How the SALT Deduction is Affecting NJ Real Estate Market

Photo Credit: Denise Kappa

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took effect for taxpayers upon filing their 2018 tax returns earlier this year. One of the biggest changes felt by homeowners in New Jersey—the state with the highest property taxes in the nation—was the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which include property, income, and sales taxes.

Property tax deductions
The SALT deduction allows taxpayers in high-tax states to deduct their local tax payments on their federal tax returns. Before the 2018 tax year, no maximum limits were attached to that deduction amount. Anyone who itemizes can deduct property taxes; the other taxes are their choice.

However, the new tax law placed a cap, for those who claim deductions, of $10,000 for income and property taxes. Ouch! Especially for homeowners in high-end markets, with homes valued at $1 million-plus, that cap represents an enormous drop in the deduction from what those taxpayers were claiming just two years ago.

In northern New Jersey—particularly in highly taxed municipalities in Bergen, Essex, and Passaic counties—these deductions for taxpayers who itemize were highly valued when filing their federal tax returns.

As our friend Joseph Isabella, a loan officer at Investors Bank illustrated in a recent presentation to our Cedarcrest team, “If you are paying $25,000 in income taxes to NJ and $25,000 in property taxes to your North Jersey town, that $50,000 deduction goes down to $10,000.” This is certainly affecting wealthier taxpayers, who now pay a higher tax bill to the federal government. However, middle-class Americans who itemize (or had itemized), and who pay substantial property taxes, have also felt the pinch.

Mortgage interest and home equity/HELOC deductions
Another reason why the TCJA affects those with high-value homes is that the bill also reduces the limit on deductible mortgage debt.

  • For loans taken out after December 15, 2017, the cap is $750,000. Loans existing on December 15, 2017 of up to $1 million are not subject to the new $750,000 cap (they are grandfathered in). This figure is based on married filing jointly status; for a married filing separately or a single filer, the cap is half ($375,000).
  • If you have a loan of up to $1 million that existed on that mid-December date, you may refinance it and still deduct the interest. However, the new loan must not exceed the amount of the mortgage being refinanced.
  • Interest is still deductible on second homes, subject to the $1 million/$750,000 limits.
  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminates the deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and lines of credit for tax years 2018-2025 unless you use(d) those funds to purchase, renovate or substantially improve your primary or second home (any personal expenses are excluded, such as education or debt consolidation).

While high-net-worth individuals are seeing the biggest impact on their tax returns, the loss in deductions could be offset by the decrease of the top federal income tax rate, the doubling of the estate tax deduction, and the cutting of the capital gains rate.

Taking a broader view, these deduction limits may not have the negative effect many people fear. Due to their income or tax bracket, many taxpayers don’t qualify for itemization on their tax returns and/or are best served taking the (now higher) standard deduction. For taxpayers who are single or married but filing separately, the standard deduction is $12,000. For heads of households, it is $18,000 and $24,000 for the married filing jointly taxpayers.

Yes, New Jersey has high property taxes, but it also has some great places to live—with lots of town services and strong school systems supported by those local property taxes. John Sass, broker owner of CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, notes that, “Prior to buying or selling a home, consumers should consult with their tax advisors/accountants to see how the new tax laws may affect them, given their particular circumstances. This is especially true now as 2020 approaches. With lots of numbers to crunch and tax strategies to consider, it’s a great time to talk about tax matters related to real estate transactions with your trusted advisor.”

It’s also a great time to come talk to our real estate professionals at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty. Whether you’re looking for a new home or putting yours on the market, our team’s expertise in North Jersey real estate will help make the process a smooth one, every step of the way.

On the Market for a Home? Here are Five Considerations Before You Buy.

Are you a first-time home buyer? If so, here are five issues into consideration as you engage in your house hunt. Doing so will help avoid surprises that could bog down your transaction.

Is now the right time for you to buy?

This depends somewhat on your career situation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of workers of ages 55 to 64 is 10.1 years, while for workers ages 25 to 34, it is only 2.8 years on average. If a distant job relocation is in the foreseeable future or career advancement is likely to take you out of the area, consider remaining a renter for now. Conventional wisdom is that you need to stay in the home for at least five years in order to recoup the amount of money you spent to purchase it.

Identify your housing criteria

Do you have a “dream home” in mind? Are you willing to modify your dream? After all, no house is totally perfect. We suggest you:

  • Create a list of absolute musts and reasons why—such as the town (for the school district, town services, property tax rate, environment), style and size of house, proximity to work, public transportation, etc.
  • Be flexible. Cosmetic updates may be needed in an otherwise great house so don’t let those deter you. If you like a house that needs a lot of work but has great bones, ask if the selling price is negotiable enough to make a reasonable offer.

What can you afford—including closing costs?

Set yourself up for success by first developing a budget that includes how much down payment and monthly mortgage payments you can afford. Then, look at the closing fees you’ll have to cover at time of loan settlement. These are fees paid to various third parties as part of expediting and closing the transaction.

As the home buyer, you are expected to cover most of those closing costs (3-4% of the home’s price) compared to what the seller will. Included are:

  • Title company closing fee for the representative who supervises the title transfer
  • Title search – this ensures there are no liens on the property to prevent you from buying it
  • Lender’s title insurance – protects the mortgage lender if something was overlooked in the title search
  • Document recording fees (deed and mortgage)
  • Loan origination fee – paperwork processing
  • Home appraisal
  • Home inspection
  • Survey fee (single-family homes, townhomes)
  • Escrow deposit – usually covers two months of prepaid property taxes and mortgage insurance payments
  • Taxes on money you borrowed for your home loan
  • Discount/mortgage points – paid to your lender in exchange for a lower interest rate, which has great long-term value
  • PMI, or private mortgage insurance, if you put down less than 20 percent of the purchase price
  • Other fees include running your credit report, underwriting and assessing your creditworthiness, wire/courier fees, attorney fees, and real estate agent commission

Federal law mandates that mortgage lenders provide borrowers with a loan estimate form in advance of the closing, denoting all the approximate closing costs. You may opt to roll the closing costs into the mortgage, but you’ll be paying interest on that amount for the life of the loan.

NOTE: If buying a condominium, get as much information as you can about the homeowners association fees/common area charges, the regulations regarding home improvements in your unit, and the association’s track record on maintenance and repairs.

Check your credit report

As noted above, the lender will be doing so and so should you. Contact Equifax, Experian and/or TransUnion for your free annual report. You want your credit score (FICO score) to be high enough to qualify you for a favorable rate. Clean up any outdated or incorrect information you find on the report right away. Scores in the 750-850 range are considered excellent, 700-749 is good. Anything below 650 is considered poor, making you a credit risk in lenders’ eyes.

Work with CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty

Searching for a home—whether as a first-time buyer or a seasoned residential real estate owner—is exciting but with all the details, it can be bit daunting and time-consuming. At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, our real estate professionals are dedicated to producing the best outcomes for every customer. When you work with our team, you’ll be with people who work tirelessly to help you navigate your real estate experience—with enthusiasm, confidence, and a passion for superior service—all backed by the industry-leading CENTURY 21® system and tools.

Contact us to get started on your journey to home ownership, or to find your next great home. We’re specialists in Essex County and Passaic County, NJ, and represent buyers and sellers from municipalities throughout North Jersey.

Working with Millennial First-Time Home Buyers

With most first-time home buyers falling within the millennial age range (those born between 1981 and 1996, ages 23 to 38 this year), real estate professionals might be interested in findings revealed in a recent Chase Home Lending survey. The survey was done among 1000 millennials about home ownership.

It turns out that they making smart financial decisions and saving money to make home ownership a reality. In fact, responses point to millennials being hyper-focused on the home buying journey. More than two-thirds of respondents said they want to talk about the process and about real estate topics, such as affordability and neighborhoods, with their friends.

Some other key findings include:

  • Seventy percent say they are willing to cut back on weekend activities in order to buy a home within the next 12 months – they are curtailing their shopping, dining out, movie-going and spa visits among their expense reduction tactics
  • Women are slightly more open to this idea than men
  • Fifty-two percent of first-time home buyers feel financially ready now
  • Many are optimistic about the home buying process
  • Seventy-one percent of women are willing to discuss real estate topics with friends while over 50 percent of men are comfortable talking about these on social media

Our takeaways at Century 21 Cedarcrest

1 – Real estate agents who provide an excellent transaction process with millennial homebuyers are likely to receive more referrals. After all, if these buyers are talking to their peers about the home buying journey, they are more likely to refer those agents with whom they are having a positive experience. This group values peer opinions; make sure you’re part of that.
2 – Members of this demographic are serious about positioning themselves for home ownership; and they want to learn more about becoming home owners. Whatever information or guidance you can provide will be a positive part of the transaction and help position you, as their real estate agent, as a trusted resource worth their referrals.
3 – If improving their credit score is an issue they are working on, or if they want to better understand home mortgages, look at your network to see who you can refer to help these home buyers make their dream of ownership a reality.
4 – With more than half of millennial first-time home buyers stating they feel financially ready to purchase a home, help them keep up the anticipation and excitement with relentlessly excellent service.

At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we pride ourselves on making the process as smooth as possible for first-time home buyers. We understand you’ll have lots of questions and our team has the answers—and the listings that meet your criteria, from neighborhoods to school systems to town services and more. Whether it’s a condominium, townhouse, or single-family home, contact Century 21 Cedarcrest about what you’re looking for.

Is a Winter Season Home Sale the Right Time for You?

Photo by Emil Vilsek on Unsplash

Even in northern New Jersey, which has a healthy real estate market, it’s hard to know whether or not seasons play in the home sale cycle. With the cold temperatures and inevitable snow and ice, many homeowners—and home buyers—may feel it’s better to wait until spring.

Not so fast!

There are actually strong reasons to put your home on the market now. The common belief is that the spring market—when birds are chirping and gardens are blooming—is the best time to buy and sell real estate but here are some good reasons to put your house on the market in the late fall or winter.

  1. You attract more serious buyers. Really—these people are on the hunt and want a house now. Motivated buyers, for whatever their reason, are always searching for the right home in the right town for them. The winter months also gives these buyers a chance to scope out potential neighborhoods when other things are going on besides landscaping and swimming pools. They may love or abhor lots of holiday lights, for example, and want to see what goes on around the block during December and January (or even February for Valentine’s Day and March for St. Patrick’s Day). Or they may have concerns about whether the neighbors are keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice (and whether the town snowplows are doing a good job).
  2. Wintertime staging possibilities. A well-staged home attracts buyers and offers, and winter greenery, cozy throws and blankets, and the aroma of pumpkin spice can be very alluring.
  3. Competition is lighter. It’s all about supply and demand. With less “for sale” signs around town, yours will catch attention and yield calls to the real estate agency to see the house. Fewer homes on the market drives up buyer demand, increases the probability of showings and with those, strong offers.
  4. Speedier transactions (and less stress). Think of the real estate market as a highway; with fewer “cars” in the buying lane, there are no processing traffic jams for all parties involved and transactions can move along more quickly. Mortgage lenders have fewer loans to process, real estate attorneys are dealing with a lighter closing load, and home inspectors are more available.
  5. Your real estate agent is always ready! Good real estate agents know that any time of year is a good time to list a home and bring buyers around. Marketing tactics may shift with the seasons and these professionals are ready with tips to help sell your home at any time of year.

If you’re thinking of putting your home up for sale now, or are looking for a home in Essex County or throughout northern New Jersey, the real estate agents at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty are ready to help. Contact us at (973) 228-1050 to get started.

Five Reasons to Forego a FSBO (For Sale By Owner)

For Sale By Owner - Century 21 CedarcrestYou’ve probably passed For Sale by Owner signs and wondered whether you could sell your house by yourself–and if it makes sense financially. The quick answer for most people: it’s a lot of work, for no guaranteed payoff. And the risks really aren’t worth it.

With FSBO (pronounced fizz-bow) transactions, sellers think they’ll save on commissions. But they’ll be missing out on what seasoned real estate agents do best–negotiating a great deal that could net you much more money than you’re likely to get on your own.

Factor in the hidden or unexpected expenses, say from potential legal or other problems, and it’s no wonder only 8% of homeowners in New Jersey decide to sell solo, according to the latest data from New Jersey Realtors®.

Here are some key reasons to work with a good real estate agent, backed by a solid brokerage, instead of FSBO:

  1. Pricing strategy

    Sure, you can look up comps and use online assessment tools, but there’s no substitute for local market knowledge. Experienced agents have a deep understanding of neighborhood and industry trends to help you determine the actual value of your home based on a detailed market analysis and any improvements you’ve made.

    The goal is to pinpoint the optimal price; too high, and your home sits on the market, a red flag for buyers. Too low, and you’ll get a bad return on perhaps your biggest investment.

  2. Prepping your property

    So what are buyers looking for these days? A good agent will know the answer, and how to position the look and feel of your property. Does a room need painting or minor repairs? How about swapping out some things, like furniture or a faucet? If you’re tackling a sale on your own, you might be tempted to do a major, unnecessary overhaul–or do nothing, which could turn off potential buyers immediately.

    Real estate agents also have relationships with professional stagers and photographers who can present your home in the best light for onsite showings and online photos.

  3. Marketing your home

    The more buyers who know about your home sale, the more likely you’ll get the price you’re looking for, in the shortest amount of time. Brokers and real estate agents have access to extensive resources and technology that will quickly broaden your field of serious prospects.

    Nearly all buyers start online, and that’s where FSBOs can have limited exposure. Agents get the word out through online portal listings, most notably the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which updates constantly. And, they reach a wider audience through social media channels, professional networks, and name recognition. You can list on the MLS as a FSBO, but it will cost you.

  4. Handling all those people

    A home that’s for sale is at the busy intersection of gawkers, serious buyers, buyers’ agents and attorneys, home inspectors, and possibly appraisers, to name a few. Showings alone can be exhausting. And with a FSBO, no one else is looking out for your interests or representing you.

    An experienced real estate agent will streamline the process, bring in more pre-approved buyers, and collect valuable feedback. You’ll yield the strongest offers and the most motivated sellers, plus get recommendations on appropriate counteroffers. Having a broker or agent experienced in such negotiations, and advising on final terms and conditions, will reduce stress and anxiety for you.

  5. Paper, paper, everywhere

    The closing process involves a huge stack of complicated paperwork, knowledge of local real estate law, and attention to detail to make sure the sale goes through. If you fail to disclose something crucial about your property, for example, you could face serious financial or legal repercussions and perhaps a buyer who walks away.

    Do you want the burden of making sure all the documentation is complete and accurate? And are you comfortable knowing all the regulations affecting your sale?

Our sign is a good sign
At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, our real estate pros will support you throughout the entire selling or buying process. We’re Essex County and northern New Jersey experts with a successful track record. Our agency has been voted “Best Realtor” four years in a row (and counting!) in Suburban Essex magazine’s Best of Essex Readers’ Choice Awards. Give us a call at 973-228-1050 to discuss your listing.

Why Winter 2018 is a Great Time to Purchase a Home

It’s no secret in the real estate business that the housing inventory in New Jersey is tight; there are far more buyers than sellers and it’s been that way for a while. This level of competition drives up housing prices (it seems we all know someone who ended up in a bidding war, whether as a home buyer or home seller, or have heard the stories). Another factor that drives home purchases: mortgage interest rates.

How do interest rates originate?
Interest rates are typically determined by a central bank in most countries. In the United States, representatives from the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Reserve Bank comprise the Federal Open Market Committee, which assesses the economic status of the country throughout the year and adjusts interest rates accordingly.

The central bank lends money to retail banks at a discount and then consumers borrow from the retail banks. The rates assigned by the central bank to the retail banks determine interest rates or Prime Interest Rates.

Why interest rates fluctuate
If the central bank wants to discourage consumer borrowing and encourage more saving, it raises interest rates. The banks rely on those deposits in order to raise their worth and have money to lend to another party, which generates additional income from interest collected. When the central bank wants to encourage consumer borrowing and increase spending, it will lower interest rates.

Mortgage interest rates today
Interest rates started creeping up a little bit late in the fall and continue a modest rise—from 3/8 to ½ of a percentage point. Bankrate predicts a slow and steady climb throughout the first half of this year due to various pressures on the U.S. bond market.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate rose .08 percent in the first week of January, a significant jump after a prior rate drop (it is currently slightly over 4 percent). That said, with New Jersey’s housing inventory being so tight and home values remaining fairly steady, why not strike while the iron is hot?

Some figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association:

  • The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.57 percent from 3.49 percent.
  • The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 3.77 percent from 3.70 percent.
  • The 30-year fixed-rate jumbo mortgage rose to 4.21 percent from 4.14 percent.

Although the difference in monthly mortgage payments is quite small today as interest rates rise (a few dollars a month for most borrowers), there’s no telling where it could end up six months from now—and besides, why pay any more than you have to on a home loan?

Some Americans appear to be catching the clue. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage applications overall rose 8.3 percent for the week ending January 5, 2017; 52.9 percent of those were refinances (up nearly a full percentage point from the week before). Homeowners and those on the market to purchase a home are locking into rates now.

Get into a new home sooner than later
Again, there is tremendous competition for good houses in northern New Jersey, so if you are planning to purchase a home, there’s no time like the present to get into the real estate market. And, if your credit history is strong, it’s a great time to pre-qualify for a favorable mortgage program at preferential rates.

Another great reason to purchase a home now: you’ll beat the typical spring/summer rush, so there are fewer buyers to compete with. Fewer buyers may help keep prices moderated in your favor. Sellers may also be more willing to negotiate with you.

The real estate agents at Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty will help you zero in on the right towns to meet your criteria and your budget, and work hard to help make your transaction as smooth as possible. We’re experts in Essex County, where our office is located … but we work throughout northern New Jersey, from Hudson County to Warren County and everywhere in between. We’re here with our heavy winter coats, ready to show you our listings, so contact us to get into a new home this winter at (973) 228-1050.

When Less is More in Real Estate

Of all the things that can be most damaging in real estate, clutter tops the list. For many, this just means that the house needs tidied or the shelves need to be cleaned up a bit or even removed. For others, some major outdoor and indoor work may be necessary. The goal here is to maximize the concept of space. Even a large room looks small when it’s cluttered, but even a small room can look large when it’s not cluttered. Use the tips here, but listen to specifics from your real estate agent, who has to experience to know what really matters in your home specifically.

 

De-Personalize the House

 

You may enjoy collecting all sorts of things, but you aren’t trying to impress a buyer with your decorating skills. Instead, you are trying to offer a buyer an open canvas, a place where he or she can imagine their own collections and how they would personalize the space. Consider removing shelves and pictures from the wall, but also make sure to clean up the marks to give a smooth, open appearance.

 

Manage the Landscaping

 

Take a walk around your house, starting at the front. This is the first impression that people have when they come to see if your house is the one they want to invest in. Make sure to clean up any clutter and put away most of the decorations. This is especially true if you happen to have religious decorations. It may be difficult, but you need to keep your personal beliefs out of the buyer’s mind so they can focus on the major aspects of the house itself.

 

Once you have the front yard covered, try cleaning up the back. It’s fine to have your patio furniture out, especially if it goes with the house. Just try to avoid the decorations. It might even be a great time to thin the flowers so they can see what is there, but also see that there is plenty of room for their own interests.

 

Keep in mind that the buyer is looking for a home that fits them and their interests. They want to see if they can make this property fit their lifestyle, not if they can move in to your lifestyle.

Modeling to the Target Buyer

It is hard enough to part with a home you love without trying to imagine that someone will use it in a way you wouldn’t like. If you have the time and the luxury of seeking out a target buyer, then by all means, make the effort to do so. Some houses just suit particular people better. For example, if you own an urban dwelling with a concrete backyard and swimming pool, your realtor probably isn’t going to try and target buyers who are looking for a quiet country dwelling where they can garden all summer long.

 

Maximize Focal Points

 

If your home has specific features that make it perfect for a certain type of lifestyle, you will want to make those features stand out when you market to a specific audience. You might also ask yourself what you can add that would make it even more appealing. If your property has a greenhouse, will you be leaving any supplies so that the owner can use it right away? Those little things can let a buyer know they can start in on their hobbies immediately, without an added expense on top of a new home purchase.

 

Allow for Immersion

 

Some properties aren’t set up so much for hobbies as they are other elements. You will want to be able to immerse your guests in the experience so they can enjoy it with all their senses. Are you trying to demonstrate that your home is a quiet safe haven from the world? Offer a viewing when the neighborhood kids are at school or make sure to do most of the welcoming in the soundproof room. These are the details that can really capture a buyer’s attention. Make the most of them.

 

Avoid Advice

 

Just as much as you want to market to specific buyers, you also want to avoid leaving hints or advice. This is the start of a new journey for them so they will want to do it their way. In the meantime, you don’t want to have to think about them doing things differently than you would because that can limit your pleasure with the experience.