Military Members : You Have 3 Weeks To Buy A Home, Claim Up To $8,000 In Tax Credits

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Military tax credit expirationIf you’re an eligible federal employee or qualified military personnel, you have 3 weeks from this Saturday to use the federal home buyer tax credit, and to claim up to $8,000 in federal income tax credits. 

According to the IRS, eligible persons include members and spouses of the uniformed services, members and spouses of the Foreign Service, and intelligence community employees who served at least 90 days of qualified, extended duty service outside of the United States between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010, and their spouses.

Eligible persons must be under contract for a new home on or before April 30, 2011, with the home’s closing occurring on or before June 30, 2011.

The federal home buyer tax credit is a true credit, too. Eligible buyers receive a dollar-for-dollar tax reduction equal to 10 percent of the subject home’s purchase price, not to exceed $8,000 for first-time home buyers, and not to exceed $6,500 for repeat home buyers.

Repeat buyers must have lived in their “main home” through 5 of the last 8 years in order to be eligibke.

Furthermore, both the buyer(s) and the subject property must meet certain minimum eligibility requirements:

  • The home may not be purchased from a parent, spouse, or child
  • The home may not be purchased from an entity in which the seller is a majority owner
  • The home may not be acquired by gift or inheritance
  • The home sale price may not exceed $800,000
  • Buyers may not earn more than $125,000 as single-filers; $225,000 as joint-filers

The complete program description is published on the IRS website.

For additional information regarding your tax credit eligibility, you may want to speak with an accountant or other tax professional. It’s often worth the cost.

Categories: Taxes

How Does Your Real Estate Tax Bill Compare To Other Parts Of The Country?

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Real Estate Taxes compared to local household income

Mortgage rates may be a function of free markets, but real estate taxes are a function of government. And, depending on where you live, your annual real estate tax bill could be high, low, or practically non-existent.

Compiling data from the 2009 American Community Survey, the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan educational organization in Washington D.C., published property taxes paid by owner-occupied households, county-by-county.

The report shows huge disparity in annual property taxes by region, and by state.

As a percentage of home valuation, Southeast homeowners tend to pay the fewest property taxes overall, while Northeast homeowners tend to pay the most. But statistics like that aren’t especially helpful. What’s more useful is to know how local real estate taxes stack up as compared to local, median household incomes.

Not surprisingly, real estate taxes are least affordable to homeowners in the New York Metro area. The 10 U.S. counties with the highest tax-to-income ratios physically surround New York City’s 5 boroughs. The areas with the lowest tax-to-income, by contrast, are predominantly in southern Louisiana.

A sampling from the Tax Foundation list, here is how select counties rank in terms of taxes as a percentage of median income:

  • #1 : Passaic County (NJ) : 9.7% of median income
  • #6 : Nassau County (NY) : 8.6% of median income
  • #15 : Lake County (IL) : 7.2% of median income
  • #18 : Cheshire County (NH) : 7.1% of median income
  • #70 : Travis County (TX) : 5.0% of median income
  • #90 : Marin County (CA) : 4.6% of median income
  • #110 : Middlesex County (MA) : 4.4% of median income
  • #181 : Sarasota County (FL) : 3.9% of median income
  • #481 : Douglas County (CO) : 2.4% of median income
  • #716 : Maui County (HI) : 1.3% of median income

The U.S. national average is 3.0 percent.

The complete, sortable list of U.S. counties is available at the Tax Foundation website. For specific tax information in your neighborhood or block, talk with a real estate agent.

Categories: Rankings

March Fed Minutes Show Inflation Risks And Rate Hikes On The Horizon

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Fed Minutes March 2011The Federal Reserve released its March 15 meeting minutes Tuesday. The notes revealed a Federal Reserve split between optimism and caution for the U.S. economy.

The minutes’ official name is “Fed Minutes”. It’s a periodic publication, published 3 weeks after each meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. The FOMC meets 8 times annually, so the Fed Minutes is published 8 times annually, too.

The Fed Minutes is similar to the meeting minutes released after a condo board gets together, or after a meeting of the Board of Directors at a large corporation. The minutes give a detailed account of the important conversations and debates that occurred among the attendees.

At the Federal Reserve, those conversations are deep and, as such, the minutes are long; much longer than the more well-known, post-meeting press release anyway.

Whereas the press release is measured in paragraphs, the minutes are measured in pages.

Here is some of what the Fed discussed last month:

  • On inflation : Pressures are rising, but largely because of food costs and oil costs.
  • On housing : The market remains “depressed” with large inventory and weak demand.
  • On stimulus : The Fed will keep its $600 billion bond plan in place.

In addition, there was talk about ending the Federal Reserve’s accommodative monetary policy (i.e. the near-zero percent Fed Funds Rate). The FOMC’s voting members unanimously elected to leave the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 percent last month, but there was talk of raising the benchmark rate later this year.

Conforming and FHA mortgage rates in arlington are mostly unchanged since the Fed Minutes release.

Categories: Uncategorized

Plan To Sell Within 5 Years? Consider An Adjustable-Rate Mortgage.

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Comparing 5-year ARM to 30-year fixed

Which is better — a fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage? It’s a common question among home buyers and refinancing households in virginia.

The answer? It depends. 

Fixed-rate mortgages give the certainty of a known, unchanging principal + interest payment for the life of the loan. This can help you with budget-setting and financial planning. Some homeowners say fixed-rate loans they offer “peace of mind”.

Adjustable-rate mortgages do not.

After a pre-determined, introductory number of years, the initial interest rate on the note — sometimes called a “teaser rate” — moves up or down, depending on the existing market conditions. It then adjust again every 6 or 12 months thereafter until the loan is paid in full.

ARMs can adjust higher or lower so they are necessarily unpredictable long-term. However, if you can be comfortable with uncertainty like that, you’re often rewarded with a very low initial interest rate — much lower than a comparable fixed rate loan, anyway.

Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage survey highlights this point.

The interest rate gap between fixed-rate mortgages and adjustable-rate mortgages is growing. It peaked 2 weeks ago, but remains huge at 1.16 percentage points.

On a $200,000 home loan, this 1.16 FRM/ARM spread yields a monthly principal + interest payment difference of $136, or $8,160 over 5 years, the typical initial teaser rate period.

Savings like that can be compelling and may push you toward an adjustable rate loan.

You might also consider a 5-year ARM over a fixed-rate loan if any of these scenarios apply:

  1. You’re buying a new home with the intent to sell it within 5 years
  2. You’re currently financed with a 30-year fixed mortgage and have plans to sell the home within 5 years
  3. You’re interested in low payments, and are comfortable with longer-term payment uncertainty

Furthermore, homeowners whose existing ARMs are due for adjustment might want to refinance into a brand new ARM, if only to push the teaser rate period farther into the future.

Before choosing ARM over fixed, though, make sure you speak with your loan officer about how adjustable rate mortgages work, and their near- and long-term risks. The payment savings may be tempting, but with an ARM, the payments are never permanent.

Categories: Mortgage Rates

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : April 4, 2011

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Unemployment Rate 2008-2011In a volatile week of trading, mortgage markets closed unchanged last week. Despite economic data proving stronger-than-expected — a situation that tends to lead mortgage rates higher — concern for persistently high oil prices tempered Wall Street’s excitement and mortgage rates stayed steady.

That’s not to say rates weren’t volatile, however. From day-to-day, mortgage rates showed huge variance last week and several lenders issued five separate rate sheets Friday.

The 12-month average is slightly less than two per day.

Expect the volatility to continue into this week, too. With little economic data due for release, mortgage rates should move on momentum. This would be good news for rate shoppers and home buyers throughout virginia because mortgage rates ended last week on a downswing.

It’s all because of the March jobs report.

The jobs report is important to the economy because as the number of working Americans grows, so does total earned wages nationwide. In theory, this leads to higher levels of consumer spending, and to larger government tax receipts.

It starts a cycle in which businesses and governments additional workers and the cycle continues.

The U.S. economy added jobs in March for the sixth straight month.

Mortgage rates are 0.69% higher today as compared to their early-November 2010 lows. The jump has added 14 percent to the 30-year, long-term cost of homeownership in arlington. However, as compared to history, rates remain low.

If you’re currently shopping for a mortgage, talk to your loan officer about today’s market and its risks. Rates may not rise this week, but they’re poised to surge along with the economy. Consider locking in today.

Categories: Mortgage Rates

How Does Your Work Commute Compare To Other Cities?

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Average Commute Times In The US, By County

As part of the Census Bureau’s data collection activities from 2005-2009, a number of interesting charts have been published at http://census.gov.

The data should not be confused with Census 2010 — a separate survey conducted every 10 years. This is the first-ever, 5-year American Community Survey. Based on data from 3 million households, it details social, economic, housing, and demographic data “for every community in the nation“.

Among the surveys:

  • Median Household Income, Inflation-Adjusted To 2009 Dollars (Chart)
  • Median Housing Value Of Owner-Occupied Housing Units (Chart)
  • Percent Of Households That Are Married, With Children Under 18 (Chart)

The ACS survey also charts average commute time by county. The chart is shown at top.

Whether you live in a “long commute” town like Richmond, NY (40 minutes), or a “short commute” town like King, TX (3.4 minutes), rising gas prices have made commute times and distances relevant to everyone.

Since the start of 2011, the average price for gasoline is higher by 54 cents per gallon. Assuming 22 miles per gallon on a passenger car, that’s an increase of 2.5 cents of gasoline per mile driven in the last 90 days. It’s a cost that adds up quickly, and can affect a household budget. Plan for higher pump prices moving forward, too. Historically, gas prices surge between April and June.

The American Community Survey is loaded with charts and data. It can tell you a lot about your current neighborhood, and any neighborhood to which you may want to relocate. Then, to bridge the ACS data with community details such as school performance and typical home prices, talk to a real estate professional.

Categories: Rankings

Lock Now? Friday’s Job Report Expected To Push Mortgage Rates Up.

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Net new jobs (2009-2011)Friday is a pivotal day for mortgage markets and conforming mortgage rates across virginia. At 8:30 AM ET, the government will release its March Non-Farm Payrolls report.

More commonly known as “the jobs report”, the monthly Non-Farm Payrolls is a market-mover and home buyers would do well to pay attention. Depending on the report’s strength, mortgage rates could rise, or fall, by a measurable amount tomorrow morning.

It’s because so much of the today’s mortgage market is tied to the economy, and economic growth is dependant on job growth.

With more job growth, there’s more consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. Additionally, it generates more payroll taxes to local, state and federal governments. This, too, puts the broader economy on more solid footing.

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered 1.5 million of them. Friday, analysts expect to count another 190,000 jobs created. If the actual figure falls short, expect mortgage rates to ease.

Otherwise, look for rates to rise. Probably by a lot.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage right now, consider your personal risk tolerance. Once the BLS releases its data, it will be too late to lock in at today’s interest rates. If the idea of rising mortgage rates makes you nervous, execute your rate lock today instead.

On a 30-year fixed rate loan, each 1/8 percent increase to rates adds roughly $7 per $100,000 borrowed.

Categories: The Economy

January 2011 Case-Shiller Index : Weak And Flawed

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Case-Shiller Annual Change January 2011

Standard & Poors released its Case-Shiller Index for the month of January this week. The index is a home valuation tool, measuring the monthly and annual changes in home prices in select cities nationwide.

January’s Case-Shiller Index gave a poor showing. As compared to December 2010, home values dropped in 19 of the Case-Shiller Index’s 20 tracked markets. Only Washington, D.C. gained. The results were only modestly better on an annual basis, too.

18 of 20 markets worsened in the 12 months ending January 2011.

According to the report, values are down 3.1% from last year, retreating to the same levels from Summer 2003. As a buyer or seller in today’s market, though, don’t read too much into it. The Case-Shiller Index is far too flawed to be the final word in housing.

The index has 3 main flaws, in fact.

The first flaw is the Case-Shiller Index’s lack of breadth. The report is positioned as a national index, but its data is sourced from just 20 cities nationwide.

Putting that number in perspective: the Case-Shiller Index tracks home values from fewer than 1% of the 3,100 U.S. municipalities — yet still calls the report a “U.S. Average”.

A second flaw in the Case-Shiller Index is how it measures home price changes, specifically. Because the index only considers “repeat sales” of the same home in its calculations, and only tracks single-family, detached property, it doesn’t capture the “full” U.S. market. Condominiums, multi-family homes, and new construction are ignored in the Case-Shiller Index algorithm. 

In some regions, homes of these excluded types represent a large percentage of the market.

And, lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is flawed because of the amount of time required to release it.

Today, it’s almost April and we’re talking about closed home resales from January which is really comprised of homes that went under contract in October — close to 6 months ago. Sales prices from 6 months ago is of little value to today’s arlington home buyer, of course.

The Case-Shiller Index can be a helpful tool for economists and policy-makers trying to make sense of the broader housing market, but it tends to fail for individuals in rosslyn like you and me. When you want accurate, real-time housing figures for your local market, talk to your real estate professional instead.

Categories: Housing Analysis

Pending Home Sales Rebound; Suggest Brighter Spring For Housing

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Pending Home Sales (Aug 2009 - Feb 2011)

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Pending Home Sales Index rose 2 percent last month, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. A “pending home sale” is defined as a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed.

February’s Pending Home Sales Index rebound breaks a 2-month losing streak, and reverses the recent downward momentum in housing. Both Existing Home Sales and New Home Sales volume showed a sizable loss last month. 

For buyers and sellers of real estate in arlington , the Pending Home Sales Index is of particular import. It’s one of the few forward-looking indicators in housing, and February’s data suggests a stronger spring season than was the winter.

Region-by-region, Pending Home Sales data varied:

  • Northeast Region: -10.9%
  • Midwest Region : +4.0%
  • South Region : +2.7%
  • West Region : +7.0%

3 of 4 regions showed marked improvement, which is good for housing. In the fourth — New England — it’s likely that inclement weather hampered results.

February was colder-than-normal and the month capped a record-breaking snowfall season for the region. Anecdotally, fewer homes are sold in the cold-and-snow of winter and it’s likely that the weather affected local housing markets.

Looking to March and April, therefore, we should expect Existing Home Sales data to rebound. This is because 80% of “pending” homes close within 60 days, and because improving weather should release pent-up demand for housing.

More sales plus higher home demand tends to lead home prices higher. If you’re in the market for a new home, consider that your best negotiation leverage comes in a weak market. As the seasons turn, your leverage looks poised to slip.

The best time to buy this year may be right now.

Categories: Housing Analysis

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : March 28, 2011

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Jobs in focus this week (again)Mortgage markets worsened last week as nuclear meltdown concerns eased across Japan, and the war within Libya moved closer to a potential finish.

Wall Street voted with its dollars, and a return to risk-taking emerged. “Safe haven” buying softened last week and, as a result, conforming mortgage rates in virginia made their biggest 1-week spike since late-January.

Mortgage rates remain historically low, but well above their November 2010 lows.

This week, rates could run higher again. Friday’s jobs report is a major story and it will affect mortgage rates in arlington and across the country. Jobs are a key component of the nation’s economic recovery, and as the economy has improved, mortgage rates have tended to rise.

Economists expect that 190,000 jobs were created in March. If they’re correct, it will raise the 12-month tally to 1.3 million net new jobs created nationwide. This is still less than the 2 million jobs lost in the 12 months prior, but it’s a positive step that suggests sustained growth.

A positive net new jobs figure for March would mark the first time since June 2007 that jobs growth was net positive 6 months in a row. If March’s final figures are better than expected, expected mortgage rates to rise. If the figures are less, look for rates to fall.

The Unemployment Rate is expected to stay sub-9.0 percent, too.

Other news that could change rates this week include Monday’s Pending Home Sales report, Tuesday’s Consumer Confidence data, and any one of the 4 speeches from members of the Fed. In general, data and/or rhetoric that suggest more growth in 2011 will cause mortgage rates to rise.

If you are still floating a mortgage rate and have yet to lock one in, this week may represent your last chance for low rates. Good news about the economy will put pressure on mortgage rates to rise.

Categories: Mortgage Rates


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