Second Home vs. Investment Property: What’s the Difference?

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You hear these terms thrown around all the time: Second home, investment property, vacation home, rental property. But is there any real difference among them? And does it even matter what you call it?

As it turns out, there are some very big differences between second homes and investment properties, especially if you are financing it.

“Both are fantastic ways to build wealth over time by capturing the appreciation of a real asset,” says Tony Julianelle, CEO of Atlas Real Estate in Denver. However, “both come with inherent risks and expenses that should be carefully considered when making a purchase.”

As with any real estate transaction, you’ll want to do your homework and make a smart choice for your wallet, no matter which path you go down. We chatted with experts to get the scoop.

What is a second home?

A second home is just that: a second property where you and your family spend time, away from your primary home. You might also hear a second home referred to as a vacation property. You may rent it out for a few days each year on Airbnb or VRBO, but you primarily use it yourself.

Buying a second home makes financial sense if there’s one particular vacation spot you visit regularly. Why spend a fortune on hotels or Airbnb when you can own your own piece of paradise that will hopefully appreciate in value over time?

“Let’s say you live in San Francisco, but you are an avid skier in the winter and like to hike in the summer,” says Rachel Olsen, a real estate agent in California. “If you spend many weekends and vacations in Lake Tahoe, it may make sense to purchase a second home there.”

What is an investment property?

An investment property, on the other hand, is one that you purchase with the explicit intention of generating income. The investment property could be right next door to your own home, or it could be in another state—it doesn’t really matter. You’ll be playing the role of landlord, with long-term or short-term renters paying cash to stay in the home.

“Never forget that an investment property is all about the Benjamins,” says Lamar Brabham, CEO and founder of financial services firm Noel Taylor Agency. “The entire point is to turn a profit. No emotions, no affection.”

Before making an offer on an investment property, you’ll want to crunch the numbers to make sure it’s a solid investment. Similarly, consider what factors will be important to prospective tenants (e.g., access to public transportation, good schools, parking, and low crime rates).

How to finance a second home or investment property

If you’re paying cash, you can skip this section. But if you need a mortgage for your new property, you should know that financing a second home or investment property is very different from financing a primary residence. And, while mortgages on second homes and investment properties have some similarities, there are also some key differences.

  • Interest rate: You can expect to see a higher interest rate for both second homes or investment properties than for primary homes. Why? Because lenders view those transactions as riskier. If you get into a tight spot with money, you’re far more likely to stop paying the mortgage for your second/investment property than for your primary home.
  • Qualifying: Whether you’re buying a second home or an investment property, you might need to do some extra legwork in order to qualify for that second loan. Your bank may require you to prove that you have healthy cash reserves (so it knows you can afford both mortgages). It’ll take a long, hard look at your overall financial situation, so be sure everything is on the up and up before you apply.
  • Down payment: Depending on your situation and the lender, you might also need to bring a larger down payment to the table for an investment property or second home, typically 15% to 25%. Again, this is because the bank wants a bigger cushion to fall back on in case you default.
  • Rental income: If you’re buying an investment property, your lender might allow you to show that anticipated rental income will help cover the mortgage payments. However, proving how much rental income the home will generate can be complicated. Prepare to pay for a specialized appraisal that takes into account comparable rents in your area.
  • Location: Your lender may require a second home to be 50 to 100 miles away from your primary home. An investment property, however, can be anywhere in comparison to your primary home, even next door.
  • Taxes: Federal income tax rules are different for vacation homes and investment properties. Generally, you’ll treat your second home just as you would your first home when it comes to taxes—if you itemize, you can deduct the mortgage interest you paid up to a certain limit. (The rules vary if you rent out your second home for part of the year.) If you own an investment property, you get to deduct the mortgage interest, plus many of the expenses that come with operating a rental business, but you also have to report your rental income, too.

Why it’s important to not confuse the two

It’s important that you’re totally clear about the difference and not use the terms “second home” and “investment property” interchangeably. Some people try to pass off their investment property as a second home to get more favorable financing, but you should never do this.

If you lie on your loan application, you could be committing mortgage fraud, which is a federal offense.

Your lender’s underwriting team is aware of this possibility, so don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes. They’ll take the big picture into account when deciding what loan terms to offer you, says real estate attorney David Reischer.

“A single-family residence by a lake that is located in a completely different state from the borrower’s primary residence is much more acceptable to be categorized as a second home by a bank underwriter,” he says. “A multifamily-unit property with rental income in an urban area is likely to be treated as an investment property.”

Bottom line: Keep everything aboveboard, and you won’t have to worry about a thing.

The post Second Home vs. Investment Property: What’s the Difference? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

2020 Could Be an Unprofitable Year for Rental Properties. Here’s How to Handle the Taxes

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Economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and civil unrest could cause many rental real estate properties to run up tax losses in 2020 and maybe beyond. This column covers the most important federal income tax questions and answers for rental property owners. Here goes.

What can I write off?

Nothing new here. You can deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on rental properties. You can also write off all standard operating expenses that go along with owning rental property: utilities, insurance, repairs and maintenance, care and maintenance of outdoor areas, and so forth.

What about depreciation write-offs?

For many rental property owners, the tax-saving bonus is the fact that you can depreciate the cost of residential buildings over 27.5 years, even while they are (you hope) increasing in value. You can generally depreciate the cost of commercial buildings over 39 years.

Example: You own a small apartment building that cost $1.5 million not including the land. The annual depreciation deduction is $54,545 ($1.5 million/27.5). The deduction can shelter that much annual positive cashflow from income taxes. So, depreciation write-offs are nice tax-savers, especially if you own an expensive property or several properties.

Variation: As stated earlier, commercial buildings must be depreciated over a much-longer 39-year period. Even so, the annual depreciation write-off for a $1.5 million commercial building is $38,462. The deduction can shelter that much annual cash flow from income taxes.

Can I claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation?

Yes, for qualified improvement property (QIP) expenditures on a nonresidential building. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included a retroactive correction to the statutory language of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The correction allows much faster depreciation for commercial real estate qualified improvement property (QIP) that’s placed in service in 2018-2022. QIP is defined as an improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that’s placed in service after the building was placed in service. However, QIP doesn’t include any expenditures attributable to: (1) enlarging the building, (2) any elevator or escalator, or (3) the internal structural framework of the building. Thanks to the CARES Act correction, you can write off the entire cost of QIP in Year 1, because it qualifies for 100% first-year bonus depreciation.

Alternatively, you can choose to depreciate QIP over 15 years using the straight-line method. That alternative might make sense if you expect higher tax rates in future years. Discuss your QIP depreciation options with your tax pro.

What else do I need to know about depreciation write-offs?

You ask such good questions. There’s more. The TCJA increased the maximum Section 179 first-year depreciation deduction for qualifying real property expenditures to $1 million, with annual inflation adjustments. The inflation-adjusted maximum for tax years beginning in 2020 is $1.04 million. The Section 179 deduction privilege potentially allows you to deduct the entire cost of qualifying real property expenditures in Year 1. I say potentially, because Section 179 deductions are subject to several limitations. Ask your tax pro for details.

The TCJA also expanded the definition of qualifying property to include expenditures for nonresidential building roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

Finally, the TCJA further expanded the definition of qualifying property to include depreciable tangible personal property used predominantly to furnish lodging. Examples of such property include beds, other furniture, and appliances used in the living quarters of an apartment house.

Can I claim the qualified business income (QBI) deduction base on my net rental income?

Maybe. For 2018-2025, the TCJA established a new personal deduction based on qualified business income (QBI) passed through to your personal Form 1040 from a pass-through business entity (meaning a sole proprietorship, LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes, partnership, LLC treated as a partnership for tax purposes, or S corporation). The deduction can be up to 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that kick in at higher income levels. For a while, it was unclear if you could claim QBI deductions based on net rental income passed through to you from one of the aforementioned pass-through entities. The IRS eventually issued taxpayer-friendly guidance that allows QBI deductions in most such cases, but you must follow complicated rules to collect the tax-saving benefit. As your tax pro for details.

What about the passive loss rules?

Ugh. If your rental property throws off tax losses (most properties do, at least during the early years and during years when the economy is suffering — like now), things can get complicated. The so-called passive activity loss (PAL) rules may come into play. Losses from rental properties will usually be classified as passive losses.

In general, the PAL rules only allow you to currently deduct passive losses to the extent you have current passive income from other sources, like positive income from other rental properties or gains from selling them. Passive losses in excess of passive income are suspended until you either have enough passive income or you sell the property that produced the losses. Bottom line: the PAL rules can postpone any tax-saving benefit from rental property losses, sometimes for years. Fortunately, there are several exceptions to the PAL rules that can allow you to deduct rental property losses sooner rather than later. Your tax pro can explain the exceptions and help you plan to become eligible, if possible.

Is that the end of the bad news?

Not exactly. Say you manage to successfully clear the hurdles imposed by the PAL rules for your rental property losses. So far, so good. But the TCJA established another hurdle that you must also clear to currently deduct those losses. For tax years beginning in 2018-2025, you cannot deduct an excess business loss in the current year. An excess business loss is one that exceeds $250,000 or $500,000 for a married joint-filing couple. Any excess business loss is carried over to the following tax year and can be deducted under the rules for net operating loss (NOL) carry-forwards. This loss disallowance rule applies after applying the PAL rules. So, if the PAL rules disallow your rental losses, this rule is a nonfactor.

COVID-19 Relief: Thankfully, the CARES Act suspends the excess business loss disallowance rule for losses that arise in tax years beginning in 2018-2020. That’s good news.

What’s the deal with net operation losses (NOLs)?

Say you manage to successfully clear both of the preceding hurdles for your rental property losses. Now we are talking, because you can generally use those losses currently to offset taxable income from other sources. If losses for the year exceed income from other sources, you may have a net operating loss (NOL) for the year.

COVID-19 Relief: The CARES Act allows a five-year carryback privilege for an NOL that arises in a tax year beginning in 2018-2020. So, you can carry an NOL from one of those years back to an earlier year, deduct it, and recover some or all of the federal income tax paid for the carryback year. Because federal income tax rates were generally higher in years before the TCJA took effect, NOLs carried back to those years can be especially beneficial. The TCJA kicked in starting with tax years beginning in 2018.

What if I have positive taxable income?

Eventually your rental property should start throwing off positive taxable income instead of losses, because escalating rents will surpass your deductible expenses. Of course, you must pay income taxes on those profits. But if you piled up suspended passive losses in earlier years, you can now use them to offset your passive profits.

Another nice thing: positive taxable income from rental real estate is not hit with the dreaded self-employment (SE) tax, which applies to most other unincorporated profit-making ventures. The SE tax rate can be up to 15.3%. Something to avoid when possible.

One bad thing: positive passive income from rental real estate owned by a higher-income individual can get socked with the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and gains from selling properties can also get hit with the NIIT. Ask your tax pro for details.

The bottom line

There you have it: most of what you need to know about the federal income tax issues that can come into play for rental property owners. The economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis and recent civil unrest increase the odds that rental properties will suffer losses in 2020, but tax relief provisions may soften the blow.

The post 2020 Could Be an Unprofitable Year for Rental Properties. Here’s How to Handle the Taxes appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Is LendingTree Legit, Safe or Scams?

If you’re asking yourself whether LendingTree is legit, you have every right to do so. After all, you’re about to take on a big financial obligation (whether it is a mortgage loan or a personal loan).

Your objective is to save money, so you want to find a lender with the best mortgage rate. But if you aren’t familiar with LendingTree, how do you know if it’s legit?

There are resources available to check, such as reading LendingTree reviews, to make sure if they are trustworthy.

When you’re looking for a mortgage lender you can trust, LendingTree is the right place for you. Just enter your information and get multiple free and free mortgage rates within minutes.

What is LendingTree?

Before answering the question of “is LendingTree Legit?,” you need to have an understanding of what LendingTree is.

Launched in 1998, LendingTree has built a reputation by matching borrowers to lenders. (For more information about the company, visit its website.

Instead of filling out several applications and talk to several lenders, with LendingTree you can shop around for the best mortgage loans on one website. It’s an all-in-one platform.

It just connects you with multiple lenders all at one time so you can compare and choose the best mortgage rates.

So in case you were wondering if LendingTree is a legitimate and trustworthy company, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

LendingTree is legit.

Related: LendingTree Review: Get a Loan in 10 minutes

Five Ways You Know LendingTree is a Legit and Trustworthy Company.

1. Read LendingTree reviews by their customers to see if it’s legit.

Part of your search “is LendingTree legit” should include reading customer reviews about their experiences with the company. Performing a simple Google search for “LendingTree Reviews,” then you will find a lot sites like consumeraffairs.com or trustpilot.com.

These reviews can help you determine if LendingTree is indeed legit. These reviews can give you the inside story on everything about LendingTree from customer service to interest rates.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that happy customers are less likely to submit a review than unhappy ones.

So read these reviews with an open mind. Indeed, it’s important to look for reviews that are based on facts rather than opinions.

For example, a review that says “I like the lenders provided by LendingTree because their rates are low” is based on facts. A review that says “their service sucks” is based on opinion.

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2. Check LendingTree’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating.

Another way to know for sure if LendingTree is legit is to check its BBB rating. The BBB assigns business ratings from A+ to F.

A search for LendingTree’s BBB rating shows that not only it is an accredited company, but also has an A+ BBB rating. A BBB rating of A+ is the highest rating you can get. So if LendingTree has an A+ rating, you know it’s legit.

One thing to keep in mind is that BBB ratings and customer reviews can differ significantly. While a company like LendingTree may have negative reviews from customers (every company does), their BBB rating might be an A+.

3. Check LendingTree’s website.

Another way to know if LendingTree is legit is to thoroughly review its website. A company may seem genuine, but there are a few things that can throw up a red flag. Things to look for to see if LendingTree is a legit are:

  • How long have they been in business. According to both its website and the BBB website, LendingTree has been in business for 23 years.
  • Does it offer customer service? If there is no contact support, no address, no phone number to reach the company, this may be a red flag that the company is not legitimate. Fortunately, LendingTree’s homepage is full with that information. So there is no need to worry on that point.
  • See if LendingTree has a policy page: A legit company will have terms of use and conditions pages such as privacy policy pages. Again LendingTree does have this information, which can lead you to conclude it is legit.

Compare mortgage rates with LendingTree

4. Talk to family and friends about their experience with LendingTree.

Just like reading consumer reviews about LendingTree, friends, family members, colleagues are a great source to determine if LendingTree is legit. Ask them if their experience was satisfactory or not.

5. Visit a local office or a main office.

If you’re still not convincing that LendingTree is legit, visit a local office or their main office. Their main office is located at 11115 Rushmore Dr., Charlotte, NC 28277.

In conclusion, LendingTree is legit. But if you want to do your own research to determine if they are legitimate and trustworthy, do the following: check LendingTree’s reviews, their BBB rating, their website, and ask colleagues and friends about their experience with the platform.

All of these should lead you to believe that LendingTree is in fact a legit company.

Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Today

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The post Is LendingTree Legit, Safe or Scams? appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

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These Free TV Apps Will Let You Cut Cable but Keep Content

As cable subscription prices rise higher and higher and customer satisfaction ratings dive lower and lower, cutting the cable has never been more popular.

Sure, there are the usual big names in streaming services available for a monthly fee, but it’s possible to kick subscription fees entirely.

Luckily, there are more options than ever for replacing your traditional cable setup. Many free streaming services have stepped up to offer access to content overlooked by subscription-based services.

And you aren’t confined to squinting at your phone’s screen or gathering the family around the old iPad to watch your favorite TV series and movies — you can download apps to your Smart TV or even your Xbox or PlayStation consoles.

Of course, there are some rather shady options out there that stream pirated content. But we’ve rounded up free, legal streaming apps that provide no-strings-attached cable-cutting solutions.

12 Free TV Apps That Will Help You Cut Cable

With so many free streaming options out there, it’s easier than ever to cut the cord and save big. Whether you’re looking to keep up with the news, find a good movie for date night or entertain your kids with educational content, a streaming service exists to ensure you can do so without paying a dime.

Try these free TV apps out and see which works best for you.

1. Crackle

One of the go-to names not just in free streaming but in streaming video in general is Crackle. The cost-free service has a variety of content, ranging from classic TV shows like “Bewitched” and “Barney Miller,” as well as the newer “Snatch” series. It also has hundreds of films from major studios.

For a free streaming service, Crackle’s library is truly impressive. Crackle even has a handful of original series to its name. Best of all, Crackle works on nearly all mobile devices, streaming boxes and smart TVs.

2. Tubi TV

A division of FOX Entertainment, Tubi TV has deals with major studios like Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Lionsgate. It also features lots of foreign and independent productions.

Tubi TV’s library is updated regularly, and the service claims to add new content every week. The Tubi TV app works on more than 25 devices, including Android and iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, Samsung Smart TVs and Amazon Fire TV.

The library is solid and has started offering popular Fox TV series like “The Masked Singer” and “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back.”

Since the service is ad-supported, you can expect to watch a couple minutes of ads every 10 minutes or so. The experience is pretty similar to watching normal television.

3. Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers TV channels of linear content much like a cable package

There are dozens of classic TV, movie and sports channels — and even some highly curated streams of niche content.

If you’re looking for breaking news, you can choose from an assortment of major network news channels that are live streaming.

The kids (or kids at heart) can check out Nickelodeon classics like “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “Dora the Explorer.”

Pro Tip

Got a library card? You have access to even more entertainment options (besides the obvious, books). Check out these library apps for free access to movies, TV shows and more.

Or if you just want to veg out, switch over to their Binge menu for a seemingly endless stream of TV series, like “The Hills” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Pluto TV boasts a large list of supported devices including iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TVand Chromecast devices and Android TV.

Like Tubi TV, Pluto TV has advertisements similar to the ad load of normal TV.

4. NewsON

Streaming video isn’t always just about entertainment. The NewsON app provides hundreds of local and national news streams.

Both live TV and on-demand news broadcasts can be streamed from over 275 local news affiliates in 160 markets. The broadcasts are available for up to 48 hours after they air, so even if you don’t catch the news as it happens, you can catch up later.

Users can then select which news segments they want to watch from categories like sports, weather or entertainment. NewsON is compatible with iOS and Android phones and tablets, as well as Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

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5. Funny Or Die

The go-to streaming app for comedy programming is Funny or Die. Founded in 2007 by contemporary comedy giants Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, it has since grown to be a full-blown production house featuring original content from big names in show business.

Pro Tip

In 2018, the Funny Or Die began publishing on Vox Media’s Chorus and now uses the YouTube Player.

Content on the app must be streamed and cannot be downloaded.

6. PBS Kids

Kids need free streaming content, too. PBS has a PBS Kids Video app that provides hundreds of hours of educational and enriching content for the youngest members of the family. The app has a colorful, child-friendly interface, which makes it easy for kids to take control themselves.

You can even tap the “Live TV” button to watch what’s currently airing on your local PBS station.

Pro Tip

Almost all of the networks and cable TV channels have their own free apps for you to download — although many charge you to actually watch current content.

Videos from many of PBS’s most popular series are available for streaming including “Curious George,” “Wild Kratts” and “Sesame Street.” The PBS Kids app is supported for Android, Windows and iOS phones and tablets.

7. Xumo

Whether you want it now or later, Xumo offers live TV and on-demand options.

Like Pluto, you can choose from an assortment of major network news channels that are live streaming.

But it also includes more than 160 free channels, including themed ones in case you’re in the mood for action movies or comedies — you can watch the Funny Or Die channel here, too.

Xumo is available on most smart TVs and Roku and for download on iOS and Android devices.

Pro Tip

Many of the free TV apps offer “premium” channels — if you see that word, expect to pay for those services.

8. Crunchyroll

Anime and manga fans are likely already familiar with Crunchyroll. It specializes in mostly Japanese content, but it also features films and series from all over the world. Crunchyroll boasts a library of thousands of anime films and series, many of which are hard to find on other streaming services.

There is a paid premium feature, but the free Crunchyroll service has thousands of hours of popular series like the “Dragon Ball” franchise, “Attack on Titan,” “Naruto” and “One Piece.”

The Crunchyroll app is supported by Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices, as well as by gaming consoles, Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku.

Crunchyroll is a great app for anyone with an interest in anime. Of course, when it comes to anime content, you have to be watchful with your younger children, as a lot of it is geared toward teens (and sometimes even adults).

9. Twitch

For anyone with even a passing interest in gaming and esports, Twitch is the go-to free streaming service.

Twitch hosts user-created channels and streams focused on video games and other esports. It features a built-in chat feature, so users can chat with other streamers in real time.

Pro Tip

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While there are thousands of free streams, Twitch also features premium features for a monthly subscription. Twitch apps are compatible with PCs, iOS and Android devices, game consoles, Chromecast and Fire TV.

While Twitch is popular with children, parents should beware: Twitch streams are somewhat unregulated and can sometimes contain adult language or content.

10. IMDb TV

Owned by Amazon, IMDb TV (formerly Freedive) features a host of full episodes of your favorite current and classic TV shows as well as an array of movies.

The catalogue includes some binge-worthy sci-fi hits like “Lost” and “Fringe.”

The free version of IMDbTV is ad-supported, so you’ll have to sit through a few commercial breaks.

It is available in the United States on the IMDb app, the IMDb website, the Amazon Prime Video app and Amazon Fire TV devices.

11. YouTube

Yes, YouTube. YouTube apps are compatible with just about every device that has a screen, and the service features videos to choose from on nearly any topic imaginable.

Most of those videos are not exactly premium content, but there are still plenty of full-length films, documentary series and curated channels that provide cost-free entertainment for the whole family.

While there are ways to download YouTube content for offline viewing, proceed with caution: Many of these sites and apps are full of malware.

12. Peacock

NBCUniversal launched this streaming service, which includes over 7,500 hours of free content, in July 2020.

Although Peacock offers paid premium options, the free version includes current and classic TV shows, movies, news, sports, kids’ shows, Spanish-language programs and even select episodes of Peacock originals.

If you’re a fan of shows like “The Office,” “Law and Order: SVU,” or “Saturday Night Live,” you can watch them on this streaming service.

Customers can stream Peacock on a variety of platforms, including LG Smart TVs, Vizio SmartCast TVs, Roku, Google and Apple devices and Playstation and Xbox consoles.

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Chris Brantner is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Senior writer Nicole Dow contributed to this article.

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Bundle Up! Winter’s Home-Buying Game Has Changed. Here’s How To Win

How to buy a house this winterViktoriia Hnatiuk / Getty Images

Savvy home buyers know that winter is typically a good time to embark on a house hunt, since much of their competition stays holed up at home until spring. But this winter, buyers might notice that despite the cold and the holidays, they’ve got company.

Lots of it, in fact.

“Normally winter is a good time for buyers,” says realtor.com® chief economist Danielle Hale. However, since the coronavirus kept buyers on lockdown for much of spring, many are making up for lost time by home shopping hard right now.

“This year’s unusual seasonal pattern means that buyers aren’t getting the usual break from the market frenzy that they typically do in the cooler weather,” Hale explains.

As a result, this winter is shaping up to be a seller’s market, with low real estate inventory, high prices, and bidding wars that could give buyers a major run for their money.

This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel—just that you’ll have to hone your house hunt in new ways to suit the times. Here are some tactics that will keep you ahead of the pack so you’ll be sitting in a new home by the new year.

Secure your financing as soon as possible

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage and securing financing are an essential first step when buying a home. It gives you a clear picture of how much house you can afford, and lets you make an offer as soon as you find your dream home.

Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker and owner at Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle, says this process is more important now than ever.

“Getting pre-approved for a loan is obviously important, but is there anything else they can do to put themselves in a good position?” he says. “Buyers need to be ready to buy a house before they start looking.”

Too often, buyers don’t line up their financing until they find a home they want to buy, van Winkle says. In the current competitive market, waiting to get pre-approval means you could lose out on purchasing a home you love.

“That creates a mad dash and stress to get everything lined up under pressure,” he says. “Get all your financing secured and ready before you look, that way when you find the right home you’re 100% ready.”

Starting early could also help you lock in an ultralow interest rate, which could affect your monthly mortgage payment and mean you could afford a more expensive home. As of Oct. 22, Freddie Mac listed rates at 2.8% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan.

Know what you want before you house hunt

COVID-19 has changed how we live and work. We’re spending much more time at home, and people are looking for different features in their living spaces.

Make a list of your must-haves before you start house shopping—and share your needs with your real estate agent.

Simon Isaacs, broker and owner of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL, says it helps cut down on the number of homes you’ll have to view before finding the right one.

“I would suggest buyers not look at 25 homes,” he says. “If the agent is showing them that many houses, the agent doesn’t know what they want.”

In such a competitive landscape, knowing exactly what you want enables you to act fast when you want to make an offer.

Tour homes virtually first

More real estate agents are embracing virtual tours and remote showings to ease coronavirus safety concerns. In some cases, they’re even limiting in-person showings to the most serious buyers—those with financing already secured, for example.

“Real estate agents in our local market are adjusting to the client’s needs by continuing to provide in-person showings with precautions and also assisting buyers virtually with their home purchases,” says Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estate in Huntsville, AL.

Virtual home tours, using Zoom or FaceTime, let you view the home from anywhere, and depending on the setup, you might be able to ask questions in real time. So you can narrow down the homes you’re most interested in and physically visit only the ones that best meet your needs.

Don’t dawdle if you want to make an offer

In September, there were nearly 40% fewer homes on the market than during the same month last year, according to a realtor.com report. At the same time, buyer demand has increased, creating an incredibly competitive marketplace. Homes were on the market for an average of 54 days in September, 12 fewer days than last year.

Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL, says the buyers she’s worked with lately have had just a few homes to consider. And, with all the other buyers in a location also looking at those same houses, you’ll need to act fast if you’re interested.

The challenge, she says, is potential buyers have little time to mull things over, and they are pitted against one another.

Isaacs is seeing a similar situation. Wait too long to submit an offer, and another buyer is likely to swoop in with an offer of their own.

“I would say don’t deliberate on buying,” he says. “I’ve had too many clients who were [saying], ‘Should we, shouldn’t we.’ I would say if it’s something that you want to do, do it.”

Make your offer stand out

Since inventory is so low, sellers are getting multiple offers on their homes these days. To make sure yours gets accepted, you’ll need to make it stand out.

Cash offers and inspection waivers are some ways to make your offer more appealing, Curtis says.

A cash offer, if you can afford it, is attractive to sellers because it eliminates dealing with a mortgage lender and often speeds up closings. An inspection waiver comes with lots of risks, since you’re essentially agreeing to purchase a home as is, but the waiver removes any repair negotiations and helps you close faster.

For competitive markets, where you know you’ll be competing directly with many buyers, Jones suggests talking to your agent about escalation clauses. This is a contract addendum where you agree to pay more than other offers (up to a maximum you set).

Bottom line: “Find a strategy to help make your offer stand out amongst the 10, 20, or more offers that may come in on your dream home,” Curtis says.

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Source: realtor.com