Owning a home can pay off at tax time.

Take advantage of these homeownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:

Mortgage Interest Deduction

One of the neatest deductions itemizing homeowners can take advantage of is the mortgage interest deduction, which you claim on Schedule A. To get the mortgage interest deduction, your mortgage must be secured by your home — and your home can be a house, trailer, or boat, as long as you can sleep in it, cook in it, and it has a toilet.

Interest you pay on a mortgage of up to $1 million — or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately — is deductible when you use the loan to buy, build, or improve your home.

If you take on another mortgage (including a second mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit) to improve your home or to buy or build a second home, that counts towards the $1 million limit.

If you use loans secured by your home for other things — like sending your kid to college — you can still deduct the interest on loans up $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) because your home secures the loan.

Prepaid Interest Deduction

Prepaid interest (or points) you paid when you took out your mortgage is generally 100% deductible in the year you paid it along with other mortgage interest.

If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.

But if you refinance to get a better rate or shorten the length of your mortgage, or to use the money for something other than home improvements, such as college tuition, you’ll need to deduct the points over the life of your mortgage. Say you refi into a 10-year mortgage and pay $3,000 in points. You can deduct $300 per year for 10 years.

So what happens if you refi again down the road?

Example: Three years after your first refi, you refinance again. Using the $3,000 in points scenario above, you’ll have deducted $900 ($300 x 3 years) so far. That leaves $2,400, which you can deduct in full the year you complete your second refi. If you paid points for the new loan, the process starts again; you can deduct the points over the life of the loan.

Home mortgage interest and points are reported on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

Your lender will send you a Form 1098 that lists the points you paid. If not, you should be able to find the amount listed on the HUD-1 settlement sheet you got when you closed the purchase of your home or your refinance closing.

Property Tax Deduction

You can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account, the amount of real estate property taxes you paid shows up on your annual escrow statement.

If you bought a house this year, check your HUD-1 settlement statement to see if you paid any property taxes when you closed the purchase of your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.

Vacation Home Tax Deductions

The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes are complicated. Do yourself a favor and keep good records about how and when you use your vacation home.

  • If you’re the only one using your vacation home (you don’t rent it out for more than 14 days a year), you deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A.
  • Rent your vacation home out for more than 14 days and use it yourself fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), and it’s treated like a rental property. Your expenses are deducted on Schedule E.
  • Rent your home for part of the year and use it yourself for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days you rent it and you have to keep track of income, expenses, and allocate them based on how often you used and how often you rented the house.

Homebuyer Tax Credit

This isn’t a deduction, but it’s important to keep track of if you claimed it in 2008.

There were federal first-time homebuyer tax credits in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

If you claimed the homebuyer tax credit for a purchase made after April 8, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2009, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years, with no interest.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe each year until it’s paid off. Or if the home stops being your main home, you may need to add the remaining unpaid credit amount to your income tax on your next tax return.

Generally, you don’t have to pay back the credit if you bought your home in 2009, 2010, or early 2011. The exception: You have to repay the full credit amount if you sold your house or stopped using it as primary residence within 36 months of the purchase date. Then you must repay it with your tax return for the year the home stopped being your principal residence.

The repayment rules are less rigorous for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community workers who got sent on extended duty at least 50 miles from their principal residence.

Related: A Homeowner’s Guide to Taxes

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/home-tax-deductions/#ixzz3MBLFv0L5

12 Simple Home Repair Jobs to Lift You Out of Winter’s Funk Read more

Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter. For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

What to Look (and Listen) For

In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving. Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely suspects:

1.  Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

2.  Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

3.  Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

4.  Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

5.  Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

6.  Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

Safety Items

You know those routine safety checks you keep meaning to do but never have the time? Now’s the time.

7.  Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.

8.  Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You’re supposed to test them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!

9.  Exhaust filter for the kitchen stove. By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.

10.  Clothes dryer vent. Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.

11.  Drain hoses. Inspect your clothes washer, dishwasher, and icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.

12.  Electrical cords. Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/repair-tips/home-repair-jobs-winter/#ixzz3LKRAvgdr

How to Kill and Prevent Bathroom Mold

If you’ve never experienced bathroom mold, perhaps you aren’t looking deep enough into the corners of your bathroom.

It’s one of the most common problems in any house; it’s also one of the easiest to prevent and cure — as long as you haven’t let it get out of hand.

“Bathroom mold occurs primarily because mold loves damp, dark, isolated spaces,” says Larry Vetter of Vetter Environmental Services in Smithtown, N.Y. “Typically, a bathtub, shower, or entire bathroom remains damp enough for mold growth just from showering or bathing.”

Common Causes of Bathroom Mold

  • Lingering moisture caused by lack of ventilation.
  • Leaky toilets, sinks, and plumbing pipes.
  • Damp cellulose materials such as rugs, paper products, wood, wallpaper, grout, drywall, and fabric.

So how do you know if you have a mold problem? Matt Cinelli, owner/operator of AERC Removals in North Attleboro, Mass., says, “If you can see it or smell it, you’ve got it.”

Finding the Mold in Your Bathroom

Bathroom mold isn’t always obvious. Check out hidden areas, such as under sinks, access doors to shower and bath fixtures, around exhaust fans, even in crawl spaces and basements underneath bathrooms.

“It could be starting in the bathroom but actually forming in another room,” says Cinelli, adding that lack of proper ventilation is the biggest culprit for mold growth.

Preventing Mold

The best defense is preventing mold from occurring in the first place. Yashira Feliciano, director of housekeeping for Conrad Conado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, offers the following tips for keeping mold out of your bathroom:

  • Use your bathroom ventilation fan when you shower or bathe, and leave it on for 30 minutes following the end of your bath; if you don’t have an exhaust fan, install one.
  • Keep household humidity levels below 50%; an air conditioner or dehumidifier can help.
  • Use a mildew-resistant shower curtain, and wash or replace it frequently.
  • Don’t keep bottles of shampoo or shower gel, toys, or loofahs in the shower, as they provide places for mold to grow and hide.
  • Wash your bathroom rugs frequently.

Getting Rid of Mold

What do you do if mold growth is already a problem? As long as the infestation isn’t large, you can take remedial measures yourself:

  • Strip away and replace any caulking or sealant that has mold growth.
  • Clean your bathroom with mold-killing products, such as bleach, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide.
  • Open windows and doors while cleaning to provide fresh air and help dry out the mold.

If you have a problem area bigger than 10 sq. ft., refer to guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or call in a professional.

“When you see it creeping into walls and insulation, you need a professional,” says Cinelli, who notes that tearing out walls (which may be necessary for a big problem) can release mold spores into the rest of the house and create an even bigger issue.

“The idea is to kill it and then remove it,” he says. “And the most important thing is to figure out why you have it before you clean it up.”

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/bathrooms/bathroom-mold/#ixzz3Kwh1PZQm

Quality Living From the Team that Cares

Check out this great article by Jonathon Smoke. Smoke is the chief economist for realtor.com.

Some kinds of activity slow down for the holidays, but this Thanksgiving week has been a busy time for important economic data. Some data point to a slower fourth quarter, but the longer-term trends remain positive for housing on the whole.

Deceleration Doesn’t Mean Decline

You might see alarming headlines about home-price deceleration, but to be clear, prices are not declining. Home-price appreciation is merely returning to more normal levels than what we experienced in 2012 and 2013. Home-price data lags behind other data, and the new September readings across multiple sources continue to show year-over-year gains in the 4%-5% range.

More refined data on GDP growth in the third quarter was released that raised the rate of growth, previously reported as 3.5% to 3.9%. This means the economy has been growing on a real, inflation adjusted basis for four of the last five quarters. Leading indicators now suggest the fourth quarter will likely be slower—but still positive and better than last year.

How Do We Feel? We’re Not Sure

We had mixed readings on consumer attitudes in November. On the one hand, consumer confidence declined 6% in November. We’ve gone through a series of whipsaw ups and downs on this metric over the last four months—up 3% in August, down 5% in September, up 6% in October, down 6% in November. It is tough to decide if there is a real trend month-to-month, but the confidence trend is up substantially over last year.

In contrast, consumer sentiment increased 2% in November and is now at a 7.5-year high.

Accompanying the confusing confidence data from the Conference Board was a more positive forward-looking metric. The percentage of households planning to purchase a home has risen each of the last two months. The November reading of 5.8% is the highest reading all year, which bodes well for the spring of 2015.

Ups and Downs of Home Sales Data

Then, we also had weaker readings on October new home sales and pending existing home sales. New home sales increased less than 1% from September and less than 2% year-over-year. From a sales perspective, the new home market has treaded water all year. The single-family construction data last week hinted at more of a change in October that has not yet come to fruition.

Pending home sales declined 1% in October on a seasonally adjusted basis. This metric, like consumer confidence, has also moved up and down all summer and fall, so it’s impossible to call this a shift in short-term trend. Pending home sales remain up over last year by more than 2%, which is consistent with overall existing home sales.

These readings collectively give us a less than clear view of how the fourth quarter will end, but this is also the slowest quarter of the year, and some of the confusing readings could be impacted by technical factors such as seasonal adjustments on otherwise thinner data. We do know that long-term trends remain on a positive trajectory.

The final say on consumer attitudes and the U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter will come from consumers and how they spend this holiday season. The consensus view is that spending will be up, and if so, we can start looking ahead to a positive new year for home buying.

Quality Living From the Team that Cares

8 Ways to Clean Your Hardwood Floors

Maybe you have gorgeous hardwood floors that you’d like to pass on to your great-grandchildren, or you want to pay the proper respect to the trees that gave their lives, or perhaps you just want shiny, shiny floors; in any case, read on…

Here is some of the best advice from around the web for keeping your hardwoods happy.

Vacuum Daily. Apparently. Martha Stewart’s right-hand man Kevin Sharkey refinished his wood floors and wants only the best for them — and for your floors. His crucial first stage of attack is to vacuum every day, or just dust mop “when you don’t have time to vacuum”.

Wax Yearly, Mop Never: Martha herself reminds us that if our floors are waxed, we should never mop them. She recommends wiping up spills right away, but does not mention how she would clean up the everyday grime.

Vinegar! Wait, No Vinegar! Back in 1995, Martha advised “For wood floors with a polyurethane finish, damp-mop with a combination of one quart water and one-quarter cup vinegar.” However, in 2002, she told the New York Times, “And contrary to fairly common advice, you should never use diluted vinegar or ammonia to clean polyurethane. The acid can etch the finish, making it dull.”

Dust Smart: Better Homes & Gardens recommends frequent dustings with either “a mop that has been treated with a dusting agent” or disposable electrostatic cloths. This should be enough to keep things clean between semi-annual deep cleanings.

Damp- Not Wet- Mop: BH&G goes on to describe the correct way to deep clean your hardwood floors, and while it does involve a mop, it barely involves any water at all. When it comes to any mop and cloth involved in the washing and rinsing process, “wring it almost dry so it feels only slightly damp to the touch”.

Diaper Genie: As for what type of cloth to use, Real Simple suggests that “Cloth diapers work well for buffing, because they’re very soft and absorbent.” Those of us that are baby-free can improvise.

Make Yourself A Spot Of Tea: Oh my goodness, you are going to love this one: The DIY Network’s solution involves two teabags and boiling water! “The tannic acid in tea creates a beautiful shine for hardwood floors.”

Dust & Mist: Finally, an Apartment Therapy reader who owns a floor cleaning company sent in thorough pro tips that all make perfect sense to me. I hope I’ll be able to put them to use someday, after the Hardwood Floor Fairy pays me a visit!

Quality Living From the Team that Cares

Radiant Heat: When to Consider

When it comes to keeping warm, it’s hard to beat radiant heat for comfort and efficiency. Hot water running through tubes beneath the floors heats your house evenly without the dryness or expense of forced air, both of which can make your hair stand on end all winter. Radiant heat is quiet, draft-free, and doesn’t circulate dust or allergens around the house.

At $5 to $15 per square foot, radiant systems are generally two to three times more expensive than forced air to install, but they can be up to 40% more energy efficient, meaning you’ll start recouping those costs right away. Because the tubes go under flooring or behind walls, it’s easiest to install radiant systems during new construction. But there are some situations where retrofitting radiant is worth considering.

If you want to add warmth to a first floor

Love your farmhouse’s old wood floors but hate breakfasting in your down coat? Adding radiant tubes on the underside of the first floor can make your kitchen as cozy as a bread oven without disturbing a single plank.

From an unfinished basement, installers can snake the radiant tubes between the joists, connect them to a manifold linked to your boiler, and add a water pump, thermostat, and insulation. “The best way to do it is to use aluminum heat-transfer plates that we screw under the floor, then snap our tubes into it,” says Gary Hayden, owner of Premier Comfort Systems in Norfolk, Virginia, and the chairman of a committee on radiant-heating development with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

The plates conduct the heat up through the flooring above. Radiant can be used with most flooring materials, though your installer should set the temperature controls to prevent overheating that could warp wood. If you’ve got carpeting above, avoid heat-trapping sponge pads.

If you want to turn your bathroom into a spa

A bathroom’s small size makes it perfect for modular radiant panels that go directly under the tile. These half-inch plywood panels, made by manufacturers such as Uponor and Viega, come pre-grooved to hold 5/16-inch plastic tubes. You remove existing flooring, attach the panels and tubing, connect to the boiler, and lay new tile. The panels raise the height of the finished floor slightly, so you may have to adjust doors or add a new threshold to ease the transition.

Because you pay the same amount for the boiler and system controls regardless of square footage, it can get expensive to install hydronic radiant heat in just one room. Another option for a bathroom is electric radiant heat—cables integrated into a roll-down mat, made by companies such as SunTouch, or thin cables that can be laid directly in a layer of lightweight concrete under the finished flooring.

“When the project does not have a boiler, or you don’t want the expense of piping to your boiler, it’s a nice option,” says Gary Hayden. Electric costs less to install—$400 to $700 for an average-size bath, according to manufacturer WarmlyYours—but is more expensive to operate, which makes it a particularly good choice in a guest bath that doesn’t get frequent use.

If you’re building an addition

During a remodeling job, when you’re already pulling up floors or building new rooms, is a perfect time to consider upgrading to radiant. Installers can lay the tubing right into your new concrete slab, a method that is generally about a third less expensive than retrofitting heat panels or between-the-joist tubing.

If you want to cozy up your basement

You bought that expensive 72-inch plasma TV, but the clammy underground air makes your basement media room seem like an afterthought. Radiant gets rid of that dank feeling.

Heat panels can be laid over the existing concrete floor, or, if you’re pouring a new slab, a network of tubing can be embedded directly in it. Remember that panels will add to the finished height, which could be a problem if you’ve got low ceilings and a tall family. You may also need to change the tread height of the bottom step, and possibly the entire staircase, to comply with some local building codes.

Or you could apply panels just to the walls. “This is a great choice if you don’t want to raise the floor,” says Jim Prisby, a technical services representative for Uponor. It has some design benefits, too. “You can build up the panels to chair-rail height,” Prisby says, “and then you have a nice place to put pictures.”

Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/heating-cooling/radiant-heat-when-consider/#ixzz3JzoLRMpy
Quality Living From the Team that Cares

5 Ways to Insulate Your Windows

While looking into the best way to insulate our drafty windows this winter (apart from replacing them), we put together this mini-guide of solutions we found so far, including the pros and cons of everything from layered curtains to shrink-wrap film.

1. Rubber Weather Sealing: You can buy strips of self-stick rubber weather sealing at a hardware store or online. Cut long strips down to fit your window dimensions, then peel and stick to the frame to close any gaps and keep out drafts.

Pros: Cheap, effective, minimal alterations to appearance of windows.
Cons: When you peel away the rubber strips, they can damage paint or leave a sticky residue.

2. Window Insulation Film: You can buy window insulation kits from a hardware store or online. Kits usually include plastic shrink film that is applied to the indoor window frame with double-stick tape, then heated with a hair dryer to shrink the film and remove any wrinkles.

Pros: Cheap and effective.
Cons: Gives windows a cloudy, shrink-wrapped look.

3. Cellular Shades: Cellular Shades insulate while still letting in light through the windows. They can be ordered and custom cut from home and design centers.

Pros: They let in light and can be custom-fitted for doors and windows.
Cons: They can be expensive and may not insulate as much as heavier curtains.

4. Layered Curtains: Use heavy fabrics or layered curtains over the windows to keep out drafts.

Pros: Looks good, can be matched to your home decor.
Cons: Curtains can be expensive and heavy drapes can block out light.

5. Draft Snakes: Draft snakes are fabric tubes placed on a window sill or under a door to prevent cold air from creeping in. You can make one by sewing a tube of fabric to fit the width of your window and filling it with dried rice.

Pros: Cheap, easy to make as a DIY project.
Cons: It only insulates the window sill, not the glass or frame.

Quality Living From the Team that Cares


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