The Dynamics of Home Equity

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For many people, their home is their largest asset and their best performing investment. The equity in a home is the difference in what it is worth and what is owed. Two dynamics, appreciation and unpaid balance, work in concert to make homeowner’s equity grow.

It can be said that you appreciate the fact that your home is your best financial investment. It is also ironic that the appreciation, the increase in value, is what causes it to be your best financial investment.

In a one-year period, the increase in value divided by the beginning value will determine the rate of appreciation for the year. News stories and articles, frequently, report statistics on appreciation for the month, the year or longer. In many cases, a national appreciation is mentioned but the local appreciation is more reflective of an individual property.

The National Association of REALTORS® reports “The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in June was $363,300, up 23.4% from June 2020 ($294,400), as every region recorded price jumps. This marks 112 straight months of year-over-year gains.”

The low inventory being experienced nationwide has caused some significant appreciation that has increased homeowners’ equity. According to Black Knight, a mortgage technology and research firm, at the end of 2020, roughly 46 million homeowners held a total of $7.3 trillion in equity.

If a homeowner has a mortgage on their home, while the home is appreciating, the unpaid balance is declining. An increasing portion of each payment is applied, when the payment is made, to the principal balance to retire the debt based on the term of the loan.

Each month the equity in the home becomes larger because the home is worth more due to appreciation and the unpaid balance is less due to amortization.

Once a homeowner has sufficient equity in their home, they can borrow against it and take cash out of their home. Most lenders require that the homeowner maintain at least 20% equity position. This means that owners can borrow up to 80% of the appraised value less the amount that is currently owed on the property.

The options include a cash-out refinance mortgage or a home equity line of credit, HELOC. While some institutions have stopped offering HELOCs, they are still available.

The HELOC is a line of credit that is established for usually ten years. The owner is approved, and the money is available to draw out as needed. The interest is calculated daily. Like a credit card, when the balance is paid down, the unused portion of the available credit is available again.

Your real estate agent may be able to offer some lender suggestions.

Doing Nothing is Costing Something

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It has been said that more money has been lost due to indecisions than ever was due to making the wrong decisions. Many times, the larger the decision, the more likely procrastination comes into play and doing nothing will cost something.

Buying a home is certainly one of the biggest decisions people make. Careful consideration and planning are necessary steps leading to a prudent decision. Considering today’s market that includes a global pandemic, financial volatility, and rapidly rising home prices, it is understandable that many people thinking about a home purchase are in a wait and see posture.

However, there is a cost connected to waiting and it may be a lot more than you think. The recent Home Price Expectation Survey 2021 Quarter two estimated appreciation rates will average just under 5% annual for the next five years. It expects prices to increase by 8% in the next one year.

Being a renter or even putting off moving to a larger home, could keep you from enjoying the benefit of that appreciation. If your down payment is in the bank, your expected earning will be less than 2%. In a home, the owner has the benefit of leverage when a mortgage is used to finance the home.

Buyers are borrowing a large portion of the purchase price at around 3% interest but the entire value of the home is appreciating at a higher rate and the profit builds equity for the homeowner.

Another major component for the owner is that the amortizing mortgage is being reduced with each payment that is made. As the home goes up in value due to appreciation, the unpaid balance goes down with principal reduction creating equity from two directions.

If you waited one year to buy a $350,000 home today, the price could easily be $378,000. A 5% down payment on this home at today’s price is $17,500. If you could earn 2% on a certificate of deposit, it would be worth $17,850 in one year. If it used as a down payment on a $350,000 home that appreciates at 8%, the equity in one year would be $52,442. Use the Your Best Investment calculator to make your own projection.

Mortgage experts anticipate rates to rise by 0.75% in the next year which means that you’ll pay more interest on a larger mortgage by waiting. The monthly payment could easily be $200 more by waiting a year. Based on how long you intend to be in the home, it could make the overall housing cost much more.

To run some examples of projections based on your own expectations and at the price you are considering, go to Cost of Waiting to Buy and Rent vs. Own.

If you have some specific concerns that is keeping you from deciding today, let’s get together on the phone, an online meeting or somewhere face-to-face so that you can get the facts about what it takes to buy a home now.

Property Inheritance

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Stepped-up basis is an incredible benefit to people who inherit property. Not only do they receive the property itself, the basis or cost value of the property becomes the fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death. This avoids recognizing the gain between the decedent’s cost and what it is worth when it is inherited.

If a person had purchased a home for $100,000 and 20-years later when they died, it was worth $500,000, there would be a potential gain in the property of $400,000. However, because of a tax provision called step-up tax basis, the person inheriting the property will have a basis of the fair market value at the time of death.

The recipient could sell the property for $500,000 and have no taxable gain on the sale.

A formal appraisal is the most reliable and defensible estimate of fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death. There will be a fee of several hundred dollars for the appraisal. Another alternative is to get a broker’s opinion of value in writing. It may be reasonable to get three opinions to see if they are similar. They should rely on comparable sales to justify their position. Either method is acceptable to IRS.

There is discussion from the current President about the possibility of eliminating the step-up in basis that allows families to leave assets to their heirs without having to pay capital gains tax. Some people consider it to be a tax loophole for the ultra-rich but it can impact ordinary people who inherit property and do not want to have to sell it.

An example would be a family farm that when inherited by the heirs may not be able to afford to pay the capital gains tax due at time of transfer and they could be forced to sell the property or borrow the money to pay the tax, assuming that was possible.

Federal estate tax is paid from the deceased’s remaining estate, not by the heir. If the decedent’s estate is approaching the limit before estate taxes are due, currently $11.7 million, professional tax advice should be considered because there could be additional provisions in play. More information on this can be found on IRS.gov.

Less to Own than to Rent

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The question is “financially speaking, are you better off owning than renting in the long term?”

Renting a home has advantages. It is usually a short-term commitment from year to year and the landlord is responsible for the repairs.

Owning a home with today’s low mortgage rates, the total house payment could easily be less than what the rent would be on a comparable home. Once you assume ownership, you will have the responsibility of the repairs and possibly, a homeowner’s association fee.

Many times, an initial benefit of owing a home includes the ability to deduct property taxes and qualified interest on the mortgage. With the increase of the standard deduction and a limit of $10,000 on state and local taxes, it is estimated that 90% of homeowners do not itemize their deductions to consider property tax and mortgage interest. This comparison will not consider them.

There are two very significant benefits that contribute to a home being an excellent investment and they are principal reduction due to normal amortization of the mortgage and appreciation of the property. While the property goes up in value and the unpaid balance decreases, the owner’s equity grows, increasing their net worth.

Renters do not benefit from either of these, but their landlords do. That is the reason for the saying “whether you rent or buy, you pay for the house you occupy.” Tenants pay for the home for their landlord.

Rent Own
$2,500 Rent/Payment $2,232
-0- Principal Reduction $504
-0- Appreciation $875
-0- Estimated Monthly Maintenance $300
-0- Estimated Homeowners Association Fee $25
$2,500 Net Monthly Cost of Housing $1,178

*Projections based on 3% appreciation; $350,000 sales price with 10% down payment and a 3.5%, 30-year mortgage.

With each payment made on a fully amortized loan, the principal balance is reduced. While appreciation is generally expressed in an annual rate, homes go up in value incrementally throughout the year so considering the monthly appreciation is appropriate in this comparison.

In this example, the payment is less than the rent proving the initial idea that it costs less to own a home. After factoring in the effect of the principal reduction and the appreciation, even when you consider the maintenance and HOA fees, the net monthly cost of housing is considerably less than renting.

The largest part of the savings inures to the equity of the home which directly impacts a homeowner’s net worth. While the money may not be easily accessed, it has real value and available in a cash-out refinance or when the home is sold.

If you curious about how your numbers would be reflected in a similar comparison, go to the Rent vs. Own. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Are You Covered?

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A home warranty is a service contract that protects your home’s appliances and some systems from repairs or possible replacements. A convenient benefit of a home warranty is that when you report an item, they will assign a service provider to evaluate whether it should be repaired or replaced without the owner having to act like a middleman.

Homeowner’s insurance is required by most mortgage lenders when there is an outstanding loan. This coverage protects the structure and the dwelling and the homeowner’s personal property from named occurrences like theft, natural disaster, or accident. Homeowner’s insurance does not cover the systems and appliances for repairs or replacements due to normal wear.

The fees for home warranties can vary based on deductibles and how much of the risk the homeowner is willing to accept.

Additional items can be included to the standard coverage to include pool, spa, additional refrigerators, septic tanks, and other items. There may also be some named items that are not covered that could include sprinkler systems, window air conditioning units or other specific items.

Contracts usually are for a one-year period, may have a waiting period and usually will not include pre-existing conditions. The premium or fee is paid in advance.

Many homeowners learned about this type of service when they bought a home. It was provided by the seller and probably gave some element of peace of mind. Home warranties can be purchased even when the home is not being sold and by the current owner. Even rental property owners are using this type of coverage to manage the repairs and replacement expenses.

American Home Shield, Choice Home Warranty, Select Home Warranty, First American Home Warranty.

Thoughts on Credit and Getting a Mortgage

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Credit plays a huge role in getting a mortgage because it is a variable that helps the lender determine the likelihood that the loan will be repaid on a timely basis. Credit bureaus evaluate people’s credit worthiness using a FICO score. The higher the score the better the borrower’s credit.

The mortgage rate charged to a borrower depends on their credit score. There is an inverse relationship between credit score and interest rate changed. The higher the score the lower the rate and the lower the score, the higher the rate.

Two separate buyers with the same income, purchasing the same price home may both be approved by the lender, but they may be charged different interest rates based on their credit scores.

You could save thousands of dollars over the life of a loan by improving your credit score by just a few points. A $350,000 mortgage at 3.5% has a principal and interest payment of $1,571.66. By improving your credit score to qualify for a 3% rate, it would save $96.04 a month.

Over the life of the mortgage, that would save $34,575 in interest. Improving your credit score to shave 0.25% off the rate would make it worthwhile.

Credit utilization is the percentage of total credit used compared to the total credit available. If you have a $2,500 balance on a credit card with $10,000 available credit, your utilization rate is 25%. Ideally, it should be 10% or below. This ratio accounts for 30% of a person’s FICO score.

Credit utilization is calculated using the balance on the monthly statement so paying it off in full every month could still result in a high CU score. Some credit counselors suggest paying down the balance before the end of month statement comes out. A trusted mortgage professional can make specific recommendations like how to improve your credit utilization.

Your credit score can be adversely affected if your credit limits are lowered. You may have the same monthly outstanding balance you have had for years but it now becomes a larger percentage of your available credit and your score goes down. In the example used earlier, if the available credit was lowered to $5,000 and your balance is $2,500, the credit utilization is now 50%.

Payment history is the largest contributor and counts for 35% of an individual’s FICO score. It is an indication of your likelihood of paying on time and as agreed for your debt, especially mortgages, credit cards, student and car loans, among others.

A big shock to some borrowers is to find out that while they may have never actually incurred a late fee because of a grace period, their score could be dinged because it was not paid on time of the actual due date.

Foreclosures, deeds in lieu of foreclosure and bankruptcies will affect a borrowers payment history as long as they appear on the credit report.

Americans are entitled to a free annual credit report by law from the major credit companies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. AnnualCreditReport.com is the source for these federally authorized reports. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they are offering free weekly reports.

Even if you are not buying a home or getting a mortgage currently, it is a good routine to check your credit report periodically to discover signs of identity theft early.

First Love, Second Wife or Third REALTOR

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There is a story of a real estate agent’s prayer: “Dear Lord, if I can’t be someone’s first love, or second wife, at least, please let me be their third REALTOR®.” In a normal market with a balanced supply of sellers and buyers, this describes the preference that it might be better to be the third listing agent to help the seller after they became more realistic about their list price.

In today’s market, it might have more to do with buyers because of the increased competition, their chance of having an accepted offer is greatly reduced and it is only after they have lost several that they become more aggressive in the negotiations.

Competition for homes being sold has greatly increased over the previous two years, according to a recent REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey from NAR. In April of 2021, there were nearly five offers for every home sold which increased from two offers in 2019 and 2020.

Utah reported the highest number of offers per home sold with seven while Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Washington had six. California, Colorado, Tennessee, and Texas each had five offers per home sold.

To make their offers appear more attractive, more buyers are making cash offers to eliminate financing contingencies and reduce the chance of rejection. Cash offers represented 25% of offers in April and 21% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 18% in 2020.

Buyers who are not able to make cash offers are increasing their down payment. Nearly half of homebuyers are putting 20% or more down during the first quarter of 2021. Even first-time buyers are using an 80% mortgage to make their offers more attractive to sellers.

The median days on the market for listings was 17, down from 21 days a year ago. 31% of residential sales were made to first-time homebuyers which is down from 32% in March 2021 and down from 36% one year ago.

While nearly ¾ of homes closed on time, 5% were terminated and 22% were delayed but eventually went into settlement. Appraisal and financing issues were the major contributors to the delayed transactions. The two major factors for the terminated transactions were also appraisals and inspections issues.

Today’s environment requires a strong, sensitive agent who understands your goals as well as the intricacies of the market to be able to devise a plan to make it happen. Your agent and their recommendations for the other professionals involved are the boots on the ground necessary whether you are a buyer or a seller.

Simple Rates of Return

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Looking for a simple way to determine if a rental property will give you the rate of return you want? This modified annual property operating data may be just what you’ve been looking for.

There are many different rates of return that investor’s consider to determine whether a property will generate the yield that they expect. Sometimes the simplest of calculations can tell you whether you want it or not and if you get the other things like tax advantages and appreciation, it just makes it that much better.

The first yield we will look at is commonly called the Cash-on-Cash rate of return. It is calculated by dividing the initial investment, usually down payment and closing costs, into the Cash Flow Before Tax.

To arrive at Net Operating Income, it is simply taking the gross scheduled income, less vacancy allowance and all operating expenses. From that is deducted the annual debt service which is the principal and interest payment times twelve. The remaining amount is referred to as Cash Flow Before Tax.

In this example , the initial investment of the down payment and closing costs, $66,000 was divided into the Cash Flow Before Taxes of $5,468 to get an 8.28% Cash-on-Cash rate of return.

The second yield to be considered is called Equity Build-up. Each payment made on an amortizing mortgage pays a portion toward the principal balance to retire the loan. It is calculated by dividing the initial investment into the principal contribution for the year.

Continuing with the example, $66,000 is divided into the principal reduction for year one of $4,606 to get a 6.98% Equity Build-up rate of return.

This approach is easy to understand because you are not considering depreciation, anticipated appreciation, holding period, recapture of depreciation or long-term capital gains. Simply rent the property, pay the bills and if there is money left over, it pays a return on the initial investment.

The same goes for the Equity Build-up. When you make the payment on the mortgage, the loan is reduced and while you don’t have access to the money like cash flow, it is definitely your equity and tangible.

To determine whether an ROI on a rental is good, compare it to what your initial investment is earning currently. Ten-year treasuries are earning less than 2%. Certificates of deposit are earning less than 1%.

For more information, download the Rental Income Properties guide and schedule an appointment with your real estate professional.

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Is a Home Inventory Necessary?

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Most homeowners have insurance on their home that additionally, gives them coverage on their personal property. That is the first level of peace of mind to know that it is available to you if there is an unfortunate need for it from a burglary, fire, or some other insured circumstance.

Personal property is handled slightly different than real property. The claims adjustor could start by asking you for a list of the things lost. You are allowed to reconstruct it but there is a distinct possibility that you’ll forget things, sometimes for months or years after the claim was settled.

An interesting exercise would be for you to visualize two rooms, possibly, the kitchen and main living area. Without being in the room, create a list of all the personal items in plain sight and those in the closets and cabinets. When you’re through with the list, go into each room to check to see what kind of things were not on your list and what the value of those items amounted to. It could be substantial.

Remember, you are entitled to claim them regardless of how long it has been since you used them or if you do not intend on replacing them again.

When filing a claim, the more “proof” you have to substantiate it, the better off you are. Receipts are great but chances are, you may only have them for the big-ticket items. Photographs or video of the different rooms are great records that the items were in your home.

An itemized list of each room with a description of the content, cost and date of purchase, supported by pictures would be ideal. This type of documentation will make filing and settling a claim much easier. The more documentation you have, the more likely you are to have a favorable settlement.

The more expensive the item, the better it would be for you to have receipts, serial numbers and photographs. A simple count of some items like clothing will suffice like four pairs of jeans, 24 dress shirts, etc. More valuable items of clothing like a cashmere jacket or a silk dress should be listed individually.

Depending on the frequency that you purchase new items for the home or possessions, you’ll need to consider updating the list and photographs. Moving creates opportunities to get rid of things that haven’t been used for years and to acquire things for the new home. It is always a good idea to complete a home inventory after you’ve moved and settled into your new space.

If you would like to have more tips and a form to itemize your possessions, download the Home Inventory. This will even allow you to include pictures and store it in digital format for safe keeping.

Deciding on Whether to Move

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Some homeowners feel like they may as well throw a dart against the wall to decide whether to move or not. Other people might invoke a process attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Supposedly, to evaluate the options and bring clarity to the choice, this American founding father would list all the reasons for and against the decision on a sheet of paper. After reducing it to writing, the choice would appear either by obvious majority or practicality.

Buying a home is an emotional decision but selling a home can be also. Separating the rationale from the emotion can make decisions seem obvious but they may still not be crystal clear.

There is an inventory shortage that caused prices to rise and market time to shorten. In many active markets there is less than 30-days’ supply of homes for sale which is half of what was available a year ago. This will make it easier to sell and maximize the proceeds from your current home.

69% of economists who participated in the first quarter 2021 Zillow Home Price Expectations survey believe home inventory will begin to grow in the second half of this year or the first half of 2022.

Mortgage rates are near record lows which will keep payments at a minimum. With the inflation rate in the United States expected to be between 2-3%, many borrowers consider that it balances with the mortgage rate to be an effective zero percent.

“Consumers are facing much higher home prices, rising mortgage rates, and falling affordability, however, buyers are still actively in the market,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “At least half of the adult population has received a COVID-19 vaccination, according to reports, and recent housing starts and job creation data show encouraging dynamics of more supply and strong demand in the housing sector.”

The pandemic has allowed many buyers have the flexibility to work from home for now and in some situations, permanently. That opens new location possibilities options that would not have existed if they had to commute to work daily. Economists believe that the increased preference to work remotely will be a permanent shift even if it is only a part of the work week.

This provides opportunities for homeowners to relocate in an area that doesn’t have the high demand that their current area does and could benefit from more affordable housing for the replacement while possibly, maximizing the sales price of their current home.

Good information specific to your needs is essential to making good decisions. Explore the possibilities with your real estate agent. They can provide facts about the sale and purchase of another home. Once you have the facts, you may use the Ben Franklin Balance Sheet to help you with your decision.