Appraisals & Market Value How is a home’s value determined? You have several ways to determine the value of a home. An appraisal is a professional estimate of a property’s market value, based on recent sales of comparable properties, location, square footage and construction quality.

This service varies in cost depending on the price of the home. On average, an appraisal costs about $300 for a $250,000 house.A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents offer free analysis in the hopes of winning your business.

You also can get a comparable sales report for a fee from private companies that specialize in real estate data or find comparable sales information available on various real estate Internet sites.

What is the difference between market value and appraised value?
The appraised value of a house is a certified appraiser’s opinion of the worth of a home at a given point in time. Lenders require appraisals as part of the loan application process; fees range from $200 to $300.

Market value is what price the house will bring at a given point in time. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value, based on sales of comparable properties, performed by a real estate agent or broker. Either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis is the most accurate way to determine what your home is worth.

What standards do appraisers use to estimate value?
Appraisers use several factors when estimating a home’s value, including the home’s size and square footage, the condition of the home and neighborhood, comparable local sales, any pertinent historical information, sales performance and indices that forecast future value. For detailed information on appraisal standards, visit the Appraisal Institute website, appraisalinstitute.org, or contact the organization at 550 W. Van Buren St., Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60607; (312) 335-4100.

What’s a house worth?
A home ultimately is worth what someone will pay for it. Everything else is an estimate of value. To determine a property’s value, most people turn to either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis.

An appraisal is a certified appraiser’s estimate of the value of a home at a given point in time. Appraisers consider square footage, construction quality, design, floor plan, neighborhood and availability of transportation, shopping and schools. Appraisers also take lot size, topography, view and landscaping into account. Most appraisals cost about $300.

A comparative market analysis is a real estate broker’s or agent’s informal estimate of a home’s market value, based on sales of comparable homes in a neighborhood. Most agents will give you a comparative market analysis for free.

You can do your own cost comparison by looking up recent sales of comparable properties in public records. These records are available at local recorder or assessor offices, through private real estate information companies or on the Internet.

Common Q&A About Selling Your Home

Do sellers have to disclose the terms of other offers?
Sellers are not legally obligated to disclose the terms of other offers to prospective buyers.

How do I prepare the house for sale?
First and foremost, put it in the best condition possible, especially if you are in a market with few buyers and lots of homes for sale. That means taking care of any major repairs that could deter a buyer (such as replacing any broken windows or replacing a leaky roof) if you can afford it. Next, work on your home’s curb appeal. Make sure your landscape is pristine. Mow the grass, clean up any debris and weed the garden beds. Plant a few annual flowers near the entrance or in pots to be placed by the door. Other quick fixes that don’t cost a lot of money but can help you get top dollar for your home:

* Clean the windows and make sure the paint is not chipped or flaking.

* Be sure that the doorbell works.

* Clean and freshen up rooms, furnishings, floors, walls and ceilings. Make sure that bathrooms and kitchens are spotless.

* Organize closets.

* Make sure the basic appliances and fixtures work. Replace leaky faucets and frayed cords.

* Eliminate the source of any bad smells, such as the kitty box. Use air freshener or bake a batch of cookies before your open house to ensure that the house smells inviting.

* Invest in a couple of vases of fresh flowers to place around the house and next to any information about the house you have prepared for buyers.

How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?
Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years.

Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender’s decision. For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.

Should I add on or buy a bigger home?
Consider these questions before making a choice between adding on to an existing home or moving up in the market to a bigger house:

* How much money is available, either from cash reserves or through a home improvement loan, to remodel the current house?

* How much additional space is required? Would the foundation support a second floor or does the lot have room to expand on the ground level?

* What do local zoning and building ordinances permit?

* How much equity already exists in the property?

* Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy housing needs?

Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual needs, the extent of work involved and what will add the most value.

What are some tips on negotiation?
The more you know about a seller’s motivation, the stronger a negotiating position you are in. For example, seller who must move quickly due to a job transfer may be amenable to a lower price with a speedy escrow. Other so-called “motivated sellers” include people going through a divorce or who have already purchased another home.

Remember, that the listing price is what the seller would like to receive but is not necessarily what they will settle for. Before making an offer, check the recent sales prices of comparable homes in the neighborhood to see how the seller’s asking price stacks up.

Some experts discourage making deliberate low-ball offers. While such an offer can be presented, it can also sour the sale and discourage the seller from negotiating at all.

What do all of those real estate acronyms in the ads mean?
If you find yourself stumbling over weird acronyms in a real estate listing, don’t be alarmed. There is method to the madness of this shorthand (which is mostly adopted by sellers to save money in advertising charges). Here are some abbreviations and the meaning of each, taken from a recent newspaper classified section:

* assum. fin. — assumable financing

* dk — deck

* gar — garage (garden is usually abbreviated “gard”)

* expansion pot’l — may be extra space on the lot, or possibly vertical potential for a top floor or room addition. Verify actual potential by checking local zoning restrictions prior to purchase.

* fab pentrm — fabulous pentroom, a room on top, underneath the roof, that sometimes has views

* FDR — formal dining room (not the former president)

* frplc, fplc, FP — fireplace

* grmet kit — gourmet kitchen

* HDW, HWF, Hdwd — hardwood floors

* hi ceils — high ceilings

* In-law potential — potential for a separate apartment. Sometimes, local zoning codes restrict rentals of such units so be sure the conversion is legal first.

* large E-2 plan — this is one of several floor plans available in a specific building

* lsd pkg. — leased parking area, may come with an additional cost

* lo dues — find out just how low these homeowner’s dues are, and in comparison to what?

* nr bst schls — near the best schools

* pvt — private

* pwdr rm — powder room, or half-bath

* upr- upper floor

* vw, vu, vws, vus — view(s)

* Wow! — better check this one out.

Disclosure

Do I need an attorney when I buy a house?
In some states, you do need an attorney to complete a real estate transaction, but in others you do not.

Most home buyers are capable of handling routine real estate purchase contracts as long as they make certain they read the fine print and understand all the terms of the contract. In particular, you should be clear on the terms of any contingency clauses that will allow them to back out of the contract.

If you have any questions at all, it may be advisable to consult an attorney to avoid future legal hassles. In looking for an attorney, ask friends for recommendations or ask your real estate agent to recommend several. Call to inquire about fees and to check on their experience. In general, more experienced attorneys will cost more, but real estate fees as a rule are small relative to the cost of the property you are buying.

Do sellers have to disclose the terms of other offers?
Sellers are not legally obligated to disclose the terms of other offers to prospective buyers.

How do I get the real scoop on homes I am looking at?
Home inspections, seller disclosure requirements and the agent’s experience will help. Disclosure laws vary by state, but in some states, the law requires the seller to complete a real estate transfer disclosure statement. Here is a summary of the things you could expect to see in a disclosure form:

* In the kitchen — a range, oven, microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, trash compactor.

* Safety features such as burglar and fire alarms, smoke detectors, sprinklers, security gate, window screens and intercom.

* The presence of a TV antenna or satellite dish, carport or garage, automatic garage door opener, rain gutters, sump pump.

* Amenities such as a pool or spa, patio or deck, built-in barbeque and fireplaces.

* Type of heating, condition of electrical wiring, gas supply and presence of any external power source, such as solar panels.

* The type of water heater, water supply, sewer system or septic tank also should be disclosed.

Sellers also are required to indicate any significant defects or malfunctions existing in the home’s major systems. A checklist specifies interior and exterior walls, ceilings, roof, insulation, windows, fences, driveway, sidewalks, floors, doors, foundation, as well as the electrical and plumbing systems.

The form also asks sellers to note the presence of environmental hazards, walls or fences shared with adjoining landowners, any encroachments or easements, room additions or repairs made without the necessary permits or not in compliance with building codes, zoning violations, citations against the property and lawsuits against the seller affecting the property.

Also look for, or ask about, settling, sliding or soil problems, flooding or drainage problems and any major damage resulting from earthquakes, floods or landslides.

People buying a condominium must be told about covenants, codes and restrictions or other deed restrictions.

What are the standard contingencies?
Most purchase offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers’ ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction.

As a buyer, you could forfeit your deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract.

The purchase contract must include the seller’s responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

What repairs should the seller make?
If you want to get top dollar for your property, you probably need to make all minor repairs and selected major repairs before going on the market. Nearly all purchase contracts include an inspection clause, a buyer contingency that allows a buyer to back out if numerous defects are found or negotiate their repair.

The trick is not to overspend on pre-sale repairs, especially if there are few houses on the market but many buyers willing to buy at almost any price. On the other hand, making such repairs may be the only way to sell your house in a down market.

Whose obligation is it to disclose pertinent information about a property?
In most states, it is the seller, but obligations to disclose information about a property vary.

Under the strictest laws, you and your agent, if you have one, are required to disclose all facts materially affecting the value or desirability of the property which are known or accessible only to you.

This might include: homeowners association dues; whether or not work done on the house meets local building codes and permits requirements; the presence of any neighborhood nuisances or noises which a prospective buyer might not notice, such as a dog that barks every night or poor TV reception; any death within three years on the property; and any restrictions on the use of the property, such as zoning ordinances or association rules.

It is wise to check your state’s disclosure rules prior to a home purchase.

Will a neighbor problem reduce the value of my property?
While it may not reduce the actual value, a cluttered landscape next door can detract from the positive aspects of your home. Review your local laws, which should be on file at the public library, county law library or City Hall.

A typical “junk vehicle” ordinance, for example, requires any disabled car to either be enclosed or placed behind a fence. And most cities prohibit parking any vehicle on a city street too long.

It also may be worthwhile to check into local zoning ordinances. An operator of a home-based business usually is required to obtain a variance or permanent zoning change in residential areas.

In addition, if a neighbor’s repair work produces loud noises, he may be breaking local noise-control ordinances, which are enforced by the police department.

Before bringing in the authorities, you may want to make a copy of the pertinent ordinance and give it to your neighbor to give them a chance to correct the problem.

Resources:

* “Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries and Noise,” Cora Jordan, Nolo Press, Berkeley, Calif.; 2001. Purchase online.

Escrow & Closing Costs
What contingencies should be put in an offer?

Most offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers’ ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction.

A buyer could forfeit his or her deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract.

The purchase contract must include the seller’s responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

Where do I get information about closing costs?
For more on closing costs, ask for the “Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs,” Federal Citizen Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009; (888) 878-3256; pueblo.gsa.gov.

Lease Options

How do lease options work and what are the benefits?
A lease option is an arrangement with you and a seller to exercise the option to buy a house after you have rented it for a specific period. A portion of your rent would applied toward the purchase if the option is exercised. This is referred to as rent credit, which most institutional lenders will accept as part of the down payment if rental payments exceed the market rent and if a valid lease-purchase agreement is in effect, a copy of which must be attached to the loan application.

If you are a seller, lease options can give you several advantages, especially in a slow market. These include a monthly rent higher than market rent, top-market value for the property and tax-free use of the option consideration until the option expires or is exercised. Also, the renter is more likely to treat the property like an owner, tax-free use of option consideration until the option expires or is exercised.

Read any lease-option arrangement carefully for details on transferring the option and other important concerns.

What is a lease option?
When a renter signs a lease with an option to purchase a property for a specific price within a certain time frame, that is called a lease option. In most lease-option situations, a portion of the rent is applied to a future down payment.

Lease options are most popular among buyers who don’t have enough funds for a down payment and closing costs.

Where do I get information on lease options?
Contact your real estate agent (some even specialize in such transactions) or read up on lease options at the public library. If you have a real estate attorney, ask if he or she has any prepared information you can review. Most bookstores have a fairly hefty real estate book section these days. Many current real estate books have at least a section on lease options.

If you are considering a lease option, be sure you do your homework first. And have an attorney or financial adviser on hand to review any paperwork before you sign.

Negotiating

Are low-ball offers advisable?
A low-ball offer is a term used to describe an offer on a house that is substantially less than the asking price.

While any offer can be presented, a low-ball offer can sour a prospective sale and discourage the seller from negotiating at all. Unless the house is very overpriced, the offer will probably be rejected.

You should always do your homework about comparable prices in the neighborhood before making an y offer. It also pays to know something about the seller’s motivation. A lower price with a speedy escrow, for example, may motivate a seller who must move, has another house under contract or must sell quickly for other reasons.

Do I have to consider contingencies?
If you are a seller in a seller’s market, in which there is more demand than supply, you probably won’t have to entertain too many contingencies. But if you are selling in a buyer’s market, when buyers are few, prepare to be very flexible. Granting contingencies also depends upon what kind of price you want to get and on the condition of your property, most experts agree. Remember, contingencies are written into the contract and are negotiable during the negotiation phase only.

How is the price set?
It’s very important to price your home according to current market conditions. Because the real estate market is continually changing, and market fluctuations have an effect on property values, it’s imperative to select your list price based on the most recent comparable sales in your neighborhood.

A so-called comparative market analysis provides the background data upon which to base your list-price decision. When you prepare to sell and are interviewing agents, study each agent’s comparable sales report (the data should be no more than three months old).

If all agents agree on a price range for your home, go with the consensus. Watch out for an agent whose opinion of value is considerably higher than the others.

Is a low offer a good idea?
While your low offer in a normal market might be rejected immediately, in a buyer’s market a motivated seller will either accept or make a counteroffer.

Full-price offers or above are more likely to be accepted by the seller. But there are other considerations involved:

* Is the offer contingent upon anything, such as the sale of the buyer’s current house? If so, a low offer, even at full price, may not be as attractive as an offer without that condition.

* Is the offer made on the house as is, or does the buyer want the seller to make some repairs or to lower the price instead?

* Is the offer all cash, meaning the buyer has waived the financing contingency? If so, then an offer at less than the asking price may be more attractive to the seller than a full-price offer with a financing contingency.

Is there a secret to good negotiating?
There are several cardinal rules to negotiating effectively. One is do your homework, and learn as much about the seller or the buyer as you can. Another is to play your cards close to your vest and not reveal too much information to the other party or their agent. Don’t let yourself get rushed into any decision, no matter how tempting it may be. Finally, if you have doubts about your negotiating skill, hire someone to help.

What contingencies should be put in an offer?
Most offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers’ ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction.

A buyer could forfeit his or her deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract.

The purchase contract must include the seller’s responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

What is the best time to sell your house?
There is no “best” time to sell per se. Selling a house depends on supply, demand and other economic factors. But the time of year in which you choose to sell can make a difference both in the amount of time it takes to sell your home and in the ultimate selling price.

Weather conditions are less of a consideration in more temperate climates, but most of the time, the real estate market picks up as early as February, with the strongest selling season usually lasting through May and June.

With the onset of summer, the market slows. July is often the slowest month for real estate sales due to a strong spring market putting possible upward pressure on interest rates. Also, many prospective home buyers and their agents take vacations during mid-summer.

Following the summer slowdown, real estate sales activity tends to pick up for a second, although less vigorous, fall market, which usually lasts into November when the market slows again as buyers and sellers turn their attention to the holidays.

If this makes you wonder if you should take your home off the market for the holidays, consider the advice of veteran agents: You are always more likely to sell your house if it is available to show to prospective buyers continuously.

What is the difference between market value and appraised value?
The appraised value of a house is a certified appraiser’s opinion of the worth of a home at a given point in time. Lenders require appraisals as part of the loan application process; fees range from $200 to $300.

Market value is what price the house will bring at a given point in time. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value, based on sales of comparable properties, performed by a real estate agent or broker. Either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis is the most accurate way to determine what your home is worth.

Pricing the House to Sell

How do you prepare a house to sell?
Doing whatever you can to put your house’s best face forward is very important if you want to get close to your asking price or sell as quickly as possible. Short of spending a lot of money, here are several ideas for making your home show better:

* Sweep the sidewalk, mow the lawn, prune the bushes, weed the garden and clean debris from the yard.

* Clean the windows (both inside and out) and make sure the paint is not chipped or flaking. And speaking of paint, if your home was built before 1978, new federal law gives a buyer the right to request a lead inspection. If you think you might have some problems, do the inspection yourself beforehand and make any fixes you can.

* Be sure that the doorbell works.

* Clean and spruce up all rooms, furnishings, floors, walls and ceilings. It’s especially important that the bathroom and kitchen are spotless.

* Organize closets.

* Make sure the basic appliances and fixtures work. Get rid of leaky faucets and frayed cords.

* Make sure the house smells good: from an apple pie, cookies baking or spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Hide the kitty litter.

* Put vases of fresh flowers throughout the house.

* Having pleasant background music playing in the background also will help set your stage.

How does someone sell a slow mover?
Even in a down market, real estate experts say that price and condition are the two most important factors in selling a home.

If you are selling in a slow market, your first step would be to lower your price. Also, go through the house and see if there are cosmetic defects that you missed and can be repaired.

Secondly, you need to make sure that the home is getting the exposure it deserves through open houses, broker open houses, advertising, good signage, and listings on the local multiple listing service (MLS) and on the Internet.

Another option is to pull your house off the market and wait for the market to improve.

Finally, if you who have no equity in the house, and are forced to sell because of a divorce or financial considerations, you could discuss a short sale or a deed-in-lieu-of- foreclosure with your lender.

A short sale is when the seller finds a buyer for a price that is below the mortgage amount and negotiates the difference with the lender.

In a deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure situation, the lender agrees to take the house back without instituting foreclosure proceedings. The latter are radical options. Your simplest, and in many cases most effective, option is to lower the price.

How is the price set?
It’s very important to price your home according to current market conditions. Because the real estate market is continually changing, and market fluctuations have an effect on property values, it’s imperative to select your list price based on the most recent comparable sales in your neighborhood.

A so-called comparative market analysis provides the background data upon which to base your list-price decision. When you prepare to sell and are interviewing agents, study each agent’s comparable sales report (the data should be no more than three months old).

If all agents agree on a price range for your home, go with the consensus. Watch out for an agent whose opinion of value is considerably higher than the others.
Is a low offer a good idea?

While your low offer in a normal market might be rejected immediately, in a buyer’s market a motivated seller will either accept or make a counteroffer.

Full-price offers or above are more likely to be accepted by the seller. But there are other considerations involved:

* Is the offer contingent upon anything, such as the sale of the buyer’s current house? If so, a low offer, even at full price, may not be as attractive as an offer without that condition.

* Is the offer made on the house as is, or does the buyer want the seller to make some repairs or to lower the price instead?

* Is the offer all cash, meaning the buyer has waived the financing contingency? If so, then an offer at less than the asking price may be more attractive to the seller than a full-price offer with a financing contingency.

What are the standard ways of finding out how much a home is worth?
A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the standard methods for determining a home’s value.

Your real estate agent will be happy to provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on comparable sales in the neighborhood. Be sure you get listing prices of current homes on the market as well as those that have sold. You also can research this yourself by checking on recent sales in public records. Be sure that you are researching properties that are similar in size, construction and location. This information is not only available at your local recorder’s or assessor’s office but also through private companies and on the Internet.

An appraisal, which generally costs $200 to $300 to perform, is a certified appraiser’s opinion of the value of a home at any given time. Appraisers review numerous factors including recent comparable sales, location, square footage and construction quality.
What are the two most important factors when selling a home?

Price and condition are the two most important factors in selling a home, even in a down market. The first step is to price your home correctly. Use comparative sales information from your agent, or pay for a professional appraiser (usually $200 to $300), to objectively evaluate your home’s worth. Second, go through the house and repair any obvious cosmetic defects that could deter a buyer.

In a down market, you may have to consider lowering your price and/or making a major repair, such as replacing the roof, in order to lure a buyer. Also, make sure that your home is getting the exposure it deserves through open houses, broker open houses, advertising, good signage and a listing on the local multiple listing service or online listings provider.

If this isn’t happening, take it up with your agent or agent’s broker. If you are still not satisfied you are getting the service you need, you may have to switch agents.

What is the best time to buy?
Because many buyers prefer to move in the spring or summer, the market starts to heat up as early as February. Families with children are eager to buy so they can move during summer vacation, before the new school year begins.

The market slows down in late summer before picking up again briefly in the fall. November and December have traditionally been slow months, although some astute buyers look for bargains during this period.

What is the difference between list and sales prices?
The list price is how much a house is advertised for and is usually only an estimate of what a seller would like to get for the property. The sales price is the amount a property actually sells for. It may be the same as the listing price, or higher or lower, depending on how accurately the property was originally priced and on market conditions.

If you are a seller, you may need to adjust the listing price if there have been no offers within the first few months of the property’s listing period.

What is the difference between list price, sales price and appraised value?
The list price is a seller’s advertised price, a figure that usually is only a rough estimate of what the seller wants to get. Sellers can price high, low or close to what they hope to get. To judge whether the list price is a fair one, be sure to consult comparable sales prices in the area.

The sales price is the amount of money you as a buyer would pay for a property.

The appraisal value is a certified appraiser’s estimate of the worth of a property, and is based on comparable sales, the condition of the property and numerous other factors.
What is the difference between market value and appraised value?

The appraised value of a house is a certified appraiser’s opinion of the worth of a home at a given point in time. Lenders require appraisals as part of the loan application process; fees range from $200 to $300.

Market value is what price the house will bring at a given point in time. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value, based on sales of comparable properties, performed by a real estate agent or broker. Either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis is the most accurate way to determine what your home is worth.

Where do I get information on housing market stats?
A real estate agent is a good source for finding out the status of the local housing market. So is your statewide association of Realtors, most of which are continuously compiling such statistics from local real estate boards.

Your local builders association probably gets this report. Finally, check with the U.S. Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C.; (301) 763-3199; census.gov. The Chicago Title company also has published a pamphlet, “Who’s Buying Homes in America.” Write Chicago Title 601 Riverside Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32204; (888) 934-3354; ctic.com.

Property Taxes

Are property taxes deductible?
Property taxes on all real estate, including those levied by state and local governments and school districts, are fully deductible against current income taxes.

How do property taxes work?
Property taxes are what most homeowners in the United States pay for the privilege of owning a piece of real estate, on average 1.5 percent of the property’s current market value. These annual local assessments by county or local authorities help pay for public services and are calculated using a variety of formulas.

How is a home’s value determined?
You have several ways to determine the value of a home.

An appraisal is a professional estimate of a property’s market value, based on recent sales of comparable properties, location, square footage and construction quality. This service varies in cost depending on the price of the home. On average, an appraisal costs about $300 for a $250,000 house.

A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents offer free analysis in the hopes of winning your business.

You also can get a comparable sales report for a fee from private companies that specialize in real estate data or find comparable sales information available on various real estate Internet sites.

What is an impound account?
An impound account is a trust account established by the lender to hold money to pay for real estate taxes, and mortgage and homeowners insurance premiums as they are received each month.

Where can I learn more about appealing my property taxes?
Contact your local tax assessor’s office to see what procedures to follow to appeal your property tax assessment. You may be able to appeal your assessment informally. Mostly likely, however, you will have to go through a formal tax-appeal processes, which begin with an appeal filed with the appropriate assessment appeals board.

Seller Financing

How are the rates set for seller financing?
The interest rate on an owner-carried loan is negotiable. Ask your agent to check with a lender or mortgage broker to determine the current rate on institutional first (or second) loans.

Seller financing typically costs less than conventional financing because sellers don’t charge loan fees (points). Interest rates on an owner-carried loan will also be influenced by current Treasury bill and certificate of deposit rates. Sellers usually aren’t willing to carry a loan for a lower return than they would earn if their money was invested elsewhere.

What are the benefits of seller financing?
Seller financing offers tax breaks for sellers and alternative financing for buyers who can’t qualify for conventional loans.

If you are a seller, the risks you face are the same as those facing any lender: Is the borrower a good credit risk? Will the property hold enough value over time to allow for the repayment of all loans made against it?

You should run a full credit check on the borrower, require hazard insurance on the property and include a due-on-sale clause. There also are financing, disclosure and repayment-term requirements that need to be met. It is wise to consult a lawyer when putting together this kind of transaction.

What is seller financing?
Seller financing is when a seller helps to finance a real estate transaction by taking back a second note or even financing the entire purchase if the seller owns the home free and clear. Usually sellers do this when a buyer has difficulty qualifying for a conventional loan or meeting the purchase price.

Seller financing differs from a traditional loan because the seller does not give the buyer cash to complete the purchase, as does a lender. Instead, it involves extending a credit against the purchase price of the home while the buyer executes a promissory note and trust deed in the seller’s favor. These special circumstances must be acceptable to the lender who makes the first mortgage on the property.

The necessary paperwork is prepared by the title or escrow company after the terms are worked out between the buyer and seller.

If you are a seller considering such an arrangement, it is critical to thoroughly evaluate the creditworthiness of the buyer first. Fear of default makes many sellers reluctant to take back a second. But seller financing can bring a higher price plus complete the sale sooner in some situations. For more information, contact the Internal Revenue Service for a copy of its Publication 537, “Installment Sales.” Order by calling (800) TAX-FORM.

Selling at a Loss

Can a home seller sell a home for less than its mortgage?
Yes, in some case you can sell your home for less than what you still owe on the mortgage. But it is complicated and depends on the lender. This situation is known as a “short sale.” Sometimes a lender will be willing to split the difference between the sale price and loan amount, which still must be paid.

A short sale may be more complicated if the loan has been sold to the secondary market because then the lender will have to get permission from Freddie Mac, the two major secondary-market players.

If the loan was a low down payment mortgage with private mortgage insurance, then the lender also must involve the mortgage insurance company that insured the low-down loan.

When does foreclosure begin?
Lenders will initiate foreclosure proceedings when homeowners become delinquent in their mortgage obligations, usually after three payments are missed. The lender will then notify the buyer in writing that he or she is in default. The lender can request a trustee’s sale or a judicial foreclosure, in which the property is sold at public auction.

A borrower can cure the default by paying the overdue amount and the pending payment after the notice of default is recorded, usually no later than a few days before the property’s sale.

Some sales allow the successful bidder to take possession immediately. If the former owner refuses to vacate the premises, the court can issue an unlawful detainer that allows the sheriff to come out and evict them

Borrowers should do everything they can to avoid foreclosure, which is one of the most damaging events that can occur in an individual’s credit history.

Short Sales

Can a home seller sell a home for less than its mortgage?
Yes, in some case you can sell your home for less than what you still owe on the mortgage. But it is complicated and depends on the lender. This situation is known as a “short sale.” Sometimes a lender will be willing to split the difference between the sale price and loan amount, which still must be paid.
A short sale may be more complicated if the loan has been sold to the secondary market because then the lender will have to get permission from Freddie Mac, the two major secondary-market players.If the loan was a low down payment mortgage with private mortgage insurance, then the lender also must involve the mortgage insurance company that insured the low-down loan.How does a home go into foreclosure?
Foreclosure proceedings usually begin after a borrower has skipped three mortgage payments. The lender will record a notice of default against the property. Unless the debt is satisfied, the lender will foreclose on the mortgage and proceed to set up a trustee sale.
How does someone sell a slow mover?
Even in a down market, real estate experts say that price and condition are the two most important factors in selling a home.
If you are selling in a slow market, your first step would be to lower your price. Also, go through the house and see if there are cosmetic defects that you missed and can be repaired.

Secondly, you need to make sure that the home is getting the exposure it deserves through open houses, broker open houses, advertising, good signage, and listings on the local multiple listing service (MLS) and on the Internet.

Another option is to pull your house off the market and wait for the market to improve.

Finally, if you who have no equity in the house, and are forced to sell because of a divorce or financial considerations, you could discuss a short sale or a deed-in-lieu-of- foreclosure with your lender.

A short sale is when the seller finds a buyer for a price that is below the mortgage amount and negotiates the difference with the lender.

In a deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure situation, the lender agrees to take the house back without instituting foreclosure proceedings. The latter are radical options. Your simplest, and in many cases most effective, option is to lower the price.

How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?
Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years.

Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender’s decision. For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.
When does foreclosure begin?

Lenders will initiate foreclosure proceedings when homeowners become delinquent in their mortgage obligations, usually after three payments are missed. The lender will then notify the buyer in writing that he or she is in default. The lender can request a trustee’s sale or a judicial foreclosure, in which the property is sold at public auction.

A borrower can cure the default by paying the overdue amount and the pending payment after the notice of default is recorded, usually no later than a few days before the property’s sale.

Some sales allow the successful bidder to take possession immediately. If the former owner refuses to vacate the premises, the court can issue an unlawful detainer that allows the sheriff to come out and evict them

Borrowers should do everything they can to avoid foreclosure, which is one of the most damaging events that can occur in an individual’s credit history.

Tax Considerations

Are seller-paid points deductible?
As of Jan. 1, 1991, homeowners have been able to deduct points paid by the seller. This deduction previously was reserved only for points actually paid by the buyer.

Are taxes on second homes deductible?

Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible on a second home if you itemize. Check with your accountant or tax adviser for specifics.

Can I deduct the loss I suffered when I sold my home?
The Internal Revenue Service currently does not allow deductions for losses on the sale of your own home. In fact there’s no way to use a loss on the sale of your principal residence to your advantage on your income tax return.

What are the rules on capital gains when inheriting a house?
When children inherit a home, the Internal Revenue Service determines their basis in the property on the date of the owner’s death. The cost basis is not the amount the owner originally paid for the house, but the property’s fair-market value on the date of the parent’s death.

Cost basis is a tax term for the dollar amount assigned to a property at the time it is acquired, for the purpose of determining gain or loss when it is sold. For example, one of the three siblings sold his or her share of a property to be divided equally, he or she must pay capital gains tax for whatever profit made over one-third of the new basis.

Other tax consequences include estate taxes. However, the estate must total $675,000 or more for tax year 2001 before tax issues become a concern. The IRS allow residents to pass on property, cash and other assets worth up to a total of $675,000 for tax year 2001 before charging the heirs any taxes. This figure will rise each year for the next several years.

Regarding the transfer of ownership, quit-claim deeds often are used between family members in situations such as this when an heir is buying out the other. All parties must be agreeable to dropping a name from the title. For more information, consult the IRS’s Publication 950, “Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes.”Order by calling (800) TAX-FORM or download from irs.gov..

What home-buying costs are deductible?
Any points you or the seller pay to purchase your home loan are deductible for that year. Property taxes and interest are deductible every year.

But while other home-buying costs (closing costs in particular) are not immediately tax-deductible, they can be figured into the adjusted cost basis of your home when you go to sell (any significant home improvements also can be calculated into your basis). These fees would include title insurance, loan-application fee, credit report, appraisal fee, service fee, settlement or closing fees, bank attorney’s fee, attorney’s fee, document preparation fee and recording fees. Points paid when you refinance an existing mortgage must be deducted ratably over the life of the new loan.
Where do I get information on IRS publications?

The Internal Revenue Service publishes a number of real estate publications. They are listed by number:

* 521 “Moving Expenses”

* 523 “Selling Your Home”

* 527 “Residential Rental Property”

* 534 “Depreciation”

* 541 “Tax Information on Partnerships”

* 551 “Basis of Assets”

* 555 “Federal Tax Information on Community Property”

* 561 “Determining the Value of Donated Property”

* 590 “Individual Retirement Arrangements”

* 908 “Bankruptcy and Other Debt Cancellation”

* 936 “Home Mortgage Interest Deduction”

These publications are available for free online or by calling (800) TAX-FORM.

Whom to Contact

How do I reach the IRS?
To reach the Internal Revenue Service, call (800) TAX-1040; irs.gov.

What standards do appraisers use to estimate value?
Appraisers use several factors when estimating a home’s value, including the home’s size and square footage, the condition of the home and neighborhood, comparable local sales, any pertinent historical information, sales performance and indices that forecast future value. For detailed information on appraisal standards, visit the Appraisal Institute website, appraisalinstitute.org, or contact the organization at 550 W. Van Buren St., Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60607; (312) 335-4100.

Where do I get information about closing costs?
For more on closing costs, ask for the “Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs,” Federal Citizen Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009; (888) 878-3256; pueblo.gsa.gov.

Where do I get information about finding a real estate attorney?
To find a real estate attorney, contact your local bar association, which may offer local referral services. You may also ask friends or your real estate agent for their recommendations. When you have several names, call each to find out about fees and their level of experience.

Where do I get information on filing consumer complaints?
For information about filing consumer complaints, look to these sources:

* Consumer Federation of America, 1424 16th St. N.W., Suite 604, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 387-6121; consumerfed.org

* American Homeowners Association; PO Box 16817, Stamforc, CT 06905; (800) 470-2242; ahahome.com.

* Consumers Union, 1535 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103 or call (415) 431-6747; consumersunion.org.

* Consumer Action, 116 New Montgomery St., Suite 233, San Francisco, CA 94105; (415) 777-9635; consumer-action.org.

Where do I get information on housing market stats?
A real estate agent is a good source for finding out the status of the local housing market. So is your statewide association of Realtors, most of which are continuously compiling such statistics from local real estate boards.

Your local builders association probably gets this report. Finally, check with the U.S. Bureau of the Censusin Washington, D.C.; (301) 763-3199; census.gov. The Chicago Title company also has published a pamphlet, “Who’s Buying Homes in America.” Write Chicago Title 601 Riverside Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32204; (888) 934-3354; ctic.com.

Where do I get information on IRS publications?
The Internal Revenue Service publishes a number of real estate publications. They are listed by number:

* 521 “Moving Expenses”

* 523 “Selling Your Home”

* 527 “Residential Rental Property”

* 534 “Depreciation”

* 541 “Tax Information on Partnerships”

* 551 “Basis of Assets”

* 555 “Federal Tax Information on Community Property”

* 561 “Determining the Value of Donated Property”

* 590 “Individual Retirement Arrangements”

* 908 “Bankruptcy and Other Debt Cancellation”

* 936 “Home Mortgage Interest Deduction”

These publications are available for free online or by calling (800) TAX-FORM.

Working With a Real Estate Agent

Are commissions negotiable?
By law, real estate commissions are negotiable. The pricing of real estate service varies by level of service and consumer needs. Most agents charge between between 4 and 7 percent for full service and not all offer the option of paying a fee for an individual service.

How do I find a real estate agent?
Getting a recommendation from a friend or work colleague is an excellent way to find a good agent. Be sure to ask if they would use the agent again. You also can call the managers of reputable real estate firms and ask them for recommendations of agents who have worked in your neighborhood. In any case, whether you are a buyer or a seller, you should interview at least three agents to give yourself a choice.

A good agent typically works full-time and has several years of experience. If you are a seller, you should expect to review a comparative market analysis, which includes recent home sale prices in your area, when you talk to a prospective agent.

How do you find a good agent?
Getting a recommendation from a friend or work colleague is an excellent way to find a good agent, whether you are a buyer or a seller. Be sure to ask if they would use the agent again.

You also can call the managers of reputable real estate firms and ask them for recommendations of agents who have worked in your neighborhood.

A good agent typically works full-time and has several years of experience at minimum.

If you are a buyer, you don’t usually pay for your agent’s services (in the form of a commission, or percentage of the sales price of the home). All agents in a transaction usually are paid by the seller from the sales proceeds. In many states, this means that your agent legally is acting as a subagent of the seller. But in some states, it’s legal for an agent to represent the buyers exclusively in the transaction and be paid a commission by the sellers. You also can hire and pay for your own agent, known as buyer’s brokers, whose legal obligation is exclusively to you.

If you are a seller, you should interview at least three agents, all of whom should make a sales presentation including a comparative market analysis of local home prices in your area. The best choice isn’t always the agent with the highest asking price for your home. Be sure to evaluate all aspects of the agent’s marketing plan and how well you think you can work with the individual.

How many people sell their homes themselves?
Most home sellers — about 4 in 5 — use real estate agents to list and sell their homes. Of the other 20 percent, some sell FSBO, also known as For Sale By Owner. Other owners, however, sell without marketing their homes. Property transfers between family members account for some of the direct home sales. Also, tenants are often offered the opportunity to buy the property they are renting before the landlord lists it for sale.

This page contains specific information regarding questions and answers for sellers of Ladera Ranch homes and real estate in Ladera Ranch California. I can easily assist you in your search for Ladera Ranch homes as not only do I work in Ladera Ranch but I live in Ladera Ranch as well.