Making a house look its best is key to quick sale

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Realtors suggest allowing as much natural light to come into the house as possible. / John Partipilo / The Tennessean

By Bill Lewis via The Tennessean

When Terry Morgan-Grant and her husband Charles Grant decided to move from their Nashville home, they asked their Realtors for guidance about how to sell it for the best price possible.

The adviceicon1 - Making a house look its best is key to quick sale was a bit surprising, she said.

“They took away all the plastic plants, and there’s no knit cover on the toilet. You don’t see that in beautiful hotel rooms. That’s so dated,” said Morgan-Grant.

By now everyone’s heard tales about how hot the Nashville real estate market is and how a lot of homes are sellingicon1 - Making a house look its best is key to quick sale for full price after just a few days or weeks on the market. What’s missing from those stories, however, is the work that went into getting those homes ready for sale.

Even in today’s market, where buyers are making multiple offers and competing for homes in the most desirable neighborhoods, real estate is still a price war and a beauty contest. To sell, homes must be reasonably priced and have to put their best foot forward.

“We all know the old saying ‘location, location, location.’ But the real truth is location, condition and price,” said Re/Max Choice Properties Realtor Melissa Allen. She and her husband, Jim, represent Terry Morgan-Grant and Charles Grant.

Their house, at 5112 Stone Mountain Court, is in the desirable South Nashville area between Cool Springs and Green Hills. With 3,756 square feet and a downstairs master, it’s expected to sell quickly. But the Allens left nothing to chance and advised the couple to declutter. Then, home stager Kristie Barnett (thedecorologist.com) added professional design touches.

“It looks so clean and open, like a breath of fresh air,” Morgan-Grant said of her house.

‘Perfect and shining’

Staging is so important that the Allens provide it at their own expense for every client.

Statistics show that a staged home sells in just one-third the time and for up to 17 percent more than a non-staged house, said Jim Allen.

“We want the home perfect and shining when it hits the market. The first few weeks on the market are crucial,” he said.

Kari Thirsk discovered that there is just one potential downside to following your Realtor’s advice.

“My home has never looked better. I don’t want to sell it,” she said.

She and her husband, Russ Thirsk, are moving out of state and selling their home at 6763 Cold Stream Drive in Bellevue. They lived there for seven years after moving from Chicago and won’t be surprised if it is purchased by someone else new to the city.

“Nashville has gotten so hot in the last year, in part because of the TV show (ABC’s ‘Nashville’) and all the great press,” said Keri Thirsk.

Even so, their real estate agent, Crye-Leike Realtor Sarah Milligan, offered advice about how to make sure the home puts its best foot forward. A stager rearranged furniture, and the house was decluttered.

“All extras need to go,” said Milligan. “Anything smaller than a basketball is a knickknack and needs to be packed up for your move. More space equals more money.”

Removing emotion

Milligan also recommends that sellersicon1 - Making a house look its best is key to quick sale pay special attention to what she calls the “money rooms.”

“Buyers are willing to pay top dollar for kitchens, living areas and master bedrooms and baths. Make sure these three areas are in top-notch shape and will appeal to modern taste,” she said.

While they are getting the house ready, sellers also have to get themselves ready to let go of a home where they may have lived for years.

“You need to remove emotion from the equation. Think of your house as a marketable commodity. Your goalicon1 - Making a house look its best is key to quick sale is for others to see it as their potential home, not yours,” said Milligan.

A Realtor can help a sellericon1 - Making a house look its best is key to quick sale avoid costly mistakes, like having unrealistic expectations about a home’s value or failing to do little things that can make it more appealing, said Lauren Sullivan, a Realtor with Parks Realty — Historic Franklin.

Even with a shortage of desirable homes on the market, every house for sale has to make a good impression.

“We’re not in such a shortage that you don’t have to do anything,” said Sullivan.

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Own a Home? You May Be Entitled to Tax Breaks

Taxes 7e5c07 300x195 - Own a Home? You May Be Entitled to Tax Breaks

By Mary Boone via Zillow Blog

U.S. tax season officially runs from Jan. 31 to April 15. While several energy-efficient home improvement tax credits recently expired, there are still many tax breaks available to homeowners.

Whether you own a single-family home, condo, co-op apartment or mobile home, you may qualify — just be aware that, in most cases, you’ll need to itemize your taxes in order to take advantage of these deductions and credits. Here are a few of the tax breaks you’ll want to check out.

Mortgage interest deduction

In most cases, you can deduct all of your home mortgage interest. How much you can deduct depends on when you took out the mortgage, the amount of the mortgage and how you use mortgage proceeds. You can deduct your home mortgage interest only if your mortgage is a secured debt. Your mortgage is a secured debt if you put your home up as collateral to protect the interests of the lender. You may qualify for a mortgage interest deduction on a loan secured for your primary and second home, even if your second home is a boat or RV with cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities.

The interest you pay on a mortgage for a third, fourth or fifth home may be deductible if the proceeds of the loan were used for business, investment or other deductible purposes; check with a tax accountant for details.

Deduction of points

If you bought a home in 2013 and paid points in order to obtain your home mortgage, these fees are included on the income tax deductions list and can be deducted. If you refinanced your home, these points are still deductible, but it must be done over the life of the mortgage.

Exclusion on sales gains

If you sold a home in 2013, you may qualify for an exclusion on the net sales gain (selling price minus purchase price plus improvements) of up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a couple. This exclusion requires that the home was used as your personal residence for two of the past five years. Things become more complicated if you lived in the house, moved out and then moved back in; be sure to consult a tax professional to see if you qualify for a partial exclusion.

Deduction of property taxes

You can deduct your state and local property taxes, as long as they are based on the assessed value of the real property. If you pay your property taxes out-of-pocket, you need to locate your bills to determine how much you paid.

If your money is being held in escrow for the purpose of paying property taxes, you cannot claim this deduction until the money is actually taken out of escrow and paid. If you receive a partial refund of your property tax, the amount of the deduction you can claim will be reduced.

Mortgage insurance deduction

Mortgage insurance provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is commonly known as a funding fee; if provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, it’s referred to as a guarantee fee. The funding fee or guarantee fee can be included in the amount of your home loan or paid in full at the time of closing. These fees can be deducted fully in tax year 2013 if the mortgage insurance contract was issued in 2013.

If you pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), that’s a cost you probably won’t be able to deduct — unless you meet the requirements of a special PMI law that allows deductions of PMI payments on loans originated or refinanced between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2013, and that meet certain loan amount limits.

Home office deduction

Beginning in tax year 2013, taxpayers may use a simplified option when figuring the deduction for business use of their home. Both homeowners and renters can take advantage of this deduction, as long as the space serves as your principal place of business and is regularly and exclusively used for business purposes. You’re entitled to a deduction of $5 per square foot of the home used for business, up to 300 square feet.

If the simplified option doesn’t appeal to you, you may still use the regular method (required for tax years 2012 and prior) and determine the actual expenses of your home office: mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs and depreciation. If you use the regular method, deductions for a home office are based on the percentage of your home devoted to business use.

Energy-savings deductions

If you installed a geothermal heat pump, small wind turbine or solar energy system in your home in 2013, you may be able to claim a tax credit for up to 30 percent of the cost of installation. The credit has no upper limit and applies to both existing homes and new construction, but not to rental properties. This credit runs through the end of 2016.

You can also get a credit of up to 30 percent of the cost of residential fuel cells, up to $500 per 0.5 kilowatt of power capacity. This credit also expires Dec. 31, 2016.

Clergy, military housing allowance

Ministers and members of the U.S. armed services who receive a housing allowance that is not taxable can deduct their real estate taxes and home mortgage. Even better news? You don’t have to reduce your deductions by your nontaxable allowance.

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10 Best Metros for Meeting Your Valentine

By Camille Salama via Zillow Blog

Looking for love? The best place to find a Valentine’s date may not be too far away. The nation’s top areas for singles may have the highest percentage of bachelors and bachelorettes, but financial factors are important, too. After all, you’ll want to meet someone who can afford to date.

To create Zillow’s Valentine’s Day Index, we looked at areas with a large number of singles that have a high average income after rent, as well as the density of bars and restaurants making up the metro’s social scene and (of course) housing affordability.

San Francisco, the nation’s tech capital, ranked as the No. 1 metro for singles. Why? With more than half of the population (52.4 percent) unattached, you’ll have a large pool to choose from. And despite high rents, singles in the area are making 65 percent more money than the national average. Couple that with the high number of potential date spots, and you’ve got the perfect combination of disposable income and a vibrant social life.

But you don’t have to move west to secure a date this Valentine’s Day. We ranked all metro areas with a population over 750,000 to construct the Index, and metros in every corner of the country scored pretty high. Check out the map below to see the 10 best metros for singles.

Infographic 08a3eb - 10 Best Metros for Meeting Your Valentine

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Mike Gaughan, co-owner of RE/MAX Choice Properties, Elected Regional VP of Realtors Association

bilde?Site=DN&Date=20140110&Category=HENDERSONVILLE06&ArtNo=301100039&Ref=AR&MaxW=300&Border=0&Gaughan elected regional VP Realtors association - Mike Gaughan, co-owner of RE/MAX Choice Properties, Elected Regional VP of Realtors AssociationMike Gaughan, co-owner of RE/MAX Choice Properties, was recently elected the National Association of Realtors 2014 regional vice president for region IV, which includes Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Under Gaughan’s leadership as co-owner and managing broker of RE/MAX, the firm has received the RE/MAX regional broker/owner of the year award twice.

Gaughan has also received Hendersonville’s businessman of the year honor.

He is past president for the Tennessee Association of Realtors, the highest office in the association, which has more than 27,000 members.

Congratulations Mike!

Realtors Not Slowing Down at Year’s End

By Price Lechleiter

RE/MAX Choice Properties, Murfreesboro, Real EstateMiddle Tennessee has successfully exited the economic downturn and Realtors throughout the region have been busy all year. What began with window shoppers quickly turned into prospective buyers, increasing open house traffic and showings.

This resulted in contracts and almost a full year of double-digit monthly increases in home sales. The increased activity sparked homeowners to put their houses on the market and inventory quickly moved from “for sale” to “sold” status.

After a flurry of activity since the beginning of the year, the market has adjusted slightly as is typical for the industry this time of year. Even though springtime is historically a busier time of the year, you will find that Realtors rarely ever slow down.

While Realtors want to build on the momentum of an active market, there are current issues affecting the housing industry that also require attention. Legislative matters such as preserving the mortgage interest deduction and the 30-year mortgage can’t be overlooked.

Realtors throughout the country, backed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), are keeping watch on any government activity that could affect housing. We’ve long been monitoring legislation that could alter the mortgage interest deduction, and now we are diligently following legislation that would eradicate the 30-year fixed mortgage rate. Both of these are huge benefits to home ownership — especially for first-time buyers, the real engine of the housing market. The disappearance of either would drastically change many Americans’ opportunity to buy a home.

Another huge piece of national legislation, especially key to those of us in Middle Tennessee, is the National Flood Insurance Program. NAR recently issued a call for action to its 1 million members to let Congress know how important it is to have stable and affordable flood insurance.

My hope is that you’ll be able to slow down and enjoy the holiday season, your family and a few days off in your home. Know that Realtors are busy year round ensuring the future of homeownership and property rights.

Shared from The Tennessean

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Highest Property Taxes in America

By Jeanne Sahadi

131122101416 property tax map btn 620xa - Highest Property Taxes in AmericaIf you don’t want to grind your teeth at night over your property tax bill, steer clear of Manhattan’s New York suburbs and those in northern New Jersey.

They’re home to the three counties that charge the highest average property taxes in the country.

By contrast, a number of counties in Alabama and Louisiana have some of the lowest.

Those are among the findings of a new residentialproperty tax study from the Tax Policy Center, which analyzed data from the American Community Survey.

Across the United States as a whole, between 2007 and 2011, 60% of counties reported average property tax burdens of between $500 and $1,500 a year.

That might cover one month’s tax burden for many homeowners in one of the three most expensive counties: Westchester County, N.Y. ($9,647 a year); Nassau County, N.Y., ($9,080) and Bergen County, N.J. ($8,893).

Another five counties in New Jersey had average annual burdens topping $8,000.

By contrast, of the 24 counties nationwide with annual property taxes below $250 a year, nearly all were in Alabama and Louisiana, the study found.

In some states, property taxes are modest in dollar terms, but rank high when the tax burden is measured as a share of home price.

Related: American dream homes: What you’ll pay in 10 cities

Parts of Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio fall into this category. Their property taxes on average well exceed 1% of home prices, whereas in most counties in the nation, the average property taxes fall below the 1% mark.

Property taxes are some of the most opaque for taxpayers to figure out.

For one thing, there’s no single formula that every county and state uses to calculate them.

In addition, the “assessed” value of your home on which your property taxes are based can bear little resemblance to your home’s market value.

And there’s no telling from one year’s assessment to another how high your bill will be. “[M]any localities set a revenue target to meet expenditure needs and then vary the tax rate to meet this target, conditional on the tax base,” the study said.

No wonder, then, when asked by Gallup what they considered to be the least fair tax, the percent of Americans who chose the local property tax has nearly doubled, from 24% in 1988 to 42% in 2005.

Of course, counties with higher property taxes tend to spend more on things like education and public services. They may also have higher priced homes. Or they may be higher simply because the local government isn’t bringing in other major sources of revenue, like an income tax.

“In general, localities in states with high property tax burdens tend to have little or no other local taxes,” the Tax Policy Center study noted.

Shared from CNN Money

Should You List Your Home During the Holidays?

By Brendon Desimone

Christmas lights - Should You List Your Home During the Holidays?With the holidays approaching, sellers often wonder if they should keep their properties on the market or take them off? Or if they haven’t listed their homes yet, should they wait until after the first of the year? Maybe hold off until spring?

Conventional wisdom used to be that you shouldn’t even try to sell your home during the busy holiday season. Potential home buyers were too preoccupied with attending parties, cooking meals, buying presents or planning vacations. With all that going on, there just wasn’t time to ride around with a real estate agent, looking at properties.

But with the Internet, smartphones, tablets and our always-on lifestyle, that conventional wisdom isn’t relevant anymore. The reality is, the home buying season is now year-round.

Here’s why you should consider listing your home during the holidays, or even in January.

Today’s buyers never stop looking online

Today, serious buyers are always looking — and the holidays are no exception. They may check out the latest listings in a Zillow Mobile app before bed or while waiting for the kids’ school holiday show to start.

Our hectic lifestyles also play a role. Many serious buyers today work hard. They don’t shift into holiday mode until the last minute. Even during the holiday break, they’re still squeezing in work. There’s no such thing for them as “going off the grid.” So why not continue to monitor real estate listings, too?

The inventory — and the competition — is usually lighter

Despite our always-on lifestyles, many sellers still believe buyers can’t be bothered to look for a home between, say, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. At the same time, sellers who’ve had their homes on the market often take them off during the holidays.

The net effect is that the inventory for good homes often tightens this time of year. So there’s less competition for sellers, at a time when motivated buyers are out there looking — and no doubt wishing there were more properties to see.

If you’ve been considering selling, are motivated, are flexible on timing and have a home that truly sparkles, consider listing right after Thanksgiving. There’s still a window of several weeks to get buyers into your home before the end of the year. And those buyers flipping through listings at their kids’ basketball game will be excited to see something new and awesome hit the market — especially if there’s a lack of good inventory in their area. These buyers will be motivated to see your home, regardless of what the calendar says.

Home not selling? Now’s the time to lower the price or change your strategy

If your property has been on the market for months, most buyers and their agents will see it as stale or overpriced and disregard it no matter how great it is or how light the competition is.

In that case, it’s time to take action, and the year-end holidays can be a great opportunity to shift course. Dramatically reducing the price or overcoming some major obstacle that’s been preventing the sale might be what’s needed to sell your home. If you received lower offers early on but weren’t ready to accept them, or you keep hearing there are issues with how your property shows, this is a good time to show the market you’re listening and are serious about selling. The motivated buyers, desperate for good inventory, will notice you and take a look.

You might even get a sale closed before the end of the year. Before you make any big changes, talk it over with your real estate agent, as always.

Don’t want to be bothered during the holidays? List in January

Admittedly, the thought of keeping the house clean, holding open houses and vacating to accommodate last-minute showings during the holidays is a deal killer for some would-be sellers.

If so, consider listing your property after New Year’s Day. Traditionally, not much inventory comes onto the market in January. It’s cold in most places, the leaves are off the trees and landscaping is dead. Many sellers wait until the spring instead, a more conventional time to sell.

January inventory is still very tight. And yet, each January, buyers call up agents, wanting to get into the market. Often, new buyers — with their fresh New Year’s resolutions to stop wasting money on rent and buy a home — are ready to jump into the market as soon as possible. Some buyers are motivated to search for a home in January because of year-end tax planning.

Whatever the buyers’ motivation, for sellers it means one thing: Demand for homes can increase at a time when inventory is traditionally low. And that means if you’re ready to sell, you’ll have an even more “captive” audience during the holidays, all the way through January.

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