Friday, February 24, 2012

Urban farming

I spent my summers on my grandparents farm in Marysville. This rural farm was the backdrop to a herd of Herefords, one ornery bull, the occasional pig, and chickens - lots and lots of chickens. My chore was to gather the eggs every morning. Being a suburbanite, entering a smelly coop and fighting off a brood of agitated hens in search of just laid eggs was not something I relished first thing in the morning. But my grandmother was a dear and I couldn't tell her I would rather muck the barn than face a bunch of pecking hens.

Sitting around the breakfast table, morning chores behind us, I couldn't help think how different these eggs tasted. I knew it wasn't her cooking - a product of the depression, grandma Black used too much salt and always overcooked her meals.

Around the corner from my home is a relatively new business Portage Bay Grange. This is a family run business with a mission to provide supplies, services and support for urban farmers. They accomplish this in their old fashion feed store in the heart of Seattle. It's a neat place to stop in, even if you're not ready to start farming.

But if you are thinking about it here are some great reasons that just might push you over the fence!

Farm Fresh Eggs - if you've never eaten fresh eggs you are in for a treat. Not only do they taste richer, creamier and just plain better, they are better for you. They have less cholesterol, less saturated fat, more Vitamin A, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and Beta-carotene. Not to mention the egg shells are just gorgeous!

Teach Responsibility with pets that stay outside - whether it's gathering the eggs or cleaning out the coop there is work to be done every day. Making sure they are fed, watered and locked in at night are all important jobs that must be done in order to keep the hens healthy and safe. Not to mention, these clucky animals stay outdoors keeping the interior of your home feather free.

Create a self-sustaining life - Although there are some initial costs for the chicks and the coop, once you are up and running, the only expense is the feed and straw. Plus, it's exciting to know that you will have food no matter what happens.

Backyard entertainment - these 'girls' are fun to watch, especially when the feed bucket shows up.

Enrich your garden - chickens are great for the garden, They love to eat the bugs and grubs in the dirt that aren't always so great for your plants and their droppings are loaded in nitrogen which is wonderful for your garden.

Earn a little money or give farm fresh gifts - At over $4 a dozen for organic eggs, a few dozen farm fresh eggs is quite the treat for any cook.

Reduce waste - keep a bucket in the kitchen for fruit and vegetable scraps, they'll eat it right up.

Teach science lessons - kids learn by what they experience. Keeping chickens is a great lesson in where our food comes from to reproduction.

No rooster needed - You don't need a rooster to keep backyard chickens. They lay eggs just fine without them. These eggs won't hatch into chickens but most are just fine with that. Plus you'll stay on better terms with your neighbors sans the morning wake up call of a rooster.

Now that you know the benefits of having backyard chickens you might want to see how best to house them....of course, being a real estate agent I couldn't post just any old coop. I searched the net and found coops to match any style home and most with more curb appeal than my own home! Check these out.

For City of Seattle ordinance information on urban farming, click here.

I hope to see you at Portage Bay Grange.

Until next time.

la chasse au bonheur

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Top Ten Homeowner Tax Breaks

At tax time, it pays to be a homeowner. Whether you're buying or selling a home, fixing one up, or using it as collateral, there's an associated tax break. In fact, there are so many federal tax incentives that homeowners often fail to take advantage of at least one or two - which can add thousands of dollars to your tax bill. What follows are 10 of the best.

1 Home loan 'points' deduction

If you purchase "discount points" as part of your home loan (fees paid to a lender in order to lower your mortgage interest rate), you may be eligible to deduct 100 percent of that cost from your taxes. The same is true for a home-improvement loan. However, to qualify, the loan must be for your main, full-time home, not a second home, a vacation place, or a rental property. Points purchased as part of a refinancing loan also qualify for this tax deduction, but those have to be deducted over the life of the loan, and not all at once.

For all the details, search for "Topic 504"on the IRS website (

2 First-time homebuyer/long-time resident credit

You may be eligible for a first-time homebuyer credit if you purchased a home as your primary residence in 2008, 2009, or 2010. In fact, under the "long-time resident" clause, you could qualify for this credit even if it wasn't your first home.

For all the details, search for the article titled "First-Time Homebuyer Credit" on the IRS website.

3 Mortgage-interest deduction

In most cases, all the interest you pay on your home loan (your full-time home and any second home) is fully deductible on your federal taxes. What's more, if your loan includes private mortgage insurance payments, those are also deductible (for loans taken out in 2007 through 2011).

For all the details, search for "Publication 936" on the IRS website.

4 Mortgage interest credit

The mortgage interest credit is intended to help lower-income individuals afford home ownership. However, you must contact your state or local housing finance agency about the credit before you obtain a mortgage and buy your home. If you qualify, you may be able to subtract a set amount (a maximum of $2,000) from your mortgage interest payments every year you live in that house and owe money on the loan.

For all the details, see the section titles "Mortgage Interest Credit" of "Publication 530" on the IRS website.

5 Property tax deduction

Any state, local or foreign real estate taxes you've paid on your primary and/or second residence are also deductible on your federal income tax return.

NOTE: Many states and counties also impose local benefit taxes for improvements to property, such as assessments for streets, sidewalks, and sewer lines. Those taxes cannot be deducted. However you can increase the "cost basis" of your property by the amount of the assessment.

For all the details, search for "Topic 503" on the IRS website.

6 Home office deduction

If an area of your home (a room or other "separately identifiable space") is used exclusively as your principal place of business, you can deduct a portion of your total home expenses. How much you can deduct depends on the size of your home office.

For all the details, search for the article "Home Office Deduction" on the IRS website.

7 Home loan interest deduction

You may also be able to deduct a portion of the interest paid on a home-improvement loan, a home-equity loan, or a line of credit.

For all the details, search for "Publication 936" on the IRS website.

8 Capital gains reduction

When you sell a home, the federal government taxes you on any profits (the difference between what you bought the house for, and what you sold it for). That's the capital gains tax. You are allowed to deduct many of the costs related to selling your home from the associated capital gains - which reduces your capital gains tax - but reinvestment deferrals are no longer allowed.

For all the details, search for "Publication 523" on the IRS website.

9 Capital gains exclusion

Related to number eight, if the house you sell was your principal residence for two of the last five years, you can exclude up to $250,000 from your capital gains or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.

For all the details, search for "Publication 523" on the IRS website.

10 Moving expenses deduction

If you move more than 50 miles to take a new job, you may be able to deduct a portion of your moving expenses - including lodging expenses, transportation costs, and any storage fees.

For all the details, search for "Publication 521" on the IRS website.

A final note

Before implementing any of these ideas, be sure to research them thoroughly on the IRS website ( and/or consult with a certified public accountant or tax professional.

Until next week,

la chasse au bonheur