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Health, Life Events

The Complete Guide to Disability Insurance

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Quick quiz: What’s the most valuable financial asset you own as a young professional and a provider for your family?Here are some hints: It’s not your home. It’s not your 401(k). And it’s definitely not your car.

The answer? It’s your future income. The money you earn in the years to come will allow you to pay your bills, save for the future, and create a secure financial foundation for you and your family.

Really, all the plans you’re making both for today and the future rely on the assumption that you’ll continue earning money. Which is exactly why it’s so important to protect that income and make sure you receive it no matter what.

That’s where disability insurance comes in.

Disability insurance ensures that you’re able to continue paying your bills and putting food on the table even if your health prevents you from working for an extended period of time. By sending you a monthly check that replaces some or all of your income, it protects your biggest financial asset from those worst-case scenarios.

It’s something that just about every working parent should have, but it’s a complicated product that can be difficult to understand and get right.

So in this post you’ll learn all about how disability insurance works and what kind of policy you should be looking for.

Why You Need Disability Insurance

Disability insurance is often ignored both because the prospect of becoming disabled seems remote and because the premiums can be hard to swallow, especially for young families who are already struggling to pay for child care and all the other expenses that come with having young kids.

But extended disability is a lot more common than most people think.

According to WebMD, your odds of becoming disabled before you retire are about 1 in 3.

The leading causes of disability include:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

For the most part it’s chronic illness that causes disability, not the kind of major accident that typically comes to mind. And the odds of it happening before you’re financially independent are fairly high, though there are some situations in which your personal odds may be lower.

So the big question is this: If you’re one of the 33% of people who faces an extended disability, where would the money come from to pay your bills and put food on the table? How long would your savings be able to support you, and what would you do if you needed help past that point?

Most people would struggle to make it more than a few months, which is exactly why disability insurance is so valuable. By replacing your income for potentially years at a time, it ensures that you’ll be able to continue taking care of your family no matter what.

Short-term disability insurance vs. long-term disability insurance

There are two main types of disability insurance: short-term and long-term.

Both can be helpful, but they play very different roles in your financial plan. Here’s an overview of each.

Short-Term Disability Insurance

Short-term disability insurance only offers benefits for a relatively limited amount of time. Most short-term disability insurance policies cover you for 3-6 months, though they can provide coverage for up to two years.

There is typically a waiting period of up to 14 days before the insurance kicks in to prevent it from covering minor illness and injury. After that waiting period, it will typically start to pay 50%-100% of your regular income until you either return to work or your coverage period ends.

One of the most common uses of short-term disability insurance is during maternity leave. Many, though not all, short-term disability policies cover the latter parts of pregnancy and the period after childbirth, which can help replace your income while staying home with your newborn.

Most short-term disability insurance policies are offered as an employer benefit, and in some cases that coverage may even be free. Private coverage is also an option if you aren’t able to get coverage through work, though those policies can be expensive. For example, a healthy 38-year-old male might pay a $2,300 annual premium for a $5,000 monthly benefit and 12 months of coverage.

One alternative to short-term disability insurance is building an emergency fund. A 3-6 month emergency fund would provide the same protection as a 3-6 month short-term disability insurance policy, with the added benefit of not having a monthly premium.

Long-Term Disability Insurance

Long-term disability insurance is where you typically find the most value. Because while a short-term disability could be covered by a healthy emergency fund, an extended disability is much more likely to deplete your family’s savings and put you in a difficult position unless you have some way of replacing your lost income.

Long-term disability insurance picks up where your emergency fund or short-term disability insurance leaves off. There’s typically a 3-6 month waiting period during which you would have to replace your income by other means.

But once you’re past that waiting period, your long-term disability insurance would start replacing your monthly income and would continue to do so for years at a time, as long as you remain disabled.

This is a big potential benefit. A long-term disability policy that replaces $5,000 per month in income will potentially pay you $60,000 per year for as long as you’re disable. That would go a long way toward keeping your family on the right track.

Given that potential value, it’s usually more important for families to secure long-term disability insurance than short-term disability insurance. For that reason, the rest of this guide will focus primarily on long-term disability insurance.

10 Questions To Ask When Shopping for a Long-Term Disability Insurance Policy

Long-term disability insurance is a complicated product with a lot of terms and conditions that vary policy to policy. Finding a good, independent disability insurance agent who isn’t beholden to any particular insurance company can help you secure the right policy at the right price for your specific situation.

But whether you’re looking on your own or with the help of an agent, there are 10 key features you’ll want to evaluate.

1. Your Monthly Benefit

Your monthly benefit is the amount of money your long-term disability insurance policy would pay you each month in the event of disability. And there are a few key factors that go into deciding how big a benefit you need:

  1. What are the monthly expenses you would have to cover if you lost your income? Consider the fact that you may be able to cut back on certain discretionary expenses, but also that you may have additional medical expenses in order to treat the disability.
  2. What other income sources do you have? You can factor in your spouse or partner’s income, your savings, and possibly even help from family.
  3. Would your benefit be taxable or tax-free? The benefit from an individual policy you purchase on your own would almost certainly be tax-free. The benefit you get from an employer policy would likely be taxable. The difference affects how much money you would actually have available to spend.

2. How They Define ‘Disability’

Believe it or not, there is no one way of defining disability. There are a lot of variations, but most policies fall into one of three main groups:

  • Any occupation – This is the most restrictive of the three definitions. It defines disability as the inability to perform any job, no matter what it is or how much it pays. It’s hard to qualify for benefits under this definition.
  • Own occupation – This is the broadest of the three definitions. It defines disability as the inability to perform the main duties of your current job. It’s easiest to qualify for benefits under this definition.
  • Modified own occupation – This is a middle ground that defines disability as the inability to perform a job for which you are reasonably suited based on education, training, and experience. In other words, not just any job will do. You have to be able to work in a job that fits your level of experience and expertise before benefits stop.

Understanding your policy’s definition of disability is key to understanding the protection you’re actually receiving. A big benefit with a strict definition of disability may be less valuable than a smaller benefit with a definition that’s easier to meet.

3. The Elimination Period

The elimination period is that amount of time you have to be disabled before you can start to collect your benefit.

Typical elimination periods range from 60 to 180 days, with longer elimination periods leading to a smaller premium. You should consider how long your savings and/or short-term disability insurance would cover you when deciding how long an elimination period to choose.

4. The Benefit Period

This is the maximum amount of time you would be able to collect benefits as long as you continue to meet the policy’s definition of disability.

Many long-term disability insurance policies pay out until age 65 or 67 to coincide with the standard Social Security retirement age. Other policies will only pay benefits for 5-10 years.

Longer benefit periods are more valuable, but also more expensive. You should consider the likelihood of being able to replace your income in other ways, such as transitioning to a different job, when deciding how long you’d like your benefit period to last.

5. What isn’t Covered

Most long-term disability insurance policies will exclude certain types of conditions from coverage. For example, mental health conditions are often not covered or are subject to a shorter benefit period.

Sometimes the exclusions will only last for a period of time, such as the first two years of the policy being in place. Sometimes they last for the life of the policy. You should evaluate these exclusions in relation to your personal and family health history to understand how likely you might be to run into them.

6. Premium Guarantee

Some long-term disability insurance policies are non-cancelable, which means that you are guaranteed a fixed premium until your coverage period ends. The insurance company cannot cancel your coverage and cannot raise your premium.

Other policies are guaranteed renewable, which means that the insurance company can’t cancel your policy, but they can increase the premium as long as they increase the premium for all policies across an entire class of policyholders (such as all policyholders in a given state or all policyholders in a given occupation category).

If you don’t have either of those guarantees, it means that your premium could increase each and every year and that those changes are at the discretion of the insurance company.

7. Residual Benefit

A residual benefit feature means that you could receive partial benefits if you return to work at a reduced salary.

This feature can help you build your workload over time, making for an easier and smoother transition.

8. Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

Policies that come with a cost-of-living adjustment will increase your benefit each year based on the rate of inflation. This is meant to ensure that you are able to pay for the same amount of goods and services each year, even as the cost of those things increase over time.

Some COLA riders have a maximum annual increase and/or a limited amount of time for which they are applied. For example, a policy might cap the annual increase at 3%, and it may only increase the benefit for a certain number of years before leveling off.

9. Future Purchase Option

Many long-term disability insurance policies guarantee you the right to increase your coverage in the future if your income increases, without any medical underwriting. This is a valuable benefit because it eliminates the risk that a decline in health could prevent you from getting more coverage when you need it.

10. Insurer’s Financial Rating

Finally, you should make sure that the insurer is in good financial condition. The last thing you want is to have the insurance company flake out on you when it’s time to collect.

You can look up an insurer’s rating through any of the following companies: A.M. Best, Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s.

The Pros and Cons of Group Disability Insurance

There are two ways you can get long-term disability insurance:

  1. Through your employer as an employee benefit (referred to as group disability insurance)
  2. On your own through an insurer of your choice

Both have their pros and cons. Here’s a breakdown.

The Pros of Group Coverage

1. Cost

Group disability insurance is often less expensive, and the premiums are typically tax-deductible. Many employers even offer a base level of long-term disability insurance coverage for free.

The lower premium can come with some negative trade-offs, as you’ll see below, but in the best cases it simply makes the insurance easier to afford.

2. No Medical Underwriting

Your ability to get group coverage is in no way affected by your current health. Eligibility is solely dependent on your employment status with the company.

This can be an especially big benefit if you have significant health issues that would make individual coverage either prohibitively expensive or impossible to get.

3. Simplicity

Group coverage is easy to get in place. All you have to do is sign up during open enrollment, choose the level of coverage you’d like, and you’re done.

The Cons of Group Coverage

1. Benefits Are Taxed

In most cases, your group disability insurance premiums are tax-deductible, and the benefits you receive are taxed. Which means that you won’t actually receive the full benefit.

So while group long-term disability insurance can be affordable on the front end, sometimes that comes at the cost of smaller benefits on the back end.

2. May Not Cover You Completely

In addition to the benefits being taxable, your employer may not offer enough coverage to meet your full need to begin with. You may need to get an additional policy if you want to be fully insured.

3. Lack of Control

Your group disability insurance policy is what it is, and you don’t have much, if any, say in the features it offers.

Sometimes this won’t matter, since the policy will have everything you want. But sometimes it will be lacking in certain areas, which could leave you with weaker coverage than you’d like.

4. Can’t Take It with You

You typically can’t take your group disability insurance coverage with you when you leave the company, and your employer could also choose to stop offering it at any time.

All of which means that you could find yourself without coverage somewhere down the line. And if your health status has declined or your next employer doesn’t offer group coverage, you may find it hard to get affordable disability insurance elsewhere.

The Pros and Cons of Individual Disability Insurance

The Pros of Individual Coverage

1. Portability

Individual long-term disability insurance policies are portable, meaning that they’re yours as long as you continue to pay the premiums, even if you change jobs. This is crucial to making sure that you always have coverage when you need it.

2. Definition of Disability

With an individual disability insurance policy, you have the opportunity to choose a broader definition of disability that increases your chances of receiving benefits. This can be particularly helpful if you work in a highly specialized field where having an own occupation definition would be beneficial.

3. Tax-Free Benefits

Individual disability insurance premiums are not tax-deductible, but the upside is that any benefits you receive are tax-free. This ensures that you get as much money as possible when you really need it.

4. Control over Other Features

You have a lot more control over all the policy features when you buy individual coverage. You can often pick and choose whether you want residual benefits, cost-of-living adjustments, and the like, allowing you to customize your coverage to your specific needs.

The Cons of Individual Coverage

1. Cost

Individual disability insurance is typically more expensive than group coverage, particularly if you have pre-existing medical conditions or you work in a high-risk occupation.

While it can vary greatly depending on the specifics of your circumstances, a reasonable rule of thumb is to expect $2-$2.50 in monthly benefits for every $1 in annual premium.

2. Complexity

Long-term disability insurance is a complicated product, and unfortunately, it’s hard to shop around and get a true apples-to-apples comparison of policies.

Your best bet is to look for a truly independent disability insurance agent who isn’t tied to any particular insurance company, and who can guide you through the process and help you understand the pros and cons of the various policies offered by different companies.

3. Medical Underwriting

Applying for individual long-term disability insurance includes a medical exam and a review of your medical history, after which the insurance company may ask more questions to get a better understanding of your current medical condition.

This can be time-consuming, can feel invasive, and in some cases can lead to a more expensive policy or even a denial of coverage altogether. It can also lead to an attractive offer if you’re in good health, but regardless, it’s a cumbersome process you have to go through.

A Quick Note on Social Security Disability Coverage

While Social Security does offer long-term disability coverage, it’s generally not a good idea to rely on it.

The main reason is that it has a strict definition of disability, requiring you to be unable to work in any job for at least one year. It only pays out under the most extreme of circumstances.

You also need to have worked long enough to qualify for any coverage at all, and even if you do qualify, it often won’t meet your full benefit need.

All of which is to say that if you truly want financial protection from disability, getting some combination of group and individual coverage is likely the way to go.

Are You Protected?

No one likes to think about the possibility of being sick or disabled, but protecting your income is a crucial part of building true financial security.

Disability insurance can be an effective way to get that protection. When it’s done right, it ensures that you’ll have money coming in no matter what, allowing you to continue providing for your family even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt here

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Risks and Rewards of Out-of-State Investment Properties

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Mortgage

They say real estate is all about “location, location, location.” That’s especially true when it comes to investing in rental properties. Where you choose to buy can have a significant impact on your return on investment.

For example, in a state like New York, where the median mortgage exceeds the median rent by nearly $250, buying a property to rent out doesn’t make much financial sense. If you consider buying rental property in a different state, such as North Carolina where rents in the city of Charlotte top mortgages by $84 per month, you’ll net a profit instead of a loss every month your tenant pays rent.

Before you start the interstate home search process, you should know the risks and rewards of out-of-state investment properties.

Potential rewards of buying an out-of-state investment property

Very often, the primary reason to buy an out-of-state rental property is investment properties where you live are too expensive. There are some other more strategic reasons that we’ll cover next.

Diversify your real estate assets

Real estate markets rise and fall. During the housing boom of 2003 to 2007, many of the “sand” states, such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada, experienced home price appreciation at rates well above historic levels.

Investors learned a painful lesson in the danger of not diversifying when the housing markets in those states crashed during the housing crisis. Investors who had investment real estate concentrated only in these states lost big, while those who spread their portfolios out to other states fared better.

Purchase future vacation or retirement residences

If prices and rents are competitive in a state you’ve always wanted to vacation in, you may want to purchase the property first as a rental and allow tenants to build some equity for you while you generate income. After a few years, you may decide you want to spend a few months a year vacationing in the home and rent it out seasonally with a rental plan from a service such as Airbnb or VRBO.

Alternatively, you may live in a cold-weather state, such as Massachusetts, and want to retire to the warm winters of Arizona. You could put the wheels in motion on your retirement plans by buying a rental property there first that has the amenities you would want in a home for retirement.

Once you’ve pocketed some rental income and equity from renters, you can pack up for the cross-country move into the rental, throw out the snow shovel and enjoy wearing shorts instead of parkas during the holiday season.

Buy where the laws suit your rental strategy

Short-term rentals have become very popular for real estate investors, but they face legal challenges in some places. For example, New York City subways are covered with signs warning riders to avoid short-term rentals.

If you are interested in renting out your property through a service like Airbnb, buying in a state that has more flexible laws about short-term tenants is your best bet.

Net more income monthly with lower property taxes

According to a recent LendingTree study, homeowners in San Jose, California, paid on average $9,626 in property taxes each year. In Salt Lake City, homeowners pay only $2,765 per year — which means you’d have to get an additional $567 per month in rent in California just to cover the property tax expense before you could make any profit.

Risks of buying an out-of-state investment property

Like any investment, there are risks associated with buying out-of-state rental properties. We’ll discuss those next.

Long-distance property management problems

If you have a rental in the city you live in, you can deal with an unexpected tenant move-out or a late-night plumbing problem by driving over to the property and taking care of the issue yourself. But you’ll need to make some decisions about how to manage an out-of-state rental.

If you hire a property management company, they’ll take 8% to 12% of your monthly rent as a fee, eating into your monthly rent profit. If you self-manage, you’ll need to make sure you build relationships with local handymen, roofers, plumbers and pest control professionals so you have their numbers handy if a tenant emergency comes up.

State laws that restrict how you rent your property

Short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, may be a great way to generate a higher monthly income than you would get with a 12-month lease, but some cities and neighborhoods aren’t too keen on having a lot of different people coming and going through a nearby house. If the laws prohibit short-term rentals in an area you’re interested in, you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if market rents for long-term leases provide you with a good return on your rental investment.

What to look for when considering an out-of-state rental property

When you’re buying in another state, take extra precautions to make sure you understand everything about the local housing market, building standards and how the local economy is doing before you start making offers. The last thing you want to do is end up with an out-of-state money pit.

Get a thorough home inspection

No matter how nice the home may look in pictures or at an open house, there can always be problems beyond the smell of new paint and carpet. Building standards and practices may vary from state to state and city to city, and you don’t want to be caught by surprise because you didn’t know polybutylene pipes behind the walls of homes built in Tucson, Arizona, have been known to burst without warning.

A good local home inspector will also help you understand whether a property has been built and maintained according to local building standards and identify any issues, such as an unpermitted room addition, that could cause you trouble with local housing inspectors down the road.

Interview several property management companies

Depending on the town, you may find very high-tech, organized property management shops with decades of experience or small mom-and-pop shops that offer real estate property management services. Either way, you want to know what they do for their fee. The graphic below provides a list of questions you should ask to make sure the property manager is a good fit for your out-of-state rental.

  • How many rental units do you manage? Ideally, you want a manager who has between 200 and 600 rental units. This indicates that the management company has a solid enough client base to understand the local market but not so extensive that they won’t be able to handle managing yours.
  • What experience does your company owner have managing rentals? When the long-distance plumbing hits the fan you don’t want to be dealing with a company that’s never managed rentals. There is no college of rental property management, and you don’t want to have your rental managed by someone who’s still learning the ropes.
  • Are you actively investing in real estate in your market? If you are buying in a housing market you’ve never purchased in, you may want to have a property manager who understands the nuances of the local rental market. This is especially important intel when you’re dealing with an out-of-state investment property in a neighborhood that may be going through changes that only an experienced local investor would know about.
  • How do you collect rent? In order to track cash-flow of a rental property, you should be able to easily track payments. The best method is through an online payment system that gives you real-time information about any late payments. If you took out a mortgage to purchase the rental property, you want to know as early as possible if a tenant is going to miss rent, so you can move money to cover the mortgage payment.
  • What is your average vacancy time on rentals? The correct answer should be two to four weeks. An experienced property management company should have the marketing and rental pricing know-how to make sure your property is not vacant for more than a month. It’s bad enough having a rental vacant, but when it’s out-of-state, you want to know the company managing the property has a track record of getting renters quickly to minimize the expenses you incur when a rental is without a renter.On the other hand, a property manager that rents out your place in less than two weeks may be pricing it too low.
  • How do you handle maintenance and repairs? It’s not uncommon for a property manager to have “preferred” vendors to help with the inevitable issues that come up with maintaining and repairing a rental. You’ll want to get a list of these preferred providers and keep track of their expenses.Also be sure to put a cap on the cost of repairs that can be done without your authorization. You should trust the company to handle a $100 fee, but you may want to cap them on anything more than $200 so you can have a chance to see if you need a second opinion with a different vendor.

Track property tax trends in the neighborhood

Property taxes are a fixed expense you can’t get around paying, so be sure to track the last five years of property taxes to see what the average increase has been. If you’re seeing an acceleration in the tax rate, figure that into your return-on-investment analysis, so you don’t end up in a situation where your monthly expenses are more than the rent you’re taking in.

Make sure you understand the rental market in the area

Rental markets ebb and flow as new homes are built, new employers set up shop nearby or new schools are built in the area. A good property manager or experienced real estate agent should be able to give you a good idea of where the market is headed with a comparable rental analysis.

When you bought your first home, you may have gotten a comparable market analysis (CMA), which analyzes what homes are selling for in the area you’re thinking of buying. A comparable rental analysis looks at rentals nearby to give you an idea of what your monthly income is going to be.

If you finance the property with a mortgage, you’ll likely need a rental analysis form 1007, which is an additional report in a residential home appraisal that provides an opinion of the market rent for the home you’re buying. In some cases, the appraiser’s projected market rent can be used to help you qualify for the new mortgage, even if you don’t have a lease on the property you’re buying.

Special mortgage considerations for out-of-state rental property

If you’ve been buying investment property in your hometown, you already know financing a rental property comes with higher down payments and interest rates. There are a few more factors to consider.

Are transfer taxes due and who pays them?

Depending on what state you are buying property, transfer taxes may be charged for you to take ownership of the property you are buying. Unlike property taxes, these are a set lump sum percentage of your sales price, added to your closing costs.

Transfer taxes are often paid by the seller, but in some cases they may be payable when buying a home, adding to your total closing costs. It’s also good to at least know how much they are so they don’t end up being one of those hidden costs of selling a home. In places like New York City, that could mean an extra 1% to 2.625% of your sales price subtracted from your profit, in addition to real estate fees that usually run between 5% and 6%.

Are you buying in an attorney or escrow state?

Depending on where you purchase your rental property, you may need an attorney to handle your contract negotiations. That means higher costs than you’ll find in an escrow state, where an escrow offer can handle the signing usually at a much lower cost.

Are you buying in a community property state?

If you’re currently married or have a domestic partner, the community property laws could affect what happens to the property in the event of a divorce. Community property states require a split of equity down the middle, whereas the equity can be split up in negotiable amounts in a non-community-property state.

Final considerations

A little due diligence and research will help you avoid unpleasant surprises if you’re considering buying an out-of-state investment property. While many real estate companies offer “virtual tours” of homes, there’s nothing like an in-person tour to soak up the light, views, smells and feel of a home before you buy it.

If you can, budget enough time to take a trip to the state you’re considering buying in to inspect the top contenders before you start making offers on an out-of-state investment property.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

Advertiser Disclosure

Life Events, Mortgage

The Hidden Costs of Selling A Home

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

iStock

When you decide to sell your home, you may dream of receiving an offer well above your asking price. But putting your home on the market requires you to open your wallet, which could cut into your potential profit.

While some line items probably won’t come as a surprise, you may find that there are a handful of hidden costs.

Below, we highlight those unexpected expenses and everything else you need to know about the cost of selling a house.

The hidden costs of selling a home

It’s easy to fixate on the money you expect to make as a home seller, but don’t forget the money you’ll need to cover the cost to sell your home.

A joint analysis by Thumbtack, a marketplace that connects consumers with local professional services, and real estate marketplace Zillow, found that homeowners spend nearly $21,000 on average for extra or hidden costs associated with a home sale.

Many of these expenses come before homeowners see any returns on their home sale. Money is spent in three main categories: location, home preparation and location.

Location

Your ZIP code can influence how much you pay to sell your home. Many extra costs are influenced by regional differences — like whether sellers are required to pay state or transfer taxes.

For example, if you’re in a major California metropolitan area like Los Angeles, you may pay more than double the national average in hidden costs when selling your home.

Below, we highlight 10 of the metros analyzed in the Thumbtack/Zillow study, their median home price and their average total hidden costs.

Metro Area

Median Home Price*

Average Total Hidden Costs of Selling

New York, NY

$438,900

$33,510

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

$652,700

$46,060

Chicago, IL

$224,800

$18,625

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

$243,000

$19,350

Philadelphia, PA

$232,800

$21,496

Houston, TX

$205,700

$17,477

Washington, D.C.

$405,900

$34,640

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL

$283,900

$24,241

Atlanta, GA

$217,800

$18,056

Boston, MA

$ 466,000

$35,580

Source: Thumbtack and Zillow analysis, April 2019.


*As of February 2019.

Generally, selling costs correlate with the home price, so expect to pay a little more if you live in an area with a higher-than-average cost of living or one that has a lot of land to groom for sale.

Home preparation

Thumbtack’s analysis shows home sellers may spend $6,570 on average to prepare for their home sale. These costs can include staging, repairs and cleaning.

Buyers are generally expected to pay their own inspection costs; however, if you’ve lived in the home for a number of years and want to avoid any surprises, you might also consider paying for a home inspection before listing the property for sale. Inspection fees typically range from $300 to $500.

Staging is often another unavoidable expense for sellers and can cost about $1,000 on average, according to HomeAdvisor. Staging, which involves giving your home’s interior design a face-lift and removing clutter and personal items from the home, is often encouraged because it can help make the property more appealing to interested buyers.

It also helps to have great photos and vivid descriptions of the property online to help maximize exposure of the property to potential buyers. If your agent is handling the staging and online listing, keep an eye on the “wow” factors they include. Yes, a virtual tour of your house looks really cool, but it might place extra pressure on your budget.

You could potentially save hundreds on home preparation costs if you take the do-it-yourself route (DYI), but expect a bill if you outsource.

Closing costs

Closing costs are the single largest added expense of the home selling process, coming in at a median cost of $14,,281, according to Thumbtack. Closing costs include real estate agent commissions and local transfer taxes. There may be other closing costs, such as title insurance and attorney fees.

Real estate agent commissions range from 5-6% of the home price, according to Redfin. That amount is further broken down by 2.5-3% being paid to the seller’s agent and the other 2.5-3% being paid to the buyer’s agent.

The taxes you’ll pay to transfer ownership of your home to the buyer vary by state.

Other closing costs include title search and title insurance to verify that you currently own the home free and clear and there are no claims against it that can derail the sale. The cost of title insurance varies by loan amount, location and title company, but can go as high as $2,000.

If you live in a state that requires an attorney to be present at the mortgage closing, the fee for their services can range from $100 to $1,500.

There are also escrow fees to factor in if you’re in a state that doesn’t require an attorney. The cost varies and is usually split the homebuyer and seller.

If you have time to invest, you could try listing the home for sale by owner to eliminate commission fees. One caveat: Selling your home on your own is a more complicated approach to home selling and can be more difficult for those with little or no experience.

Other home selling costs to consider

Now that you have an understanding of the costs that may get overlooked, remember to budget for the below expenses as you prepare to sell your home.

Utilities

It’s important that you make room in your budget to keep the utilities — electricity and water — on until the property is sold. (This is in addition to budgeting for utilities in your new home.) Keeping these services active can help you sell your home since potential buyers won’t bother fumbling through a cold, dark property to look around. It may also prevent your home from facing other issues like mold during the humid summertime or trespassers.

Be sure to have all of your utilities running on the buyer’s final walk-through of the home, then turn everything off on closing day and pay any remaining account balances.

Homeowners insurance

Budget to pay for homeowners insurance on the home you’re selling as well as your new home. You’ll still need to ensure coverage of your old property until the sale is finalized. Check the terms first, as your homeowners insurance policy might not apply to a vacant home. If that’s the case, you can ask to pay for a rider — an add-on to your insurance policy — for the vacancy period.

Capital gains tax

If you could make more than $250,000 on the home’s sale (or $500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly), take a look at the rules on capital gains tax. If your proceeds are less than the applicable amount after subtracting selling costs, you’ll avoid the tax. However, if you don’t qualify for any of the exceptions, the gains above those thresholds could be subject to a 15% capital gains tax, or higher. Consult your tax professional for more information.

How to save money when selling your home

Keep the following tips in mind when you decide to put your home on the market:

  • Shop around and negotiate. Don’t settle on the first companies and professionals you come across. Comparison shop for your real estate agent, home inspector, closing attorney, photographer, etc. It could also work in your favor to try negotiating on the fees they charge to save even more.
  • Choose your selling time carefully. The best time to sell your home is during the spring and summer months. If you wait until the colder months to sell, there may not be as much competition for your home.
  • DIY as much as possible. Anything you can do on your own to spruce up your home — landscaping, painting, minor repairs, staging — can help you cut back on the money you’ll need to spend to get your home sold.

The bottom line

There are several upfront costs to consider when selling your home, but planning ahead can help you possibly reduce some of those costs and not feel as financially strained.

List each cost you’re expecting to pay and calculate how they might affect the profit you’d make on the home sale and your household’s overall financial picture. If you’re unsure of your costs, try using a sale proceeds calculator to get a ballpark estimate of your potential selling costs. Be sure to also consult a real estate agent.

If you’re starting from scratch on your next home, here’s what you need to know about the cost to build a house.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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