Expert Homebuying Tips for Buying in a Seller’s Market

Buying a house is a big decision, but it can feel especially overwhelming to place an offer on a home less than 24 hours after seeing it for the first time. Plus you’re under pressure to outbid several other buyers — or risk losing the house.

While these circumstances might sound extraordinary, they’re not. With housing inventory nationwide at an all time-low — down 22% from last year according to the National Association of Realtors — it’s no wonder buyers are competing for the same few houses.

I was in this exact position last fall. Here are seven key takeaways from my experience buying in a seller’s market.

Get a Pre-Approval Letter

In order to be competitive in a hot seller’s market, you will need to line up your financing in advance.

Besides all the usual suspects, like saving up for a down payment and improving your credit score, you’ll also want to get a pre-approval letter from your bank. It states that a bank would approve you for a mortgage of a certain amount, and acts as a guarantee to the seller that you can actually afford to buy their house.

This is where it helps to know your budget up front.

“It’s important to understand that the strength of financing is a key consideration a seller takes into account when selecting an offer,” said real estate developer Bill Samuel.

No seller wants to risk accepting an offer that might fall through. Aand since pre-approval letters can take some time to get, have one ready before you find your dream house.

Be Friendly With Neighbors

This might sound crazy, but making a good impression on your new neighbors can actually make a difference when it comes time for a seller to review offers.

Since you’ll likely be visiting the home at least once before making an offer, be prepared to talk to any neighbors you might run into. In close-knit neighborhoods, or ones where people share resources (like an HOA), sellers might care a bit more about the type of person they sell the house to.

If you happen to meet a neighbor when visiting the home, introduce yourself and make a good impression. You never know how much their opinion of you might factor into any final decisions.

Submit an Offer Quickly

After you’ve seen a house, and decided you love it, be prepared to submit an offer quickly— as in, ASAP.

Work with your real estate agent to determine how many other offers the seller already has (or expects to get) and then be prepared to draft something up that day. In our case, we toured our home for the very first time at 11 a.m. on a Monday — it came on the market the evening before — and made an offer by 4 p.m. that same day.

If that sounds fast, it is. But by the time we submitted our offer, the seller already had three others. This is where it helps to have a great real estate agent on your side.

“Having a realtor who can get your offer submitted quickly is crucial,” said Erik Wright, owner of New Horizon Home Buyers. “You want to get your offer in front of the seller first, and make it strong. Purchase price is the obvious factor and in a competitive market, houses often go for over asking price. However, a strong offer has several factors and it depends on what’s most important to the seller.”

Work with your real estate agent to find out what matters most to the seller — is it money, closing quickly, something else entirely? Then make sure your offer addresses their needs.

Minimize Your Contingencies (Within Reason)

Another way to win over your seller (and prevail in any bidding wars) is by keeping your contingencies to a minimum.

Contingencies are the contractual stipulations buyers and sellers must meet before the deal can close. Unsurprisingly, sellers don’t like to have too many of them to deal with. Contingencies can include such things as requesting a seller to make certain repairs, getting a home inspection, or even the fact that you’ll need to sell your old house before being able to buy the new one.

“In a really aggressive seller’s market, a home buyer who has to sell a current property should do so before placing an offer on another home,” said Jason Gelios of Community Choice Realty. “Don’t always assume that the seller will take the highest price. Other conveniences can play a factor in gaining the seller’s attention, especially things like faster closing times and less restrictions.”

While my partner and I didn’t make the highest offer on our house, we did have the fewest contingencies — mainly, we didn’t ask too much of our seller in the way of repairs, or have another house to sell in order to afford the new one.

All that said, there are certain contingencies you should never forgo, and a home inspection is one of them. Getting your home inspected is hugely important, since inspectors will often find things even the sellers weren’t aware of. No matter how much you love a house, don’t be afraid of exercising your right to an inspection.

According to buyer protection laws in most states, sellers are required to report any findings in home inspections to subsequent buyers. In other words, if an inspector finds something wrong with the house, the seller will have to deal with it one way or another— either with you, or the next buyer should you choose to drop out of the deal.

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Make a Generous Earnest Money Deposit

When trying to woo your seller in a competitive market, it helps to make a generous earnest money deposit. An earnest money deposit is a good-faith deposit requested by the seller when you enter into a contract to buy the house and typically run anywhere from 1% to 3% of the sale price of the home.

When deciding how much of an earnest money deposit to include in your offer, keep in mind that whatever amount you give comes off the price of the home (and is returned to you if the deal falls through). In other words, there’s no reason to be cheap. If you can, go slightly above the seller’s requested deposit amount. Even if it’s just a little more than what they’re asking, that gesture of good faith might just be what gets you the house.

A row of houses on a cul de sac in a suburban neighborhood.

Offer Above Asking Price

Wait. Why would anyone make an offer that’s above asking price? Because the competition did it first, and in a hot seller’s market, offering above asking price is often what it takes to even be considered.

Upping your offer may not break the bank as much as you’re fearing. “With interest rates so low these days, offering more than what the seller is asking may not make a drastic difference in your overall monthly payments,” real estate agent Pavel Khaykin of Pavel Buys Houses said.

Let’s say the listing price on your dream home is $320,000 and you’re able to put down a 6% down payment. That leaves you with a mortgage of roughly $301,000. For a 30-year fixed mortgage at an interest rate of 3%, that translates into $1,269 monthly payments. Now let’s say you decide to bid a little higher on the home and offer $10,000 over asking price. This would only bump up your monthly payment (assuming you qualify for that low interest rate) by $42.

Lace Up Your Running Shoes

In a hot seller’s market, you’ve got to be ready to move fast. Often this is more of a change in mindset than anything else. When my partner and I first started looking at homes, we considered ourselves casual buyers — that is, until our dream home came on the market late one Sunday night. From there, things moved quickly. We saw the home, made an offer, were under contract by morning, and spent the next month and a half going through the process of closing on the house.

If you’re serious about finding your dream home in the next few months, the best thing you can do is know what you want from the outset, and get your ducks in a row to make a compelling offer when you find it. Maybe this means making a list of your must-haves in a house, and working to improve your credit score. It might also mean reaching out to a real estate agent before you need one, and getting that pre-approval letter in place.

Although inventory is low, new houses come on the market all the time.

Larissa Runkle is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

10 At-Home Date Night Ideas, Whether You’re Together or Apart

The coronavirus pandemic put a halt on a whole lot of awesome things, including date night. If you’ve been with your sweetie for years, it can be tough to find something special to do when you’re spending most of your time at home together. And if you were just getting started dating, it’s hard to establish a connection when you’re apart.

But there are still free and low-cost ways to keep up the date night tradition.

Although they’ve been married for over a decade, Kenny and Celina Beaumont have always realized the importance of romance — especially after having kids.

“If we’re not happy and having fun,” Celina told us in an interview, “our household’s not going to be happy and having fun.”

So they’ve kept their long-standing date night tradition alive through the pandemic with some pretty adorable dates — one of which you may even have seen a glimpse of on John Krasinski’s “Some Good News.” (Look for the fine dining experience around 7:55!)

But dinner dates are just the beginning. Here are some of our favorite at-home date night ideas.

A couple hold hands as they enjoy dinner in their backyard.

Date Nights if You’re at Home Together

If you were already cohabitating, there are plenty of ways to set aside some special time for each other.

1. Fine Dining

You can definitely recreate the restaurant experience at home, complete with dressing up for the occasion and actually sitting down and being waited on. That’s exactly what the Beaumonts did. According to Celina, Kenny and the kids had been conspiring about the idea for several days before surprising her.

They printed real menus, got dressed up and dined al fresco on a three-course meal at “Jack & Olivia’s” — so named for their kids. Kenny cooked up the steaks, while the kids made the salad and dessert.

2. Ballroom (or Any Other Kind of) Dancing

You might not make it out to your local Arthur Murray studio, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to dance. Some couples’ counselors suggest that a tango or two can be as good for your relationship as it is fun.

Crank up a YouTube video, clear out a spot on the living room floor, and give it a whirl. After all, nobody except your SO — and maybe the cat — is watching.

3. Game Night

It might not sound like the peak of romance to some, but sitting down to a game of Scrabble or Chess together is a great way to spend some quality time while also giving your brain a workout. If you’re really geeky, you might even take on a match or four of Magic: The Gathering.

We recommend adding fancy duds to the equation to make it feel even more date-y.

4. Virtual Hometown Tours

If you didn’t grow up in the same place as your SO, and you’ve yet to show them around in person, Google Earth offers a great date night opportunity: a virtual tour of your hometown, complete with stops at all the most important places.

Even if you hail from the same place (or have already gone home to meet the parents), you could use Google Earth or Google Maps to show your sweetheart around your college campus — or explore a city you’re hoping to visit together someday.

5. At-Home Spa Services

Treat yourself — and your beau — to some DIY indulgence. Whether you give each other manicures, facials, or massages, it’s bound to be a whole lot more affordable (and considerably more fun) than it would be in a salon. Check out this list of spa treatments you can do at home.

Tips for Successful At-Home Date Nights

Even with the best of intentions and lots of planning, it’s easy for an at-home date night to feel like … well, just another night at home.

Here are some tips to keep it feeling romantic.

  • Put away your phone. Celina and Kenny say they make a point of putting their screens down during dates.
  • Wait until after bedtime. It’s fun to get the kids in on the action — but if they go to bed earlier than you do, those couple hours of quiet can be a great time to rekindle your connection.
  • Look for the silver linings. Although staying home is hard in a whole lot of ways, it also offers a lot of opportunity for closeness, especially in a world where we’re usually running all over the place.

“We never get to spend this much time with each other,” Celina said of her family. Try to look at your at-home dates as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy yourselves.

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Date Night Ideas if You’re Apart

Thanks to technology, there are some ways to recreate a date experience even if you’re miles apart.

6. Virtual Coffee (or Cocktails)

Video call applications like Zoom and FaceTime make it easy to recreate classic low-stakes, first-date ideas like grabbing a drink or a cup of coffee.

7. Reading to Each Other

This one’s super romantic whether you’re at home together or apart. If you’re not in the same place, you can read to each other over video chat or over the plain-old phone.

The options are endless: You could pick a book neither of you have read before or revisit an old favorite.

8. Live Streaming Concerts and Events

From superstars to local up-and-comers, lots of entertainers have transferred their live shows to streaming services. Many are free, though it’s nice to drop a tip for these struggling artists.

Re-create the concert experience at home with a cocktail and maybe a band T-shirt, and enjoy unlimited bathroom breaks without having to snake through a pushy crowd.

9. Virtual Movie Nights

There’s nothing quite as cozy as snuggling up with your sweetheart for a movie, whether at the theater or on the couch at home. But even if you’re stuck apart, you can spend time in front of the silver screen together.

A browser extension called Teleparty easily syncs Netflix, Disney, Hulu and HBO videos for multiple parties while also providing a scrolling text chat along the right side of the screen.

If your movie or TV show is on another service — or if, quaintly and adorably enough, you’re going to watch the same DVD in separate houses at the same time — you can always hop on the phone and queue up the video. Don’t forget the popcorn!

10. Art Therapy

A seriously romantic idea for the bold: re-create each other’s likenesses while on a video chatting application like FaceTime.

If that’s a little too intimate, you could simply spend time together being creative, whether that means knitting, cross-stitching, painting or something else entirely. You could even make plans to gift each other the products of your art therapy session.

Tips for Successful Date Nights Spent Apart

A woman FaceTimes with her boyfriend.

Here are some tips to make it feel more like you’re actually together.

  • Get dressed. It’s all too easy to lie around the house in pajamas all day… and even attend your dates that way. Wearing real clothes can make you feel more like you’re on a real date.
  • Connect often. If you can’t be with each other in person, spending digital time together is extra important. Maybe try to move your date night tradition from one night a week to two or three.
  • Remember: It’s only temporary. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and although we don’t know when this pandemic is going to end, end it shall.

Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s DC Home Is Available To Rent—for $18K a Month

Ivanka Jared DC rental up for rentrealtor.com, Alex Wong/Getty Images

Here’s a real estate tip for folks joining the incoming Biden administration: A rental vacancy has opened up in the tony DC neighborhood of Kalorama—an area known for foreign diplomats and political heavy hitters.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, ex-presidential adviser Jared Kushner, have decamped for Florida, following in the footsteps of her father, former President Donald Trump.

Now, the couple’s former rental is in search of a new tenant. It’s available to lease for $18,000 a month.

The recently renovated home with six beds and 6.5 baths has all kinds of style points. It’s billed as “one of the most well-known and photographed houses on the planet—given its recent tenants.”

During the Trump years when the upscale abode served as the DC home of the first daughter and her family, it attracted protests and candlelight vigils, according to the Washingtonian. The 2017 gathering shown below was to protest Trump’s immigration policies.

On the other hand, the Washington Post recently reported that the mansion’s bathrooms were off limits to the couple’s Secret Service detail. As a result, the security team had to rent a nearby studio apartment at a rate of $3,000 a month—which ended up totaling more than $100,000 over the years, according to the Post.

Bathroom access aside, the 1923 home has been “meticulously maintained by the landlord and former notable tenants,” the listing asserts. Details of the 7,300-square-foot layout include crown moldings, recessed lighting, and wood floors throughout.

Plus, the “very contemporary” interiors boast high-end finishes and electrical updates made within the past four years.

And you might catch a glimpse of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in the neighborhood. The couple live just a “stone’s throw away,” the listing notes. That proximity to power might appeal to a house hunter joining the Biden administration.

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Watch: The D.C. Neighborhood That Power Brokers Ivanka Trump and the Obamas Call Home

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While new listing photos aren’t yet available, the images from 2017 showcase a modern, minimalist living space in a neutral palette decorated with abstract art.

Stone stairs lead to the front door.

realtor.com

Exterior shot of a deck

realtor.com

The living room features a fireplace and plenty of space for oversized furniture. The sleek kitchen with a long, white island looks to have everything you need to whip up a meal (or unpack takeout). The kitchen also has room for a table and adjoins a family room.

A formal dining room features a fireplace and recessed lighting. The master suite includes French doors, another fireplace, and cool tones.

Down south, the home’s former residents are apparently leasing a luxury condo in Miami, according to the Wall Street Journal. But their long-term plans look to involve a 2-acre lot they reportedly purchased on uaexclusive Indian Creek Island for the jaw-dropping sum of $32 million.

Rodrigo Valderrama with Keller Williams Capital Properties holds the rental listing.

The post Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s DC Home Is Available To Rent—for $18K a Month appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

New to Market: Matt Damon’s Zen Los Angeles Home Asks $21 Million

As part of his plan of leaving Los Angeles and moving his family to the Big Apple, Matt Damon has now listed his Pacific Palisades home for sale. And he’s hoping to cash in big from the sale, asking $21 million for the Zen-inspired contemporary home set in one of LA’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Recently listed with Eric Haskell, an agent with celebrity real estate brokerage The Agency, Matt Damon’s house is an architectural masterpiece with 7 bedrooms, 10 baths, tons of distinct design features and some pretty extraordinary amenities. The Academy Award-winning actor will be trading all this for a 6,000-square-foot penthouse in Brooklyn, New York, having broken records last year by paying $16.745 million for the top floor unit of a famous former hotel, The Standish.

inside matt damon's beautiful house in los angeles
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams

An architectural gem with striking features & Instagram-worthy interiors

Designed by award-winning architect Grant Kirkpatrick, founding partner of leading-edge design studio KAA Design Group, Matt Damon’s house is an extraordinary contemporary home that showcases masterful craftmanship throughout its 13,508-square-foot interiors.

With a modern-yet-timeless design, the house is anchored by a breathtaking atrium with 35-foot mahogany vaulted ceilings. The interiors are bathed in natural light and mix warm wood elements with natural stone, giving the whole space an inviting, relaxing vibe. Other striking features that deserve a shout-out: clerestory windows and glass walls that fuse the indoors with the outdoor areas.

two-story-atrium-with-vaulted-ceilings-in-matt-damons-house
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
inside matt damon's house, living room
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
inside matt damon's house, living room and dining room
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams

The family room opens to the magnificent chef’s kitchen with custom mahogany cabinetry, Bluestone countertops and stainless steel Viking, Wolf and Miele appliances. The kitchen then opens to the expansive backyard retreat (but more on that in a minute).

All in all, Matt Damon’s soon-to-be former Los Angeles abode packs 7 bedrooms and 10 baths across 13,508 square feet of space. The primary suite comes with its own private terrace, dual dressing rooms, massage room and a spa-style bath with soaking tub and expansive shower. Pretty much every room offers leafy property and treetop views, adding an extra note of serenity to this wonderfully Zen-inspired home.

kitchen in Matt Damon's house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million.
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
Inside Matt Damon's house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million.
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
primary suite in matt damon's los angeles house
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
massage room in matt damon's house
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
beautiful bedroom in matt damon's house in Los Angeles
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams

Amenities galore and a wonderful backyard retreat

Most celebrity homes tend to outdo themselves when it comes to amenities and bonus rooms and Matt Damon’s house is no exception. Interior amenities include a game room, bar, office, gym, plush media room, staff quarters and wine storage and tasting room. And that’s just what you’ll find inside the house.

Outside, the modern home has quite a few amenities that invite calm and relaxation (perfectly in tune with the rest of the house), including an expansive pool, spa, a cascading waterfall, koi pond and Hawaiian-inspired Lanai with a covered lounge and alfresco dining terrace. To appeal to the little ones — Damon is a father of four — there’s also a nice children’s play area.

Pool and outdoor area of Matt Damon's Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades.
Pool and outdoor area of Matt Damon’s Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades. Image credit: Alexis Adams
outdoor lounge and alfresco dining area in matt damon's $21 million house
Pool and outdoor area of Matt Damon’s Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades. Image credit: Alexis Adams
kids playground in matt damon's house
Playground outside Matt Damon’s Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades. Image credit: Alexis Adams

Matt Damon’s next home is vastly different from his Los Angeles digs

The Academy Award-winning actor, who is starring in the highly anticipated Ridley Scott-directed The Last Duel (to be released this year), will soon be leaving Los Angeles behind. The move has long been planned, with Damon and wife Luciana Bozán Barroso having purchased a Brooklyn Heights penthouse two years ago for a record-breaking price.

The couple paid $16.745 million for a 6-bedroom, 6,201-square-foot penthouse at The Standish — a historically significant converted building that was originally built in 1903 as a Beaux Arts hotel. At the time, Damon’s purchase set a new record for the borough, making him the owner of the most expensive property ever sold in Brooklyn.

Despite the fact that the penthouse consists of several units merged for extra space, the actor will be downsizing considerably. And the loss in square footage is matched by a significant downgrade in outdoor space — though it’s worth noting that Matt Damon’s new home does have an expansive terrace, a rarity for New York City. There’s no Zen backyard pool though, so we’re pretty sure the Good Will Hunting actor will, at times, miss his Pacific Palisades retreat.

More beautiful celebrity homes

Check Out this Beautiful House the Hemsworth Brothers Just Sold in Malibu
Wayne Gretzky is Selling his $22.9M California Home Designed by ‘The Megamansion King’
Morgan Brown Re-Lists Stunning West Hollywood Home Amid Split from Actor Gerard Butler
Chrissy Teigen & John Legend Buy $17.5M Beverly Hills Mansion

The post New to Market: Matt Damon’s Zen Los Angeles Home Asks $21 Million appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

Source: fancypantshomes.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

8 Hidden Problems in the Bedroom You Might Not Spot in a Home Video Tour

bedroom virtual tourFeverpitched

Video tours have quickly become the norm in the COVID-19 era as a safe way to get a closer look at the house you want to see in person. And while no doubt the kitchen and living room are high on your list to check out, the bedroom deserves more than a passing glance.

After all, a bedroom isn’t just a place to catch some zzz’s; it’s also a place that can function as a retreat or a quiet workspace. For your kids, it’s a room to play, do homework, and host sleepovers. And sure, a bedroom’s size and closet space are important—but they’re not the only things you should ask to see during a video tour. In fact, glossing over the bedroom could mean huge peeves after you buy—or worse, real problems that cost you money.

Here are some potential issues you might find hiding in the boudoir.

1. It might not actually be a bedroom

“Many listings will call a bonus room a bedroom even if it does not have a closet and a window, which is technically not correct, ” says John Gluch, founder of the Gluch Group in Scottsdale, AZ.

The legal requirements for classifying a room as a bedroom vary by state. Still, while taking the video tour, you should verify that bedrooms have a door and a window as two means of escape in an emergency.

The ceiling should be tall enough for a person to comfortably stand, and the square footage sufficient to accommodate a bed.

Be sure to ask your agent if the room is legally considered a bedroom.

2. There’s no privacy

Photo by Creative Window Designs 

Have your agent scan the windows and sills to check their condition. Take note of features such as triple-pane or tilt-and-turn windows.

Finally, check the view.

“You’ll want to know if a large, beautiful window in the master bedroom lacks privacy and looks right into a neighbor’s yard,” says Jennifer Smith, a Realtor® with Southern Dream Homes in Wake Forest, NC.

3. The fixtures and outlets are dated or in bad shape

“Buyers’ eyes tend to naturally go toward the beautifully made bed with lots of accent pillows and the art hanging on the walls,” Smith says. “But it’s important to remember to look at the more permanent features of the room that you’ll have to live with day to day.”

Ask your agent to zoom in on things like the flooring, ceiling fan, light fixtures, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and heating and cooling vents. Is there a radiator hiding behind the headboard or an air conditioner in the window?

Be sure to find out how many outlets are in the room. Older houses often have fewer outlets, and they may be the outdated, two-prong variety, which isn’t grounded.

4. The early morning sun will wake you up

Photo by Gaetano Hardwood Floors, Inc.

Oodles of natural light is a coveted feature—unless the morning sunlight wakes you up hours before your alarm goes off.

“Many Realtors and home buyers who visit a property at varying times throughout the day unintentionally fail to consider what the exposure is like at 5:30 a.m. with the sunrise,” says Gluch.

Curtains and blinds are obvious solutions, but you may not want to cover windows that showcase a beautiful view or are placed high in a vaulted ceiling.

5. Your furniture won’t fit

Whether it’s a large master suite or a children’s bedroom, pay attention to how much furniture is in the room and how it’s arranged, Smith says.

“Staging declutters and depersonalizes a space as much as possible, so buyers should think about how their current belongings will fit or if they’d have to buy all-new furniture,” says Smith.

Ask the listing agent for the dimensions of the bed and/or dresser for comparison. But if the dresser is missing, it could mean the bedroom has a large closet with organizational options.

Ask to see inside all the closets, and make note of the size, shelves, and other organizational components.

6. The bedrooms are in an inconvenient location

It’s easy to get disoriented when you’re taking a live video tour, so “buyers shouldn’t forget to pay attention to where bedrooms are located in the house,” Smith advises.

Ask yourself how the locations of the bedroom will suit your lifestyle. Will you be more comfortable with the kids’ bedrooms on the same floor? Is the master suite adjacent to a busy living room or kitchen? Where are the bathrooms in reference to the bedrooms?

7. The master bathroom doesn’t offer separation

Photo by Elad Gonen 

A spacious master suite isn’t just a place to rest your weary head at night. It’s your future dream retreat, where you can sink into a soothing bath or luxuriate in a rainfall shower. But if you want a bit of privacy, be mindful of how the master suite is laid out.

“Many people overlook the fact that there is not a door between the bedroom and the bathroom,” says Gluch. “Likewise, many floor plans now have a water closet—a small toilet room with a door—but do not have a door separating the bedroom from the rest of the bath.”

8. There might be potential safety hazards

If you’re looking at a multilevel home or a house with a bedroom in the basement, verify fire escape routes.

“Consider potential safety hazards such as how difficult it might be to drop a fire escape ladder out of an upstairs bedroom window or a ladder up from a basement bedroom,” says Gluch.

Basement bedrooms should have an egress window, and upper-floor windows should be clear of obstructions like trees or sections of the house that would make an emergency exit difficult.

The post 8 Hidden Problems in the Bedroom You Might Not Spot in a Home Video Tour appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year

tax benefits of owning a homeTijana Simic / Getty Images

What are the tax benefits of owning a home? Plenty of homeowners are asking themselves this right around now as they prepare to file their taxes.

You may recall the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the most substantial overhaul to the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years—went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The result was likely a big change to your taxes, especially the tax perks of homeownership.

While this revised tax code is still in effect today, the coronavirus has thrown a few curveballs. For one, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed filing season by about two weeks, which means it won’t start accepting or processing any 2020 tax year returns until Feb. 12, 2021. (So far at least, the filing deadline stands firm at the usual date, April 15.)

In addition to this delay, many might be wondering whether the new realities of COVID-19 life (like their work-from-home setup) might qualify for a tax deduction, or how other variables from unemployment to stimulus checks might affect their tax return this year.

Whatever questions you have, look no further than this complete guide to all the tax benefits of owning a home, where we run down all the tax breaks homeowners should be aware of when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. Read on to make sure you aren’t missing anything that could save you money!

Tax break 1: Mortgage interest

Homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million.

“However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can only deduct the interest on the first $750,000,” says Lee Reams Sr., chief content officer of TaxBuzz.

Why it’s important: The ability to deduct the interest on a mortgage continues to be a big benefit of owning a home. And the more recent your mortgage, the greater your tax savings.

“The way mortgage payments are amortized, the first payments are almost all interest,” says Wendy Connick, owner of Connick Financial Solutions. (See how your loan amortizes and how much you’re paying in interest with this online mortgage calculator.)

Note that the mortgage interest deduction is an itemized deduction. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions (there are more below) need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled.

And note that those amounts just increased for the 2020 tax year. For individuals, the deduction is now $12,400 ($12,200 in 2019), and it’s $24,800 for married couples filing jointly ($24,400 in 2019), plus $1,300 for each spouse aged 65 or older. The deduction also went up to $18,650 for head of household ($18,350 in 2019), plus an additional $1,650 for those 65 or older.

As a result, only about 5% of taxpayers will itemize deductions this filing season, says Connick.

For some homeowners, itemizing simply may not be worth it. So when would itemizing work in your favor? As one example, if you’re a married couple under 65 who paid $20,000 in mortgage interest and $6,000 in state and local taxes, you would exceed the standard deduction and be able to reduce your taxable income by an additional $1,200 by itemizing.

__________

Watch: Ready To Refinance? Ask These 5 Questions First

__________

Tax break 2: Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000 for those married filing jointly no matter how high the taxes are. (Here’s more info on how to calculate property taxes.)

Why it’s important: Taxpayers can take one $10,000 deduction, says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance at Liberty Tax Service.

Just note that property taxes are on that itemized list of all of your deductions that must add up to more than your particular standard deduction to be worth your while.

And remember that if you have a mortgage, your property taxes are built into your monthly payment.

Tax break 3: Private mortgage insurance

If you put less than 20% down on your home, odds are you’re paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which costs from 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.

But here’s some good news for PMI users: You can deduct the interest on this insurance thanks to the Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction Act of 2019—aka the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act—which reinstated certain deductions and credits for homeowners.

“These include the deduction for PMI,” says Laura Fogel, certified public accountant at Gonzalez and Associates in Massachusetts. (This credit is retroactive, so talk to your accountant to see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 or 2019 tax return in case you missed it in past years.)

Also note that this tax deduction is set to expire again after 2020 unless Congress decides to extend it in 2021.

Why it’s important: The PMI interest deduction is also an itemized deduction. But if you can take it, it might help push you over the $24,800 standard deduction for married couples under 65. And here’s how much you’ll save: If you make $100,000 and put down 5% on a $200,000 house, you’ll pay about $1,500 in annual PMI premiums and thus cut your taxable income by $1,500. Nice!

Tax break 4: Energy efficiency upgrades

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was a tax incentive for installing alternative energy upgrades in a home. Most of these tax credits expired after December 2016; however, two credits are still around (but not for long). The credits for solar electric and solar water-heating equipment are available through Dec. 31, 2021, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York–based accounting firm.

The SECURE Act also retroactively reinstated a $500 deduction for certain qualified energy-efficient upgrades “such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation,” says Fogel.

Why it’s important: You can still save a tidy sum on your solar energy. And—bonus!—this is a credit, so no worrying about itemizing here. However, the percentage of the credit varies based on the date of installation. For equipment installed between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, 26% of the expenditure is eligible for the credit (down from 30% in 2019). That figure drops to 22% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. As of now, the credit ends entirely after 2021.

Tax break 5: A home office

Good news for all self-employed people whose home office is the main place where they work: You can deduct $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet, of office space, which amounts to a maximum deduction of $1,500.

For those who can take the deduction, understand that there are very strict rules on what constitutes a dedicated, fully deductible home office space. Here’s more on the much-misunderstood home office tax deduction.

The fine print: The bad news for everyone forced to work at home due to COVID-19? Unfortunately, if you are a W-2 employee, you’re not eligible for the home office deduction under the CARES Act even if you spent most of 2020 in your home office.

Tax break 6: Home improvements to age in place

To get this break, these home improvements will need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So if you make $60,000, this deduction kicks in only on money spent over $4,500.

The cost of these improvements can result in a nice tax break for many older homeowners who plan to age in place and add renovations such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars in bathrooms. Deductible improvements might also include widening doorways, lowering cabinets or electrical fixtures, and adding stair lifts.

The fine print: You’ll need a letter from your doctor to prove these changes were medically necessary.

Tax break 7: Interest on a home equity line of credit

If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible only if that loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. So you’ll save cash if your home’s crying out for a kitchen overhaul or half-bath. But you can’t use your home as a piggy bank to pay for college or throw a wedding.

The fine print: You can deduct only up to the $750,000 cap, and this is for the amount you pay in interest on your HELOC and mortgage combined. (And if you took out a HELOC before the new 2018 tax plan for anything besides improvements to your home, you cannot legally deduct the interest.)

The post 7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

The Pros and Cons of Building a Home in Today’s Market

If you’re considering building your next home, but aren’t completely sure of your options, here are the pros and cons you should know before deciding.

The post The Pros and Cons of Building a Home in Today’s Market appeared first on Homes.com.

Source: homes.com

Home Buyer’s Guide: How to Purchase a Property, From Start to Finish [Free Download]

Purchasing a home is both exciting and a major milestone in your life, so you’ll want to be prepared for what to expect to avoid a stressful process. Having an in-depth look at the buyer’s journey can help you make informed and confident decisions.

From finding a real estate agent, negotiating offers to getting your keys on closing day, we’ve outlined all the steps of a home buyer’s journey in our free Buyer’s Guide, which you can download here.

The Buyer’s Guide will cover the buyer’s timeline from meeting an agent to preparing for closing day. We’ve outlined the 8 steps in a home buyer’s journey below.

1. Working With An Agent

Every city is filled with thousands of agents, but not all are equal. We believe it is important to choose an agent that you feel confident with. Before you commit to working with an agent, make sure you have a good understanding of the knowledge and experience they offer. It’s important that you ask your questions before making the decision to work with them.

2. Financing Your Purchase

Before you set a budget and start looking for a home, you’ll have to understand what costs to expect when purchasing a home. Here are some of the major costs involved:

  • Deposits
  • Down payments
  • Mortgage insurance
  • Closing costs

You’ll also want to calculate a rough estimate of the down payment that you will be expected to pay. Depending on the price of your home, your minimum down payment can range from 5% to 20%. If you’re interested in learning more about how to finance your home, you can get our free Financing Your Purchase guide here.

3. Searching For A Home

An important part of searching for a home is understanding how the home will fit with your needs and your lifestyle. You’ll want to consider home ownership as well as different types of properties and features. 

Types of Home Ownership

  • Freehold Ownership
    • You purchase the home and directly own the lot of land it sits on
  • Condominium Ownership
    • For condos, you own specific parts of one building: titled ownership of your unit, along with shared ownership in the condo corporation that owns the common spaces and amenities
  • Co-Op Ownership
    • You own an exact portion of the building as a whole and also have exclusive use of your unit

Types of Properties

  • Detached houses
  • Semi-detached houses
  • Attached houses
  • Condos and apartments
  • Multi-unit

Tip: Depending on your budget and desired location, you may need to be flexible to find a home that meets your needs. By being willing to trade some features for others, you’ll have more options to choose from.

4. Negotiating An Offer

When you are making an offer to purchase a home, the purchase agreement should include the essential components listed below. Your agent can help put together an offer that is compelling, while safeguarding your interests and puts you in a competitive position to secure your new home.

You’ll also have the opportunity to choose the conditions that you’ll want in your offer. Some of these may include a home inspection or a status certificate review.

5. Financial Due Diligence

Whenever you make an offer on a house, you need to provide a deposit to secure the offer. The deposit is in the form of a certified cheque, bank draft, or wire transfer; it’s held in trust by the selling brokerage and is applied towards your down payment if your offer is successful.

There are two types of deposits:

  • Upon acceptance
    • The deposit is provided within 24 hours of the seller choosing your offer
  • Herewith
    • The deposit is provided when the offer is made

6. Property Due Diligence

To firm up a deal or educate yourself more on the state of the property, you’ll likely want to have a home inspection if you’re purchasing a house. If you’re purchasing a condo, then your lawyer will review the building’s status certificate.

Home Inspection

A home inspector will assess elements of the home such as the walls, windows, plumbing, heating and roof to judge the condition of the home. This process is non-invasive and is essential to help provide buyers with a good idea of the home’s current condition and the confidence of putting in an offer. 

Tip: The home inspector will provide a summary of suggested work along with a minimum budget estimate for the repairs needed. 

Status Certificates

If you’re purchasing a condominium, you’ll need to obtain a status certificate from the condo board or management for your lawyer’s review. This document will include valuable information about the condo’s budget, legal issues, reserve fund, maintenance fees and future fees increases – and the lawyer can help identify potential red flags

7. Preparing For Closing

Before the big day, you’ll want to keep a checklist of what to do ahead of time. Some of these include:

  • Review your contract
  • Complete a final walkthrough of the home
  • Purchase home insurance
  • Meet with your lawyer
  • Know how much cash you’ll need
  • Secure cash required for closing

8. Closing Day

Closing Day is when you’ll finally get the keys to your new home! In addition to bringing the cash required for closing, you’ll have to sign a few more documents which will include:

  • Mortgage loan
  • Title transfer
  • Statement of adjustments
  • Tax certificates

For the full details on the home buyer’s journey including examples, advice, pictures and sample calculations, download a copy of our free Buyer’s Guide here.

The post Home Buyer’s Guide: How to Purchase a Property, From Start to Finish [Free Download] appeared first on Zoocasa Blog.

Source: zoocasa.com