Askins Online Real Estate Blog

View Housing TrendsFollow Me@ My ProfileYouTube Channel

Askins Online Real Estate - From Tweets to Trends
        EMAIL ME        4740 Ingersoll # 107, Houston, TX 77027     Phone: (713) 942-9200     Fax: (713) 864-5423
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

Retrofitting old office buildings can reduce their energy usage and make them more desirable for commercial customers. It also can cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions since commercial real estate is responsible for 20 percent of U.S. energy use, environmentalists say.

Among the recent high-profile buildings which underwent energy updates are the Empire State Building and the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, in Chicago.

The green retrofit of the 78-year-old Empire State Building by Johnson Controls is expected to save $4.4 million a year on utility bills. The remodel of the Willis Tower cost $350 million and reduces energy use by 80 percent, its owners say.

While these expenditures seem to make sense, few companies have the money to do this kind of work, says Roger Platt, senior vice president and counsel for the Real Estate Roundtable.

"The hurdle rate is substantially higher than it was even a year ago, because of the fact that real-estate owners and investors need to preserve cash to deal with the recapitalization of real estate," he says.

source:  Wall Street Journal


Do you have a fear of being apart from your cellphone? If so, you may suffer from "nomophobia" or "no mobile phone phobia," reports.

It's on the rise. And in careers like the real estate industry, where smartphones are dominant, you may be at risk. 

Do you never turn off your phone? 

Obsessively check it? 

Constantly worry about losing it?

If so, you may be among the 66 percent who recently admitted to having "nomophoboia," according to a national study by SecurEnvoy, a mobile phone technology firm. Four years ago, a study showed 53 percent admitted to having it.

According to the survey, respondents, on average, reported checking their cellphones 34 times a day. Seventy-five percent reported taking their cellphone with them to the bathroom. And some of those surveyed also reported sleeping with it and even taking it in the shower with them (protecting it so it stays dry, of course).

"Cellphones are tools that should be used to enhance our lives -- not to destroy our interpersonal communication skills with those that we love," Mitch Spero, director of child and family psychologists, told



Nationwide housing starts plunged 11 percent in October month-over-month, reaching a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.06 million units last month, according to the Commerce Department. Multifamily starts attributed to most of that decline, falling 25.1 percent month-over-month while single-family production was down just 2.4 percent. Both sectors, however, posted permit gains, signaling a slight pick up is likely in the months ahead.

"This month's decline can be attributable to the volatile multifamily sector adjusting to trend after an unusually high September, as well as the storms and flooding affecting single-family production in the South," says David Crowe, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders. "However, with permits ticking upward, we expect to see the housing market continue to grow at a modest pace."

Regionally, combined single and multifamily housing starts rose by the largest amount in the Midwest, posting a 15 percent month-over-month gain. The Northeast also posted an increase in starts by 10.2 percent. Meanwhile, housing starts fell 18.6 percent in the South and by 16.2 percent in the West last month.

Nationally, permits were on the rise, increasing 4.1 percent in October compared to September and reaching 1.15 million units last month. Multifamily permits are up 6.8 percent while single-family permits increased 2.4 percent. Permits posted the highest gains in the South (up 7.5%), followed by the Northeast (up 5.9%) and the Midwest (up 2.4%). Permits dropped last month by 2.6 percent in the West.

"The fact that permits are rising is consistent with our builders' continued optimism in the housing market," says Tom Woods, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. "Even though starts dropped in October, they have stayed above the one million mark for seven straight months -- the longest streak in almost seven years."

source:  National Association of Home Builders


First-time buyers have a whole lot of saving to do — possibly more than a decade of saving for a home purchase. It can take, on average, 12.5 years for first-time buyers to save a 20 percent down payment based on a current personal savings rate at 5.6 percent, according to new research by RealtyTrac. The figure is based on current median home prices and doesn’t take into account further home price rises.

In RealtyTrac’s analysis of 512 counties, it found that the median price of a home is around $259,000, which would require buyers to save $51,800 for a 20 percent down payment. 

Millennials entering the workforce often have several years until they start earning the national median salary — usually that is not reached until the age of 30, according to a Georgetown University study by Anthony Carnevale, “Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation.” 

If that’s the case, first-time buyers who need a 20 percent down payment would have to wait until they’re 42 years old to be able to afford to buy a house, Carnevale told The Wall Street Journal. Coupled with other debt, such as student loans, the wait could even be longer.

Melvin Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has suggested lowering the down payment for a conventional loan to 3 percent from the traditional 20 percent. In that case, it would take first-time buyers less than two years to save enough.

The Federal Housing Administration allows buyers to get a mortgage with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent with a 30-year fixed rate. However, buyers still have to meet the debt-to-income ratio and cash reserve requirements and they would likely qualify for better terms for a loan if they could bring a higher down payment, says Whitney Fite, managing director of Angel Oak Home Loans in Atlanta.

source:  MarketWatch


Mortgage pre-approvals, which are often viewed as an important first step in the home buying process, are reportedly falling out of favor with banks.

Mortgage preapprovals are a written commitment from lenders outlining the loan amount and interest rate that home buyers qualify for. They give buyers an indication of how much they can afford on their home purchase, as well as show sellers their commitment to purchase. 

But last year, only 29,912 preapprovals resulted in mortgages from the top 25 mortgage lenders — down from 101,626 in 2007, according to the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council. Preapprovals accounted for 4 percent of the purchase mortgages that lenders originated last year, and preapprovals did not precede any of the mortgages issued to home buyers by 14 of the 25 largest lenders last year, according to the council. 

“The popularity of preapprovals is quite low,” says Mike Lyon, vice president of mortgage operations at Quicken Loans. Quicken loans’ preapprovals are down 43 percent from 2007. 

Why are preapprovals losing favor, particularly as competition has been heating up in many housing markets? 

Some banks say that they are holding off on the pre-approval until seeing the home appraisal. Until then, they prefer a prequalification, which tells borrowers the average size of loan they can qualify for based on stated income and based on an average of mortgage rates. It’s not as formal of a commitment for a loan. Preapproval are usually binding for two to three months. 

Some banks, such as Bank of America and Chase, say they are doing more pre-qualifications than pre-approvals. Chase, for example, says it gives buyers a “conditional approval” that usually lasts 90 days, but does not provide a written commitment. Chase says it often waits to give a written commitment until after verifying borrowers’ income, employment, and the home’s appraisal. 

Bank of America also says it waits to approve a buyer until a home is appraised and the borrowers’ finances are fully reviewed. 

Some analysts say that while preapprovals are showing signs of losing some favor, the federal data may not be a fully complete picture of how big of a decrease in pre-qualifications. The federal data relies on lenders submitting data on their preapprovals, and some lenders say their preapprovals don’t meet the federal government’s formal federal definition. 

source:  MarketWatch


There are a lot of myths out there about the health care reform law and one of those myths is making the rounds on Facebook, and it may scare the daylights out of home owners.

Kaiser Health News, an independent nonprofit news organization dedicated to covering U.S. health policy, recently wrote about a Facebook post claiming that the IRS can file a lien against a person's home if that person fails to pay the penalty for not signing up for health insurance.

That is not true.

The REALTOR® Magazine's blog, 'Speaking of Real Estate', busted the myth and explained the real rules of the health care reform law. Read more at Speaking of Real Estate.

Read more:

Health Care Reform: A Guide to Your Coverage Options

Facts on the 3.8% Health Care Tax



Why do people choose to live where they do, and how do their priorities and housing trade-offs shift over time? Using data from a recent study by the Centre for Cities, a research and policy institute based out of London, CityLab highlighted some key insights into the motivations behind where people choose to live.

It should come as no surprise that the top reasons overall for choosing where to live are the cost of housing (at 28 percent), being close to family and friends (28 percent), the size and type of housing (22 percent), and being close to their job or their partner's job (21 percent).

However, Richard Florida, co-founder and editor of CityLab, points out that these housing decisions vary significantly depending on age. He points out that people generally make three big moves in their lifetime, and their priorities and trade-offs are different at each of these three stages.

When working with clients at these three different age demographics, it's important to highlight aspects of your listing that match up with their priorities at that given time in their lives.

These are the three main types of moves:

1. The post-college, career-minded 20-something move.

Those between 25-34 years of age tend to make housing and moving decisions based on their career. In fact, 31 percent of this age group answered that being close to their job or their partner's job was a priority for them. Cost of housing was also important, with 30 percent of respondents saying that was a big factor. While much has been written about younger buyers needing to be close to restaurants, bars, and cultural amenities, only 9 percent said these were important factors in choosing where to live. Access to green space and the environmental factors were not as important to this demographic compared to other age groups.

2. Starting a family/mid-30s move.

People in the 35-54 age group, perhaps focusing on raising a family, were also very concerned with the cost of housing. Unlike their younger counterparts, they placed high value on the size and style of housing (21 percent), the safety and security of the neighborhood (17 percent), and the access to good schools (13 percent). Twenty-five percent of respondents said that it was important to live near family and friends. Few in this demographic ranked access to restaurants and cultural facilities as being important to them.

3. Empty-nester and retirement move.

Thirty percent of the 55-and-over demographic listed access to green space and nature as their top priority when they move. The size and type of housing was also important (29 percent), and nearly 20 percent said they wanted to be close to their jobs. Living in a neighborhood near family was also important (27 percent), as well as living in a safe area (at 17 percent).

"While some of us are inherent urbanites or suburbanites, our preferences change over the course of our lifetimes," says Florida. "Many young people may prefer big cities, with their vibrant job and dating markets and abundant amenities and things to do. Those with families prioritize bigger homes with better schools and more parks and green space. Ultimately, we look for the cities and neighborhoods that fit us best at the time."

source:  CityLab 


Home owners and appraisers are starting to see more eye-to-eye on a home’s value. In October, average home appraisals were 1.98 percent lower than what home owners expected, according to Quicken Loans’ latest national Home Value Index.

The gap between what home owners perceive their homes to be worth compared to what appraisers say they are valued appears to be narrowing. This is the second consecutive month that the gap has narrowed.

“It's too early to call it a trend, but it is encouraging to see the gap between the estimates home owners provide and the appraised values starting to narrow," says Bob Walters, Quicken Loans chief economist. "The more home owners are in line with appraisers, the easier it will be to refinance their mortgage and easier for those looking to buy a home. If the two are aligned, it eliminates one of the top stumbling blocks in the mortgage process.”

source:  Quicken Loans


With limited housing supplies in many markets, investors are realizing they need to act fast, and some are willing to make an offer within minutes of a listing debuting – even if they are based on the other side of the country.

These investors are making bolder, faster moves by relying on quantitative data and calculations to drive their decisions on whether to buy or not. They're willing to make offers on homes they've never seen too, if their calculations point to a good deal.

In 2007-2008, many large investors would compete for the best housing deals in public auctions, face-to-face, and buy up foreclosures at big discounts. But as the number of foreclosures and short sales drop, Wall Street-backed buyers now are starting to shift their focus to mainstream real estate listings and to compete for a limited supply, they realize they need to act fast.  

"The first phase was distressed homes," Justin Chang, chief executive of Colony American Homes Inc., one of the largest single-family rental companies, told The Wall Street Journal. "The second phase is acquiring homes in a more regular way."

Competition is particularly heating up in Atlanta, where the sixth largest institutional buyers own more home than in any other market, according to RentRage. The investors making offers within minutes: Starwood Waypoint, based in Oakland, Calif., says that it can calculate a first bid on a house within 8 minutes now.

"We encourage our guys to make an offer before they see the house," says Ali Nazar, Starwood Waypoint’s chief experience officer. "I don’t want to wait for anyone else. Our competitors are also fast."

The investors' fast speeds are making it more difficult for individual buyers to compete.

"They’re outbidding all of us," says Brian O’Neal, a real estate sales associate in McDonough, Ga., a southeastern suburb of Atlanta.

Starwood Waypoint is able to act so fast because the team quickly evaluates potential purchases using a data map that ranks the "livability" of local neighborhoods based on information provided by its local employees who frequently visit the area. The firm gauges "livability" on several factors, including by how close the home is to retailers and how noisy the neighborhood is. Employees are then rewarded for how good their predictions hold true: The company provides bonuses to its employees based on how accurate their home bids and rental estimates are.

source:  Wall Street Journal 


Lenders are scrutinizing mortgage applications since the financial crisis fallout, which has triggered fears of borrowers who will default or walk-away from their mortgage or mortgage fraud. 

Here are the triggers that may cause the most lender scrutiny of loan applications, according to a recent article at The New York Times:

Signing up for new credit cards: Borrowers should avoid taking on extra debt when applying for a loan — so they may want to wait to buy all the new furniture. Extra debt can be a red flag to a lender and could even jeopardize closing on a new home if the debt pushes the borrower’s total debt levels beyond lender-accepted limits.

Large deposits of money: Lenders are required to account for any cash gifts for down payments, such as from relatives. So if a borrower earns $5,000 a month and suddenly deposits an extra $10,000 beyond that, lenders may question where the money came from when applying for a loan. 

The home’s new address: Buyers who are purchasing a primary home three hours from where they work may also draw increased scrutiny from lenders, according to the Times article. Borrowers may even need a letter from their employer stating that they work from home a few times a week. That’s because lenders may want to ensure the borrower plans to be an owner-occupant and not buying the property to rent or flip, which must be disclosed.

source:  New York Times