Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Open Homes

Tips for a Successful Real Estate Open House

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, August 31, 2010--The Sunday real estate open house is a longstanding ritual in the real estate marketplace, and many homes have been sold on a lazy Sunday afternoon. When used properly, open houses can be a great marketing strategy.

According to the experts at Buy-and-Sell-House-Fast.com, the following steps will help you get the most out of your real estate open house and increase your chances of selling your home for the price you want.

-Be sure to meet with your agent in advance of the open house. Discuss all the various details about what is involved in holding a successful open house. While many home sellers are comfortable with an open house, others are not. If you choose not to host an open house, there are other ways to sell your home.

-Be certain to go through the entire home with the real estate agent the day before the open house. Take careful notes and follow all of his/her recommendations.

-Try not to become emotionally involved when evaluating the condition of your home prior to the open house. Remember that your real estate agent is trying to make your home more appealing to potential buyers, not criticizing your decorating style or choice of accessories.

-Any needed home repairs should be completed before the open house begins. This includes things like peeling paint, loose stairs, banisters in need of repair and the like. It is crucial that guests see a home that is in immaculate condition.

-Never underestimate the importance of making a good first impression. Many visitors make a decision about the home in the first few seconds. Be sure the entranceway to the home is immaculate, and that the steps leading up to the home are well swept and free of debris.

-Ask the real estate agent to create a professional-looking sign in sheet for all visitors. It is important to get the name and phone number of all attendees to the open house.

-Always discuss the price of the home prior to the open house. This will allow the agent to negotiate the price on the spot if a good prospect attends.

-Be sure to consider unusual ways to market your open house. For instance, if you belong to any special groups or organizations, be sure to market the upcoming open house to the members. For instance, the local garden club may be very interested in attending an open house that includes a beautiful outdoor garden.

-It is a good idea to provide cookies, brownies or other snacks for guests at the open house. A punch bowl is also an attractive addition.

-Pets should be kept away from open house visitors. It may be a good idea to have a friend or family member takes care of your pets until the open house is over.

-Be sure to lock up all medications, both prescription and non-prescription. Also be sure to lock up any cash or valuables in the home prior to the open house.

-Make sure that the home is spotless and free of unpleasant odors prior to the open house. You may want to bake a fresh batch of cookies an hour or two before the open house begins. Not only will the aroma mask any unpleasant smells, but it will create a warm and inviting ambiance as well.

-Be sure the temperature in the home is pleasant. A home that is too hot or too cold can make visitors uncomfortable, and lead them to wonder about the quality of the heating and air conditioning system.

-Play soft music in the background during the open house. Background music helps set a good mood for visitors.

-Always open the curtains and the drapes prior to the open house. This will allow fresh air and sunshine in and help give the impression of a larger space.

-If your home does not have plants, you may want to buy a few before the open house. Plants can provide a warm feel and help make guests at the open house feel more at home.

Taxes on a second Home

For Your Clients: Can I Deduct Taxes on Second House?

By Claudia Buck

RISMEDIA, August 31, 2010--(MCT)--Do I pay taxes for household workers? Can I take a deduction for a second home used by family? The IRS' Jesse Weller and the California Franchise Tax Board's Brenda Voet tackle those questions from readers.

QUESTION: I bought a house a mile from my primary residence with the specific intent of renting it in the future to my daughter. If my daughter lives in the house this year and pays the utilities in her name (but pays no rent), does the house still qualify as a second residence?

ANSWER: Yes, you are considered to have personally used the second property all year because your daughter used it as her primary residence. Accordingly, you may deduct the entire amount of the property tax and mortgage interest as itemized deductions.

Q: If I hire people to work in my yard or do housekeeping, is there a limit to the amount I can pay them without having to fill out 1099s like an employer does? And if there is a limit, does it only apply for one person, or can I hire another for the same limit for a different type of work?

A: When a taxpayer hires people to work in and around his/her personal household — such as housekeepers, baby sitters, gardeners and yard workers — those workers may be considered employees.

Although you usually do not need to complete a Form 1099 for paid work that is performed in and around your home, you may need to issue a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. You also may be responsible for withholding and paying employment taxes on wages paid to workers who qualify as your employees.

Usually a household worker is considered an employee if the payer can control both what work is done and how it is done. If the worker controls how the work is done, the worker is normally considered self-employed and not an employee.

For example, (individuals) who work in your home like carpenters, builders and plumbers are normally self-employed, independent contractors and are not employees. Self-employed workers usually provide their own tools and offer their services to the general public.

To answer your question about the payment threshold: If you pay an individual household employee cash wages (including wages paid by check or money order) of more than $1,700 in 2010, you generally must withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from all cash wages.

You have the option to pay your employee's share of taxes from your own funds rather than withhold it from their salary. You are not required to withhold federal income tax from wages you pay to a household employee, unless your employee asks you to withhold income tax and you agree. In some situations, you also may be responsible to pay federal unemployment taxes on a portion of the cash wages.

If you must withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, or if you withhold federal income tax, you will need to file a Form W-2 for each employee after the end of the year. In that situation you will also need to file a Schedule H, Household Employment Taxes, after the end of the year with your Form 1040 individual income tax return.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Home Sales in New Bern

New home sales in the New Bern area have been steady as compared to 2009. Through 8-20-2010 there have been 202 new home sales. There are currently 305 new homes listed in the MLS although some of these are proposed construction. Of these only 13 percent are over $200,000. All this equates to a 10-11 month inventory of new homes. The defination of a buyers market is over 6 months of homes for sale.

For the same time frame in 2009 there were 204 new home sales. At first glance it looks like sales this year are about the same as last. However, some builders are giving deep discounts to buyers. This is not healthy for anyone in the long run as it will hurt everyone's appraisals.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

More to life than money?

In Difficult Financial Times, Sense of Purpose is Key to Happiness

By Robert Powell

RISMEDIA, August 3, 2010--(MCT)--When it comes to feeling as though you're enjoying the good life, money matters. Make no mistake about it. But it's just one critical ingredient, according to a new study.

Being healthy, creating deep relationships with family and friends, having a sense of purpose, and feeling like you belong are major components of a happy life. What's more, those ingredients are just as true for those in their 20s as those in their 70s — and in the midst of a recession, too, according to MetLife's Mature Market Institute 2010 Meaning Really Matters study, which is based on the work of Richard J. Leider, author of "The Power of Purpose."

Being healthy and wealthy have always been two well-known ingredients of happiness, but the study also shed light on what it takes to live the good life and what type of people are living one.

If you're happy, age might have something to do with it. In 2010, almost half of those aged 45 to 74 said they were living the good life compared to just 29 percent of 25- to 44-year-olds.

But how do you know whether you're living the good life? In the study, MetLife said those living the good life uttered such comments as "Being spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy," "Having enough money not to worry about whether or not I can pay the bills; good friends to share life with" and "Having a safe, healthy, and happy life with family and friends."

MetLife said 74 percent of those living the good life were completely content, as opposed to only 24 percent who weren't living the good life. What's more, those living the good life generally look forward to each day, consider themselves very happy, are in control of their lives, and are highly optimistic about their future.

The chief component is having a sense of purpose, according to the study. That sense of purpose is "interrelated with vision — having clarity about the path to the good life and focus — knowing and concentrating on the most important things that will get you to the good life." Over eight in 10 (82 percent) of those who feel their lives have purpose are living the good life compared to 35 percent for those who are not living the good life.

The good news, at least for those who equate wisdom with age, is this: The older you are, the more likely you have vision and focus. Younger Americans, not so much — proving once again perhaps that youth is wasted on the young. Likewise, MetLife reports that older Americans (those age 45-74) are more likely to focus more on meaning-laden activities like spending more time on helping others and making their community a comfortable place to be than younger people, while younger cohorts plan to spend more time on such crass activities as generating, managing, and accumulating money.

But even though the young (and even some older folks) lack meaning in their lives now doesn't mean it will last forever. "If people are dissatisfied with their lives — if they feel it lacks meaning — they can do something about it," the study said.

"Discovering purpose is an ongoing quest rather than a one-time trip to an exotic land," the study said.

What's more, MetLife says one's purpose "is likely to change a number of times as one grows older and their experiences and goals expand and shift."

So what's the trick to leading the good instead of the bad life? Well, according to MetLife, you can greatly improve your chances by looking at your long- and short-term plans, including "a situational assessment of where you are today."

Specifically, MetLife recommends the following:

First, envision your long- and near-term future. Think about your life two or three years out and ask yourself the following questions. Then think about your life 20 years from now and ask yourself the very same questions.

Picture yourself in two or three years and then in 20 years. How old are you? What goals do you have for yourself?

What are you doing? How much are you working? If you are working, what are you doing? Are you spending the amount of time you would like with friends and family? What kind of daily routine do you have? What do you like to do with your free time?

Where are you living? Has your residence changed? Are you living in another state or location from where you are today? What kind of community are you living in? What do you like about where you live?

How are your loved ones? How close do your loved ones live to you? What are your loved ones doing? How often do you see your loved ones? What important changes in their lives have they experienced?

Second, get a sense of your wealth. What's the point of having the good life without money? Exactly. MetLife says the other thing you need to do is ask yourself the following questions about money.

Do you know what your assets are worth?

Do you know your net income?

Do you know your total spending?

Is there any money left over to help reach your goals?

Said MetLife: "Assess the information you have put together and consider whether your current financial and legal situation is on track to support your near-term and long-term goals."

Last but not least, MetLife recommends not just creating and acting on the plan, but protecting it as well. Why is that so important? As everyone knows, stuff — bad and good — happens in life.

"Living the good life also means weathering significant changes and transitions caused by positive or negative 'trigger events' such as job loss, marriage, illness, the birth of a child or grandchild, divorce, moving, retirement, and the death of a loved one," the study said.

Knowing in advance that you'll have to weather such storms will go a long way toward improving your odds of living the good life. L'chaim.

(c) 2010, MarketWatch.com Inc.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Energry Savings

6 Tips to Keeping Your Home Cooler

By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, August 3, 2010--Wow, it's hot outside! The summer's in full swing with no signs of cooling. And while you may be tempted to crank up the A/C, remember - you won't be nearly as excited to see that electric bill next month.

To save some money -- and, don't forget, energy! -- here are six tips that might just help.

1.Avoid heat build-up in your home – The best way to keep your home cool is to keep the heat out. This can be done by closing the drapes on windows facing the sun (east-facing windows in the morning and west-facing windows in the afternoon). You should also try to avoid heat-generating activities, such as cooking, on hot days or during the hottest part of the day. If you are cooking, use your range fan to vent the hot air out of your house. By reducing the amount of heat in your home, you will have to use less energy to cool it.

2.Use ventilation and circulation to cool your home – Instead of automatically turning on the air conditioner on hot days, try cooling your home with window and ceiling fans. Circulating air can make your home feel cool and comfortable in a much more efficient way than air conditioning. There is also the option of a whole house fan (a large ventilating fan installed in you attic that expels hot air out of your home) which can circulate air throughout your entire home.

3.Keep air conditioning efficient and to a minimum – When you do have to use air conditioning, there are ways to make it more efficient. First of all, turn up the temperature setting on your air conditioner by a couple of degrees. Most people keep the temperature setting lower than it needs to be, hence using more energy than is needed to keep your home cool. It is recommended that you keep the temperature at about 25° C (77° F). Also, remember to turn off your air conditioner once your home has reached a comfortable temperature. By coupling minimum air conditioning with reducing the amount of heat entering your home, you can keep it cool without using excess energy. It isn’t recommended that you leave your air conditioner on when you leave your house, but if you’re going to do so, turn the temperature setting up a few more degrees while you’re gone to about 28° C (82° F). Also, remember to turn off your air conditioner if you’re going to be away from your home for more than a day. It is also important to make sure your cooling vents aren’t blocked so that the energy being used is going towards actually cooling your home and not being wasted. Furthermore, keep rooms that don't need cooling, such as closets, closed off when you're air conditioning.

4.Make sure your home isn’t losing cool air – By weather-stripping and caulking around windows, doors and electrical outlets on outer walls, you can prevent losing cool air from your home and prevent hot air from getting in. Improve your home’s insulation on outer walls, again to keep cool air in, and hot air out. You should also consider installing storm doors for the same reasons if your home doesn’t already have them. If you have a fireplace, keep the flue closed. These provide an extra barrier against the escape of cool air. All of these options will make cooling your home more efficient and will save you money on your energy bill.

5.Select energy-efficient cooling systems – If you’re in the market for a new cooling system, there are many new technologies that are much more efficient than older versions. As with other appliances, you should look for the Energy Star logo and compare the amount of electricity each uses.

6.Use the coolest parts of your home – On hot days, parts of your house will naturally stay cooler than others. For example, if you have a basement it will remain cool even during the hottest part of the day (this is because the cool air in your home will sink down to your basement). One way you can reduce the amount of energy used to cool your home is to do more in cooler areas of your home. This way, you won't have to use energy to stay cool.