Will Obama’s $33 Billion Tax Credit Help Stall The Foreclosure Problem

February 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Real Estate Politics & Regulations

It is no secret that a large part of the current wave of foreclosures is due to the high unemployment rates ravaging the country; home owners without jobs have difficulty making mortgage payments and many of them have ended up with homes teetering on the brink of foreclosure.

To help alleviate the problem, the President has announced a proposal of 33 billion dollars in tax credits to hopefully support the hiring of workers by small businesses across the nation to prop up struggling employment rates. As the political scapegoat for the struggling economy, President Obama is working to reverse some of the economic trends that we have been seeing progress for the past few years.

The new proposal for the 33 billion dollar tax credit is aimed at helping small businesses hire new staff by providing them with a $5,000 tax credit for each employee hired up to a maximum of one hundred new employees. Estimates suggest that up to a million small businesses could be assisted by this initiative. An increase in jobs would support the recovering economy by putting more money in the hands of consumers which would, in turn, help create more jobs and support the economic recovery.

The proposed tax credit program will hopefully begin to take shape very soon; there are a great number of homes with delinquent loans on the verge of foreclosure filings all across the country which belong to home owners who are un- or under-employed at present. While it is likely that this new proposed tax credit is not going to single-handedly turn the tide on the current wave of foreclosures that are poised to start happening in the first quarter of the year, it is hoped that it can—in combination with other programs—help to put more people in jobs that will help put money in their pockets to spend.

With the changes that the government has made to the mortgage modification program recently to help home owners who are delinquent on their loan payments, it is possible that these new initiatives to get more people working can make some headway into changing the trends that we have seen in the housing market over the last year. Hopefully the government will continue to work on supporting the recovery of the economy until we are out of the recession.

Treasury Department Streamlines Short Sale

January 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Real Estate Politics & Regulations

 

 

 

Treasury Department Announces Program to Streamline Short Sales

On November 30, 2009, the Treasury Department released guidelines and forms for its new Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program (HAFA). HAFA is component of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). NAR has been urging the Obama Administration for months to take action to address the many problems with short sales.

HAFA provides incentives in connection with a short sale or a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure (DIL) used to avoid foreclosure of a loan eligible for modification under the HAMP program. HAFA applies to loans not owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which will issue their own versions in the coming weeks. Program features include: pre-approving sales terms before listing the property, prohibiting servicers from requiring reductions in real estate commissions that do not exceed 6 percent, paying incentives, releasing borrowers from future liability for the unpaid portion of the first mortgage debt, and imposing deadlines at each stage.

The program does not take effect until April 5, 2010, but servicers may implement it before then if they meet certain requirements. The program sunsets on December 31, 2012.

My Property Taxes Are Too High What Do I do?

January 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Real Estate Politics & Regulations

THE ASSESSMENT APPEAL PROCESS

Property owners sometimes feel that the department’s estimate of their property value is wrong. The assessment appeal process is available to allow property owners the opportunity to dispute the value determined by the department. Property values rise and fall to reflect the market. A property owner should file an appeal when they believe that their property is not valued at its current market value.

Appeals may be filed on three occasions:

  1. upon receipt of an assessment notice;
  2. by a petition for review; and
  3. upon purchase of property between January 1 and June 30.

APPEAL ON REASSESSMENT

Property owners will normally receive a Notice of Assessment every three years that shows the old market value as well as the new market value. The new value reflects the market influence and other conditions affecting the property from the time of the last assessment.

If you decide to appeal, the first step is to reply to the Notice of Assessment by signing and returning the appeal form within 45 days of the date of the notice. Following this, a personal or telephone hearing will be scheduled. Appeals can also be made in writing, eliminating the need for a hearing.

PETITION FOR REVIEW

If events have occurred since your last regular assessment that you believe have caused your property value to decline or if you failed to respond to the Notice of Assessment within the required time frame, you may file for a petition for review by January 1 of any year. Click here to obtain a Petition form. The completed form should be mailed to your local assessment office. After filing the petition, you will be scheduled for a hearing; or, if you prefer, your written submission can be reviewed eliminating the need for a hearing.

APPEAL UPON PURCHASE

If you purchase a property and the property is transferred after January 1 but before July 1, you may file an appeal within 60 days of the transfer. After filing a written appeal, you will be scheduled for a hearing; or, if you prefer, your written appeal can be reviewed instead of having a hearing.

FIRST STEP – SUPERVISOR’S LEVEL

The first level of the appeal process, known as the Supervisor’s level, is informal. You will present your case to an assessor designated by the Supervisor of Assessments. Typically, hearings at this level take approximately 15 minutes.

You can obtain a copy of the worksheet for the property free of charge from your local assessment office. The information on the worksheet will be reviewed at the time of the hearing to assure its accuracy.

For assistance in estimating the value of your property, you can obtain sales data from various sources, including: sales listings located in the local assessment office; commercially available sales reports and other information available at local libraries; local Real Estate offices; personal surveys of recently sold comparable properties in the area; and local listings of sales transactions in the newspaper. For a nominal fee, worksheets of comparable properties may be obtained from the assessment office.

To be most effective, you should:

  • Focus on those points that affect the value of your property.
  • Indicate why the Total New Market Value does not reflect the market value of the property.
  • Identify any mathematical errors on the worksheet or inaccurate information describing the characteristics of the property (such as the number of bathrooms, fireplaces, etc.).
  • Provide examples of sales of comparable properties which support your findings as to the value of the property.
  • Avoid the following issues since they are not relevant to the value under appeal: comparison to past values, percent of increase, additional metropolitan costs, the amount of the tax bill, properties in other taxing jurisdictions, and services rendered or not rendered.

Your first level hearing should be viewed as an opportunity to present evidence which would indicate that the department’s value of the property is inaccurate.

SECOND STEP – PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT APPEAL BOARD

Following the hearing, you will receive a final notice. If you disagree with the decision, you can appeal to the next step which is to the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board. The second step appeal must be filed within 30 days from the date of the final notice from the Supervisor of Assessments.

There is an independent appeal board comprised of 3 local residents in each of the counties and Baltimore City. Property owners generally need no assistance at this step, no fees are required, and they are free to present any supporting evidence. You can obtain a list of the comparable properties that will be used by the assessment office before the Board if you file a written request to the assessment office at least 15 days before the scheduled date of the hearing.

THIRD STEP – MARYLAND TAX COURT

If you are dissatisfied with the decision made by the Appeal Board, you can file an appeal within 30 days of the date of the board’s decision to the Maryland Tax Court. The Maryland Tax Court is an independent body appointed by the Governor. Although the proceedings are more formal than the first 2 levels, it is still considered to be an informal, administrative hearing. Property owners who are in disagreement with the Tax Court’s decision can appeal further through the regular judiciary system. Here you will probably need legal counsel.

RECAP

The assessment appeal process is a mechanism intended to assure an accurate property valuation. If you believe that the value placed upon your property is higher than it should be and if you can provide supporting evidence (such as sales information for properties comparable to your own), then it is in your best interest to appeal.

 

FHA Condo Rules

December 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Real Estate Politics & Regulations

The Federal Housing Administration puts its long-awaited new financing rules for condominium units into operation last week — immediately affecting sales in hundreds of condo projects across the country.

Among the key make-or-break rules that condo marketers, buyers, lender and realty agents now need to know about are the following:

FHA won’t insure mortgages in buildings or complexes where less than 30 percent of the units haven’t already been sold.

At least 50 percent of the units in a project must be owner-occupied or sold to purchasers who intend to occupy them.

No individual owner or investor can hold title to more than 10 percent of the units in the entire project.

No more than 25 percent of the square footage of a condo project can be non-residential — in other words, used for commercial purposes.

No more than 50 percent of the units can have FHA insured financing on them. FHA doesn’t want to “concentrate its risk” in any single project.

No more than 15 percent of the units in a project can be 30 days or more delinquent on their monthly payments to the condo association.

Although some developers and in urban areas welcomed the new rules, industry critics say they will actually curtail the availability of low-downpayment FHA financing for many individual buyers. Others say some of the percentage thresholds are off the mark.

For example, Phil Sutcliffe, a national condo financing expert based outside Philadelphia, says he recently had to turn down two condo projects that sought FHA financing – even though both were more than 50 percent owner occupied and pre-sold. The reason: The developers had chosen to rent out more than 10 percent of the unsold units to generate cash flow. But by doing so, Sutcliffe said, they crossed the “single owner” maximum, thereby denying future FHA financing to all remaining units in the building.

“It just makes no sense in this situation,” he said. With no FHA loans available to potential purchasers, “the owners may have to hand back the keys to the bank.”

Andrew Fortin, vice president for government affairs at the Community Associations Institute, which represents condominium, cooperative and planned unit developments across the country, told Realty Times that the 25 percent commercial-use cutoff is “problematic” because many projects have been designed for “mixed use” in urban areas.

Fortin’s group also is critical of the new 15 percent delinquency ratio on association dues. Not only is a 30-day delinquency measure “a very arbitrary standard,” he said, but it’s also not a good indicator of the association’s underlying financial health.

FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYER TAX CREDIT

Frequently Asked Questions

money1In 2008, Congress enacted a $7500 tax credit designed to be an incentive for first-time homebuyers to purchase a home. The credit was designed as a mechanism to decrease the over-supply of homes for sale. For 2009, Congress has increased the credit to $8000 and made several additional improvements. This revised $8000 tax credit applies to purchases on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

Tax Credits — The Basics

1. What’s this new homebuyer tax incentive for 2009?
The 2008 $7500, repayable credit is increased to $8000 and the repayment feature is eliminated for 2009 purchasers. Any home that is purchased for $80,000 or more qualifies for the full $8000 amount. If the house costs less than $80,000, the credit will be 10% of the cost. Thus, if an individual purchased a home for $75,000, the credit would be $7500. It is available for the purchase of a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

2. Who is eligible?

Only first-time homebuyers are eligible. A person is considered a first-time buyer if he/she has not had any ownership interest in a home in the three years previous to the day of the 2009 purchase.

3. How does a tax credit work?

Every dollar of a tax credit reduces income taxes by a dollar. Credits are claimed on an individual’s income tax return. Thus, a qualified purchaser would figure out all the income items and exemptions and make all the calculations required to figure out his/her total tax due. Then, once the total tax owed has been computed, tax credits are applied to reduce the total tax bill. So, if before taking any credits on a tax return a person has total tax liability of $9500, an $8000 credit would wipe out all but $1500 of the tax due. ($9,500 – $8000 = $1500)

4. So what happens if the purchaser is eligible for an $8000 credit but their entire income tax liability for the year is only $6000?
This tax credit is what’s called “refundable” credit. Thus, if the eligible purchaser’s total tax liability was $6000, the IRS would send the purchaser a check for $2000. The refundable amount is the difference
between $8000 credit amount and the amount of tax liability. ($8000 – $6000 = $2000) Most taxpayers determine their tax liability by referring to tables that the IRS prepares each year.

5. How does withholding affect my tax credit and my refund?
A few examples are provided at the end of this document. There are several steps in this calculation, but most income tax software programs are equipped to make that determination.

6. Is there an income restriction?
Yes. The income restriction is based on the tax filing status the purchaser claims when filing his/her income tax return. Individuals filing Form 1040 as Single (or Head of Household) are eligible for the credit if their income is no more than $75,000. Married couples who file a Joint return may have income of no more than $150,000.

7. How is my “income” determined?
For most individuals, income is defined and calculated in the same manner as their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on their 1040 income tax return. AGI includes items like wages, salaries, interest and dividends, pension and retirement earnings, rental income and a host of other elements. AGI is the final number that appears on the bottom line of the front page of an IRS Form 1040.

8. What if I worked abroad for part of the year?
Some individuals have earned income and/or receive housing allowances while working outside the US. Their income will be adjusted to reflect those items to measure Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). Their eligibility for the credit will be based on their MAGI.

9. Do individuals with incomes higher than the $75,000 or $150,000 limits lose all the benefit of the credit?
Not always. The credit phases-out between $75,000 – $95,000 for singles and $150,000 – $170,000 for married filing joint. The closer a buyer comes to the maximum phase-out amount, the smaller the credit will be. The law provides a formula to gradually withdraw the credit. Thus, the credit will disappear after an individual’s income reaches $95,000 (single return) or $170,000 (joint return). For example, if a married couple had income of $165,000, their credit would be reduced by 75% as shown: Couple’s income $165,000 Income limit 150,000 Excess income $15,000 The excess income amount ($15,000 in this example) is used to form a fraction. The numerator of the fraction is the excess income amount ($15,000). The denominator is $20,000 (specified by the statute).

In this example, the disallowed portion of the credit is 75% of $8000, or $6000 ($15,000/$20,000 = 75% x $8000 = $6000) Stated another way, only 25% of the credit amount would be allowed. In this example, the allowable credit would be $2000 (25% x $8000 = $2000)

10. What’s the definition of “principal residence?”
Generally, a principal residence is the home where an individual spends most of his/her time (generally defined as more than 50%). It is also defined as “owner-occupied” housing. The term includes single-family detached housing, condos or co-ops, townhouses or any similar type of new or existing dwelling. Even some houseboats or manufactured homes count as principal residences.

11. Are there restrictions on the location of the property?
Yes. The home must be located in the United States. Property located outside the US is not eligible for the credit.

12. Are there restrictions related to the financing for the mortgage on the property?
In 2009, most financing arrangements are acceptable and will not affect eligibility for the credit. Congress eliminated the financing restriction that applied in 2008. (In 2008, purchasers were ineligible for the $7500 credit if the financing was obtained by means of mortgage revenue bonds.) Now, mortgage-revenue bond financing will not disqualify an otherwise-eligible purchaser. (Mortgage revenue bonds are tax-exempt bonds issued by a state housing agency. Proceeds from the bonds must be used for below market loans to qualified buyers.)

13. Do I have to repay the 2009 tax credit?
NO. There is no repayment for 2009 tax credits.

14. Do 2008 purchasers still have to repay their tax credit?
YES. The $7500 credit in 2008 was more like an interest-free loan. All eligible purchasers who claimed the 2008 credit will still be required to repay it over 15 years, starting with their 2010 tax return. Some Practical Questions

15. How do I apply for the credit?
There is no pre-purchase authorization, application or similar approval process. All eligible purchasers simply claim the credit on their IRS Form 1040 tax return. The credit will be reflected on a new Form 5405 that will be attached to the 1040. Form 5405 can be found at www.irs.gov.

16. So I can’t use the credit amount as part of my downpayment?
No. Congress tried hard to devise a mechanism that would make the funds available for closing costs, but found that pre-funding would require cumbersome processes that would, in effect, bring the IRS into the purchase and settlement phase of the transaction.

17. So there’s no way to get any cash flow benefits before I file my tax return?
Yes, there is. Any first-time homebuyers who believe they are eligible for all or part of the credit can modify their income tax withholding (through their employers) or adjust their quarterly estimated tax payments. Individuals subject to income tax withholding would get an IRS Form W-4 from their employer, follow the instructions on the schedules provided and give the completed Form W-4 back to the employer. In many cases their withholding would decrease and their take-home pay would increase. Those who make estimated tax payments would make similar adjustments. Some “Real World” Examples

18. What if I purchase later this year but can’t get to settlement before December 1?
The credit is available for purchases before December 1, 2009. A home is considered as “purchased” when all events have occurred that transfer the title from the seller to the new purchaser. Thus, closings must occur before December 1, 2009 for purchases to be eligible for the credit.

19. I haven’t even filed my 2008 tax return yet. If I buy in 2009, do I have to wait until next year to get the benefit of the credit?

You’ll have a helpful choice that might speed up the process. Eligible homebuyers who make their purchase between January 1, 2009 and December 1, 2009 can treat the purchase as if it had occurred on December 31, 2008. Thus, they can claim the credit on their 2008 tax return that is due on April 15, 2009. They actually have three filing options.

  • If they purchase between January 1, 2009 and April 15, 2009, they can claim the $8000 credit on the 2008 return due on April 15.
  • They can extend their 2008 income-tax filing until as late as October 15, 2009. (The IRS grants automatic extensions, but the taxpayer must file for the extension. See www.irs.gov for instructions on how to obtain an extension.)
  • If they have filed their 2008 return before they purchase the home, they may file an amended 2008 tax return on Form 1040X. (Form 1040X is available at www.irs.gov)

Of course, 2009 purchasers will always have the option of claiming the credit for the 2009 purchase on their 2009 return. Their 2009 tax return is due on April 15, 2010.

20. I purchased my home in early 2009 before the stimulus bill was enacted. I claimed a $7500 tax credit on my 2008 return as prior law had permitted. Am I restricted to just a $7500 credit?

No, you would qualify for the $8000 credit. Eligible purchasers who have already claimed the $7500 credit on a 2008 return for a 2009 purchase may file an amended return (IRS Form 1040X) for the 2008 tax year. This amended return will enable them to obtain the additional $500 credit amount.

21. If I claim my 2009 $8000 credit on my 2008 tax return, will I have to repay the credit just as the 2008 credits are repaid?

No. Congress anticipated this confusion and has made specific provision so that there would be no repayment of 2009 credits that are claimed on 2008 returns.

22. I made an eligible purchase of a principal residence in May 2008 and claimed the $7500 credit on my 2008 tax return. My brother, who has never owned a home, wishes to purchase a partial interest in the home this spring and move in. Will he qualify for the $8000 credit, as well?

No. Any purchase of a principal residence (or interest in a principal residence) from a related party such as a sibling, parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle is ineligible for the tax credit. Since you and your brother are related in this way, he cannot qualify for the credit on any portion of the home that he purchases from you, even if he is a first-time homebuyer.

23. I live in the District of Columbia. If I qualify as a first-time homebuyer, can I use both the $5000 DC credit and the $8000 credit?

No. Double dipping is not allowed. You would be eligible for only the $8000 credit. This will be an advantage because of the higher credit amount, plus the eligibility requirements for the $8000 credit are somewhat more easily satisfied than the DC credit.

24. I know there is no repayment requirement for the $8000 credit. Will I ever have to repay any of the credit back to the government?

One situation does require a recapture payment back to the government. If you claim the credit but then sell the property within 3 years of the date of purchase, you are required to pay back the full amount of any credit, including any refund you received from it. A few exceptions apply. (See below, #24). Note that this same 3-year recapture rule applies, as well, to the $7500 credit available for 2008. This provision is designed as an anti-flipping rule.

25. What if I die or get divorced or my property is ruined in a natural disaster within the 3 years?
The repayment rules are eased for many circumstances. If the homeowner who used the credit dies within the first three years of ownership, there is no recapture. Special rules make adjustments for people who sell homes as part of a divorce settlement, as well. Similarly, adjustments are made in the case of a home that is part of an involuntary conversion (property is destroyed in a natural disaster or subject to condemnation by eminent domain by an authorized agency) within the first three years.

26. I have a home under construction. Am I eligible for the credit?

Yes, so long as you actually occupy the home before December 1, 2009.

WITHHOLDING EXAMPLES: Note: The impact of estimated tax payments would be the same.

Situation 1: Sally plans her withholding so that her withholding is as close as possible to what she anticipates as her income tax liability for the year. When she fills out her 1040, her liability is $6000. She has had $6000 withheld from her paycheck. She also qualifies for the $8000 homebuyer credit.

Result: Sally’s withholding satisfies her tax liability and reduces it to zero. She will receive a refund of the full $8000.

Situation 2: Nick and Nora file a joint return. Nick is self-employed and makes estimated payments; Nora has taxes withheld from her salary. When they compute their taxes, their combined withholding and estimated tax payments are $11,000. Their income tax liability is $9800. They also qualified as first-time homebuyers and are eligible for the $8000 refundable tax credit.

Result: Ordinarily, their combined estimated tax payments and withholding would make them eligible for a refund of $1200 ($11,000 – $9800 = $1200). Because they are eligible for the refundable tax credit as well, they will receive a refund of $9200 ($1200 income tax refund + $8000 refundable tax credit = $9200)

Situation 3: Cesar and LuzMaria both have income taxes withheld from their salaries and file a joint return. When they file their income tax return, their combined withholding is $5000. However, their total tax liability is $7200, generating an additional income tax liability of $2200 ($7200 – $5000). They also qualify for the $8000 first-time homebuyer tax credit.

Result: Cesar and LuzMaria have been under-withheld by $2200. Ordinarily, they would be required to pay the additional $2200 they owe (plus any applicable interest and penalties). Because they are eligible for the refundable homebuyer tax credit, the credit will cover the $2200 additional liability. In addition, they will receive an income tax refund of $5800 ($8000 – $2200 = $5800). If they owed penalties and/or interest, that amount would reduce the refund.

President Obama’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2010 Budget

barrack_obama-300x200When President Obama released his proposed Fiscal Year 2010 Budget in late February, the headline grabber was his proposal to limit itemized deductions for individuals earning more than $250,000 a year. This limitation would reduce the value of not only mortgage interest deductions for this group, but would also reduce the value of their deductions for state and local taxes, including property taxes.

NAR responded quickly with letters of opposition sent to the President and to every member of the House and Senate. We also purchased advocacy ads in the leading Inside the Beltway newspapers. In Washington, no proposal ever completely dies. Many, many proposals, however, do go dormant.

Here are some quotes from very authoritative sources to illustrate the general perception that the proposal to limit deductions has gained limited traction.

“Some of the reforms and offsets contained or referenced in the budget, such as the limitation on itemized deductions, raise concerns and will require more study as we determine the best policies for getting America back on track.” Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) Senate Finance Committee.

“One major proposal, to limit itemized deductions for wealthy taxpayers, has already raised doubts among prominent Democrats in both chambers.” Washington Post, March 10, 2009

“The apparent first casualty is a big one: a proposal to limit tax deductions for the wealthiest 1.2 percent of taxpayers…But the chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees, Senator Max Baucus of Montana and Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, have objected to the proposal, citing a potential drop in tax-deductible gifts to charities.” New York Times, March 10, 2009

“I am always glad to have any allies and defenders [on the right], but I do favor almost all of Obama’s agenda, right down to having the rich pay more of their freight in this great country. It’s just not the right time. We need to declare a war on unemployment and solve it before we let it get out of hand. We need to stop house-price depreciation.” Jim Cramer, Inside Politics Newsletter, March 10.

Anticipated Tax Bill and Budget Timetables:
The House and Senate tax-writing committees do not expect to craft another tax bill until the fall, at the very earliest. This projected schedule is, of course, subject to change. Note, though, that if there is a second stimulus with a tax package before fall, it’s unlikely that Congress would include any revenue raising proposal like the Administration’s itemized deduction limitation.

The tax-writing committees also have extensive jurisdiction over health care, so their agenda for the next several months is expected to all be health care-related.

The House and Senate Budget Committees have jurisdiction to set the dollar amounts by which various congressional committees must raise revenues or curtail spending. They do not, however, have any jurisdiction that permits them to specify which provisions and programs the committees modify. Thus, even though this recommendation comes through the budget process, the budget committees may only give directives to committees in gross dollar amounts, not by specific provisions.

Eternal vigilance is the name of the game in taxation. We do not anticipate shining a light on this now-dormant proposal in coming months, but we will remain intensely focused on it.