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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Can an hour in the garden replace your antidepressant? Physicians across the pond believe so. Throw away your Prozac and plant some peonies to fight depression, says a British physician who believes that time spent in the garden can be as therapeutic as expensive pharmaceuticals.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the UK’s Royal College of Physicians, says the country’s new healthcare reforms will allow doctors to embrace the healing powers of digging in dirt, pruning roses, and plucking weeds. Sir Richard is a patron of Thrive, an organization that promotes and provides gardening therapy.

"Drug therapy can be really expensive, but gardening costs little and anyone can do it," Sir Richard told the Fraser Coast Chronicle. "Gardening burns off calories; makes joints supple, and is fantastic exercise. It is a physical activity that has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and dementia."

Time to start shoveling! Just how happy does gardening make you? For more information about how to improve the exterior of your house and boost its curb appeal, contact Bristol Properties International. In Boca Raton, call 561-347-1303 or in Naples, call 239-352-6400.

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon - April 03, 2012

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The popularity of reality television has increasingly risen to extremes in recent years, and among the numerous reality T.V. shows that have become so hot these days are those pertaining to the real estate field. Not only do these real estate geared reality T.V. shows provide great entertainment, they also play an important role in educating and aspiring real estate agents, investors, buyers and sellers. The HGTV cable television network produces the most programming of real estate based television shows with high ratings and success. Other cable networks targeting this real estate trend in reality television are TLC, Bravo and A & E. Here's a list of a few of the most popular real estate reality t.v. shows:

"Property Virgins": Takes viewers inside the intense world of house hunting through the eyes of first- time home buyers. (HGTV) Tuesdays 9:30 pm/10:30 central

"Income Property": Real estate expert Scott McGillivray helps first-time home buyers turn their home into a moneymaker to help with their mortgage. (HGTV) Wednesdays 8 p.m/ 7 central

"Property Brothers": Real estate's twin brother duo, Jonathan and Drew Scott, help couples find, buy and transform extreme fixer-uppers into the ultimate dream home. (HGTV) Wednesdays 9 p.m./ 8 central

"House Hunters & House Hunters International": Takes viewers behind the scenes as individuals, couples and families learn what to look for and decide whether or not a home is meant for them. (HGTV) Every weeknight 10 p.m./ 9 central

"Bought & Sold": This series is all about the reality of real estate, focusing on the stories and high drama behind the sales and lengths brokers will to complete sales. (HGTV) Mondays 10:30 p.m/9:30 c

"Secrets that Sell" : This series features real estate pros that make sure their sellers leave no money at the table at closing. They use their expertise to size up homes that have trouble selling. They detail the short list of must-do's to maximize home value and generate offers. (HGTV) Tuesdays 9 p.m./ 8 c

"Get it Sold" : Helps people who haven't been able to sell their house in a softening real estate market. (HGTV) Wednesdays 8:30 pm/ 7:30 c

"Million Dollar Listings": This docu-series follows ambitious real estate agents as they give viewers an inside look into the aggressive, high stakes world of real estate's high end market as they close multimillion dollar deals at a face pace. (Bravo) 10 p.m./9 c

 

 

 

For more information on current real estate market trends or for assistance buying or selling a property, call Bristol Properties International. In Boca Raton, call 561-347-1303 or in Naples, call 239-352-6400 or email info@bristolre.com.

Comments: 1

Thursday, March 15, 2012

 

 

 

A pair of Bristol Properties International top-producing agents, Miguel Serrano and Laura Corwin are pleased to announce their partnership to help newly wed couples and first time buyers find their perfect home. Miguel said, "I enjoy working with young couples because they are always happy and truly excited about starting their lives together. Finding their first home as newly weds, often their first home ever, is such a great accomplishment, and I look to take all the stress away from the process."

As first time home buyers, we recognize the sacrifices one makes in order to save enough money for a down payment or the bills that home ownership entails. Sometimes it seems like it will be impossible, but Miguel and Laura are saavy to the available first time home buyer programs, mortgage options and what really is important to couples just starting their family. Laura says, "together, our experience serving South Florida communities gives us the ability to efficiently and effectively guide our home buyers to the property options they have always wanted."

For more information and to receive a free market analysis and free criteria-based property search, call 561-347-1303 or email Miguel at mserrano@bristolre.com or Laura at lcorwin@bristolre.com.

Your Wedding Planning Just Got Easier!

 

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Make spring cleaning less of a chore by following these smarter—and mostly greener—tips for this annual rite of homeownership.

Spring cleaning is a time-honored tradition. After a long winter, you throw open the windows, let in fresh air, and scrub down the house. But modern spring cleaning presents challenges your grandmother never imagined. Today’s homes are bigger, and the choice of cleaning supplies seemingly endless.

While you’ll need to devote a day or two to this annual maintenance project, make it less of a chore by picking the right tools and methods. And by taking an environmentally friendly approach, you can also protect the well being of your family. Give this space-by-space cleaning guide a whirl this spring—or during any season, for that matter, when grime and clutter become unbearable.

Bathrooms

When it’s time to get down and dirty, many people start with the bathroom. Allen Rathey, founder of The Housekeeping Channel, says removing mineral deposits, rust, and such from toilets doesn’t have to mean chemical warfare. Don rubber gloves and use a pumice stone to erase stubborn stains. If you want more scouring power, Rathey recommends mixing baking soda with acidic vinegar. The concoction is just as effective as conventional cleaners, and there are no toxic fumes to inhale. This approach works equally well on tub and shower stains.

Buy your supplies in bulk to save. A 64-ounce bottle of vinegar costs about $4; a 12-pound bag of baking soda, about $7. Both items can be used throughout the house. For just $1 you can mix equal parts vinegar and water in a 32-ounce spray bottle to make a terrific all-purpose surface cleaner. That’s about $4 cheaper than buying a spray cleaner at the store.

Spring cleaning is the perfect time to extract dirt from porous grouted surfaces. For tile floors use your usual cleaner, but don’t mop. Instead, run a wet/dry vac, which will suck contaminants out of the grout. Mopping drives the grime into the grout rather than removing it. According to Rathey, grout can harbor stinky bacteria that leave a bad odor in the bathroom. This technique is more time-consuming than mopping, but it’s worthwhile to do at least once a year.

Kitchens

The kitchen can be a tough room to clean because there’s usually so much stuff in it, says Justin Klosky, founder and creative director of The OCD Experience, an organizational service. Before you break out the broom, go through your cabinets and drawers, and put together a box of items to donate and a box of items to store somewhere besides the kitchen. Clear your countertops of everything except items you use nearly every day.

After you’ve de-cluttered, you can get to work cleaning. Cloud Conrad, vice president of marketing for cleaning company Maid Brigade, says one tool you shouldn’t overlook is an all-purpose microfiber cloth (about $5). These aren’t run-of-the-mill dusting rags. Microfiber is a densely woven synthetic fabric that picks up dirt and greasy deposits without chemicals thanks to its unique composition. You should be able to clean surfaces like countertops, sinks, and stoves with warm water, a microfiber cloth, and a bit of elbow grease, Conrad says.

Since you prepare your food in the kitchen, consider using green commercial products for surfaces, or make your own vinegar/water spray. Conventional cleaners may remove dirt, but they can also harbor some nasty substances you don’t want in your PB&J. Microfiber, vinegar, and baking soda will clean and disinfect almost every kitchen surface at a fraction of the price. Don’t neglect once-a-year chores like vacuuming refrigerator coils (unplug your fridge first), and tossing out expired food from the back of the pantry.

Bedrooms

Since bedrooms are such individual spaces, there’s a lot of diversity in what needs to happen. Most homeowners should at least rotate and flip innerspring mattresses, and store out-of-season sheets and clothing. Also go through your closet, and donate or Freecycle items you haven’t worn in the last 12 months. For carpets and mattresses, consider using a professional cleaning service. Figure a typical mattress will cost about $70-$90 to clean, a bargain considering how much time you spend in bed.

Even if you’re getting your carpet professionally cleaned, you still need to break out the vacuum, says Leslie Reichert, owner of The Cleaning Coach. Use the hose attachment to get to the hidden particles along baseboards, under your bed, and in your curtains, favorite environments of dust mites. If you have a large-capacity dryer, throw curtains in on high heat for good measure to kill the little pests.

Living area

Another surface you should consider getting professionally cleaned is living room upholstery. It can be tricky to know exactly how to deep-clean different types of fabrics, says Rathey, especially if there are stains you can’t quite identify. Costs vary widely depending on the size of the furniture piece and the quality and state of its covering, but a typical sofa might run $70 to $90.

Microfiber cloths are great to use in the living area as well. Make sure you have cloths for each area of the house, though, so you’re not cross-contaminating bathroom, kitchen, and living areas. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down windows, wood, mirrors, the tops of bookshelves, ceiling fan blades, and even the plastic housing of electronics for a quick, chemical-free clean.

For more information on Spring Cleaning ideas contact Bristol Properties International. With an in-house estate liquidation company, not only can they help with eco-friendly cleaning ideas to stay healthy, but properly stage your home for sale. By using Bristol Trading Company, you can sell your personal property valuables and receive top dollars! Call Bristol at 561-347-1303 today!

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Friday, March 09, 2012

 

Deducting mortgage interest, as well as interest on home equity loans and HELOCs, can save money on taxes.

Mortgage Interest Deductions Home Equity Loans Interest

You can deduct the points and fees associated with a first or second mortgage when you buy your home. Image: Karl Weatherly/Getty Images

Deducting mortgage interest is a great tax benefit that can make home ownership more affordable. Your first mortgage isn’t the only loan that qualifies, either. In many cases, you can also deduct interest on home equity loans, second mortgages, and home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs.

If you want to deduct all of your mortgage interest, there are limits on both how much money you can borrow and on what you do with the money you get. You also need to itemize your return to reap the benefits of these deductions. Calculations can be complicated, so consult a tax adviser.

Know your loan limits

A good place to check out what you can deduct before you borrow is the chart on page 3 of IRS Publication 936. It’ll walk you through the requirements you must meet to deduct all of your home loan interest. It’s an hour well spent.

The first hurdle you’ll run into is the total amount of your loan or loans. In general, individuals and couples filing jointly can deduct the interest on up to $1 million ($500,000 if you’re married and filing separately) in combined home loans, as long as the money was used for acquisition costs, that is the cost to buy, build, or substantially improve a home, explains Scott O’Sullivan, a certified public accountant with Margolin, Winer & Evens in Garden City, N.Y. Any interest paid on loan amounts above the $1 million threshold isn’t deductible.

The same $1 million limit applies whether you have one home or two. Buying a vacation home doesn’t double your loan limits. And two homes is the max; you can’t deduct a mortgage for a third home. If you have a mortgage you took out before Oct. 13, 1987, you have fewer restrictions on claiming a full deduction. The calculations for "grandfathered debt" can get complex, so get help from a tax professional or refer to IRS Publication 936.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that you can also deduct the points and fees associated with a first or second mortgage when you initially buy your home, says Jeff Rattiner, a CPA with JR Financial Group in Centennial, Colo. If you refinance the same house, you have to deduct those costs over the entire term of the loan. If you refinance again, you can deduct all the costs from the earlier refi in the year you take out the new loan.

Spend loan proceeds wisely

The other limitation on how much you can borrow and still get your deduction comes into play when you take out a home equity loan or HELOC that you don’t use to buy, build, or improve your home. In that case, you can deduct the interest you pay only on the first $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately). This loan limit also applies in a so-called cash-out refi, in which you refinance and take out part of the equity you’ve built up as cash, says John R. Lieberman, a CPA with Perelson Weiner in New York City.

That means if you decide to take out a $115,000 home equity loan to buy that Porsche, you can deduct the interest on the first $100,000 but not on the $15,000 that exceeds the limit. Use the same $115,000 to add a new bedroom, however, and the full amount is allowable under the $1 million cap. Keep in mind, though, that the $115,000 gets added into the pot of whatever else you owe on your other home loans. In many cases, points and loan origination costs for HELOCs are deductible.

Consider this simplified scenario: You borrow $250,000 against your home at 8% interest. That means you’ll pay $20,000 in interest the first year. Spend the $250,000 on home improvements, and all of the interest is deductible. Spend $150,000 on improvements and $100,000 on your kids’ college tuition, and all the interest is still deductible.

But spend $100,000 on improvements and $150,000 on tuition, and the improvement outlays are deductible, though $50,000 of the tuition expense isn’t. That’ll cost you $4,000 in interest deductions. Preserve the $4,000 deduction by coming up with the extra money for tuition from another source, perhaps a low-interest student loan or by borrowing from a retirement plan. For someone in a 25% bracket, a $4,000 deduction lowers taxes by $1,000, plus applicable state income taxes.

Beware the dreaded AMT

Even if you’ve followed all the loan limit rules, you can still get stuck paying tax on mortgage interest. How come? It’s all thanks to the Alternative Minimum Tax. Congress created the AMT, which limits or eliminates many deductions, as a way to keep the wealthy from dodging their fair share of taxes.

Calculating the AMT can be complex, but if you make more than $75,000 and have several kids or other deductions, you might well be subject to it. Problem is, if you fall into the AMT group, you may not be able to deduct interest on a home equity loan, even if the loan falls within the $1 million/$100,000 limit. If you’re subject to the AMT and borrow money against the value of your home, you’ll have to use it to buy, build, or improve your place, or you may not have a chance to deduct the interest, says Rattiner, the Colorado CPA.

For more information about home tax deductions contact Bristol Properties International and its in-house financial division, Bristol Financial Services. Call 561-347-1303 in Boca Raton or 239-352-6400 in Naples. Of course for your specific tax advise, contact your local tax professional

Published: January 03, 2012 - By: Richard Koreto

Comments: 1

Friday, March 09, 2012

Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary — know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.

As you calculate your tax returns, consider each home tax deduction and credit you are — and are not — entitled to. Running afoul of any of these 10 home-related tax mistakes — which tax pros say are especially common — can cost you money or draw the IRS to your doorstep.

Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes

You take a tax deduction for property taxes in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind — that is, you’re not billed for 2011 property taxes until 2012. But that’s irrelevant to the feds.

Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in 2011, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, tax manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen home owners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.

Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid

If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed, says Bob Meighan, CPA and vice president at TurboTax in San Diego. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.

For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200. Your lender will send you an official statement listing the actual taxes paid. Use that. Don’t just add up 12 months of escrow property tax payments.

Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinance

Deduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, says Meighan, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan. If you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $133 per year.

Sin #4: Failing to deduct private mortgage insurance

Lenders require home buyers with a down payment of less than 20% to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Avoid the common mistake of forgetting to deduct your PMI payments. However, note the deduction begins to phase out once your adjusted gross income reaches $100,000 and disappears entirely when your AGI surpasses $109,000. Also, unless Congress acts to extend the PMI deduction again, 2011 is the last tax year for which you can take this deduction.

Sin #5: Misjudging the home office tax deduction

This deduction may not be as good as it seems. It’s complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. Hampton’s advice: Claim it only if it’s worth those drawbacks. If so, here’s what to know about what you can write off.

Sin #6: Missing the first-time home buyer tax credit

While the original home buyer tax credit deadline passed in April 2010 (and isn’t available in 2012), military families and some government workers on assignment outside the U.S. were given an extension until April 30, 2011, to get a home under contract and take advantage of up to $8,000 in tax credits for first-time buyers and $6,500 in credits for repeat buyers.

It applies to any individual (and, if married, the individual’s spouse) who serves on qualified official extended duty service outside of the United States for at least 90 days during the period beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010.

Sin #7: Failing to track home-related expenses

If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. Many people forget to track home office and home maintenance and repair expenses, says Meighan. File away documents as you go. For example, save each manufacturer’s certification statement for energy tax credits, insurance company statements for PMI, and lender or government statements to confirm property taxes paid.

Sin #8: Forgetting to keep track of capital gains

If you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. However, you can exclude $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re a married couple) of any profits from taxes. So if you bought a home for $100,000 and sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you’re single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains. However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523.

Sin #9: Filing incorrectly for energy tax credits

If you made any eligible improvement, fill out Form 5695. Part I, which covers the 30%/$1,500 credit for such items as insulation and windows, is fairly straightforward. But Part II, which covers the 30%/no-limit items such as geothermal heat pumps, can be incredibly complex and involves crosschecking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.

Sin #10: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deduction

You can deduct mortgage interest only up to $1 million of mortgage debt, says Meighan. If you have $1.2 million in mortgage debt, for example, deduct only the mortgage interest attributable to the first $1 million.

For more information about how to avoid mistakes in your home owener tax deductions, please call the real estate and financial professionals of Bristol Properties International and Bristol Financial Services. Conveniently located under one roof, call 561-347-1303 in Boca Raton or 239-352-6400 in Naples.

Published: January 05, 2012 - By: G. M. Filisko

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