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The IRS will grant an automatic extension to anyone who asks. But you still have to estimate what you owe and send the money.

For taxpayers who can’t manage the April 15 deadline, the Internal Revenue Service offers an automatic six-month filing extension. This year the due date is Oct. 15, and taxpayers qualify by filing Form 4868.

 

Getting an extension is preferable to filing a return with mistakes, says Melissa Labant, a tax specialist with the American Institute of CPAs. “If you have already filed, then you will need to amend the return, which is often more trouble,” she says.

 

Remember that an extension to file isn’t an extension to pay. Uncle Sam wants 100% of the total tax by the April due date, or interest and perhaps a late-payment penalty will be due.

 

Here are common reasons to seek an extension.

 

Incomplete records, especially for investments or a closely held business. A sore point with many tax preparers is that brokers sometimes issue multiple Form 1099s reporting investment tax information.

Lack of a letter confirming a charitable contribution. The law is clear: Taxpayers must have proper notification from a charity before deducting a donation. “Get that letter before you file,” Labant says.

 

Roth IRA reversal. Taxpayers who converted all or part of a regular IRA to a Roth account have until the October due date the following year to undo the conversion, which is taxable. That might be a good idea if assets in the Roth account have fallen in value since the conversion.

 

Roth IRA owners who file in April can amend their returns before Oct. 15 to undo last year’s conversion, but filing for an extension is often the easier route.

 

You are traveling, or it is your busy season. Harried tax preparers often file extensions for their own returns.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: MSN Money partner

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Lenders look at other factors, not your credit score alone, before approving a condo loan.

Some lenders can make condo buyers with pristine credit feel like rejects. Blame it on the building.

Before making a loan to a would-be buyer, lenders comb through the building’s financial statements to see if too many condos remain unsold, or if units are mostly rentals instead of owner-occupied. Lenders also look to see if the building’s cash reserves, which help cover maintenance costs, are too low.

These factors — which have nothing to do with a potential buyer’s finances — can put a chokehold on a loan.

A lot of condo buildings don’t make the grade. At national lender EverBank, for instance, roughly 30% of condo mortgage applicants encounter a roadblock due to the building’s finances. “A perfect borrower can’t fix a bad project,” says Tom Wind, executive vice president of residential and consumer lending at EverBank.

Shaky condos have been popping up more frequently over the past two to three years, even in luxury buildings, says Zeke Morris, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. Real-estate agents say they’re also prevalent in other markets, including Houston and Miami.

In general, lenders say they view condos as riskier purchases than other homes. Much of that stems from condo-association fees. If existing owners are behind on those payments or many units remain unsold, monthly fees are likely to rise to help cover costs.

At some point, lenders argue, those expenses could rise to a level where an owner can no longer afford to pay the fees and walks away from the property, leaving the lender with the outstanding mortgage. That’s why, currently, it is almost impossible to get a mortgage — regardless of your wealth — if more than 15% of condos in a building are behind on dues, says Jeff Gennarelli, president of Bridgeview Bank Mortgage Co., based in Lombard, Ill.

But luxury buyers have alternatives besides paying all cash for the condo. One is private mortgages, loans that lenders hold on their books rather than sell to the government. They tend to be larger than traditional loans, require larger down payments and are often offered only as adjustable-rate mortgages. Rates are also generally higher than traditional mortgages.

Private loans are sometimes the only source of financing for condos sold in luxury hotels and in buildings where more than 20% or 25% of the units consist of commercial space, like restaurants and shopping malls. They’re also common for a condo in a new building where a certain percentage of the units are still owned by the developer.

To find such a loan, borrowers should consider a community bank or other local lending institution where they have a lot of assets or where they have been banking for years, though an existing relationship isn’t always required. Or they can ask mortgage brokers who may know a lender willing to fund such a loan.

The opportunity for profit is partly why these lenders take on the risk when others won’t. Whatever leniency they offer on a building’s finances they often make up for by imposing strict lending requirements, including high credit scores, says Eddie Hoskins, president of First Florida Financial Group, a Fort Myers, Fla.-based mortgage broker that arranges such loans.

Some points to consider when applying for a condo loan:

Get an early start: Buyers should ask lenders for the list of criteria the building will need to meet; then real-estate agents can provide those answers when potential buyers shop for properties.

The type of building: Some condo buildings have a greater risk of not being approved for financing. Jonathan Cherry, senior mortgage banker at Wyndham Capital Mortgage based in Charlotte, N.C., says buyers who want to avoid financing complications might want to stick to mid- to larger-size buildings that are mostly owner-occupied.

Large down payments: With a private mortgage, borrowers often need to make at least a 20% to 30% down payment if it’s a primary residence. If it’s a second home, they could need to put down at least 40%. For investment purposes, cash is among the few options, since a mortgage may be impossible to get.

Rising costs: With adjustable-rate mortgages, rates could be low now but rise in a few years, thereby increasing the monthly mortgage payment. And borrowers could still end up with rising condo dues if the other owners in the building hit hard times.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: AnnaMaria Andriotis of The Wall Street Journal

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When we were building our new construction home, the driveway almost seemed like an afterthought. With everything else so close to being finished, we walked around with a can of orange spray paint imagining the ideal path from the street to our garage doors.

So, if not in our experience, then generally speaking, the driveway occupies an important place in overall home and property design. When planning your driveway, there are several things to consider:

Budget
Sometimes money plays a big role in decision-making on materials. As you are thinking about budget, be sure to factor in the varying long-term costs associated with different types of driveways. While a paver driveway carries relatively high upfront costs, maintaining one isn’t expensive. Gravel, on the other hand, is perhaps the least expensive to install but requires the sort of regular maintenance that doesn’t come cheap. Before deciding on a material, make sure you understand what the driveway’s total cost will be over its anticipated lifetime.

Curb appeal
As viewed from the street, your driveway can make a big impression on the look of your house. And certain materials complement certain architectural styles more than others. A gravel driveway would make a nice visual accompaniment to a farmhouse cottage, whereas a herringbone-pattern brick driveway would better suit a colonial-style residence. In short, think about what your choice of driveway will add to, or take away from, curb appeal.

Climate
Some driveway materials may not be appropriate for the climate where you live. For instance, asphalt endures freeze-thaw cycles better than concrete. And heavy rainfalls can negatively affect driveway surfaces that are more prone to erosion, such as gravel and pea stone. Snow, humidity, rainfall and temperature changes are all factors that ought to influence your final decision. Do your homework.

Maintenance
Each material has its own maintenance requirements. For instance, asphalt requires resealing every three to five years. If you live in a place where plowing snow is necessary, a gravel drive will require replacement of moved material each spring. Is the maintenance required of a given material such that you can do it yourself, or will you need to contract someone to handle the work? A smart driveway design will take these questions into account.

Durability
What kind of traffic will your driveway be getting? Will there be lots of heavy trucks on it, or just passenger cars? Some materials are durable, others more finicky. And what’s the grade like? Gravel and pea-stone drives with a pitch are prone to erosion. Also, how long will the driveway be expected to last — 20 years? 40 years? And what kind of maintenance is required to maximize lifespan?

Whatever material you decide to use for your driveway, make sure you take time to lay it out right. If you’ll need space for guests to park, make sure to allow for that.

Once the rough grading is done, take a test drive into the garage from the street (and back the other way) to make sure it tracks comfortably for your biggest vehicle. You don’t want to swipe off your side-view mirror!

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.468.5753

Original Article By: Jennifer Noonan of BobVila.com

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Here’s just how seriously you should take the radiation emanating from your granite counters, among other potential home hazards.

Every now and then a news report gets people worked up about hidden dangers lurking in their homes. Should you be afraid that the radiation coming from your granite countertop or the flame retardants in your furniture are trying to kill you?

Granite countertops
A beautiful granite countertop can make any kitchen pop. Yet every once in a while people go into panic mode, freaking out about the fact that granite is a rock that can have some radioactive elements and could potentially give off radon, which can be harmful in high concentrations. But while the very mention of the word radiation is enough to stoke fears, you don’t really need to worry about this one. The EPA says that radon is more likely to come into your house from the soil than from your kitchen counters (and granite isn’t a very porous stone to begin with, meaning it doesn’t give out as much radiation as others).

Furthermore, any buildup of radon in the kitchen or bathroom is unlikely, as those rooms tend to have good ventilation systems. “It is extremely unlikely that granite countertops in homes could increase the radiation dose above the normal, natural background dose that comes from soil and rocks,” the EPA says.
Fear rating: Extremely low
Precautions: Be more worried about legitimate dangers in the kitchen, such as food safety and keeping sharp objects and cleaning solutions away from kids.

Particleboard and formaldehyde

Particleboard-based furniture may be great for furnishing your place on a budget. But pressed wood products such as particleboard tend to contain formaldehyde resins in the adhesives that hold the wood particles together. Formaldehyde is a surprisingly common volatile chemical, but it’s definitely not good for you. Luckily, good ventilation and keeping heat and humidity to a minimum can reduce the amount of formaldehyde released from furniture.

Fear Rating: Low
Precautions: Check what kind of adhesives furniture manufacturers used to make your products. Since the 1980s, when the EPA restricted the maximum allowable formaldehyde emissions from this kind of furniture, many companies have made efforts to substantially reduce the amount of the chemical in their production.

Flame retardants

A recent study found that 85% of couches tested in California contained flame retardants that have not been evaluated for human safety.

Couches in California are required to have flame-retardant properties, but some scientists worry that the chemicals used to prevent flaming sofas might be linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological issues — not to mention that these flame retardants aren’t necessarily present at levels in which they are effective at fire prevention.

No decisive link to health problems has been proved. The problem is that the replacements for pentabromodiphenyl ether, which the EPA banned from new products after 2005, haven’t been fully tested, according to study author Heather Stapleton of Duke University. Stapleton says that she and her colleagues are pursuing long-term health studies. The presence of these chemicals in the air outside the couch is worrying — especially as the same kinds of foam are currently used in baby mattresses and supplies.

Look for a label that mentions Technical Bulletin 117 — if it’s there then your couch probably has flame retardants. If it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t flame retardants, it just means that you don’t know for certain.
Fear rating: Medium
Precautions: Stapleton says that people worried about the dust should wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, to reduce chances of ingesting any toxic chemicals. Removing dust by cleaning regularly can help, too, but Stapleton cautions that vacuuming and dusting can cause some particles to become airborne.

 

Microwaves

Microwaves have been in our homes long enough to inspire lots of fear mongering, worries and urban legends. Rumors that microwaving plastic will poison your food, or that the radiation will disrupt pacemakers, have been around for years. According to the FDA, most of this is nonsense. No, you shouldn’t use some plastics in the microwave — because they could melt —but you can solve that problem by checking the bottom of the package to see what’s allowed; if the item is microwave-safe, there is sometimes a symbol (a box with wavy lines inside it) that indicates it is safe for microwave use. Pacemakers used to be affected by microwaves, but are now shielded. And you’re not going to get radiation injuries from a microwave; it just isn’t powerful enough to do any damage.

Interestingly, the FDA does warn about erupting hot water. Apparently, heating water in a clean cup for a long time can cause the water to get superheated. It reaches temperatures above the boiling point without the distinctive bubbling of a rolling boil. When anything is added to the water, or it is shaken, then it can erupt, causing burns.
Fear Rating: Medium
Precautions: Check labels, and don’t heat that cup of water for tea for too long.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics

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How much will the first pope to retire from the job in nearly 600 years collect each month?

What kind of retirement package do you give to someone who’s spent 60-plus years on the job, including almost eight as chief executive? If you’re the Roman Catholic Church, and that someone is Pope Benedict XVI (the once and future Joseph Ratzinger), you give him a monthly pension worth 2,500 euros, or about $3,340.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa broke the story this week, reporting that the 85-year-old Benedict — the first pope in nearly 600 years to retire from office — will receive the pension that the church typically offers to retired bishops. (Don’t speak Italian? Neither do I: Britain’s Independent has the story here.)

 

Coincidentally, the pope’s pension is almost identical to the maximum Social Security benefit a U.S. retiree could earn if she retired this year — $3,350 a month, according to the Social Security Administration’s benefits calculator. To receive a check that size, that hypothetical retiree would need to retire at age 70 or later after having earned the taxable maximum salary throughout her career — the equivalent of $113,700 this year.

 

Of course, most of Benedict’s personal expenses, from food to gardening, will be covered by the Vatican for the rest of his life, so his pension is mostly play money. (Alas: no grandkids to visit.)

 

The pot could get sweeter, too, according to La Stampa: If Benedict’s successor awards him the status of emeritus cardinal — not out of the question, since Ratzinger held various cardinal titles before being elected pope — his pension could double.

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Matthew Heimer at  MarketWatch.

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Solo women are the second-largest group of home purchasers. Their wants and needs are helping to shape the real-estate market.

Kishia S. Ward wasn’t looking for the home of her dreams when she bought her two-bedroom, 2½-bath townhouse. The 25-year-old student and former business analyst wanted a place “not so much to live in forever but as an investment property, something temporary that, later on when I get married and have a family, I can rent out.”

Single female homebuyers such as Ward are a powerhouse group in the real-estate market. In 2011, when Ward bought her home, three of her female friends, also singles in their 20s, also purchased homes. Single women — a group that includes the divorced, never married and widowed — make roughly one in five home purchases annually, according to the National Association of Realtors, second only to married couples, who are about two-thirds of the market.

It wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s, “it was very difficult for a single woman to get a credit card, much less a mortgage,” says Walter Molony, spokesman for the NAR.

In 1981, when the NAR started watching, single women and single men each made about 10% of home purchases. Purchases by single men have stayed steady. Single women, however, pulled ahead in the late ’80s, when women grew as a presence in the workforce and social change put pressure on lenders.

Single women’s market share reached 20% in 1985 and hovered there until recession and tight credit pulled it down to 16% in 2012. Unmarried couples make 8% of purchases.

Finally, recognition
Although single women are getting more recognition in the real-estate market, some experts say that many bankers, mortgage brokers, builders and real-estate agents fail to understand their distinct needs and shopping habits.

Jeanie Douthitt, a real-estate agent in Plano, Texas, specializes in helping single women buy and sell homes. Her experiences and her friends’ stories showed her that solo women often weren’t served well in the market. “We all, at the end of the day, had the same experience, and it was not good,” says Douthitt, owner of Smart Women Buy Homes. Her team includes a title agent and mortgage broker, and they all focus on educating clients.

Douthitt tells how one friend, a mother and capable 20-year IBM executive, struggled when she tried buying a home in 2004 after inheriting money. The woman visited a property for sale and encountered the homeowner, who asked, “Honey, do you think you can afford this?”

“He assumed that because I was a single woman I couldn’t afford it,” the friend told Douthitt. “If it was the last house on earth I wouldn’t have bought it.”

Douthitt says many women, accomplished in other realms, feel slightly intimidated by real estate and mortgages. She felt much the same in 1988, when, as a single mother, she bought her first home. She didn’t know how to find out what she could afford to spend. “Do I find the house first?” she wondered. “Or do I have to get a mortgage first?” Now she helps clients get qualified for a mortgage first, so they know what price home they’re qualified to buy.

What women want
While researching her book, “Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone,” Jennifer Musselman met many single female homebuyers and owners who confessed that they felt overwhelmed by shopping alone for a home and mortgage. “Women, generally speaking, always thought that home purchasing would be something we would do with someone else, as part of a relationship,” Musselman says.

This emphasis on relationships shapes many women’s approach to homebuying, Douthitt says. Often, for example, they need to develop a relationship with an agent before they feel comfortable asking questions.

“Women want a relationship,” Douthitt says. “They want that trust and respect on both sides. Men are more transactional. They just want to go get it.”

Her female buyers often need more time than men do to make a decision. They do lots of research. Agents who don’t understand this get frustrated and mistake women’s penchant for collaboration for indecisiveness, she says.

Before Ward engaged a real-estate agent, she did lots of research online to learn which neighborhoods fit her requirements, but her agent wouldn’t listen. She didn’t seem to take her seriously. “I don’t know if it was because I was a woman or because I was young,” she says. She moved on to another agent who was more attentive.

Single buyers — women in particular — like to recruit friends and family to help them decide. “Single women don’t have a spouse to bounce the decision around with,” Douthitt points out. One buyer wanted Douthitt to meet her mom, her dad, her pastor and her brother from California before she could commit to a purchase.

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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With dozens of advertisers crowding TV’s biggest night of the year, Bud and Tide stood out, while GoDaddy lost big.

While the Baltimore Ravens battled the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, another fight played out in front of millions of viewers: the annual Super Bowl of advertising.

 

Among the commercials emerging as the night’s victors are Anheuser-Busch‘s (BUD -5.01%) tear-jerking Budweiser commercial and Tide’s humorous “Miracle Stain” spot. The winning ads shared the power to reinforce their brands’ messages while avoiding cheap humor.

For marketers, the game offered heady stakes: 30 seconds (or in Chrysler’s case, 2 minutes) to reach out to the biggest TV audience of the year. The companies have shelled out millions alone on air time — this year’s game reached a record $3.8 million per 30 seconds — while also spending millions on special effects, celebrity appearances and production. The marketers need to tell a story that will make viewers cry or laugh, and want to buy their products.

 

Budweiser’s “Brotherhood” succeeded in tugging at viewers’ heartstrings with its 60-second story of a Clydesdale and its owner. It took the top spot in this year’s USA Today Ad Meter, which has rated Super Bowl ads for 25 years. The spot (seen here) shows a Clydesdale as he’s raised from foal to horse, when he leaves to join Budweiser’s famed team. The pair later have an emotional reunion, with the horse nuzzling his former owner.

“This year the horses return to their rightful role as stars. Weepy, sentimental, nostalgic. I don’t care. This is everything I want from a Budweiser Super Bowl spot,” writes Ken Wheaton at Advertising Age.

 

For the Kellogg School of Management, which ranks Super Bowl ads according to how effectively they support their brands, the winner was Tide’s “Miracle Stain” commercial (seen here.)

 

The humorous spot shows a man who drips salsa on his shirt, leaving behind a “miracle stain” depicting famed quarterback Joe Montana.

 

“Tide really broke through the clutter with a very engaging spot,” said Tim Calkins, a professor at the Northwestern’s Kellogg School, in a statement emailed to MSN Money.

 

Several of the top spots were advertisements that had been kept under wraps until the game. M&Ms, ranked by Kellogg as the No. 2 commercial of the night, wasn’t released prior to the game (to see the candy spot, click here), nor was Chrysler’s two-minute long commercial for Ram, which was USA Today’s No. 3 spot.

 

Longer commercials were in vogue this year, as illustrated by the Ram commercial, a paean to American farmers that featured the voice of radio broadcast legend Paul Harvey. (To see the commercial, click here.)

 

One advertiser widely considered to have lost the Super Bowl was GoDaddy.com, whose “Perfect Match” advertisement was about as far from classy as one can get. It featured model Bar Rafaeli kissing a geek in an attempt to show how the website domain registrar mixes “sexy” and “smart.” (To see it, click here.)

 

The ad came in dead last in USA Today’s Ad Meter results, and was only one of six commercials to receive a “D” rating from the Kellogg school.

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Aimee Picchi

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