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October 12, 2012


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This sort of thing happened to me while I was looking to purchase a foreclosure to fix up and live in. The bank had it listed at $108k but I knew it needed at least 20k in repairs. I offered 60k expecting to have them bite since the house had been vacant for almost 2 years. As it sat, damage was occurring, the wooden floors were buckling due to the humidity in lower Alabama. I figured if I had to come in and do all the fixing, I might as well try to get a steal. I'm not sure if what I have heard were tall tales or not, but I had been told houses under foreclosure could go for 50% below the asking price depending on the situation. It didn't work out for me though, they didn't respond to my offer and a few months later somebody purchased it for 80k. I was too low due to my lack of knowledge.

This is a great point. I've never thought too hard about the market value of a house. We have always looked at the expected rental income and based the price we were willing to pay on getting the desired return. Our realtor tells us the "comp price" of the property, which we use to help inform our offer price, but it's a pretty simplistic evaluation based on the $/sf of a couple of recently sold nearby homes.

Speaking of waiting out the price, though, our first ever offer (at about $10k less than asking on a foreclosure) was rejected. 6 months later the same property's ask price dropped down to our offer price and they called us back. We got it at our original offer price.


Your experience is exactly what I meant about time being the only factor that will change the price a bank will accept. It is a bit surprising to me that it took them 6 months to come down $10K but whatever the bank's schedule for adjusting price you simply have to wait them out if you have offered below what they will accept.

As to thinking about market value versus expected rental income, I think a combination of those two values is a good evaluation tool. When looking at houses if the expected return results in a price that you can see is below market for that type of house that will give you information that can help you make decisions. In an instance like that you would typically have 3 choices. 1. Look at other properties whose comparable market sales prices give you the returns you are looking for. 2. Accept lower returns and bid on the properties you are looking at with market prices. 3. Bid below market prices on these properties and expect to do a lot more looking and have a number of rejected offers hoping to eventually get one that will work.

Alternatively if you only look at desired returns it is possible the market price could be even less than your desired return (this is probably not typical but it's possible).

If you go into offers without knowing market prices you are going in a bit blind and handicapped. It's always a good idea to try to get an assessment of what that property is likely to sell for based not on what you want to pay, but based on what others are willing to pay for it.

Apex, I'm glad that you're writing this series. Thanks for sharing your expertise/experience.


Thanks for the appreciation. I am enjoying writing it. I hope you are finding it informative. If there is anything I don't cover clearly enough or with enough detail please feel free to ask questions. I will try to answer if I feel I have the experience to do so., it's not a rumor at all. I recently helped a friend put in an offer on a house for 95k, that sold for 165k just 18 months prior. It was teetering on foreclosure, and the seller was looking for a short sale. I was skeptical that the offer would be accepted, as the Realtor made a point to tell us that an offer of 124k was declined just a couple of months earlier. Much to my shock, the bank and seller accepted the offer within an hour. You just have to stay patient, and remain "unattached" to the deal. It's okay to walk away! ;)

I too am really enjoying this series, thanks for writing it Apex. (and thanks to FMF for hosting)

My dad and I have bought the 'diamond in the rough' properties which were fixer uppers but that was before the crash. That worked well fr us but it was a different market and different situation and my dad is very capable doing rehab. On my own I don't do that since I'm not nearly the handyman my dad is so I wouldn't tackle major fixers myself. How you go about buying properties does certainly depend on your own situation, skills and goals plus the current market conditions.


That situation is not quite the same as what JayB was referencing. He was talking about a foreclosed property that you could pick up for 50% of what was being asked. This was not a foreclosure and there was no asking price from the bank.

In the situation you describe the 18 month old sale price is not really relevant. A lot of the properties I bought for 130K sold for 300K 2-3 years prior. That's why properties are in this situation because their valuations plummeted.

As to the previous offer of 124K being declined and them taking the 95K offer a few months later, one doesn't know what valuation metrics they used to re-assess the current value. Although a drop of 30K in two months does seem a bit aggressive.

I must say that something does sound strange though. You are saying you actually got a bank to agree to a short sale in 60 minutes? 60 days is usually a miracle. How on earth did that happen?

"This was not a foreclosure and there was no asking price from the bank."

If it was bank owned then doesn't that mean they acquired it via foreclosure?


Yes it would. This was not bank owned yet though. Ben had said it was teetering on foreclosure which I suspect means the bank had probably already done a sheriff sale but was still waiting for the redemption period to end so they had not claimed the property in foreclosure yet. Ben also said the seller was looking to do a short sale and that is what the bank approved.

So it still required bank approval but it was not yet bank owned and as such there was no advertised price from the bank. Many people don't realize this but the asking price in a short sale is a price chosen by the seller who is the original owner, not the bank. The bank then has to approve the sale price. The asking price in a short sale is even more irrelevant than the asking price on a normal sale. You can some times offer exactly what was being asked and the bank will reject it because they had no input into the asking price and consider it too low.


This question is a bit off topic but still related to rental ownership. Earlier this year we had a discussion regarding depreciation and the benefits of paper losses with rentals. I mistakenly thought my paper losses were helping me on taxes. You corrected me then but I've since been set straight by my CPA. When your income is above $150k, losses don't get deducted. Not to get too far off topic but at high incomes you get the "double whammy" on taxes - higher tax rates plus loss of deductions and credits.

Anyway, is it even worth it to depreciate assets if your rental is a loss on paper? You not only lose the benefit of the loss but you also set yourself up for the tax penalty later when you sell without getting the tax break when you depreciate. So, do you depreciate your rentals? I'm asking because now I think I'm going to stop since I get no benefit. Can you even do that?

Thanks for the input Ben and Apex,

It was surprising to me that the bank was unwilling to bite given the property had already been a huge loss along with the current state of it sitting vacant. Also, I was willing to put down 40% on my offer and I have excellent credit. I guess in the end they did the right thing because somebody came along and made a better offer than me. This was almost exactly a year ago, so I thought it was a great time to offer since the housing market was still trying to turn the corner. I am glad it didn't work out though in hindsight, I ended up finding a better property that I am very happy with.


I have covered this question before but it gets asked a lot and it's extremely important to get it correct so I am going to review it in detail again.

First a review of deducting "paper losses". When you depreciate the property you may have a net taxable loss even if you have net positive cash flow or profit. This is the paper loss you are referring to.

The IRS has a special category for rental income/loss. It is considered passive income/loss. Your wages are considered active income or earned income. You can deduct passive losses against passive income in other investments with no restrictions. However you can only deduct passive losses against active income with limitations. The limitations are that you can only deduct up to $25,000 of passive losses against active income. This begins to phase out at $100,000 with you losing $500 of deduction for every $1000 of income over that amount until it is totally phased out at $150,000.

This inevitably brings up the question of whether or not one should even take depreciation in this situation. This is usually driven by a misunderstanding of what it means to have the deduction phased out or to "lose" the deduction.

So lets lay out the facts so we are clear on this.

1. You NEVER actually lose the "paper loss" or deduction. It is merely carried forward to the next year and the next indefinitely until you are actually able to take it, or you start to have net taxable profits. The deduction is then applied against those profits so in future years where you do have profit you don't pay any tax on them until your carried forward deductions are exhausted. If you ever sell the property all your carried forward deductions are applied at that time against capital gains.

2. The IRS requires you to take depreciation. Taking depreciation ensures you get the benefit based on #1 above. Failing to take it ensures you are double taxed by the IRS and will cost you dearly. When you sell a property the IRS requires you to pay recaptured capital gains on the amount the property was depreciated. But here is the kicker: They do not base this on actual deprecation taken but on the depreciation schedule of what you should have taken. If you didn't take the depreciation the IRS will make you pay the recaptured capital gains taxes as if you had taken it.

In all circumstance you want to take depreciation. It never hurts you and will eventually help you. The fact that it is delayed does not make it a detriment, its just not an immediate benefit in that case. It will eventually be a benefit, so you always want to calculate your depreciation and report it on your schedule E even if you have to defer it and carry it forward.

Your tax accountant should be able to tell you how the carried forward losses work. If your tax accountant suggests not taking the depreciation, that's a bad sign.


Thank you for the response. That answers quite a bit. My CPA didn't suggest not taking the depreciation, I was just thinking I'd lose out as described in my earlier post. However, the carryover makes it better. If my income never drops below $150k by the time I sell, then based on your response, the carryover will be applied then.

BTW, this stuff gets confusing... the government sure doesn't make life easy for the "makers" of the world. It would be interesting to see how much better the economy would be without all the government bureaucracy and rules.

"BTW, this stuff gets confusing... the government sure doesn't make life easy for the "makers" of the world. It would be interesting to see how much better the economy would be without all the government bureaucracy and rules."
Holy cow, you've got that right...My mom's a CPA, and I am an engineer and love numbers, but my eyes seriously glaze over when we start talking about taxes. The words "tax implications" drive me nuts.

"A property’s worth is simply what other buyers are willing to pay for it. That’s it. That’s what a property is worth." Couldn't have said it better myself. People get caught up in the popular home valuation websites but those dont paint even half the picture.

The rules we're talking about are a result of the 1986 Tax Reform Act which actually simplified tax codes overall. They cut passive loss deductions and curtained depreciation in order to cut back on people holding losing money properties as tax shelters. Effectively ending loopholes abused by some. In other words you're complaining about the Reagan Tax Cuts...

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