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I'm John Askins of Royce Realty in Houston, or text me directly at (832) on my blog I'll keep you updated on the latest trends and info about our local and state real estate market. Member - HAR Technology Advisory Group

Some housing deals come with sweet incentives for the real estate agents who can bring in a buyer, everything from big bonuses to fancy cars. But if you’re not careful, you might get in trouble for 'steering', some real estate professionals warn.

One home seller in Virginia offered a C-Class Mercedes, priced at $37,900 — or a $30,000 bonus— plus commission to a buyer’s agent who is able to bring a buyer to his $1.9 million home. Other incentives sellers have used to push a sale, include offers to buyer’s agents of fancy trips, higher commissions, or gifts.

"Bonuses and high commissions could motivate an agent to encourage a client to buy the house that offers the best reward to the agent, rather than the home that's best for the client," Bobbie Noreen, managing broker with Village Real Estate Services in Nashville, told Inman News. "That's the problem with any incentive, whether it's a fur coat, a trip, or a $2,000 bonus. Our code of ethics says we are not allowed to participate in self-dealing. To steer them (the client) is against the Code of Ethics. It's borderline illegal."

But some agents say the incentives don’t break any rules and can help sellers attract extra attention to their listings. Plus, if any agent is uncomfortable taking a pricey bonus for selling a home, they could always negotiate a lower sales price on behalf of their buyer for the amount being offered instead, says Frances Flynn Thorsen, a real estate educator and consultant in Tucson, AZ.

"If a property is priced right, it's going to sell,” says Doreen Roberts, president of the Bay East Association of REALTORS® in Northern California. “I know sometimes sellers do offer higher bonuses to entice agents to show the property. But my personal experience is if the price on the property is right, you will get multiple buyers and that will generate competition and that will make the property sell for the correct price,"

For real estate professionals who are offered an incentive, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate at University of Pennsylvania, says it’s important for the real estate professional to disclose the incentive to their buyer client.

source:  Inman News

Here are some products grabbing the attention of the home building and remodeling industries, according to Bill Millholland, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Case Design/Remodeling in Maryland, and Jamie Gibbs, a New York-based interior designer:

Appliance Drawers. Small warning drawers, modest-sized dishwasher drawers for small loads, refrigerator drawers and microwave drawers.

· Counter-depth refrigerators. Some are only 24 inches deep.

· Motion-detecting faucets. Like you'd find in the restrooms of businesses.

· LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. These are used under cabinets and in ceiling fixtures as a longer-lasting, more efficient alternative to compact fluorescent lamps and incandescent bulbs.

· Electric heated floors. A nice touch in bathrooms,

· Showers with multiple heads and body sprays. Bathtubs are out.

source: Washington Post 
You might want to take a closer look at your home's curb appeal: Upgrading your landscaping from average to excellent can help raise its overall value by 10 percent to 12 percent, according to research from Virginia Tech.

Researcher Alex X. Niemiera with the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech found that a $150,000 home with no landscaping could fetch an additional $8,300 to $19,000 by adding a landscape with color and large plants.

The value of landscaping differed greatly from state to state. For example, the change in value from a home with no landscape to well-landscaped ranged from 5.5 percent in Louisiana to 11.4 percent in South Carolina. Michigan homes saw the biggest difference in landscaping appeal, with a home's value being increased by 12.7 percent.

"The most preferred landscape included a sophisticated design with large deciduous, evergreen, and annual color plants and colored hardscape," according to Niemiera. Adding different plant sizes to a front yard, for example, can boost curb appeal, as well as mixing fruit trees and flowers for added color.

The following landscape elements were found to be most important to survey respondents:

  • Design sophistication
  • Plant size
  • Diversity of plant material type

"Survey results showed that relatively large landscape expenditures significantly increase perceived home value and will result in a higher selling price than homes with a minimal landscape," Niemiera writes in the paper. "Design sophistication and plant size were the landscape factors that most affected value. The resulting increase in 'curb appeal' of the property may also help differentiate a home in a subdivision where house styles are similar and thereby attract potential buyers into a home. This advantage is especially important in a competitive housing market."

source:  Realty Times 

Thousands of Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure years ago may have finally moved on, rebuilt their finances, and even considered home ownership again. But first, they may have to face a rising number of debt collectors who are chasing them down for money they still owe from the foreclosure they thought they had left in the past.

More banks are getting aggressive in pursuing deficiency judgments, finding that the proceeds of foreclosure sales may not have been enough to cover the amount of the loans, plus penalties, legal bills, and other fees.

"Using a legal tool known as a 'deficiency judgment,' lenders can ensure that borrowers are haunted by these zombie-like debts for years, and sometimes decades, to come," Reuters reports. "Before the housing bubble, banks often refrained from seeking deficiency judgments, which were seen as costly and an invitation for bad publicity. Some of the biggest banks still feel that way. But the housing crisis saddled lenders with more than $1 trillion of foreclosed loans, leading to unprecedented losses. Now, at least some large lenders want their money back, and they figure it's the perfect time to pursue borrowers: many of those who went through foreclosure have gotten new jobs, paid off old debts, and, in some cases, bought new homes."

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae is one of the most aggressive in pursuing deficiency judgments. Of the 595,128 foreclosures the government-sponsored enterprise was involved in through owning or guaranteeing the loan, it has referred 293,134 to debt collectors for possible deficiency judgment, according to a report by the Inspector General, reflecting the time period from January 2010 through January 2012.

Some of the largest mortgage lenders — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co., and Citigroup — say they don't usually pursue deficiency judgment, but they do reserve the right to do so.

"We may pursue them on a case-by-case basis, looking at a variety of factors, including investor and mortgage insurer requirements, the financial status of the borrower, and the type of hardship," says Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda.

Many borrowers may be surprised to later learn that their foreclosure from years ago is not really behind them. For example, former home owner Danell Huthsing thought she was in the clear after a foreclosure in 2008 on a home she shared with her boyfriend. But this summer, she was served with a lawsuit demanding $91,000 for the amount of mortgage still unpaid after the home was foreclosed and sold. She plans to appeal, but if she loses, the debt collector who filed the lawsuit will be able to freeze her bank account, garnish up to 25 percent of her wages, and seize her paid-off car, Reuters reports.

"For seven years, you think you're good to go, that you've put this behind you," said Huthsing. "Then wham, you get slapped to the floor again."

source:  Reuters 


Many retirees have been struggling to qualify for a mortgage, finding their post-retirement monthly incomes aren’t sufficient enough to get a loan under today’s tough underwriting standards. The problem was particularly pronounced for retirees who were still making payments on car loans, credit cards, or home equity lines of credit and who found they were unable to qualify under today’s low “debt-to-income” standards.

But mortgage giant Freddie Mac is now allowing retirees—and others—to use income from their 401(k), IRA, and other retirement assets to qualify for a loan.

“That, in turn, might open the door to a money-saving refinancing to a lower-rate loan or a downsizing purchase of a new house or condo,” The Washington Post reports.

The retirement account balances can be used to supplement their incomes for underwriting purposes, but the borrower does not actually have to draw from those balances in order to get the mortgage. 

source:  Washington Post


The population is getting older, and those who are 65 and up now make up the biggest part of the nation’s population in size and percentage, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Older residents comprise over 40.3 million people. 

The older adult population has increased by 15.1 percent since 2000, while the combined remaining age groups saw 9.7 percent growth. 

The states with the highest number of senior residents are: 

  • Florida
  • West Virginia
  • Maine
  • Pennsylvania
  • Iowa

The state with the lowest number of seniors is Alaska (7.7 percent compared to Florida’s 17.6 percent). However, Alaska also has the largest growth rate for older populations, according to Census data.

source:  St. Louis Post-Dispatch

You might want to avoid talking to Siri while in your car. The iPhone voice assistant was found to be one of the most dangerous among various voice-controlled car systems recently studied by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In the study, 45 participant drivers were asked to use hands-free commands while driving in vehicle simulators on residential streets. Researchers monitored response times, heart rates, and brain activities as participants used the voice-controlled systems to check social media, send text messages, and update calendar appointments. Researchers then rated the systems tested on five categories – the lower the accuracy and reliability of voice recognition software, the higher the level of distraction. Low distraction was considered category 1 and high distraction was category 3.

Researchers found that using hands-free voice commands to send e-mails or text messages was considered a category 3, a high driver distraction activity. Listening to e-mails or text messages were found to be category 2, according to the study.

Apple’s Siri (version iOS 7 was used in the test) was rated a category 4 and above – the highest level of driver distraction of any other driver task measured.

“This is cause for concern given the popularity of the iPhone with drivers of all vehicle brands,” says AAA spokesman John Pecchio. “AAA will continue to communicate its research findings with Apple and featured automakers to help them reduce the cognitive workload associated with using their systems.”

Researchers also evaluated the most common voice-based car systems, like infotainment systems made by Toyota (Entune), Hyundai (Blue Link), Chrysler (Unconnect), Ford (MyFord Touch), Mercedes (COMMAND), and Cheverolet (My Link). Toyota’s Entune system was found to have the lowest distraction while driving while Chevy’s MyLink system had the highest level of driver distraction, according to the study. (View the full rankings at of the cars’ infotainment systems.

While studies show that hands-free technology increases mental distractions on the road, three out of four drivers say they believe such hands-free technology is safe to use while driving.  

“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians, and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead,” says AAA chief executive Bob Darbelnet. “We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”



In the recent past, low appraisals have been blamed on delaying—or even canceling—many real estate transactions over the last few years. While real estate professionals are limited in how much involvement they can have in the appraisal process, they can do a few important things to help ensure their sellers receive a fair valuation.

  1. Be there. Appraisers and other real estate agents say that being present at the home’s appraisal is important. Agents can respond to any possible questions the appraiser might have as he or she is valuing the property. However, agents need to make sure they don’t overstep their boundaries. Rules limit contact between agents and appraisers.
  2. Provide extra information. Michael Citron of Coconut Creek, Fla., says he gives appraisers packages of information that include comparable sales as well as a list of the home’s home’s upgrades and amenities within the development. Others also recommend that any information include the dates that renovations took place, permits for additions, and even receipts for the work (if available).

“You don’t want things to be missed that may result in a higher value,” says appraiser Scott Dooley in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

source:  RISMedia

How much should you charge for a rental property?

The Wall Street Journal’s real estate columnist June Fletcher suggests 1.1 percent of the home’s value up to about $100,000 or about $1,100 a month. After that demand and what the market will bear will affect values.

She points to rental sites as a good clue for someone setting prices, particularly, and Craigslist. She also recommends, which compares proposed rent with comparable rentals nearby.

For help calculating return on investment, try

source:  Wall Street Journal
As home owners look to rebuild from any powerful storm system, they may find a shortfall in adequate home insurance coverage to cover all of the damages, the USA Today reports. 

Most home owner insurance polices provide coverage for tornadoes, and home owners do not have to buy extra coverage like they do for earthquakes or floods.

However, research has shown that despite 96 percent of people having homeowners insurance, 64 percent of U.S. homes are undervalued for insurance purposes, according to research by Marshall & Swift.

While home values have decreased in many areas, many home owners did not think they still needed to upgrade their insurance. However, building costs in many areas have gone up, insurance experts note. 

Renters also may struggle. Only 43 percent of renters tend to have renter’s insurance, according to the Insurance Research Council.

In states declared disaster areas, the uninsured or under-insured could be eligible for federal aid, which is capped at about $30,000, but average payments tend to be much less. 

source:  USA Today