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With stairs being one of the first elements home buyers see when they enter the front door of many homes, sprucing up the steps can be a great investment.

"People think of stairs and hallways as strictly utilitarian a place to get somewhere else," says Genevieve Gorder, host of HGTV's Dear Genevieve. "But they are some of the most beautiful places to decorate."

Gorder offers these ideas for making the stairway more attractive:

· Tile the risers, the vertical part of the stairs that get scuffed easily.

Paint a runner in a bold shade of marine paint. Or do it in a pattern, like a stripe or polka dot.

· Carpet the stairs with a pattern that hides dirt – even if the rest of the house has hardwoods. (As an added plus, carpeted stairs are safer than bare, potentially slick ones.)

source: Associated Press
With another tax filing deadline passing, some people never throw tax records away. Others do not keep them long enough.

Knowing what to hang on to, why certain records are needed and how long they should be saved can save storage space and prevent problems should you be audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“There are tax and nontax reasons for keeping records,” says Dr. Jerrold Stern, professor of accounting in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “For tax purposes, income sources and amounts need to be identified through W-2 wage statements, 1099 forms — interest income, mutual fund income and stock transactions — and other documentation.”

Writing in 
Tierra Grande magazine, the quarterly magazine from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Stern notes that records also may be needed for insurance purposes or to obtain a loan.

“Expenses need to be documented to support deductions in the event of an IRS audit,” says Stern, also a Center research fellow. “Documentation can be in the form of a cash receipt, credit card statement or cancelled check. Interest and penalties may be levied if deductions are disallowed for lack of records.”

Keeping tax records is helpful to guide the preparation of future tax returns and for filing an amended tax return, he says. The IRS can furnish copies of prior-year tax returns if necessary.

“Records associated with tax returns should be kept at least until the statute of limitations runs out,” writes Stern. “The statute of limitations is the time during which the IRS is allowed to audit a tax return”

“For most people, tax records other than those pertaining to assets, such as real estate and securities, could be discarded after three years,” says Stern. “Even so, a longer period seven or more years is prudent.”

source:  Texas Real Estate Center

College towns have long been known as havens for investors looking to cash in on rentals or turn a profit on a home flip. RealtyTrac recently ranked the best college towns for flippers in 2014.

RealtyTrac analyzed public four-year universities that had enrollment of 20,000 or more as of 2012 and also were located in counties that had unemployment rates below the national average of 6.2 percent. The top 10 college towns for flipping were ranked based on the average gross return on investment (ROI) percentage for single-family home flips there during the first eight months of 2014. (Note: Some college towns did not have sufficient sales or flipping data to be included in the rankings).

Here are the college towns that topped RealtyTrac's 2014 list:

  1. University of Minnesota (Minneapolis)
    Average gross flip profit: $105,292
    ROI: 65.59%
  2. University of Washington (Seattle)
    Average gross flip profit: $168,247
    ROI: 61.88%
  3. University of Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.)
    Average gross flip profit: $53,763
    ROI: 55.01%
  4. San Francisco State (San Francisco)
    Average gross flip profit: $402,790
    ROI: 54.16%
  5. Thomas Edison State College (Trenton, N.J.)
    Average gross flip profit: $40,497
    ROI: 48.06%
  6. University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
    Average gross flip profit: $41,235
    ROI: 47.95%
  7. University of Colorado (Denver)
    Average gross flip profit: $103,658
    ROI: 45.86%
  8. University of Cincinnati
    Average gross flip profit: $45,929
    ROI: 44.88%
  9. University of Akron (Akron, Ohio)
    Average gross flip profit: $35,909
    ROI: 42.95%
  10. North Carolina State (Raleigh, N.C.)
    Average gross flip profit: $61,028
    ROI: 38.52%

source:  RealtyTrac

Homebuilders are throwing in some extras to lure home buyers back this fall in many markets. For example, 10 homebuilders in a new suburban Phoenix community called Bridges at Gilbert are offering swimming pools, built-in barbecues, and subsidized mortgages.

Joseph Beben, a home buyer in the Phoenix area, says he chose to have a house built by Woodside Homes, which agreed to cover up to $10,000 of his closing costs as well as the price of a swimming pool. Beben will pay $332,000 for a 3,000-square-foot house. 

"Builders in volatile housing markets, such as Phoenix, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Orlando, are sweetening offers as sales slow," Bloomberg Business reports.

The large increases in home prices last year have discouraged some buyers. The number of new-home communities in Phoenix rose by a third in the past year to 457, but sales per community dropped 45 percent last month from a year prior, according to Jim Belfiore, president of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting.

Builders in Nevada also saw a big drop in sales this year. In Las Vegas, new-home sales surged 32 percent in 2013 — but in the first eight months of this year, they have fallen 26 percent from the previous year, says Dennis Smith, president of Home Builders Research, a Las Vegas-based consulting company. A similar trend is taking hold in Sacramento, Calif., where new-home sales plunged 16 percent last month year-over-year.

Builders are beginning to discount homes and look for ways to boost sales. Orlando builders, for example, reportedly are advertising discounts and appliance packages, as well as offering to cover closing costs, after new-home sales dropped 19 percent year-over-year in June.

Buyers are enjoying being the drivers at the moment in some of these markets. Bob Berg, a retiree from Chicago, was looking for homes in the Phoenix area. "A couple of builders said to me, 'What will it take for you to buy this home?'" Berg says. "That's kind of drastic when they say something like that. It tells me they want to move that home."

source:  Bloomberg BusinessWeek  


Some housing deals come with sweet incentives for the real estate agents who can bring in a buyer, everything from big bonuses to fancy cars. But if you’re not careful, you might get in trouble for 'steering', some real estate professionals warn.

One home seller in Virginia offered a C-Class Mercedes, priced at $37,900 — or a $30,000 bonus— plus commission to a buyer’s agent who is able to bring a buyer to his $1.9 million home. Other incentives sellers have used to push a sale, include offers to buyer’s agents of fancy trips, higher commissions, or gifts.

"Bonuses and high commissions could motivate an agent to encourage a client to buy the house that offers the best reward to the agent, rather than the home that's best for the client," Bobbie Noreen, managing broker with Village Real Estate Services in Nashville, told Inman News. "That's the problem with any incentive, whether it's a fur coat, a trip, or a $2,000 bonus. Our code of ethics says we are not allowed to participate in self-dealing. To steer them (the client) is against the Code of Ethics. It's borderline illegal."

But some agents say the incentives don’t break any rules and can help sellers attract extra attention to their listings. Plus, if any agent is uncomfortable taking a pricey bonus for selling a home, they could always negotiate a lower sales price on behalf of their buyer for the amount being offered instead, says Frances Flynn Thorsen, a real estate educator and consultant in Tucson, AZ.

"If a property is priced right, it's going to sell,” says Doreen Roberts, president of the Bay East Association of REALTORS® in Northern California. “I know sometimes sellers do offer higher bonuses to entice agents to show the property. But my personal experience is if the price on the property is right, you will get multiple buyers and that will generate competition and that will make the property sell for the correct price,"

For real estate professionals who are offered an incentive, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate at University of Pennsylvania, says it’s important for the real estate professional to disclose the incentive to their buyer client.

source:  Inman News

Here are some products grabbing the attention of the home building and remodeling industries, according to Bill Millholland, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Case Design/Remodeling in Maryland, and Jamie Gibbs, a New York-based interior designer:

Appliance Drawers. Small warning drawers, modest-sized dishwasher drawers for small loads, refrigerator drawers and microwave drawers.

· Counter-depth refrigerators. Some are only 24 inches deep.

· Motion-detecting faucets. Like you'd find in the restrooms of businesses.

· LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. These are used under cabinets and in ceiling fixtures as a longer-lasting, more efficient alternative to compact fluorescent lamps and incandescent bulbs.

· Electric heated floors. A nice touch in bathrooms,

· Showers with multiple heads and body sprays. Bathtubs are out.

source: Washington Post 
You might want to take a closer look at your home's curb appeal: Upgrading your landscaping from average to excellent can help raise its overall value by 10 percent to 12 percent, according to research from Virginia Tech.

Researcher Alex X. Niemiera with the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech found that a $150,000 home with no landscaping could fetch an additional $8,300 to $19,000 by adding a landscape with color and large plants.

The value of landscaping differed greatly from state to state. For example, the change in value from a home with no landscape to well-landscaped ranged from 5.5 percent in Louisiana to 11.4 percent in South Carolina. Michigan homes saw the biggest difference in landscaping appeal, with a home's value being increased by 12.7 percent.

"The most preferred landscape included a sophisticated design with large deciduous, evergreen, and annual color plants and colored hardscape," according to Niemiera. Adding different plant sizes to a front yard, for example, can boost curb appeal, as well as mixing fruit trees and flowers for added color.

The following landscape elements were found to be most important to survey respondents:

  • Design sophistication
  • Plant size
  • Diversity of plant material type

"Survey results showed that relatively large landscape expenditures significantly increase perceived home value and will result in a higher selling price than homes with a minimal landscape," Niemiera writes in the paper. "Design sophistication and plant size were the landscape factors that most affected value. The resulting increase in 'curb appeal' of the property may also help differentiate a home in a subdivision where house styles are similar and thereby attract potential buyers into a home. This advantage is especially important in a competitive housing market."

source:  Realty Times 

Thousands of Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure years ago may have finally moved on, rebuilt their finances, and even considered home ownership again. But first, they may have to face a rising number of debt collectors who are chasing them down for money they still owe from the foreclosure they thought they had left in the past.

More banks are getting aggressive in pursuing deficiency judgments, finding that the proceeds of foreclosure sales may not have been enough to cover the amount of the loans, plus penalties, legal bills, and other fees.

"Using a legal tool known as a 'deficiency judgment,' lenders can ensure that borrowers are haunted by these zombie-like debts for years, and sometimes decades, to come," Reuters reports. "Before the housing bubble, banks often refrained from seeking deficiency judgments, which were seen as costly and an invitation for bad publicity. Some of the biggest banks still feel that way. But the housing crisis saddled lenders with more than $1 trillion of foreclosed loans, leading to unprecedented losses. Now, at least some large lenders want their money back, and they figure it's the perfect time to pursue borrowers: many of those who went through foreclosure have gotten new jobs, paid off old debts, and, in some cases, bought new homes."

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae is one of the most aggressive in pursuing deficiency judgments. Of the 595,128 foreclosures the government-sponsored enterprise was involved in through owning or guaranteeing the loan, it has referred 293,134 to debt collectors for possible deficiency judgment, according to a report by the Inspector General, reflecting the time period from January 2010 through January 2012.

Some of the largest mortgage lenders — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co., and Citigroup — say they don't usually pursue deficiency judgment, but they do reserve the right to do so.

"We may pursue them on a case-by-case basis, looking at a variety of factors, including investor and mortgage insurer requirements, the financial status of the borrower, and the type of hardship," says Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda.

Many borrowers may be surprised to later learn that their foreclosure from years ago is not really behind them. For example, former home owner Danell Huthsing thought she was in the clear after a foreclosure in 2008 on a home she shared with her boyfriend. But this summer, she was served with a lawsuit demanding $91,000 for the amount of mortgage still unpaid after the home was foreclosed and sold. She plans to appeal, but if she loses, the debt collector who filed the lawsuit will be able to freeze her bank account, garnish up to 25 percent of her wages, and seize her paid-off car, Reuters reports.

"For seven years, you think you're good to go, that you've put this behind you," said Huthsing. "Then wham, you get slapped to the floor again."

source:  Reuters 


Many retirees have been struggling to qualify for a mortgage, finding their post-retirement monthly incomes aren’t sufficient enough to get a loan under today’s tough underwriting standards. The problem was particularly pronounced for retirees who were still making payments on car loans, credit cards, or home equity lines of credit and who found they were unable to qualify under today’s low “debt-to-income” standards.

But mortgage giant Freddie Mac is now allowing retirees—and others—to use income from their 401(k), IRA, and other retirement assets to qualify for a loan.

“That, in turn, might open the door to a money-saving refinancing to a lower-rate loan or a downsizing purchase of a new house or condo,” The Washington Post reports.

The retirement account balances can be used to supplement their incomes for underwriting purposes, but the borrower does not actually have to draw from those balances in order to get the mortgage. 

source:  Washington Post


The population is getting older, and those who are 65 and up now make up the biggest part of the nation’s population in size and percentage, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Older residents comprise over 40.3 million people. 

The older adult population has increased by 15.1 percent since 2000, while the combined remaining age groups saw 9.7 percent growth. 

The states with the highest number of senior residents are: 

  • Florida
  • West Virginia
  • Maine
  • Pennsylvania
  • Iowa

The state with the lowest number of seniors is Alaska (7.7 percent compared to Florida’s 17.6 percent). However, Alaska also has the largest growth rate for older populations, according to Census data.

source:  St. Louis Post-Dispatch