Is Paying Rent in Advance a Good Idea?

Thinking about handing over a stack of money to secure an apartment or get a rent discount? Be sure you know what you’re getting into.

In some instances a landlord might offer, or you might propose, paying rent in advance. This could be done to secure a particular property that is on the rental market, or to get a discount on rent.

Paying in advance could be a good idea depending on the circumstances, but be sure you know what you’re getting into — especially if you’re paying a significant amount like a full year’s rent upfront.

Paying ahead to secure a unit

If you are vying to rent a particular property and you believe the competition is fierce, you might think offering to pay a large amount of rent upfront could help seal the deal. Or the landlord might encourage you to do this to get the place. It could be a good idea if the rental is a great place for you at the right price. However, you do want to be careful of a few issues.

First, as with any rental property, watch out for fraud. Sometimes scammers try to rent a property they don’t own. It might be done fully online, or they might meet you at the property, gain access somehow, pretend they’re the landlord, and take your security deposit. They could also push you into providing upfront rent for the place to secure it. Unfortunately, if they are a fraudster, you’ll never see a dime of your money again.

To protect yourself, research the landlord and the property, and talk to a real estate agent about any concerns. Go meet the landlord at their office if possible, never wire money, and watch out if the deal seems too good to be true.

Even if the landlord is reputable, if they ask for extra rent upfront, try to verify that they’re not going into foreclosure. If they do lose the property, you’re pretty well protected under many states’ laws if you’ve paid rent.

Paying ahead to get discounted rent

If you are already living in the property and the option comes up to pay advance rent, it should come with a sweetener like reduced rent or some other benefit to you. You are taking a risk by paying upfront. What if the place burns down, or there is a flood, or you have to move out? Do you want to fight with a landlord over getting your money returned? It’s not worth it in most cases.

Sometimes it may make sense if there is a benefit sweetener to you. You’ll have to determine whether or not it is the right incentive for you to jump on it. A 10-percent discount might make paying a full year in advance a good option, but only if you are sure the landlord is stable and you’ll be able to get your full year of residency. A smaller discount might not be worth the risk.

Overall, these pay-in-advance options are infrequently available, but if one comes up and it’s a good arrangement with low risk, it might be to your benefit to open up that checkbook and make the deal.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Source: zillow.com

Earnest Money And Deposits: 4 Things You Should Know

In this intense seller’s market, buyers are pulling out the stops in order to compete. For some, that may mean offering over list price, waiving inspection, or offering other incentives to the seller. Two of the most common incentives are earnest money and non-refundable deposits. These incentives help to show a seller that a buyer is serious, but they do have some risks for buyers. Here are four things you should know about earnest money and deposits before you sign the contract!

earnest moneyearnest money

Earnest Money & Deposits Are Credits At Closing

Earnest money is a deposit that represents a buyer’s good faith in entering into an offer to purchase a property. While buyers must pay earnest money and deposits before closing, they are both considered credits to the buyer at closing. Desiree Kumar, a licensed attorney with AMT Law Group in Illinois and a former real estate agent, reminds buyers, “Both deposits and earnest money deposits function similarly and are both typically credited at closing.” How the earnest money or deposit is credited is typically at the discretion of the lender, so buyers should communicate with their loan officer to determine how those funds will be credited.

You Might Not Get The Money Back

If you’re asking yourself, “Is earnest money refundable?”—you aren’t alone. According to Kumar, the most misunderstood aspect of deposits and earnest money is “that they are always refundable.” This misunderstanding can lead to an unpleasant financial situation and even litigation if a buyer terminates a contract. Kumar says “earnest money provisions have a propensity for litigation,” however, depending on how the contract is written, earnest money can be refundable. To determine if your earnest money is refundable, Kumar advises “The executed offer will dictate what happens to the earnest money upon termination of the contract. It is important to understand what the offer says before signing it.”

Tip: It is possible for sellers to negotiate for earnest money to become non-refundable after inspection. If buyers are looking for ways to strengthen their offer, they might consider this option.

Non-refundable deposits, common with new construction, differ from earnest money. “Deposits generally benefit the seller,” says Kumar. And in this market of rising building costs, builders prefer buyers to pay a deposit. In most cases, unlike with earnest money, these deposits are not refundable to the buyer if they terminate. However, Kumar reminds buyers “Depending upon the reason for termination, the deposit may still be refundable.” But she would advise buyers considering a non-refundable deposit to remember “that no matter the reason, they cannot get their deposit back, even if the sale does not go through.”

Tip: Buyers have the right to have an attorney review a contract before signing it. Fully understanding the legal wording and ramifications of a termination is critical to avoid any future litigation.  

How The Money Is Accessed Varies

Both types of pre-payments are handled differently when it comes to who has access to the funds. For example, earnest money is held by a 3rd party until closing or termination. In most cases, earnest money funds are typically held in escrow until closing, meaning sellers can’t access those funds until closing. Earnest money funds can be held by the real estate brokerage, the title company, closing attorney or other 3rd party.

Deposits, on the other hand, can vary. Depending upon how the contract is written, deposits can be spent immediately by the seller and may not have to be held in escrow. Even if the funds are immediately accessible by the seller, if the buyer does close then they still receive a credit at closing.

Tip: Non-refundable deposits typically benefit the seller and are another way to make an offer stand out among multiple offers; however, buyers should be aware of the risks involved before agreeing to a deposit.

One Benefits The Seller and One Benefits The Buyer

Non-refundable deposits tend to benefit the seller, since (in most cases) these deposits are not refundable to the buyer. The amount of the deposit can be determined by the buyer, the seller, or negotiated between the two. While sellers like the appeal of non-refundable deposits, Kumar states she “very rarely advise[s] a buyer to enter into an offer with a non-refundable deposit.” The risk with a non-refundable deposit is that the buyer could lose the money if they fail to close.

Earnest money, on the other hand, can benefit the buyer. Again, depending on how the contract is written, that “good faith” can be refundable to the buyer if they fail to close. If sellers are wanting a guaranteed payment should the buyer fail to close, a non-refundable deposit may be the best option for them; however, it’s important both sides understand what happens to the funds upon termination and what can legally be done with the funds prior to termination or closing.

Work With an Agent!

In this intense market, buyers are desperately searching for ways to make their offer stand out. By strategically structuring an offer with benefits to the seller, this can help a buyer’s offer to standout. It’s important to know which type of pre-payment offers the most benefits and least risk. The best way to safely navigate the current real estate market is to utilize the services of an experienced real estate agent. You can find an agent in your area by using Homes.com agent search tool!


Jennifer is an accidental house flipper turned Realtor and real estate investor. She is the voice behind the blog, Bachelorette Pad Flip. Over five years, Jennifer paid off $70,000 in student loan debt through real estate investing. She’s passionate about the power of real estate. She’s also passionate about southern cooking, good architecture, and thrift store treasure hunting. She calls Northwest Arkansas home with her cat Smokey, but she has a deep love affair with South Florida.

Source: homes.com

Understanding Seller Concessions

Buying a new home requires managing a lot of moving parts, from mortgage preapproval to closing. Even after an offer is accepted, buyers and sellers are still at the negotiating table. If closing costs or surprise expenses become too much for the buyer, a seller concession could help seal the deal.

Although seller concessions can work to a buyer’s advantage, they are neither a guaranteed outcome nor a one-size-fits-all solution for every real estate transaction.

To determine if seller concessions are the right move from a buyer’s perspective, here are some key things to know, including what costs they can cover and when to consider asking for them.

Recommended: How Much Are Closing Costs on a New Home?

What Are Seller Concessions?

Seller concessions represent a seller’s contribution toward the buyer’s closing costs, which include certain prepaid expenses and discount points. A seller concession is not the equivalent of a price reduction; nor is it received as cash or a loan discount.

Closing costs usually range from 2% to 5% of a home’s purchase price. When combined with a down payment, the upfront expense of buying a home can be burdensome, especially for first-time homebuyers.

Buyers can ask for concessions on the initial purchase offer or later if the home inspection reveals problems that require repairs.

Although this can be a helpful tool to negotiate a house price, there are rules for eligible costs and limits to how much buyers can ask for.

Recommended: Home Buyer’s Guide

What Costs Can Seller Concessions Cover?

A buyer’s closing costs can vary case by case. Generally, buyers incur fees related to the mortgage loan and other expenses to complete the real estate transaction.

There are also types of prepaid expenses and home repairs that can be requested as a seller concession.

Some common examples of eligible costs include the following:

•   Property taxes: If the sellers have paid their taxes for the year, the buyer may be required to reimburse the sellers for their prorated share.

•   Appraisal fees: Determining the estimated home value may be required by a lender to obtain a mortgage. Appraisal costs can vary by geography and home size but generally run between $300 and $500.

•   Loan origination fees: Money paid to a lender to process a mortgage, origination fees, can be bundled into seller concessions.

•   Homeowners insurance costs: Prepaid components of closing costs like homeowners insurance premiums can be included in seller concessions.

•   Title insurance costs: A title insurance company will search if there are any liens or claims against the property. This verification, which averages $1,000 but varies widely, protects both the homeowner and lender.

•   Funding fees: One-time funding fees for federally guaranteed mortgages, such as FHA and VA loans, can be paid through seller contributions. Rates vary based on down payment and loan type.

•   Attorney fees: Many states require a lawyer to handle real estate closings. Associated fees can run $500 to $1,500, based on location.

•   Recording fees: Some local governments may charge a fee to document the purchase of a home.

•   HOA fees: If a home is in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, there will likely be monthly dues to pay for maintenance and services. A portion of these fees may be covered by the seller.

•   Discount points: Buyers may pay an upfront fee, known as discount points, to lower the interest rate they pay over the life of the mortgage loan. (The cost of one point is 1% of the loan amount.)

•   Home repairs: If any issues emerge during a home inspection, the repair costs can be requested as a seller concession.

Closing costs can also be influenced by the mortgage lender. When shopping for a mortgage, evaluating expected fees and closing costs is a useful way to compare lenders. Factoring in these costs early on can give buyers a more accurate idea of what they can afford and better inform their negotiations with a seller.

Recommended: Home Improvement Calculator

Rules and Limits for Seller Concessions

Determining how much to ask for in seller concessions isn’t just about negotiating power. For starters, the seller’s contributions can’t exceed the buyer’s closing costs.

Other factors can affect the allowable amount of seller concessions, including the type of mortgage loan and whether the home will serve as a primary residence, vacation home, or investment property.

Here’s a breakdown of how concessions work for common types of loans.

Conventional Loans

Guidance on seller concessions for conventional loans is set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These federally sponsored enterprises buy and guarantee mortgages issued through lenders in the secondary mortgage market.

With conventional loans, the limit on seller concessions is calculated as a percentage of the home sale price based on the down payment and occupancy type.

If it’s an investment property, buyers can only request up to 2% of the sale price in seller concessions.

For a primary or secondary residence, seller concessions can add up to the following percentages of the home sale price:

•   Up to 3% when the down payment is less than 10%
•   Up to 6% when the down payment is 10-25%
•   Up to 9% when the down payment is greater than 25%

FHA Loans

FHA loans, which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, are a popular financing choice because down payments may be as low as 3.5%, depending on a borrower’s credit score.

For this type of mortgage, seller concessions are limited to 6% of the home sale price.

VA Loans

Active service members, veterans, and surviving spouses may qualify for a mortgage loan guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. For buyers with this type of mortgage, seller concessions are capped at 4% of the home sale price.

VA loans also dictate what types of costs may qualify as a seller concession. Some eligible examples: paying property taxes and VA loan fees or gifting home furnishings, such as a television.

Seller Concession Advantages

There are a few key ways seller concessions can benefit a homebuyer. For starters, they can reduce the amount paid out of pocket for closing costs. This can make the upfront costs of a home purchase more affordable and avoid depleting savings.

Reducing closing costs could help a buyer make a higher offer on a home, too. If it’s a seller’s market, this could be an option to be a more competitive buyer.

Buyers planning significant home remodeling may want to request seller concessions to keep more cash on hand for their projects.

Seller Concession Disadvantages

Seller concessions can also come with some drawbacks. If sellers are looking for a quick deal, they may view concessions as time-consuming and decline an offer.

When sellers agree to contribute to a buyer’s closing costs, the purchase price can go up accordingly. The deal could go awry if the home is appraised at a value less than the agreed-upon sale price. Unless the seller agrees to lower the asking price to align with the appraised value, the buyer may have to increase their down payment to qualify for their original financing.

Another potential downside is that buyers could ultimately pay more over the loan’s term if they receive seller concessions than they would otherwise. If a buyer offers, say, $350,000 and requests $3,000 in concessions, the seller may counteroffer with a purchase price of $353,000, with $3,000 in concessions.

The Takeaway

Seller concessions can make a home purchase more affordable for buyers by reducing closing costs and expenses, but whether it’s a buyer’s or seller’s market will affect a buyer’s potential to negotiate. A real estate agent can offer guidance on asking for seller concessions.

The vast majority of homebuyers finance their purchase. So for most buyers, finding the right mortgage is an important step in landing their dream home.

SoFi offers home loans with competitive rates and down payments as low as 5%. And prequalifying takes just a few minutes.

Buying a home? Find out how much you could qualify for with SoFi.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Home Loans
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. SoFi Home Loans are not available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Source: sofi.com

Understanding a Rental Lease Agreement

Make sure you understand what you’re signing.

You love it. You want it. You’re ready to sign on the dotted line, but stop and take a deep breath first. This is everything you need to know before signing that rental lease agreement.

What is a rental lease agreement?

A rental lease agreement is a legal document that sets out the terms for you to rent a residence from a landlord, apartment community or property management company.

The agreement protects you and the prospective landlord. Both of you need to abide by the rental lease agreement’s terms.

It’s smart to get a second set of eyes on the lease before you sign it. Colleen Wightman, a licensed Realtor and a leasing specialist based in Rochester, NY says, “Have a licensed real estate agent or, better yet, an attorney look at the lease agreement. You are legally bound once you put your signature on it…Let the landlord or property manager know at the time of signing that you’ve had it reviewed by an attorney. That will make the landlord pay attention; you are someone who knows what you’re doing.”

Reviewing a lease.

What’s in this agreement?

The rental lease agreement starts off with the basics: your name, the date, the name of the person or entity who will be leasing the property to you and the property’s physical and address.

While each lease is different, they will all cover the following information:

  • Arrangement to lease: There’s an acknowledgment from both parties that you and the prospective landlord agree to the arrangement. The rental lease agreement will name the length of time, i.e., the number of months you will be renting for and when that begins and ends. This is either for a long-term or short-term duration.
  • Rent: It will state the rent amount, to whom you’ll pay the rent; how you’ll pay it (debit or credit card, some other electronic system, personal check) and when it’s due. The lease agreement will state the day rent is due each month and what happens if you fail to pay the rent — such as late charges.
  • Additional monies: This section would discuss situations in which you might pay extra money in addition to the monthly rent. “These would be things like a non-refundable pet deposit or perhaps an additional month’s rent in lieu of you having a perfect credit score,” said Wightman.
  • Property use: This part clarifies who will be living in this rental — you alone? with a roommate? spouse? pet? — and it states that the apartment is only for residential purposes with no illegal activities permitted.
  • Apartment possession: You are not liable for the rent if the landlord or management company doesn’t let you move in on the date promised. Your rent will then be pro-rated.
  • Security deposit: By signing the agreement you acknowledge that you will pay the landlord a specified amount of security deposit (usually equal to one month’s rent). This money will cover any property damages that you incur. The landlord must notify you in writing when and how much of the security deposit they keep. Keep in mind, the security deposit is different from “last month’s rent,” money you pay upfront to cover the final month you will live in the apartment. In some states, the security deposit pays for that final month. Check your state laws regarding the use of security deposits. Also, check your state’s laws regarding how your landlord holds your security deposit.
  • Addendums, provisions and disclosures, and amendments: This section lets you know that if you or the landlord/property management company want to modify this rental lease agreement in any way, it must be done in a written agreement signed by you (the tenant) and the landlord/property management company. What might you need to modify? Let’s say the apartment comes with one parking space, but you’ve got a motorcycle and a car and you want to park your motorcycle on the side of the building if that’s possible. “If you’re augmenting what’s offered — have it put into the lease because both parties have to agree to it,” shared Wightman.

Is the rental agreement lease term flexible?

Yes! You might sign a short- or long-term lease.

Leases come in all sorts of durations. Maybe you can sign a lease that’s longer than 12 months and can get a more favorable monthly rate. Or perhaps you need the apartment for less than 12 months. Maybe the landlord will agree to a six-month or even month-to-month lease, in which you actually rent one month at a time (this will likely be more expensive).

The bottom line is that anything like this needs discussing upfront, documented on the lease agreement and signed by both parties.

A couple reviewing a lease.

What if I need to break my lease agreement?

The short answer is, “Yes, you can…but.”

There will be information on your lease agreement about the rules on “early release” — likely resulting in penalties for breaking your lease. You may have to give a certain amount of notice if you choose to do this. You may have to find another renter to take your place. Or, you might have a buyout clause.

Check your lease agreement upfront so that you can prepare in case this happens. And, always be honest and open with your landlord. You don’t want to incur financial penalties or land in court.

What about working from home?

The coronavirus pandemic sent many of us into our bedrooms with our laptops. But if your rental contract says you’re only using your apartment for residential purposes, will you get in hot water for working from home? As long as you’re not inviting a third party into your home to conduct business, you’re all right.

Fair housing and discrimination

Before you sign the lease, make sure to read through the fair housing laws. It’s important to make sure that the person renting the apartment is in compliance with all fair housing laws.

Service animals can be a hot-button issue. Even if there’s a no-pet rule, Wightman says “As long as you have all your paperwork in order, a landlord cannot deny renting to you because you have a service animal.”

But make sure you get it into the lease that you have a service animal and that you’re in compliance with any and all appropriate paperwork you may need to provide. Also, it’s important to know that the landlord will likely ask for a non-refundable pet fee. It’s best to prepare for that miscellaneous cost.

Sign of the times

Read through any sort of documentation that you’re going to sign and be held accountable to. So often, people don’t think about “the legal ramifications of signing something they’re not thoroughly reading,” said Wightman.

You may feel the urgency from this rental market, but take the time to go through the rental lease agreement. “Being aware upfront and being thorough is always in the renter’s best interest,” Wightman shared.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.

Source: rent.com

11 Real Estate Exit Strategies for Low- or No-Tax Investment Gains

The single greatest predictor of wealth in the U.S. isn’t education level, ethnicity, gender, or any other demographic descriptor. It’s whether or not you own real estate.

In the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, the Federal Reserve found the median net worth of homeowners to be 46 times greater than that of renters. While the median renter had a net worth of $5,000, the median homeowner owned $231,400 in net assets.

Homeowners benefit from appreciation, forced savings in the form of principal repayment toward mortgages, and often lower annual housing costs compared to local renters. Those advantages get compounded by a tax code that favors property owners. Beyond simple homeownership, real estate investors can reduce their taxes through myriad strategies and incentives.

Still, when it comes time to sell, many property owners face sticker shock at their prospective tax bill. So how can property owners reduce — or better yet, eliminate — their taxes when they go to sell?

Common Real Estate Exit Strategies

Try these low- and no-tax real estate exit strategies to keep more of your real estate profits in your pocket and out of Uncle Sam’s grasping paws.

1. The Homeowner Exclusion

To begin, homeowners get an inherent tax break when they sell their home — with certain requirements and restrictions, of course. If you’re a homeowner selling your primary residence, chances are you won’t have to pay taxes on your profits from the appreciation of the home’s value since you bought it.

Single homeowners can exclude the first $250,000 in profits from their taxable income, and the number doubles for married couples filing jointly. Sometimes called a Section 121 Exclusion, it prevents most middle-class Americans from having to pay any taxes on home sale profits.

Any profits over $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples) get taxed at the long-term capital gains tax rate. More on that shortly.

To qualify for the exclusion, however, homeowners must have owned and lived in the property for at least two out of the last five years. They don’t have to be consecutive; if you lived in the property for one year, moved out for three years, then moved back in for one more year before selling, you qualify.

If you want to sell a property you don’t currently occupy as your primary residence, and want to avoid taxes through a Section 121 Exclusion, consider moving into it for the next two years before selling.

2. Opt for Long-Term Capital Gains Over Short-Term

If you own a property — or any asset for that matter — for less than a year and sell it for a profit, you typically pay short-term capital gains tax. Short-term capital gains mirror your regular income tax level.

However, if you keep an asset for at least one year before selling, you qualify for the lower long-term capital gains tax rate. In tax year 2020, single filers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) under $40,000 pay no long-term capital gains taxes at all — the same goes for married filers with an AGI under $80,000. Single filers with incomes between $40,001 and $441,450 and married filers between $80,001 and $496,600 pay long-term capital gains at a 15% tax rate, and high earners above those thresholds pay 20%.

Keep your investment properties and vacation rentals for at least one year if you can. It can save you substantial money on taxes.

3. Increase Your Cost Basis by Documenting Improvements

If you slept through Accounting 101 in college, your cost basis is what you spent to buy an asset. For example, if you buy a property for $100,000, that makes up your cost basis, plus most of your closing costs count toward it as well. Let’s call it $105,000.

Say you live in the property for 20 months, making some home improvements while there. For the sake of this example, say you spent $15,000 on new windows and a new roof.

Then you sell the property for $160,000. Because you lived there for less than two years, you don’t qualify for the homeowner exclusion. After paying your real estate agent and other seller closing costs, you walk away from the table with $150,000.

How much do you own in capital gains taxes?

Assuming you earn enough income to have to pay them at all, you would owe the IRS for $30,000 in capital gains: $150,000 minus your $105,000 cost basis minus the additional $15,000 in capital improvements. If you can document those improvements, that is — you need to keep your receipts and invoices in case you get audited.

In this example, your capital gains tax bill would come to $4,500 (15% of $30,000) if you document the capital improvements, rather than $6,750 (15% of $45,000) if you don’t.

4. Do a 1031 Exchange

Section 1031 of the U.S. tax code allows investors to roll their profits from the sale of one property into buying a new property, deferring their capital gains tax until they sell the new property.

Known as a “like-kind exchange” or 1031 exchange, you used to be able to do this with assets other than real estate, but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 excluded most other assets. However, it remains an excellent way to avoid capital gains taxes on real estate — or at least to postpone them.

Real estate investors typically use 1031 exchanges to leapfrog properties, stocking their portfolio with ever-larger properties with better cash flow. All without ever paying capital gains taxes when they sell in order to trade up.

Imagine you buy your first rental property for $100,000. After expenses, you earn around $100 per month in cash flow, which is nice but you certainly won’t be retiring early on it.

You then spend the next year or two saving up more money to invest with, and set your sights on a three-unit rental property that costs $200,000. To raise money for the down payment, you sell your previous rental property, and net $20,000 in profit at settlement. Ordinarily you’d have to pay capital gains taxes on that $20,000, but because you put it toward a new rental property, you defer owing them.

Instead of $100 per month, you net $500 per month on the new property.

After another year or two of saving, you find a six-unit property for $400,000. You then sell your three-unit to raise money for it, and again use a 1031 exchange to roll your profits into the new six-unit property, again deferring your tax bill on the proceeds.

The new property yields you $1,000 per month in cash flow.

In this way, you can keep scaling your real estate portfolio to build ever-more cash flow, all the while deferring your capital gains taxes from the properties you sell. If you ever sell off these properties without a 1031 exchange, you will owe capital gains tax on the profits you’ve deferred along the way. But until then, you need not pay Uncle Sam a cent in capital gains.

5. Harvest Losses

Invest in enough assets, and you’ll end up with some poor performers. You can sit on them, hoping they’ll turn around. Or you can sell them, eat the loss, and reinvest the money elsewhere for higher returns.

It turns out that there’s a particularly good time to accept investment losses: in the same year when you sell a property for hefty capital gains. Known as harvesting losses, you can offset your gains from one asset by taking losses on another.

Say you sell a rental property and earn a tidy profit of $50,000. Slightly nauseated by the notion of paying capital gains tax on it, you turn to your stock portfolio and decide you’ve had enough of a few stocks or mutual funds that have been underperforming for years now. You sell them for a net loss of $10,000, and reinvest the money in (hopefully) better performing assets.

Instead of owing capital gains taxes on $50,000, you now owe it on $40,000, because you offset your gain with the losses realized elsewhere in your portfolio.

6. Invest Through a Self-Directed Roth IRA

Want more control over your IRA investments? You can always set up a self-directed IRA, through which you can invest in real estate if you like.

Like any other IRA, you can open it as a Roth IRA account, meaning you put in post-tax money and don’t owe taxes on returns. Your investments — in this case, a real estate portfolio — appreciate and generate rental income tax-free, which you can keep reinvesting in your self-directed Roth IRA until you reach age 59 1/2. After that, you can start pulling out rent checks and selling properties, all without owing taxes on your profits.

Just beware that setting up a self-directed IRA does involve some labor and expense on your part. I only recommend it for professional real estate investors with the experience to earn stronger returns on real estate investments than elsewhere.

Pro tip: In addition to owning physical properties through a self-directed IRA, you can also use your self-directed IRA to invest in real estate through platforms like Fundrise or Groundfloor.


Hold Properties to Pass to Your Children

“Exit strategy” doesn’t always mean “sell.” The exit could happen in the form of your estate plan.

Or, for that matter, through methods of passing ownership of properties to your children while you still draw breath. There are several ways to go about this, but consider the following options as the simplest.

7. Leave the Property in Your Will

In 2020, the first $11.58 million in assets you leave behind are exempt from estate taxes. That leaves plenty of room for you to leave real estate to your children without them getting hit with a tax bill from Uncle Sam.

And, hey, rental properties can prove an excellent source of passive income for retirement. They generate ongoing income with no sale of assets required, which means you don’t have to worry about safe withdrawal rates or sequence of returns risk with your rental properties. They also adjust for inflation, as you raise rents each year. You can delegate the labor by hiring a property manager, and once your tenants eventually pay off your mortgage, your cash flow really explodes.

Plus, you can let your kids hassle with hiring a real estate agent and selling the property after you depart this mortal plane. In the meantime, you get to enjoy the cash flow.

8. Take Out a Home Equity Loan

Imagine you buy a rental property while working, and in retirement, you finally pay off the mortgage. You can enjoy the higher cash flow of course, but you can also pull money out through a home equity loan.

In this way, you pull out almost as much money as you’d earn by selling. Except you don’t have to give up the property — you can keep earning cash flow on it as a rental. You let your tenants pay down your mortgage for you once, all while earning some cash flow. Why not let them do it a second time?

You pull out all the equity, you get to keep the asset, and you don’t owe any capital gains taxes. Win, win, win.

You can follow the same strategy with your primary residence, but in that case you incur more personal debt and living expenses. Not ideal, but you have another option when it comes to your home.

9. Take Out a Reverse Mortgage

Along similar lines, you could take out a reverse mortgage on your primary residence if you have equity you want to tap into. These vary in structure, but they either pay you a lump sum now, or ongoing monthly payments, or a combination of both, all without requiring monthly payments from you. The mortgage provider gets their money back when you sell or kick the bucket, whichever comes first.

For retirees, a reverse mortgage helps them avoid higher living expenses while pulling out home equity as an extra source of income. And, of course, you don’t pay capital gains taxes on the property, because you don’t sell it.

10. Refinance & Add Your Child to the Deed

My business partner recently went to sell a rental property to her son for him to move into with his new wife. But the plan derailed when the mortgage lender declined the son’s loan application.

So they took a more creative approach. My business partner and her husband refinanced the property to pull out as much cash as they could, and they had the title company add their son and his wife to the deed and the mortgage note. The son and daughter-in-law moved into the property, taking over the mortgage payments. My partner and her husband took the cash, and while they remain on the deed, their ownership interest will pass to the younger generation upon their death.

In this way, they also streamline the inheritance, as the property won’t need to pass through probate.

This strategy comes with two downsides for my partner and her husband, however. First, they remain liable for the mortgage — if their son defaults, they remain legally obligated to make payments. Second, mortgage lenders don’t lend the entire value of the property when they issue a refinance loan, so my partner didn’t receive as much cash as she might have if she’d sold the property retail.

Of course, she also didn’t have to pay a real estate agent to market it. And any small shortfall in cash from refinancing rather than selling outright could be collected as a “down payment” from your child, or you could just shrug and think of it as a gift.


Other Exit Strategies

11. Donate the Property to Charity

Finally, you can always avoid taxes by giving the property to your charity of choice.

No clever maneuvers or tax loopholes. Just an act of generosity to help those who need the money more than you or Uncle Sam do.

By donating real estate you not only avoid paying taxes on its gains, you also get to deduct the value — in this case the equity — from your tax return. But bear in mind that the IRS looks closely at charitable deductions, especially house-sized ones, and you may hear from them demanding more information.


Final Word

Property owners have plenty of exit strategies at their disposal to minimize capital gains taxes. But don’t assume all of these options will last forever — with an ever-widening federal budget deficit, expect tax rates to rise and investment-friendly tax rules to suffer. Your taxes may go up in retirement, not down.

Whether you own a real estate empire or simply your own home, choose the strategy that fits your needs best, and aim to keep more of your proceeds in your own pocket.

What are your exit strategies for your properties? How do you plan to minimize your tax burden?

Source: moneycrashers.com

This Tool Helps Find the Perfect Real Estate Agent for You

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As housing demand continues to grow and buyers are putting offers on homes as quickly as they come on the market, Homes.com wanted to create a streamlined process to make building your real estate team easier than ever before. As every homebuyer and seller knows, having trusted real estate professionals on your side is one of the most important steps in the homebuying or selling journey. But finding those professionals sometimes can feel overwhelming. In order to find an agent that best suits your needs, Homes.com has introduced, and upgraded, our “Agent Search” feature.

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Start building your real estate team now with Homes.com!

Now, buyers and sellers can find an agent that’s most suitable for their specific needs. Not only can you find trusted agents in your area fluent in your language or with special knowledge of different real estate practices, but you can also identify agents with rapid response time, those who are Homes.com preferred, and even read through endorsements from other buyers the agent has worked with in the past. We’ve also introduced a “Search by Specialty” function to ensure you find the right agent for your journey. 

Search by Language

As a champion of diversity and inclusion, Homes.com introduced the “Search by Language” feature in order to provide buyers and sellers with a real estate professional who will be able to communicate with them clearly and in their preferred language.

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In addition to narrowing down your ideal real estate agent by language, you’ll also be able to identify those who are “Rapid Responders.” “Rapid Responder” eligibility requires an agent or office to have a dedicated specialist answering phones during normal business hours,” says Chris Horton, Director of Product for user experience. “For home searchers, what this “Rapid Responder” credential means is that they will easily be able to speak to their agent during their homebuying or renting process.” 

Search by Specialty

There are plenty of reasons people may be looking to move, so if you’re looking for an agent with a specific specialty, then this is the way to go. Homes.com provides its users with a way to narrow their agent search through the “Search by Specialty” feature. If you’re looking to sell your home, you can find trusted agents within that field. Service members can find agents who specialize in military family home search, and you can even filter by agents who specialize in finding senior communities for those who are searching for their retirement home. Other specializations include new construction, property management for those who like to invest, and luxury homes to make your team tailored to you.

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Start Your Home Search Journey Today!

With Homes.com, your home search has never been easier. We’ll be with you from every step of the way. You can start browsing available properties on our homepage, search for the ideal real estate team using our new search functionality, find the best lender near you to assist in your home financing, and even visit our How To section to find an entire step-by-step guide on the buying, selling, renting, or financing process.


Content Marketing Assistant at Homes.com | See more posts by this author

As Homes.com’s content marketing assistant, Sydney gets to combine one of her favorite pastimes with her job– keeping up with pop culture. Outside of work, she enjoys stepping away from her phone and computer and spending time with her friends, whether it’s just hanging out or traveling. Trying new foods, going snowboarding, and long road trips are some of her other favorite things to do, but what does she loves the most? When people read Homes.com’s blog articles, of course!

Source: homes.com

Understanding the Role of the Real Estate Agent

Not sure you need an agent to help with your real estate transaction? Here are seven ways they bring value you might be missing out on.

The road to homeownership can be bumpy, and it’s often filled with unexpected turns and detours. That’s why it makes sense to have a real estate pro help guide the way.

While real estate websites and mobile apps can help you identify houses you may be interested in, an experienced agent does much more, including:

1. Guide. Before you tour your first home, your agent will take time to learn more about your wants, needs, preferences, budget and motivation. A good real estate agent will help you narrow your search and identify your priorities.

2. Educate. You should expect your agent to provide data on the local home market and comparable sales. The home-buying process can be complicated. A good agent will explain the steps involved – in a manner that makes them understandable – and provide counsel along the way.

3. Network. An agent who is familiar with your target neighborhoods will often know about homes that are for sale – even before they’re officially listed. Experienced agents tend to know other agents in the area and have good working relationships with them; this can lead to smooth transactions. Your agent may also be able to refer you to trusted professionals including lenders, home inspectors and contractors.

4. Advocate. When you work with a buyer’s agent, their fiduciary responsibility is to you. That means you have an expert who is looking out for your best financial interests, an expert who’s contractually bound to do everything in their power to protect you. If you find yourself in a situation where the same agent represents both the buyer and seller, things can get trickier, advises Scottsdale, Arizona-based real estate agent Dru Bloomfield.

“A lot of people think they’ll get a lower price by going straight to the listing agent, but that’s always not true,” she says. “If I was representing both the buyer and seller, I’d be hard-pressed to take a low-ball offer to the seller. But, as a buyer’s agent I’d do it, because I have no emotional ties or fiduciary responsibility to the seller. Buyers should work with an agent who can fully represent them.”

5. Negotiate. Your agent will handle the details of the negotiation process, including the preparation of all necessary offer and counteroffer forms. Once your inspection is done, the agent can also help you negotiate for repairs. Even the most reasonable consumers can become distraught when battling over repair requests; an agent can do “the ask” without becoming overly emotional.

6. Manage minutia. The paperwork that goes along with a real estate transaction can be exhaustive. If you forget to initial a clause or check a box, all those documents will need to be resubmitted. A good real estate agent understands the associated deadlines and details and can help you navigate these complex documents.

7. Look out. Any number of pitfalls can kill a deal as it inches toward closing; perhaps the title of the house isn’t clear, the lender hasn’t met the financing deadline or the seller has failed to disclose a plumbing problem. An experienced real estate agent knows to watch for trouble before it’s too late, and can skillfully deal with challenges as they arise.

Professional real estate agents do so much more than drive clients around to look at homes. Find an agent you trust and with whom you feel comfortable working; you’re sure to benefit from their experience, knowledge of the local market and negotiation skills.

Related:

Originally published July 21, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

In the Market? Here’s What You Should Know About Contingencies

Home contingencies are aspects of home purchase contracts that protect buyers or sellers by establishing conditions that must be met before the purchase can be completed. There are a variety of contingencies that can be included in a contract; some required by third parties, and others potentially created by the buyer. While sellers in the current market prefer to have little to no contingencies, the vast majority of purchase contracts do include them, so here’s a primer to help you navigate any that come your way!

Financing Contingency

The most common type of contingency in a real estate contract is the financing contingency. While the number of homes that sold for cash more than doubled over the last 10 years, the majority of home purchases — 87% of them, in fact— are still financed through mortgage loans.

Why is this important? Because most real estate contracts provide a contingency clause that states the contract is binding only if the buyer is approved for the loan. If a contract is written as cash, in most cases, the financing contingency is removed.

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Why Does The Financing Contingency Exist?

This contingency exists to protect the buyer. If a buyer submits a winning offer, but can’t get approved for a loan to follow through with the purchase, this clause can protect the buyer from potential legal or financial ramifications.

Tip: Homeowners can, and should, request to see a buyer’s prequalification letter before accepting their offer.

Home Sale Contingency

For many repeat homebuyers, they must sell a property in order to afford a new home. Whether they’re relocating for work, moving to a larger home, or moving to a more rural area, 38% of home buyers in a recent survey reported using funds from a previous home to purchase a new one. This is where a home sale contingency comes into play; this clause states that the buyer must first sell their current home before they can proceed with purchasing a new one.

Why Does This Contingency Exist?

This is another contingency that exists to protect the buyer. If their current home sale doesn’t close, this clause can protect the buyer from being forced to purchase the new home. In other words, they can back out of the new home contract without consequence. Keep in mind that in a seller’s market, this type of contingency offer is less desirable to sellers; in fact,  they may rule out your offer completely if this is included.

TIP: In many situations, homeowners can negotiate escape clauses for the home sale which would allow them to solicit other offers and potentially bump the current buyer out of the picture.

Home Inspection Contingency

Not only is it common, it’s also wise to include a home inspection contingency in any offer. Whether it’s a new home or an existing home, there is no such thing as a flawless house. Home inspections can uncover hidden problems, detect deferred maintenance issues that may be costly down the road, or make the home less desirable to purchase completely. A home inspection contingency essentially states that the purchase of a home is dependent on the results from the home inspection.

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Why Does This Contingency Exist?

Whether it’s a roof in need of replacement or an unsafe fireplace, homebuyers need to know the maintenance and safety issues of the properties they’re interested in purchasing. If a home inspection report reveals significant (or scary!) findings, this protects the buyer from the financial burden that repairs would require. This is why agents will tell you it’s never a good idea for a home to be purchased without a home inspection contingency.

TIP: The findings from the report can usually be used to negotiate repairs or financial concessions from the seller.

Sight-Unseen Contingency

Especially during sellers markets, it’s not uncommon for a home to have dozens of showings within the first couple of days of listing. This breakneck pace can create a scenario in which homebuyers may not be able to coordinate their schedules to get a timely showing appointment. To help prevent missing out on the chance to buy a home, buyers in this situation will sometimes make offers on the home, sight unseen.

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There’s no sugarcoating it…this is a high-risk strategy with ample opportunity for negative consequences. However, if this strategy is used, many real estate agents will add a sight- unseen contingency to their offer. This contingency states that the offer for purchase is dependent on the buyer’s viewing of, and satisfaction with, the property.

Why Does This Contingency Exist?

In a market with shrinking inventory, desperate buyers want a fighting chance at a hot property; in some cases, that can only exist by submitting an offer before they can see it in person.

TIP: Sight unseen offers are also high risk to the seller. If you include this contingency in your offer, try to keep other seller requests to a minimum. 

Why Contingencies Can Be Positive

In a seller’s market, buyers may feel the pressure to remove as many contingencies as possible in order to compete. But, it’s important to remember that contingencies are actually safeguards in place to prevent buyer remorse, expensive future repairs, or financial calamity. It’s always crucial for buyers to hire a seasoned real estate agent who can advocate for their best interests, negotiate and strategize in safe and competitive ways, and advises them of the risks of each decision.

Looking to Buy? Don’t Go it Alone!

The homebuying process is a complex one, but that doesn’t mean you’re left with all the heavy lifting. Find your dream home and a local agent on Homes.com, then visit our “How to Buy” section for all the step-by-step insights for a smooth process.


Jennifer is an accidental house flipper turned Realtor and real estate investor. She is the voice behind the blog, Bachelorette Pad Flip. Over five years, Jennifer paid off $70,000 in student loan debt through real estate investing. She’s passionate about the power of real estate. She’s also passionate about southern cooking, good architecture, and thrift store treasure hunting. She calls Northwest Arkansas home with her cat Smokey, but she has a deep love affair with South Florida.

Source: homes.com

5 Expenses Homeowners Pay That Renters Don’t

Thinking about buying? Be sure to include these five items in your calculations.

Homeownership may be a goal for some, but it’s not the right fit for many.

Renters account for 37 percent of all households in America — or just over 43.7 million homes, up more than 6.9 million since 2005. Even still, more than half of millennial and Gen Z renters consider buying, with 18 percent seriously considering it.

Both lifestyles afford their fair share of pros and cons. So before you meet with a real estate agent, consider these five costs homeowners pay that renters don’t — they could make you reconsider buying altogether.

1. Property taxes

As long as you own a home, you’ll pay property taxes. The typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,110 per year in property taxes, meaning they’re a significant — and ongoing — chunk of your budget.

Factor this expense into the equation from the get-go to avoid surprises down the road. The property tax rates vary among states, so try a mortgage calculator to estimate costs in your area.

2. Homeowners insurance

Homeowners insurance protects you against losses and damage to your home caused by perils such as fires, storms or burglary. It also covers legal costs if someone is injured in your home or on your property.

Homeowners insurance is almost always required in order to get a home loan. It costs an average of $35 per month for every $100,000 of your home’s value.

If you intend to purchase a condo, you’ll need a condo insurance policy — separate from traditional homeowner’s insurance — which costs an average of $100 to $400 a year.

3. Maintenance and repairs

Don’t forget about those small repairs that you won’t be calling your landlord about anymore. Notice a tear in your window screen? Can’t get your toilet to stop running? What about those burned out light bulbs in your hallway? You get the idea.

Maintenance costs can add an additional $3,021 to the typical U.S. homeowner’s annual bill. Of course, this amount increases as your home ages.

And don’t forget about repairs. Conventional water heaters last about a decade, with a new one costing you between $500 to $1,500 on average. Air conditioning units don’t typically last much longer than 15 years, and an asphalt shingle roof won’t serve you too well after 20 years.

4. HOA fees

Sure, that monthly mortgage payment seems affordable, but don’t forget to take homeowners association (HOA) fees into account.

On average, HOA fees cost anywhere from $200 to $400 per month. They usually fund perks like your fitness center, neighborhood landscaping, community pool and other common areas.

Such amenities are usually covered as a renter, but when you own your home, you’re paying for these luxuries on top of your mortgage payment.

5. Utilities

When you’re renting, it’s common for your apartment or landlord to cover some costs. When you own your home, you’re in charge of covering it all — water, electric, gas, internet and cable.

While many factors determine how much you’ll pay for utilities — like the size of your home and the climate you live in — the typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,953 in utility costs every year.

Ultimately, renting might be more cost-effective in the end, depending on your lifestyle, location and financial situation. As long as you crunch the numbers and factor in these costs, you’ll make the right choice for your needs.

Related:

Originally published August 18, 2015. Statistics updated July 2018.

Source: zillow.com

5 Myths (and 5 Truths) About Selling Your Home

True or false: All real estate advice is good advice. (Hint: It depends.)

Everyone has advice about the real estate market, but not all of that unsolicited information is true. So when it comes time to list your home, you’ll need to separate fact from fiction.

Below we’ve identified the top five real estate myths — and debunked them so you can hop on the fast track to selling your property.

1. I need to redo my kitchen and bathroom before selling

Truth: While kitchens and bathrooms can increase the value of a home, you won’t get a large return on investment if you do a major renovation just before selling.

Minor renovations, on the other hand, may help you sell your home for a higher price. New countertops or new appliances may be just the kind of bait you need to reel in a buyer. Check out comparable listings in your neighborhood, and see what work you need to do to compete in the market.

2. My home’s exterior isn’t as important as the interior

Truth: Home buyers often make snap judgments based simply on a home’s exterior, so curb appeal is very important.

“A lot of buyers search online or drive by properties before they even enlist my services,” says Bic DeCaro, a real estate agent at Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, Virginia. “If the yard is cluttered or the driveway is all broken up, there’s a chance they won’t ever enter the house — they’ll just keep driving.”

The good news is that it doesn’t cost a bundle to improve your home’s exterior. Start by cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and clearing away any clutter. Then, for less than $50, you could put up new house numbers, paint the front door, plant some flowers or install a new, more stylish porch light.

3. If my house is clean, I don’t need to stage it

Truth: Tidy is a good first step, but professional home stagers have raised the bar. Tossing dirty laundry in the closet and sweeping the front steps just aren’t enough anymore.

Stagers make homes appeal to a broad range of tastes. They can skillfully identify ways to highlight your home’s best features and compensate for its shortcomings. For example, they might recommend removing blinds from a window with a great view or replacing a double bed with a twin to make a bedroom look bigger.

Of course, you don’t have to hire a professional stager. But if you don’t, be ready to use some of their tactics to get your home ready for sale — especially if staging is a trend where you live. An unstaged house will pale when compared to others on the market.

4. Granite and stainless steel appliances are old news

Truth: The majority of home shoppers still want granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Quartz, marble and concrete counters also have wide appeal.

“Most shoppers just want to steer away from anything that looks dated,” says Dru Bloomfield, a real estate agent with Platinum Living Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona. “When you a design a space, you need to decide if you’re doing it for yourself or for resale potential.”

She suggests that if you’re not planning to move anytime soon, decorate how you’d like. But if you’re planning to put your home on the market within the next couple of years, stick to elements with mass appeal.

“I recently sold a house where the kitchen had been remodeled 12 years ago, and everybody thought it had just been done because the owners had chosen timeless elements: dark maple cabinets, granite counters and stainless steel appliances.”

5. Home shoppers can ignore paint colors they don’t like

Truth: Moving is a lot of work, and while many home buyers realize they could take on the task of painting walls, they simply don’t want to.

That’s why one of the most important things you can do to update your home is apply a fresh coat of neutral paint. Neutral colors also help a property stand out in online photographs, which is where most potential buyers will get their first impression of your property.

Hiring a professional to paint the interior of a 2,000-square-foot house will cost about $3,000 to $6,000, depending on labor costs in your region. You could buy the paint and do the job yourself for $300 to $500. Either way, if a fresh coat of paint helps your home stand out in a crowded market, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.

Related:

Originally published April 1, 2014.

Source: zillow.com