Home & Garden

Buying a house? Check out these nuggets

Native-born Americans looking to move into homeownership for the first time could learn a thing or two from immigrant homeowners, according to recent research.

Economists at Rutgers University and the Georgia Institute of Technology found that immigrants leverage “birthplace networks” to come up with money to not only purchase their homes, but also to maintain them during hard times.

Unique to immigrants, birthplace networks are social groups of friends and family from the same country of origin.

The study’s authors found that although homeownership rates among immigrants fell between 2000 and 2012, the decline was less severe when compared to native-born homeowners. The hypothesis offered in the study is the ability of immigrants to call on their networks during both good times and bad. And while the theory calls for more study, Americans of all heritages can consider expanding their support networks to include, say, co-workers, fellow churchgoers or club members. The list, in fact, is almost endless.

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The trend may be toward walkable communities: those with amenities close enough to residences that automobiles are unnecessary, at least for everyday needs. But traffic and commuting time are still high on the list of concerns for most homebuyers.

“There is no way to solve traffic congestion,” Brookings Institution Economist Anthony Downs said at a recent real estate conference. “Congestion is simply an inexorable part of the way cities grow.”

No wonder 3 out of every 4 would-be buyers focus at least somewhat on cutting their commuting costs, according to a National Association of Realtors survey. Only 27 percent said they were unconcerned with commuting expenses.

About 14 percent were so troubled that they compromised on the home they bought to be closer to work. Six percent more bought a smaller house to be closer to family, and 2 percent did the same to be closer to schools.

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Few would-be buyers ask about the local police or fire departments, at least not directly. But they almost always want to know about the schools.

Normally, you can find what you’re looking for from the school in question or the local school district. But here, from the Counselors of Real Estate – the trade group for the country’s 1,100 or so real estate advisors – are four websites for more detailed school information:

– greatschools.org. Submit a school name for test scores, course offerings and parent/student reviews. Input an address to see all nearby schools.

– education.com/schoolfinder. Plug in a school name to see how it compares to others in the district and the state. Also shows boundary maps for each school.

– publicschoolreview.com. Enter the home’s address to find all nearby schools, plus information – but not test scores – for each one.

– privateschoolreview.com. A similar site locates private institutions.

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Even though the home-office deduction is said to be a red flag for federal income tax auditors, it is a legitimate write-off for small-business owners who, in fact, have space in their homes dedicated solely to their businesses.

According to the latest Census Bureau data, the practice of working at home is on the upswing. By last count in 2010, the number of us working at home totaled 13.4 million, up from 9.2 million in 1997.

According to IRS data, some $9.8 billion in home office expenses were claimed on IRS Form 8829 in 2011.

The write-off is split into two classes: direct expenses related to the taxpayer, and indirect expenses that apply to the house as a whole and are only partially deductible. About $6 out of every $7 claimed comes from indirect expenses, such as mortgage interest, utilities and repairs.