Zoocasa announces Zoopraisal, a FREE property valuation service.

Ever wonder what your home is worth today?  Or that house down the street?   How about a friend or neighbor’s house?   Finding out would normally involve contacting a realtor for their professional opinion or hiring a professional appraisal.

Well now you can find out on your own.  The release of Zoopraisal, by Zoocasa.com, may have caused some controversy with appraisers but the service is here and it’s getting a lot of attention.

Zoocasa has entered into an agreement with Centract Settlement Services, an appraisal service company that has administered millions of appraisals across Canada.  Here’s a direct quote from Zoocasa.com website “Zoopraisal™ is Zoocasa’s estimated market value, computed using a proprietary formula, powered by Centract. It’s a starting point in determining a home’s price.”  (Clearly, Zoopraisal is not guaranteeing the value.  It’s just an estimate…the service provides a range of value.)

Zoocasa.com is an online service that provides access to homes that are listed for sale, online.   The goal of the site is to provide a place where buyers can start their search using the internet.   In my opinion, Zoopraisal will only enhance this service.   This can’t replace a good realtor that’s out there looking to match your needs when buying a house.  I think there are still too many intangibles that come into play.  Local knowledge is invaluable and is something that can’t be uploaded online.

But if we look to the U.S., we’ll find similar sites such as Zillow.com.   This powerful site tells you everything from the selling price to whether it’s being foreclosed, to the Zillow’s estimated value, the price per sq foot, etc.   They also offer mortgage quotes, realtor referrals, etc.   These info sites make their money by charging those that want to advertise or participate on their site.

There is a question as to whether all this information should be made public and whether this infringes on one’s right to privacy.  The debate will continue… One thing is for sure, with pressure from the Competition Bureau on the Canadian Real Estate Association to make it easier to access the MLS, we are definitely headed in a new direction.    There is more access to data.   This is not a bad thing.   More data is better.  It helps to make an informed decision.   Professionals like Realtors, Appraisers and Mortgage Brokers should not be worried.  Their expertise will always be needed.

Watch for more of these sites to pop-up soon in Canada.

Death, taxes and interest payments. Part 2 of 2.

Part 2 of 2….  In Part 1, we examined rental properties and how they can be a great way to reduce your taxes, build net worth and create an income stream.     Part 2 looks at Interest payments.    Interest payments are big part of our personal expenses.   Here are  few suggestions on how to reduce your interest costs.

INTEREST PAYMENT REDUCTION TIPS

It is estimated there is over $1.5trillion worth of personal debt outstanding in Canada.   $1trillion of this is mortgage debt and $500billion is credit card and other debts.   Interest rates can vary from 2.60% for a Variable rate mortgage to 20% for a credit card.   Banks make an obscene amount of profit from these interest rates.   Let’s reduce the amount we contribute to their coffers…

consolidate your debts…. there is no reason to carry credit card balances if you qualify or have access to a line of credit… Interest rates for unsecured lines of credit are around Prime plus 3%… that’s 6% today.  ($20,000 in credit cards could cost you around $4,000 in interest annually… a line of credit cost around $1,200 per year… a savings of $2,800 per year).

consolidate your personal loans and unsecured lines of credit into a new mortgage or secured line of credit if you have the equity in your home.  Residential mortgage rates charge the lowest rate of interest…  Variable rate mortgages are around 2.60%. ($40,000 of loans and unsecured lines of credit could cost $$2,400 annually… a mortgage could cost you $1,040… a savings of $1,360 per year).

increase your mortgage payments and pay your mortgage off sooner… making an extra month’s worth of payments annually, will help you pay the mortgage off in 20 years vs 25 years.  Hey, rates have been extremely low for almost 4 years now… take advantage… pay that mortgage down.

choose the right mortgage product.   Fixed rate or Variable rate?    Short term or Long term?  The answer depends on personal circumstances, your needs, goals and the mortgage market.   All too often, the first question borrowers ask is, “what is the interest rate?”.  Good question, but they should probably be asking “which product will cost me the least amount of money to own my home?”  This isn’t a one time question and answer.   A mortgage needs to be evaluated regularly, just like an investment.  There are times where it makes sense to exit one mortgage product, mid-term, pay a penalty, and get into a lower cost product.   A mortgage requires planning and on-going review.  The strategy should always be to eliminate this large debt as soon as possible.

– speaking of penalties,  “what are the biggest costs associated with a mortgage?”.   The answers are penalties, interest and being in the wrong mortgage product.   A mortgage penalty can range from 3 months interest to 6, 9, 12 or ever 15 months worth of interest (yes, there have been several penalties charged to borrowers in the 10 to 15 month range by Canadian Banks).  That’s why being in the wrong mortgage product can be costly.

beware of ‘No-Frills’ mortgages.   This is the latest thing to hit the mortgage industry.   These products carry limited repayment options, carry higher than normal penalties to exit and some don’t allow you the exit unless you sell your home.   You better know the penalties and limitations associated with that low-interest mortgage before signing into a contract…

stay away from the water-cooler talk.   It’s great to talk with friends and co-workers about mortgage rates and compare.  This usually generates good questions.  But don’t make any decisions before speaking with a professional.   Your brother’s in-law’s cousin’s friend’s mother that works at the grocery store may have got a great mortgage rate or they locked into a great fixed rate when rates were going up…. but what are the details of that mortgage and the circumstances around that person’s decision?  What are the terms that went with that mortgage?     Don’t rely on water-cooler talk….  Speak with a professional that can review YOUR needs and give PERSONALIZED on-going advice for the next 15 to 17 years that it normally takes us to repay the mortgage.  You’ll have a better chance of doing the right thing with your mortgage.

who said to lock into a 5 year fixed rate?  A lot of us were contacted by our bankers and told to lock into a 5 year fixed rate over the past few years…. clearly, that was not the best choice as Variable rates outperformed Fixed rates by as much as 3%….. Remember, the Banks would love to have all their clients in a 5 year fixed rate mortgage.   This is their most profitable product.  But this isn’t always the best choice for you.  There is very little data to suggest that 5 year fixed has been the best mortgage term to choose.    But perhaps we are in one of those rate times where 5 year fixed does make sense.  Get a professional opinion and then decide…

-turn your bad debt into good debt.   A couple were considering buying a new home and keeping their existing home.  The existing home had little to no mortgage debt.  The couple were going to finance the new purchase with a mortgage on that new house and rent the existing house.  This is not a good strategy.  A better option would be to refinance their current home, while they are still occupying it… thus reducing the amount of the mortgage they require on the new house.   Then, once they buy a new home and rent the current home, they could deduct the interest cost against rental income…. minimizing their taxes.

The bottom line is that there are some things you can do to minimize taxes and interest costs…. and maybe by taking some action, we can also live a little longer by taking some stress out of our lives.

Death, taxes and interest payments! Part 1 of 2.

Death and taxes… .. the only two things that are certain in life….you’ve heard this one before.   I think there is a third thing that can be just as stressful… ‘interest payments’…. (before this article becomes too depressing, I’m going to share some things that will help to reduce our interest costs and minimize our taxes).

Paying interest on your credit cards, loans, lines of credit or mortgage is something all of us will experience at some point in our lives or, for many of us, for most of our lives…   ‘Paying interest and taxes can be the death of us’.   That’s because taxes and interest payments account for as much as 67% of our gross incomes.  That’s right, 67%!!

Tax Freedom Day (the day in which Canada, as a whole, has earned enough income to pay all their taxes for the year) this yeas was June 6th.   Any income earned up to this point was paid over to the govt.  Any income after this date is paid to yourself.    It’s hard to know exactly how much tax you really pay given there are several hidden taxes such as alcohol, amusement, gasoline tax, property taxes, HST, etc.    That’s about 42% of your gross annual income going towards taxes.

Now let’s add in how much we pay towards carrying out debts.   There are different stats out there but from my experience, I would say that 25% of gross income goes towards paying all debts...

Add the two together and you get 67%.   67% of your gross income goes towards taxes and interest…  Okay, that’s the bad news.. and now for some positive news…. Here come the tax and interest tips….and maybe this will extend your life by making things a little less stressful.

TAX TIPS

Foreward   – I’m going to skip the usually RRSP recommendations…. anyone invested in the stock market over the past 10 years will know that there has been virtually 0% return during this time..  There may be a place for RRSPs but I’m just not a big fan of them…  Remember, RRSPs are not tax exempt like a Tax Free Savings Account.   Tax is still payable when you withdraw the investment.   ..The theory is that your investment can grow within the RRSP, tax-free, and then you can withdraw your investment at a later date and pay taxes only on the amounts you withdraw….

-In general, to reduce the amount of tax you pay, you must take advantage of tax-incentive programs or participate in tax-deductible investments..  One of the proven winners over the long and short term has been real estate.   We all know someone that made money by buying investing in property…

REAL ESTATE RENTALS

buying a rental property will allow you several different deductions and opportunities to build capital and a future income stream….

-rental property purchases will allow you to write off expenses associated with purchasing the property… such as legal fees, any arrangement fees, account set up fees, bank fees, maintenance and repair of the property, etc.

-interest payments and on-going maintenance costs can be deducted from rental income, resulting in reduced rental income or a possible rental income loss that can be written off again your personal income.

-the property can appreciate in value, tax-free…. You ONLY pay tax if and when you sell for a profit.   (Historically, property values increase every 7 years… we are in an unusual period of history at the moment.  There are no guarantees the property will be worth more tomorrow..but I like a proven winner.).  If you plan to buy an investment property, then plan to hold for 7 years.

-when you sell the property, you will have to pay capital gains tax on the net profit (purchase price less expenses such as real estate fees, lawyer fees, moving costs, etc).    At the highest marginal tax rate, you would have to pay around 21.50% of your net sale profit towards tax….  Here’s a link to the formula…  That tax rate is in line with the RRSP withdrawal tax rates…

-let’s not forget that your mortgage on the rental property is being paid down for you by the rental income.… each and every year.   If you buy, rent and hold, then you will have a mortgage-free property in 20 or 25 years.. maybe sooner if you factor in the normal rent increases every year…  Rental income is usually indexed with the cost of living….    This part of the investment is rarely considered or talked about.

Watch for Part 2 for our advice on how to minimize taxes and reduce your interest costs.

BMO Economist forecast no rate hikes til 2013

More good news…. interest rates are not expected to increase til 2013, according to Bank of Montreal.

Really no surprise here.  The global economy is not doing well.  But here in Canada, the economy is performing relatively well.   The only reason our stock market and Canadian $ are down is because of the uncertainty of the European debt crisis.

5 year fixed rates are hovering at 3.39%… and they are even lower for qualified borrowers…. Variable rates are at around 2.60%…  We are in record low territory.

Did you know a $300,000 mortgage will carry for as little as $1199/month?   Hey, if you’re paying $1400/mth for rent, then why not consider buying place of your own…  And for those that want off the stock market roller coaster, a rental property may just be what you need…  Best thing is to talk to a Mortgage Broker, crunch the numbers and see how it looks.   It’s probably easier than you think.

Canadians buy $4.9billion worth of Florida property in 2010

Here’s some interesting stats…. According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, Canadians accounted for 39% of all international buyers of property in Florida during 2010…  That’s $4.9billion worth of property purchased by Canadians. Wow, we must have a lot of snowbirds here.!  Or maybe we just have a lot of investors?   Perhaps it’s is a combination of the two.

One thing is for certain, Canadians like Florida…  It certainly has become a popular investment for many.   Who wouldn’t want a sunny getaway in Florida?  The ads are everywhere…condos starting at $30k… houses that once sold for $600k are now selling for $225k.  Clearly, Canadians see Florida as a bargain.

And maybe, just maybe, Canadians aren’t getting into debt for frivolous reasons?… Maybe we are borrowing with these record low interest rates to invest?   Maybe those stats and articles that keep telling us we should be concerned with the ‘high personal debt levels’ of Canadians, are not a true reflection of our spending habits…??

Most Canadian buyers of Florida property are obtaining loans from a Canadian bank.   Borrowing from a Florida bank isn’t easy these days.  That’s why many Canadians will refinance their homes and use the equity to buy their Florida property.

Borrowing to invest is a good thing…. this is known as ‘good debt’….but I don’t think there are any stats that show how much we are actually borrowing to invest…. sure would be nice to know those figures…

%d bloggers like this: