Tax Benefits of Real Estate Investment

Rental Property: Amazing Tax Benefits

These days we hear a lot about the tax havens and tax loopholes available to high-income taxpayers and corporations, but  most ordinary people do not understand the amazing tax benefits offered by owning rental property. In most cases, a “taxable loss” accrues from the rental which can offset ordinary income and thus the federal income tax bite. Of course, most people’s eyes glaze over at this point, so I’m going to make this as painless as possible!

Tax Savings For Middle-Income Earners

Not everyone is going to save tax money on real estate investments. Most middle-income wage-earners, though, will.  First, let’s be clear.  It takes a certain type of person to be a landlord as indicated in a previous post.  So, looking at owning property to save money on taxes is, how do you say, bass-ackwards.

First and foremost, purchase a rental property with the idea of making money. Look for a property which will give you income after all the expenses are eliminated. This is cash-flow. Assuming you have such a property, how does it happen that even cash-flow properties can save you money on your taxes?

Rental properties generally show a “taxable loss” for many years after the purchase. This is true because, as in any business, you have the income from the rents, but then you can deduct all your expenses  to come up with your net operating income. Your expenses include repairs, utilities paid, labor costs, property management or any of a vast variety of other expenses. Once you have your net operating income, then you can deduct any mortgage interest paid to arrive at the net income.

Rental Tax Saver: Depreciation

Now, here comes the good part for rental property--depreciation. You also get to deduct 1/27.5 of the building’s cost from your net income.  This figure becomes your taxable income or, in many cases, loss. This is how even a good, cash flowing property can manage to be a loss for tax purposes. It is also how an investment property can help reduce ordinary income because this “loss” is deducted from the owner’s wage income and can often substantially reduce income tax owed.

There is a hitch, naturally. If losses are over $25,000 and ordinary income is over $100,000, then the taxpayer may not be able to deduct the whole amount due to Passive Activity Loss Limitations. Still, the taxpayer does get all other ordinary deductions and may well substantially reduce the amount of tax owed. Owning real estate is one of the best tax strategies allowed by the current tax code. Anyone earning any kind of money really should consider investing in rental property, whether residential, multi-family or commercial.

Today’s real estate market offers amazing opportunities for anyone thinking about investing in real estate. Mortgage rates are incredibly low, values are lower than they have been in many years and rents have not dipped. Want to discuss rental property? Call me anytime.

More About Repos: Avoid Rookie Mistakes

Sign Of The Times - Foreclosure
Image by respres via Flickr

What’s the main attraction in a repo [REO=real estate owned, foreclosure]? Why price, of course. PRICE, PRICE, PRICE. Typically, repos can be priced as much as 30% below the market value of similar homes.

What’s the number ONE rookie mistake in buying a repo? Lowball offers. A lowball offer immediately identifies a buyer who has no idea about foreclosures. Buyers are already “stealing” a property in buying a foreclosure at the list price. Why do so many think they can offer 30% to 50% LESS than what the bank is asking? These very buyers are then “shocked,” “stunned” and out of the game when the word comes back that the property turns out to have 5, 10, 20 or even more offers.  If that property was the dream home, then it will be “the one that got away” because buyers had not done their homework or,possibly, were working with a rookie agent.

Here’s how banks come up with their prices for properties foreclosed upon and then offered for sale. Before foreclosure, the bank typically orders a drive-by BPO[broker’s price opinion] in which an experienced real estate agent takes pictures of the property, which is usually still occupied, from the street and then prepares a comprehensive analysis of the property’s current worth. The agent takes three active listings and three recent sold properties of approximately the same age, square footage, style and location to come up with a potential market price. During and after the foreclosure process, the bank orders up to seven BPOs at the varying stages, reflecting a declining market and, eventually, a vacant property. After the property is vacated and cleaned up, the bank also orders interior BPOs.

What this all means is this: the bank has a very good idea of the value of the property. The list price of a foreclosed home in then put at some point BELOW the normal market value. After all, as mentioned in a previous post, the buyer is not getting any disclosures. The bank will not do any repairs. Often, the bank will not do a termite clearance. The bank provides no home warranty. The buyer cannot talk to the bank to negotiate any little part of the transaction. So, the buyer gets a great deal on price.

If you want to be a successful repo buyer, make reasonable offers. 30% below an already 20%-below-market price is not reasonable.

Here’s another rookie mistake. Some buyers habitually make offers with the idea that after a home inspection, they will renegotiate the price or demand that repairs be made. If this is your strategy to get a repo even cheaper, quess what? It won’t work.  Banks offer their properties AS-IS. ALL banks offer properties AS-IS. If the property has no toilets or the walls are punched in, that’s how you will get it. You cannot do a home inspection and “discover” no toilets and then negotiate with the bank.The bank has already factored no toilets into the list price.

Here’s why this strategy will not work. First, the bank has already sent out contractors, agents, locksmiths, handy people, cleaners  to inspect the property and report back. Repos may be damaged, but they are always clean of debris. All traces of the previous occupants’ detritus have been removed. The repo will be clean, swept and neat, though faucets, lighting fixtures, A/C  compressors and the like may be missing or damaged. The locks will work and the property will be secure.  Second, except under very extraordinary circumstances nothing your home inspector can discover will move the bank to repair anything. Unless something has happened since the property was put on the market–a hurricane, tornado, flood, etc–that has substantially altered the condition of the home, the bank will simply move on to the next buyer or put the home back on the market.

The last rookie mistake was already mentioned in a previous post. Don’t figure you can make your offer and show proof  you can do it later. Make sure you have your ducks in a row BEFORE making that offer to the bank. You MUST have a pre-approval from a reputable lender to accompany your offer. In most cases, you cannot get it later.  Even if you are paying cash and banks, like everyone else, love cash, you still must show PROOF OF FUNDS. That can be a bank statement, a letter from your stock broker or whatever. Most repo sales agents operate on volume and have a fairly bureaucratized sales procedure demanding all parts of the offer, including proof the buyer is viable, be done at the time of the offer. Even most standard sales require this today. Sometimes, banks also require pre-qualification with a particular loan rep at a particular bank. A sucessful repo buyer must provide that pre-qual before making the offer.

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How To Buy A Repo

Elden P. Bryan Residence
Image by Floyd B. Bariscale via Flickr

Everybody wants to buy a repo? What’s a repo? It’s a lender-owned home, a repossession. What’s so special about a repo, you may ask?  Main difference is the price, the price, the price. Lenders have no emotional attachment to a property. They just want it off their books as quickly as possible. To that end, repos are frequently, but not always [pay attention: NOT ALWAYS] priced below market.

So, that’s good, right? What’s not to like? Buyers get a below-market home. Lender/seller gets the property off its books. What’s the problem here?

There are a few issues when buying a repo.. Here are a few for buyers to consider.

Condition

By law, lenders are not required to offer the usual transfer disclosures required in California and most other states in which the seller discloses all the material facts about the home, including any known defects.  Why do lenders not have to disclose? Because the bank has never lived in the home and, in fact, most likely knows nothing about it or its history.

Buyers of repos get none of the detailed information sellers love to impart to buyers about what was done to the house, by whom and when.  Frequently, repos are not in great condition, truth be told, though most of them will have been cleaned of debris and tidied by the listing agent’s cleaning crew.

Remember: the former owners lost the house because they couldn’t make the payments. More than likely, they couldn’t pay for furnace cleaning or roof leak repairs or any of the multitude of tiny and large repairs that homes we live in get from us every day. This deferred maintenance  can cause hidden damage.

Remedy: Get a thorough home inspection from a competent home inspector. If further inspections are suggested in the report–plumbing, HVAC, roof or whatever–get them. This property may be offered as a  may be a bargain price, but it’s still a lot of money. It may wind up as no bargain if the pool equipment is broken or the roof leaks.  Do yourself a favor and spend the money to get the suggested inspections.

The Negotiations

Another area of difference concerns the actual negotiations in purchasing the home. Normally, you make an offer, submit it to the seller, get an acceptance or a counter offer and then go into escrow. The procedure for a repo is relatively the same except the seller is a faceless bureaucracy and usually you and your agent have no communication whatsoever.

It’s often even difficult to get in touch with the “listing” agent because frequently these “agents” are faceless themselves, communication through websites, email and voice mail.  These companies often list   hundreds of repos,   each one as lovingly treated as a disposable fork on a picnic.

Each bank and each “agent” has a different technique in negotiating with buyers. And the strategy also depends on the property. If the property is among hundreds of other repos, as in, say, Moreno Valley or Fontana, it’s all about the numbers and getting a buyer quickly if at all.  If it’s a desirable property in a good area of Arcadia, for instance, it’s a different story, though, again, it’s really about the amount of money involved.

So, for some repos, you make your offer, the agent submits it to the bank quickly, it’s accpeted, and escrow begins. For others, many offers are received, so then the agent ,in consultation with the bank,  takes one of the offers and works with it, going straight to escrow. Sometimes in this scenario, the agent comes back with a multiple counteroffer from the bank asking all buyers for their “highest and best offer”. Then, from  those that come back, the bank selects the best and opens escrow.

What to beware of here? The auction effect…we all became familiar with this during the boom market and it’s far from dead. Buyers will always vie to get a good property at a good price. Prevent yourself from paying too much by keeping your emotions out of it, if possible, and setting a price beyond which you won’t go, no matter what. That will immunize you against the auction effect.

Financing

Is financing any different for a repo? Will I have to use the bank which owns the house? The short answer here is NO and No. Some banks will require that you pre-qualify with a specific lender in order to have your offer considered, but no one can require you to use that lender. As with new homes, though, sometimes the lender will offer more favorable terms just to have control of  the situation. Should you do it? By all means…more favorable terms are always good.

Repos are a bit different as far as the transaction goes. Many banks require their own forms which, of course, are there to minimize the bank’s liability.  California, in particular, has many buyer-protection laws. Banks cannot require you as part of the transactions to give up your rights.

But, the bank may require a shorter inspection term [the normal is 17 days] or provide stringent conditions if the buyer’s loan isn’t funded in the agreed-upon number of days, especially if the buyer is not using the bank’s lender.  That’s not so bad. It may keep your lender and your agent on their toes.

Another issue is termite inspection. Many buyers assume that a termite clearance is required by law. Not so–it’s often required by the terms of the buyer’s loan, but many loans don’t require it.  Many repo listings specifically say that the bank-owner will not provide a clear termite. In this case, it’s up to the buyer to get a termite inspection and pay for any damage.

Got your heart set on a repo? Get over it. Set your heart on a good deal whether it ocmes from a bank or a short sale or even a savvy seller. In fact, buying from a seller who prices his home to sell quickly is the best way to go. At least, that seller isn’t going to walk off with the kitchen faucet or leave a big hole punched in the bedroom door…

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What Happens If You Rent & Your Home Is Foreclosed?

Fannie Mae Announces New Policy for Renters in REO Properties
for-rent

Recently,  Fannie Mae released an announcement describing a new policy that will allow qualified renters to remain in Fannie Mae-owned foreclosure properties. Formally known as the National Real Estate Owned Rental Policy, it is meant to address the difficulties faced by tenants who – often through no fault of their own – face serious disruptions in their lives because the owner of the property in which they live has been foreclosed upon.

Renters in properties owned by Fannie Mae will be able to stay in their homes after the foreclosure. Note: this applies only to renters in the property at the time of the foreclosure. It does not apply to the borrowers who lost the home or any of their immediate relatives.

Any  type of property  can qualify: single-family homes, condos, co-ops, manufactured housing, or one-to-four unit buildings.

Key features of the new policy are

  • After the foreclosure is complete, renters will be offered the opportunity to either accept an incentive payment to vacate the property (“Cash for Keys”) or they may sign a new month-to-month rental agreement with Fannie Mae.
  • Fannie Mae will not require payment histories or credit checks.
  • Renters will be charged market rents. This means renters may have to pay higher rents.
  • No security deposit will be required. Nothing is said about the former landlord’s possibly unreturned security deposit.
  • The property will be for sale, and may undergo repair or rehab work, during the term of the tenancy. Tenants must cooperate with the sale.
  • If the property sells, the lease will transfer to the new owner who may decide to occupy himself.
  • The property will be managed by a real estate broker and/or a property management company.

Under this plan, tenants, many of whom are not aware their home is even in foreclosure,  are not forced out into the street. But, all leases will be month-to-month, meaning tenants may have to move within 30 days of a sale.

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7 Points to Ponder When Buying a Foreclosure

Foreclosures! For sure we’ve got ’em as indicated in a previous post. If you’re looking for a foreclosure, though, there are few things to consider first.

  1. What do you really want when you say foreclosure? Most buyers say foreclosure, REO or short sale as shorthand for a bargain home. Think about it. You don’t really care if it’s a foreclosure, do you? What you want is a very well-priced home so you get value for your money. Since that is the case, be sure to let your Realtor know that. Otherwise, you might get just a list of REOs.
  2. Foreclosures usually mean more competition. Since the banks are overloaded with these “non-performing ” properties right now, they are priced very competitively, so they attract lots of competition from other bargain-hunting buyers. You need to be prepared to move fast. If you’re the type who likes to mull things over, not a bad idea when forking over hundreds of thousands of dollars, this market niche may be too fast for your taste.
  3. Be prepared to move fast. So many homes are on the market these days that frequently buyers avoid the preparatory steps and go right for the cake–looking at homes. You Realtor will tell you to get yourself pre-qualified with a good lender. Don’t dodge the call. It takes only a few minutes. You not only now know what you can afford to buy and what the rate will be, but, pre-approval in hand, you can now instantly offer on that foreclosure that just came on the market.
  4. Be prepared to wait. Banks have different modus operandi. Some will immediately take your offer, especially if you have a down payment, have that lender’s letter and offer close to the list price. Others wait and collect as many offers as possible, then counteroffer all to make their “highest and best” offer. Then, it’s a guessing game. If you are offering on a short sale, a pre-foreclosure, be prepared to wait for a significant amount of time, sometimes months.
  5. Inspect, inspect, inspect. You should never buy a home without a professional inspection, of course. It’s even more important for foreclosures and pre-foreclosures. Often the previous owners had been in financial difficulties for quite some time before surrendering the house. Most likely they couldn’t or didn’t do any maintenance either, especially once the foreclosures was a done deal. Sometimes, banks repair REOs damaged by their original owners, but almost always the job is slapdash. Remember that when choosing a foreclosure over someone’s lovingly nurtured home.
  6. Get a good broker. This is crucial. The listing agent represents the seller. That would be the bank in the case of the foreclosure and for short sales often several banks. You need a professional who understands the process and represents your interest. Ideally, you will find an agent with experience who understands the various addenda which all banks require and can explain what you are signing to you.
  7. Take the time to understand the procedure. Your good broker should and will be eager to explain the process, the loan, the rates, the comparables and help with any negotiation during the inspection period which in California is usually 17 days. The bank may try to shorten this time. Again, you are shelling out big bucks. Don’t be the schmuck who doesn’t read his loan docs.
  8. Getting a bargain-priced home is a joy forever. In future years, your friends and relatives, even casual acquaintances, will marvel at your financial acuity once prices skyrocket once again as they are bound to do here in the Golden State. But make sure you are getting a bargain. Repairing sloppy cover-up work or removing improperly-maintained systems, whether air conditioners, pool equipment, roofs or electrical wiring can wind up costing far more than anticipated. Make sure your repo is really a bargain.