply? 
  7. How can we sign the paperwork? Digital? In-person? 
  8. If the offer is accepted, what are the next steps? 
  9. How far out is the potential closing date from an accepted offer? 
  10. What are our next steps once the offer is accepted?
  11. What do we do at closing? 

Your real estate agent wants to make the home buying transaction as smooth as possible. If they do not provide this information upfront, be sure to ask. 

You should prepare a list of your own questions to ask when buying a house. It can include any given here, or others that represent your own interests and concerns. Answers to these questions will ease your mind and help you understand what you can expect during each stage of the homebuying process. Completing your research is perfectly acceptable, but don’t skip asking questions of your mortgage broker, real estate agent, and title company. When you gather enough information, you can make the best decision buying your first home. 

Source: redfin.com