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New Year's Resolutions Every Homeowner Should Make Whether you're a new homeowner or you've been in your house for years, why not resolve to make 2003 "the year" you whip your house and household finances in top shape? It could prevent you from encountering costly problems down the road - and assist you in getting top dollar when it comes time to sell. The first thing you should do is develop and then implement a maintenance plan. "A homeowner who makes the necessary yearly investment will end up saving in the long run because routine maintenance can help avoid larger, more
Mortgage Rates U.S. averages as of December 31, 2002:30 yr. fixed: 5.93%15 yr. fixed: 5.32%1 yr. adj: 4.01%30 yr. jumbo: 6.98%-->
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expensive repairs that can add up to the tens of thousands of dollars or more," said Mike Kuhn, director of technical services for Housemaster, a New Jersey-based home inspection company.
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Higher Loan Limits ToBoost Borrowers Although mortgage rates have been bouncing around at or near their lowest levels in 40 years, as many as 250,000 higher-end home buyers will catch yet another break beginning Jan. 1, thanks to a pending increase in the so-called "conforming loan limit." The new maximum on conventional home loans that can be purchase by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two federally-charted corporations that keep mortgage money flowing to local lenders, will be $322,700 next year. The current limit is $300,700. At current rates, economists at Freddie Mac estimate that families whose loans fall within that $22,000 window will save as much as $37,700 over the life of a 30-year mortgage. That's about $105 a month. At the same time, thousands more buyers who are having difficulty obtaining conventional financing will find it easier to qualify for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which also will hike its loan limits Jan. 1. But neither group of borrowers needs to wait until the New Year to apply for funding. Many lenders will put the new loan ceilings into effect sooner.
Tax Benefits When You Sell As the time nears to pay your dues in Club America, your home offers financial shelter from what otherwise could be a taxing expense -- especially if you've sold your home when your tax returns are due. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, credited with having a significant role in keeping the real estate sector ahead of the rest of the economy, is perhaps the best tax shelter your home provides. Generally, the federal tax law says when you sell your home, if you qualify, you can keep, tax free, capital gains of up to $500,000 if you are married filing jointly or $250,000 for single taxpayers, or married taxpayers who file separately. Under the law, to qualify for the $500,000/$250,000 exclusion, the home must have been your primary residence for at least two of the prior five years. The exclusion is not a one-time deal, but a benefit you can use again and again, theoretically every two years -- provided you qualify each time by meeting the owner-occupied-two-out-of-five-years requirement. If, for example, you have two homes and live in one for two years, sell it and then live in the other for the next two years and sell it, both sales qualify for the exclusion. Special provisions are available if, through some unforeseen event such as a job change, illness, death of a spouse, divorce, disaster, war or some other hardship, you are forced to sell before you meet the two-year residency requirement.
Nanny Cams AidDrive-By Spies Think twice about using cheap "nanny cams" at home. For $100 or less, the tiny home surveillance cameras let you keep your eye on your kids, your nanny, and rooms in your home, but they also allow anyone outside your home to just as easily peer in. Heavily advertised on the Internet and by technology and electronics stores, the wireless surveillance systems are typically equipped with a video camera-transmitter you can place anywhere in the home. The cameras transmit sound and video on an unscrambled analog radio signal. A receiver plugs into your TV, DVD or other video source to capture and display the images. Earlier this past year, Dr. Aviel David Rubin and a team of research scientists from AT&T Labs-Research in Florham Park, NJ, revealed just how easy it is to tap into the transmitter's signal and display the image on a mobile laptop computer.
CONTINUED >>>Local Market Conditions
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