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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

Mortgage rates and home prices are on the rise, and some home buyers who were waiting around for the housing market to reach bottom are realizing now they may have missed the boat. 

Mortgage rates are inching up and "It's unlikely that rates will ever be that low again," says Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae's chief economist. 

The Fed had been keeping interest rates at record lows by buying up to $85 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, which has helped bolster the housing market. 

As the economy continues to gain traction, interest rates are expected to continue to increase, since low rates often are associated with a distressed economy. 

But even if mortgage rates move up a percentage point or two, housing experts note that mortgage rates will still be low by historical standards.

source:  CNNMoney


Many home buyers complain that one of the biggest hurdles they face is qualifying for financing. So what are some ways that home shoppers can ensure they qualify for a better mortgage deal — particularly one that takes advantage of the near record-breaking low mortgage rates?

A recent article at Money Magazine highlighted some of the following tips when shopping for a mortgage:

1. High credit scores count. The lowest mortgage rates go to home shoppers with credit scores of 760 or higher. Avoid opening new lines of credit or loans for at least three months prior to getting a loan. Also, on your open accounts, try to pay off those balances. “One large balance — even if it’s paid off at the end of the month — can ding your score by 20 points or more,” according to the article at Money Magazine.

2. Gather plenty of quotes. Most experts say shopping around can pay off. Gather at least six quotes from lenders on mortgage rates because they can vary quite a bit from lender to lender. Request quotes from local and regional lenders as well as national ones for comparison. Be sure to ask about estimated closing costs, too, which can be anywhere from 2 percent or more of the loan balance.

3. Ask about lock-ins. To make sure the rate doesn’t go up when you’re under contract, ask about a lock-in period on the loan, in which lenders agree to not raise the interest rate within a certain time period. Home shoppers should ask their lender and REALTOR® how long it takes to close loans similar to theirs and see how long they can lock a rate in for. Some lenders will charge several hundred dollars to extend a lock-in agreement, so experts recommend learning the lock-in terms beforehand when shopping for the best mortgage deal.

source:  Money Magazine


Access to mortgage credit is at its highest level in at least three years, and credit standards are expected to loosen even more this year, according to a newly-released index by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

MBA’s index, which tracks mortgage credit availability, shows that in March the gauge rose to 114 – the highest reading in the gauge’s three-year history.

“I don’t think there’s any question that mortgage underwriting has gotten easier or is looser than it was two or three years ago, but it’s nowhere near where it was in 2005, 2006,” Guy Cecala, publisher Inside Mortgage Finance, told The Wall Street Journal. “We are talking about easing from extremely tight underwriting standards.”

Some housing experts have been concerned that new mortgage rules for lenders and borrowers this year would tighten credit access. Indeed, 80 percent of bankers said they expected the new regulations to have a “measurable reduction in credit availability,” according to a survey by the American Bankers Association. However, Bob Davis, ABA’s executive vice president, says standards will likely loosen up as lenders adapt to the new rules.

“There will be a tendency for some liberalization over the course of the year,” Davis told The Wall Street Journal. After all, lending experts note that the number of mortgage refinancing applications has drastically fallen the past year, and more banks likely will be looking to the purchase market to make up for that lost share in income.

Indeed, nearly 17 percent of large banks have recently eased credit standards for prime purchase mortgages, while 5.6 percent have tightened their standards and the remainder have left standards the same, according to the Federal Reserve’s recent senior loan officer survey.

source:  Wall Street Journal 


A new report from Smart Growth America and the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Urban Center finds that living in sprawling metropolitan areas has major repercussions on a poor child’s chances of moving up the economic ladder as they enter adulthood.

Researchers found that living in more compact and connected metro areas can help low-income families, surmising that better access to economic opportunity and transportation can help them improve their situation.

“A child [in a low-sprawl area] born in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale has a better chance of rising to the top 20 percent of the income scale by the age of 30,” said Reid Ewing, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah and the lead researcher on the report. “My explanation at this point is that a low-income person living in a very compact area has a much better access to jobs.”

The report looked both at how compact a metro area is as well as how well-connected homes are with job centers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, New York and San Francisco took the top prizes in terms of combating sprawl in large metro areas. The rankings for the medium metro areas were more revealing.

The top six most compact, connected medium metro areas are:

  1. Madison, Wis.
  2. Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, Pa./N.J.
  3. Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, Conn.
  4. Stockton, Calif.
  5. New Haven/Milford, Conn.
  6. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

By contrast, the most sprawling medium metro areas are:

  1. Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway, Ark.
  2. Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C.
  3. Jackson, Miss.
  4. Knoxville, Tenn.
  5. Columbia, S.C.
  6. Chattanooga, Tenn./Ga.

source:  Aljazeera America


Home owners trump renters when it comes to finding someone to date, according to a new survey of 1,000 single people. More than a third of women and 18 percent of men would rather date a home owner than a renter, according to the survey, which was conducted on behalf of Trulia.

On the other hand, only 2 percent of women said they’d prefer to date a renter, while 3 percent of men said they’d prefer a renter. 

Not only do both sexes prefer home owners, but they also prefer you live alone. Sixty-two percent of the singles surveyed said they prefer to date others who live alone and have no roommates. 

And while the number of young adults who have moved back in with their parents has skyrocketed in recent months due to economic hardships, less than 5 percent of the singles surveyed said they would date someone living in their parents' home. 

What home qualities are the many singles who prefer ownership to renting most drawn to?

The top vote-getters were the master bath, walk-in closets, and gourmet kitchens. They also gave high ranks to hardwood floors, outdoor decks, and home theaters. 

source:  CNNMoney


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



The amount of water flowing into Central Texas' Highland Lakes Travis and Buchanan remained near all-time lows in March as the severe drought has reduced many of the lakes' tributaries to trickles.

Only 8,102 acre-feet of water flowed into the lakes in March, about 9 percent of average for the month. Inflows for January through March 2014 were lower than the same three months in 2011, a year that had the lowest annual inflows on record. Inflows are the amount of water that flows into the lakes from streams and tributaries. Rain totals across the Hill Country also were historically low the first three months of the year, generally averaging less than an inch.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan are the region's major water reservoirs. They provide water for more than a million people and for businesses, industries, agriculture and the environment throughout the lower Colorado River basin.

The lower Colorado River basin is now in the seventh year of a severe drought. Lakes Travis and Buchanan are at 37 percent of capacity and could hit all-time lows this summer if the intense drought conditions continue.

In response to the drought, LCRA, with permission from the state, has cut off Highland Lakes water to most interruptible agricultural customers for three years in a row. LCRA also has limited lawn and landscape watering to once a week in the communities it serves. If combined storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan falls to 600,000 acre-feet (about 30 percent of capacity), LCRA would cut off remaining irrigation and require firm customers, mostly cities and industries, to cut their water use by 20 percent compared to use from September 2010 to August 2011.

However, there is hope for some relief later this year. The National Weather Service says there is a greater than 50 percent chance an El Niño will develop later this year. If that occurs, it could generate wetter weather in Texas this fall and winter.

There has not been enough rain in the right places during this prolonged drought to generate significant inflows. As a result, inflows have been at or near historic lows for an extended period of time:

  • 2011 inflows were the lowest in history, only about 10 percent of the annual average;
  • 2013 inflows were the second lowest in history at about 18 percent of the annual average;
  • 2008 inflows were the third lowest in history at about 23 percent of the annual average;
  • 2012 inflows were the sixth lowest in history at about 32 percent of the annual average; and
  • 2009 inflows were the ninth lowest in history at about 41 percent of average.

There was significant rain in the lower Colorado River basin in 2013, including storms powerful enough to cause damaging floods in Austin and other communities late in the year. However, much of the heavy rain in 2013 fell in Austin or downstream of Austin. Rain that falls downstream of lakes Travis and Buchanan, including in Austin, cannot be captured in the Highland Lakes system. It flows down the Colorado River toward Matagorda Bay.

LCRA is pursuing a reservoir in Wharton County near the Gulf Coast to take advantage of rain events like these. The reservoir would allow LCRA to capture flows that enter the Colorado River downstream of Lake Travis and hold them for later use.

The new reservoir would be the first built in the lower Colorado River basin in decades. It is expected to be completed by 2017. The reservoir would serve industrial and agricultural customers in the lower basin and would benefit customers throughout the basin by reducing the need to release water from the Highland Lakes.

The Highland Lakes were created to manage floods on the Colorado River and to provide a sustainable source of water for the basin as a whole. To the extent that the new downstream reservoir will be able to provide water to help meet the needs of the lower basin, less water from the Highland Lakes will be needed for these purposes.

LCRA also is drilling five groundwater wells on its property in Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop County. Two wells began operating in late December. The other three are scheduled to be finished by summer. The water is being used at the power plants to produce electricity, reducing the need to send water from the Highland Lakes downstream for that purpose.

source:  LCRA


As U.S. home prices rise, consumers are once again prioritizing their mortgage payments over paying down credit card debt, according to a new report from TransUnion. It’s the first time since 2008 that borrowers have shifted their focus back to mortgage debt ahead of credit card debt.

Mortgage delinquencies are falling, too. The delinquency rate dropped to 1.71 percent in December, down from 3.32 percent in September 2008.

Following the housing crisis, many home owners were underwater on their mortgages, and some stopped making mortgage payments a priority, TransUnion notes.

“As unemployment rose and home prices cratered, many borrowers chose to value their credit card relationships above their mortgages,” says Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting at TransUnion. “When people lose jobs, they need credit cards as a source of liquidity.”

While consumers are placing more of a focus on paying their mortgages, the debt they still prioritize above mortgages continues to be auto loans, TransUnion reports.

source:  CNNMoney 


Tech firms are ramping up offerings for businesses and consumers on mobile security, responding to the growing threat from hackers and viruses hitting mobile devices.  

Mobile devices are "uniquely more sensitive than PCs," because "the device is with you all the time," says Tarek Alawdeen with Trend Micro.

And the mobile threat is not about just about protecting against viruses, Kevin Mahaffey, chief technical officer of Lookout Mobile Security, which specializes in security services for Android and BlackBerry handsets, told USA Today. "Security involves everything that could go wrong with your mobile device," he said.

Companies such as Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, and Webroot, as well as others, are spotlighting their mobile-security services more to respond to the growing threats. A subscription for mobile security services usually costs about $30 a year and can include everything from anti-virus protection and backup data storage to the ability to remotely lock a missing device or even wipe clean all of its data. 

Only about 16 percent of consumers have installed the most up-to-date security on their mobile devices, according to a recent survey by Symantec of 12,704 respondents in 24 countries. About 10 percent of respondents reported being the victim of a mobile-related cybercrime, according to the survey. 

source:  USA Today

Home sales and prices are on the move in many markets.
highlighted several keys to getting a home sold rapidly in today's real estate market.

1. Study the area trends to find the right asking price. 'The first 30 days on the market are the most important," says Elizabeth Kamar, a real estate professional in Norwalk, Conn. That crucial time is when the home gets the most attention and showings. For sellers who aren’t realistic about the price from the get-go, they often end up with less than they would have if they priced it right initially, Kamar says.

Experts also note that if after 30 days on the market there are still no buyers, sellers may need to make a big move.

"When a property sits, people start thinking it must be listed too high," says Ellen Klein, a real estate professional in Rockaway, N.J. She suggests making a giant price cut--as much as 10 percent of the asking price--which may be extra motivation for buyers to take a second look or attract a new pool of potential buyers seeking a lower price range.

2. Play hardball in negotiations. Sellers shouldn’t feel they have to accept any offer that comes their way. However, if a buyer is willing to negotiate, that’s when sellers need to try to set aside feelings of anger or insult and start to counteroffer, says Mabel Guzman, president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. Guzman says the idea is that you’ll be able to negotiate within $10,000 to $20,000 of an acceptable offer. Using incentives--such as agreeing to leave the appliances--may get buyers to budge in agreeing to a higher price.

3. Stage it. Staging is becoming popular in trying to sell mid-range homes. Professional stagers will help home owners highlight key areas of a home and often rearranges furniture or bring new furniture in, repaint, and get the home looking like it’s ripped from a catalog. Real estate brokers say that proper staging can actually speed up a sale and increase the final sales price too. 

4. Get the home in front of as many buyers as possible. The real estate professional needs to get creative in the marketing to make sure the home gets a lot of attention from buyers. "The more eyeballs that get on the listing, the better," says Katie Curnutte of the real estate information web site 

One key: Boosting the home’s online presence. Having 20 instead of five photos will nearly double the number of hits the property gets on the Web, according to