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TOPA: Protection or extortion?

Inadvertently reducing the amount of housing available to renters

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Anita Bonds, gay news, Washington Blade
Anita Bonds, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Anita Bonds looked into how TOPA went from protecting tenants to hurting homeowners. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Last week, I had the privilege of attending my first D.C. Council meeting as part of a contingent of roughly 200 real estate agents, attorneys, tenant advocates and homeowners.

The topic: D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) of 1980.

The premise of the Act was a noble one. In response to burgeoning gentrification within the District it gave a tenant the first right to purchase the home in which he resided upon being informed by the owner that it was being sold. Notification procedures, transparency requirements and lengthy deadlines would ensure the tenant would have sufficient time to negotiate a contract, obtain financing, and settle on the home.

Embedded in the law was a provision whereby the tenant could transfer her purchase rights to another individual if she chose. What began as an avenue for the tenant to secure a qualified buyer who would allow her to remain or receive a reasonable stipend from the seller to assist her in moving to a new location devolved into a “pay to play” situation.

Real estate agents began to see abuses of the Act. Tenants would seek substantial sums of money for their rights to purchase, which resulted in a new way to earn a living, both for the tenants and for the attorneys who represented them, and often held a sale hostage while negotiations took place.

With the assistance of the District of Columbia Association of Realtors (DCAR), TOPA finally found its way into local television news. A three-part investigative series prompted the D.C. Council, spearheaded by Council member Anita Bonds, to focus on how the law had gone from protecting tenants to hurting homeowners, raising the cost of housing, and reducing D.C. housing stock for the very tenants TOPA was designed to protect.

As a result, a task force made up of real estate agents, attorneys and tenant advocates was formed. Two amendments to TOPA were ultimately sponsored by members of the Council and became the reason we were all seated in Room 500 of the Wilson Building on the morning of Sept. 21.

The TOPA Accessory Dwelling Unit Amendment Act of 2017, sponsored by Council member Bonds and six other members, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, provides for an exemption from TOPA requirements for certain owner-occupied residences with accessory units such as basement apartments, carriage houses and converted garages. It also caps payments to tenants in those units at $1,500.

The Home Sale Facilitation Amendment Act of 2017, sponsored by Council member Brianne Nadeau, reduces the lengthy timelines currently in effect, streamlines the process, and exempts single-family dwellings that are the seller’s primary residence from TOPA requirements.

The Council meeting began with testimony from the co-chairs of the DCAR TOPA Task Force. As local title attorneys, they explained the impact of a confusing and costly process, the difficulty in confirming compliance, and the uncertainty of a timely sale.

Tenant advocates from AARP and the Legal Aid Society spoke out against the amendments, arguing that TOPA promotes homeownership, yet they, the title attorneys, and the real estate agents all agreed that it was seldom that a tenant bought the property they inhabited using the provisions of TOPA.

A homeowner adversely affected by TOPA tearfully told a horror story of renting her home to a family of three who proceeded to allow unauthorized people and pets to live there, broke appliances and fixtures, lived in filth, and failed to report leaks that resulted in mold. Repairs to the property totaled $7,000.

Despite being offered an additional sum to relocate, the tenants refused. The homeowner, who is now retired and living out-of-state on a fixed income, is still unable to complete the sale of her home. Her sentiment, that she would never again rent a D.C. home to anyone, was echoed by others who testified or sent letters to be read into the record.

A local attorney whose business is to seek out tenants who have been served TOPA notices proudly testified that, for a one-third contingency fee, he negotiates an average of $30,000 for the purchase of a tenant’s TOPA rights and often obtains debt forgiveness of up to $20,000. At this point, the audience erupted in anger.

Is it any wonder that people are shying away from renting their D.C. homes and looking for investment property in nearby Maryland or Virginia?  Ironically, in an area where 52 percent of residents are renters, TOPA laws, instead of protecting tenants as intended, are reducing the amount of housing available to them.

So where do we go from here? A mark-up of the proposed amendments, a vote by the Council, and a 30-day review by the U.S. Congress. Stay tuned.

 

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at Real Living| At Home. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her at [email protected], or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

No, you really don’t have to put down 20 percent

There are many options when financing your new home

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When buying your home, there are alternatives to the old 20 percent down requirement.

I was just out at brunch this weekend (I know a gay in D.C. at brunch — groundbreaking). Anyway, I was at brunch and naturally the subject of real estate came up and your boy’s ears perked up and as the resident real estate expert at the table, some of the newcomers were making conversation about some open houses they had been to in the past few weekends, some trends they had seen that they hated that developers seem to continually do in the D.C. area, how unaffordable things are and some comments about where the best areas to invest are in D.C. I just sat and listened while eating my food, which was rather under seasoned, but I digress. The one comment that came up several times that really got me was the affordability comment and what it was based around. It might very well shock you.

When we speak about affordability in the District we are typically speaking to the price of real estate and how expensive it is to purchase a place here in D.C. However, for this conversation – the affordability factor in particular that I was hearing about that piqued my interest was the specific line item of “we have to put down X as a down payment to purchase a home.” The consensus at this brunch table and even when speaking to some buyers on a daily basis is that you must put down 20% to purchase a home. While there are some perks to this, yes. The fact that you MUST put that amount down is just not true. When my parents purchased their first home for $60,000 it was much easier to put down 20% versus a first-time buyer in D.C. putting down 20% for a $600,000 purchase. Furthermore, most buyers are staying in their homes for as little as six years, according to the National Association of Realtors. If you do the math – does it make sense, for your personal situation, to put down 20% versus 5% or 10%? Yes, that’s right – you can purchase a home for as little as 5% down and in some cases as little as 3% down.

When my husband, who was a first-time homebuyer in D.C., purchased his condo, he was able to put down 3% and qualify for a conventional loan. We will stay in this condo for under the average 7-10 years so putting anything more than 3% down for our personal situation just didn’t make sense. Now, because we didn’t put 20% down we pay what is known as PMI, or private mortgage insurance, however it was still worthwhile for him to save the capital and only put the 3% down and pay the small PMI amount monthly as he could put the rest of the 17% he didn’t put into a house in an investment account to yield more. Again, he was a first-time buyer in the District so he qualified for a 3% down loan and the numbers made sense for him. Everyone’s personal situation is different.

According to a 2023 report from the National Association of Realtors the average down payment for a home was 15% while the average down payment when looking at first time buyers was right around 5%. Again, each situation is specific to each person, their credit, finances, debt to income ratio etc., so there is really no recipe that fits every single buyer. It is important to work with a local lender to ensure that you are well qualified and understand which loan packages are out there for you that make the most sense for you so that when you do find that home you are ready to go.

I say all of this to say that gone are the days when you are required to put down 20% in most cases. Depending on the loan type and loan amount – you likely can get away with putting down 5-15% down and save some funds for upgrading from that tragic Ikea dresser from college or hiring a painter because let’s be real, you are not a professional. Like with most things in life you can pick and choose the things that are right for you and a mortgage and its down payment are exactly that same. If you would like to and can put down 20% for a mortgage then please do so – however if you want to get out from under the power and money hungry landlord and buy a condo where you are paying yourself back with equity – you can do so in a manner that is much more affordable than you may have thought possible – especially if you are a first-time buyer in D.C.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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Real Estate

2024 tax season tips for landlords

A crucial period for investors to assess financial standings

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For many landlords, March can be a stressful time due to the upcoming deadlines to file annual tax returns. The year prior to April is a crucial period for property investors to assess their financial standings, ensure compliance with tax regulations, and take advantage of available tax-saving strategies. As a housing provider, understanding the intricacies of the tax code and how it impacts landlords can significantly impact your bottom line. 

Deductions for Rental Property Owners

One of the advantages of being a landlord in the United States is the ability to deduct numerous expenses related to the rental which can significantly reduce your taxable income. Do not overlook this benefit as it is the federal government’s incentive to promote the development and ownership of rental property. Schedule E of the federal form 1040 organizes the financial results of the rental property from the tax year and is how you report it to the IRS. 

If you qualify as a real estate professional under IRS guidelines, you may be able to deduct rental real estate losses against your other income, reducing your overall tax liability.

Here are some key deductions to consider:

Mortgage Interest: Landlords can deduct the interest paid on mortgage loans for rental properties. Keep detailed records of your mortgage payments and ensure that the loan is used to acquire, improve, or maintain the property.  The lender delivers a form 1098 form to owners of the property to make it easier to claim this deduction.

Property Expenses: Ordinary and necessary expenses related to the property can be deducted. This includes all expenses getting the property ready to rent, charges for finding tenants, management fees, repairs, preventative and on-going maintenance, utilities, HOA dues, etc.  Homeowner insurance premiums and real property taxes can also be deducted and if they are paid to the lender in escrow who in turn pays those bills for you. Those payments will be located on your annual escrow report from the lender or on the form 1098.  Even travel expenses incurred for property-related purposes may be deductible from rental income.

Professional Services: If you do not manage your rental properties yourself, any fees paid to property management professionals such as my firm, an accountant you may have, or real estate attorneys you retain are deductible. These experts should also be able to help you navigate the complexities of tax on income generated by owning and renting out residential real estate.

Depreciation: Depreciation is a non-cash deduction that allows you to account for the wear and tear of your rental property over time. Even though you are not recording this as an expense that you pay for, the IRS provides for a declaration of depreciation expense to recognize that assets lose their value over time.  There are specific guidelines for depreciating different components of your property, such as buildings and appliances or capital improvements made.

Depreciation: A Valuable Benefit to Landlords

Depreciation is a powerful tax-saving tool that deserves special attention. It allows you to allocate a portion of the property’s cost over its useful life, thus reducing your taxable income. To make the most of depreciation, consider the following:

The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) is the method used by the IRS to determine depreciation deductions.  MACRS tables to calculate depreciation accurately are located online and individual residential properties depreciate at a rate of 3.636% each year for 27.5 years.  Note that only buildings and contents are depreciated.  You cannot depreciate the land value.  

Make sure to maintain good records of the property’s original purchase cost, all acquisition fees and charges paid, improvements over time, and other expenses that can be depreciated. These records may be harder to locate if you have lived in the house as owner occupant for some time.  All of this information will be needed to set up your depreciation schedule whether you do it yourself or rely on a tax preparation professional.  Lastly, be aware of  the “recapture tax.” If you sell a rental property for a profit after having claimed depreciation expenses, you may need to pay “recapture tax” on the accumulated depreciation deductions. Proper planning can help minimize this tax liability.

Tax Preparation Tips for DC Landlords

If someone else collects your rental income for you, they will deliver to you a form 1099-MISC. The income reported should match the gross income you receive over that tax year, not the net income after expenses. This is a common misunderstanding.  All rental related expenses can be deducted from the reported gross income.

If your rental income includes subsidized rental payments from the DC Housing Authority, you will be sent a form 10099-MISC.  If your manager also issues a form 1099 on your tax ID, then it needs to be reconciled in your tax return to inform the IRS and to avoid double reporting (and taxation) of rental income.

Every year owners with rental property in the District of Columbia need to file tax returns with the DC Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR). It is important to keep your tax filings current as it can create a roadblock in the future to renew your business license or do other business with the District government if you need a clean hands certificate.

A D-30 form is filed to report rental income, even if you do not earn other income in the District. You must also file a Personal Property Tax return FP-31, even if you have no personal property at the rental. The latter filing can be done online within minutes as a zero dollar return in your MyTaxDC portal. CPM has instructions if you need help. 

If you wish to file an extension so that your DC taxes are filed later in the year, use form FR-128 and file it on time.  NOTE: If you expect to have tax due for when you file the D-30, you must pay the estimated amount at the time of filing the extension. Failure to do so or failure to pay the right amount, will result in fines and penalties.

Navigating tax season as a property investor or landlord requires careful planning, attention to detail, and a good understanding of the tax code. Deductions, depreciation, and tax-saving strategies are essential tools that can help you maximize your return on investment and minimize your tax liability. 

As March arrives and tax filing begins, consider consulting with a tax professional to ensure you are making the most of these opportunities. With the right approach, you can make tax season a financially rewarding time for your real estate investments rather than a burden..

This article was written with publicly available information and is not to be considered as professional tax advice. A taxpayer should always consult a tax professional to determine if the ideas and strategies presented in this article apply to their situation. 

Note: Tax deadlines may vary based on individual circumstances, state residency, and tax situations. Always verify deadlines with the relevant tax authorities and consult with a tax professional if needed.

Scott Bloom is owner and Senior Property Manager of Columbia Property Management. Bloom founded Columbia Property Management in 2012. CPM’s goal is to provide a powerful, personal level of service to clients. For more information and resources, go to columbiapm.com 

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Real Estate

Building dream homes with confidence

The pros, cons, and LGBTQ insights of new construction

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One key advantage of buying a newly constructed home is the ability to customize its finishings.

Buying a new construction home offers a unique set of advantages and challenges compared to purchasing a pre-owned property. Understanding these can help potential homeowners make informed decisions. Here’s an exploration of the pros and cons of buying a new construction home and the importance of professional real estate assistance.

Advantages of Buying a New Construction Home

Customization: One of the primary benefits of buying a new construction home is the ability to customize it according to your preferences. Buyers often have the option to select floor plans, finishes, and fixtures, making the home truly their own.

Modern Features: New homes are built with the latest technologies and materials, offering more energy-efficient windows, appliances, HVAC systems, and construction methods. This can lead to significant savings on utility bills and a smaller carbon footprint.

Less Maintenance: Since everything from the appliances to the roof is brand new, homeowners typically face fewer maintenance issues in the first few years compared to older homes where systems might be nearing the end of their lifespan.

Warranties: New construction homes usually come with warranties that cover the structure and sometimes appliances and systems for a certain period, providing peace of mind to the buyer.

Disadvantages of Buying a New Construction Home

Higher Costs: Often, new construction homes come at a premium price compared to older homes. Customizations and upgrades can also add up quickly, further increasing the overall cost.

Delays: Construction timelines can be unpredictable due to weather, supply chain issues, or labor shortages. This can lead to delays in the move-in date, which can be problematic for buyers with specific timing needs.

Immature Landscaping: Newly developed areas may lack mature trees and landscaping, which can affect the property’s aesthetic appeal and privacy. It may take years for new plantings to grow fully.

Community Development: In new subdivisions, construction can continue for months or years after you move in, leading to ongoing noise, dust, and traffic.

Importance of Connecting with a GayRealEstate.com Realtor

Expert Guidance: A Realtor familiar with new construction can provide invaluable advice on the quality of different builders, potential future developments in the area, and the negotiation of upgrades and closing costs.

Representation: Builders have their own sales agents or representatives looking out for their interests. Having your own real estate agent ensures someone is advocating for your best interests, helping to navigate contracts and warranties.

Market Knowledge: Realtors have a deep understanding of the local real estate market, which can help in evaluating the new construction home’s quality and price against current market conditions.

LGBTQ Friendly: For LGBTQ individuals and families, finding a welcoming and supportive community is crucial. Realtors from GayRealEstate.com specialize in understanding the unique needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community, ensuring a smooth and respectful home-buying experience.

Before visiting a new home community, connecting with a Realtor from GayRealEstate.com can provide you with a competitive advantage. Their expertise, advocacy, and personalized support can help navigate the complexities of buying a new construction home, making the process less stressful and more rewarding. Whether it’s negotiating the price, understanding the fine print of your contract, or choosing the right community, a professional real estate agent is an invaluable asset in your home-buying journey.

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