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When you are buying a resale home, it’s fairly easy to determine what your tax bill will be. You pull up the current owner’s tax bill and then do the math to figure out what your tax bill will be by plugging in your new purchase price in place of their assessed value. The special assessments and ad valorem taxes will stay on the property (some are a percentage of the assessed value, some are flat dollar amounts) and the only change should be a new assessed value.


If you are buying a new home, it can get much more complicated than that. Keep in mind that a new home is “new.” Meaning that not too long ago, there was likely unimproved dirt at that location, or maybe a farm or ranch. The Contra Costa Assessor’s Office was assessing the value and use in a different way. Then someone came along and had it re-zoned and started developing the land into another use. First, they clear off what structures were there, if any, then house pads and foundations follow, then houses started to get built. Somewhere along the line, the Assessor’s Office figured out that it was time to put the special assessments on the property for schools, fire, etc. that came with the approval for those residential homes to be built. But that determination may lag construction by a long time.


So my warning to you is don’t pull up the tax bill on a house you are buying new and assume that the special assessments listed there are all you’ll have to pay once you move in. Check with your builder about what special assessments you will pay. They are supposed to disclose this to you in your paperwork, so read carefully!


I often tell my clients the following, “How you live in a home is different from how you SELL a home…” and this is never more true than with pets. As much as we love our pets, we have to recognize that not all buyers do. And even those buyers that do love them still won’t like it if your house shows excessive evidence of our furry friends. Below are some tips to consider:


PRIOR TO GOING ON THE MARKET: Remove pet odor. This means a good house and carpet cleaning at the least. Nature’s Miracle is a great enzymatic product for this. If needed, replace carpet and pad. In severe cases, you may need to replace baseboards and/or have your slab and underlayment treated and sealed.” Do NOT think you can just mask the smell with air fresheners! Have a non-pet owner friend stop by to give it a “smell test” (or call me and I’ll stop by). Repair any pet damage to doors, floors, baseboards, lawn, etc.


DURING SHOWINGS: Put away food/water bowls, pet toys, scratching posts, litter boxes, etc. In regards to the pets themselves, it’s better if they aren’t there for showings, especially if you won’t be there. Even the friendliest pet can turn protective when you aren’t home, or they may escape out of fear. Consider relocating your pet if possible while your home is on the market if you are worried about them escaping and/or they will be especially stressed out during this time.


AFTER THE MOVE: Update your pet tags with your new contact info. Also, if your pet has a microchip, contact your provider (or your vet) to update your contact info with them. The odds of your pet getting lost go WAY up during a move, so now is a good time to get them chipped if they aren’t already.


Some buyers do not want to buy a home if someone has died in the property, no matter what the cause of death. California Real Estate Law requires that any deaths must be disclosed to the buyer if they occurred within 3 years. Up until recently, it wasn’t super-clear in the law if you were supposed to disclose deaths that were more than 3 years old, the law just said you wouldn’t be punished for failure to do so. A recent law clears this matter up by stating that deaths more than 3 years old are not considered a material fact that MUST be disclosed to the buyer. On top of that, the existing law says that you do not have to disclose if an occupant of the home was living with the HIV virus, even if they died from AIDS-related complications.


So does that mean you SHOULDN’T disclose deaths that are more than three years old? If someone asks you if there have been any deaths more than three years ago, are you supposed to lie and say, “No”? Luckily, there is another provision in the law called a “safe harbor provision” that says you should always answer a direct question about prior deaths truthfully, no matter how old they are. The same goes for HIV/AIDS questions.


Personally, I advise my clients to go ahead and disclose deaths of any kind on the property, ESPECIALLY if the deaths were notorious in some way. I’ve had several situations (I’ll spare you the details) where the deaths were pretty unique but quite old. I advised my clients to disclose them anyways. You know as soon as the buyers move in, the neighbors will come over and ask if they were aware of the history of the house, so better safe than sorry!


In general, if you aren’t putting at least 20% down as a down payment when buying a home, the conventional wisdom is that you’ll have to pay some kind of mortgage insurance. But, there are ways around that.

The most common way is with what’s called an 80/10/10 loan. That’s where you get one loan for 80% of the purchase price, plus a second mortgage for 10% of the purchase price and then you put the remaining 10% down as funds from you. The nice feature of this option is at some point you may be able to pay off the 2nd loan and see a drop in your total monthly payments.

Another option (if you have military service) is to use a VA loan, with has 100% financing with no mortgage insurance.

A relatively new option is something called Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance. (LPML). This is where your lender pays the mortgage insurance for you in return for a higher interest rate. The problem with this type of loan is that once you sign up for it, the higher interest stays in effect during the life of the loan, even once your mortgage is 80% or less of the home’s value. The only way out is to pay it off or refinance with another lender.

Each of these options have their pros and cons. You’ll want to really research with your lender which is the best option for you as your total payment may be higher or lower for each option when you look at ALL the factors. Plus there are tax considerations as mortgage insurance may be deductible for you (although it phases out with income), so you’ll want to consult your tax professional, too, so you can compare the total, net after-tax impact of each option.




The most common solution in a divorce is to sell the house and split the profits. It’s common to split the profits 50/50, but that can change due to a myriad of reasons like a pre-nuptial agreement, one party wants to keep their retirement account in place, etc.


If one person wants to stay in the house, it’s possible to buy the other person out, as long as they can do it financially. First, both parties have to agree on a price, which is not a foregone conclusion. They can have it appraised but one party may feel the appraisal is too high (or too low). Then the party that’s remaining has to be able to put their hands on enough cash to buy the departing party out.


If the home has a mortgage, that complicates things greatly. I’m continually amazed at how many judges and divorce attorneys appear to have NO knowledge about how mortgages work. I’ve seen many final divorce papers where it’s ordered that the departing spouse signs a quit claim giving up all ownership rights and the remaining spouse is ordered to make the payment. But if the underlying loan isn’t refinanced, the departing spouse is likely still obligated on that loan. This can make it difficult for them to qualify for a new loan plus hurt their credit if the remaining spouse misses payments. I’ve also seen where the remaining spouse is ordered to refinance the house to get it out of both names. But no one recognized how hard it may be to refinance a home when you are going from a likely two-income household to one, and then you add in new monthly obligations of alimony and/or child support payments. In rare situations, the loan may be assumable.

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