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Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

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Get Rid of Things You Don't Need

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Get Rid of Things You Don't Need

Periodically, you need to rid yourself of things that are taking up you time and space to make room for more of what you like and want.

There's a frequently quoted suggestion that if you haven't used something for two years, maybe it isn't essential in your life. 

If you have books you'll never read again, give them to someone who will.  If you have a deviled egg plate that hasn't been used since the year your Aunt Phoebe gave it to you, it's out of there.  Periodically, go through every closet, drawer, cabinet, room and storage area to get rid of the things that are just taking up space in your home and your life.

Every item receives the decision to keep or get rid of.  Consider these questions as you judge each item:

  • When was the last time you used it?
  • Do you believe you'll use it again?
  • Is there a sentimental reason to keep it?

You have four options for the things that you're not going to keep. 

  1. Give it to someone who needs it or will appreciate it
  2. Sell it in a garage sale or on Craig's List.
  3. Donate it to a charity and receive a tax deduction
  4. Discard it to the trash.

Start with your closet.  If you haven't worn something in five years, get rid of it.  Then, go through the things again and if you haven't worn it in two years, ask yourself the real probability that you'll wear it again.

Another way to do it is to move it from your active closet to another closet.  If a year goes by in the other closet, the next time you go through this exercise, those clothes are on their way out.

If the items taking up space are financial records and receipts, the solution may be to scan them and store them in the cloud.  There are plenty of sites that will offer you several gigabytes of free space and it may cost as little as $10 a month for 100 GB at Dropbox, to get the additional space you need.  It will certainly be cheaper than the mini-storage building.

Qualified Charitable Contribution

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Qualified Charitable Contribution

If you're at an age where you need to be taking Required Minimum Distributions (age 70.5) from your IRA, a qualified charitable contribution and some planning may allow you to lower your overall tax liability.

Let's say that a couple's 2019 itemized deductions include $8,000 in property taxes, $4,400 in interest and $20,000 in charitable contributions.  That would total $32,400 which exceeds the 2019 $25,300 standard deduction for married couples, 65 years of age or older, filing jointly. 

Their required minimum distribution from their IRA is $40,000 which will be taxed at ordinary income.  If this couple is in the 24% tax bracket, the tax liability would be $9,600.

Alternatively, if they made the $20,000 in charitable contributions from their IRA as a Qualified Charitable Contribution, it would not be taxable in the withdrawal.  The balance of the RMD of $20,000 would be taxable at 24% which would have a tax liability of $4,800.

Their $32,400 worth of itemized deductions would be reduced by the $20,000 because it was paid from the IRA which makes their itemized deductions $12,400.  The $25,300 standard deduction would benefit them more by an amount of $12,900 increased deductions.  At 24%, this would reduce their liability by $3,096.

In the first instance, they would owe $9,600 in taxes due to the $40,000 RMD from their IRA.  In the second example, because of the increased amount by taking the standard deduction, the net tax liability would be $1,704 ($9,600 - $4,800 - $3,096 = $1,704).

This example shows how shifting contributions to a Qualified Charitable Contribution will get the same amount to the charity but lower the Required Minimum Distribution that must be recognized as ordinary income.  The shifting also gives the taxpayers the advantage of a higher amount of the standard deduction than the itemized deduction.

As always, before taking action, you should get advice from your tax professional on how this strategy may impact you.  There is information available on www.IRS.com for IRS Required Minimum Distribution FAQs and Qualified Charitable Distributions.

Auto Pay Your Mortgage Payment

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Auto Pay Your Mortgage Payment

In the time that it takes to write one check, you can set it up with your bank and never have to do it again.  You won't have to write checks, envelopes or buy stamps anymore.  You'll save time, money and benefit in other ways too.

  1. Never be late ... avoid late fees and protect your credit
  2. Schedule additional principal contributions monthly to save interest, build equity and shorten the mortgage term.
    An extra $200 a month applied to the principal on a $200,000 mortgage at 4.5% for 30 years will result in shortening the loan by 8.5 years.  If the loan was paid to term, it would save $52,977 in interest.  Use the Equity Accelerator to see how much you can save.
  3. It's convenient ... by doing it online with your bank, you'll have a centralized history of the payments.
  4. Protect your credit ... your payment history is the single biggest component of your credit score and accounts for over 1/3 of your credit score.

Establishing the practice of auto bill pay could run the risk of overdrawing an account and incurring overdraft charges.  Monitor your bank account to be sure that you have enough cash to cover your automatic payments.

Schedule the Auto Pay to allow for processing and the time it takes to reach the lender so that you don't incur late fees.

And even though, you set up the Auto Pay, it is still your responsibility to monitor your bank account to see that they are executing it properly.  If you are making additional principal contributions, you must see that the extra amount was indeed applied to principal reduction and not somewhere else like in the escrow account.

Some banks offer email or text reminders to let you know when checks are about to be written or if your balance is low.

To-Do List for Better Homeowners

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

To-Do List for Better Homeowners

Checklists work because they contain the important things that need to be done.  They provide a reminder about things we know and realize but may have slipped our minds as well as inform us about things we didn't consider.  Periodic attention to these areas can protect the investment in your home.

  1. Change HVAC filters regularly.  Consider purchasing a supply of the correct sizes needed online and they'll even remind you when it's time to order them again.
  2. Change batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors annually.
  3. Create and regularly update a Home Inventory to keep track of personal belongings in case of burglary or casualty loss.
  4. Keep track of capital improvements, with a Homeowners Tax Guide, made to your home throughout the year that increases your basis and lowers gain.
  5. Order free credit reports from all three bureaus once a year at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
  6. Challenge your property tax assessment when you receive that year's assessment when you feel that the value is too high.  We can supply the comparable sales and you can handle the rest.
  7. Establish a family emergency plan identifying the best escape routes and where family members should meet after leaving the home.
  8. If you have a mortgage, verify the unpaid balance and if additional principal payments were applied properly.  Use a Equity Accelerator to estimate how long it will take to retire your mortgage.
  9. Keep trees pruned and shrubs trimmed away from house to enhance visual appeal, increase security and prevent damage.
  10. Have heating and cooling professionally serviced annually.
  11. Check toilets periodically to see if they're leaking water and repair if necessary.
  12. Clean gutters twice a year to control rainwater away from your home to protect roof, siding and foundation.
  13. To identify indications of foundation issues, periodically, check around perimeter of home for cracks in walls or concrete.  Do doors and windows open properly? 
  14. Peeling or chipping paint can lead to wood and interior damage.  Small areas can be touched-up but multiple areas may indicate that the whole exterior needs painting.
  15. If there is a chimney and fires are burned in the fireplace, it will need to be inspected and possibly cleaned.
  16. If the home has a sprinkler system, manually turn the sprinklers on, one station at a time to determine if they are working and aimed properly.  Evaluate if the timers are set properly.  Look for pooling water that could indicate a leak underground.
  17. Have your home inspected for termites.

Instead of remembering when you need to do these different things, use your calendar to create a system.  As an example, make a new appointment with "change the HVAC filters" in the subject line.  Select the recurring event button and decide the pattern.  For instance, set this one for monthly, every two months with no end date.  You can schedule a time or just an all-day event will show at the top of your calendar that day.

By scheduling as many of these items as you can, you won't forget that they need to be done.  If you don't delete them from the calendar, you'll continue to be "nagged" until you finally do them.

If you have questions or need a recommendation of a service provider, give us a call at (302) 537-3171.  We deal with issues like this regularly and have experience with workers who are reputable and reasonable.

More Than Just an Address

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

More Than Just an Address

For a short time after the housing crisis a decade ago, some homeowners thought the value of home is a place to live rather than an investment.  A home certainly has an appeal as a place to call your own, raise your family, share with your friends and feel safe and secure.  It can be more than an address; it can also be one of the largest investments homeowners have.

Most mortgages apply a portion of the payment toward the principal amount owed in order to pay off the loan by the end of the term.  This acts like a forced savings for the homeowner because as the loan is reduced, the equity grows which increases their net worth.

The other contributor to equity is appreciation.  Most homeowners don't realize the increase in value until they sell the home or do a cash-out refinance, but the increase is real and part of their equity.  If the expected appreciation is averaged over the anticipated time for the home to be owned, the value of the equity increase can be proportioned annually or monthly.

Combining appreciation and principal reduction with leverage, it's possible to build a case that a home is definitely an investment.  Leverage is the ability to control a larger asset with a smaller amount of cash using borrowed funds.  It has been described as using other people's money to increase your yield and it applies to homeowners and investors alike.

The table on the picture above shows that even a modest amount of appreciation combined with the amortization of a loan can cause a substantial rate of return on the down payment and closing costs.

This example assumes a 3% acquisition costs on the home with a 4.5% mortgage rate and the resulting equity at the end of five years.  The larger down payments lower the yield because it decreases the amount of borrowed funds.

If a borrower buys a home that appreciates at 2% a year with a 3.5% down payment on a FHA loan for 30 years, the down payment and acquisition cost factored by the equity will produce a 28% return on investment each year during the five year period.

A home can be many things including an investment.  You can use this Rent vs. Own calculator to see the effect that appreciation and principal reduction can have on a home purchase in your price range.  If you have any questions, I'm a phone call away at (302) 537-3171.

Depends If You Can Afford It

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Depends If You Can Afford It

Affordability, stability and flexibility are the three reasons homebuyers overwhelmingly choose a 30-year term.  The payments are lower, easier to qualify for the mortgage and they can always make additional principal contributions.

However, for those who can afford a higher payment and commit to the 15-year term, there are three additional reasons: lower mortgage interest rate, build equity faster and retire the debt sooner.

The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is the loan of choice for first-time buyers who are more likely to use a minimum down payment and are concerned with affordable payments.  For a more experienced buyer who doesn't mind and can qualify making larger payments, there are some advantages.

Consider a $200,000 mortgage at 30 year and 15-year terms with recent mortgage rates at 4.2% and 3.31% respectively.  The payment is $433.15 less on the 30-year term but the interest being charged is higher.  The total interest paid by the borrower if each of the loans was retired would be almost three times more for the 30-year term.

Let's look at a $300,000 mortgage with 4.41% being quoted on the 30-year and 3.84% on the 15-year.  The property taxes and insurance would be the same on either loan.  The interest rate is a little over a half a percent lower on the 15-year loan, but it also has a $691.03 higher principal and interest payment due to the shorter term.

The principal contribution on the first payment of the 30-year loan is $401.56 and it is $1,235.09 on the 15-year loan.  The mortgage is being reduced by $833.53 more which exceeds the increased payment on the 15-year by $142.50.  Interestingly, over three times more is being paid toward the principal.

Some people might suggest getting a 30-year loan and then, making the payments as if they were on a 15-year loan.  That would certainly accelerate amortization and save interest.  The real challenge is the discipline to make the payments on a consistent basis if you don't have to.  Many experts cite that one of the benefits of homeownership is a forced savings that occurs due to the amortization that is not necessarily done by renters.

Use this 30-year vs. 15-year financial app to compare mortgages in your price range.  A 15-year mortgage will be approximately half a percent cheaper in rate.  You can also check current rates at FreddieMac.com.

When It's Important...Find the Facts

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

When It's Important...Find the Facts

Most parents don't put a lot of credence in the statements "Everyone is doing it" and "No one does that anymore."  They'll dig a little deeper and get the facts of the situation.  Interestingly, when it comes to buying a home, similar common myths continue to prevail surrounding what it takes to buy a home.

One of the most common myths is that it takes 20% down payment to get into a home.  Certainly, an 80% mortgage might have the most favorable interest rate. It won't require mortgage insurance and qualifying requirements might be a little less but there are alternatives.

"88% of all buyers financed their homes last year and consistent with previous years, younger buyers were more likely to finance their home purchase.  In 2018, the median down payment was 13% for all buyers, 7% for first-time buyers and 16% for repeat buyers." Stated by the 2018 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers.

  • Qualified Veterans are eligible for zero down payment, 100% mortgage loans without mortgage insurance.
  • Conventional loans are available with as little as 3-5% down payments.
  • FHA mortgages have a 3.5% down payment.
  • USDA mortgages for rural housing have two major products: one does not require a down payment and the other has a 3% down payment.  Maps, based on population numbers, are available to determine if the area you're interested in purchasing in is eligible for a USDA mortgage.

We've come to believe that facts can be instantly verified by searching on the Internet.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of things on the Internet that are questionable and certainly, that includes some information on mortgages.  Specifically, some loans are not available in certain areas and to a particular persons based on their income and credit history.

The best approach, when it comes to buying a home, is to get the facts from a knowledgeable and trusted loan professional before you begin the home search process.  Contact me at (302) 537-3171 for a recommendation.

 A website may not provide relevant information for your individual situation.  Purchasing a home is a large investment and taking the time to find out the facts is worth the effort.

Your Real Estate Resource

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Your Real Estate Resource

Being a better homeowner is a full-time job.  It takes good information to make good decisions not only when you buy and sell but all the years you own a home.

Think of times when you need advice on financing, taxes, insurance, maintenance, finding reasonable and reliable contractors and lots of other things.  Imagine how nice it would be to have a real estate information line you could call whenever you have a question.

Our objective is to move from a one-time sale to customers for life; a select group of friends and past customers who consider us their lifelong real estate professional.  We believe that if we help you and your friends with all your real estate needs, we can earn the privilege to be your real estate professional.

Throughout the year, we'll send reminders and suggestions by email and social media that enhance your homeowner experience.  When we find good articles to help you be a better homeowner, we'll pass them along.  You'll discover new ways to maintain your property, minimize expenses and manage debt and risk. 

We want to be your "Go-To" person for everything to do with real estate.  We're here for you and your friends...now and in the future.  Please let us know how we can help you.

Is a Home Equity Loan an Option?

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Is a Home Equity Loan an Option?

Here's the scenario: you have a project and need to borrow some money, but you want to do it in the most economic manner.  You've got a low rate on your existing first mortgage and don't want to do a cash-out refinance and pay a higher rate.  Is a home equity loan an option?

Prior to 2018, homeowners could have up to $100,000 of home equity debt and deduct the interest on their personal tax return.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the home equity deduction unless the money is used for capital improvements.

Regardless of the deductibility, lenders will still loan money to owners who have equity in their home and good credit.  The most common reasons people borrow against their home equity are:

  • Consolidate debt with higher interest rates
  • Make improvements on their home
  • Refinance an existing home equity line of credit
  • Down payment for another home or rental investment
  • Creating reserves or available access for potential needs

One available loan is a fixed-rate home equity loan, commonly referred to as a second mortgage.  It is usually funded at one time, with amortized payments for terms that could range from five to fifteen years.

Another option is a home equity line of credit or HELOC, where a homeowner is approved for up to a certain amount at a floating-rate over a ten-year period.  The borrower can draw against the amount as needed and would pay interest every month and eventually, pay down the principal.

The amount of money that can be borrowed is determined by the equity.  Lenders generally will not exceed 80% of the value of the home.  If a home was worth $400,000, the 80% ceiling would be $320,000.  If the homeowner had an unpaid balance on their first loan of $240,000, an amount up to $80,000 would be possible.

The next variable is the borrowers' credit score which will determine the rate of interest that will be charged.  The higher the score, the lower the rate the borrower will pay.  And the converse is true, the lower the score, the higher the rate.

Another common variable considered is the borrowers' total debt to income ratio.  Ideally, the combination of regular monthly debt payments should not exceed 43% of their monthly gross income.

If you have good credit and an adequate amount of equity, your home could be the source of the funds you need.  There is a lot of competition among lenders and shopping around can make a difference.

Call us at (302) 537-3171 for a recommendation of a trusted mortgage professional.  If you have questions about whether the interest on the loan will be deductible, talk to your tax professional.

Home Inventory

by Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS

Home Inventory

Generally speaking, when you need an inventory of your personal belongings, it is too late to make one.  Sure, you can reconstruct it but undoubtedly, you'll forget things and that can cost you money when filing your insurance claim.

Most homeowner's policies have a certain amount of coverage for personal items that can be 40-60% of the value of the home.

Homeowners who have a loss are usually asked by the insurance company for proof of purchase which can come in the form of a receipt or current inventory of their personal belongings.

The most organized people might find it difficult, if not impossible, to find receipts for the valuable things in their home.  Think about when you're rummaging around a drawer or closet looking for something else and you discover something that you had totally forgotten that you had.

An inventory is like insurance for your insurance policy to be certain that you list everything possible if you need to make a claim.  Systematically, make a list of the items by going through the rooms, along with the drawers and closets.  In a clothes closet, you can list the number of shirts, pants, dresses and pairs of shoes but higher cost items should be listed separately.

Photographs and videos can be adequate proof that the items belonged to the insured.  A series of pictures of the different rooms, closets, cabinets and drawers can be very helpful.  When video is used, consider narrating as it is shot and be sure to go slow enough and close enough to see the things clearly.

For more suggestions and an easy to use, interactive form, download a Home Inventory, complete it, and save a copy off premise, either in a safety deposit box or digitally in the cloud if you have server-based storage available like Dropbox.

home inventory 001.png

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Photo of Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS Real Estate
Audrey and Frank Serio, CRS
Lucido Global of Keller Williams Realty
39682 Sunrise CT
Bethany Beach DE 19930
Direct: 302.537.3171
Office: 302-360-0300 x 435