Buyers Guide

RE/MAX Gold agents can show any property in the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service. Real estate is complicated (and expensive) and no amount of online pictures and generic advice can substitute for a local Realtor whose goal is for you to be thrilled with your purchase and their service. This Buyers guide covers how to get started looking in our area and information on loans, utilities, vacant lots and large acreage, 1031 tax-deferred exchanges, and more.

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Starting your search for property in Pine Mountain Lake?

A RE/MAX Yosemite Gold Guide to finding Real Estate

What are the current prices and Pine Mountain Lake homeowner dues?

Pine Mountain Lake in the fall

Contact one of our Realtors to provide you a current list of ALL houses or lots for sale in our Multiple Listing Service. It takes them just a couple of minutes to print or e-mail a list in your price range. The list can show the # of bedrooms, baths, and levels; house, lot and garage sizes; whether it is on the lake, golf course, or greenbelt; and just about any other feature of the house. They can give you a 19 inch by 24 inch Pine Mountain Lake map showing all the streets, units and lot numbers, and locations of amenities. We can (and will!) show you any property listed by other brokers, including discount brokers and For Sale by Owners (with their permission).

Where else on the WEB can I look up properties?

A Vacation Home With Lake Frontage and Dock
www.REMAX.com has all of our area’s listings for sale, as well as most of the country’s real estate. Just enter our zip code, 95321, and a there they are, along with photos of every house. The next best place is www.Realtor.com This site shows up to 100 photos of each house or parcel.

Can we just drive around and look at the outside of homes for sale?

RE/MAX balloon logo
Once you have a list and a map you can explore different neighborhoods and see the houses on your own, as long as you do not bother the occupants. The exception is if there is an Open House sign out front, which are allowed on weekends. There are 52 miles of roads in PML, and lots of wonderful hidden courts and side streets. There may be a fabulous view from a house up on a hill hidden in the trees. Some pictures just don’t do a house justice, and of course others frame the nice part and don’t show the 3-story house looming next door. So it is useful to get out and look if you are not ready to go with a Realtor yet.

What are all these numbers for each property?

Each lot in PML is located in one of 15 UNITS, shown on the PML map by thick black dividing lines. Each LOT has its own number, from numeral 1 to 598. The unit and lot are commonly shown as “13/260” for example, and must be on a sign at every lot or house. In addition, the County requires the address number to be on every house to aid firemen and police in finding it. The address number is a 5-digit number. Each property listed for sale also has an 8-digit MLS number that shows up on web searches.

How can we tell where the property lines are?

Since fences are not allowed on the lot lines in PML and each lot is a different size, it can be hard to see the boundaries. Look for water meters and power poles. These are placed near the street close to the side lines dividing each lot. Concrete Christy boxes holding water meters are placed on every other lot line, and each serves the two lots on either side of it. The latest 19 X 24 inch PML maps show which of the 800+ lots have been merged together with another to create one lot. If the owner of lot 201 bought 202 and combined them into one lot, the lower number is used to identify it, or lot 201. (PML was developed in 1969 with 4,181 lots, but the number is closer to 3600 now, after all the mergers). The front boundary of each property is usually set back from the street curb or asphalt between 5 and 25 feet. The paved streets are only 22 feet wide, but the PML-owned rights-of-way are 50+ feet wide. Where there are cut embankments above the road, or dirt fill banks below the road, PML owns and maintains that property, too. So the front lines of the private lots usually start at the top of the cut banks or the toe of the fill banks. Where direct driveway access from the street is impossible because of the terrain, there are hundreds of driveway easements providing access across the front 20 feet of neighboring lots. The property corners are marked by ¾” diameter re-bar iron posts that extend 2 feet into the ground but may only show above the ground a few inches (or may be buried by leaves and silt).

What utilities are available?

A Nice Big Redwood Deck To Relax On All lots have public water from Groveland Community Services District (GCSD) and fire hydrants every 300 feet. About one-third of the lots have public sewer hookups, and the rest use individual septic systems. Electricity is from Pacific Gas & Electric and phone service from AT&T. Cable television is available to all lots. Individual propane tanks on each lot are used because piped natural gas is not available. Moore Brothers Scavenger Service provides several levels of garbage pick-up, or some people take their own loads to the dump on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Fire protection is provided by a full-time department, run by State CalFire with a contract with GCSD.

Are there townhouses, condominiums, manufactured homes or apartments?

Country Club Village is a complex of 32 multi-story townhouses near the pool, tennis courts, and Country Club restaurant and Pro Shop. Four condominium complexes are located nearby on Dyer and Salvador Courts. The age, condition, sizes, and amount of homeowner’s association dues are all different. The big advantages are no yard maintenance and great location. Manufactured homes on permanent foundations are allowed in PML if they meet certain design guidelines regulating roof pitch and length of eaves. Mobilehomes that aren’t on foundations are NOT allowed. No apartments are in PML, and there is one duplex and two triplexes.

What if we want just lake frontage or golf course properties? These websites don't allow that kind of search choice.

If you are only interested in specific features, such as parking for a 32 foot long RV, a fireplace in the living room, or airport access, or at least half an acre, or full Southern exposure, you should call us to help you. We’ve usually seen all the houses for sale, and we also have access to much more detailed SEARCH functions through the MLS. Our job is to weed out the unsuitable houses and save you time. We can also send you emails of interesting properties, or set you up with an automatic email feed of new listings or reduced prices.

Good Acreage is Hard to Find

By Lauree Borup   2015

At Pine Mountain Lake we are surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped land. It is forest, river canyon, brush and pasture. So when someone decides they want more personal space and freedom to build a new home, they might think that acreage parcels are easy to find. But usually there are just a handful for sale. The main reason there aren’t lots of acreage parcels to buy is the Federal government. Stanislaus National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management probably own about 90% of the land in this area (not even including Yosemite!). In addition to USA holdings, several large historic cattle ranches are in low-tax agricultural preserves, and the families aren’t selling. The notable exception to this was back in 1980 when the 1200-acre Graham Ranch was divided into 40 and 80-acre parcels. It is located on the ridge above the Tuolumne River canyon north of PML, and all of the parcels still have favorable tax treatment as agricultural preserves. Of these 21 parcels, 15 have residences on them.

A River Rock Fireplace in a House in Pine Mountain LakeA frequent question I hear is “How much per acre does it usually cost?” The answer ranges from $842 an acre paid this year for 19 acres (with no legal access), to $29,000 an acre for a 2-acre parcel (with a well and septic system already in). Another low per acre price paid was $914 for 41 acres (with a steep dirt road and the 17,000-volt transmission line through it). The second highest was $25,000 an acre for 5 acres with well, fencing, and paved road. So you can see prices are “all over the map”.

Another subdivision created in the late 1970’s is Yosemite Acres, consisting of 57 five-acre parcels. Of the 57, 40 already have dwelling units on them. These parcels just southeast of PML have the advantages of power lines and paved roads. You may have one or the other, or neither, when you get acreage in remoter areas like Sawmill Mountain, Second Garrotte Ridge, Hells Hollow, Boneyard, Punchbowl, Jackass Creek, and Priest-Coulterville Road. The cost of extending power lines has gone up tremendously in the last twenty years. In the 1980’s, when we built on 10 acres, we had to bring in power lines 1600 feet to two new houses. PG & E gave free footage based on the number of electric heaters and appliances in new houses, so we ended up paying only a pittance of around $100 total. I think we got 200 feet free just for an electric dryer. Not anymore! It is wise to get an estimate for extending power from PG&E before you even consider building. Find out where the nearest power pole is and whether there are easements to the acreage you are considering. While costs to extend power go up, costs for solar go down, so it is worth looking into alternative energy sources.

Even more expensive now is the cost of building roads. Until the mid-70’s you could divide up land and sell it without putting in a road at all. County ordinances changed. Now most land divisions require the owner to build 20-foot wide gravel or paved roads before they can record the map and sell the first parcel.

A unique consolidation of land on North Boitano Road has removed 1070 acres from future development. It is all being put in a wildlife preserve, which requires a contract with the County and actions by the property owner to enhance wildlife habitat. After buying the first 102 acres, the owner added fourteen more adjacent parcels, including one 200-acre parcel that had approval for subdivision into 5-acre lots. That 5-acre subdivision won’t happen now.

The number of vacant lots in PML keeps shrinking too. Originally there were 4181 lots. Over 800 were merged with other lots over the last 50+ years. Almost 3,000 houses are now built. That leaves less than 400 remaining undeveloped lots.

Interpreting Ads for Real Estate- a Humorous Look

The jargon of house descriptions sometimes doesn’t exactly match the property when you go to see it. Here’s what that headline might really mean

Old World Charm = Has some woodwork. Needs cleaning
Contemporary Feeling = Has no woodwork. Needs cleaning
Picturesque Setting = Abandoned cars and waist-high weeds on neighboring lots
Wide Open Floor Plan = Previous owner removed supporting walls
Updated Kitchen = Sink no longer overflows
Close to the Lake = Impossible to park near from May to September
Neutral Décor = No murals of nudes or Elvis
Move In Condition = Front door missing
Unique Design = Bizarre looking
Cozy = No room larger than 9 X 6 feet
Mint = Someone spilled mouthwash on the carpet
Motivated Seller = Has been on the market for 3 years

The agents at RE/MAX Yosemite Gold came up with some interpretations for common Pine Mountain Lake ad headlines:

ABOVE THE WORLD = The driveway is so steep, your relatives will never come back
CUTE AS A BUTTON = Tiny kitchen, no closets, only 1 bathroom
ROOM TO ROAM = You will spend most of your time clearing brush, whacking weeds and raking pine needles
LAKE VIEW = See a small patch of blue from an upstairs bedroom balcony
NEEDS UPDATING = Gold shag carpet, avocado sink, dark brown paneling, no insulation
2 MINUTES TO BEACH = If you drive 80 miles an hour down Pine Mountain Drive
ATTENTION BARGAIN LOVERS =This is a real dump

Here are some recent headlines that aren’t misleading, but don’t tell a prospective buyer anything

Nice Home, Nice View
Ho Hum
Great Home, Great View
A little greater than nice
You Deserve It
Like a kid deserves a spanking?
Cabin in the Woods
Groveland has a thousand cabins in the woods
One of a Kind
Of what?
Ranch Style Home
At least we know it has only one story
Clean & Comfortable
At least we know it’s clean
A Best Seller
If it was it would already be sold
This One Won’t Last Long
Is it going to fall over soon?

Community Property with Right of Survivorship

By Lauree Borup

TRUE: Community Property ownership of real estate reduces the capital gains tax the surviving spouse would pay if they sold it
FALSE: Joint Tenancy is the best way for surviving spouses to avoid probate.
NEW: Community Property with Right of Survivorship (CPROS) combines the automatic survivorship rights of Joint Tenancy with the tax advantages of Community Property for married couples in California. It may be the “better” way.

Joint tenancy is a popular device for avoiding probate, since upon the death of one joint tenant the decedent’s interest terminates immediately leaving the survivor holding title. The drawback is that only the decedent’s half of the value is stepped-up in basis. Under Community Property ownership, if a couple paid $100,000 for a home, and at the time of death the home is worth $300,000, the tax basis is stepped-up to the fair market value of $300,000. The surviving spouse could sell the property then without paying any capital gains tax.

Alternatively, if the property were held in Joint Tenancy, only the interest of the first spouse to die would be stepped-up and the basis would be $200,000 (Half of the invested $100,000 + half of the $300,000 current market value). The surviving spouse would pay capital gains tax on $100,000, which would be around $24,000 combined for Federal and State.

If this example were a primary residence it would make no tax difference because the surviving spouse can exclude up to $250,000 of capital gain (not $500,000, since there’s no “couple” any more). So the most tax-helpful use of CPROS is on second homes and investment properties, which abound in Pine Mountain Lake.

For example, Joe and Linda buy a second home in PML for $100,000 and enjoy it on weekends with their family for several years. Their kids go to college, and to generate income, they convert it to a rental. They start taking depreciation write-offs which reduce the tax basis to $40,000. The house would now sell for $300,000 (after paying sales commission and closing costs).

Joe becomes terminally ill. Linda needs to make some careful decisions about how to take title and when to sell. Here are three scenarios:

  1. Quick Sale: Linda sells the house before Joe dies. The profit of $260,000 ($300,000 minus $40,000) is fully taxable, so she pays about $75,000 in capital gains tax.
  2. Joint Tenants: The basis in inherited property is stepped-up to market value at the date of death. Linda inherits Joe’s half of the property, so his half is stepped-up in basis from $20,000 (half of $40,000) to $150,000. Linda’s half stays the same, $20,000, for a total basis of $170,000. When she sells after Joe’s death, only $130,000 is taxable. So she pays about $38,000 in capital gains.
  3. Community Property With Right of Survivorship: Linda owns the property immediately and the basis is stepped-up to 100% of market value. When she sells for $300,000, she pays NO tax.

Linda could also hold the property with the stepped-up basis as a rental and enjoy greater annual depreciation.

Be aware that the tax basis is totally separate from the loan amount. If you have refinanced a house up to the hilt, spent the money, and then sell it soon after your “joint tenant” spouse’s death, you may barely have enough money left over after paying the mortgage debt to pay the capital gains tax.

Upon a spouse’s death the survivor records an Affidavit, which memorializes the termination of the decedent’s interest in the CPROS property in the same manner as a Death of Joint Tenant Affidavit. The surviving spouse inherits the property outright regardless of what they say in their wills.

When is CPROS not appropriate?

  • You hold all your real estate in a trust
  • You want to dispose of real estate through a will to people other than your spouse
  • The only real estate you own is your primary residence and you are not even close to exceeding the $250,000 capital gains exclusion.

Couples owning appreciated real estate may want to use the new law. Check with your attorney to ensure that it is consistent with your entire estate plan. A blank form of the grant deed for use with CPROS can be printed from the website www.wwlaw.com/cpform.htm. You must also file a Preliminary Change of Ownership form with the County after changing to CPROS. These are available from the Recorder’s Office or your title company.

New Tax Rules for 1031 and Vacation Home

By Lauree Borup, November, 2008

Primary home, vacation home, rental home. Each has its tax advantages, and since 1997 owners have moved in and out of the three types to avoid capital gains taxes, and used the tax-deferred 1031 exchange when converting a personal house to a rental worked for them.

This year the IRS clarified how 1031’s will work with vacation homes, and the Housing Assistance Act of 2008, signed by the president this summer, took away some options for “rental-to-primary” conversions.

First, in February the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2008-16, to provide guidelines on when a second home would qualify for a 1031 exchange. Some owners had pushed the interpretation of “investment property” to the limit by claiming that a never-rented home was an “investment” because it was mainly purchased in the expectation of price appreciation, and the use for family fun was a secondary consideration. Here are the first-ever IRS guidelines on allowing you to avoid paying tax on the sale of a vacation dwelling:

For the relinquished, or sold, property:

  • You have owned it at least 24 months before the exchange;
  • In each of the two 12-month periods prior to the exchange the property has been rented at fair market value for 14 days or more;
  • The taxpayer’s personal use of the property during the prior two 12-month periods doesn’t exceed the greater of 14 days, or 10% of the total rented days

As with any 1031 exchange, the replacement property you buy with the tax-free proceeds must also pass the “business or investment” test. The replacement property must be held 24 months after the exchange, and must meet the 14 day/ 10% test for personal use and rental for the two 12-month periods that applied for the relinquished property.

The Revenue Procedure is a guideline for “safe harbor”, meaning if you follow it your exchange will not fall under IRS scrutiny. Your exchange may still qualify if you don’t meet the guideline exactly, but you could be subject to audit.

Another strategy to avoid paying capital gains was to move into your vacation or rental home, live in it at least two years, then sell it and use the Homeowner’s Exemption under Section 121 of the Tax Code. Up to $500,000 of gain for joint filers, and $250,000 for singles, was excluded from taxation. For people with perfect timing, they could have done this:

  • Buy rental for $100,000 in the year 2000
  • Rent the property to others for three years, then move into it as a primary residence
  • In 2005, sell it for $350,000 and avoid paying tax on the entire gain of $250,000

This scenario would still have worked in 2005 when they tightened up the law.

The 2005 legislation—H.R.4520—provided, in pertinent part, as follows:
If a taxpayer acquired property in an exchange to which a §1031 applied, §121(a) shall not apply to the sale or exchange of such property if it occurs during the 5-year period beginning with the date of the acquisition of such property.

This prevented people from buying a house with proceeds from a 1031 exchange, renting it out for just one year, then living in the house for two years, selling, and taking advantage of IRC 121

“Primary home” tax exemptions.

In 2009, this changes again. To help pay for the big housing bill passed in the summer of 2008, Congress changed the rules so that some of your gain will be taxable in the future. For example, let’s say you buy the rental in 2009 (when prices will hit bottom and start to go up, we all hope), rent it for three years, move in yourself, then sell it in 2015 with a gain of $250,000. The three years that you rented (or vacationed in) the property will be considered “nonqualified use”, that is 3/5th of the gain is not eligible for the Homeowner’s tax exclusion. So $150,000 is taxable, and $100,000 is not. Ouch! This will not be an ouch if you plan to move in your vacation home and stay there for five years or more. But it highlights the danger of making long range plans based on the current tax code!

If you hurry up and move in by January 1, 2009, you could slide under these new rules. if your house is rented or a second home for the last three years, and you move in by January 1, 2009, then you could sell it in two years and get the full tax exclusion of up to $500,000.

Contact your tax consultant for details, or go to WWW.IRS.GOV.

A valid 1031 exchange must use a “qualified intermediary”, also called an accommodator, who holds your equity money and then puts it in your next escrow. Some well-known companies in California that provide this service are:

  • Old Republic Exchange (orexco1031.com) (800) 738-1031
  • Asset Preservation (apiexchange.com) (800) 282-1031
  • Starker Services (starker.com) (800) 332-1031