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make smart decisions w/Tara's real estate + mortgage need-to-knows

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker in San Francisco, CA
  • 5 Ways to Know If A Home Is "The One"

    Posted Under: Home Buying, Curb Appeal, How To...  |  October 19, 2011 11:06 AM  |  127,428 views  |  138 comments
    With so many homes on the market, many buyers house hunt for months, even years before hitting property pay-dirt.  Even for the savvy buyers who have narrowed their house hunt to an affordable price range, the condition issues so common in distressed homes can make choosing a home difficult.

    And on the flip side, some subdivisions have scads of similar homes, all of which are in good shape, all listed at a similar price, making it nearly impossible to choose just one.

    Here are five indicators that a particular home you’re viewing might be “The One” – the property on which you’ll want to place an offer:

    1.       You feel possessive about it, instantly. I once showed a less-than-fabulous home to a buyer who stepped in the front door, opened her eyes wide, and uttered in a much-quieter-than-normal voice, “I would cry.” We got a good laugh out of this later, after she found and bought a home that made her feel virtually the opposite.

    Not only did the winning home bring a smile to her face, it also made her instantly possessive. She didn’t just want it - she wanted it immediately. She could barely even wait to write the offer paperwork! When another agent showed up to bring a buyer through the place while we were still there, she lingered leisurely (in hopes they would just leave) and secretly looked at them with daggers in her eyes (out of competitiveness, because in her heart, the home had already become hers).

    If you walk through a place and leave wondering how quickly you can get your offer in, how much you’d offer to beat someone else out, or what you can do to lock it down quickly, it might be “The One.”

    2.       You start rationalizing its flaws away.  Train tracks 10 feet from the bedroom window? Next door neighbor that runs a pigeon-sitting service? Okay – I exaggerate. But if you find yourself viewing a home with traits that you would normally deem undesirable or as deal-killers, yet you like the place so much that you instinctively compile a mental list of reasons those traits just don’t matter, you might have found “The One.”

    Now, smart buyers should be aware of a syndrome I like to call “Pottery Barn Psychosis,” whereby the aesthetics of a wonderfully staged home with amazing curb appeal can hypnotize a buyer, rendering them blind to the negative property features, which would be glaring or grave concerns if the place weren’t so stinking cute. It’s fine to make a conscious decision that the pros of a place outweigh its cons, and even to consciously re-rank your priorities in light of a particular property’s advantages. But buyers should take steps to avoid falling victim to Pottery Barn Psychosis (and the Buyer’s Remorse that often follows suit) by writing down your absolute musts and deal-breakers before you ever step foot in a single property – and by revisiting this document before you write an offer and again before you remove your contingencies.

    3.  The bathroom and kitchen don’t disgust you. We humans are born with only two fears in life: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. By about eight months old, we start to acquire new fears, and most of us never stop.  Among the first fear most people learn: the fear of other people’s kitchens and bathrooms.

    I exaggerate (again!), but it is true that generally speaking, other people’s kitchens and bathrooms hold definite gross-out potential.  There’s just something about what goes on in those rooms that seems exceptionally intimate and even unsanitary.  So, if you happen to find yourself falling in love with a home’s river rock shower floor or drooling over the pot-filler over the stove and the built-in cookbook stand on the countertop, that’s a sign that you’re falling head over heels with a home that might just be “The One.”

    4.  You involuntarily envision your own family, furniture, decor, daily activities or remodeling choices in/to the home.  They say that the best staging helps prospective buyers envision their own idealized lives taking place in the staged home.  But whether or not a property is staged, if you find your mind’s eye Photoshopping a given property to insert your own kids and sofa into the living room, your dining table and favorite wall hangings into place in the dining room, and your daily meditation in the breakfast nook – or even start mentally removing walls entirely – it’s entirely possible that the home you’re in could be “The One” for you.

    5.  You lose interest in seeing other homes.  I once took some buyers out for their first house hunt in my territory after they’d spent two years looking for homes in a neighboring area, without ever making a single offer.  I’d planned to show them seven homes, but when they got to the fourth property, they declared that they’d found their home, and they neither wanted nor needed to see any more.  I insisted that they finish the list, if for no other reason than to confirm their choice and to avoid feeling later that they hadn’t seen enough nearby homes to compare theirs to.  They humored me and saw the last three places on the list, then promptly bought house #4 and still live there, blissfully happy, to this day.

    When you find “The One,” continuing the house hunt you may have obsessed over for months, even years, starts to seem silly, like a waste of the energy you could be using to move into your new home.

    Homeowners:  How did you know when you’d found the right home for you and your family?

    Agents:  What signs have you seen buyers exhibit when they’ve found “The One?”

    P.S. - You should follow Trulia and Tara on Facebook!
  • The Top 5 Tax Perks for Buyers, Sellers and Homeowners - 2009 Tax Edition

    Posted Under: How To... in San Francisco  |  March 23, 2010 4:51 PM  |  15,352 views  |  24 comments
    The Top 5 Tax Perks for Buyers, Sellers and Homeowners - 2009 Tax Edition

    by Tara-Nicholle Nelson
    Trulia's In-house Consumer Advocate

    It's tax time, but it doesn't have to be excruciating, especially if you bought, sold or owned a home in 2009.  While so many of us think of tax time as time to write a check, the Obama Administration's stimulus package promised to reverse that tradition, effectively writing a check (in tax credit format) to buyers, sellers and even  short sellers and those who lost a home through foreclosure.

    Take this quick list of tax tips to your personal tax guru and cash in your check from Uncle Sam!

        1.  2009-10 First-time Homebuyer
         Tax Credit
    • Who It Helps: Recent (or current!) homebuyers who had not owned a home in the 3 years prior to buying, but bought one in 2009 or this year (must be in contract on or before April 30, 2010).  Depending on when you bought (or buy! there's still some time left!) income and purchase price limits may apply.
    • How It Helps: Depending on your income and purchase price, you can receive up to an $8,000 fully refundable tax credit.  (That means if you were already getting a refund, you'll get a bigger one!) You can claim the credit on your 2009 tax return (the one you file on April 15th), even if you bought in 2010.
    • IMPORTANT NOTE: Per the IRS website, "because of the documentation requirements for claiming the credit, taxpayers who claim the credit on their 2009 tax return must file a paper — not electronic — return and attach Form 5405."

          2.  2009-10 Move-Up Buyer Tax Credit
      • Who It Helps: Current homeowners who have lived in the home they are selling, or have already sold, as their principal residence for five consecutive years of the last eight years who closed escrow between November 7, 2009 and July 1, 2010, so long as they are in contract on or before April 30, 2010.
      • How It Helps: Eligible homeowners can receive a tax credit of as much as $6,500, depending on income. You can claim the credit on your 2009 tax return (the one you file on April 15th), even if you bought in 2010.
            • IMPORTANT NOTE: Can't e-file to collect this one, either - see #1, above.

                3.  Energy Efficient Housing Tax Credits
            • Who It Helps: Homeowners who invested in making their homes more energy-efficient in 2009 and 2010.
            • How it helps: Offers them a 30 percent tax credit on qualifying purchases of energy-efficient furnaces, windows and insulation.

                4.  Private Mortgage Insurance Deduction
            • Who It Helps: Homeowners who bought a home in 2009, and put less than 20 percent down on their homes. These are the folks whose lenders required them to pay for PMI, or private mortgage insurance.
            • How It Helps: Allows them to deduct the costs - upfront and monthly - of PMI.

                5.  The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act 

            • Who It Helps: Short sellers, owners who lost homes through foreclosures or had their mortgage balance reduced through loan modifications.
            • How It Helps: Normally, when a loan is cancelled or forgiven through, for example, a short sale or foreclosure, the cancelled debt is transformed into taxable income - and the IRS comes looking for their cut.  Under this Act, qualifying mortgage debt forgiven through foreclosure, short sale or loan modification is allowed to be excluded from taxable income.  The forgiven mortgage debt must be a loan on your personal residence, and must be related to the purchase of your home (if you pulled a bunch of cash out and did a short sale on that mortgage, you might not qualify).

            On top of these above-and-beyond tax credits, deductions and exemptions, longtime and brand-new homeowners should also look forward to claiming meaty tax deductions for basic closing costs (origination fees, taxes and points - oh my!), property taxes and mortgage interest deductions.

            As always, talk to your tax preparer to see if you qualify for any of these tax perks.  And don't delay - the countdown to April 15th is on.
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