Easy Weekend Projects

Whether you have decided to stay put in your current home or you are thinking about putting your home on the market, all homeowners are looking for ways they can improve their homes.  Luckily, there a many do-it-yourself, cost-efficient home improvement projects that will do just that.

Below are some simple projects that can be completed in as little as one weekend:

BUILD A NEW BACKSPLASH IN YOUR KITCHEN

Building a new backsplash is an easy way to showcase your personality and add character to your kitchen.  Character can be added by implementing tile design tricks, such as placing tile diagonally to add dimension to a room or placing tile in patterns to form interesting mosaics.

No matter which design you choose to create, the most cost-effective way to build a new backsplash is to research several tile options before making your final tile purchase.  Experts say that, in general, ceramic and porcelain tile are the best options in terms of cost, starting at $10 per square foot.

REPLACE YOUR OLD BATHROOM VANITY

Standalone vanities are a hot trend in bathroom design because they provide the look of furniture, adding a more comfortable feeling to a bathroom.  Vanities are available in many different styles and sizes, ranging from small, which are about 18 in. in width, to large, which are about 72 in. in width.  With such diverse vanities to choose from, there is a vanity to suit any taste and replacement timeline.

Vanities can be installed in only a matter of hours with the correct number of people.  Installing a vanity usually requires at least 2 people in order to make the installation process move quickly and smoothly.  However, the size of the vanity will determine how many people should help to install it.

REPLACE YOUR CARPETING WITH WOOD FLOORING

Wood flooring can increase value and add style to your living room.  Light woods can make a room appear larger, medium woods can make a room appear more traditional, and dark woods can make a room appear warmer.

The introduction of so many new species, colors and types of flooring in recent years allow homeowners a lot of options and with innovations such as click flooring it is now even easier for DIYers to install a new floor.

Installing wood floors on your own can cut down on the overall cost of your flooring project and can easily give your living room a beautiful new look from between $1,000 and $2,500, depending on the size of the room.

Projects like these make your home look unique and get a great return on your very affordable investment.

 

 

RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES

Once they are all used up, recycle your rechargeable batteries.  Did you know that more than 350 million batteries are purchased in the U.S. per year?  When these batteries no longer hold a charge and are thrown away, they can cause serious harm to human health and the environment.  About 75 percent of municipal solid waste is either sent to a landfill or incinerated.  Neither of these methods is suited for the disposal of rechargeable batteries. 

There are several local collections sites for batteries, including those for cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, camcorders, digital cameras, and remote control toys.  Your can also take your rechargeable batteries to many large retailers, which will properly dispose of them.  Check out this web site to find a collection location near you: http://earth911.com/hazardous/rechargeable-batteries/.

Introducing Corks in Danville

Good Morning!

One of the things we love to do is introduce you to local businesses we love.  Corks in Danville is a great place to come enjoy a glass of wine, listen to local music artists and be surrounded by positive people in a laidback environment.  Click Here to view our short video of Corks.  We hope you try it sometime and enjoy the experience as much as we do!

Greg & Lisa

IRS Reminds Taxpayers To Take Advantage Of Recovery Act Benefits

With 2009 nearing the final quarter of the year, the Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers to take advantage of the numerous tax breaks made available earlier this year in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The recovery law provides tax incentives for first-time homebuyers, people purchasing new cars, those interested in making their homes more energy efficient and parents and students paying for college.  But all of these incentives have expiration dates so taxpayers should take advantage of them while they can.

First Time Homebuyer Credit

The Recovery Act extended and expanded the first time homebuyer tax credit for 2009.  Taxpayers who did not own a principal residence during the past 3 years and purchase a home this year before Dec. 1 can receive a credit of up to $8,000 on either an original or amended 2008 tax return, or a 2009 return.  But the purchase must close before Dec. 1, 2009, and an eligible taxpayer cannot claim the credit until after the closing data.  This credit phases out at higher income levels, and different rules apply to home purchases made in 2008.

New Vehicle Purchase Incentive

ARRA also provides a tax break to taxpayers who make qualified new vehicle purchases after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010.

Qualifying taxpayers can deduct the state and local sales and excise taxes paid on the purchase of new cars, light trucks, motor homes and motorcycles.  There is no limit on the number of vehicles that may be purchased, and you may claim the deduction for taxes paid on multiple purchases.  But the deduction per vehicle is limited to the tax on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of each qualifying vehicle and phases out for taxpayers at higher income levels.  This deduction is available regardless of whether a taxpayer itemizes deductions on Schedule A.

Energy Efficient Home Improvements

The Recovery Act also encourages homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient.  The credit for non-business energy property is increased for homeowners who make qualified energy-efficient improvements to existing homes.  The law increases the rate to 30% of the cost of all qualifying improvements and raises the maximum credit limit to a total of $1,500 for improvements placed in service in 2009 and 2010.

Qualifying improvements include the addition of insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems.

Tax Credit for first 4 Years of College

The American opportunity credit is designed to help parents and students pay part of the cost of the first four years of college.  The new credit modifies the existing Hope credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers, including many with higher incomes and those who owe no tax.  Tuition, related fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify.  Many of those eligible will qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.

Certain Computer Technology Purchases Allowed for 529 Plans

ARRA adds computer technology to the list of college expenses that can be paid for by the qualified tuition program, commonly referred to as a 529 plan.  For 2009 and 2010, the law expands the definition of qualified higher education expenses to include expenses for computer technology and equipment or internet access and related services to be used by the designated beneficiary of the QTP while enrolled at an eligible educational institution.  Software designed for sports, games or hobbies does not qualify, unless it is predominantly educational in nature.

Making Work Pay and Withholding

The Making Work Pay Credit lowered tax withholding rates this year for 120 million American households.  However, particular taxpayers who fall into any of the following groups should review their tax withholding rates to ensure enough tax is withheld, including multiple job holders, families in which both spouses work, workers who can be claimed as dependents by other taxpayers and pensioners.  Failure to adjust your withholding could result in potentially smaller refunds or in limited instances may cause you to owe tax rather than receive a refund next year.  So far in 2009, the average refund amount is $2,675, and 79 percent of all returns received a refund.

Related Information

For more on the Recovery provisions that may apply to individual taxpayers see the ARRA page on IRS.gov.

Helping you get your home sold now!

Good Morning,

Greg & I sure hope you and your family are doing well.  In this changing market, we know there are so many people who have had a difficult time getting their home sold for the best price possible.  We created this video to give those people hope.  If you or anyone you know wants to get your home sold now, please watch this short video and pass it on to your friends.  As always, have an amazing day! 

Click here to watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PygOXQZOjG4

Sincerely, Greg & Lisa

Homeownership Still Pays, an article in Realtor Magazine June 2009

Many Americans have taken a hit to their home equity over the past couple of years and some may wonder if it’s really the smartest financial decision to own a home.  Good news- a recent analysis of Federal Reserve data by the National Association of Realtors shows the answer is yes.  In comparison with renters, home owners have much greater household weather.  Owners’ wealth exceeds that of renters by a factor of 50-to-1:  a median of $205,200 versus a median of $4,200.  The main wealth difference between the 2 is home equity, of course.  No news there.  But even for households who’ve owned their home only since 2003, home equity gains are the rule rather than the exception- and in some cases, equity gains have been signification.  Households who bought 5 years ago in Honolulu, for instance, already average nearly $272,000 in equity.  In Northern CA, the comparable figure is $105,000.

Times are tougher for home owners in a handful of economically struggling markets like Detroit and other parts of the industrial Midwest.  Households in these areas who’ve owned their home for 5 years or less are facing negative equity, although typically not a lot.  Hardest hit are households in Detroit who have been owners only since 2003:  they’re underwater by a typical $39,000.  That’s significant.  But in other markets where equity is negative, the numbers tend to be much smaller- $1,000 in Indianapolis, for example.

Yet the doom and gloom ends there.  In all 150 markets tracked by NAR, including hard-hit markets, households who’ve owned their home for 10, 15, and 20 years have uniformly enjoyed strong equity gains despite the recent downturn.  In Honolulu, 20-year owners have accumulated $485,000 in equity; in Northern California, the comparable figure is $481,000.

Even markets in the hard-hit industrial Midwest are holding up well.  In Detroit, equity for 10-year owners is more than $10,000; that figure jumps to $60,000 for 15-year owners and to $78,000 for 20-year owners.  In Indianapolis, the 10-, 15-, and 20-year equity gains are $19,000, $47,000, and $68,000, respectively.

The data clearly show that homeownership remains the biggest store of wealth for the typical household, even when markets are buffeted by some admittedly very rocky years.

Some people ask us questions about damage during an escrow. Here is some great information we found. We hope it helps you!

What are the general rules concerning who bears the risk of loss in a real estate transaction where an Act of God or other disaster, such as fire, affects the property?

If the purchase contract between the parties doesn’t specify who is to bear the risk of damage or loss to the premises during the time between the execution of the contract and the transfer of title, the liability of the parties is governed by the CA Uniform Vendor and Purchaser Risk Act.  Under the provisions of this statute, the risk of loss or damage to the premises carried by the seller until the buyer receives either title or possession.

If all or a material part of the premises are damaged before title or possession is given to the buyer, the buyer can cancel the contract and recover any portion of the purchase price paid.  It is not clear whether the buyer can alternatively elect to enforce the contract with a reduction in the purchase price equal to the loss of value or cost of repair.

After the buyer has taken possession or has received title, the buyer bears the risk of loss or damage to the premises.  Therefore, if the premises are damaged, the buyer must still complete the contract and pay the balance of the purchase price. 

If the purchase contract does contain a risk of loss provision, that provision will govern to the extent it is different from or more specific than the Uniform Vendor and Purchaser Risk Act.

May a buyer get out of a purchase contract under the Uniform Act if the damage or loss caused by fires to the property is minor?

Probably not.  The Uniform Act implies that the seller may still enforce the contract if the damage is not material.  However, a purchase agreement may require the seller to repair such damage.  For example, Paragraph 7A of C.A.R.’s Residential Purchase Agreement requires the property to be maintained in substantially the same condition it was in on the date of acceptance.  Under this language, a seller could be obligated to repair fire-related damage to his or her property. 

May a buyer get out of a purchase contract under the Uniform Act if the damage or loss caused by fires to the property is major?

Yes.  To repeat, if neither legal title nor possession has transferred from the seller to the buyer, and all or a material part of the real property is destroyed by fire and no express contract provision to the contrary exists, then, under the Uniform Act the seller cannot enforce the purchase contract and the buyer may cancel and recover any portion of the purchase price already paid.

If the damage is not severe, does the timing of the fires (whether they occur before or after an inspection) affect the right to cancel?

Yes.  If the damage occurs before the buyer has removed an inspection contingency in his or her purchase contract, the buyer can, of course, exercise any inspection, disapproval, and cancellation rights provided by the contract.

Existing homes selling fast – record fast

The volume of home re-sales has been on the upswing for four consecutive months.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Sales of existing homes rose in July for the fourth consecutive month, lending support to economists who argue a recovery is near.

Sales of previously owned single-family homes were up 7.2% compared with June and 5% from July 2008, The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported Friday. The monthly gain was the largest on record for existing-home sales, which NAR has tracked since 1999.

“The housing market has decisively turned for the better,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “A combination of first-time buyers taking advantage of the housing stimulus tax credit and greatly improved affordability conditions are contributing to higher sales.”

July home sales hit an annualized rate of 5.24 million proprieties, marking the first breach of the 5 million annualized rate mark since last September, when they hit 5.1 million. Since then, they have stayed in a very narrow range, bouncing between between January’s low of 4.49 million and October’s high of 4.94 million.

The July performance far exceeded expectations: A consensus of real estate experts had forecast sales of 5 million.

Low prices

Of course, homes should be selling. Prices have fallen more than 32% from their peaks, set in the summer of 2006. Plus, mortgage rates near historic lows makes the cost of purchasing a home lower than they’ve been in nearly 20 years.

“In some recovering markets like San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando, the demand for foreclosed and lower priced homes has spiked, and a lack of inventory is becoming a common complaint,” Yun said.

Overall though, the national inventory rose by more than 7% to 4.09 million units. That will continue to keep prices low, according to Mike Larson, a housing analyst with Weiss Research.

“There’s a bifurcation of the market,” he said. “There’s excess supply putting downward pressure on prices and people respond to the lower prices by buying homes.”

Housing is its most affordable in many years, he pointed out. “Falling prices is not part of the problem, they’re part of the solution,” he said.

Hurting home sales have been stubborn increases in job losses. More than 6.7 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of 2008.

That’s one reason why Robert Dye, a senior economist for PNC Financial Services (PNC, Fortune 500), is keeping his optimism in check.

“I wouldn’t go overboard on this number,” he said. “The economy is still healing and will continue to run into some bumps. But it does bode very well for the future and shows buyer confidence is increasing.”

There is one potential bump, however: The looming end of the first-time homebuyers’ credit. The credit gave first-time homebuyers an up to $8,000 refund on their taxes if they close on a deal before Dec. 1. That credit has been motivating buyers, and when it expires, demand could dry up.

“Just like with the cash-for-clunkers program, we run the risk of a letdown as the program runs its course,” Dye said.

Where homes are selling

Regionally, the strongest market was the Northeast, where sales soared by 13.4% to an annualized rate of 930,000. That was 3.3% higher than last July. The median price of homes sold during the month was $236,700, off 15% from last year.

Midwest sales rose 10.9% to a 1.22 million rate, 8% higher year-over-year. Prices there have sunk 5.9% over the past 12 months to a median of $157,200.

In the South, sales were up 7.1% from June and 5.4% from last July to a rate of 1.95 million. Prices have dropped 7.1% to $164,500 over the past 12 months.

The only region reporting a slip in sales was the West, where they fell 1.7% to a rate of 1.13 million. That was ahead of last July, however, by 1.8%. The median price there was $202,300, a whopping 28% below what is was a year ago. 

First Published: August 21, 2009

Be Patient for Multifamily Recovery, an article from Realtor Magazine

Apartment properties have historically been the least volatile of all commercial investments and the first commercial properties to recover when markets improve.  But this time may be different.

Why do apartment properties generally recover first after a downturn?

2 reasons: Construction cycles are shorter so their supply can adjust faster when demand weakens.  And apartments have shorter lease terms, which allows owners to adjust more quickly to economic changes and raise rents sooner.

What can we expect for the rest of 2009?

Given the severe job losses, we expect drops in apartment occupancy and rents.  Furthermore, as home prices fall, some renters will be leaving to buy homes in the next 12 to 18 months.  That will affect demand.

Does this mean that apartments are no longer a good investment during a downturn?

There is certainly going to be more volatility in apartment returns over the next 2-3 years, relative to what this sector has experienced historically.  That said, income-producing apartment investments should still offer more stable returns than other commercial property types over the long term.

Termites: The Silent Destroyers

Older houses, where it is more likely that the foundation may have cracked, probably are more inclined to be at risk.  New homes aren’t off the hook: If termite pretreatments during construction aren’t done correctly by the builder, termite swarms can take hold even after 5 years. 

So how can home owners keep these crawly insects from biting into their investment?

  • Keep moisture out.  Use downspouts and gutters to divert water away from the home’s foundation.
  • Store mulch, firewood, and wood chips away from the home.
  • Ensure shrubs, vines, and other plants aren’t planted too close to the home and aren’t covering vents.
  • Ventilate crawl spaces to reduce humidity.
  • Eliminate gaps and cracks in areas such as attic vents, window joints, and roof eaves.
  • Remove old tree stumps and roots near the home.

Even in areas with a lower probability of infestation, the right combination of food, moisture, and warmth can spell trouble.  The bottom line: You don’t want termites to eat up your investment.

If we can help you with information on how to buy bank-owned homes, foreclosure homes at rock-bottom prices or help you with mortgage interest rates, questions or mortgage calculations, feel free to call us anytime.  We are happy to assist you with your loan modification or help you with your short sale.  You may use us as a resource for any Real Estate needs as well.