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Friday, December 11, 2009
America's Best Cities: Colorado Springs, Colorado No. 1
By Sean Brander
Garden of the Gods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center)
617,000: Population (metro)
$180,000: Median home price
A: Multisport grade
1,200: Number of Olympic athletes who live in town to train at the U.S. Olympic Complex
There's a reason 1.3 million people have rushed to Colorado's Front Range in the past two decades: With 249 annual days of sun, an ascendant, heavily tech-based economy, and quick access to nearly four million acres of Rocky Mountain wilderness and a dozen world-class ski resorts, it's simply a pretty awesome place to live. And while we love Denver's laid-back vibe (see right), the Springs simply outscored it this year. (Boulder wasn't large enough to qualify.) Considering that the town is base camp for both the Air Force Space Command, NORAD, and ultra- conservative advocacy groups like Focus on the Family, it may be a bit conservative for some. But regardless of your political bent, it scored extremely high in our education category, has the best weather of any city on our list, and, most important, blew away the competition when we compared average income to cost of living. The city is experiencing something of a cultural resurgence, too. Colorado College's ten-month-old, $33 million performing-arts center has begun drawing national classical music and dance groups, and this year the city launched its own roots-and-blues festival, Meadowgrass. But you don't come to the Front Range for the music. You come for 14,117-foot Pikes Peak (directly above town); the Arkansas's Class IV rapids (two hours west); world-class athletic facilities (Carmichael Training Systems is based here); and 260 miles of multisport trails available within a ten-mile radius. Sure, there are a few other towns with this many outdoor options, but they generally cost twice as much—or, like Boulder, require you to shave your legs.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
House hunting usually slows down this time of year, as people put their searches on hold during the holidays.
This winter could be different, however, thanks to the extension — and expansion — of the first-time homebuyer tax credit.
"We're going to see far more interest in the fourth quarter than we generally do because of the tax credit," says Heather Fernandez, vice president of Trulia.com, a real-estate search engine. Traffic surged on the site on Nov. 5, the day Congress approved the credit extension, she says.
The new law extends the tax credit for first-time homebuyers and opens it up to some existing homeowners as well: The credit is now up to $8,000 for first-time buyers and up to $6,500 for repeat buyers.
All buyers must have a binding contract on a house in place on or before April 30. The purchase must be for a principal residence and must close on or before June 30.
To be considered a first-time homebuyer, an individual must not have owned a home in the past three years. And to be eligible, existing homeowners need to have lived in the same principal residence for five consecutive years during the eight-year period that ends when the new home is purchased.
Income limits have risen as well. According to the Internal Revenue Service's Web site, www.irs.gov, the homebuyer tax credit phases out for individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes between $125,000 and $145,000, and between $225,000 and $245,000 for people filing joint returns.
The inclusion of move-up buyers might inspire homeowners to list their house if they've been putting it off, says Carolyn Warren, a Seattle mortgage broker.
"If people love their home, it's not going to entice them to sell," Warren says. "If they've had it in the back of their minds and really would like to move up, it might push them into doing it sooner than later."
If you're thinking of purchasing a home, here are five tips:
Start your house search now. Getting an early start will give you a better chance of finding the right house before the credit deadline.
When first-time buyers thought that the credit would expire Nov. 30, people scrambled to find properties in September and October, says Pat Lashinsky, chief executive of ZipRealty, a residential real-estate brokerage firm. In some cases, "there wasn't inventory that fit people's needs," he says. In some markets, including Phoenix, Chicago and parts of California, for example, properties had multiple bidders, Lashinsky adds.
Before you start house hunting, get preapproved for a mortgage, says Eddie Fadel, a Miami-based mortgage banker. And do a realistic assessment of what you can afford.
Buyers who have to sell an existing home should price it aggressively from the beginning to drum up interest and get a buyer as soon as possible, Fernandez says.
Don't count on another extension
The credit won't be available forever, Fadel says.
"This is a medication for the housing crisis," he says, "Once the patient — which is the housing market — is cured, there will be no medication needed."
Be mindful of interest rates
Interest rates are low right now, but will likely rise next year, Warren says. Higher rates will affect your monthly mortgage payments, thus the affordability of the house you are buying.
"It's pretty universally accepted that rates will be higher next year," she says. "What is unknown is how fast and by how much" they will rise.
Find the best places to live
Average rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have been hovering around 5%. But when the Federal Reserve stops buying large amounts of mortgage-backed securities next year, interest rates could rise, Warren points out. The Fed plans to end its purchase program in March.
Communicate with your lender
Make sure you're speaking with your lender regularly to avoid any delays. If the lender asks for any additional documentation, turn it in as soon as possible, says Doug Heddings, a New York-based real-estate agent with Charles Rutenberg Realty.
And think twice before pursuing a short sale. That's where someone sells a home for less than what he or she owes on a mortgage, with permission of the lender. The process can be lengthy and unpredictable because the homeowner's lender has to approve any deal, Warren says, and it can get complicated when there is a second mortgage associated with the property.
Don't take shortcuts
Don't forgo any of the steps you would normally take just to make the tax-credit deadline. That means making sure the house is a good fit and is in the right location and getting a home inspection, Lashinsky says. Skipping steps could cost you in the long run.
"Don't let the tax credit get you to make a decision to buy a house that you wouldn't otherwise want to buy," he says. "Don't shortcut the process to get the tax credit."
Monday, December 7, 2009
Posted by Mai Ling at MSN Real Estate on Friday, December 4, 2009 12:08 PM
With Christmas just three weeks away, the brainstorming is over. It's time to start buying.
So for parents who still are looking for that perfect gift for their adult children, The Wall Street Journal suggests you consider the splurge of a lifetime by giving them the gift of a down payment, or even a house.
The timing couldn't be better. If they're eligible for the first-time homebuyer tax credit, they also could get a gift of up to $8,000 from Uncle Sam, and a new state-run program that is giving homeowners rebates for buying energy-efficient appliances is kicking in around the nation in the coming months.
The article also notes that if you play your cards right, the gift could end up tax-free for both parties:
You and your spouse are each allowed to give gifts of $13,000 of money or property to as many people as you want, without triggering taxes for you or the recipients. ...
So if you and your spouse wanted to give $50,000 to your son for a down payment on a house, together you could gift him $26,000 this year, and $24,000 next year, tax-free.
Find more information on estate and gift taxes at the Internal Revenue Service's Web site
In a separate advice column in The Journal, you could give an even bigger gift to your children if you live in another country.
Chad Bordeaux, a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner, told The Journal that as long as the money is a gift and not a loan, and that the transfer of funds takes place outside of the country, parents could avoid being taxed by the U.S.
If you're the recipient of such a large gift, don't think you're completely off the hook. Although only the givers pay U.S. gift taxes, you still have to report it if you receive more than $100,000 in a year. The article says you must fill out Internal Revenue Service Form 3520 -- otherwise you might have to pay up to 25% of the value of the gift as a penalty.
What to avoid when you've got Holiday Gift-Shopping Syndrome
There are plenty of other ways to give that might not be so painful to parents' pocketbooks. If you're the one who's ready for a fresh start and you'd like to sell your home to your child, your gift could be part of the equity of the home. The Journal says lenders typically accept such gifts, but they may require two appraisals and that you sign an affidavit to ensure that you don't expect repayment.
Or if your child is one step ahead of you and already has a house but still could use a little help, you might want to think about helping out with the second mortgage to save them the cost of private mortgage insurance. Again, the tax-free gift limits are $13,000 per person per year.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
A University of Cambridge survey shows Colorado is the fourth happiest state in the nation.
The study looked at data collected from more than 350,000 people interviewed between Jan. 2 and Dec. 30, 2008, as part of the Gallup Organization’s Well-Being Index.
The index looks at factors such as emotional health, physical health and job satisfaction.
Utah was rated as the state with the highest “well-being” score, followed by Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado and Minnesota in the top 5. Arkansas, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky and West Virginia were at the bottom of the list.
On average, the survey showed that well-being was highest in the Mountain and West Coast states, followed by the Eastern Seaboard, Midwest and South.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Here's a good indication of what the federal government's $8,000 tax credit is doing for the Colorado Springs-area housing market.
Single-family home sales skyrocketed 59.1 percent in November when compared with the same month a year ago, according to a report released today by the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. And, the median price of homes sold in November increased 0.5 percent from a year ago -- the first year-over-year gain in monthly prices in more than two years.
As part of the federal government's February stimulus package, first-time homebuyers became eligible for an income tax credit of up to $8,000. The program was recently extended and expanded by Congress; first-time buyers now have until April 30 to buy a home and June 30 to close on it, while existing homeowners also are eligible for a tax credit of up to $6,500.