Wednesday, March 30, 2011

7 Great Places to Retire

Sunbelt cities--traditional hotspots for retirees--don’t always offer good cost-of-living or the best place to settle down during retirement, according to Forbes’ annual list of best places to retire. While Forbes’ list takes into account numerous factors in choosing its “best retirement places,” this year it focused more on tax burden and cost-of-living.

Among the more affordable retiree cities that made the “best retirement places” list for 2011 are (listed in no particular order):

- Indianapolis: Very affordable housing.
- Fargo, N.D.: Lowest crime rate on the list and inexpensive living costs.
- Charlotte, N.C.: Affordable housing as well as cost of living.
- Charleston, S.C.: Lowest taxes of all the cities Forbes evaluated.
- Colorado Springs, Colo.: Affordable housing and low cost of living.
- Jacksonville, Fla.: No state income or estate tax.
- Pittsburgh: Tax breaks for retirees.

See Forbes’ complete list of 16 best retirement places.

Source: “The Best Retirement Places,” Forbes (March 23, 2011)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five Tax Deductions You May Be Missing

Don’t miss out on important tax deductions that can bring savings to you this tax season.

You undoubtedly know about business-related tax deductions for your car expenses and home telephone expenses (such as long-distance phone calls and special phone services you use for business), but how about some of those lesser known tax deductions? Here are five that tax expert and author Stephen Fishman recently highlighted at Inman News.

1. Business gifts: Gifts you purchase for your customers are deductible as a business expense. The deduction is limited to $25 per person per year. Company-wide gifts, however, are deductible in any reasonable amount.

2. Continuing education courses: Those continuing education courses you’re required to take each year to maintain your real estate license can be deducted, as well as any education courses you take that improve your skill-set in your career (such as webinars). However, you can’t deduct the education expenses for starting a new career path, such as in obtaining a real estate license.

3. Greeting cards: Did you send a client a card to reach out to them and show them you care? Greeting cards you send to clients and prospects are deductible as an advertising expenses, says Fishman.

4. Web sites: Maintaining a business web site can get costly. You can deduct your business-related web site design and maintenance costs, as well as Internet hosting fees and the cost of getting a domain name for your business.

5. Business clothing with logos: Before you go on a clothing shopping spree, make sure you know what you can deduct when it comes to clothes. The business clothes deduction only applies to items with your company logo on it. While you can’t deduct a regular business suit, you can deduct the cost of a sport jacket or coat that boasts your company’s logo on it, Fishman says.

Don't forget: Tax returns are due by April 18 this year (a three-day extension was granted this year due to the weekend and holiday).

Source: “10 Tax Deductions: In Time for April 18 Deadline,” Inman News (March 18, 2011)

Monday, March 21, 2011

6 Ways to Squeeze Out Better Gas Mileage

With gas prices topping $4 a gallon, real estate professionals who use their car frequently for work are looking for ways to get as much as they can out of every gallon.

Here are some tips for getting better mileage out of your car:

1. Slow down: Most cars get the best gas mileage at 45-55 miles per hour. Driving faster than 60 mph actually can cut gas mileage anywhere from 7 to 23 percent.

2. Don't idle: If you need to wait longer than 20 seconds, you’re better off turning off your engine than keeping your car running. Restarting the car requires less gas than leaving it idling.

3. Lose the heavy load: Make sure you’re not carrying in your car more than what you need. An extra 100 pounds sitting in the trunk or back seat can reduce fuel economy as much as 2 percent.

4. Tighten the gas cap: Fuel can evaporate through gas caps with broken or weak seals. Loose or broken gas caps can cost you a loss of about 2 percent in your gas mileage.

5. Close the windows and turn off the AC: Driving with the windows open or the air conditioner turned on can be big gas wasters. Instead, the most efficient way to keep the car cool is by using the air that comes in through your flow-through ventilator.

6. Get an oil change: Improve your gas mileage by as much as 2 percent by using energy-conserving or synthetic motor oil, which can reduce engine friction.

Source: “10 Tips to Improve Your Vehicle’s Fuel Economy,” RISMedia (March 17, 2011)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weighing an Offer: 3 Seller Tips

Sellers can feel pressure when trying to decide whether to accept a buyer offer on their home. While real estate professionals can advise clients on whether to accept an offer, the final decision is up to the seller--and it can be an agonizing one.

In the current buyer’s market, buyers aren’t shy about making lowball offers to sellers either. So when should you accept or decline an offer?
Realty Times recently offered the following questions for sellers to consider.

1. Is the buyer pre-qualified/approved? You may not want to risk a deal falling through because the buyer wasn’t pre-qualified for a loan.

2. Do you need to move quickly? If you need to move quickly--due to a job relocation or to avoid foreclosure--you may need to accept an offer that is less than what you want.

3. Can you accept a loss? Be sure to take closing costs into consideration too as you weigh whether you can even afford to agree to the buyer's offer.

Realty Times also suggests sellers take into account how long their home has been on the market and the number of showings. Such considerations also can help sellers determine whether getting a better offer soon is realistic and would be worth the wait.

Source: “Should I Accept This Offer?” Realty Times (March 15, 2011)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tax Time Less Taxing for Home Owners

With a little more than one month before income taxes are due, many of the nation’s 75 million home owners may be appreciating the value of home ownership just a bit more as they take advantage of the tax benefits of owning a home.

“Owning a home offers myriad benefits throughout the year, but some of the financial advantages of home ownership are most apparent at tax time,” said NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. “As many of today’s hard-working American families are feeling a financial squeeze, the tax benefits that can come from owning a home can be a welcome relief.”

A number of tax deductions and credits are still available for home owners; these include deductions – with specific limits – for mortgage interest and capital gains on home sales, and credits for certain energy-efficient home improvements. Even with these benefits, home owners pay 80-90 percent of all U.S. federal income taxes.

“It’s been suggested that many of today’s tax incentives for home ownership primarily benefit wealthy individuals, but that’s simply not true,” said Phipps. “As today’s public debate continues about what home ownership means for families, communities, and the nation’s economy, there’s no question that for many, owning a home is still the best way to begin building wealth.”

Ninety-one percent of home owners who claim the mortgage interest deduction earn less than $200,000 a year, and the ability to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage can mean significant savings at tax time. For example, a family who bought a home in 2010 with a $200,000, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, assuming an interest rate of 4.5 percent, could save nearly $3,500 in federal taxes when they file this year.

“REALTORS® see the very real positive impact of home ownership every day with our clients,” said Phipps. “Recent proposals to reduce or eliminate the mortgage interest deduction and remove government support of the housing finance market could have disastrous consequences for the economy, not to mention making it harder or nearly impossible for millions of families to own their own homes. We believe America must continue to invest in home ownership, for the future of our families and our nation.”

For home owner tax season tips, visit HouseLogic is a free source of information from NAR that helps home owners maintain and enhance the value of their homes and engage in issues that affect their local communities.

Source: NAR

Lemon Chicken with Olives

Serves 4| Hands-On Time: 25m | Total Time: 30m
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup pitted green olives
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)

Mix the flour, cumin, lemon zest, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper on a flat plate. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and dredge in the mixture.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in 2 batches until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Wipe out the skillet and return to medium heat. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the shallots and cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the olives, parsley, lemon juice, and wine and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan, nestling it in the olives and shallots.
Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Divide among plates.
By Susie Theodorou, February 2008

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Gardening Tips

It's still wishful thinking across much of the country, but the lure of budding trees and blooming flowers has many green-thumbers pressing their noses against the window panes.

The good news? It's never too early to start planning your garden.

First, you must establish what "zone" you live in. Knowing your zone will tell you when to plant what. You can find out your zone by visiting

If the risk of freeze is over in your zone, you might be able to start getting your hands dirty!

Everyone loves to look through Spring seed catalogs and dream up their perfect garden. And every perfect garden starts with a well-thought out plan. Now is the time of year to decide what you want to watch grow and bloom this season.

Draw out plans and pick out colors. Many flower buffs prefer to group like colors together. They'll have a pink annual garden one year and a yellow the next.

Others focus their attention on larger projects, such as decks, pathways, and patios. If this is your intent this year, start your research now. Garden books and magazines are full of inspiration and how-to books can even lead you down the do-it-yourself path. You can also get pricing estimates from local home improvement stores and lumber yards.

Spring is also a time to prepare your soil. This means checking the pH to see if it needs balancing, as well as prepping the soil with compost to ensure it is full of nutrients. Compost works especially well when you add it prior to planting, and it's a natural organic way to make your garden just that much better.

You can also take this time to prune bushes and hedges, clean dirty bird feeders, and service your lawn equipment. If you hire a landscaping company to handle the heavy work for you each year, then now would be a great time to interview potential companies and decide upon a service plan.

Above all else, be sure to enjoy the process of planning and caring for your garden. It really is a rewarding hobby that keeps on giving for years to come.

Article by: by Carla Hill

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Research Firm Says U.S. Housing Has Never Been This Undervalued

The continuing depreciation of residential property values at the end of last year has made housing look more undervalued relative to income than ever before, according to analysts at the research firm Capital Economics.

Based on the latest Case-Shiller home price index, Capital Economics’ study shows that in the fourth quarter of 2010, housing was 21 percent undervalued when compared with disposable income per capital.

Looking at data included in the index published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the firm found that housing in Q4 was 15 percent undervalued as measured against individuals’ disposable income.

Capital Economics says its results illustrate “housing is exceptionally undervalued,” and the gap is getting bigger. In its third quarter 2010 report, the research firm pegged the Case-Shiller index readings as 19 percent undervalued and the FHFA index as 14 percent below what would constitute a balanced housing value in relation to income.

The recent fall back in house prices, coupled with low rates, explains why the initial monthly mortgage payment on a median priced house bought with a 20 percent down payment has fallen to a record low of 13 percent of the median income, Capital Economics pointed out in its report.

Home prices in 29 states hit a new cycle low in the fourth quarter of last year, and the research firm says on both

the FHFA and Case-Shiller house price indices, housing now appears close to fair value when set against rents.

Such favorable valuations mean there is plenty of scope for housing to perform well in the medium-term, according to Capital Economics, but over the next year, the firm says the combination of weak demand, high supply, and more forced sales of foreclosed properties will push prices lower.

As Capital Economics pointed out, the sharp fall in the mortgage delinquency rate at the end of last year means there are fewer homes in the foreclosure pipeline, but the elevated number of defaulted properties still in process means home values will continue to be negatively impacted by the presence of distress for some time.

On top of low prices, mortgage rates have fallen back a bit in recent weeks, leaving them even further below the 20-year average of 7 percent, the firm’s analysts wrote. Last week marked the third consecutive week that rates have continued to decline. A national survey conducted by Freddie Mac shows that the average 30-year fixed-rate has dropped to 4.87 percent, while the 15-year fixed-rate has slipped to 4.15 percent.

When you wrap declining home prices and historically low mortgage rates together, Capital Economics says, “The incredibly favorable affordability and valuation environment is the housing market’s one big positive.”

But despite this fact, mortgage applications have remained subdued. While buyer demand is notably weak by conventional standards, Capital Economics says the decrease in mortgage apps of late reflects, at least in part, the prevalence of cash buyers.

The company says the recent “de-valuing” of housing stock appears to be attracting cash buyers and investors back into the market.

They have driven 70 percent of the increase in existing home sales seen since last July, particularly among heavily discounted foreclosed homes, Capital Economics pointed out. Over that same period, first-time buyers have been responsible for just 6 percent of the increase in sales of previously owned homes.

By: Carrie Bay 03/07/2011 ©2011 DS News. All Rights Reserved.