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Few topics cause more division among economists than the age-old debate of whether you’re better off paying off your mortgage earlier, or investing that money instead. And there’s a good reason why that debate continues; both sides make compelling arguments.
For many people, their mortgage is the largest expense they will ever incur in their lives. So if given the chance, it only makes logical sense you would want to pay it off as quickly as possible. On the other hand, a mortgage is also the cheapest money you will ever borrow, and it’s generally considered good debt. Any extra money you obtain could be definitely be put to good use elsewhere.
The reality is, however, a little less cut and clear. For some homeowners, paying off their mortgage earlier is the right answer. While for others, it would be far more advantageous to invest their money.
Advantages of paying off your mortgage earlier
- You’ll pay less interest: Each time you make a mortgage payment, a portion is dedicated towards interest, and another towards principal (we’ll ignore other costs for now). Interest is calculated monthly by taking your remaining balance, the length of your amortization period, and the interest rate agreed upon with your lending institution.
If you have a $300,000 mortgage, at a 4% fixed rate over 30 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,432.25. By the time you finish paying off your mortgage, you would have paid a total of $515,609, of which $215,609 were interest.
If you wanted to lower the total amount you pay on interest, you don’t need to make a large lump sum to make a difference. If you were to increase your monthly mortgage payment to $1,632.25 (a $200 a month increase), you would be saving $50,298 in interest, and you’ll pay off your mortgage 6 years and 3 months earlier.
Though this is an oversimplified example, it shows how even a small increase in monthly payments makes a big difference in the long run.
- Every additional dollar towards your principal has a guaranteed return on investment: Every additional payment you make towards your mortgage has a direct effect in lowering the amount you pay in interest. In fact, each additional payment is, in fact, an investment. And unlike stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles, you are guaranteed to have a return on your investment.
- Enforced discipline: It takes real commitment to invest your money wisely each month instead of spending it elsewhere.
Your monthly mortgage payments are a form of enforced discipline since you know you can’t afford to miss them. It’s far easier to set a higher monthly payment towards your mortgage and stick to it than making regular investments on your own.
Besides, once your home is completely paid off, you can dedicate a larger portion of your income towards investments, your children or grandchildren’s education, or simply cut down on your working hours.
Advantages of investing your money
- A greater return on your investment: The biggest reason why you should invest your money instead comes down to a simple, green truth: there’s more money to be made in investments.
Suppose that instead of dedicating an additional $200 towards your monthly mortgage payment, you decide to invest it in a conservative index fund which tracks S&P 500’s index. You start your investment today with $200 and add an additional $200 each month for the next 30 years. By the end of the term, if the index fund had a modest yield of 5% per year, you will have earned $91,739 in interest, and the total value of your investment would be $163,939.
If you think that 5% per year is a little too optimistic, all we have to do is see the S&P 500 performance between December 2002 and December 2012, which averaged an annual yield of 7.10%.
- A greater level of diversification: Real estate has historically been one of the safest vehicles of investment available, but it’s still subject to market forces and changes in government policies. The forces that affect the stock and bonds markets are not always the same that affect real estate, because the former are subject to their issuer’s economic performance, while property values could change due to local events.
By putting your extra money towards investments, you are diversifying your investment portfolio and spreading out your risk. If you are relying exclusively on the value of your home, you are in essence putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Greater liquidity: Homes are a great investment, but it takes time to sell a home even in the best of circumstances. So if you need emergency funds now, it’s a lot easier to sell stocks and bonds than a home.
Misael Lizarraga is a real estate writer with a passion for teaching real estate concepts to first time buyers and investors. He runs realestatecontentguy.com and is a contributing writer for several leading real estate blogs in North America.
A few weeks ago we shared some insights into why home staging is an important part of the selling process. Below you will find some of our tips for staging and photographing your home for sale.
DIY Home Staging Tips:
With a little time, effort and imagination, you can stage your home to showcase its best features, sell it faster and get top dollar.
Clean up, pare down, and toss out: By simply getting rid of excess furniture and clutter, you can make any room look larger and more inviting.
Make it professional, not personal: Remove family photos, mementos and other personal items from the space. This not only eliminates clutter, it helps potential homebuyers envision their lives in the space.
Repurpose rooms: Do you have a “junk” room? You can transform a liability into an asset by turning an underused space into a reading nook, a craft room, a yoga studio or a home gym. Just clean it up, add a coat of paint, some furniture and the right accessories.
Lighten up: Light, airy rooms look bigger and more welcoming. You can create a pleasing effect by using the right wattage bulbs and multiple light sources. The right window treatments can also have a big impact. Choose fabrics that are light and gauzy, rather than dark and heavy.
Try a little color: Paint is the cheapest, easiest way to update your home. Stick with warm, natural hues, but try darker colors for accent walls and to highlight special features. You can give old furniture new life with a coat of shiny black paint—and freshen up the front door with a bold, cheerful color.
Add some decorative touches: Art, accessories, plants and flowers breathe life into a home. Make rooms more inviting with accessories that are carefully grouped, especially in threes. Pay attention to scale, texture and color. Bring the outdoors in with plants and flowers.
When it comes to looking for a home most people start on the internet. The photos in your property listing can make a powerful first impression. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, professional photos can increase home views up to 61%. Make sure your home is “ready for its close-up” by following these simple guidelines before the photographer shows up.
For exterior photography:
· Make sure no cars are parked in front of your house or in your driveway.
· Sidewalks and streets should be cropped out
· There should be up-close and angled shots, as well as long shorts that emphasize space.
· Clear away or trim vegetation blocking the front door or path to the door.
· Make sure lawns are mowed, hedges clipped, etc.
· Remove evidence of pets.
· Put away children’s toys.
· If you are selling a condo or townhome, such amenities as tennis courts, a gym, a garden patio or clubhouse should be photographed.
For interior photography:
· Make sure your house is spotless, windows are clean and rooms are decluttered.
· Repair all visible damage, e.g., bad water stains, gouges, chipped paing.
· Drapes and blinds should be open and lights on.
· Remove trash cans, close toilet seats.
· Use floral arrangements in kitchens and dining rooms.
· Make sure that interesting details and attractive features—e.g., wood floors, a carved mantel, marble countertops and ornamental tile backslashes, etc. – are photographed.
The following analysis of the Metro Denver & Northern Colorado real estate market (which now includes Clear Creek, Gilpin, and Park Counties) is provided by Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. We hope that this information may assist you with making better-informed real estate decisions. For further information about the housing market in your area, please don’t hesitate to contact your Windermere agent.
The Colorado economy continues to grow, adding 69,100 new non-agricultural jobs over the past 12 months, which represents a solid growth rate of 2.6%. That said, we are continuing to see a modest slowdown in employment gains, but that is to be expected at this stage of the business cycle. My latest forecast suggests that Colorado will add a total of 65,000 new jobs in 2019, representing a growth rate of 2.3%.
In November, the state unemployment rate was 3.3%, up from 3% a year ago. The increase is essentially due to an increase in the labor force, which rose by 77,279 people. On an un-seasonally adjusted basis, unemployment rates in all the markets contained in this report dropped between November 2017 and November 2018. The highest rate was in Grand Junction, but that was still a very respectable 4%. Fort Collins and Boulder had the lowest unemployment rate of 2.9%. All the regions contained in this report are essentially at full employment.
HOME SALES ACTIVITY
- In the fourth quarter of 2018, 12,911 homes sold — a drop of 13.8% compared to the last quarter of 2017 and down 22% from the third quarter.
- The only market that saw growth in sales was Clear Creek, which rose by 3.8%. This is a small market, however, and is prone to rapid swings in price as well as sales. There was a significant drop in sales in the Denver market. I will be watching closely to see if this is an anomaly or a longer-term trend. At this time, I believe the former to be true.
- Interestingly, this decline in sales in Denver came as inventory levels rose by 37%. For now, I attribute this to seasonality and expect to see sales growth return in the spring.
- Inventory growth continues to give buyers more choice, allowing them to be far more selective — and patient — before making an offer on a home. That said, well-positioned and well-priced homes are selling relatively quickly.
- Despite the rapid rise in listings and slowing home sales, prices continue to trend higher, though the rate of growth is slowing. The average home price in the region rose 6% year-over-year to $454,903. Home prices were 2% higher than in the third quarter.
- In all, the data was not very surprising. As with many markets across the country, affordability is starting to become an issue. However, the recent drop in interest rates likely stimulated buyers at the end of 2018 and I expect to see good price growth in the first quarter of 2019.
- Appreciation was strongest in Park County, where prices rose 28.2%. We can attribute this rapid increase to it being a small market. Only Gilpin County saw a drop in average home price. Though this, too, is due to it being a very small market, making it more prone to significant swings.
- As mentioned, affordability is becoming an issue in many Colorado markets and I anticipate that we will see some cooling in home price appreciation as we move through late 2019.
DAYS ON MARKET
- The average number of days it took to sell a home in Colorado rose by one day compared to the final quarter of 2017.
- The amount of time it took to sell a home dropped in four counties: Boulder, Larimer, Gilpin, and Park. The rest of the counties in this report saw days on market rise relatively modestly with the exception of the small Clear Creek market, which rose by 20 days.
- In the fourth quarter of 2018, it took an average of 38 days to sell a home in the region, but it took less than a month to sell a home in five of the eleven counties contained in this report.
- Housing demand is still there, but buyers appear to have taken a little breather. I anticipate, however, that the spring will bring more activity and rising sales.
The speedometer reflects the state of the region’s real estate market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors.
For the fourth quarter of 2018, I continue the trend I started last summer and have moved the needle a little more in favor of buyers. I will be closely watching listing activity in the spring to see if we get any major bumps above the traditional increase because that may further slow home price growth — something that would-be buyers appear to be waiting for.
As Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, Matthew Gardner is responsible for analyzing and interpreting economic data and its impact on the real estate market on both a local and national level. Matthew has over 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.
In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Matthew sits on the Washington State Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors; chairs the Board of Trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington; and is an Advisory Board Member at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington where he also lectures in real estate economics.
When you think of your home, it likely conjures up feelings of safety, shelter, and comfort. However, accidental injuries in the home are one of the leading causes of harm to children 14 and younger. By taking certain precautions, many of these accidents can be prevented.
While supervision is the best way to keep your children safe at home, you can’t watch them every second. Childproofing, to whatever degree you are comfortable, will go a long way toward keeping your littlest loved ones safe and healthy at home.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Many accidents happen with or around water.
If you have children at home, it’s advisable to adjust your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Furthermore, you should never leave a small child unattended in a bath tub, even for a few seconds. And be sure to safely secure doors that lead to swimming pools and hot tubs, including pet doors. When cooking or boiling water, turn pot handles in, or better yet use the back burners, to prevent little hands from pulling them off the stove.
Household chemicals can be very harmful to children.
It’s important not to keep poisonous materials under the sink, even if you have a cabinet guard in place. Keep dangerous chemicals up high and in a room that isn’t accessible to your little ones. Seemingly innocuous medicines can also be dangerous. Make sure your medicine cabinet is out of sight, mind, and reach.
Use safety latches and gates.
It’s advisable that you use safety latches on drawers, cabinets, toilets, and windows, as well as place covers on all electrical outlets. Gate off stairways and entrances to rooms, such as garages, that contain dangerous or fragile objects.
Secure furniture and other objects.
Heavy furniture, electronics, and lamps must be secured to prevent a child from pulling them over. Bookshelves and entertainment centers often come with devices that attach them to walls so that a climbing child won’t topple the furniture. The end-caps on door stoppers can be a choking hazard, so it’s advisable to remove them. Place plastic bumpers on sharp corners or edges of coffee tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture to prevent cuts and bruises.
Install a carbon monoxide detector.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms. Be sure to test both devices regularly and replace batteries as needed. The American Red Cross advises families to learn first aid and CPR, and to devise an emergency evacuation plan for fires and earthquakes.
Emergency contact info.
Last, but not least, in case an emergency does happen, always keep numbers for your child’s doctor, your work and cell, and other emergency contact info in an easily found place, preferably near the phone.
Accidents can and will happen, but by following a few small steps you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your family from harm in your home.
When it comes time to sell a home, most people want the property to sell quickly for the highest possible return. Setting the correct listing price is the most important step in reaching this goal. Price a property too low and it might sell quickly, but you could pocket less profit. Set it too high and you run the risk of pricing yourself out of the market.
Why overpricing a home is risky
Some sellers want to list their home at an inflated value, believing that they can always lower the price down the road if needed. But this can be a risky strategy. New listings generally get the greatest exposure in the first two-to-four weeks on the market, so setting a realistic price from day one is critical. If a home is priced too high, your strongest pool of prospective buyers is eliminated because they think it’s out of their price range. Conversely, buyers who can afford it will compare it to other homes that have been fairly priced and decide that they can get more home for their money elsewhere.
Once it has been decided to reduce the price, you’ve unnecessarily lost time and money. Your strongest prospective buyers may have found another home, while the over-inflated price could result in a negative impression amongst agents and buyers who are still in the market. Not to mention, reengaging buyers after those first critical few weeks can be very challenging. As the saying goes, “time is money”; so the longer a home is on the market, the lower the selling price will likely be in relation to the initial listing price.
Setting a home price too high has other costs
When a home languishes on the market, the seller loses in a number of ways. Each month the home goes unsold is another month of costs to the owner in mortgage payments, taxes, and maintenance—expenses that are not recovered when the home is sold. Furthermore, until the house is sold, the owner is on hold and can’t move forward with whatever plans prompted the decision to sell. If the seller is still living in the home, it can also be fatiguing to keep the property in ready-to-show condition month after month.
How to set the right price for a home
It’s not easy to be objective about your own home. That’s why it’s best to have a real estate professional work with you to set a reasonable price. According to a study done by the National Association of REALTORS®, homes that were sold using a real estate agent netted an average of $25,000 more than those without agent representation.
There are a number of factors that your agent will consider when determining a sales price for your home. Here’s a quick overview.
- Comparable sales. One of the best guides to pricing your home is knowing what recent buyers were willing to pay for similar homes in your area. So, one of the first things your agent will do is prepare a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). A CMA is a written analysis of houses in the community that are currently for sale, homes that have recently sold, and homes that were offered for sale but did not sell. While no two homes are identical, the report highlights only homes that most resemble yours. The CMA will include details about these properties, such as the number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, noteworthy amenities—and the listing price and sale price. The report will also include the Days on Market (DOM) for each property, which is the number of days it took to sell the home once it was listed. The CMA helps determine a price range that will be appropriate for your home.
- Unique property features. Since no two homes are exactly alike, looking at comparable sales is just one part of the equation. Many properties have distinctive features that add to their overall value when it comes to pricing. The importance buyers place on different features can vary by region, but examples might include a particularly pleasing view, artisan-quality interior detailing, outdoor entertaining space, or exceptional landscaping.
- Current market conditions. The real estate market is constantly fluctuating, and those cycles have a direct impact on pricing. Here are some of the market conditions an agent may consider when evaluating how to price a home:
- Are home prices trending up or down?
- How quickly are homes selling?
- Is the inventory of homes on the market tight or plentiful?
- Are interest rates attractive?
- How is the overall economy performing? Is the local job market strong or in decline?
- Current market conditions. The real estate market is constantly fluctuating, and those cycles have a direct impact on pricing. Here are some of the market conditions an agent may consider when evaluating how to price a home:
Other factors that can impact pricing include the condition of the home, seasonal influences (i.e. summer versus winter), condition of surrounding neighborhood, local amenities, and how quickly the seller needs to move.
There are a lot of factors that go into setting a home’s sales price, but it’s by far the most critical step in the overall selling process. The best course of action is to look to your real estate agent for guidance; they have the experience and market knowledge that will help you achieve your goals and reach a desired outcome that best fits your individual needs.
The April 15th deadline to file your taxes is less than two weeks away. Worrying that things would be complicated for me as a first-time homebuyer, I had my taxes done this year by a CPA. Here are a few quick tips for fellow new homeowners that I learned from the experience.
Claim the 2009-10 First-time Homebuyer Tax Credit
You could qualify for the up-to-8,000 credit if you bought a home in 2009 or are in contract for your new home on or before April 30, 2010 and have not owned a home three years prior to buying.
- Don’t e-file. You must file an old-fashioned paper tax return. You can still use online software, just be sure to print and mail all your documents.
- Make sure the IRS receives your return by mailing it as Certified Mail with a Return Receipt.
- Include your HUD-1 or Form 540.
Deduct Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) and Property Taxes
Did you put less than 20% down on your home purchase and are now required to pay PMI? This year, you can deduct that cost.
- On your tax forms provided by your lender, look for the amount of PMI premiums paid in the last year to add to your Schedule A when filing.
- All homeowners can also add tax payments of up to $500 for single homeowners or up to $1,000 for married taxpayers in addition to their standard deduction.
Save those receipts for energy-saving improvements
Receive a credit of 30% of the purchase price for energy-efficient improvements on your primary residence made between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. The maximum credit amount is $1,500 over the two-year period.
- Qualifying improvements can include: insulation, exterior doors and windows, approved natural gas, propane or oil water heaters.
Because my tax preparation skills are usually limited to answering the yes or no questions on Turbo Tax, please speak with your professional tax preparer or accountant for specific information about these and other tax related questions. Also visit irs.gov for official tax information.
Cooking and dining alfresco is arguably the single greatest thing about warm weather in spring and summer, but most backyard barbeques involve a million trips to and from the kitchen. As such, one of the hottest trends in new home construction is outdoor kitchens. Outdoor kitchens typically feature a comfortable eating area with a combination of cabinets, sinks, warming drawers, prep counters, ranges, and refrigerators—all within arm’s reach of the grill. Outdoor kitchens provide a natural gathering spot for friends and family and can add to the value of your home.
How elaborate your outdoor kitchen should be depends on how often you plan to use it. Some people enjoying dining outdoors every evening, while others reserve it for special occasions and social gatherings. Regardless of the frequency of use, you need to use materials that do well in all kinds of weather. Stone sinks, stainless steel cabinets, and slate countertops will withstand the Seattle rain, as well as the months that pass between barbeque seasons. Many outdoor kitchens also feature pergolas or other roof structures to shield guests from sun and rain. Something else to consider is adding an outdoor gas heater or fireplace, which will extend the amount of time you can use your outdoor kitchen into the fall and winter months.
In addition to the convenience of having all your grilling accoutrements within a handy distance, a well-built outdoor kitchen also adds to the value of your home. And you don’t have to have a new home to reap the benefits. With the right space and backyard layout, owners of existing homes can easily add-on an outdoor kitchen area. When adding an outdoor kitchen to an existing home, power, gas, and water lines often have to be extended from the home, so be sure to hire a qualified contractor to do the work for you. By extending your living space outside, you have essentially increased the square footage of your home. In many cases the increase in your home’s value will equal or even sometimes exceed the cost of the project itself.
The benefits of an outdoor kitchen area and living space are many. And with the convenience of having your drinks, condiments, meat, and cooking space all in one easy-to-reach place, you can spend the precious summer moments right where you should—outside with friends and family.
What features would you include in an outdoor kitchen?