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Showing posts from January, 2012

How three homeowners fought their property tax bills

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate

Declining house values create great opportunities for homeowners to contest their property tax bills and potentially save big money.

Each jurisdiction has its own rules, procedures and deadlines to appeal property taxes. The bottom line is that a little research, communication and patience can pay off when you fight a property tax bill.

To prove the point, here are three real-life stories of homeowners who have fought -- or are fighting -- their property tax assessments.

Best comps win

Michael Garard, a real estate broker at Garard & Associates in Highlands Ranch, Colo., has contested the property tax assessment on his house three or four times in the last 10 years with mixed results. Most recently, he scored a big win: a drop in the valuation from $535,000 to $480,000 that will cut his tax bill by about $300 a year for at least two years.

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How to divorce your mortgage

By Marcie Geffner -

A house is often a major point a contention when a married couple decides to divorce. But whereas spouses once fought mainly over who would own the house, some experts say arguments today are more likely to zero in on who will be responsible for the mortgage.

"We see more and more nowadays that if the mortgage exceeds the value of the property, neither spouse wants that obligation," says Carl Palatnik, a principal at the Center for Divorce and Finance, a financial planning firm in Melville, N.Y. "It's a very difficult issue."

If you're keeping the house, the best way to deal with the mortgage is usually for one spouse to refinance, Palatnik says.

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6 new year's resolutions for homeowners

By Marcie Geffner -

The start of a new year is a popular time to make resolutions: promises to yourself to achieve specific goals and objectives. Financially speaking, you might want to pay off debt, build up savings, prepare for retirement or better manage your daily spending in 2012.

Those are good goals to have, and if you're a homeowner or intend to become one this year, your house might give you some great ways to bring your goals to fruition.

With that in mind, here are six New Year's resolutions to put on your list.

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4 tips for holiday-season home sellers

By Marcie Geffner -

Conventional wisdom says the holidays are the worst time of the year to try to sell your home. But a new survey suggests this so-called wisdom might be wrong.

In fact, 60 percent of real estate agents polled by said they advise homeowners to sell during the holidays. Another 30 percent said they recommend a December sale if the seller is motivated to move quickly.

Why do so many agents favor December sales? A cynic might say they're eager to encourage any home sale at any time, regardless of the seasonal pros and cons.

But the Realtors themselves cited other specific advantages.

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Homeowners benefit from mortgage interest deduction

By Marcie Geffner - Virginia Association of Realtors

The federal mortgage interest deduction, known as "the MID," is one of the greatest means to encourage homeownership and promote healthy housing markets not only in Virginia, but throughout the nation. That's why all homeowners, including those who don't take the deduction, should be concerned about recent proposals in Washington, D.C., to cut back this important benefit.

Homeowners who don't have a mortgage or don't itemize their federal tax deductions might well question the MID's value. After all, if you own your home free and clear, you don't pay any mortgage interest that you can deduct, and if you take the standard deduction in lieu of itemizing, any mortgage interest you pay won't affect your tax bill.

But the fact is that homeowners who don't take the deduction still benefit from it.

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Lower loan limits could constrain home sales

By Marcie Geffner - Virginia Association of Realtors

Home buyers will face greater difficulty obtaining relatively larger mortgages when maximum loan sizes shrink Sept. 30, 2011. This new constraint on credit is expected to be yet another hardship for housing markets and, consequently, homeowners.

These maximum sizes or amounts, known as "loan limits," apply to two types of mortgages: conforming loans lenders can sell to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and FHA loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are two quasi-government entities that purchase loans to be securitized and resold to investors.

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The skinny on checking accounts for teenagers

By Marcie Geffner -

Many banks are so eager to sign up teenagers as new customers that they've introduced special starter checking accounts specifically for these young people.

A teen checking account can be a good choice, says Luke Reynolds, chief of outreach and program development for the Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

"If a consumer is receiving income and paying bills, he probably wants to open up a checking account so he doesn't pay the enormous fees that unbanked and underbanked people pay," Reynolds says.

Before a teen opens a checking account, he or she should first consider these points.

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6 ways to score discount movie tickets

By Marcie Geffner -

Waving a magic wand and calling out, "ticket price reducto!" may not help you score discount movie tickets.

Fortunately, there are other ways to save money at the movie theater box office.

As ticket prices can top $15 in some cities, you need to have strategies to help you keep your entertainment costs under control. Here are six winners.

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5 reasons to get a new mortgage

By Marcie Geffner -

Mortgage interest rates are near all-time lows and are likely to remain attractive throughout 2012. That means the new year will continue to offer good opportunities for homebuyers who need a new mortgage and homeowners who want to refinance an existing obligation.

With that opportunity in mind, here are five reasons why you might want to get a new mortgage this year, and what you should know about the benefits and hurdles of accomplishing this goal.

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5 ways to save a home sale

By Marcie Geffner -

Home sales get hung up for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, a buyer can't secure approval for a loan, or a seller won't make repairs the buyer insists are necessary. Appraisal issues often result in delays or failed deals. So do complexities arising from short sales.

These problems are commonplace, judging by a National Association of Realtors survey that found 33 percent of Realtors had experienced one or more contract failures in October 2011. That figure was up from 8 percent a year earlier.

These problems can be stressful and, granted, some sales are doomed never to close. But others can be saved with a little creativity and a lot of patience. Here's how.

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