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Fleet Bank
3856 Falmouth Road
Barnstable, MA 02648
(800) 841-4000

Falmouth Bank
397 E Falmouth Hwy
East Falmouth, MA
02536-6005
(508) 495-5000

Falmouth Bank
78 County Rd
North Falmouth, MA 02556-2001
(508) 563-6060

Service Federal Credit Union
199 Worcester Ct
Falmouth, MA 02540-3917
(508) 548-8877

Falmouth Bank
20 Davis Straits
Falmouth, MA 02540-3906
(508) 548-3500

Cape Cod 5
Sandwich, MA 02563
(508) 833-1291

Fleet Bank
106 Jones Road
Falmouth, MA 02540
(800) 841-4000

Cape Cod 5
Rte 28 Hyannis, MA 02601
(508) 771-3403

Fleet Bank
749 Main Hyannis, MA 02601
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Fleet Bank
291 Barnstable Road
Hyannis, MA 02601
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Buying/Selling Articles
4 Appraisals & Market Value
4 Escrow & Closing Costs
4 Finding the Right Home
4 Home Inspections
4 Insurance
4 Making an Offer
4 Property Taxes
4 Tax Considerations
4 What You Can Afford

 
       
   

Appraisals and Market Value
A crucial step in starting your search for a new home is having a clear idea of your financial situation. By getting a handle on your income, expenses and debts, you'll have a much better idea of what you can afford and how much you'll need to borrow.

For lenders to verify this information, though, they're going to need to look at your financial records. It is also important to remember that you should include records for each person who will be an owner of the house. So before you even visit the bank, make sure you'll be able to provide copies of these important documents:
n Paycheck Stubs
Remember that lenders are most interested in your average income. Not only will they want to see this month's paycheck, but also how much you've been making for the past two years. Steady employment is also more attractive to lenders, so if you've been hopping from job to job, be prepared to discuss the reasons why.
n Bank Statements
In order to qualify you for a loan, most lenders will also ask you for copies of your bank statements. Ideally, they'd like to see a steady history of savings--or at the very least, that you're not bouncing checks every month.
n Tax Records
It's always a good idea to save copies of your tax returns, especially if you're self-employed. If you own your own business, it's important to note that lenders generally consider your income as the amount you paid taxes on--not the gross income of the business.
n Dividends &╩Investments
Lenders will usually consider long-term investment dividends, as well as your investment portfolio, when evaluating your income.
n Alimony/Child Support
If you receive steady payments as part of a divorce settlement or for child support, you can also include this as part of your gross income. Just remember that lenders will want to see a copy of your divorce/court settlement verifying the amount of the payments.
n Credit Report
Virtually every lender will want to see a copy of your credit report as part of the loan application process. The report lists all of your long-term debts, as well as your payment history. In general, they will require you to pay for the credit report (approximately $50), but if you have a recent copy, they may accept that instead.

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Escrow & Closing Costs
Q: How can I save on closing costs?
A: Studies show that the closing costs, which can average 2 to 3 percent of a total home purchase price, are often more costly than many buyers expect. But there are some ways to save: * Negotiate with the seller to pay all or part of the closing costs. The lender must agree to this as well as the seller. * Get a no-point loan. The trade-off is a higher interest rate on the loan and many of these loans have prepayment penalties. But buyers who are short on cash and can qualify for a higher interest rate may find a no-point loan will significantly cut their closing costs. * Get a no-fee loan. Usually, though, these fees are wrapped into a higher interest rate though it will save you on the amount of cash you need upfront. * Get seller financing. This kind of arrangement usually does not entail traditional loan fees or charges. * Rent the property in which you are interested with an option to buy. That will give you more time to save for the upfront cash needed for the actual purchase. * Shop around for the best loan deal. Each direct lender and each mortgage brokerage has their own fee structure. Call around before submitting your final loan application.

Q: Where do I get information about closing costs?
A: For more on closing costs, ask for the "Consumer?s Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs," Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Public Information Department, P.O. Box 7702, San Francisco, CA 94120 or call (415) 974-2163.

Q: What are closing costs?
A: Closing costs are the fees for services, taxes or special interest charges that surround the purchase of a home. They include upfront loan points, title insurance, escrow or closing day charges, document fees, prepaid interest and property taxes. Unless, these charges are rolled into the loan, they must be paid when the home is closed.

Q: Who pays the closing costs?
A: Closing costs are either paid by the home seller or home buyer. It often depends on local custom and what the buyer or seller negotiates.

Q: Why do I need a title report?
A: As much as you as a buyer may want to believe that the home you have found is perfect, a clear title report ensures there are no liens placed against the prior owners or any documents that will restrict your use of the property. A preliminary title report provides you with an opportunity to review any impediment that would prevent clear title from passing to you. When reading a preliminary report, it is important to check the extent of your ownership rights or interest. The most common form of interest is "fee simple" or "fee," which is the highest type of interest an owner can have in land. Liens, restrictions and interests of others excluded from title coverage will be listed numerically as exceptions in the report. You also may have to consider interests of any third parties, such as easements granted by prior owners that limit use of the property. Some buyers attempt to clear these unwanted items prior to purchase. A list of standard exceptions and exclusions not covered by the title insurance policy may be attached. This section includes items the buyer may want to investigate further, such as any laws governing building and zoning.

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Finding the Right Home
Q: How do you choose between buying and renting?
A: Home ownership offers tax benefits as well as the freedom to make decisions about your home. An advantage of renting is not worrying about maintenance and other financial obligations associated with owning property. There also are a number of economic considerations. Unlike renters, home owners who secure a fixed-rate loan can lock in their monthly housing costs and make prudent investment plans knowing these expenses will not increase substantially. Home ownership is a highly leveraged investment that can yield substantial profit on a nominal front-end investment. However, such returns depend on home-price appreciation. "For some people, owning a home is a great feeling," writes Mitchell A. Levy in his book, "Home Ownership: The American Myth," Myth Breakers Press, Cupertino, Calif.; 1993. "It does, however, have a price. Besides the maintenance headache, the amount of after-tax money paid to the lender is usually greater than the amount of money otherwise paid in rent," Levy concludes. As for evaluating the risk associated with home ownership, David T. Schumacher and Erik Page Bucy write in their book "The Buy & Hold Real Estate Strategy," John Wiley & Sons, New York; 1992, that "good property located in growth areas should be regarded as an investment as opposed to a speculation or gamble." The authors recommend that prospective buyers spend a few months investigating a community. Many people make the mistake of buying in the wrong area. "Just because certain properties are high-priced doesn't necessarily mean they have some inherent advantage," the authors write. "One property may cost more than another today, but will it still be worth more down the line?"

Q: What are the pros and cons of adding on or buying new?
A: Before making a choice between adding on to an existing home or buying a larger one, consider these questions:
n How much money is available, either from cash reserves or through a home improvement loan, to remodel the current house?
n How much additional space is required? Would the foundation support a second floor or does the lot have room to expand on the ground level? * What do local zoning and building ordinances permit?
n How much equity already exists in the property?
n Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy housing needs? Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual needs, the extent of work involved and what will add the most value. According to Remodeling magazine's annual "Cost vs. Value Report," remodeling a home not only improves its livability but its curb appeal with potential buyers. The highest paybacks come from updating kitchens and baths and, most recently, adding on a home office, according to the survey.
For more information, check out "The Do-able Renewable Home," a free booklet available from the American Association of Retired Persons, Fulfillment Department, 601 E St., N.W., Washington, DC 20049; (202) 434-2277.

Q: What do all of those real estate acronyms in the ads mean?
A: If you find yourself stumbling over weird acronyms in a real estate listing, don't be alarmed. There is method to the madness of this shorthand (which is mostly adopted by sellers to save money in advertising charges). Here are some abbreviations and the meaning of each, taken from a recent newspaper classified section:
n assum. fin. -- assumable financing
n dk -- deck
n gar -- garage (garden is usually abbreviated "gard")
n expansion pot'l -- may be extra space on the lot, or possibly vertical potential for a top floor or room addition. Verify actual potential by checking local zoning restrictions prior to purchase.
n fab pentrm -- fabulous pentroom, a room on top, underneath the roof, that sometimes has views

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Home Inspections
Q: How do I find a home inspector?
A: In order to find a home inspector, Dian Hymer, author of "Buying and Selling a Home A Complete Guide," Chronicle Books, San Francisco; 1994, advises looking for someone with demonstrable qualifications. "Ideally, the general inspector you select should be either an engineer, an architect, or a contractor. When possible, hire an inspector who belongs to one of the home inspection trade organizations." The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) has developed formal inspection guidelines and a professional code of ethics for its members. Membership to ASHI is not automatic; proven field experience and technical knowledge of structures and their various systems and appliances are a prerequisite. One can usually find an inspector by looking in the phone book or by inquiring at a real estate office or sometimes at an area Realtor association. Rates for the service vary greatly. Many inspectors charge about $400, but costs go up with the scope of the inspection.

Q: What's a home inspection?
A: A home inspection is when a paid professional inspector -- often a contractor or an engineer -- inspects the home, searching for defects or other problems that might plague the owner later on. They usually represent the buyer and or paid by the buyer. The inspection usually takes place after a purchase contract between buyer and seller has been signed.

Q: Do I need a home inspection?
A: Yes. Buying a home "as is" is a risky proposition. Major repairs on homes can amount to thousands of dollars. Plumbing, electrical and roof problems represent significant and complex systems that are expensive to fix.

Q: How do I find a home inspector?
A: Your realty agent is one source. Inspectors are listed in the yellow pages. You can ask for referrals from friends. Ask for their credentials, such as contractor's license or engineering certificate. Also, check out their references.

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Insurance
Q: What kind of home insurance should I get?
A: A standard homeowners policy protects against fire, lightning, wind, storms, hail, explosions, riots, aircraft wrecks, vehicle crashes, smoke, vandalism, theft, breaking glass, falling objects, weight of snow or sleet, collapsing buildings, freezing of plumbing fixtures, electrical damage and water damage from plumbing, heating or air conditioning systems, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group for the insurance industry. Such policies are "all-risk" policies, which cover everything except earthquakes, floods, war and nuclear accidents. A basic policy can be expanded to include additional coverage, such as for floods and earthquakes and even workers' compensation for servants or contractors. Home-based business-coverage, an increasingly popular rider, does not cover liability associated with the business. Insurance experts recommend that homeowners obtain insurance equal to the full replacement value of the home. On a 2,000-square-foot home,for example, if the replacement cost is $80 per square foot, the house should be insured for at least $160,000. For personal items, homeowners can increase their coverage beyond the depreciated value of items such as televisions or furniture by purchasing a "replacement-cost endorsement" on personal property. Some experts recommend an inflation rider, which increases coverage as the home increases in value.

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Making an Offer
Q: What is a lease option?
A: Is a low offer a good idea? A:╩ While your low offer in a normal market might be rejected immediately, in a buyer's market a motivated seller will either accept or make a counteroffer. Full-price offers or above are more likely to be accepted by the seller. But there are other considerations involved:
n Is the offer contingent upon anything, such as the sale of the buyer's current house? If so, a low offer, even at full price, may not be as attractive as an offer without that condition.
n Is the offer made on the house as is, or does the buyer want the seller to make some repairs or lower the price instead?
n Is the offer all cash, meaning the buyer has waived the financing contingency? If so, then an offer at less than the asking price may be more attractive to the seller than a full-price offer with a financing contingency.

Q: What contingencies should be put in an offer?
A: Most offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers' ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction. A buyer could forfeit his or her deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract. The purchase contract must include the seller?s responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

Q: Whose obligation is it to disclose pertinent information about a property?
A: Obligations to disclose information about a property vary from state to state. Under the strictest laws, the seller and the seller?s broker, if there is one, are required to disclose all facts materially affecting the value or desirability of the property which are known or accessible only to him. Items sellers often disclose include: homeowners association dues; whether or not work done on the house meets local building codes and permits requirements; the presence of any neighborhood nuisances or noises which a prospective buyer might not notice, such as a dog that barks every night or poor TV reception; any death within three years on the property and any restrictions on the use of the property, such as zoning ordinances or association rules. It is wise to check your state's disclosure rules prior to a home purchase.

Q: How do you find out the value of a troubled property?
A: Buyers considering a foreclosure property should obtain as much information as possible from the lender about the range of bids being sought. It also is important to examine the property. If you are unable to get into a foreclosure property, check with surrounding neighbors about the property's condition. It also is possible to do your own cost comparison through researching comparable properties recorded at local county recorder's and assessor's offices, or through Internet sites specializing in property records.

Q: Are low-ball offers advisable?
A: A low-ball offer is a term used to describe an offer on a house that is substantially less than the asking price. While any offer can be presented, a low-ball offer can sour a prospective sale and discourage the seller from negotiating at all. Unless the house is very overpriced, the offer will probably be rejected. You should always do your homework about comparable prices in the neighborhood before making an y offer. It also pays to know something about the seller's motivation. A lower price with a speedy escrow, for example, may motivate a seller who must move, has another house under contract or must sell quickly for other reasons.

Q: What is the difference between list and sales prices?
A: The list price is the price tag put on a house in a real estate listing; it usually is only an estimate of what the seller would like to get for the property. The sales price is the amount a property actually sells for. It may be the same as the listing price, or higher or lower, depending on how accurately the property was originally priced and on market conditions. A seller may need to adjust the listing price if there have been no offers within the first few months of the property's listing period.

Q: Can you buy homes below market?
A: While a typical buyer may look at five to 10 homes before making an offer, an investor who make bargain buys usually go through many more. Most experts agree it takes a lot of determination to find a real "bargain." There are a number of ways to buy a bargain property:
n Buy a fixer-upper in a transitional neighborhood, improve it and keep it or resell at a higher price.
n Buy a foreclosure property (after doing your research carefully).
n Buy a house due to be torn down and move it to a new lot.
n Buy a partial interest in a piece of real estate, such as part of a tenants-in-common partnership.
n Buy a leftover house in a new-home development.

Q: Who gets the furnishings when a home is sold?
A: Fixtures, any kind of personal property that is permanently attached to a house (such as drapery rods, built-in bookcases, tacked-down carpeting or a furnace), automatically stay with the house unless specified otherwise in the sales contract. But you can consider anything that is not nailed down negotiable. This most often involves appliances that are not built in (washer, dryer, refrigerator, for example), although some sellers will be interested in negotiating for other items, such as a piano.

Q: What are some tips on negotiation?
A: The more you know about a seller's motivation, the stronger a negotiating position you are in. For example, seller who must move quickly due to a job transfer may be amenable to a lower price with a speedy escrow. Other so-called "motivated sellers" include people going through a divorce or who have already purchased another home. Remember, that the listing price is what the seller would like to receive but is not necessarily what they will settle for. Before making an offer, check the recent sales prices of comparable homes in the neighborhood to see how the seller's asking price stacks up. Some experts discourage making deliberate low-ball offers. While such an offer can be presented, it can also sour the sale and discourage the seller from negotiating at all.

Q: What are the standard contingencies?
A: Most offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers' ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction. A buyer could forfeit his or her deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract. The purchase contract must include the seller?s responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

Q: What is the difference between list price, sales price and appraised value?
A: The list price is a seller's advertised price, a figure that usually is only a rough estimate of what the seller wants to get. Sellers can price high, low or close to what they hope to get. To judge whether the list price is a fair one, be sure to consult comparable sales prices in the area. The sales price is the amount of money you as a buyer would pay for a property. The appraisal value is a certified appraiser's estimate of the worth of a property, and is based on comparable sales, the condition of the property and numerous other factors.

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Property Taxes
Q: How do property taxes work?
A: Property taxes are what most homeowners in the United States pay for the privilege of owning a piece of real estate, on average 1.5 percent of the property's current market value. These annual local assessments by county or local authorities help pay for public services and are calculated using a variety of formulas.

Q: Are property taxes deductible?
A: Property taxes on all real estate, including those levied by state and local governments and school districts, are fully deductible against current income taxes.

Q: Where can I learn more about appealing my property taxes?
A:╩ Contact your local tax assessor's office to see what procedures to follow to appeal your property tax assessment. You may be able to appeal your assessment informally. Mostly likely, however, you will have to go through a formal tax-appeal processes, which begin with an appeal filed with the appropriate assessment appeals board.

Q: How is a home's value determined?
A: You have several ways to determine the value of a home. An appraisal is a professional estimate of a property's market value, based on recent sales of comparable properties, location, square footage and construction quality. This service varies in cost depending on the price of the home. On average, an appraisal costs about $300 for a $250,000 house. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents offer free analyses in the hopes of winning your business. You also can get a comparable sales report for a fee from private companies that specialize in real estate data. You also can find comparable sales information available on various real estate Internet sites.

Q: Are taxes on second homes deductible?
A: Interest and property taxes are deductible on a second home if you itemize. Check with your accountant or tax adviser for specifics.

Q: What is an impound account?
A: An impound account is a trust account established by the lender to hold money to pay for real estate taxes, and mortgage and homeowners insurance premiums as they are received each month.

Q: Do all loans require impound accounts?
A: If you are taking out a FHA or VA loan, the lender can require an impound account to pay real estate taxes and hazard insurance premiums, as with a standard loan. Most conventional loans do not require an impound account.

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Tax Considerations
Q: What is the Mortgage Credit Certificate program?
A: The Mortgage Credit Certificate program allows first-time home buyers to take advantage of a special federal income tax credit. This program allows buyers credit in qualifying for the tax advantage they'll receive after they purchase the home. The amount of the credit is tied to a local formula that every city with an MCC program must follow. An MCC credit, which can total $2,000 or more, reduces the borrower's federal tax liability by an amount tied to how much one pays in annual mortgage interest. Both the borrower's income and the purchase price of the home must fall within established guidelines. To see if your community has an MCC program, call your local housing or redevelopment agency. You also may inquire with your real estate broker or the local association of Realtors.

Q: Are taxes on second homes deductible?
A: Interest and property taxes are deductible on a second home if you itemize. Check with your accountant or tax adviser for specifics.

Q: What home-buying costs are deductible?
A: Any points you or the seller pay for your home loan are deductible for that year. Property taxes and interest are deductible every year. But while other home-buying costs (closing costs in particular) are not immediately tax-deductible, they can be figured into the adjusted cost basis of your home when you go to sell (any significant home improvements also can be calculated into your basis). These fees would include title insurance, loan-application fee, credit report, appraisal fee, service fee, settlement or closing fees, bank attorney's fee, attorney's fee, document preparation fee and recording fees.

Q: How do you choose between buying and renting?
A: Home ownership offers tax benefits as well as the freedom to make decisions about your home. An advantage of renting is not worrying about maintenance and other financial obligations associated with owning property. There also are a number of economic considerations. Unlike renters, home owners who secure a fixed-rate loan can lock in their monthly housing costs and make prudent investment plans knowing these expenses will not increase substantially. Home ownership is a highly leveraged investment that can yield substantial profit on a nominal front-end investment. However, such returns depend on home-price appreciation. "For some people, owning a home is a great feeling," writes Mitchell A. Levy in his book, "Home Ownership: The American Myth," Myth Breakers Press, Cupertino, Calif.; 1993. "It does, however, have a price. Besides the maintenance headache, the amount of after-tax money paid to the lender is usually greater than the amount of money otherwise paid in rent," Levy concludes. As for evaluating the risk associated with home ownership, David T. Schumacher and Erik Page Bucy write in their book "The Buy & Hold Real Estate Strategy," John Wiley & Sons, New York; 1992, that "good property located in growth areas should be regarded as an investment as opposed to a speculation or gamble." The authors recommend that prospective buyers spend a few months investigating a community. Many people make the mistake of buying in the wrong area. "Just because certain properties are high-priced doesn't necessarily mean they have some inherent advantage," the authors write. "One property may cost more than another today, but will it still be worth more down the line?"

Q: Explain the home mortgage deduction?
A: The mortgage interest deduction entitles you to completely deduct the interest on your home loan for the year in which you paid it. You must itemize deductions in order to do this, which means your total deductions must exceed the IRS's standard deduction. Another point to remember is that the amount of interest on your loan goes down each year you pay on your mortgage (all standard home-loan formulas pay off interest first before significantly paying into principal). That's why paying extra on your principal every year can help you pay off your loan early.

Q: Should I buy a vacation home?
A: Today a vacation home can be purchased for investment purposes as well as enjoyment. And yes, there are tax benefits. Some people buy a vacation home with the idea of turning it into a permanent retirement home down the road, which puts them ahead on their payments. Another benefit is that the interest and property taxes are tax deductible, which helps to offset the cost of paying for a second home. A vacation home also can be depreciated if you live in it less than 14 days a year. Resources: * "Real Estate Investing From A to Z," William Pivar, Probus Publishing, Chicago; 1993. * "The Ultimate Language of Real Estate,'' John Reilly, Dearborn Financial Publishing, Chicago; 1993.

Q: Are there tax credits for first-time home buyers?
A: Many city and county governments offer Mortgage Credit Certificate programs, which allow first-time home buyers to take advantage of a special federal income tax write-off, which makes qualifying for a mortgage loan easier. Requirements vary from program to program. People wanting to apply should contact their local housing or community development office. Here is a list of four general requirements to keep in mind:
n Some credit may be claimed only on your owner-occupied principal residence.
n There are maximum income limits, which vary by locality and family size.
n You must be a first-time home buyer, which means you must not have had any kind of ownership interest in a principal residence during the past three years. This restriction may be waived, however, if you are buying property within certain target areas.
n Allocations must be available. A local MCC program may have to decline new applications when it runs out of funds.

Q: Are seller-paid points deductible?
A: As of Jan. 1, 1991, homeowners have been able to deduct points paid by the seller. This deduction previously was reserved only for points actually paid by the buyer.

Q: How do I save on taxes?
A: Here are some ways to save money on taxes:
n Mortgage interest on loans up to $1 million is completely deductible for the year in which you pay it to buy, build or improve your principal residence plus a second home.
n Points, or loan origination fees, also are deductible no matter who pays them, the buyer or the seller.
n Most homeowners, except the wealthy and those living in high-priced markets, no longer need to worry about capital gains taxes. The exemption has been raised to $500,000 for married couples and $250,000 for single owners. It can be taken every two years. Homeowners should always keep all receipts of permanent home improvements and of mortgage closing costs. If you do have to pay capital gains taxes, these costs can be added to your adjusted cost basis. Consult your tax adviser for more information.
Resources: "Tax Information for First-Time Homeowners," IRS Publication 530, and "Selling Your Home," IRS Publication 523. Call (800) TAX-FORM to order.

Q: Why buy a house?
A: Here are some frequently cited reasons for buying a house:
You need a tax break. The mortgage interest deduction can make home ownership very appealing.
n You are not counting on price appreciation in the short term.
n You can afford the monthly payments.
n You plan to stay in the house long enough for the appreciation to cover your transaction costs. The costs of buying and selling a home include real estate commissions, lender fees and closing costs that can amount to more than 10 percent of the sales price.
n You prefer to be an owner rather than a renter.
n You can handle the maintenance expenses and headaches.
n You are not greatly concerned by dips in home values.

Q: What are the rules for mortgage credit certificates?
A: To qualify for a mortgage credit certificate, both your income and the purchase price of the home must fall within established city guidelines. These guidelines vary by city but generally only permit people who earn an average income or slightly higher than average income. A limited number of cities have authorized the MCC program. Contact your municipal housing department for more information.

Q: Are points deductible?
A: Points paid by the buyer or the seller are deductible for the year in which they are paid.

Q: Where do I get information on IRS publications?
A: The Internal Revenue Service publishes a number of real estate publications. They are listed by number:
n 521 "Moving Expenses"
n 523 "Selling Your Home"
n 527 "Residential Rental Property"
n 534 "Depreciation"
n 541 "Tax Information on Partnerships"
n 551 "Basis of Assets"
n 555 "Federal Tax Information on Community Property"
n 561 "Determining the Value of Donated Property"
n 590 "Individual Retirement Arrangements"
n 908 "Bankruptcy and Other Debt Cancellation"
n 936 "Home Mortgage Interest Deduction" Order by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM.

Q: How do I reach the IRS?
A: To reach the Internal Revenue Service, call (800) TAX-1040.

Q: How are fees and assessments figured in a homeowners association?
A: Homeowners association fees are considered personal living expenses and are not tax-deductible. If, however, an association has a special assessment to make one or more capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis. Cost basis is a term for the money an owner spends for permanent improvements throughout their time in the home and is used to reduce eventual capital gains taxes when the property is sold. For example, if the association puts a new roof on a building, the expense could be considered part of a condo owner's cost basis only if they lived directly underneath it. Overall improvements to common areas, such as the installation of a swimming pool, need to be considered on a case-by-case basis but most can be included in the cost basis of any owner who can show their home directly benefits from the work. To find out more about how the IRS views condo association fees, look to IRS Publication 17, "Your Federal Income Tax," which includes a section on condos. Order a free copy by calling (800) TAX-FORM.

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What You Can Afford
Q: How do you find out the value of a troubled property?
A: Buyers considering a foreclosure property should obtain as much information as possible from the lender about the range of bids being sought. It also is important to examine the property. If you are unable to get into a foreclosure property, check with surrounding neighbors about the property's condition. It also is possible to do your own cost comparison through researching comparable properties recorded at local county recorder's and assessor's offices, or through Internet sites specializing in property records.

Q: Why buy a house?
A: Here are some frequently cited reasons for buying a house:
n You need a tax break. The mortgage interest deduction can make home ownership very appealing.
n You are not counting on price appreciation in the short term.
n You can afford the monthly payments.
n You plan to stay in the house long enough for the appreciation to cover your transaction costs. The costs of buying and selling a home include real estate commissions, lender fees and closing costs that can amount to more than 10 percent of the sales price.
n You prefer to be an owner rather than a renter.
n You can handle the maintenance expenses and headaches.
n You are not greatly concerned by dips in home values.

Q: What can I afford?
A: Know what you can afford is the first rule of home buying, and that depends on how much income and how much debt you have. In general, lenders don't want borrowers to spend more than 28 percent of their gross income per month on a mortgage payment or more than 36 percent on debts. It pays to check with several lenders before you start searching for a home. Most will be happy to roughly calculate what you can afford and prequalify you for a loan. The price you can afford to pay for a home will depend on six factors:
1. gross income
2. the amount of cash you have available for the down payment, closing costs and cash reserves required by the lender
3. your outstanding debts
4. your credit history
5. the type of mortgage you select
6. current interest rates
Another number lenders use to evaluate how much you can afford is the housing expense-to-income ratio. It is determined by calculating your projected monthly housing expense, which consists of the principal and interest payment on your new home loan, property taxes and hazard insurance (or PITI as it is known). If you have to pay monthly homeowners association dues and/or private mortgage insurance, this also will be added to your PITI. This ratio should fall between 28 to 33 percent, although some lenders will go higher under certain circumstances. Your total debt-to-income ratio should be in the 34 to 38 percent range.

Q: How much will I spend on maintenance expenses?
A: Experts generally agree that you can plan on annually spend 1 percent of the purchase price of your house on repairing gutters, caulking windows, sealing your driveway and the myriad other maintenance chores that come with the privilege of homeownership. Newer homes will cost less to maintain than older homes. It also depends on how well the house has been maintained over the years.

Q: Where do I get information on housing market stats?
A: A real estate agent is a good source for finding out the status of the local housing market. So is your statewide association of Realtors, most of which are continuously compiling such statistics from local real estate boards. For overall housing statistics, U.S. Housing Markets regularly publishes quarterly reports on home building and home buying. Your local builders association probably gets this report. If not, the housing research firm is located in Canton, Mich.; call (800) 755-6269 for information; the firm also maintains an Internet site. Finally, check with the U.S. Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C.; (301) 495-4700. The census bureau also maintains a site on the Internet. The Chicago Title company also has published a pamphlet, "Who's Buying Homes in America." Write Chicago Title and Trust Family of Title Insurers, 171 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60601-3294.

Q: What is the standard debt-to-income ratio?
A: A standard ratio used by lenders limits the mortgage payment to 28 percent of the borrower's gross income and the mortgage payment, combined with all other debts, to 36 percent of the total. The fact that some loan applicants are accustomed to spending 40 percent of their monthly income on rent -- and still promptly make the payment each time -- has prompted some lenders to broaden their acceptable mortgage payment amount when considered as a percentage of the applicant's income. Other real estate experts tell borrowers facing rejection to compensate for negative factors by saving up a larger down payment. Mortgage loans requiring little or no outside documentation often can be obtained with down payments of 25 percent or more of the purchase price.

Q: How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?
A: Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years. Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender's decision. For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.

Q: What is Fannie Mae's low-down program?
A: Fannie Mae is expanding the availability of low-down-payment loans in an effort to help more people nationwide qualify for a mortgage. Two new programs will help potential buyers overcome two of the most common obstacles to home ownership, low savings and a modest income. To address many first-time buyers' struggles to save the down payment, Fannie Mae developed Fannie 97. The program provides 97 percent financing on a fixed-rate mortgage with either a 25- or 30-year loan term through Fannie Mae's Community Home Buyers Program. Fannie Mae's new Start-Up Mortgage will assist buyers with a 5 percent down payment who are at any income level. Yet applicants do not need as much income to qualify and less cash for closing than with traditional mortgages. Borrowers will receive a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a first-year monthly payment that is lower than the standard fixed-rate loan. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae's counterpart, also offers low-down-payment loan programs.

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