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Are Closing Costs Tax Deductible Under The New Tax Law?

by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team

Are closing costs tax deductible? What about mortgage interest? Or property taxes? The answer is, maddeningly, “It depends.”

Basically, you’ll want to itemize if you have deductions totaling more than the standard deduction, which is $12,000 for single people and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Every taxpayer gets this deduction, homeowner or not. And most people take it because their actual itemized deductions are less than the standard amount.

But should you take it?

To decide, you need to know what’s tax deductible when buying or owning a house. Here’s the list of possible deductions:

Closing Costs

The one-time home purchase costs that are tax deductible as closing costs are real estate taxes charged to you when you closed, mortgage interest paid when you settled, and some loan origination fees (a.k.a. points) applicable to a mortgage of $750,000 or less.

But you’ll only want to itemize them if all your deductions total more than the standard deduction.

Costs of closing on a home that aren’t tax deductible include:

Real estate commissions
Appraisals
Home inspections
Attorney fees
Title fees
Transfer taxes
Mortgage refi fees
Mortgage interest and property taxes are annual expenses of owning a home that may or may not be deductible. Continue reading to learn more about those.
Mortgage Interest

Yearly, you can write off the interest you pay on up to $750,000 of mortgage debt. Most homeowners don’t have mortgages large enough to hit the cap, says Evan Liddiard, CPA, director of federal tax policy for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. But people who live in pricey places like San Francisco and Manhattan, or homeowners anywhere with hefty mortgages, will likely maximize the mortgage interest deduction.

Note: The $750,000 cap affects loans taken out after Dec. 17, 2017. If you have a loan older than that and you itemize, you can keep deducting your mortgage interest debt up to $1 million. But if you re-fi that loan, you can only deduct the interest on the amount up to the balance on the day you refinanced – you can’t take extra cash and deduct the interest on the excess.

Home Equity Loan Interest

You can deduct the interest on a home equity loan or a second mortgage. But — and this is a big but — only if you use the proceeds to substantially improve your house, and only if the loan, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t add up to more than the magic number of $750,000 (or $1 million if the loans were existing as of Dec. 15, 2017).

If you use a home equity loan to pay medical bills, go to Paris, or for anything but home improvement, you can’t write off the interest on your taxes.

State and Local Taxes

You can deduct state and local taxes you paid, including property, sales, and income taxes, up to $10,000. That’s a low cap for people who live in places where state and local taxes are high, says Liddiard.

Loss From a Disaster

You can write off the cost of damage to your home if it’s caused by an event in a federally declared disaster zone, like areas in Florida after Hurricane Michael or Shasta County, Calif., after a rash of wildfires.

This means standard-variety disasters like a busted water pipe while you’re on vacation or a fire caused because you left the toaster on aren’t deductible.

Moving Expenses

This deduction is also only for some. You can deduct moving expenses if you’re an active member of the armed forces moving to a new station.

And by the way, no matter who you are, if your employer pays your moving expenses, you’ll have to pay taxes on the reimbursement. “This will be a real hardship to many because it’s non-cash income,” says Liddiard. Some employers may up the gross to provide cash to pay the tax, but many likely will not.

Home Office

This is a deduction you don’t have to itemize. You can take it on top of the standard deduction, but only if you’re self-employed. If you are an employee and your boss lets you telecommute a day or two a week, you can’t write off home office expenses. You claim it on Schedule C.

Student Loans

Anyone paying a mortgage and a student loan payment will be happy to hear that the interest on your education loan is tax-deductible on top of the standard deduction (no need to itemize). And you can deduct as much as $2,500 in interest per year, depending on your modified adjusted gross income.

Ways to Increase Your Eligible Deductions

There are some other itemize-able costs not related to being a homeowner that could bump you up over the standard deduction. This might allow you to write off your mortgage interest. Charitable contributions and some medical expenses are itemize-able, although medical expenses must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

So if you’ve have had a hospital stay or are generous, you could be in itemized-deduction land.

Also, if you’re a single homeowner, it could be easier for you to exceed the standard deduction, Liddiard says. The itemized deductions on your house will probably more quickly break the $12,000 standard deduction threshold than a couple’s similar house will break their $24,000 threshold.

Tax-Savvy Home-Buying Ideas

If you’re a prospective homeowner with an eye to making the most efficient use of your tax benefits, here are a few ways to buy smart:

Especially in expensive areas, buy a less expensive home so you don’t hit the cap on mortgage debt and local and property taxes, says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert for TurboTax.
If you’re buying a higher price home, make a bigger down payment so your original mortgage doesn’t exceed the $750,000 cap.
How to Decide If You Should Itemize

Though every homeowner’s tax benefits will be a little different, in the end, you’re building equity, you’ll likely make money when you sell, and you have the freedom to paint your walls any color you want and get a dog.

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6 Costs Homeowners Overlook And How To Pay For Them

by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team

For many people, a house is the biggest investment they'll ever make. And whether you're a first-time homeowner or you're buying your third property, you're bound to end up covering some unexpected expenses. Here are six costs homeowners tend to overlook and how to pay for them:

 

1. Property taxes

Be prepared to pay property taxes and keep in mind that they rarely decrease. Homeowners often pay them every month along with their mortgage payments. If your loan is backed by the Federal Housing Administration, you're required to have an escrow or impound account.

If you don't have to make property tax payments through an escrow account, they may be due at the end of the year. In some counties, you might pay them in installments.

2. Homeowners association fees

Whenever you move into a new home or condominium, you become part of a community. In many cases, there are fees associated with the maintenance and general upkeep of shared common areas. The money collected might cover snow removal, landscaping or repairs to a meeting room.

Monthly homeowners association (HOA) fees for standard single-family homes tend to cost between $200-$300, but rates can vary depending on several factors, including how recently a housing community was built and the kinds of amenities that are available. That's why it's best to know how much fees cost upfront. In West Hollywood, Calif., for example, residents in Sierra Towers condos get access to a 24-hour concierge service and valet parking, but spend around $4,000 per month on HOA fees.

3. Insurance premiums

If you own a home, another cost you should include in your budget is insurance. The average annual homeowners insurance premium costs $1,120, according to recent data provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, but the amount you pay may be higher or lower based on where you live and the kind of policy you choose.

Homeowners insurance typically covers personal possessions, liability for injuries that take place on your property, the structure of your house and additional costs associated with living elsewhere if your home is severely damaged. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, you might need a supplemental policy like flood insurance.

4. Repair and maintenance costs

Repairing or replacing a roof, furnace or air conditioner can be expensive, and at some point, you might have to address plumbing issues or trade in some old appliances.

The cost of home maintenance is another thing you'll have to factor into the cost of homeownership. You'll need money to keep your yard, gutters, carpet and everything in between in tip-top shape.

Financial experts generally recommend setting aside 1 percent of your home's value to cover the cost of unexpected repairs and maintenance. If you're trying to save money, you're better off doing some of the work yourself. Just make sure you have enough funds for the materials you need to get the job done.

5. Costs associated with selling a home

Having a home that's well-maintained not only lets you enjoy your house while you're living there, but also prevents you from being saddled with additional costs when you're ready to sell it.

Replacing your roof or furnace might be something you want to put off, but failing to make necessary repairs or meet demands made by potential homebuyers could hurt your market value or cost you a sale.

6. Pest control costs

Pests are a real concern for many homeowners. Over time, all sorts of critters—like termites, ants, spiders and rodents—might invade your home. Depending on how serious the problem is, you might need to fumigate your house.

If you're interested in buying a home, make sure you hire an inspector to check for bugs and termites that could cause structural damage. While lenders don't always require homebuyers to pay for pest inspections, it's important to have one done. You don't want to close on a house only to find out later that there's an issue. Termite inspections generally cost between $75-$150, according to Angie's List.

Build a rainy day fund!

It's always better to be prepared for a storm than to be caught in a downpour without an umbrella. Despite the high costs, owning your own home can be a rewarding experience.

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst by keeping enough money in your savings account to cover unforeseen costs. Make sure you account for all of the hidden expenses and fees associated with buying a home and budget accordingly.

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When It's Time To Get An Accountant To Do Your Taxes

by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team

By: Alaina Tweddale

The federal tax law signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, 2017, may affect home ownership tax benefits described in this article. The new law goes into effect for the 2018 tax year and generally doesn’t affect tax filings for the 2017 tax year.

You are soooo dreading doing your taxes this year. Gone are the days when you used to sit down with a glass of wine and fill out your 1040 EZ. Remember that time you finished and hit the “submit” button just as you swallowed the last sip?

Not this year. Unless you want to pay a ton in taxes, you’re going to have to itemize. You did it last year, and it wasn’t too bad. But this year, you did some freelancing. And you moved. And it’s going to take a whole lot more time than one glass of wine.

Maybe it’s time to hire a pro. But do you really need a certified public accountant? And can you justify the expense?

The Differences Between CPS and Other Tax Experts

First you need to know there are different types of tax experts. And not all accountants are CPAs. So if you’re thinking that an independent CPA and someone at H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt (or your buddy who studied accounting in college) are pretty much the same, don’t count on it. Basically,

  • An accountant is someone who studied accounting.
  • CPAs are accountants who pass rigorous testing from their state board on a regular basis. The designation usually requires a degree. Not every CPA specializes in taxes.
  • An “enrolled agent,” or EA, is an accountant who has received certification from the IRS. Being an EA doesn’t require a degree like CPA. But it does verify they know tax law.
  • A tax preparer at pop-ups like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt is trained on tax software to help taxpayers file their returns. They aren’t required to be CPAs or EAs.
  • Only CPAs and EAs can legally represent you if the IRS challenges your return.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting a pop-up preparer like H&R Block if your return isn’t all that complicated, says Cathy Derus, CPA and founder of Brightwater Accounting in Illinois.

“It’s when you start generating other income — perhaps you launch a business or own rental property — [or experience a big financial change] when it makes sense to ask for a little extra help,” she said.

When It's a Good Idea to Hire a Tax Pro

When you buy your first house.Many of the expenses related to buying a home and having a mortgage are deductible. But only if you itemize. And that’s what the experts are best at.

When you move to a new state.There’s a good chance you’ll have to file two state returns for the year you move. And each state is a little bit different in terms of state tax owed — zero in some states, a flat amount in others, and graded by income bracket in most.

When you become a landlord.“When you own investment property, you become a small business owner,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. That means new records to keep and a new tax form, Schedule E, to complete.

When you buy a vacation property.Especially if you rent it out. And especially if it’s in a different state.

When you work from home.There’s a lot of potential money-saving deductions that can vary widely depending on the type of business and how much space it takes up in your home. “If you have a home office, ou can deduct for the square footage you use for work as well as a portion of your utilities, mortgage interest, and property taxes,” says Stewart.

When you make home improvements.Energy-efficient upgrades like installing a new heating and cooling system, water heater, or insulation may qualify for tax credits. But that can change depending on the year. Same goes for medically necessary home improvements that aren’t paid by your employer or insurance.

When your home's value is reassessed.The tax man doesn’t always get it right, and sometimes your home may be valued at more than it should be. An expert will be able to pull the data together to appeal it.

So, How Much Do Accountants Cost

H&R Block will do your taxes for about $150, while a CPA or EA may add $100 or more to that fee ($260 on average last year).

You can definitely DIY all these tax scenarios and save the fees, but with CPAs and EAs, the extra cost may be worth it. Especially if you run your own business. Or you own more than one home. “An accountant can help you analyze your spending choices and even act as a consultant,” says Stewart. Best of all, they’ll be by your side if the tax man ever comes after you. That alone could be priceless if the time comes.

Oh, and one last tip: If you decide you want to hire a CPA or EA, best not to wait until the last minute. You may not find one.

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The Rain Team
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Michael: 650-888-6361
Kathy: 650-888-6903
Fax: 866-396-0207

Kathy and Michael Rain of Coldwell Banker provides real estate services in the San Mateo County, California area including the surrounding communities: El Granda, Half Moon Bay, Montara, Moss Beach, Pacifica and San Mateo. Search for homes in San Mateo County. We list and sell residential real estate, investment properties, vacant land, lots for sale in the San Mateo County, California area.

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