What are the advantages and disadvantages of real estate investments overseas? —DANIEL L., New York City
Direct investment in foreign property, be it a mall or a second home, is a risky proposition. Sure, you could nab greater gains than in the U.S., should you be smart, knowledgeable, and lucky. But noncitizens can face extra expenses and red tape, and back in the U.S., you're subject to complex investment rules, warns Rapid City, S.D., real estate broker and financial planner Rick Kahler. A safer bet is a fund with global real estate holdings. Try SPDR DJ International Real Estate (RWX), a MONEY 70 ETF; it returned 39% in 2012, compared with 18% for U.S. REITs, though five-year results lagged. Keep foreign holdings at half or less of your real estate allocation, which itself should be at most 8% of your portfolio, says Miami planner Jorge Padilla.
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Can I take money tax-free from my 401(k) for a down payment on a home? — Dev Ananth, Plano, Texas
You may be able to pull money out, but you can't avoid taxes. And that's not the only downside.
Most plans let you borrow half of your savings, or $50,000 (whichever is less); you'll repay that with after-tax dollars — not the untaxed dollars you contributed originally. Leave your job without repaying and MOREApr 13, 2013 6:30 AM ET
For $7,000, I can get a backup generator installed. Will it help my home's resale value? — Paul Ballas, Blue Bell, Pa.
It depends where you live, says Carolyn Cedar, a broker at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Brooklyn. A permanent generator at that price — typically running on propane or natural gas and able to power a large house — may be seen as a plus in an area prone to MOREMar 18, 2013 5:30 AM ET
I own a home in Connecticut. I'm currently paying taxes on rooms that I don't use or need. For instance, I finished a bonus room over my garage and fifth bedroom in my attic with heat and sheetrock. Can I "unconvert" these unnecessary rooms to lower my property taxes? – Debra L.
Yes, you can — but it may not make sense to do so. As Newton Buckner, partner at Hartford, MOREDec 28, 2012 6:30 AM ET
I want to pay cash to buy my sister a $110,000 house where she can live in retirement. Should I title it in her name, my name, or both her name and mine? What are gift tax or other tax consequences? We are both in Ohio. — Frank M.
Ultimately the decision of whether or not you give a house to your sister is a personal one. But Gerald Townsend, a MOREDec 27, 2012 6:30 AM ET
We currently have 10 years and eight months left on a 15-year mortgage at an interest rate of 5.125%, with a balance of $210,362. Is it smart to refinance now with a 10-year note at approximately 3% and cut eight months off the mortgage? —Angela P.
In a word, yes. But remember that you'll likely have to fork over several thousand dollars in closing costs to get that new mortgage, says MORENov 30, 2012 6:30 AM ET
In 2006 I invested $100,000 in a self-directed IRA with three other people. Money was invested in land which could be developed into building sites. We anticipated appreciation but in 2008 the land value dropped and we haven't been able to find a buyer. The custodian is charging $460 a year. Is that fee reasonable? Any recourse or recommendations? – Doug H.
According to Tom Fisher, founder of Boston-based Fisher Financial MORENov 28, 2012 6:30 AM ET
Our daughter is building a new home with an in-law suite for us. I am 72 and my wife is 68. We plan to sell our present home and contribute $300,000 of the proceeds to live in this in-law suite. Is there a tax liability for our daughter or us? Also, since we plan to live out our lives in this arrangement, would this contribution be an estate asset for MORENov 19, 2012 6:30 AM ET
I have a 30-year fixed mortgage with an interest rate of 4.275% and a balance of $144,000. I need to increase my monthly income. Should I consider refinancing to an adjustable rate mortgage? –Butch E.
If you're planning to sell your house within a few years, refinancing to an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) can offer a clever way to lower your monthly payments, says Matthew Delamater, a mortgage loan officer at MORENov 15, 2012 6:30 AM ET
I am trying to find a program that will help me refinance my home loan. I owe more than the house is worth. I have never been late on a payment and my credit score is really good. My current rate is 8% and no one will seem to refinance it for me. Is there any hope? — Jeff D.
Step one is to figure out what type of loan you MORENov 9, 2012 6:30 AM ET
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