Every year, homeowners receive notice from the county about their home’s assessed value. When we get that little card in the mail, it’s usually filed away and we don’t pay much attention to it. Lately though, many people are experiencing sticker shock when they see how much their home has increased in value from 2021 to 2022.
On one hand, it’s great to see how much our home, typically one of our most valuable assets, has appreciated. But on the other hand, that new higher assessed value means higher property taxes, and it could also mean we’re underinsured when it comes to replacement cost coverage. From a financial planning standpoint, I encourage everyone to think of that assessed value notice as an annual reminder to do two things:
Reach out to your insurance professional
Consider contesting the value with the county
Reach out to your insurance professional
Why is it a good idea to meet with your insurance agent/broker? Well, for starters, I always encourage my clients to meet with their insurance professional at least once a year to review their current coverages and policies. This is especially important if your coverage needs have changed. I recently spoke with Satina Simeona with American Family Insurance, and she shared some additional insights about why an annual review is so important:
Homeowners policies typically have a built-in inflation protection that adjusts the replacement cost coverage on your home to align with the market index in your area. However, it is an index and not necessarily specific to each uniquely different home. It is important to have an annual review with your agent regarding the replacement cost coverage on your home policy, specifically the ‘dwelling coverage.’ At the start of your home policy every insurance company uses a similar calculator tool that calculates the cost to rebuild your home should there be a complete loss. This is the amount you want to insure your home for, not the loan value or market value as those include the land, taxes, fees, etc. This is not done again unless your agent or you request it. The calculator process takes about 20 minutes and consists of very detailed questions about your home. For example, how many beds and baths, flooring material, countertop material, any vaulted ceilings, type of roof, ceiling fans, and any upgrades. For the exterior you’ll need to discuss decks, driveways, fences, retaining walls, etc. Once calculated, your agent can see if it is over or under your current coverage and make adjustments if necessary. Ideally it will come in pretty close to your current coverage.
Another reason you should have annual checkups is for your agent to ask about certain things that may need to be updated on your policy. For example, have you done any upgrades or repairs, new roof, added any large amounts of personal property that may need coverage (guns, computers, jewelry), do you want earthquake coverage or maybe coverage for the backup of your sewer or septic tank? These are all optional endorsements that are not included in your policy unless you add them. There are over 50 endorsements you can add to a homeowners policy, and it is important to be educated on your options in case the unthinkable happens. For example, you may consider an endorsement for hidden water because most policies won’t cover a long-lasting leak that has been undetected and perhaps caused extended damage. This hidden water endorsement will cover rot, black mold, etc.
Each insurance company will approach the annual review process differently, and it’s a good idea to ask your agent/broker how your specific policies work. For example, some higher-end insurance providers might offer replacement cost coverage with an “unlimited” ceiling so you don’t have to worry about dramatic increases in your home’s value.
Consider contesting the value with the county
This second recommendation is more of a longshot, but don’t forget this is an option! If you believe you can provide evidence that the county is overestimating the value of your home, you should definitely contest the assessed amount.
I recently had a conversation with a client (let’s call her Jane) who owns a lakefront property. Jane received her property value notice in the mail, and it was a lot more than she expected. Jane was surprised because her home was older, modest, and it didn’t have a lot of modern updates. Surrounding Jane’s property were more modern, larger houses that easily justified a much higher price tag but hers simply didn’t. When Jane contested her home’s value with the county, she came to realize that the assessment done on her property mistakenly used the value of the neighboring homes. Jane was able to successfully reduce her property tax bill by $500!
These reminders are a simple way to make sure you stay on top of protecting your home and ensure you’re not paying too much in taxes. Financial planning is always an on-going process, and I hope these tips provide helpful food for thought. If you’d like to discuss these ideas in more detail, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Wealth Advisor. If you’re not already working with an advisor, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.
Updated 12/23/2020 by Geoff Curran, Jeff Barnett, & Scott Christensen
National real estate prices have been on the rise since 2014, and many investors who jumped into the rental industry since the Great Recession have substantial gains in property values (S&P Dow Jones Indices, 2019). You might be considering selling your rental to lock in profits and enjoy the fruits of your well-timed investment, but realizing those gains could come at a cost. You could owe capital gains tax in addition to potential depreciation recapture on the profits from your rental sale.
One strategy for paying less tax is to move back into your rental and use the property as a primary residence before selling. Living in your rental full-time for at least two years prior to selling can help you take advantage of the gain exclusion of $500,000 ($250,000 if single), which can wipe out all or most of your gain on the property. Sounds easy, right?
Let’s take a look at some of the moving pieces for determining the taxes when you sell your rental. Factors like depreciation recapture, qualified vs. non-qualified use and adjusted cost basis could make you think twice before moving back into your rental to avoid taxes.
One of the benefits of having a rental is the ability to claim depreciation on the property, which allows you to offset rental income that would otherwise be taxed as ordinary income. The depreciation you take reduces your basis in the property, potentially resulting in more capital gains when you ultimately sell. If you sell the property for a gain, the amount up to the depreciation you took is taxed at the maximum recapture rate of 25%. Any remaining gains are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate. Moving back into your rental to claim the primary residence gain exclusion does not allow you to exclude your depreciation recapture, so you might still owe a hefty tax bill after moving back, depending on how much depreciation was deducted. (IRS, 2019).
When the Property Sells for a Loss
Keep in mind that if you sell your home for a loss, whether it’s currently a rental or is now your primary residence, you aren’t subject to depreciation recapture or other gains taxes. However, due to depreciation decreasing your cost basis in the property each year until it reaches zero, it’s more common that sales of former rental homes result in gains. (more…)
Written by: Geoff Curran, CPA/ABV, CFA, CFP® and Alex Golubev, CFA
The last few years have seen tremendous growth in the short-term rental housing economy. Services like Airbnb and VRBO connect homeowners and travelers around the world. While vacation rentals aren’t anything new, home-sharing platforms make it more convenient than ever for homeowners to earn extra money on their personal residence or vacation home. Airbnb fosters accountability and transparency by inviting hosts and guests to review and rate each other on criteria like cleanliness, following house rules, and ease of communication. A whole ecosystem of services has also sprung up to streamline and improve host operations (Smartbnb, AirDNA, NoiseAware, Vacasa, Evolve and many more). However, vacation rental remains a highly competitive and regulated industry.
Hosts in the Airbnb space face many challenges for success. Setting up homes for vacation rental, optimizing rental rates and cleaning properties between guests eats into time and money. Once rentals are rolling, even successful properties can hit speed bumps. Tourist demand is often seasonal or focused on appealing properties in central locations. Low barriers to entry can also reduce profits as more hosts enter the market and/or authorities create regulations to raise the bar. Short-term rental earnings have curbed in highly-regulated tourist hubs like New York, LA, San Fran, Barcelona, Berlin, and Amsterdam.
Given the popularity and potential of Airbnb, clients have started asking whether it makes sense to rent out their homes. We always encourage our clients to consider how renting their property will affect their life. If renting out your home helps you support your lifestyle and travel more, then exploring AirBnB could be an exciting opportunity.
AirDNA is a great starting point for researching vacation rentals in your area. AirDNA can help you assess the earnings potential of your home, whether you’d like to rent out your entire place or just share a room. Dipping a toe in the water of home-sharing during your next trip out of town is a great way to start!
The checklist below provides helpful points to consider before renting out your property:
Home Insurance: Check with your home insurance provider to ensure that your insurance coverage is still adequate and will remain in force if your home is rented out. The strategy of doing nothing and asking for forgiveness later just won’t work with insurance companies if you have a claim. We reached out to Sue Greer from Propel Insurance for her perspective on managing liability. She emphasized watching out for “contract language that can limit, or void, coverage entirely when the property’s occupancy is other than what was noted on the signed application.” It’s also important to ensure that your other liability coverage like umbrella insurance will still cover any accidents that may happen on your property if it’s rented out.
Security: It’s important to make sure that your home is secure and that any irreplaceable valuables are properly locked up when others are in your home.
Locks: Digital locks are a great tool for avoiding sharing keys with guests, and they provide a simple way to setup new codes for each guest.
Alarm: You still need to actively use your alarm with guests coming and going. The good news is that alarm companies permit you to change codes digitally so that each guest has their own unique code.
Safe deposit box: Valuables that you won’t be taking with you, like jewelry and essential documents, should be stored in a safe deposit box at the bank.
Internet Network: It’s also important to maintain internet security. Remember to create a guest network, and change the wireless password when guests leave.
Co-host: Since most people rent out their home when they are out of town, it can be very helpful to find someone local that can help if there’s a problem in your absence. This could be someone to clean the property between guests—or even to break up an unruly party! Airbnb can help you find a co-host for 7-20% of the revenues depending on the services provided. There are also many new short-term rental operators that offer co-hosting services.
Maintenance: With guests coming and going, wear and tear can accelerate, and accidents can happen. Having a high security deposit helps mitigate costs in case of accidents. Given that home maintenance costs anywhere from 2% to 5% of your home’s value each year, setting aside a portion of your rental income to cover maintenance is a good idea.
Tax reporting: If your home is rented out for greater than 14 days a year, you’ll need to include the income and expenses on your tax return. Make sure to keep track of all your expenses incurred throughout the year related to the rental activities. This includes repairs, supplies, cleaning costs, new appliances and lawn care, just to name a few. Importantly, you can also claim some of your utility costs as an expense, including cable TV and internet, in proportion to how much of the year the home was rented.
If you have questions about this checklist or any other parts of your financial life, we recommend reaching out to a Merriman advisor. We can help with the decision to rent your home and with managing all the moving parts. You’ll have to share all the adventures you’ll be able to take once you explore Airbnb!
Many people equate home ownership with financial success and the American Dream. It’s something most of us in the United States grow up thinking, and it’s something most of us believe we should do. But, owning a home isn’t for everyone, and depending on where you live it could be difficult to achieve. Owning a home isn’t necessarily a good investment either. (more…)
A lot goes into planning a great trip – choosing flights and hotels, making sure you have all the necessities, finding a house sitter, etc. Personally, I’m never able to relax and enjoy the trip until I’m on the flight to my destination. I’m always worried something might go wrong, and some unforeseen circumstance may force me to cancel all or part of the trip.
By the time you get to the airport, you’ve usually spent a good chunk of money that’s not refundable. If you have to cancel last minute, you miss out on the trip you’ve been looking forward to for months, and you lose the money you spent so far. (more…)
While we hope it never happens, break-ins to our homes do occur. I returned home this summer to find my home was burglarized. This article shares what we learned from this unfortunate experience and ways to improve your home security and insurance coverage.
If you return home and see evidence of a break-in:
1. Contact the police! They’ll ask if the burglar is still in your home. If you’re not sure whether the thieves have left your property, wait until the police arrive to enter your home. Our first instinct is to rush into the home to check on things, but remember that it’s much more difficult to recover from physical harm than from the loss of belongings and property damage. Note: If you do walk through your home to see what’s been stolen or damaged before the police arrive, don’t move anything because the police need to see all the evidence. (more…)