March 2009 Archives

March 31, 2009

Buy a First Home in 2009, Take a Tax Credit for 2008!

The recent economic stimulus bill lets first-time home buyers take a substantial tax credit -- either on their 2008 or 2009 taxes! This can work even if you haven't bought your house yet. You'd need to either file for an extension now or file an amended return later this year, after the purchase.

The exact amount of the credit is either $8,000 or 10% of the home's value, whichever is less.

For an excellent set of instructions on how to take the credit in 2008, see USA TODAY finance columnist Sandra Block's article, "Claiming this year's first-time home buyer's tax credit is easy," in the Tuesday, March 31st edition of USA TODAY. And for other details, see the CNN article, "Final score: $8,000 for homebuyers."
March 23, 2009

Be the First Green Advocate on Your Co-Op Board?

Own a co-op? Then you probably won't be happy to know (or remember) that residential buildings are a major offender when it comes to releases of carbon dioxide emissions. But as you also know too well, doing something about it will require enthusiasm, or at least buy-in, from other owners. For inspiration and advice, check out Mireya Navarro's article, "It's Not Easy Turning Co-Op Boards Green," in the March 26, 2009 issue of the New York Times.

One of the most interesting factoids was that you don't need to go all out with solar panels to have an effect on the bottom line -- the greatest bang for the buck comes from simple conservation measures like insulating pipes and weather-stripping doors.

Another interesting suggestion comes up in the article "Start Greening Your Building," from The Cooperator: The Co-Op and Condo Monthly: installing a device that measures every owner's individual energy usage -- that can certainly wake up some people who weren't too concerned about energy costs when they were spread among all owners.

And for more information for New York City residents, check out the website of Green Home NYC, a volunteer-run organization whose mission is to facilitate the adoption of sustainable building methods and materials by owners of small residential and commercial buildings in New York City.
March 11, 2009

I Bought a House! (for the birds)

IMG_1207.jpgThat's right, I'm now the owner of a new (but old, made of recycled wood), Audubon-specification-compliant wren house.

Actually, I think I spent more time with this choice than with the house I'm living in. As with human houses, the particular bird houses I was checking out were all unique, made by Berkeley Rustic Birdhouses. I had to carefully consider price range, size (the entry, in particular, can't be too big if you want to attract wrens), aesthetics, and -- trying to get into the mindset of a small bird here -- which one might feel like "home." Sound familiar?

Mounting it became another lesson in home ownership -- there's nothing so valuable as a friendly neighbor with power tools! (Thanks, Joe.)

Now I'm suddenly shifting into the mindset of a home seller. Will any birds take a look? Will they peer inside in delight and say, "This is it!" or just look for signs to the next open house? I'm told it could take a year or more (for one thing, the birds need to feel sure I'm not going to move this new object tomorrow), but of course I want some to move in right now...
March 5, 2009

Need Your FICO Score? Don't Ask Experian

This almost qualifies as "weird news": For whatever reason, Experian has stopped letting individual consumers (such as home buyers) access their FICO scores. You can still get your credit history, but not the score (not even if you're willing to pay for it).

This isn't the end of the world, since the other two of the "big three" credit reporting agencies (TransUnion and Equifax) will still give you a score. But because all three of them collect different information, you might not be able to find out if Experian's score is out of whack compared to the other two -- and deal with that fact before prospective mortgage lenders see your score.

For details, see this Wall Street Journal article.