7 Smart Year-End Tax Planning Moves

1) Harvest Capital Losses Capital gains property includes stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Currently, the stated rate on long term capital gains is 15%. If you have a net loss after netting all of your gains and losses, the tax deduction is limited to $3,000. Any excess capital losses can be carried into the future.

2) Give Away Appreciated Property

Appreciated property is property that is worth more that its tax basis. The tax basis is generally what you paid for an item. By giving away appreciated property, you avoid the capital gains tax on this asset if you had sold it and then given the cash.

3) Maximize Annual Gifts Taxpayers can make gifts of up to $13,000 per year to an unlimited number of people, without having to file gift tax returns or pay gift tax. Granted, you don’t get an income tax deduction for this. However, these assets will be out of their estate. The federal estate tax exclusion is $5 million and the state of Connecticut exclusion is $2 million. In the current economy, many children and grandchildren need all of the help they can get.

4) Self Employed Individuals Should Consider Establishing a Simplified Employee Pension (“SEP”) While many taxpayers are eligible for an IRA or a Roth IRA, self employed individuals also have the option of establishing a SEP. A SEP allows a taxpayer to contribute the lesser of 20% of net income or $49,000 in 2011. Although, you do have until the due date of the returns including extensions to fund the SEP, it’s good idea to plan now if you will be using this vehicle.

5) Connecticut Taxpayers Should Fund a Connecticut CHET 529 Account

Connecticut taxpayers should fund the Connecticut 529 Plan. This is called the Connecticut Higher Education Trust or “CHET.” Married couples filing a joint return are allowed to deduct up to $10,000 on their Connecticut income tax return.

6) Small Business Owners Should Accelerate Deductions and Defer Income

Many people own a small business; some even run their small business out of a home office. Most of these businesses are on the cash basis of accounting. Look at where you are profit-wise. By accelerating their expenses by paying them now and delaying billing, this will reduce taxable income.

7) Taxpayers Over Age 70 1/2 Should Consider Making Charitable Donations From Their IRA Taxpayers over the age of 70 1/2 can make charitable donations from their IRA. The distribution from the IRA is not included in their income. On the other hand, they do not get a tax deduction for this; they do however get these assets out of their estate. Additionally, this qualifies as part of their Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”).

ACTION ITEM: Here are 7 Smart Year End Tax Planning Moves. But you better hurry. The year will be over soon.

– See more at: http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/tax-tips/7-smart-year-end-tax-planning-moves/#sthash.uKZk5yz0.dpuf

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HOA Homefront: How can you tell if an association is well-run? 

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Common interest developments, or homeowner associations, house about one third of Californians, and most new housing stock is established in HOAs. Can buyers determine whether an association residence is a good investment, or if the HOA is healthy? Is it simply price and location? Well-run associations in poor locations might be more desirable than poorly run associations in great locations. Consider these factors:

Maintenance: Is the property well-maintained? Peeling paint, cracked stucco, dead landscaping, and worn hallway carpets are not good signs. Some associations pinch pennies, avoiding normal maintenance expenses in order to avoid increasing assessments – never a good idea.

Board meetings: HOA boards must meet at least quarterly, and most boards in all but the smallest associations meet at least monthly. Boards that meet little or not at all may be conducting business informally or even in secret. Boards meeting too often may be disorganized. Ask for a few months’ minutes. See what you can learn about the board’s operation. Board minutes must be made available to members and can be very informative.

Association financial stability – reserves: HOAs are required to provide detailed reserve funding disclosures, so read them! Normal residential appraisals do not address capital reserve funding or the lack thereof. Short-sighted HOAs avoid accumulating reserve fund savings (in order to avoid assessment increases), but that is actually a form of growing indebtedness. Some day that association will need to take out a loan or impose a special assessment because it is not ready for major repairs. Healthy HOAs plan ahead and follow the guidelines of a reserve study.

Management: Professional management is not a luxury, but boards trying to reduce costs often choose cut-rate management or even self-management. However, the toll on the directors from the lack of good management services is far greater than the cost savings. Look for HOAs with top quality, credentialed management. If the HOA has a “PCAM” credentialed manager, that indicates the manager has achieved the highest available credential.

Communication: Does the association keep its members informed? Such communication can take many forms, such as bulletin boards, newsletters or websites.

Insurance: Review the HOA’s summary of insurance, and the risks it has insured. Check for earthquake insurance, which is expensive, but after an earthquake, could mean the difference between HOA insolvency and rebuilding.

Financials: How many members are delinquent? Is there a budget? When was the last adjustment in assessments? The cost of operating HOAs increases as years pass. Well-run associations keep delinquencies low, and pass budgets with reasonable increases reflecting the rising cost of living.

Governing documents: Reviewing governing documents is a chore, since they are often collectively over 100 pages long. At least read the CC&R use restrictions and maintenance provisions and the rules. Do they seem burdensome or unduly strict? Are there any rules at all? Healthy associations have reasonable rules.

These are only indicators, and there are as many ways to evaluate CIDs as there are to evaluate neighbors. Do your best, knowing that no home, or HOA, is perfect.

Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Managing Partner of Richardson

Making a Commitment for a Better 2017

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It’s that time of year again. As we look at welcoming in 2017 in a few short days, there’s no better time to take stock of your properties and what you’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

While the process may seem daunting, there are ways to determine exactly what is terrific about your properties – and what you would like to improve, eliminate or change. Today, we’ll examine some of the common issues that property managers typically face, and in a future post, we’ll take a look at ways to address those issues, even on a limited budget.

  • Skyrocketing costs. While you struggle to maintain your property, the cost of everything continues to rise. It’s difficult to walk that fine line between keeping your rents affordable, while making sure that maintenance and other issues are promptly addressed. In order to address some of these issues, maybe it’s time to think a little outside the box.
  • Wasted resources. As areas in the U.S. and abroad struggle with drought, water conservation is more important than ever. Do you cringe each time you look at your property’s water bill? Do you know that you really need to start conserving water use but don’t know where to start?
  • Outdated appearance. First impressions are important. When a prospect visits your property for the first time, he or she will be making an immediate determination as to whether they would like to live there. While they may ultimately decide against signing a lease, be sure it’s not because your property is run down and in need of obvious repairs.
  • While a visually appealing appearance is necessary for the prospective tenant, your current tenants are just as important. That’s why security is such an important issue. If your property has any security issues, they must be addressed promptly.
  • Your property management office. This may be the most difficult topic to address. While it’s easy to spot security issues, rising utility costs, and maintenance issues, it’s not always easy to spot dysfunction in your own office. But like the other topics on this list, if your business office is failing, it must be addressed.

So sit back and take some mental inventory of your properties. Are any of these on your list, or have you created your own?

‘Tis the Season for Jolly Technology—Property Management Style

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Pardon my giddy take on an old holiday song, but as I listened to the words “Tis the Season to Be Jolly” my imagination ran wild with technological insights. Great technology can bring jolly good results.

In the spirit of not wanting to be frivolous or flippant, I could see through my “mind’s eye” how much technology has helped me this past year. Both hardware and software has saved time and made money. Let’s begin with hardware. Don’t just run out and spend gabs of money on the latest technology gadgets. Do take an inventory of your desktop, laptop, tablet and cell phone needs to see what’s new.

You don’t have to spend a small fortune either. If you narrow down your focus as well as the choices, sales and deals that are available right now, you can buy only what will help you at the best prices. Great technology saves time and offers brilliant ideas. It’s also about expediting and discovering better ways to make money and cut overhead. Knowing what you need is a science but not rocket science.

Next, let’s dispense with the hack-kneed excuses. Your flip phone or your 2007 desktop computer might still work, but have you really explored the advantages of a smart phone or recent computer advances? Then there’s the all-important topic of software technology. What good is a great computer or tablet if you don’t have the software and storage programs most relevant to the property management field?

An example is the Management Software Solutions available from a technology company like Appfolio.com which specializes in the needs of property managers. You owe it to yourself to learn more. AppFolio Property Manager is a cloud-based software program designed for property managers who want to automate, modernize, and grow their business. It’s a great example of “jolly technology”.

Whether you manage multifamily, single-family, student housing, an HOA, or commercial properties—or maybe you manage a mixed portfolio—their all-in-one, user-friendly program has features built specifically so you can streamline your workday and focus on your bottom line.

Yes, I’ve done my homework on this company, its products and services. I encourage you to do the same and see for yourself how their discounted pricing makes it affordable for property management operations of all sizes. Great technologies, like great tech companies, should have no surprises and hidden agendas. There shouldn’t be a complicated list of features that just happen to cost extra and capsize your budget.

What I’m suggesting is that you use this time of the year to find software solutions that provide virtually everything you need to run a successful property management business. Sounds too good to be true? You’re going to prove it is as good as it sounds when you take the time and do your due diligence. Even if you can’t afford an upgrade to the latest and greatest hardware and software, you’ll learn a lot.

Relevant, efficient, targeted, time-saving technology brings more ease to your professional and personal lives. That gives you more opportunity to enjoy life and reach your goals in the year ahead.

That’s why I refer to it as “jolly technology”. Be happier, smile more, and feel the ease and efficacy it will place at your fingertips whenever you need it.

A message from USGBC’s President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam

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Dear USGBC community,

Since the formation of our organization more than 22 years ago, it’s amazing to see the impact that LEED and our global USGBC community has made. LEED has grown into a powerful global system that spans 15.7 billion square feet of space, is in more than 160 countries and territories and accounts for nearly 82,000 commercial buildings and over 255,000 residential units.

We know the impact of a green building goes far beyond the four walls of the structure. Green buildings provide a sense of community, culture, home, innovation and inspiration. They represent the places where we live, work, learn and play. They promote human health, wellness and productivity.

As we look to 2017, the demand for green buildings will continue to grow, and USGBC is poised to meet this demand. We are heading into 2017 with the structure to broaden our impact and ready to do the work that needs to be done. Expanding our global presence will continue to bring our voices to critical markets. 2016 saw the introduction of LEED for cities, the full launch of LEED v4 and the debut of the Arc platform—all of these actions are part of our commitment to making the benefits of green building available for every building and everyone.

And one of our main goals in 2017 and beyond will be ensuring a sustainable future for all. It is important that we all recognize that if the current trend of resource consumption and environmental degradation continues, the people who are socially, economically, cultural politically or institutionally discriminated against will suffer the most. At USGBC, we are committed to reaching underserved communities.

Today, our vision of green buildings for everyone is more relevant now than ever before.

As many of you already know, what we do is not just a job, it is a commitment to make the world a better place. Your hard work influences and inspires the community around us to do better. As president and CEO, I pledge to celebrate and champion this spirit. I truly believe that our work is making an enormous impact on our future and our planet and we wouldn’t be able to do it without you.

As we close 2016, I look forward to continuing to build a healthier world. I wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons. And together, let’s continue to LEED On!

Warm regards,
Mahesh Ramanujam

 

 

Democrats Push for Pardon of Undocumented Immigrant ‘Dreamers’

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren is leading House Democrats in asking President Obama to pardon 740,000 young undocumented immigrants.
California Rep. Zoe Lofgren is leading House Democrats in asking President Obama to pardon 740,000 young undocumented immigrants. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Roberto Nunez was looking forward to landing a full time job after he graduates from UC Berkeley this semester. Now, he worries he’ll lose his ability to support himself financially, and face a greater risk of deportation after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

Nunez is one of more than 740,000 young undocumented immigrants who signed up for one of President Obama’s signature policies, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. Obama’s executive action granted work permits and a temporary shield from deportation to undocumented teenagers and young adults who were brought to the United States as children and have lived here continuously since 2007.

DACA recipients are often known as Dreamers, for the DREAM Act, a Senate bill (introduced repeatedly from 2001 to 2012, but never enacted) that would have offered them a path to permanent legal residency.

As a candidate, Trump promised to rescind DACA, and has nominated immigration hardliners to key posts in his cabinet, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

“We are no longer safe in this country,” said Nunez, 21, who grew up in Ventura. “For me, it’s the fear of what’s going to happen. It’s so uncertain.”

Trump has recently softened up his tone, promising in a Time magazine interview earlier this month, that his administration will “work something out” for Dreamers. But that’s not reassuring to California Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), who are leading dozens of House Democrats in urging Obama to grant all DACA recipients presidential pardons — for coming to the U.S. unlawfully.

While top administration officials have largely dismissed the idea, the members of Congress argue such a pardon is a “critical” action, consistent with the Constitution, that could open doors.

A pardon would not change the immigration status of DACA recipients, but it “could clear a path to a legal status that already exists under current law” for many of them, said a December 7 letter to Obama signed by the 64 lawmakers.

Lofgren has not received an official response from the White House.

“These kids trusted the president, they stepped forward after DACA was proclaimed. They provided their name, address, fingerprints,” said Lofgren. “And now they are terribly exposed to an incoming president who says he is going to reverse all the executive actions Obama engaged in.”

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Politico that a blanket pardon was simply not doable.

“The issue of pardoning someone is an individual decision that’s made in a case-by-case basis,” said Lynch. “There’s no legal framework or regulatory framework that allows the pardon of a group en masse.”

Other legal experts disagree with Lynch’s assessment.

President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform during a meeting with young immigrants, known as DREAMers, in the Oval Office in February, 2015.
President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform during a meeting with young immigrants, known as DREAMers, in the Oval Office in February, 2015. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Pardons have generally forgiven criminal offenses. This kind of pardon use  — for civil immigration violations — would be new but not unconstitutional, said Peter Markowitz, who teaches at the Cardozo School of Law in New York City.

“The Supreme Court has faced the question directly of whether the pardon power is limited to a criminal context and it has held that it is not so limited,” said Markowitz. “Any offense against the United States can be pardoned, not simply criminal offenses.”

Several former presidents have pardoned large groups of people at once, Markowitz added.

“Presidents like Washington, Madison, Lincoln and, most recently, Carter have issued broad categorical pardons sometimes that have impacted hundreds of thousands with the signing of one piece of paper,” he said.

On his first day in office, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned an estimated half a million men who dodged the draft for the Vietnam War. That was an “incredibly controversial” decision for Carter at the time, said Julian Zelizer,  a presidential historian at Princeton University.

Zelizer agrees with other scholars that the chances are pretty slim that Obama will use his pardon power in such a sweeping way for DACA recipients. But given the massive policy changes expected to take place under the incoming Trump administration, Zelizer does not discount completely the last ditch request by House Democrats to Obama.

“If there was ever a moment for Hail Marys, this is it,” said Zelizer. “I don’t think the odds are great, but I can imagine him doing it. This is a president very much desperate to protect his legacy

Fix a Glaring Issue in Your Building with Electrochromic Windows

Glass that dynamically adjusts tint can help boost productivity and energy efficiency

By Justin Feit –

The 71Above restaurant sits atop the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles with a 360-degree view of the city. To preserve the view and manage glare and solar heat gain, electrochromic windows were installed. PHOTO COURTESY OF SAGEGLASS

As great as it is to have natural light illuminate a building, daylighting can have its fair share of drawbacks, including two that are not always anticipated. If windows are clear, they can let in too much sunlight, jeopardizing comfort and energy efficiency.

According to the Department of Energy, sunlight can increase cooling loads by 20%. Glare can make it difficult to see computer screens and other monitors, causing occupants to pull blinds, which negates the benefits of having natural sunlight enter a building.

With the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) reporting that green buildings facilitate greater productivity and commercial benefit while also being more sustainable and efficient, products that fulfill both environmental and workplace comfort issues become more advantageous. Electrochromic windows – those that can adjust their tint electrically – might be an option to help, as they influence comfort and lighting, which are two of the most important environmental factors contributing to an employee’s well-being at work, according to WorldGBC.

Electrochromic windows have emerged as a solution for both lighting and comfort as they are dynamically adjustable, letting in varying levels of sunlight during the day. Their market is expected to grow from $2.34 billion in 2015 to $8.13 billion by 2022. But what are electrochromic windows, and are they right for use in your facility?

How They Work

“Electrochromic windows, as you might be able to tell by the name, require electricity that causes a chemical change to take place in a microscopically thin coating that causes the material to absorb the light, which we see as tinting,” says Lou Podbelski, Vice President of Architectural Solutions at SageGlass, an electrochromic glass manufacturer in Faribault, MN. “That stops glare and also prevents solar heat gain from entering the building. It’s actually rejected back out.”

In order to catalyze this change, the glass requires a small DC voltage. While this energy usage is minimal, the exact amount of energy required to change the window’s opacity varies depending on busbars, or the small strips that carry the charge and change the window.

The amount of power that is necessary is very small. Brandon Tinianov, Vice President of Business Development at View, an electrochromic glass manufacturer in Milpitas, CA, says, “We will inject a small voltage – about 2 volts – for the glass tint to change. Once the glass is in that tint state, there’s almost no voltage required. This is a very, very low consumption device.”

At the Lory Student Center at Colorado State University, the windows change tint settings three times a day, which, in the entire complex, is roughly as much energy consumed as a 100-watt lightbulb over the same period, according to Tinianov.

“If you have a wide piece of glass, it would be a little more time-consuming to switch than something half that size,” says Podbelski. “It’s a function of the size of that glass and its temperature.” He notes that the typical timeframe to change glass from its clearest state to the darkest state is roughly 15 minutes, but because they are conventionally set for automatic changes between these extremes, the transition is more gradual and takes less time to change from state to state.

Most manufacturers present four tint settings, but Tinianov explains that the technology does not prevent them from developing more – it’s just simpler and more effective to have four. These settings are based on light transmission through the glass. For example, SageGlass comes with tint states of 60%, 20%, 6% and 1%. When the window is clear it is at 60%, and the most darkly tinted setting is at 1%, creating a logical progression down to a setting of no glare.

Podbelski admits that 1% might seem to be incredibly dark, but that isn’t actually the case: “When you’re looking at the amount of light that is outside and what you need inside, it’s really nothing. You can have enough light inside with 30 to 50 footcandles, and there’s 10,000 footcandles on a bright sunny day. So you can see that 1% seems like it would be extremely dark, but in actuality it’s still letting in some light.”

Feasibility of Electrochromic Windows

New technology isn’t always feasible to install in your building. Prices vary in electrochromic windows, but they do provide energy savings. As the technology progresses, it will likely continue to become more affordable and more widely adopted.

Earlier this year, Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced legislation that would make electrochromic windows more affordable for prospective buyers. The Electrochromic Glass Act of 2016 would amend the tax code to “ensure that electrochromic glass qualifies as energy property for purposes of the energy credit.” The bill has yet to be passed, but if signed would mark an important sign of recognition from the federal government and may make purchasing them easier.

This brings up a couple of important questions. Are electrochromic windows a feasible solution for retrofits? Or are these only really practical in new construction projects?

“The use of dynamic glass in buildings is the same as replacing windows with standard glass in existing buildings,” says Tinianov. “It’s going to be at the same cost as replacement with low-e glass. One of the reasons that low-e glass isn’t installed into legacy, single-pane glass is because it saves an incremental amount of energy, but not a profound amount, and dynamic glass can reduce that energy consumption by significantly more.”

For these reasons, electrochromic glass is a major investment, but it will help you save on energy at a greater rate than any other glazing solution available. Moreover, the ease of installation, which is more or less the same as typical window installation, makes them a reasonably practical retrofit solution.

“The retrofit market is larger than new construction given the number of buildings that were produced back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and even before that – where the building was state of the art and no longer is,” Podbelski explains. “The building’s just not up to par in terms of energy efficiency or how it makes people inside the building feel.”

These retrofit applications are not limited to older buildings. Podbelski notes that a considerable number of newer buildings receive electrochromic windows because FMs find that there is a problem with the static glass installed during construction and want to remedy that quickly.

The expectations of the rapidly expanding market and the growing practices of electrochromic retrofits are lining up with greater emphasis on workplace comfortability and energy efficiency. It might be difficult to predict exactly how electrochromic technology might manifest, but it seems reasonable to believe that it will.

Justin Feit justin.feit@buildings.com is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.