Tax Time is Coming!

It can be daunting to figure out what documents you need to give your CPA or tax preparer in regards to your home, mortgage and real estate investment properties, so I’m here to make your preparation a little bit easier by answering some common questions I get.

Q: I own a house that I live in full-time as my primary residence, what are the basic documents you need each year?

If you have a mortgage, you should get a form 1098 from your mortgage lender showing the total interest that you paid during the year in Box 1. If your lender pays your property taxes on your behalf (aka you ‘escrow’ for your taxes) then your real estate taxes for the year should also be on this form (check out Box 10).

If you handle paying your own property taxes then you’ll also want to locate a copy of your tax bill. If you can’t find the original copy that was mailed to you around September, then you can look it up on the county website by your address.

Q: I bought or sold my house in 2020, do you need anything additional?

Yep! We’ll want a copy of the Closing Disclosure (CD) that you signed at the Closing Attorney’s office when you bought and also when you sold. Your costs to close on the home may be deductible on your taxes whether you are the buyer or the seller in the transaction. Also, depending on when during the year you purchased or sold the home there may be some information relating to the proration of property taxes that we’ll need to take into account when preparing your taxes.

If you sold your home we may ask you for a copy of the CD from when you originally purchased it. This can appear tedious, but please know that if we’re asking for this it’s very-very important. We’re calculating how much gain you earned on the sale of your home. If you sold your home for much more than you originally purchased it for, there are exclusions for the gain with the amount of the exclusion being tied to whether or not you’re married for tax purposes. We may also ask you for a listing of improvements you made to the house during the time that you owned it. These expenses can help to minimize how much of the gain you have to pay taxes on.

Q: I refinanced my house, how does this impact my taxes?

The costs you paid to close on the new loan may be deductible for tax purposes, so please provide a copy of the Closing Disclosure (same as above). If you took out a line of credit (also known as a second mortgage) on your home, the costs to set this up and the interest you pay might be deductible for taxes but only if you used the money to expand or substantially improve your home.

Did you take a LOC on your home to pay off credit card debt or something outside of home improvements? Then it’s not deductible on your taxes.

Q: I have a rental property, what do you need to include it on my taxes?

Assuming that you don’t own the rental property within another entity, the income and expenses will be included on your personal tax return. We’ll want a schedule showing all of your rental revenue and all of the related expenses you paid for the property during the year.

If you made any improvements or repairs that cost over approximately $500 and have a useful life greater than one year, (for example: a kitchen remodel, a new furnace, new roof, etc.) we’ll want a listing of those items and amounts paid as well. Instead of claiming the expense deduction all in one year, we will claim the expense ratably over the next few years that you theoretically use the improvement.

Q: I currently rent, does this impact my taxes?

Nope, renting does not give you any tax benefits. There are no writeoffs for renters like there are for people who own their home. This could be a really good reason to look into buying a home instead of dealing with increasing rental prices on a yearly basis.

Q: I have a question about real estate and taxes that you didn’t answer here. What do I do?

Reach out to your tax professional or shoot me an email at erincoffey@kw.com I will try to answer general questions as best I can. Please note that anything I say here is not to be construed as tax advice. If you have a question about your specific tax situation it’s best to reach out to someone who has all of your details, I’m only discussing general ideas and information here.

Know Thy Neighbor… and Neighborhood too

When searching for a home it’s great to shop online, and honestly, that’s the only way to be successful these days for the average homebuyer. While you can find out many details about the house you’re interested in, it’s almost impossible to learn about the area and the neighborhood unless you KNOW the area and the neighborhood. In Charlotte, one street can make all the difference between luxury living and “wouldn’t walk my dog there on a dark night,” so what can you do?

Many of my clients will ask my opinion, which I am always hesitant to give out for two reasons: one, anything I can say can be construed as trying to steer you one way or another (which is illegal), and two, I don’t have a good baseline of what you consider “safe” or “good” so any opinion I have might not align with what you’re looking for.

Case in point: I had a friend live with me for a few months and after the first week she said that she couldn’t believe that I lived in such a “rough” area. For context, I do live on the edge of two distinct neighborhoods, if you turn one direction out of my driveway you will see new homes ranging from 600-800k, and if you go out the other direction you will see questionable characters standing on street corners. I generally understand where my friend was coming from, but I also don’t agree with her. Alas, this is why I am so finicky about sharing my personal opinion, and instead I offer some options for my clients to make their own best decisions.

Safety

As with my friend, one person’s “safe” is another person’s “no way” so there are tons of online resources that I give to my clients including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department website, CrimeMapping.com and AreaVibes.com. It’s important to know that negative reports will always outweigh the good and it’s equally important to see what a rating would be for a city you know and are familiar with. You might just see that your lovely hometown doesn’t fair as well as you thought it did in these website ratings.

What’s most important, and something I stress that all of my clients do, is to drive around a neighborhood that they may be interested in. And I don’t just mean a quick drive on a sunny Sunday afternoon. What I actually mean is go there around dusk on a Friday night, drive through at midnight, take an extra few minutes one morning and drive what your commute to the office would be from that neighborhood. You would be surprised what you can find out about a neighborhood by taking a few extra minutes there.

Also, during your drive through I recommend taking a walk down a few streets during a time when people have just gotten out of work and will be the most active outside. This gives you an opportunity to say hello to the neighbors. While it can be a bit uncomfortable to speak to someone, most people are happy to talk about their neighborhoods and to connect over the mutual interest. They will also tell you the good and the bad, and will be much more candid with you than the sellers or their agent will be with me.

Fun example: in that 600k-800k part of my neighborhood there are a few older homes sprinkled throughout. One of those homes illegally keeps chickens on the property. This is a well-known detail within the neighborhood, they’ve been there for eons but how would you feel if your first Saturday morning in your new half-million dollar home started with a rooster crowing at 6:30am? While I’m certain it’s against city ordinances to keep farm animals within the city limits, there’s also something to be said for getting grandfathered in because you’ve been around for the last 25 years living your best chicken-keeping life in the same house, on the same block. Who are we to stop them?

Schools

A parent’s choice for their child’s education is deeply personal and has a hefty impact on that child’s future, so it’s a big deal. I have had appointments on the same day with different families, and one family thinks school X is absolutely amazing but only a few minutes later I hear that school X is absolutely terrible and this second family only wants their child to go to school Y. Both sets of parents are right. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone is entitled to pick their child’s education. Do not give me or any other real estate professional the power to tell you otherwise. Again, jump online and look at some school ratings, find the PTA and parent groups on social media, and talk to someone who has their kids in that school. You can ask all of the questions and get the unfiltered answers from the people who really know, and then make the best decision for you and your family.

It’s also important to note that school districting lines change every few years around here, so if there’s a school that you would like your child to be in it’s imperative that you go the extra mile. I can confirm with the seller’s agent and call the school district to double-check, however, there may be changes in the future that I’m unaware of. Parents and students that are going to be directly impacted by a change are the best to know details, so again, talk to your school’s PTA and parent groups for any pending details.

Here are some additional school resources, and of course there are more out there depending on where in Charlotte you’re interesting in buying:

  • Greatschools.org – widely known for rankings
  • MeckEd – shows some additional statistics for rankings in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and where they’re expected to go over the next few years
  • SchoolDigger – includes data from National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Census Bureau and the North Carolina Dept of Public Instruction
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

“To DO” (Due Diligence) List

The process of buying a new home can be jarring because we prepare ourselves to shop for a home, but we forget to prepare ourselves for what happens next. Once the thrill of an accepted offer wears off, the next feeling that sets in is most-likely panic or at least a large dose of anxiety. So, what comes next in the process?

Once you have a fully-executed and valid contract, it kicks off the buyer’s due diligence (DD) period. This is a period of time that is negotiated as part of the contract for the buyer to complete all investigative procedures on the home and to finalize their loan in preparation for closing. The DD period is the time in which the buyer could walk away from purchasing a home with the least amount of negative financial impact.

A.K.A. if you’re not going to go through in purchasing the home that you are under contract on, DD is the period of time that you want to alert the seller. Yes, you will lose money, but if you wait until after the DD period closes, you’ll lose more.

Therefore, the few weeks of due diligence (length depending on the time period negotiated between the buyer and seller during contract) are used by the buyer to investigate every aspect of the home and the transaction to ensure that they would like to move forward in purchasing the home. Mutually agreed upon changes can be made to the contract during this time, though it’s best not to go into a contract expecting this after-the-fact change to occur.

Home Inspection

It’s important for you to understand what it is you’re buying with your hard-earned money, so it’s important to have a licensed home inspector schedule to come in. They will look at everything from top to bottom and will tell you whether or not something is working as intended, requires repair or requires additional investigation by a contractor. Because of the litigious nature of our society, everything will fall into one of these three categories but don’t let that scare you.

The home inspector terminology of “requires repair” does not mean that the seller has to make this repair. Let me repeat: THE SELLER DOES NOT NEED TO MAKE ANY REPAIRS TO THE HOME. North Carolina is an “as is” state and therefore property can be bought and sold regardless of whether or not it is deemed habitable. Scary , huh? If the buyer and seller cannot come to agreement on how to remedy the situation through repairs or compensation, then the buyer can decide not to purchase the home and forfeit their Due Diligence fee paid to the seller at the time of contract.

If the home inspector finds something major that is wrong with the home that would cause the buyer to want to walk away and find a new home to buy instead, then we are in territory where it makes sense to ask for repairs, a decrease in purchase price on the home, or seller paid closing costs to benefit the buyer. Each remedy option has its positives and negatives, so be sure to talk through these options carefully based on your situation.

Major items include the five systems within a home. If the repair is not a large-scale problem in one of these areas, it is likely not worth asking for a remedy. These include:

  • Roofing
  • Plumbing (including well water and septic, if applicable)
  • Electrical
  • Structural
  • Heating and Cooling (HVAC)

If there is something outside of these areas that really bothers the buyer and would make them want to walk away from the purchase of the home, the item is still worth having a conversation about. However, with our current market having very little inventory and lots and lots of buyers, a seller would be more likely to want a buyer to walk away from a deal, keep the due diligence fee for their trouble, and place the home back on the market than to fix something that they deem to be a cosmetic defect. Again, if the problem makes a buyer not want to purchase the home then it’s worth having a conversation about the item. Always.

Specialized Inspections

These inspections are outside the scope of the general home inspection report, but can be very important to a buyer’s overall understanding of the condition of a home. It’s important to understand whether or not these are important to you.

Termite Inspection

This is a specialist that comes out to specifically look for damage due to termite activity. While this may not be important in other areas of the US, it’s important here in the Carolinas. Termites can cause structural damage, so it’s best if damage is caught early and a remediation and maintenance plan can be put into place if needed. Some homes (specifically condos) often have what’s called a termite bond, it’s a yearly contract that the homeowner or HOA holds to ensure that any damage found is covered under an insurance policy. This requires ongoing walkthroughs on the home, usually on a yearly basis, to maintain coverage.

Well Water and Septic Inspections

If the home is on a well water system it’s important to have the water tested for bacteria and contaminants. You and your family will be drinking and bathing in the homes water, so it’s important to know. For homes on a municipal water system, this is purely optional.

Homes that are on well systems are often on septic for waste water as well. A complete inspection can uncover costly (and gross) problems. Also, homeowners rarely remember to have their septics serviced, so this is a nice time to have it pumped as well. Having it pumped also allows for a more-thorough inspection of the working condition of the system.

Radon Inspection

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from certain types of rock. While we each come into contact with radon on a constant basis, the issue is when levels of radon become too high and are trapped in a living space (like your house). The scientific community is a bit mixed up on the severity of radon, but it can be a problem in any type of home. Consistent contact with high levels of radon gas has been linked to issues like lung cancer and more specific information can be found on the EPA website.

Additional areas of concern

There are some additional items that are outside the scope of your general home inspection that may be important for you to take a look at. The most-common areas in my experience are swimming pools and fireplaces, though I would include any other miscellaneous area of concern. Have a tree that is hanging precariously over the garage? Call a tree specialist. Planning to put up a fence or a pool in the future? Have a survey done. Need your new home to have a koi pond? Call your koi specialist.

… No seriously, that’s a thing.

Financing Requirements

If you’ll be securing a mortgage to purchase a new home it’s important to have the loan underwritten within the due diligence period. If something happens and the loan is not approved, a buyer would want to know prior to the close of due diligence. Also included in this process is a bank appraisal, meaning that the lender will send out a 3rd party appraiser to ascertain whether or not the home is “worth” what the bank is being asked to lend on it. If the appraiser reports that the home is valued at less than the contract price then the bank will only fund up to the appraisal price, the buyer will be on the hook to make up the difference in cash or a compromise will need to be reached with the seller to lower the price to appraised value. There are many caveats to this process, so look for a more-detailed post soon.

Have additional questions on the Due Diligence process? Something I missed? Reach out to me directly and I’ll help however I can!