The cost of buying a home in Montgomery County to increase Sept. 1

Despite protests from the local real estate community, the Montgomery County Council last week unanimously approved an increase to the recordation tax, paid by homebuyers and sellers at closing, as a way to pay for school construction.

The recordation tax rate will now increase for the first $500K from $6.90/$1,000 to $8.90/$1,000 and for amounts above $500K from $10/$1,000 to $13.50/$1,000, a "pretty significant increase said County Council President Nancy Floreen who proposed the bill.

Put another way, a property purchased for $400,000 under the old tax rate would carry a recordation tax of $2,415 split between the buyer and seller. Under the new rate, the recordation tax will be $2,670, an increase of $255. A property purchased for $700,000 will see an increase of $1,155 in recordation taxes. A property purchased for $1,000,000 will cost an additional $2,205 in recordation taxes.

The median sales price in Montgomery County was approximately $411,000 last April, up 1 percent from a year ago.

Initially the tax increase was slated to take effect July 1, but the Council pushed it back to Sept. 1 amid protests from the real estate community who said they need more time to adjust to the change. The Council also opted to increase the county’s principal residence exemption from the first $50,000 to the first $100,000 in response to industry concerns.

Those in favor of the tax increase, such as the county’s Board of Education and the PTA, said funding increases for schools have not kept pace with growing enrollment. Montgomery County Public Schools is adding around 2,500 new students per year.

Those opposed to the tax increase said the financial burden was being unfairly placed upon a small subset of the county’s population. Roughly 13,000 units are bought and sold each year in Maryland’s most populous county that is home to over 1,000,000 residents. They also said increasing the recordation tax unfairly affects first-time homebuyers and elderly residents.

In the near future, the Council will examine ways to ease real estate tax burdens for senior citizens. They are also contemplating a 6 to 9 percent increase in property taxes.

Check back for updates as we hear more from County Council.

State, federal tax benefits for homeowners

The ink has dried and keys have been exchanged. Your real estate agent snapped a few pictures for social media, commemorating the day you became a homeowner.

If you’re like most Americans, your home is now your largest asset. And while that comes with great responsibility, it also comes with some perks. Among those perks are the myriad tax benefits Uncle Sam has made available to homeowners, and here we will explore many of them.

  • Mortgage Interest Deduction

    Taxpayers who own their own home may deduct the interest paid toward their mortgage loan from their total income earned when it comes time to pay income taxes in April. The IRS says you can claim this deduction for a primary residence as well as a secondary residence such as a vacation home, provided you spend at least a few weeks out of the year at the secondary home.

    Points paid to lower home mortgage interest rate

    Some homebuyers and borrowers opt to pay “points” up front when obtaining a mortgage loan to lower the cost of their interest rate over the course of the loan. Each point is typically equal to 1% of the principal loan amount. The IRS says home mortgage points as prepaid interest, and therefore in most cases considers them tax deductible. Points paid on a home improvement loan, such as a home equity line of credit (HELOC) are also potentially tax deductible.

    Interest paid on home improvement loans, i.e., HELOC

    If you took out a home improvement loan to build or make improvements to your home, the interest may be tax deductible the IRS says, under the same guidelines as the mortgage interest deduction. It’s worth noting that to qualify for the full deduction the home interest benefit offers, the total amount of debt on all outstanding loans must be $1 million or less.

    Private Mortgage Insurance

    It’s common for homebuyers who put down less than 20% as a down payment to have to pay some kind of insurance policy on their mortgage loan. Amounts paid as mortgage insurance may be counted as home mortgage interest, the IRS says, which means private mortgage insurance (PMI) – also known as a "funding fee" for Veterans Affairs loans and "mortgage insurance premium" for FHA loans – may be tax deductible each year.

    Income / Interest on Reverse Mortgage

    A reverse mortgage is a loan product available for homeowners who are 62 years of age or older that allows them to convert the equity in their homes into cash. It’s called a reverse mortgage because the lender pays out the homeowner’s accrued equity each month rather than the homeowner paying a mortgage payment.

    The homeowners get to keep the title to their home and are not required to pay back the loan until they move, sell, reach the end of a pre-determined loan-period or die. At that time, the reverse mortgage would be due with interest.

    Because reverse mortgages are considered loan advances and not income, proceeds received from a reverse mortgage are not taxable, the IRS. Any interest accrued on the reverse mortgage is not tax deductible until it is paid.

    This article is for general information purposes only. Consult your tax professional. For further reading, consult IRS Publication 503 and IRS Publication 936
  • Homestead Tax Deduction

    The District’s Homestead Deduction allows homeowners to reduce the value of their property’s assessed value by $71,700 when computing their yearly tax liability, under the DC's Office of Tax and Revenue’s current guidelines.

    At Federal Title, your closing agent or attorney will assist with filing the necessary paperwork. You must file a properly completed DC Homestead Deduction application with the OTC and be able to demonstrate the property is 1) your principal residence and 2) the property is owner-occupied and contains no more than five dwelling units (including the unit occupied by the owner).

    Read more about the DC Homestead Tax Deduction

    Senior Citizen Deduction

    This is an important tax benefit to be aware of not only for senior citizens living in the District of Columbia, but also for the buyers of homes that were previously owned by senior citizens because it can give the potential buyer / would-be owner a false sense of the annual real property tax assessment.

    Property owners aged 65 and older (as well as District residents who can claim disability) may file an application for senior citizen and disabled property owner tax relief. This benefit reduces the qualified property owner’s real property tax liability by 50%. Income restrictions may apply in addition to the criteria that must be satisfied to qualify for the DC Homestead Deduction.

    When searching for homes and condos online, it’s common for websites like Redfin, Zillow, Homesnap and Trulia to list the previous year’s real property tax assessment. However, it doesn’t necessarily indicate if the previous owner qualified for any kinds of tax benefits that may have significantly lowered the liability compared to what a new owner would be liable for.

    DC Tax Abatement

    The District’s tax abatement program was designed by the local government to help lower income residents purchase property. Homebuyers who qualify for DC Tax Abatement are exempt from paying recordation tax at settlement. What’s more, they are also exempt from paying property taxes for the first 5 years they live in the home, beginning the next full tax year.

    For those who were unaware of the DC Tax Abatement program when they purchased their homes, it’s possible to apply for this tax benefit up to three years from the original purchase date. You will still need the meet the guidelines and supply proper documentation; however if you in fact qualify you may be entitled to a refund of part of the recordation tax paid at settlement.

    Purchase price and income restrictions apply – and they change from time to time – so check in with the DC Office of Tax Revenue or ask your Federal Title closing agent for the latest information.

    Read more on DC Tax Abatement.

    This article is for general information purposes only. Consult your tax professional. For further reading, consult IRS Publication 503 and IRS Publication 936
  • Homestead Tax Credit

    The Maryland Homestead Tax Credit operates to limit how much your property taxes can go up each year, if you live in the property as a principal residence. A homeowner pays no property tax on the amount of any increase of the assessed value that is above a cap. The Homestead Percent Caps for Maryland jurisdictions are listed on the website of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

    In Maryland, if you meet the requirements and file an application, you may receive a discount on your real property taxes. To qualify you must 1) live in the property as your principal residence, 2) have been in the property as your principal residence for at least a year and 3) submit an application to the MD DAT.

    When you purchase your property, a document is typically filed with the deed stating you will be living in the property as your principal residence – each County has its own form. Once the Assessor’s Office for the County in which you purchased updates the assessor’s records to reflect you as the new owner, an Application for Homestead Tax Credit Eligibility is sent to your property.

    If you do not get an application via mail, you can download a Homestead Tax Credit application off the Maryland government website, fill it out and mail it in. Unlike other tax credits and exemptions, you need only apply once as opposed to every year.

    Read more about the Maryland Homestead Tax Credit.

    Homeowners Property Tax Credit

    This tax credit that offers relief for lower income homeowners sets a limit on the amount of property taxes any homeowner must pay based upon his or her income. Applicants must report total income – gross income before any deductions are taken – and the homeowner must provide documentation of all income sources, including non-taxable retirement benefits like Social Security and pensions, according to the Maryland Dept. of Assessments and Taxation. To qualify a homeowner’s net worth must not exceed $200,000 while the gross household income must not exceed $60,000 annually.

    This article is for general information purposes only. Consult your tax professional. For further reading, consult IRS Publication 503 and IRS Publication 936
  • Mortgage Certificate Program

    This is a relatively new program for first-time homebuyers offered by the Virginia Housing Development Authority. The credit matches dollar-for-dollar 20 % of the total mortgage interest paid by the homebuyer each year, thus reducing the amount of federal income tax they owe. The remaining 80 % of the total mortgage interest paid that year remains eligible for a tax deduction.

    Like most of the tax benefits mentioned in this article, the Mortgage Credit Corticated program comes with income and purchase price limitations. Those amounts vary depending on where the house is located. In the DC metro area, the limits are $121,900 for households of two or less and $142,300 for households of three or more, while the purchase price limit is $500,000.

    Further, with this program a homeowner who sells his or her property in the first nine years of homeownership may subject to a federal recapture tax.

    Livable Home Tax Credit

    The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development administers this $5,000 income tax credit that offers tax relief to individuals and corporations who purchase a new accessible residence and a credit of 50 % of the cost of improvements up to $5,000 to retrofit an existing property.

    Like most of the tax benefits mentioned in this article, the Mortgage Credit Corticated program comes with income and purchase price limitations. Those amounts vary depending on where the house is located. In the DC metro area, the limits are $121,900 for households of two or less and $142,300 for households of three or more, while the purchase price limit is $500,000.

    Further, with this program a homeowner who sells his or her property in the first nine years of homeownership may subject to a federal recapture tax.

    For a new residential unit to qualify, an applicant must be able to demonstrate the residence includes three features of “Universal Visitability” or include at least three accessibility features such as a zero-step entrance, doors with a minimum of 34 inches of clear width and hallways that are a minimum of 36 inches of clear width, according to the latest application guidelines.

    For a retrofitted unit to qualify, an applicant must be able to demonstrate improvements included at least one accessibility feature.

    Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit

    Those who choose to purchase and rehab a historical property in Virginia may be eligible for a rehabilitation tax credit aimed at preserving the state’s historic homes. The credit is equal to 25 % of the rehabilitation expenses, while the work must also be certified by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The cost of the rehab project must be equal to a least half of the residence’s assessed value or 25 % if the residence is owner-occupied.

    This article is for general information purposes only. Consult your tax professional. For further reading, consult IRS Publication 503 and IRS Publication 936
  • Office In-Home Tax Deduction

    Technically this would be a business expense tax deduction, but if you use a portion of your home as a home office, you may qualify for an Office In-Home tax deduction.

    To qualify for this benefit, the IRS says a taxpayer must use a specific area of his or her home strictly for business, although the space does not need to be marked off with a permanent partition.

    These Items are NOT Tax Deductible

    Most closing costs – title fees, home inspection fees, home warranties, real estate commissions and most other expenses related to the closing process are most likely not tax deductible. Only the items mentioned above are eligible for a tax write-off.

    Home improvements – costs associated with home improvements (outside of interest paid on a home improvement loan) are not tax deductible, but there is a silver lining. Since many home improvements add to the value of a home, it’s possible you could sell your property for more money down the road and recoup your investment.

    Transfer / Recordation taxes – these taxes are traditionally split by the homebuyer and seller in the DC metro area and are dependent on the sales price of the property. While they are not deductible, the IRS says buyers can include them in the cost basis of the property and sellers can reduce the amount realized on the sale.

    For Your Friends Who Are Still Renters...

    The District of Columbia and Maryland offer a tax deduction for renters to offset costs landlords add to their rental rates to pay their tax-deductible property taxes. Both credits come with income and other restrictions, but renters could get back as much as $1,000. Virginia does not currently offer a tax deduction for renters.

    Taking advantage of the renter tax credit is one way renters may be able to save toward a down payment on a house.

    This article is for general information purposes only. Consult your tax professional. For further reading, consult IRS Publication 503 and IRS Publication 936

Did we miss anything?

Tax credits and deductions for homebuyers and homeowners are constantly changing, so please let us know if we missed one of your favorites or if you have another one to add to our list.

MoCo Council to consider increase to recordation taxes

The cost of buying a home in Montgomery County may soon increase, as County Council President Nancy Floreen has proposed an increase in the recordation taxes paid at real estate closings as a way to finance school construction.

The measure is projected to raise $185 million in revenues with $155 million earmarked for school construction, and a hearing on the bill is scheduled for May 10.

The current recordation tax in Montgomery County is $6.90 per $1,000 for the first $500,000 of purchase price. The recordation tax rate increases to $10 per $1,000 for anything over the $500,000 mark. Buyers and sellers customarily split the recordation tax 50/50.

For example, a purchase price of $400,000 at the current recordation tax rate would amount to $2,415 split between the buyer and seller. On a home sold for $600,000 the recordation tax would amount to $4,105 split between the buyer and seller.

Real estate agents are opposed to the tax increase saying it will hurt first-time homebuyers in particular and may have a negative impact on the local real estate market overall. Proponents of the legislation say it is necessary to fund school expansions in the growing county.

Montgomery County’s population has increased by more than 100,000 residents over the last 10 years and exceeds 1 million residents, making it the most populated county in Maryland.

Check back for updates on this legislation.

Clarifying a common misconception: title insurance premiums

We've said it before, and we want to make it absolutely clear because we continue to get questions about title insurance premiums. Title insurance premiums are NOT created equal.

While you no doubt have heard that title insurance underwriters are legally required to file their rates with the local insurance commission, underwriters do not file identical rate schedules.

It is true that title companies who are agents of the same underwriter must charge the same title insurance premium. But sometimes title companies become agents of multiple underwriters, using one title insurance underwriter for one jurisdiction and a second underwriter in another jurisdiction, etc.

Federal Title is a prime example of this. We use different underwriters depending on the jurisdiction, allowing us to pass extended savings on to our homebuyers.

We receive calls fairly regularly from confused agents and lenders who are wondering why our Quick Quote reflects a title insurance premium on a Maryland property that is hundreds of dollars less than the other quotes. It's not because our quote is incorrect, it's because our underwriter charges a lower premium.

That title insurance premiums are created equal is a common misconception we wish to clarify for our agents and lenders, because we believe they are our best ally when it comes to looking out for the best interest of our homebuyers.

Close It!™ House of the Week: A darling Bethesda bungalow

For this week's pick, we're venturing down Western Avenue into one of Bethesda's nicest neighborhoods to check out a darling bungalow. Located about a mile from the Friendship Heights Metro, this home is within walking distance of plenty of shops, restaurants, trails and transportation options. It's listed at $650,000.

There's two bedrooms plus a finished attic that can be used for an additional bedroom or office space. It has a large deck in the back yard and a wooden picket fence in the front yard, increasing the amount of space for kids and pets to safely roam. 

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $149,121.72. Monthly payments will then be around $2,859.85 per month. For a complete picture of the cash to close, or for a run-down of the seller's side of the deal, plug the numbers into the Web version of Close It™ or download the free iOS app.

  • Ways to save at closing

    Title charges are the largest chunk of closing costs and can vary by hundreds of dollars.

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  • What are closing costs?

    The real estate closing process involves loan steps, legal steps and title steps.

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  • What's title insurance?

    Insure your legal ownership just like you'd insure the building, but for lots cheaper.

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Our blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. Rate tables and figures that appear on our blog are deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For current rates & policies, refer to our Quick Quote and Consumer Guide. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on our blog.