Cropped shot of a man and woman completing paperwork together at a desk

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 (320) 762-7106.  We deal with issues like this regularly and have experience with workers who are reputable and reasonable.

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Portrait of house for rent

Single family homes offer the investor an opportunity to borrow large loan-to-value loans at fixed interest rates for long terms.  Lenders will loan 75-80% of the purchase price at 5.5% to 6.5% interest rate for thirty years.  Compare that with other popular investment alternatives like precious metals, commodities, stocks, and mutual funds and it will be hard to find financing available at all. 

There may be some short term, one-year, loans at a floating rate tied to prime plus with no guarantee that it will be renewed.  Some of those loans require you to have a 50% margin of equity and if the value goes down, you’ll have to put up additional cash or be forced to sell.

The advantage of having long-term mortgages is that an investor could find the optimal time to sell the property instead of needing to sell it because the term is due, and no other financing is available.   Supply and demand cause the real estate market to be higher and lower and a long-term mortgage provides options to sell when the price is optimal.

Single family homes enjoy distinct tax advantages.  If the rental or investment property is held for more than 12 months, the gain is taxed at lower, long-term capital gains rates rather than ordinary income rates.

Another advantage of rental homes is that the improvements can be depreciated over a 27.5-year life.  This is a non-cash deduction that reduces income and shelters income.  The accumulated depreciation taken over the life of the property is recaptured when the property is sold.

Since rental homes provide income that other investments may not, tax would have to be recognized on the annual income.  IRS allows normal operating expenses like interest, property taxes, insurance, repairs, and management to be deducted including the annual depreciation.

Rental and investment property are eligible for tax-deferred exchanges to avoid paying tax at the time of disposition.  Real estate also enjoys stepped-up basis which means that when an heir inherits a property, instead of having a potential gain from the value the decedent had purchased it for less depreciation taken, the heir’s basis becomes the fair market value at time of death.  All potential gain may be permanently avoided.

Appreciation is a much-anticipated benefit of real estate because value tends to go up over time.

Another big benefit is the control that an investor has with rentals that is not available with other investments like stocks, bonds, or commercial real estate.  It takes a relatively small amount of cash to control the entire investment in a home that wouldn’t be available in other investments without partners or publicly traded companies.

Single family homes are an investment that homeowners understand because they are essentially the same as the home they live in.  They’re used for rental purposes but the maintenance is the same, the service providers are the same, and the neighborhood are the same.  Most homeowners understand rentals far better than alternative investments.

Contact me at (320) 762-7106 if you’d like to know more about rental property.

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Will Points Make a Difference

Serious mature couple receive professional advice

Lenders typically quote mortgages at a market rate but can offer a lower interest rate loan if the borrower is willing to pay points up-front which is considered pre-paid interest.  These points are generally tax deductible for the year paid when the borrower pays them in connection with buying, building or improving their principal residence.

A point is one-percent of the mortgage amount.  A lender will quote a lower-rate mortgage with a certain number of points.  There is not a standard amount; it is an individual company policy.

A simple comparison of the two alternatives based on the borrower’s ability to pay the points and whether the borrower will stay in the home long enough to recapture the costs will help to determine which loan will provide the cheapest cost of housing.

In the example below, two choices are compared; a 4.25% loan with no points vs. a 4.00% loan with one point.  If the buyer stays in the home at least 69 months, they will recover the $3,150 cost for the point on the lower interest rate.

If the purchaser stays ten years, he’ll save two thousand three hundred dollars over the cost of the point.  A less obvious advantage will be realized because the unpaid balance on the lower interest rate loan will results in an additional $2,076 savings.


Use this Will Points Make a Difference app to discover whether paying points will make a difference in your situation.  This is an example of a permanent buy-down but temporary buy-downs are also available.  A trusted mortgage advisor can help you determine alternatives.

For more information about the deductibility of points, see IRS Publication 936 and if you’re refinancing a home, there is a section specifically on that.  For advice on your specific situation, contact your tax professional.

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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 (320) 762-7106.

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Label Circuit Breakers

Labeling your circuit breakers is a two-person job using your cell phones.

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Homeowner Affordability Index 1218

The index is at 100 when the average income earners can afford the average priced home.

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How Cold is Too Cold for Pets It’s good to know when it too cold for man nor beast…especially for our pets.

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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.

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Considering a Home for Retirement



There are things to think about when searching for a home for retirement that may be different than homeowners considered for previous homes.

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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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