FIRPTA withholding to increase next week

If you work with foreign nationals in your real estate business, be advised that the FIRPTA withholding rate on home sales exceeding $1 million will increase to 15% on February 16.

Also known as the Foreign Investment in Real Estate Property Tax Act, FIRPTA requires foreign persons to pay U.S. income tax on gains made from the sale of real estate in the United States. Home sales that do not exceed the $1 million dollar threshold are subject to a 10% withholding.

There is an exception to the FIRPTA withholding rule. If the sales price is below $300,000 AND the new buyer intends to use the property as a principal residence, then the home sale is not subject to FIRPTA withholding.

The duty of collecting the FIRPTA tax, owed by a foreign national seller, is imposed on the U.S. national buyer The amount that must be withheld can be lowered pursuant to the seller obtaining a withholding certificate from the IRS prior to closing.

In most instances, the settlement agent will actually collect the withholding from the foreign national seller and remit the funds to the IRS on behalf of the buyer. However, the buyer is held legally responsible for the proper withholding and, under the law, the buyer could be liable for any additional withholding tax, penalty and interest if ever challenged by the IRS.

To help you determine when FIRPTA withholding is required, and the rate to withhold, we created a simple flowchart that contains four easy questions. You can view it on our website and download a copy to share with your clients and colleagues.

Close It! House of the Week: Penthouse level offers amazing views and light

We’re venturing downtown this week for a glimpse at a 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom condo with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer amazing views from their perch on the 12th floor. It’s listed at $440,000.

This unbeatable location is in close proximity to the Chinatown, Union Station, Judiciary Square and Convention Center Metro stops. The building has garage parking. And the unit itself offers wood floors and granite countertops as well as an in-unit washer-dryer.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $101,039.80. Monthly payments will then be around $2,354.13 per month, including the HOA fee. For a complete picture of the cash to close on any property in the D.C. metro area, including the seller's side of the transaction, try the Close It™ Web app or download the free Close It™ iOS app.

Income, purchase price limits for DC Tax Abatement increase

Income, purchase price limits for DC Tax Abatement increase

The purchase price and qualifying income limits for the District of Columbia's popular tax abatement program have gone up, according to the Office of Tax and Revenue, which should be good news for local homebuyers who have seen median home prices soar over $500,000 in recent months.

Under the latest guidelines, purchase price may not exceed $408,000. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 homes are currently on the market in Washington, DC at a list price that meets the purchase price qualification for DC Tax Abatement, based on a quick search on Home Snap.

Limits on household income, the other major qualifying factor for DC Tax Abatement, also increased. Review the income qualification table below:

Persons in household
Household income limits

For those who haven't stopped by in a while, we recently revamped our page on the DC Tax Abatement program. There we answer several commonly asked questions about the program and address some of the finer points on qualification criteria. The topic of household income, for example, is a popular one.

The DC Tax Abatement program is one of our favorite topics to write about. Check out our collection of articles on DC Tax Abatement to learn more about how the program works and how to qualify.

'Grave concerns' about use of Marketing Service Agreements: CFPB

'Grave concerns' about use of Marketing Service Agreements: CFPB

Having determined Marketing Service Agreements involve "substantial legal and regulatory risk," the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a word of caution to the mortgage industry in a compliance bulletin published Thursday.

"We are deeply concerned about how marketing services agreements are undermining important consumer protections against kickbacks," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a separate statement about the bulletin. "Companies do not seem to be recognizing the extent of the risks posed by implementing and monitoring these agreements within the bounds of the law."

Marketing Service Agreements, or MSAs as they are commonly known, are usually framed as payments for advertising or promotional services, according to the bulletin, but sometimes payments are actually disguised as compensation for referrals.

"It appears that many MSAs are designed to evade RESPA's prohibition on the payment and acceptance of kickbacks and referral fees," according to the bulletin.

MSAs often involve lenders, real estate agents and third-party settlement service providers such as title companies, and they undermine the primary purpose of RESPA, which is to eliminate "kickbacks or referral fees that tend to increase unnecessarily the costs of settlement services."

Offering a thing of value in exchange for a business referral, whether it's a written or an oral agreement, is a compliance risk that leaves participants vulnerable to civil and criminal penalties, according to the bulletin.

The bulletin goes on to state RESPA violations have resulted in penalties upward of $75 million since the CFPB began taking enforcement actions.

Here at Federal Title, we've been leery of MSAs for some time. They seem to have become increasingly popular over the last couple years as the CFPB has cracked down on their not-so-distant cousin the Affiliated Business Arrangement.

Headlines: Despite cold weather, DC area housing market heating up

Here's a look at what's happening in real estate in and around the District of Columbia. 

DC-area housing market is on a roll

Typically, January is one of the slowest months of the year. But last month, according to analytics firm RealEstate Business Intelligence (RBI), a subsidiary of Rockville-based multiple-listing service MRIS, the market showed across-the-board progress. -Washington Post

Washington home prices reach highest January level in 7 years

The median price of a house or a condo that sold in the Washington metro region last month was $385,000, the highest January median price since 2007 and up 4.1 percent from a year earlier. Condo prices led the gain, up 4.7 percent. -Washington Business Journal

Where zoning commissioners stand on DC's proposed pop-up rule

The Zoning Commission is strongly divided on a proposed rule aimed at stopping residential pop-ups in DC. But if commissioners’ opinions hold steady, the rule is likely to be implemented on a divided vote. -DC Urban Turf

Bowser Administration scraps downtown museum plans

Last month, administration officials said that five projects that had been awarded under Mayor Vince Gray were under review and could be opened to new bids. Among them was the Institute for Contemporary Expression, the highly anticipated museum from art collector Dani Levinas. -Washington City Paper

Your transit map could look like this if Maryland builds the purple and red lines

Within ten years, you could be able to take trains from West Baltimore to Tysons Corner in Virginia, or go from Bethesda to Fells Point along the Baltimore waterfront without detouring through downtown DC. If, that is, Maryland still builds the planned Purple and Baltimore Red light rail lines. -Greater Greater Washington 

Demand for government-backed FHA loans spikes

Mortgage activity took a slight breather last week, but applications for government-backed loans went on a tear after the government insurer of home loans lowered annual insurance premiums by half a percentage point. -CNBC

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