Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Real Estate Downfall

Click the title for Hitler and the definitive reaction to the real estate bubble.

Silverlake townhouse for lease

I've just listed 850 Lucile, #4 for lease. This gorgeous townhouse features 2 beds, 2.5 baths and lots of upgrades, including a remodeled kitchen with new cabinets and new appliances, new lighting and lighting fixtures, pergo floors, plantation shutters throughout, remodeled bathrooms throughout, and new paint. It also offers a patio, two subterranean parking spaces, a security building plus extra security system inside, 1146 square feet, bathroom off each bedroom, and a terrific neighborhood! Sorry, no pets or smokers, but there is a newer refrigerator and in-unit washer and dryer as a consolation prize. It's immediately available for $2500/month and a one-year lease. Please contact me if you'd like to see this.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two GREAT articles from today's L.A. Times

I know, this blog seems like just a clipping service for the L.A. Times. But today the Sunday business section has two great real estate articles.

The first is from Peter Hong and is titled Don't bank on the home as an ATM. It's full of all sorts of interesting statistics and facts about the housing market over the last several years. Personal story: I know somebody that bought a duplex with partners in 1994 for $200+k. She bought her partners out a couple years later. Two years ago she sold it for $1.1 million. But she had no profit as she had pulled every cent out of it by refinancing and spent it on god-knows-what. Don't be like her.

The second story is A primer for the first-time home buyer. Although it doesn't really pertain much to our home prices here, the advice is excellent.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interest rates below 5%? True.

Check out this story from today's L.A. Times regarding below-5% interest rates. Personally, I think interest rates are heating up the market more than the first-time buyer tax credit. Here are a couple of very interesting quotes:

But look out ahead: The Fed also said this week it would stop buying mortgage bonds at the end of March. Although that's three months later than previously planned, the central bank's withdrawal from the market is likely to push mortgage rates back up.

The FHA buyers are getting outbid by people putting down 20% or 30%,... "Houses are affordable, rates are low, but there's just not enough inventory."

I'll say.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How is a short sale like a Beyonce song?

You find the perfect one. The perfect one toys with your affections, strings you along, and then rejects you for another. But they haven't totally forgotten you. The perfect one's love interest rejects them, and they circle back around to see if you're still interested. In the meantime, however, you've licked your wounds and MOVED ON.

Sound like your love life or the latest Beyonce song? I'm talking about short sales. The process takes so long that buyers just plain lose interest in the property. Short sale properties that had multiple offers often keep the second and third offers as backups in case the first buyer drops out. By the time the second buyers are notified that their offer would be accepted by the seller and then sent onto the bank for approval, the second buyers have developed doubts, lost interest, and just plain gotten over the house. C'est l'amour, I guess. Banks have to figure out a way to speed up this process.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New API test scores are out for Burbank

New API school test scores are out for Burbank. The already high-scoring district is now over 800 for every school except for Washington Elementary. This is obviously outstanding. By way of comparison, in our local area, you'd have to go to La Canada to find another school district with so many schools on all three levels with such high scores.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Studio City's Oyster House

If you live in or travel through Studio City, chances are that you've seen the Oyster House on Moorpark. If you haven't been there, you may have been put off by the kinda-seedy-tavern look of the place. Don't be. We went there last night and had a great time. Yes, it's about as un-Entourage of an L.A. dining experience as you can have. And forget the NYC "raw bar" experience. And it is also a neighborhood watering hole. But the food was really good, prices were extremely reasonable, and the service was terrific -- when was the last time that all of the wait staff in a restaurant came over to thank you for stopping in? It was packed with a very convivial crowd too. And then there were the complimentary shots of homemade peach schnapps...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Glendale is on track for another honorarium: local community with most a-hole drivers!

Curbed L.A. occasionally runs posts asking its readers to identify communities with the worst drivers. And today, you can Curbed's piece about awful West Hollywood drivers. But wait! Check out the comments! It appears that Glendale is, uh, coming up fast on West Hollywood and may even over-take it! Major props, Glendale! I can hear the chants from speeding beemers on Glenoaks now: "We're number 1! We're number 1!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Frequently asked questions about the home buyer tax credit

As you may or may not know, you may or may not be eligible for an $8000 tax credit if you're a first-time home buyer. Here are frequently asked questions and answers about the program from the Nat'l Assoc. of Home Builders. Yes, this is a long post. Caveat: this comes from a third-party site and not HUD or the IRS, please check again with your tax professional before relying on this info.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Home Buyer Tax Credit

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorizes a tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time home buyers purchasing a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

The following questions and answers provide basic information about the tax credit. If you have more specific questions, we strongly encourage you to consult a qualified tax advisor or legal professional about your unique situation.

  1. Who is eligible to claim the tax credit?
    First-time home buyers purchasing any kind of home—new or resale—are eligible for the tax credit. To qualify for the tax credit, a home purchase must occur on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009. For the purposes of the tax credit, the purchase date is the date when closing occurs and the title to the property transfers to the home owner. A limited exception exists for certain contract for deed purchases and installment sale purchases. See the IRS website for more detail.

  2. What is the definition of a first-time home buyer?
    The law defines "first-time home buyer" as a buyer who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. For married taxpayers, the law tests the homeownership history of both the home buyer and his/her spouse.

    For example, if you have not owned a home in the past three years but your spouse has owned a principal residence, neither you nor your spouse qualifies for the first-time home buyer tax credit. However, unmarried joint purchasers may allocate the credit amount to any buyer who qualifies as a first-time buyer, such as may occur if a parent jointly purchases a home with a son or daughter. Ownership of a vacation home or rental property not used as a principal residence does not disqualify a buyer as a first-time home buyer.

  3. How is the amount of the tax credit determined?
    The tax credit is equal to 10 percent of the home’s purchase price up to a maximum of $8,000.

  4. Are there any income limits for claiming the tax credit?
    Yes. The income limit for single taxpayers is $75,000; the limit is $150,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return. The tax credit amount is reduced for buyers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of more than $75,000 for single taxpayers and $150,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return. The phaseout range for the tax credit program is equal to $20,000. That is, the tax credit amount is reduced to zero for taxpayers with MAGI of more than $95,000 (single) or $170,000 (married) and is reduced proportionally for taxpayers with MAGIs between these amounts.

  5. What is "modified adjusted gross income"?
    Modified adjusted gross income or MAGI is defined by the IRS. To find it, a taxpayer must first determine "adjusted gross income" or AGI. AGI is total income for a year minus certain deductions (known as "adjustments" or "above-the-line deductions"), but before itemized deductions from Schedule A or personal exemptions are subtracted. On Forms 1040 and 1040A, AGI is the last number on page 1 and first number on page 2 of the form. For Form 1040-EZ, AGI appears on line 4 (as of 2007). Note that AGI includes all forms of income including wages, salaries, interest income, dividends and capital gains.

    To determine modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), add to AGI certain amounts of foreign-earned income. See IRS Form 5405 for more details.

  6. If my modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is above the limit, do I qualify for any tax credit?
    Possibly. It depends on your income. Partial credits of less than $8,000 are available for some taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds the phaseout limits.

  7. Can you give me an example of how the partial tax credit is determined?
    Just as an example, assume that a married couple has a modified adjusted gross income of $160,000. The applicable phaseout to qualify for the tax credit is $150,000, and the couple is $10,000 over this amount. Dividing $10,000 by the phaseout range of $20,000 yields 0.5. When you subtract 0.5 from 1.0, the result is 0.5. To determine the amount of the partial first-time home buyer tax credit that is available to this couple, multiply $8,000 by 0.5. The result is $4,000.

    Here’s another example: assume that an individual home buyer has a modified adjusted gross income of $88,000. The buyer’s income exceeds $75,000 by $13,000. Dividing $13,000 by the phaseout range of $20,000 yields 0.65. When you subtract 0.65 from 1.0, the result is 0.35. Multiplying $8,000 by 0.35 shows that the buyer is eligible for a partial tax credit of $2,800.

    Please remember that these examples are intended to provide a general idea of how the tax credit might be applied in different circumstances. You should always consult your tax advisor for information relating to your specific circumstances.

  8. How is this home buyer tax credit different from the tax credit that Congress enacted in July of 2008?
    The most significant difference is that this tax credit does not have to be repaid. Because it had to be repaid, the previous "credit" was essentially an interest-free loan. This tax incentive is a true tax credit. However, home buyers must use the residence as a principal residence for at least three years or face recapture of the tax credit amount. Certain exceptions apply.

  9. How do I claim the tax credit? Do I need to complete a form or application?
    Participating in the tax credit program is easy. You claim the tax credit on your federal income tax return. Specifically, home buyers should complete IRS Form 5405 to determine their tax credit amount, and then claim this amount on line 67 of the 1040 income tax form for 2009 returns (line 69 of the 1040 income tax form for 2008 returns). No other applications or forms are required, and no pre-approval is necessary. However, you will want to be sure that you qualify for the credit under the income limits and first-time home buyer tests. Note that you cannot claim the credit on Form 5405 for an intended purchase for some future date; it must be a completed purchase.

  10. What types of homes will qualify for the tax credit?
    Any home that will be used as a principal residence will qualify for the credit. This includes single-family detached homes, attached homes like townhouses and condominiums, manufactured homes (also known as mobile homes) and houseboats. The definition of principal residence is identical to the one used to determine whether you may qualify for the $250,000 / $500,000 capital gain tax exclusion for principal residences.

    It is important to note that you cannot purchase a home from your ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.), your lineal descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.) or your spouse. Please consult with your tax advisor for more information. Also see IRS Form 5405.

  11. I read that the tax credit is "refundable." What does that mean?
    The fact that the credit is refundable means that the home buyer credit can be claimed even if the taxpayer has little or no federal income tax liability to offset. Typically this involves the government sending the taxpayer a check for a portion or even all of the amount of the refundable tax credit.

    For example, if a qualified home buyer expected, notwithstanding the tax credit, federal income tax liability of $5,000 and had tax withholding of $4,000 for the year, then without the tax credit the taxpayer would owe the IRS $1,000 on April 15th. Suppose now that the taxpayer qualified for the $8,000 home buyer tax credit. As a result, the taxpayer would receive a check for $7,000 ($8,000 minus the $1,000 owed).

  12. I purchased a home in early 2009 and have already filed to receive the $7,500 tax credit on my 2008 tax returns. How can I claim the new $8,000 tax credit instead?
    Home buyers in this situation may file an amended 2008 tax return with a 1040X form. You should consult with a tax advisor to ensure you file this return properly.

  13. Instead of buying a new home from a home builder, I hired a contractor to construct a home on a lot that I already own. Do I still qualify for the tax credit?
    Yes. For the purposes of the home buyer tax credit, a principal residence that is constructed by the home owner is treated by the tax code as having been "purchased" on the date the owner first occupies the house. In this situation, the date of first occupancy must be on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

    In contrast, for newly-constructed homes bought from a home builder, eligibility for the tax credit is determined by the settlement date.

  14. Can I claim the tax credit if I finance the purchase of my home under a mortgage revenue bond (MRB) program?
    Yes. The tax credit can be combined with the MRB home buyer program. Note that first-time home buyers who purchased a home in 2008 may not claim the tax credit if they are participating in an MRB program.

  15. I live in the District of Columbia. Can I claim both the Washington, D.C. first-time home buyer credit and this new credit?
    No. You can claim only one.

  16. I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I claim the tax credit?
    Maybe. Anyone who is not a nonresident alien (as defined by the IRS), who has not owned a principal residence in the previous three years and who meets the income limits test may claim the tax credit for a qualified home purchase. The IRS provides a definition of "nonresident alien" in IRS Publication 519.

  17. Is a tax credit the same as a tax deduction?
    No. A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what the taxpayer owes. That means that a taxpayer who owes $8,000 in income taxes and who receives an $8,000 tax credit would owe nothing to the IRS.

    A tax deduction is subtracted from the amount of income that is taxed. Using the same example, assume the taxpayer is in the 15 percent tax bracket and owes $8,000 in income taxes. If the taxpayer receives an $8,000 deduction, the taxpayer’s tax liability would be reduced by $1,200 (15 percent of $8,000), or lowered from $8,000 to $6,800.

  18. I bought a home in 2008. Do I qualify for this credit?
    No, but if you purchased your first home between April 9, 2008 and January 1, 2009, you may qualify for a different tax credit. Please consult with your tax advisor for more information.

  19. Is there any way for a home buyer to access the money allocable to the credit sooner than waiting to file their 2009 tax return?
    Yes. Prospective home buyers who believe they qualify for the tax credit are permitted to reduce their income tax withholding. Reducing tax withholding (up to the amount of the credit) will enable the buyer to accumulate cash by raising his/her take home pay. This money can then be applied to the downpayment.

    Buyers should adjust their withholding amount on their W-4 via their employer or through their quarterly estimated tax payment. IRS Publication 919 contains rules and guidelines for income tax withholding. Prospective home buyers should note that if income tax withholding is reduced and the tax credit qualified purchase does not occur, then the individual would be liable for repayment to the IRS of income tax and possible interest charges and penalties.

    In addition, rule changes made as part of the economic stimulus legislation allow home buyers to claim the tax credit and participate in a program financed by tax-exempt bonds. As a result, some state housing finance agencies have introduced programs that provide short-term second mortgage loans that may be used to fund a downpayment. Prospective home buyers should check with their state housing finance agency to see if such a program is available in their community. To date, 14 state agencies have announced tax credit assistance programs, and more are expected to follow suit. The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) has compiled a list of such programs, which can be found here.

  20. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has announced that HUD will allow "monetization" of the tax credit. What does that mean?
    It means that HUD will allow buyers using FHA-insured mortgages to apply their anticipated tax credit toward their home purchase immediately rather than waiting until they file their 2009 income taxes to receive a refund. These funds may be used for certain downpayment and closing cost expenses. (From Judy: I don't know if this actually was made into policy. We have no info on it.)

    Under the guidelines announced by HUD, non-profits and FHA-approved lenders will be allowed to give home buyers short-term loans of up to $8,000.

    The guidelines also allow government agencies, such as state housing finance agencies, to facilitate home sales by providing longer term loans secured by second mortgages.

    Housing finance agencies and other government entities may also issue tax credit loans, which home buyers may use to satisfy the FHA 3.5 percent downpayment requirement.

    In addition, approved FHA lenders will also be able to purchase a home buyer’s anticipated tax credit to pay closing costs and downpayment costs above the 3.5 percent downpayment that is required for FHA-insured homes.

    More information about the guidelines is available on the NAHB web site. Read the HUD mortgagee letter (pdf) and an explanation of the FHA Mortgagee Letter on Tax Credit Monetization (pdf). An FAQ about monetization (pdf) is available at the NAHB web site.

  21. If I’m qualified for the tax credit and buy a home in 2009, can I apply the tax credit against my 2008 tax return?
    Yes. The law allows taxpayers to choose ("elect") to treat qualified home purchases in 2009 as if the purchase occurred on December 31, 2008. This means that the 2008 income limit (MAGI) applies and the election accelerates when the credit can be claimed (tax filing for 2008 returns instead of for 2009 returns). A benefit of this election is that a home buyer in 2009 will know their 2008 MAGI with certainty, thereby helping the buyer know whether the income limit will reduce their credit amount.

    Taxpayers buying a home who wish to claim it on their 2008 tax return, but who have already submitted their 2008 return to the IRS, may file an amended 2008 return claiming the tax credit. You should consult with a tax professional to determine how to arrange this.

  22. For a home purchase in 2009, can I choose whether to treat the purchase as occurring in 2008 or 2009, depending on in which year my credit amount is the largest?
    Yes. If the applicable income phaseout would reduce your home buyer tax credit amount in 2009 and a larger credit would be available using the 2008 MAGI amounts, then you can choose the year that yields the largest credit amount.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where, oh where are the good deals? In brand-new condos.

I looked at several new condo projects with buyers yesterday. As we all know, there's a glut of new condos on the market. I think you have to be an optimistic person to be a real estate developer these days. Either that, or you just don't let facts confuse you. Anyway, most of the developers are wheeling and dealing as they are very anxious to get these units sold, and there are actual good deals to be had. As financing has been difficult over the last several years, most of the buildings have already gone ahead and gotten approved for FHA loans, which used to be a major hurdle. Many developers will also not only negotiate on price, but pay some/all closing costs, buy down rates, etc.

Anyway, here's my take on several of the buildings I saw. All offered units from the low $400's to the high $500's. Yes, there were a couple of units in the high $300's.

5254 Corteen Place, Valley Village. Nice, typical finishes: wood and stone floors, neutral colors. Each unit is three stories, with the top floor leading to a roof top patio. The views weren't great. This street is all multi-unit dwellings and parking can be a problem.

5232 Satsuma, North Hollywood (pictured). This 28-unit development is represented by one of the all-time broker class acts in local real estate, Anita Rich. Unfortunately, the developer made many design choices which will be unpopular, I think. The units are very loft-y, and as such, there are next to no kitchen cabinets. Whew! I've never heard any potential buyer say that they needed less cabinets, not more. Some units had painted concrete floors. That's an interesting choice, but again, I don't know too many people who would want that over wood or carpet. I know this "loft" style is cheaper for designers and developers, but let's stop pretending we live in an abandoned industrial building on the lower east side of NY, okay?

5227 Denny, North Hollywood. The top floor units have incredibly high ceilings. Very nice finishes -- at least the ones we could see, as the building electricity was off. Seems like they're offering lots of incentives.

10609 Bloomfield, Toluca Lake. Certainly the nicest location that we saw. This is a bank liquidation (the bank took it back from the developer) and there are only two units left. Nice finishes, but unfortunately the units have no patios or balconies.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

FHA changes to loans for condos

There's news on FHA loans for condos, and restrictions are even tighter than they were before. Yes, they will still guarantee purchase money loans, but with the following stipulations:
- The units have to be 51% owner occupied (that isn't new);
- No more than 15% of units can be more than 30 days' delinquent on dues;
- There needs to be "walls-in" insurance. This insures replacement of items like kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, etc. Most condo insurance policies cover the walls to the studs, and that's it;
- there is a restriction on how many units may be FHA financed. This is sort of like "I don't want to join a club that would have people like me as members."
This is not all-inclusive, and I understand there's some case-by-case flexibility.

Do you yelp?

In case you haven't checked it out, Yelp.com has lots of business and restaurant reviews written by actual customers. You can go on and write/rate your favorite local restaurant, or talk about an establishment that deserves to be burned to the ground. Today, Yelp's weekly Los Angeles east guide features Van Nuys! Learn about everybody's favorite greasy spoons, bars, and yes, Van Nuys nightlife. (No pic because Yelp won't let me copy their logo. Dang.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

2845 N. Lincoln has closed over asking; maybe 30 times is the charm

My listing at 2845 N. Lincoln in Burbank closed yesterday. This modest 3+1 was marketed as a light fixer and is in the excellent Jefferson elementary school district. Yes, it closed over full price -- it listed at $489,000 and sold for $520,000!

We listed it at $489,000 not because we wanted a bidding war but because that is what the comparable sales indicated the home would likely sell for. The sellers and I were very surprised to receive six offers immediately, with all but 2 offering over full price. Three of the four offers were for conventional loans with 20% down, too.

Were we worried about the appraisal? Oh yes -- but the appraisal came in at $520,000. Was I worried because Bank of America was doing the loan? Yes, but they actually managed to fund it more or less on time without too many screw ups.

And it was an incredibly smooth escrow, thanks to the sellers, buyers, buyers' agent, and our escrow officer. The buyers had made offers on 30 other houses before they got this accepted! I bet they have something to teach us about patience.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The government already mandates insurance - fire insurance

Mercifully, the local fires have not yet destroyed many homes. Are people who own homes in high fire hazard areas able to even get hazard insurance? Yes, thanks to the government. And you.

California Fair Plan was adopted by the state legislature in 1968. It guarantees that insurance companies who do business in CA must contribute to an insurance pool that will issue a fire insurance policy of “last resort.” In other words, if you live too close to stuff that burns up and can endanger your home (see Glendale’s information here for example), nobody will issue you insurance – except the California Fair Plan. At a great rate, btw. And it’s financed through the payments the rest of us make on our hazard insurance premiums. Does this encourage home building in high fire hazard areas? Of course it does -- and has.

With fire season just beginning, and with substantial areas of the state already in flames, I wonder if any so-called “tea baggers” who live in fire-endangered areas are happy they have government-mandated fire insurance on their property?