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.

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Standard or Itemized Deductions


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples. There will be some instances that homeowners may be better off taking the standard deduction than itemizing their deductions. In the past, homeowners would most likely be better off itemizing but the $10,000 limit of state and local taxes (SALT) adds one more issue to consider.

Let’s look at a hypothetical homeowner to see how a strategy that has been around for years could benefit them now even though they haven’t used it in the past. The strategy is called bunching; by timing the payments in a tax year so that they can be combined to make a larger deduction.

Let’s say that the married couple filing jointly has a $285,000 mortgage at 5% for 30 years that has about $14,000 in interest being paid. The property taxes are $6,000 and they have $4,000 a year in charitable contributions for a total of $24,000 of allowable itemized deductions on Schedule A.

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Since that deduction amount is the same as the Standard Deduction, there is no monetary advantage one way or the other. However, if the taxpayers were to pay their interest because they must make timely house payments but only pay $2,000 of the 2018 property taxes in December of 2018 and the balance of the $4,000 in January, they transfer part of the deduction into 2019.

Additionally, if they make their intended charitable contribution for 2018 in January of 2019, it makes that deductible on the 2019 return.

Since the total deductible amounts paid out in 2018 was $16,000, the taxpayers would have an $8,000 benefit that year from taking the Standard Deduction.

Assuming they made the same $4,000 charitable contribution in 2019 during the year and paid the house payment and property taxes on time, their total deductions for 2019 would be $32,000 which is $8,000 more than the Standard Deduction.

In this example, the taxpayers in 2018 and 2019, would benefit a total of $16,000 in tax deductions by bunching and electing to take the standard deduction one year and itemizing the next.

This is only an example but if your situation is similar, it might benefit you to consider an alternative when to take the standard deduction and when to itemize. This is a conversation you need to have with your tax professional to see if it would work for you.

Eliminate FHA Mortgage Insurance


Mortgage insurance premium can add almost $200 to the payment on a $265,000 FHA mortgage. The decision to get an FHA loan may have been the lower down payment requirement or the lower credit score levels, but now that you have the loan, is it possible to eliminate it?

Mortgage Insurance Premium protects lenders in case of a borrower’s default and is required on FHA loans. The Up-Front MIP is currently 1.75% of the base loan amount and paid at the time of closing. Annual MIP for loans with greater than 95% loan-to-value is .85% per year.

For loans with FHA case numbers assigned before June 3, 2013, when the loan is paid down to 78% of the original loan amount, the MIP can be cancelled. The borrower may need to contact the current servicer.

However, for loans greater than 90% with FHA case numbers assigned on or after that date, the MIP is required for the term of the loan.

Most homeowners with FHA mortgages are not eligible to cancel the MIP because they either originated their loan after June 3, 2013, put less than 10% down payment and/or got a 30-year loan. If they have at least 20% equity in the home, they can refinance the home with an 80% conventional loan which in most cases, does not require mortgage insurance.

With normal amortization on a 30-year loan, it takes approximately 11-years to reduce the original loan to the 78-80% requirement based on normal amortization. There is another dynamic involved which is the appreciation on the home. As the home goes up in value and the unpaid balance goes down, the equity increases.

If the homeowners believe that they have enough equity that would eliminate the need for mortgage insurance, they can investigate refinancing with a conventional loan. Borrowers refinancing will incur expenses in starting a new mortgage and the interest rate may be higher than the existing rate. Analysis will determine how long it will take to recapture the cost of refinancing.

Call me as (503) 289-4970 for a recommendation of a trusted mortgage professional.

Two Surprising Facts About Collection Accounts


Ask Carolyn Warren

What you don’t know about collections can hurt your credit score.

Here are two facts most people don’t know:

1) The balance does not affect your credit score.

Whether you owe $100 or $10,000, it makes no difference in your credit score. A collection is a collection is a collection. Why?

Because a large balance might indicate a person has a high income; whereas, a small balance might indicate a person had a low credit card limit and therefore has a low income. Since it is illegal to consider income for credit scoring, the credit reporting agencies are barred from making a difference in score due to the balance.

This is important to know, because if you’re thinking your score will go up as you pay down the balance, you are in for a disappointment. The only way you will get your score to go up is by the collection…

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What’s Ahead for 2019?


Ask Carolyn Warren

The important thing about looking ahead is to prepare so that we aren’t caught unaware.

With that in mind, here are my comments on the predictions for the New Year.

Forecast: Interest rates will go up.

Comment: For the past five years, economists predicted rates to rise. Only in 2018 were they right. The year ended with rates about .5% higher than 12/2017. My opinion is that rates will increase moderately in the first quarter and then go flat.

Forecast: House sales will increase but at a  slower pace  than the past two years.

Comment: I don’t see how that could be wrong. Young people are coming into home buying age faster than old people are going into assisted living. Immigrants also need housing. The frantic, insane bidding wars are over — and that’s good.

Forecast: About three quarters of economists believe a recession is coming somewhere between late 2019…

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Year End Tax Newsletter


One of the first steps in a good outcome is knowing a little bit about what you’re about to undertake. By being aware of some of the areas regarding homes that may not come up every year in a tax return, you’ll be able to point them out to your tax professional or seek more information from IRS.gov.

Look through this list of items for things that could affect your tax return. Even if you have relied on the same tax professional for years to look out for your best interests, they need to be aware that there could be something different in this year’s return.

If you bought a home for a principal residence last year, check your closing statement and identify any points or pre-paid interest that you or the seller paid based on the mortgage you received. These can be deducted on your Schedule A as qualified home interest if you itemize your deductions. See Home Mortgage Interest Deduction | IRS Publication 936 (2018 version not released as of this newsletter).

Keep track of all money you spend on your home that might be considered a capital improvement. Get in the habit of putting receipts for money spent on your home that is not the house payment or utility bills. Repairs are not tax deductible but improvements, even small ones, can be added to the basis of your home which can lower the gain when the home is sold. Years from now, your tax preparer can sift through them and determine whether they’re capital improvements or maintenance. See Increases to Basis | IRS Publication 523 Selling Your Home (2018 version not released as of this newsletter).

By making additional principal contributions with your mortgage payment, you’ll save interest, build equity and shorten the term of a fixed-rate mortgage. See Equity Accelerator.

If you sold a home last year, the payoff on your old mortgage included interest from the last payment you made to the date of the payoff. That interest is tax deductible. You may need a breakdown of the payoff to the mortgage company; you should be able to get that from your closing officer.

If you refinanced your home, unlike a home purchase, points paid to refinance are not deductible as interest in the year paid; they must spread ratably over the life of the mortgage. See Home Mortgage Interest Deduction | IRS Publication 936 (2018 version not released as of this newsletter).

For homeowners who have lost a spouse, there is an exception regarding the exclusion on the sale of a principal residence. If the surviving spouse concludes a sale of the home within two years of the death of their spouse, they may exclude up to $500,000, instead of $250,000 for single taxpayers, of gain provided ownership and use tests are met prior to death.

The two-year period begins on the date of death and ends two years after that date. See Sale of Main Home by Surviving Spouse | IRS Publication 523 Selling Your Home (2018 version not released as of this newsletter).

There could be significant tax consequences to a person selling a home that was received as a gift as compared to receiving the home through inheritance. With a gift, the basis of the donor becomes the basis of the donee. With inheritance, the heir usually gets a stepped-up basis and avoids potential unrecognized gain. See Home Received as Inheritance | IRS Publication 523 Selling Your Home (2018 version not released as of this newsletter).

Click here to download a Homeowners Tax Guide. This is meant for information purposes only and advice from a qualified tax professional should be sought to find out about your individual situation.tax guide 001.png

Your Real Estate Resource


Being a better homeowner is a full-time job. It’s not just about making better decisions when you buy and sell; it’s making better decisions throughout the time you own the home.

It takes good information to make good decisions. 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.

During the purchase or sale, the obvious place to get real estate answers is your agent but where do you go the rest of the time? Since homeowners are now staying in their homes for ten to twelve years or more, they need a reliable resource for good information and advice.

Our objective is to move from a single purchase or sale to customers for life; a select group of our friends and past customers who consider us their lifelong real estate professional. We believe that if we help you and your friends with all their real estate needs not just when they buy or sell but for all the years in between, 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. If you have a question, please call us at (503) 289-4970. If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find it for you or at least, point you in the right direction.

We’re here for you and your friends…now and in the future. Please let us know how we can help you.