DEAR BOB: As a real estate agent, I always enjoy your column and agree with most of your answers. But I think it is a disservice to give the impression that fixer houses are the way to buy right. I find fixer houses are a good deal only if you (1) can buy below market value (since they are cheaper, there is keen competition and the price doesn't always reflect the work needed, (2) are willing to do most of the work yourself (this doesn't make sense for busy professionals who earn more than the contractor they might hire), and (3) can't find what you want in your decorated taste at a reasonable price in the area you want to live. I find homeowners often put more into a house than they can recover, but sometimes these fixer houses are a bargain for those who can afford the initial investment. -- Glen W. DEAR GLEN: It appears I haven't done a very good job of explaining how to make money buying "fixer houses."
As you correctly emphasize, buying these run-down homes makes sense only if they can be bought below market value. The house must be discounted to reflect the cost of improvements.
To use a personal example, last year I paid $95,000 for a boarded-up four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in a neighborhood of $150,000 houses.
I spent about $15,000 fixing up that house, so my total investment is $110,000, which is $40,000 below the then-market value. Today houses in this neighborhood are selling for $175,000.
This is a classic example of how to profit from a "fixer house." It had been on the market over six months, listed with a fine real estate broker, and was being sold by a S&L that foreclosed on the previous owner.
Buyers looking for fixer houses can't be too fussy. But I think fixers offer the best way to make money in real estate today. You'll find them in all neighborhoods from slum to luxury. But they usually need considerable work.
To illustrate, I live in a pretty nice area. About two months ago a "fixer house" was put up for sale just four houses away from mine. From the outside the house looked great. But on the inside it was awful.
It needed $60,000 of structural foundation work, $12,000 of termite damage repair and $5,000 for a new roof.
Unfortunately, the buyers paid full market value for the house, without discounting for the necessary work, because they fell in love with the view. That's not the way to profit from fixer houses. DEAR BOB: I am entering into a small real estate partnership in Dallas. One of the partners is the real estate agent who is handling the purchase and who will presumably handle the eventual resale. Is there a standard arrangement to prevent possible conflicts of interest when buying real estate with an agent? I trust this person but would like to prevent any problems. Also, do you have any tips, warnings or suggestions for real estate partnerships? -- Craig K. DEAR CRAIG: Yes. My advice is stay out of real estate partnerships. Since you don't live in Dallas, why not invest close to your home? I recently visited your beautiful city and was jealous of all the real estate opportunities I saw there in the "bread and butter neighborhoods."
One of the quickest ways to lose money in real estate is to invest in a distant city where you don't know good from bad. But if you insist on investing in Dallas, which is a great city, be sure to get everything in writing and have your own Texas attorney review it.
Pretend a judge is looking over your shoulder because, eventually, you may wind up in court.
To limit your liability, a limited partnership is probably the best ownership method. Be sure it conforms with Texas law and is properly recorded.
Just to check up on the real estate agent, get an independent appraisal of the property. Retain a Texas real estate attorney to advise you on the legal aspects of the transaction. DEAR BOB: I am interested in figuring the capital gain on some property I sold in January 1987. It was deeded to me in 1942 by my parents as part of their divorce agreement with the verbal understanding my mother could live in it until her death. She paid all the expenses, such as taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance. She died in 1981, and I gained complete control of this home. To figure my capital gain, should I use the 1942 or 1981 valuation? It makes a big difference. -- Alton R. DEAR ALTON: I'm sorry to bring bad news but your cost basis for the house is the same basis as your parents had back in 1942.
The reason is a donee takes over the donor's cost basis. The fact the home was subject to your mother's life estate for many years is irrelevant.
Your situation shows why inheriting property is usually better than receiving it by gift. In 1942 your parents could have willed the property to you, with a life estate for your mother. Or a trust could have been used. You would have saved the thousands of tax dollars you now owe. Consult your tax adviser for full details. DEAR BOB: A year ago my ex-husband and I sold our home. I deferred the profit tax on my 1986 income tax returns. Now I am buying a home in Seattle. It is of lesser cost than the home we sold, but I had to split the sale profit with my former husband. The price of the home I am buying far exceeds my half share of the sale profit. Will I owe any tax? -- Darlene R. DEAR DARLENE: Probably not. Special tax rules apply to divorced home sellers who wish to use the famous "rollover residence replacement rule" of IRC 1034.
As you probably know, this federal tax law requires home sellers to defer their profit tax when selling their old principal residence and buying a replacement home of equal or greater cost within two years of the sale.
In divorce situations, this tax rule is applied individually to each ex-spouse even if the other ex-spouse doesn't buy a replacement home.
I wish you had included the prices of the two homes. Since you didn't, I will make up some numbers to illustrate.
The amount of your profit is irrelevant. All that matters is the adjusted (net) sales price of your share of the old principal residence and the adjusted cost basis purchase price of your new home.
For example, suppose you and your ex-spouse agreed to split the sales price and profit of the old home equally. If it sold for $200,000 adjusted (net) sales price after expenses, your half share is obviously $100,000.
This share is the amount you would have reported on your 1986 IRS form 2119 for sale of a residence.
Regardless of the amount of your sale profit, if within two years before or after the sale you buy a replacement home costing at least $100,000, then tax on your profit share is deferred. Consult your tax adviser for further details. DEAR BOB: I want to refinance my California property, which is now rented to tenants. Currently I have a first and second mortgage, but the total is less than 50 percent of the appraised market value. However, as I now live out of state, I have been unsuccessful finding a lender who will refinance my nonowner-occupied house. I have been going round and round with this problem since January. Any ideas? -- Michael W. DEAR MICHAEL: Most mortgage lenders do not want to loan on nonowner-occupied properties because these mortgages are difficult to sell in the secondary mortgage market. Lenders want the clean, easy owner-occupied deals.
However, there are some lenders who will make loans on rental properties. You just haven't met them yet.
Since you are living far away from your rental property, I suggest you contact several reputable mortgage brokers located near the property. Good mortgage brokers have contacts with at least a dozen lenders and should be able to refinance your income property loans. DEAR BOB: We recently refinanced our home mortgage to reduce the interest rate. Are our refinancing costs tax deductible on our federal income tax returns? Also, we are considering buying a new home in the next year or two. Where can we get a chart showing interest and principal payments for different interest rates and mortgage amounts? -- Shawn S. DEAR SHAWN: The general rule is mortgage loan fees paid to the lender are tax deductible as itemized interest only if the purpose of the loan is to buy or improve your principal residence.
Loan fees paid to obtain mortgages for other purposes, such as to refinance an existing home loan, must be deducted each year over the life of the loan.
To illustrate, if you paid a $1,000 loan fee to obtain a 30-year mortgage, each year for the next 30 years you can deduct $33.33. However, if you sell the house, you can deduct any unamortized loan fees in the year of the sale.
At the reference section of most public libraries, you will find several excellent books with tables showing how to calculate monthly mortgage payments for various interest rates and loan amounts.
However, I know of no book or chart showing the monthly loan interest and principal breakdowns because the variations are infinite.
But if you know the loan amount and interest rate, your friendly real estate agent can usually run a loan amortization schedule on the office computer in about 60 seconds. DEAR BOB: While I watching a TV real estate program, someone said that when you pay off your mortgage you can write to some government office to see if it owes you money. Where can I write for information? -- Jean V. DEAR JEAN: If you paid off your FHA home loan and did not receive a refund of part of your mortgage insurance premium, write to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 451 Seventh St. SW, Room 2239, attention Distributive Service Shares Branch, Washington, D.C., 20410. Ask for HUD form 2042.
You will need to supply your FHA case number and proof of ownership, such as a copy of your deed, as well as your current mailing address. DEAR BOB: Is it possible to request my current mortgage loan servicer to sell my mortgage to another company for servicing? About two years ago our loan was sold and we've had nothing but trouble ever since. "Customer Service" are foreign words to this servicer. I requested a computer printout of our principal-interest loan amortization and asked for a copy of the county tax statement that the servicer pays. The servicer sent the amortization schedule but not the property tax statement. When I phone, they promise to get back to me but they never do. However, the final blow came when I got a notice saying my loan payment was late and I had to pay a late charge. But my two previous payment checks were on time and I can prove it from the bank's cancelation stamp. When I wrote to protest, all I got was another computer printout. How can I make sure the late fee wasn't deducted from my property tax escrow account? What can I do about this bad loan service? -- Kim B. DEAR KIM: Judging from my volume of mail on the issue of bad loan service, especially by out-of-town loan servicers, you are not alone. However, if you complain loudly enough you will get results.
All loan servicers of mortgages owned by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the nation's largest lenders, must have 800, toll-free, numbers or accept collect calls.
Start dialing. Insist on talking to a supervisor and write down his or hername and date you called. Follow up in a week or two if you aren't delivered your property tax statement.
Ask the loan servicer who owns your loan. If Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae own your loan, and the loan servicer is doing a poor job, complain to your loan owner.
Yes, your loan servicing can be transferred if you are not receiving satisfactory service. For complaints about loan service on Fannie Mae-owned loans write to Bonnie O'Dell, Public Information Manager, Fannie Mae, 3900 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20016.
If your loan is owned by Freddie Mac, write to the Regional Director of Loan Servicing at their office in Arlington, Va., Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or Los Angeles, whichever is closest to the loan servicer's main office.
Be sure to include your loan number, all pertinent details, and your phone number so the loan service problem can be quickly resolved. DEAR BOB: Last May, we completed the purchase of our newly constructed home. Although we were told at the walk-through inspection that any defects would be corrected within 30 days the builder has only corrected a few so far. He even admitted he has buyers waiting up to a year to have their problems resolved. We hesitate to call our lawyer or file a claim on our HOW (Home Owner's Warranty Corp.) policy, but we are concerned about the major items, such as leaky roof and seepage in the basement, as well as minor things like missing shelves and wrong door. Should we go to small claims court? What recourse do home buyers have against builders who won't fulfill their obligations? -- Mr. M.B. DEAR MR. M.B.: Congratulations on buying a new home with a 10-year HOW warranty. That is your best protection for a faulty new home. If your builder doesn't correct the defects to your satisfaction, HOW will.
But first it's time to get tough with your lazy home builder. There is no profit in "call backs" for a home builder, so he will put you off as long as possible.
However, from your viewpoint those problems will only get worse so now is the time to take action. Write a letter to the builder with a list of the items needing correction. Ask that they be repaired within two weeks.
Send a copy to your warranty corporation. If the work is not at least started within two weeks, then follow up with phone calls to the builder and HOW. The squeaky wheel gets the oil and you've been patient long enough. DEAR BOB: My husband wants to sell our house and buy a two-family duplex house where, he says, we can cut our costs, with rent from our tenant paying the expenses. Is this possible? -- Nattie W. DEAR NATTIE: Anything is possible but it has been a long time since I've seen a duplex where the rent is sufficient to pay the expenses for the entire property unless there is no mortgage.
Before you agree to your husband's plan, make him show you in writing how the rent from a specific duplex will pay the expenses. I doubt he can do that.
Readers with questions should write Bruss directly at P.O. Box 6710, San Francisco, Calif., 94101.