It’s terrifying but it’s true. One minute you think you own a property and the next, it has been recorded in someone else’s name. Fraud in real estate is alive and well, with authorities all over the country saying homes are illegally taken without owners’ consent.

 

Because of the ever-growing rise of technology, it is now easier than ever to create fraudulent documents that can be easily recorded in public records making your house appear that it was sold and now belongs to someone else.

 

In a Texas case, a deed turned out to be a forgery perpetrated by a daring group of rogue businessmen who claimed ownership of more than 70 vacant houses and lots across Houston. These con artists allegedly made millions by reselling them to unwitting buyers, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of pending civil and criminal lawsuits.

The players in this massive swindle simply strolled into the Harris County Civil Courthouse with fake deeds bearing the freshly minted signatures of long-dead men, faked notaries’ seals and other blatantly false claims to seize and sell others’ property, according to the Chronicle. The consequences of this fraud — carried out between 2002 and 2008 — continue to affect hundreds of people in some of the city’s humblest neighborhoods and much of the mess remains unresolved.

 

Your best defenses against fraud of this kind are awareness and diligence, not permitting yourself to go on autopilot. The most straightforward way to make sure you are not a victim of this sort of fraud is to check public records regularly, looking for changes. Every city has a place where the public can go to search for information on a property. Property records are maintained at either the county courthouse, county recorder, city hall or another city or county department. Many public offices are staffed by knowledgeable personnel ready to help you find property deeds and encumbrances.

 

Telltale signs something is amiss would be things like getting mail addressed to a different name at your address or seeing that mail you normally might receive regarding your home is no longer arriving in your mailbox. Any new deed recorded in the public records triggers a slew of mail advertisements, so they are a great warning sign that something is up.

 

Another sign is sudden unsolicited interest from prospective real estate agents or home service-related companies. If anything sends up a red flag, go online and check for changes. Then check it again a few weeks later to confirm.

Vacation homeowners will need to be extra-vigilant, since these sorts of properties are especially vulnerable to fraud. Find a neighbor, or hire a reputable property manager, to regularly check and report on your property. Also, make sure to have mail related to that property forwarded to you, and be concerned if the flow stops unexpectedly.

 

Most times there will be nothing amiss regarding the ownership of your home. But it’s much easier to take steps to avoid a problem of this proportion than to spend a lot of time and money fixing it.

 

Source: Sun Sentinel, Houstong Chronicle, TBWS

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From Houselogic.com / By: Dona DeZube

It’s the last year for three sweet home tax benefits, but the first for a way simpler home office deduction.

These days few things start a fight on Capitol Hill faster than taxes. Despite the fact that three important tax benefits used by millions of American homeowners are days from expiring, Congress is unlikely to do anything to re-up them any time soon.

So if you’re eligible, tax year 2013 is possibly the last time to claim the private mortgage insurance (PMI) deduction, the energy tax credit, and debt forgiveness benefit, all of which all expire on Dec. 31, 2013.

At least there’s one piece of good news for homeowners: If you have a home office, there’s a new, simpler option for calculating the home office deduction for which you may qualify on your 2013 taxes.

Meanwhile, here’s what you need to know about those expiring benefits as you ready your taxes:

PMI Deduction

This tax rule lets you deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance, which is what you pay your lender each month if you put down less than 20% on a home. PMI protects the lender if you default on the home loan. Your deduction could amount to a couple hundred dollars depending on your tax bracket and other factors.

Find out if you qualify for and how to take the PMI deduction.

Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

This sweet little tax credit lets you offset what you owe the IRS dollar-for-dollar for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain home energy-efficiency upgrades, from insulation to water heaters. On the downside, the credit is capped at $500 (less in some cases). But on the bright side, the right improvement could lower your utility bills indefinitely.

Related: Take back your energy bills with these high-ROI energy-efficiency practices.

Debt Forgiveness

When you go through a short sale, foreclosure, or deed-in-lieu, your lender typically lets you off the hook for some or all of what you owe on your mortgage.

That forgiven mortgage debt is income, on which you’d typically have to pay income tax.

Suppose you’re in financial distress and your lender agrees to let you short-sell your home, say for $50,000 less than you owe on the mortgage, and forgive you for the balance. Without the protection of the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act, you’ll owe income tax on that $50,000.

It’s likely if you had the money to pay income tax on $50,000, you’d have used it to pay your mortgage in the first place.

New Simplified Option for the Home Office Deduction

This may be the last year for the benefits above, but a new one kicks in for the 2013 tax year. If you work from home, you may qualify to use a new, simplified option for claiming the home office deduction when you file your 2013 taxes.

How much simpler is it? It lets you claim $5 per sq. ft. for up to 300 sq. ft. instead of having to compute the actual expenses of your home office using a 43-line form. To calculate the square footage of your office, just multiply the length of two walls. For example, an 8-by-10-foot room is 80 sq. ft. And at $5 per, that’s $400.

Although using the simplified option is obviously easier, the basic requirements for claiming the home office deduction haven’t changed. Your home office still must be used for business purposes:

  • Exclusively, and
  • On a regular basis.

Related: Which Home Office Set-Ups Qualify for a Deduction?

Why Might the Tax Benefits Not Be Renewed?

Although the expiring tax benefits were renewed retroactively in past years, that may not happen in 2014 because many in Congress would like to see comprehensive tax reform rather than scattershot renewals of individual provisions. This could delay a decision on the homeownership tax benefits until the big picture budget and tax issues are resolved.

So if you can, enjoy them now!

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3 Common Short Sale MythsThere is a lot of misleading and incorrect information about Richmond real estate short sales.

Many people don’t have a clear understanding of the purpose of short sales or how they actually work.

Essentially, a short sale is when one sells their home for less than the balance remaining on the mortgage attached to the property.

The proceeds from the sale are used to repay a pre-negotiated portion of the balance to settle the debt.

A short sale can be a solution for homeowners who really need to sell their home but owe more on the mortgage than the home is worth.

Understanding the short sale process can help make the most out of a real estate sale.

Here are some common myths and why they are false:

A short sale damages one’s credit record as much as foreclosure

In many cases a short sale is less damaging to your credit record than a foreclosure. Some lenders may think that the short seller acted in a more responsible manner than simply walking away from the property.

Although the amount paid may have been less than the mortgage balance outstanding, the loan was settled with the lender. Opting for foreclosure is often seen as a lack of responsibility.

To qualify for a short sale one must be behind on payments

This might have been true in the past, but it’s not anymore.

You just need to be able to prove that you are in financial hardship, which could be due to death in the family, divorce, job loss, mortgage rate hike or even loss of property value.

After a short sale you can’t buy again for five to seven years

This may be true in some cases, but not all. In certain situations the waiting period can be reduced as low as two or three years before you are allowed to purchase another home.

It would be wise to speak with licensed real estate professional or home financing specialist to get the most current options in the marketplace.

Pass it on

These are just a few examples of commonly believed short sale myths. A clear understanding of the short sale and the benefits it  can provide is important for financially strapped homeowners.

Feel free to pass this important information on to someone that you feel would benefit from it.

 

 

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Owning Real Estate Can Be A Smart Financial MoveBuying Henrico real estate doesn’t just give you a place to live; it can also be a very smart financial move.

This is because owning a home can be like having a forced savings account, which you are committed to for the long term.

Consistent Saving On Autopilot

Sometimes saving money on our own each month is difficult. It takes a lot of discipline to maintain a consistent savings plan.

However, paying your mortgage every month means that you are paying down the principal and working toward eventually owning the property outright.

In the early years of the mortgage, the payments will go primarily to the interest on the loan.

But over time, the portion of your payment dedicated to principle increases, which accelerates paying off the entire mortgage.

Make Yourself Wealthy Instead Of Your Landlord

In the long term, owning your own home may be a much better financial arrangement than renting a home. No matter how long you pay monthly rent, you will never own the real estate that you are living in.

When you are renting your home, it may also be possible for your landlord to increase your rent every year.

On the other hand, paying a mortgage on your real estate means that every month you get closer to owning the home.

In fact, most home mortgage lenders offer a fixed interest rate mortgage. This gives you a sense of control over how much you are paying every month, year to year. 

In a fixed rate mortgage, every mortgage payment pays down a portion of the principle on your mortgage loan.  In many cases this builds equity in your property and increases your net worth.

It’s a good idea to check with a professional mortgage lender to get an idea of the most up-to-date programs available.

Real Estate May Increase In Value Over Time

Over the years, your home might appreciate in value. Many experts say that the average home value increase each year over longer stretches of time, although this will vary according to the area you live in, the current economy and other factors.

Your home’s value may very well fluctuate throughout the years, but history has shown that over the long term, buying a home can be a very beneficial financial decision.

Understanding the benefits of home ownership, including the potential financial upside of purchasing your own home, can be an excellent way to further your overall personal financial plan. 

 

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Pay Off Mortgage FasterPaying off the mortgage on your Richmond home faster not only means that you’ll be able to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with completely owning your property sooner, but you may also save thousands of dollars in mortgage interest payments over time.

Below are seven clever tips to help you get your mortgage payments on the fast track.

Save for a large down payment
Make as large of a down payment as you can reasonably afford. The more cash you can put down, the less you’ll have to borrow from the bank. This will reduce your monthly mortgage obligation.

Read the fine print
When you are choosing a mortgage, ask your lender if there are restrictions related to paying extra principal monthly. Some lenders will charge you for making extra or early payments. 

Prepay early in the life of the mortgage
The early years of a mortgage are interest-heavy. On a 30-year mortgage, throughout the first five to seven years, you payments are mostly interest. Request an amortization schedule of your mortgage to get a clear picture of how this works.

Be smart with unexpected fortune
If you get an unexpected chunk of cash, such as a gift, prize, work bonus, inheritance, tax refund or other windfall, consider applying it directly toward paying down the principal on your mortgage.

Double-check your records
When you make extra payments, ensure that they are processed correctly. Sometimes when the lender receives a payment that is outside of the monthly cycle, they may not know what to do with it. Make a special note and keep track of the payments yourself, so you can make sure they’ve been applied to your principal.

Increase your payment
Even increasing your monthly mortgage payment by a small amount may take years off the length of your mortgage. Consider how much additional you can afford to pay every month rather than just the minimum required payment amount.

Think about a bi-weekly payment
Many lenders offer accelerated, bi-weekly mortgage payment programs which can reduce your loan term by several years, saving mortgage interest over the life of the loan.

These are just a few techniques you can use to pay off your mortgage more quickly. Remember, the fewer years you pay on your home loan, the less mortgage interest you will pay over time.

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Buying older homesOlder Henrico homes sometimes offer more charm and character than the newer houses of today. They boast gabled roofs, crown moldings, hardwood floors and antique fixtures.

Buying an old house is like buying a piece of local history. Its beautiful period features can give it a timeless beauty and grace that is hard to resist.

However, buying a house from another era can be an endeavor fraught with potential problems. Older houses are not necessarily built to the same electrical or plumbing standards of today. Plus, if they have not been maintained correctly through the years, they can turn into a serious money pit or a potential hazard.

Here are six tips to keep in mind if you are considering buying an older home:

  1. Always hire a professional real estate inspector to take a close look at the property. A professional inspector is trained to spot structural damage or issues that might seem minor, but may cause major problems in the future.
  2. Look for signs of moisture damage. Many old houses have problems with moisture because over the years they have settled.
  3. If the old house you are considering has vintage wiring, such as the knob-and-tube technology that was popular around the 1920s and 1930s, plan to completely update the wiring for your safety.
  4. You might need to add insulation. Many older homes don’t have insulation in the walls or attic, which can increase the size of your energy bill.
  5. Be on the look out for iron pipes, which were popular up until 1940. They can become clogged with rust and may need to be replaced.
  6. Have the house tested for asbestos, if it was built before the 1960s.

These are just a few things to which to pay attention out when buying an older home.

Take time to inspect the property thoroughly. With proper attention, you can mix today’s modern technology with your home’s period features to create a combination of charm and safety.

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Be present for your home inspectionAs a home buyer in Richmond , you can get a feel for whether a home’s systems and appliances are in working order. However, you can’t know for certain until after the home’s been inspected.

This is why real estate agents recommend that buyers hire a licensed home inspectors immediately after going into contract. It’s the best way to really know the home which you’re buying. 

By definition, a home inspection is a top-to-bottom check-up of a home’s physical condition and systems, including a review of the structure, and its plumbing and electrical systems. Home inspections are not the same as a home appraisal, which is a valuation of the property.

When you commission a home inspection, you should be present for it. Here are 3 reasons why :

Seeing For Yourself
There’s a big difference between reading a report and seeing “live” what may be right or wrong with a home. With first-hand knowledge of a potential issue, you’ll be in a better position to determine whether a problem warrants contract cancellation, or whether it’s an additional negotiation point. 

Discovering The Home
Via a home inspection, you will learn where the systems reside within a home (e.g.; boiler room, garage), and how to operate them. This is a valuable educational opportunity and most inspectors are happy to share what they know. It’s also a chance to ask questions about maintenance and upkeep.

Better Understanding
A home inspector’s job is to review and disclose the condition of the home. The inspector’s report, however, is just a summary on paper. In being present for the inspection, a buyer will be able to visualize and understand the report’s conclusions more clearly. This can make for more effective re-negotiations with the seller, in the event that damage or distress is identified.

So, what should you do during the home inspection? Your primary tasks are to watch, listen, learn and ask questions. A professional home inspector will welcome your participation in the process.

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Golf course communitiesIt’s January, but home sales in golf communities remain strong like in the rest of the country.

If you’re looking to buy a home in a golf course community, either as a primary residence or as a vacation or retirement home, there are additional home traits which make buying on a golf course different from buying a typical Henrico single-family residence.

Here is a quick primer of home characteristics to consider when buying in a golf community.

Land Plot 
When looking at homes within a golf course community, be aware of its location with respect to the community entrance. Homes nearest to the entrance will receive the most drive-by traffic and may be slightly more noisy that a home which is situated far from the entrance. However, homes close to the entrance will also be more navigable for visitors.

Security
How security-conscious is the community? Golf course communities tend to be gated communities but each will have varying levels of security. Some will have 24-hour gatepersons to manage and monitor traffic into the community. Others will use a pass-key system. Determine what’s most important to you.

Proximity To Golf Course
Consider the physical location of the home relative to the golf course(s). Homes which are situated near tee boxes are less likely to be struck by errant golf shots, but may be louder because of chatty players. Homes off the golf course are typically free of all such hazard.

Amenities
Many golf communities feature amenities such as swimming pools, exercise facilities, and clubhouses. Some have tennis courts and other recreational outlets. Do these services require extra fees? Is there a mandatory membership cost, with minimum monthly purchase levels? Be sure to ask.

Association Dues And Restrictions
As with most planned community/association, golf communities typically require annual or monthly membership dues; and publish a list of rules by which homeowners must abide. For example, home improvements may be restricted by the rules of the community. Before buying, review the association by-laws carefully.

Golf course communities are a terrific way for golf enthusiasts play (nearly) year-round, and can provide a terrific lifestyle even beyond the golf game. If you plan to buy in a golf community, use the tips above to help with your research.

Then, when you’re ready, talk to a real estate professional for help with your purchase.

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