Filing Taxes

We filed our taxes. It just takes so long, but it’s easy. This year I recorded what I did and how long it took, so I wanted to share.

I’ve shared that I record transactions all year long. Inevitably, a few things slip through a crack. So I go through everything I have on file to make sure I can support a charge I’ve recorded (e.g., receipt) and that I haven’t missed entering something in my spreadsheet (e.g., I have a receipt for work, but didn’t put it in my spreadsheet).

DC TAXES

Mr. ODA works for a DC office, but lives in KY. The paperwork information got crossed, and he ended up paying taxes to DC for a little while. Apparently DC is used to this mistake. There’s a form he filled out, attached a copy of his W2, and mailed it to DC. He received a full refund within a couple of weeks! I couldn’t believe the timing of it and how it easy it was!

STEP 1

My first step was to load all my mortgage documents for the houses that we still have mortgages on. I need to know the mortgage interest for the year and what they paid out in taxes from escrow. For some reason, it never tells me the insurance payments made on the tax document, so I need to go through my email or look at the line-by-line escrow to see when and how much was paid for insurance. I estimate the mortgage interest each year, but I don’t have the final amount until January.

STEP 2

Then I go through my email files. I try to get most of my receipts via email (e.g., Home Depot and Lowes are good about tying your credit card to your email address so I keep everything filed electronically). This took me just over 3 hours. I went through each email receipt to see if I had it recorded properly. I found 2 or 3 transactions that I had receipts for, but they weren’t recorded in my spreadsheet. I also found out that I didn’t record any of my final December transactions (i.e., stormwater utility bills and property management).

STEP 3

After I go through everything I can electronically, I move on to my paper files. We have a lot of our insurance through State Farm, and they don’t email me receipts for payment, nor can I look up previous payments made on their website. So I keep a paper copy of all the insurance documents for each house. We had a huge debacle with two of our KY houses and insurance last Fall, so I had to make sure I had all of that recorded accurately. I used to rely on the paper stormwater utility bills that I pay directly, but this year I just went into our checking account and verified the amounts that I paid against what I recorded. Since most of my transactions are kept electronically (especially with having property managers, so they’re sending me the bills they receive electronically), the paper checking was only about an hour this year. It used to be longer, but I’ve streamlined my electronic filing so mostly everything is in there.

STEP 4

After just over four hours of “prep” work, we move on to the tax software.

Mr. ODA entered our W2 information, we both pulled up all our investment account statements, and then we got into the investment properties. It’s tedious, and each year we have to remember how we matched our terminology to the system’s terminology (why can’t I keep better notes on this?!). We got into a groove and knocked out half the properties in about 80 minutes before taking a break. We focused on the 3 properties that we received one 1099-MISC for first, which involved going back and forth on some screens. Then we knocked out some of the easier houses. The next night, we finished off the rest of the houses in about an hour.

We usually call it complete at that time, but we don’t submit right away. We take a few days to see if we think of something we may have missed (whether investment property or personal finance), and then we submit. We usually owe Federal and State tax every year, so we’re never in a rush to get this done and pay. Somehow, we get a refund for Federal this year, but we still owe the State.

SUMMARY

About 6.5 hours of tax work, after being pretty on top of it all year. People ask us why we don’t use someone to do it instead of putting all that time in. It’s not that easy. If we had to send our information to an accountant, we still would have to gather all our receipts and send them over. I think it’s easier to look at my receipt and record it, rather than gather all my emails and send them to an accountant (not to mention Gmail is not a great mail system in this regard because you can’t easily add emails to new emails). Then we have to field all their questions regarding the documentation that I send, which will inevitably be frustrating to me. It’s all around cheaper and easier to do it this way.

Purchasing our Used Vehicle

Buying a new car is exciting! It’s shiny and clean, and it’s all yours. Well, after a couple of vehicle purchases, Mr. ODA and I learned a few things. And in the end, we’ve decided that buying a “pre-owned” (used…) vehicle is a more practical decision. So while I understand that this approach isn’t for everyone, maybe I can break this down in a way to get you on board.

Whether you’re buying the vehicle new, buying it used, or leasing it, you’re going to have basically the same costs of ownership after the initial purchase. You’ll need to pay for the registration, insurance, and taxes on any of these options. In all cases, you’re going to have to purchase fuel to make the car work. Unless you’re purposefully looking for a new vehicle after a short amount of time and ignoring maintenance, there will be maintenance costs (e.g., oil change, new tires, other fluids). However, the cost of those maintenance activities will depend on the vehicle.

In some states, you also have a personal property tax that may be an up-front tax on the vehicle, or could be an annual tax based on the vehicle’s value. Examples – In Georgia, there’s a one-time Title Ad Valorem Tax that is 6.6% of the fair market value of the vehicle at the time of purchase. In Virginia, there’s an annual personal property tax. Make note of this – the tax is directly related to the value of your vehicle. The more expensive and new the vehicle, the more you’re going to pay to Virginia in taxes – every year. At least each year that passes, the value of the car decreases, and therefore your tax owed decreases.

DEPRECIATION

I’ve brushed on depreciation with the mention of a car’s value; that was the biggest determining factor for our move towards purchasing pre-owned vehicles. Depreciation is the loss of value over time. A very literal definition from dictionary.com says, “a reduction in the value of an asset with the passage of time, due in particular to wear and tear.”

While the value of a car decreases each year, it’s not a linear amount of value that’s lost each year. According to Edmunds, a car loses about 20% of its value in the first year. That means that if you spent $30,000 on the car, you probably can only sell if for about $24,000 after one year. Depreciation slows down after that first year, but the value continues to decline.

Source: Edmunds.com Depreciation Infographic

No matter the vehicle, you lose the most value as soon as you drive it off the lot. This is where purchasing a pre-owned vehicle is beneficial; someone else endured that largest loss of value.

You can look into Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicles, versus just a used vehicle, to give you peace of mind. According to cars.com, a car can only be labeled as CPO after a dealer has certified to the manufacturer that the car passed a multipoint inspection, which can encompass 150 or more items, and repairs have been completed as needed. A CPO vehicle comes with a free car history report, which will show you all the maintenance activities performed, as well as any accidents. A CPO vehicle may even come with a warranty and be in better condition than a non-CPO car. They are supposed to have been reconditioned to like-new condition, and they come with additional benefits that may not be provided on other used cars. But, CPO cars will cost you a bit more on average than a “regular” used car due to this due-diligence and other benefits.

RISKS OF PURCHASING A USED VEHICLE OVER A NEW

When buying a used vehicle, you have to weigh the cost against what you’re receiving (as you would with any purchase, really). Even when buying a new car, there’s no guarantee that it will work perfectly, but you’ll be covered by warranties and (hopefully) a reputable dealership. With a used car, you are taking on a risk that there are issues caused by the previous owner, including not knowing how the car was maintained. Was it owned by someone who followed the user manual, maintaining the right fluids and putting the right gasoline in it? What was their driving style – was it hard starts, stops, and turns with aggression, or was it a gentle, defensive driver that owned it? Was it owned by someone who knew they were getting rid of it in 1-3 years, so no maintenance was necessary in their mind and it wasn’t driven with care?

The question you ask yourself is whether you’re willing to take on this risk of how the car was treated for the cost you’re paying, and what that initial loss of value really means to you.

LUXURY VEHICLES

CPO vehicles began with luxury vehicle lines, but they’re more widely available now. If a luxury vehicle is something you’re interested in, there are some things to keep in mind. Not only does a luxury vehicle cost more up front, the maintenance, and possibly the fuel, will cost more as well. These are recurring costs that you should be considering when taking on the responsibility of a new vehicle.

An Audi was my dream car. I could not wait for it to be my time to make that purchase. Then I started hearing stories about how my friends’ Audis were in the shop. Not only were they costing them for having to be in the shop more than my car, but the maintenance itself was more expensive! I was used to paying $19.99 for an oil change on my Honda Civic in Albany, NY. The thought of paying $75 or more for an oil change because it’s an Audi was gut wrenching to me. Then there’s tires. I paid about $400 to put four new tires on my Chevy Equinox. Tires on an Audi? Double. I didn’t look into the cost of insurance, but usually it ends up being more to insure these sportier vehicles.

I had to truly take the time to consider how much I wanted this vehicle – was it something I needed and would accept the increased ownership costs, or was I ready to let go of this dream?

KEYS TO THE PURCHASING PROCESS

Don’t talk to the salesman in terms of monthly payment. I had quite the experience holding strong to my “what is the total cost of the vehicle” question and not talking about the cost in terms of monthly payment. I don’t want anything buried in my monthly payment. I repeated “don’t worry about what I want to pay month to month or how much I can afford in terms of a monthly payment.” I wanted to buy the car for $17,000. He wouldn’t say yes or no. He kept offering us a different monthly payment, and then we’d sit there, do the math, and say, “nope, that comes to $17,500.” You’d think after the first, or second, time we did this, he’d catch on that we’re not playing his antics and would be verifying the principal of the loan. We were there for hours. Hours. I got it though.

Know what price you want for any trade-in vehicles. When you trade in a vehicle to the dealership, you’re eliminating the hassle of selling it yourself (e.g., how do you market your car, how do you let someone test drive your car, how do you negotiate to get what you want?), but you’re probably not getting top dollar for it either. We’ve traded in two vehicles. The first was straight forward. The second had a fair market value of maybe $6,500 in fair/good condition (e.g., broken antennae, scuffs in the trunk from our travels and house work, a broken door arm rest from where the dog would stand on it to look out the window). Even though the car’s cosmetic issues were factored into the fair market value cost, it’s hard to say we would have been able to get $6,500 selling it personally. When the dealership offered me $5,000, I accepted it. The vehicle looked good, but it was those small details that would add up to any private buyer with a fine tooth comb, and I didn’t think I had a leg to stand on to negotiate over a few hundred dollars with the dealership.

OUR RECENT USED CAR PURCHASE EXPERIENCE

We found our used vehicle through cars.com. There are several online search tools you can use, as well as just showing up to a dealership. My search parameters were fluid: I’m willing to pay for the right value, versus “I have $20,000 to spend, what can I get?” I wanted a van, probably a Pacifica, with relatively low miles (I’m talking about averaging less than 12,000 miles per year), and somewhere around $20k. The Pacifica is set up where the base model has all the features I’d want, so I didn’t have to do a lot more manipulating of features (Chrysler has a lower tiered minivan with less features, versus 6 or more levels within the ‘Pacifica’ itself). The biggest deal breaker for me was leather seats – in that we did not want leather seats. I’d trade off the slightly more effort in cleaning the seats for not feeling extra cold or extra hot when we get in the car (and I have car seat mats under my kids’ car seats that protect the fabric anyway).

The dealership that had the van that best hit our search parameters was just over an hour away. We weren’t able to get there until near closing time, so I rushed through the review of the vehicle. In the future, I plan to do the following better:

  • Check all doors open and close correctly, without rattle, several times. Drive the car somewhere else, and open and close all the doors again.
  • If you have removable and/or movable seats, move them. Spend the time figuring it out. I couldn’t figure it out, so I just gave up and said “it’ll be fine.” They’re not fine. I didn’t know it because I didn’t know how it was supposed to work, but after using it a few times, I figured out that one works right, and the other gets the job done, but isn’t ‘right.’
  • Look for dirt. Don’t assume that a dealer’s deep clean is deep by any means. The car was dirty, but I put faith in their final ‘detailing’ process. They didn’t even wipe the dirt off the driver’s side arm rest or the back wall of the trunk. But they cleaned an obvious orange stain on the carpet.
  • Drive it on the highway. I get nervous about taking the car too far from its ‘home’ before it’s mine. Do it. See how the car operates at highway speed for more than a mile. Two kids at the dealership, COVID precautions, and it being near closing time meant I rushed myself. There’s a rattle that I should have noticed, but I didn’t drive the van more than a few miles up the road.
  • I negotiated a buff out of scrapes (maybe as far as gouges) on one of the panels of the van. They said they would ‘attempt’ it, but they weren’t making any promises because the paint was gone. But they did it! The panel looked brand new, and I’m so glad I got something right!

The average cost of a 2017 Pacifica was around $21,000 on these websites (the sites themselves give you a lot of data to see this type of information). The one we went to see was listed just below $18k, so I knew it wasn’t going to be in mint condition. The question is always: what is your tolerance and is the as-is product worth that value to you? It was to me.

We were about to trek all over for two months with a lot of our stuff (like an entire crib and mattress), two kids, and a dog. I wanted the van. During my test drive of the van, I noted quite a few scratches (possibly in the realm of gouges) on one of the door panels. I really didn’t know what I could or couldn’t ask for, so I countered their offer with $17,000, buffing the door panel, and detailing the vehicle. They accepted! I was happy with the imperfections against the price and was now the proud owner of a 3 year old van.

I’m 7 months in to owning the van, and I love it. I got its first oil change a couple of months ago, and the mechanic said the car is in excellent condition and then was surprised when I said I bought it used. We have put the van to the test with all our travel and house work. I hauled 12 sheets of drywall, a bath tub, a toilet, and a vanity with its counter.

STORIES WE’VE HEARD

“I’m looking for a new car because I just made my last payment on this car.” What? You WANT to always have a car payment? Is your car broken or not functioning well? Is it worth purchasing another brand new vehicle, paying the loan for 5 years, and then repeating the cycle? In my opinion, it is not. Try relishing in your newfound $300, $500, $700 each month that you don’t have to pay towards a car. Enjoy the car that you know you can rely on. You’re still paying all the maintenance costs on a vehicle, so you’re not really saving anything, unless you’ve planned it so that you drive so little that your tires last you those 5 years. Another variation: “We get a new car every three years, but it’s ok because we pay it off early so we own it outright.”

“I’m going to lease so I can get a new car every 3 years.” Why do you need a new car every three years? The dealer is loving the fact that they can count on you to rent the car from them for the car’s three most expensive years of ownership, only to give it back to them and do it all over again, and again. Is your goal to keep up with the Joneses or to make solid financial decisions?

LONG TERM COST OF OWNERSHIP

Manufacturers have reputations, based on years of empirical evidence, dictating how long their vehicles usually last and how well they hold their value in the resale market (e.g., Toyota is known for retaining value well). If you can avoid the early stages of a car’s life by buying something a few years old, keep it for many years, maintain it well, and choose a brand that has a strong track record for resale and “car life,” then you can hit the trifecta of a smart purchase.

Mr. ODA is still driving his first adult car. A Nissan. While it was bought new, he has kept it for 11 years thus far and it still runs strong. Each year he owns it, the original purchase price compared to the depreciation to date lowers the average annual cost of his ownership. Since 11 year old cars are depreciating at a very slow rate, if he keeps it maintained, he can save a lot of money compared to the other option of ‘upgrading’ to a newer car that would inherently cost him more money to own each year. Had he bought it 3 years later, it’s possible he could’ve purchased for half the price and still would have owned it for 8+ years while cutting 5 digits off the total cost of ownership. In hindsight, and with our view looking forward, that 3 years of owning it “new” isn’t worth $10,000+.

SUMMARY

The main point here is to be aware of the immediate depreciation of a brand new vehicle’s value. Allowing someone else to take that large value decrease by driving it off the lot can save you money, while still getting a fairly new vehicle. Through Certified Pre-Owned programs, you may even still be covered under vehicle warranties as if you purchased a new vehicle. Or, you can pay still a little less, accept a bit more risk, and get a used car that hasn’t gone through the CPO process. When making the decision on whether to lease, buy new, or buy CPO/used, be sure you’re well informed and weigh all the factors against how this purchase will affect your money, both in terms of cash flow and net worth.

House 5: Bought and Sold

This was a mess. I learned my lesson to research each property individually and not to make any assumptions. I also learned my lesson to hold true to our standards and expectations for a renter. We owned this house for a year and a half, but we learned a lot about tenants and the selling process. Hey, every struggle is a learning opportunity for next time, right!?


Mr. ODA showed me House 6 first (5 and 6 closed at the same time, and on my numbering list, this one came second… so try to overlook this awkward numbering!). I researched the area and the house’s history in detail, and I decided that it was worth pursuing. Very shortly after that, he approached me about House 5. The house was in better condition than House 6 and was literally only half a mile away. I assumed it was in the same neighborhood. I was wrong, and that’s where things went downhill fast.

LOAN

This house was so cheap that we needed an exception approved to get a loan. The purchase price was $60,000, which means a loan with 20% down is $48,000. The cutoff for even approving a loan with our regular lender is typically $50,000. Since we were below that threshold, we were ‘penalized’ by the rate.

I covered the closing snafu in the House 6 post, which also highlights the decision-making on the loan terms. Since this house was below that $50k threshold, our options were: 5.125% with a $200 credit or 5% with no credit. The higher interest rate would cost us an additional $1300 in interest, which isn’t offset by the $200 credit, so we chose the 5% rate. Hindsight: If we had known we would sell it just 18 months later, the credit would’ve been the better choice!

We purchased the house in July 2017. We immediately started aggressively paying towards the mortgage since it was the lowest balance and the highest interest rate.

We rented the house for $775, which far exceeded the 1% Rule.

WORK ON THE HOUSE

We did a lot of work in the yard. Here’s what the house looked like at some point before we owned it. It’s cute!

While it was under contract, the house sat vacant, so there were a lot of overgrown bushes, flowerbeds were filled with debris and no remnants of flowers having lived there, the lawn hadn’t been cut in a long time, and the tree in the front left had been removed at some point, leaving behind a mound of a stump and mulch that also collected debris. It’s a shame, and I kind of wish we had brought this little 2 bed/1 bath house back to life like it was in this picture. But I digress. Although this picture shows that the previous owner took care of the property, and that’s what attracted us to the purchase.

The floors were in immaculate shape, and the kitchen was quaint, but in decent shape. We purchased a new refrigerator before we could list for a tenant.

The bathroom needed a lot of help, but we didn’t want to overhaul it. The medicine cabinet wasn’t working anymore and the glass was cracked, so we wanted to replace it with just a mirror that covered the old medicine cabinet hole. Interestingly, we found a stash of 100s of razors behind it! (Apparently this is a thing from times gone by. You finish your blade and then you shove it behind the medicine cabinet for it to reside in the wall for all eternity.) We had several plumbing issues in the house. The drain pipe for the tub had multiple kinks in it, which caused the water to drain slowly and be more easily clogged. This would have been a major overhaul to get new plumbing installed in a way that was more direct.

The electric in the house was in need of work. We fixed quite a few electric-related-things while we owned it, but re-wiring the house was a major expense that would’ve come due in a few years.

TENANT ACQUISITION

The house was in great condition, had a big lot, was in a located close to the downtown area, and was on several bus routes (I even had a bus driver stop and ask me what the rent was on the house while I was working out front). It seemed like a great investment. We had several showings to qualified individuals….. who then went home, researched the house, and saw that it was in the highest crime area on Trulia’s crime map.

After sitting on the market for 5 weeks, we lowered our standards. There’s a reason you have standards as a landlord – it’s because if you select the right tenant, you’re saving yourself time, money, and headaches in the future. Here’s the email from our property manager. There are multiple red flags, and yet we gave her a chance.

The prospective tenant provided us with an employment verification letter showing that she had just started a new job, her most recent pay stub corroborating the employment verification letter, and wrote a decent introduction in her application. Between it being 5 weeks with no tenant and it now being mid-August (with it harder to rent in the Fall), we overlooked her credit score of FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY EIGHT (448) and SEVEN (7) accounts sent to collections. I don’t recommend you do this. Oops.


EVICTION

This is the fun part to recount. It’s detailed, but I think it’s interesting.

RENT COLLECTION

She moved in August 2017. By December 2017, we already had enough issues that she wasn’t going to be trusted going forward. We’re very flexible landlords, and we’re happy to work with you on any issues as long as they’re communicated up front and timely (meaning, if we have to continuously reach out to you for rent, you’re not in a position to ask for favors).

We had allowed PayPal to be used to pay rent, but every month there was an issue. She either sent it in a way that incurred fees (after being told that she would be responsible for such fees) or it was sent in a manner that caused PayPal to hold the funds and not immediately release them. After December’s rent was late, the late fee wasn’t paid in full, and there were fees taken out by PayPal, we cut her off from electronic payments. Our property manager informed her that going forward, all rent had to be received by her office (either by mail or drop off) before the 5th.

Speaking of flexibilities – we noticed that she needed to send us rent based on each pay check, versus having all the rent money at the beginning of the month. She was paying us a late fee every month. Her rent was $775, and her late fee was $77.50. That meant every month, we were collecting $852.50, which really wasn’t necessary. We offered a change to her lease terms – rent was due on the 1st and 15th. As compensation on our part, rent would be increased to $800, split into two $400 payments. However, if rent was late, the late fee was now 10% of the late payment ($40) or up to $80 if she was late on both installments. She agreed to this, as it saved her money each month and set her up for success by being able to set up a system with each of her paychecks. We didn’t like that our relationship with the tenant had come to us hounding her over money, so we thought this was the best path forward for both sides of the party. Here’s the addendum to her lease.

And yet this didn’t change anything!! The addendum was signed at the end of January 2018. She paid February’s 1st $400 late. Then she didn’t pay February’s 2nd $400, and we had to reach out to her several times before even getting a response… after she also didn’t pay March’s 1st $400.

Our property manager filed unlawful detainer (eviction) with the court, and that got the tenant’s attention. She then had to pay the balance due, as well as the court filing fee, before March 30th (court appearance date) to dismiss the court action. She showed up to court with the cash to pay and then everyone just went home. You can’t evict someone who has paid in full, even if the process of collecting rent was unnecessarily burdensome.

And then came April. There was another story about a medical emergency and a new job on the books. We had agreed to a new one-time schedule for April’s rent payment, and she missed those deadlines and was incommunicado. We sent her another default notice on April 25. Note that this medical emergency was for her “husband.” This is the first that she had implicated herself that someone may be living in the house other than her and her son. She paid her balance owed on May 4th.

On May 8, she was given another eviction warning notice for lack of May rent (the 1st $400) and gave no response to requests for information on when to expect rent. After continued lack of payment after that notice, she was served with another eviction notice. On May 17, she was given 30-days notice to vacate the premises by June 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm. But then she paid in full and on time. We then changed her lease terms to state she was on a month-to-month basis and she would be granted 30 days notice when we (or she) decided to terminate the lease agreement. It was signed on July 16.

Guess what? She didn’t pay September’s rent. At this time, we also addressed her husband.

She was married when she applied, but we didn’t know. Just now as I was looking back through our files to write this post, I saw that her pay stub she used for employment verification said that she was filing her taxes as married. I hadn’t seen that before. In all our visits to the house, there were always other people there. There was one man that seemed to be around 90% of the time. We overlooked it, but our lease did stipulate that anyone who stayed for more than 2 weeks was required to pass a background check and be on the lease. I strongly suspect that this individual was not going to pass a background check, which is why it was never disclosed to us that she was married and another adult was living there. Our property manager informed her that only she and her son were on the lease, and that if anyone else was living there, they had to be on the lease. She asked if we were referring to her mother-in-law visiting, our property manager said that it appeared to be her husband was living there, and then she ignored us.

We gave her our 30 days notice on October 5 to vacate, meaning she had to be out by November 5. Our property manager reached out to her on October 26 to see if she would be out earlier and set a time for key pick up. The tenant nonchalantly stated she wouldn’t be able to make it out by the 5th and she’ll be out by the 9th. Umm, excuse me, ma’am, but that’s not how this works. We held strong to the 5th and she lost it. Our property manager said that her lease is over on the 5th, and if she was not gone by then, the court fees would be her responsibility for us to get the court and local police department involved for her removal. She got angry and claimed that we didn’t handle the rental well at all, that we couldn’t charge her any court fees, and that she should charge us for not being able to use her tub because it was clogged (guess what on this one? The plumber removed things like a dental floss pick from the drain, immediately making it her fault (and at her cost) for said clog). She then said: “Lets just hope your (sic) as speedy with my deposit as you all were with terminating the lease.” I laughed out loud on this one just now. We should have terminated her lease an entire year before this discussion happened, but we kept working with her! Hysterical! Gosh, and to think this wasn’t our worst eviction process (more to come :)).

SELLING

A friend-of-a-friend was attempting to purchase a house in the same neighborhood as this house, and they ran into multiple issues causing them to walk away from other deals. Mr. ODA approached him with an opportunity to sell this house, which had similar specs to the one that they were pursuing. The buyer spoke to his wife and father about the deal and agreed to move forward. Of course, this deal was not easy.

The contract was ratified on October 31, 2018. We didn’t close until January 8, 2019. Our typical close time on our purchases is 4 weeks. We’ve done faster, and we may have done a bit longer if the time of month lined up better for our finances, but over 2 months was horrendous. Since our tenant was moving out on 11/5, and the closing was expected to be no later than November 30th, we didn’t pursue finding a tenant.

The appraisal was late being ordered, which was somehow allowable. Then it came in at the beginning of December at $65,000; our contract was for $68,000. We split the difference ($1000 from the buyer, $1000 from the seller, $1000 from the agent who was dual representing).

On December 18, our Realtor finally pushed back on the buyer’s side of the transaction to get things done. But it was Christmas time now. With so many offices closing for the end of the year, we weren’t able to get a closing date until the first week of January. The buyers were signing paperwork from Pennsylvania, which caused more delays because of having to send the paperwork back and forth for everyone’s signatures.

We sold in January 2019 for $67,000, after having purchased it for $60k just 18 months earlier. While this seems like a great deal, it’s not an automatic $7k in our pockets. You need to account for our closing costs from the purchase and sale (about $6,500), loss of rent for two months while trying to close the sale and the 6 weeks of no tenant when we purchased it, utility costs associated with vacant times, and costs to fix things around the house during our ownership. However, during that time, we had a tenant paying our mortgage (covering the loan interest and paying down the principal), and we were collecting more rent than projected because of her continued late payments.

1031 EXCHANGE

We made the decision not to pursue a 1031 exchange on this house. A 1031 continues to defer the depreciation to the next property, and it allows capital gains to be deferred. Based on current tax law, it can be done infinite times. However, there are extra lawyers and fees that come into play, so it becomes worth it when you have big dollars at stake, and that you have another property to purchase quite quickly after selling the first one.

The appreciation on the house was minimal given that it had only been 18 months since purchase, we had two sets of closing costs to add to the cost basis, and we hadn’t earmarked a place for that money to go upon selling. Plus, the cost of an intermediary would continue to eat into the “profit” versus tax paid, so we just went ahead and planned to pay capital gains taxes on it. Unfortunately, since we had depreciated the structure and the fridge over the prior 18 months, that paper money had to be brought back into the fold when calculating our taxes the following April. That’s several thousands of hidden money that is easy to forget about.

Depreciation is a great tax break when you own the property. The IRS assumes the value of your asset is being reduced by wear and tear and father time. This is true. It’s why if a landlord neglects the property and isn’t active with maintenance, renovations, and other replacements, the property will turn into a trash-heap in time. However, when you sell the property, you show the IRS that it in fact did not do that. If someone is willing to buy my property for more than I bought it for, then it obviously didn’t depreciate to a lesser value. I have to pay the IRS back for the depreciation assumptions that I was allowed to make over the time I owned it, plus pay the tax on the actual profits. Bummer, but logical.


In summary, we bought a cheap house and got a poor tenant. We had a TON of headaches with that tenant. We had to do a few house/yard projects over the ownership life of the property, but nothing worrisome and not already built into our numbers. Somehow, we made it work that eventually the tenant always paid up and then some (late fees). We made mistakes, we learned lessons. We figured out a set of streets to avoid for future purchases, learned how to sell an investment, and learned how to file taxes on an investment property sale. The story is fun to look back on. I’m glad we experienced what we did. But I don’t want to do it again.

Doing Your Own Taxes: Set Yourself Up for Success

I manage all the financials for my family. Mr. ODA makes the maneuvers, and I record them. Excel is where our organization lives and dies. Sure, I have a degree in Finance and Information Technology Management (i.e., Excel), but it doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult to make tax prep easy for you.

This level of organization allows us to do our own taxes. After the first year of purchasing rental properties, we thought we’d have to hire someone to do our taxes because it would be complicated. It’s not any different than filing your own personal taxes. The software systems available online walk you through the entire process. Each property’s income and expenses have to be entered separately, which is time consuming if you have several properties, but it isn’t difficult.

The most important thing to be ready for your taxes is to make it a whole year activity. If you record income and expenses as they occur, it’s less of a hurdle when the year is over. By recording the activity all year, it then becomes a verification process when the year is over, thereby reducing the possibility of missing something or recording something wrong.

At the beginning of each year, I create a projection of income and expenses, which helps Mr. ODA adjust his W2 tax bracket throughout the year so that we break as close to even or owe very little when it comes to tax filing. Let me dive into that aside quickly.

Go back to Mr. ODA’s tax posts:
TAXES! Part 1 – What are Marginal Tax Brackets?
TAXES! Part 2 – Is Your Bonus at Work “Really” taxed more?

Taxes Part 2 is what I’m particularly referring to, but you may need the lesson in Part 1 to know what that means. There are IRS penalties if you fail to pay your proper estimated tax (when you don’t pay enough taxes due for the year with your quarterly estimated tax payments, or through withholding, when required). Title 26 of the United States Code covers the penalties. Essentially, the IRS is saying, “You have to estimate your annual taxes owed, and you’re not allowed to only pay us taxes on April 15th every year, but you have to pay the taxes over the course of the year.” People get excited to receive a refund from their taxes, but really that’s just an interest-free loan you’ve given the government. Perhaps some people do need that forced savings, but wouldn’t it be nicer to have that extra money in your pocket throughout the year?

Back to the point…

I create a new workbook every year with each house having its own spreadsheet. Schedule E is going to require you to put your income and expenses, per property, not as a whole, so it’s important to have expenses assigned to a particular house. I set up each spreadsheet in an Excel workbook to identify all known costs for the coming year. Not all of these apply, but these are typically the categories of my known costs for each year: property management, HOA, utilities (City of Richmond bills the owner (not tenant) for sewer fees), property taxes, insurance, annual mortgage interest, cost basis depreciation, and prepaid points depreciation. There’s also a chance that you’re carrying appliance depreciation costs (meaning, the purchase of a washer, dryer, refrigerator, etc. aren’t recorded as an actual expense in the year purchased, but are required to be depreciated over its useful life).

As the year goes on, I record any mileage (record the actual miles along with the mileage cost) and maintenance costs. The IRS posts the standard mileage rate for each year here. If a roundtrip to a rental property is 40 miles, then the expense is calculated as 40 miles multiplied by the standard mileage rate, which is $0.56 for 2021. I’ve learned over the years that the software systems just request your miles and do the calculation for you (which is smart and safer on the calculation side), but we want to know what the calculation is going to be, so I enter it as $22.40 in my spreadsheet.

You’ll be expected to input the days your property was vacant, so record that once it’s known.

Each spreadsheet is linked to a master sheet at the beginning of the workbook that shows the net income and expenses for each property. The difference of these amounts are what Mr. ODA uses to adjust his W4 deductions.

I personally assign costs month by month so I can keep track of them, but it doesn’t even need to be that fancy. A running list of these expenses are enough.

The categories are based on what’s going to be requested through Schedule E.

Then in January/February of the following year, I go through my filing cabinet and my email to ensure I’ve captured all of the expenses that I have receipts for, and vice versa to ensure that if I’ve recorded an expense, I have a receipt for it. Having already captured the expenses throughout the year serves as ‘checks and balances’ and doesn’t make the task feel too overwhelming.