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How to Prevent Identity Theft During Tax Season

by Tucker Robbins

It's the time of year when Americans gather their financial documents and anxiously await news of a tax refund or debt. While many hope to get money back, Time Magazine recently reported that the IRS paid an estimated $5 billion plus in false tax refunds in 2013, and according to Bloomberg Business that number could potentially grow to $21 billion by 2017.

tax time"Technology has changed the way we live, offering consumers more convenient ways to take care of common activities like filing taxes," says Jean Vernor, senior vice president at MetLife. "However, taxpayers should be aware that these technological advances have also made it easier for criminals to commit identity theft. Consumers need to be aware of how and where they divulge personal information and take steps to monitor the data that must be shared."

Identity thieves commonly use a person's real Social Security number to claim fraudulent wages and file taxes, accepting that individual's deserved refund. Taxpayers bear responsibility for accuracy of submitted tax returns, regardless of whether the return was prepared by an individual taxpayer or a tax preparer. Unfortunately for many, this means spending a lot of time and money to rectify the situation and minimize the long-term effects caused by identity theft.

Avoid the scams

Criminals use an array of tactics to steal personal information and file a false tax return. Know the common scams and take steps to avoid them.

  • Phone scams: The IRS reports that 2015 has seen a surge in phone scams from criminals impersonating authorities to obtain personal information. Phone scams are often aggressive and may threaten police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things, in order to scare victims into handing over information. Do not entertain a conversation with a hostile "IRS representative" and hang up immediately if the call seems suspicious.
  • Phishing: As daily activities continue to move online, cybercriminals are finding ways to take advantage of the Internet. Criminals may send consumers fake emails or to websites that look official, but are really designed to steal personal information. The IRS will not send taxpayers emails about bills, refunds or personal information and following insecure links from these sources may lead to identity theft.
  • Return preparer fraud: The IRS reports that about 60 percent of taxpayers seek assistance when submitting their taxes, but some tax preparers are actually criminals in disguise. Never sign a blank tax form and avoid tax preparers who claim they can deliver a higher refund than others. Choose a well-known tax preparer and ensure that he or she will be available even after the return is filed to answer outstanding questions. (BPT)

Information courtesy of New Castle County Realtor Tucker Robbins, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

New Castle County Real Estate Market Watch for February 2015

by Tucker Robbins

New listings in New Castle County increased 6.36% in February compared to February 2014. The average sales price increased 7.30% compared to Feb 2014 and homes were on the market an average of 82 days.

new castle county real estate

Information courtesy of New Castle County Realtor Tucker Robbins, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

The Effect of Landscaping On the Value of Your Home

by Tucker Robbins

Landscaping can add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of your property. In fact, it is one of the few home improvements that not only adds value immediately, but also increases in value as the years go by. Although the term is typically associated with lawns, trees, bushes, and flowers, items such as fire pits, decks, patios, waterfalls, stone walls, gazebos, arbors, and outdoor lighting can also add to your landscape design and increase the value of your home by as much as 7% to 15%.

landscapingResearch has found that the number-one thing that buyers are looking for in landscaping is a sophisticated design. Close behind is plant size and maturity. A lesser factor, but one still worth considering, is the diversity of plant life within the landscaping design.

Landscaping gurus offer the following advice for your yard:

  • Have a coherent plan/design before you begin.  Consider factors such as use, cost, climate, color, ecological advantages, environmental effectiveness, variety, and maintenance.  Scour the Web for landscaping ideas and sample designs, consult with professionals in the field, peruse magazine articles, and/or check out what your neighbors have done to enhance their yards.
     
  • Avoid common landscaping mistakes.  Don’t plants tress in tight spaces--or too close to your house--or introduce invasive plants because both will result in expensive removal labor eventually. It is also important to heed the information re: watering, sunlight, soil, and climate needs of the plants you purchase.
     
  • Perform regular yard maintenance.  Mow, edge, prune, trim, weed, and mulch as needed to keep your curb appeal at its best.  According to the Appraisal Institute, a home with lackluster or overgrown landscaping will likely be unappealing to both prospective buyers and an appraiser and could definitely affect the home’s potential resale value in a negative way.
     
  • Add a splash of color.  Plant a border of bright blossoms. Dig a flowerbed by the mailbox and add some pansies. Place a brightly colored bench or Adirondack chair on the front porch and put colorful pots on the steps.  Select bushes and trees that will lend different hues to your overall design.

Information courtesy of Wilmington DE Realtor Tucker Robbins, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

5 Creative Home Selling Tips

by Tucker Robbins

If you're looking to sell in today’s real estate market, you have most likely already read numerous articles advising you to set a realistic price, pay attention to curb appeal, thoroughly clean and de-clutter, remove large pieces of furniture, repaint in neutral colors, remove personal mementos, and the like.  All of this information is valid and useful, but there are other, less-publicized ways to appeal to potential buyers.  Read on for some creative tips on how to generate interest and get the best price possible.

  1. soldArrange for a pre-listing home inspection.  In addition to facilitating the sale of your home by reassuring potential buyers, an inspection helps you comply with full-disclosure real estate laws.  You can also have a termite inspection done.
     
  2. Use online venues and your personal networks to market your house.  Put an ad on Craigslist, use sites like Zillow.com or Trulia.com, get your own URL with the house’s address, promote the house through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and send out a copy of your listing to people on your email list.  Sometimes word of mouth is one of the best ways to market a house.
     
  3. Replace all brass fixtures.  Today’s buyers dislike this “cheap” look that may have been fashionable a couple of decades ago, but it has to go if it’s in your home today.  Switch out each light fixture, switch plate, door hinge, knob, and faucet with for ones with a modern oil-rubbed bronze or nickel finish.
     
  4. Add power outlets with USB ports in rooms that lack them, especially in the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms where they’re most needed.  Also, find a place for a wireless router for use with the Internet and flat-screen TVs.
     
  5. Offer more unusual incentives.  Paying a buyer’s closing costs, taking care of HOA fees for the first year,  giving a “redecorating” credit, or providing a home warranty for a set time period have become almost expected perks, but you can consider landscaping services, personalized gift certificates (home supply store or a plant nursery, e.g.) or a flexible closing date.
  • For equally effective, but more expensive buyer magnets, look into outfitting closets for extra storage (top contenders are an entry closet, a kitchen pantry, and a linen closet) or removing much-maligned “popcorn” ceilings.  Click here for DIY instructions or get estimates from a professional.

Information courtesy of New Castle County Realtor Tucker Robbins, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

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Contact Information

Photo of Tucker Robbins Real Estate
Tucker Robbins
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices
3838 Kennett Pike
Wilmington DE 19807
(302) 777-7744 (direct)