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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

Model homes are designed to give buyers the allusion of perfection. Mary Cook, an interior designer with Mary Cook & Associates, has built her business around "merchandising" model homes for builders nationwide, and she says sellers could learn from tricks of model merchandisers in preparing their own home for sale.

Here are a few tips she recently shared with the Chicago Tribune.

1. First impressions count. “I'd put the effort right into what they see when they walk through the door,” Cook says. “If you ‘capture’ them and elevate their mood right away, it will carry the house better than if you had to earn their ‘uplifted emotions’ later on in other rooms of the house.”

2. Make sure scale and proportion fit. Cook says many sellers struggle with high ceilings in McMansions and what to do with those two-story walls. “They say, do I hang pictures at 14 feet? They're hesitant to go out and buy a big, monster piece of art, but if a professional designer would see that you've done that, they'd say it's perfect, and you're done,” Cook says. “If you have a whole bunch of little things, putting them in a group together on the wall can have the same effect, though there's an art to grouping them.”

3. Use color to enhance. Staying in safety neutral color zone, she says, isn’t always going to work, but be careful in the color you choose because it can have a big effect on buyers. “I remember years ago we did a model home where we painted the walls a banana yellow, and it wasn't received well at all,” Cook says. “Older people would catch a glimpse of themselves in the mirror, and it was harsh; they just didn't look good. We changed it to a peachy color, and people seemed to feel better in there. It goes back to elevating the buyer's mood."

4. Stand out. “Presume that the buyer has three houses lined up, and they're all at the right price,” Cook says. “You have to identify all the reasons why somebody would possibly want to live there and what makes your place different.” For example, she’ll often have a basket on the countertop filled with a collection of dining brochures, maps, fitness center brochures, activity calendars from the park district, nearby restaurant menus, local hospital information, and information on the local schools--any information that highlights the benefits of living there.

source:  Chicago Tribune 


Vibrant colors are still in this spring. 

Home owners jazzing up their properties should consider switching out beige neutrals on the walls for cool grey hues and pale pastels. For a more fresh, modern look, complement rooms with bold-colored furnishings and warm metals.

Blush tones paired with masculine hues also are in style. Lighter wood is gaining popularity for furniture, countertops, and flooring, as it hides dents and scratches and complements soft natured paint colors.

Trusted trendsetter, Pantone, has chosen Radiant Orchid, described as an enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones." as its 2015 "Color of the Year." 

 Along with purple, pale pink is also making a comeback. Popular 1980's blush-tones can be modernized this season by pairing them with masculine hues. It's true when they say trends come back full circle, but don't fret- the rest of 80's style is not making its comeback! 

Meanwhile, silver or steel hardware, fixtures, furniture, and decor are increasingly being replaced by gold. Personalization is also happening in the kitchen, with custom painted cabinetry; and more home owners are avoiding granite in favor of more resilient synthetic materials.

source:  Realty Times


Home prices may have been on the rise the last few years, but homes are still more affordable now than they were in the pre-bubble years, according to the latest Mortgage Monitor Report released by Black Knight Financial Services.

Households are using 21 percent of the national median income to pay a mortgage on a median-priced home. In 2000-2002, the average payment-to-income ratio was 26 percent, and in 2006, it was 33 percent.

However, Black Knight’s report warns that if home prices continue to increase – as they have year-over-year for 43 consecutive months – the affordability picture in home ownership could start to change in two years.

Black Knight factored in a continuing 5.5 percent annual home price appreciation as well as interest rate rises of 50 basis points a year. Under that scenario, “we see that in two years home affordability will be pushing the upper bounds of that pre-bubble average,” says Ben Graboske, senior vice president at Black Knight Data and Analytics. “At the state level under that same scenario, eight states would be less affordable than 2000-2002 levels within 12 months and 22 states would be within 24 months.”

Graboske notes that Hawaii and Washington, D.C., in particular, are already less affordable than they were during the pre-bubble era. On the other hand, he says, even after 24 months under this scenario, Michigan – and a few other states – would still be much more affordable by the end of 2017 than it was in the early 2000s.

Within 12 months, the average mortgage payment is expected to rise by $114, which would then require 24 percent of a household’s monthly income – still below the 2000-2002 levels, according to Black Knight. But by the end of 2017, monthly mortgage payments are expected to be $240 more than today, which would push the tally to 26.5 percent of a household’s income and the upper levels of the pre-bubble averages, the report notes.

source:  Black Knight Financial Services


The ugly home's curb appeal may begin and end at the curb — but more and more real estate professionals are bringing a dose of reality to their listings of eyesores, hoping the ugly ducklings might still attract home buyers.® reports that a small but growing number of listings nationwide are advertising “ugly homes,” complete with descriptions of the home as “dirty” to the “worst in the neighborhood.”

“People love eye-catching headlines, and reverse psychology seems to work,” says Cara Ameer, a real estate professional in Ponte Vedra, Fla. “These types of descriptors pique interest, and people say, ‘How bad could it be?’”

One three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Northridge, Calif., listed at $475,000 is being marketed as a “flipper’s fantasy” -- but “cash only.” The listing includes photos showing an exterior covered in overgrown landscaping and a brown, dirty interior complete with wall cracks and missing flooring.

The listing reads: “This is truly the worst home in the best neighborhood.”® notes the home has been viewed 123,900 times since being posted two weeks ago.

A three-bedroom home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., is also trying to use the “worst home in the neighborhood” hook to lure a buyer. The listing description reads: “We have the winner in the ugly-house contest with this. … It needs everything, starting with soap and water. … Because of its horrendous condition, you have the opportunity for the buy of a lifetime.”

source:® and New York Post


Owning a home can make families healthier, happier, and more financially secure, according to research by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. on the benefits of home ownership. Researchers worked with Habitat for Humanity families to evaluate how their lives changed after moving into their homes. 

Eighty-nine percent of the Canadian families surveyed said their lives improved since they moved into their homes. Eighty-six percent said they’re happier since owning a home. 

The survey also found home ownership led to an improvement in children’s school performance. The families reported that the children had increased confidence, improved behavior, higher grades, and enjoyed school more after becoming home owners.

What’s more, more than 75 percent of families surveyed say their health had improved since becoming home owners. They reported fewer illnesses caused by colds, flu, allergies, and stress, according to the study. 

Canada’s home ownership rate -- at about 70 percent -- is one of the highest in the world. 

"There is evidence from numerous studies that attest to the benefits [of home ownership] accruing to many segments of society,” according to Canadian researchers. “Home ownership boosts the educational performance of children, induces higher participation in civic and volunteering activity, improves health care outcomes, lowers crime rates and lessens welfare dependency."

source:  Realty Times


Don't let your home get the winter blues just by forgetting to take preventative steps.

Before the next cold weather approaches, home owners can still do the following maintenance checks to ensure their properties are ready. The real estate Web site Zillow offers some of the following tips: 

  • Check the weather stripping along your door and door frame to ensure there are no gaps that can let cold air seep into your home. Also, you may want to add weather stripping or caulk to your windows to prevent any drafts and wasting energy.
  • Sweep out those chimneys or burn a creosote removing log. The National Fire Protection Association advises home owners to sweep out the chimney at least once a year to help prevent house fires.
  • Service those furnaces at least once a year too. It'll cost about $100 and can help avoid costly repairs later or a malfunction of carbon monoxide pumping into the home, which can be deadly.
  • Prevent frozen pipes, such as by using heating tape to wrap any exposed pipes on the home's exterior and turning off the water as well as draining any water remaining inside the valves. 

Read more tips from Zillow on winterizing a home.

source:  Zillow


Hawaii reclaims its number one spot as the “happiest” state in the country – bumping out last year’s winner Alaska. The state has held the happiness title five times since 2008, according to the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The index measures the well-being of states across five elements: purpose, social, financial, community and physical. In 2015, financial well-being increased as well as physical fitness while there were also declines in both food and healthcare insecurity. What’s more, life evaluation – in which how Americans rate and perceive their lives – surged to a record high, according to the index.

“Well-being in the U.S. exhibits regional patterns, with the northern plains and mountain west reporting higher levels of well-being, along with some western states and pockets in the northeast and Atlantic states,” according to the report.

For 2015, here are the states that scored the highest in well-being, according to the index:

  1. Hawaii
  2. Alaska
  3. Montana
  4. Colorado
  5. Wyoming
  6. South Dakota
  7. Minnesota
  8. Utah
  9. Arizona
  10. California
  11. Texas
  12. Florida
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Iowa
  15. North Dakota

Download the report to the full list to see where your state stacks up on the well-being index.

source:  Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index


A court decision in Nevada has put mortgage lenders and housing associations at odds over the sale of foreclosures in a case that could have implications nationwide, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The tension stems from homeowner associations who put liens on properties when home owners stop paying their HOA dues. Homeowner associations, similar to lenders, can foreclose on homes to recoup delinquent payments. Nevada, as well as 20 other states, has laws giving HOA liens priority over first mortgages. That allows HOAs to put a home up for auction and sell it without the mortgage lender's approval, eliminating the first mortgage and then allowing an investor to secure the title of the home. Because HOAs are mostly motivated to recoup the delinquent association fees, the homes they put up for auction — many of which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — are being sold for just a fraction of the cost.

The Mortgage Bankers Association has argued in court that "mortgage lenders stand to lose millions — perhaps even billions — of dollars in security interests." HOAs should have to foreclose through the court system and shouldn't be allowed to wipe away entire mortgages, MBA and other lenders argue.

But the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision and said HOAs have the right to foreclose and eliminate the first mortgage.

The case stems from the sale of a Las Vegas home that had an $885,000 mortgage originated by Bank of America. The home owner defaulted, and the Southern Highlands Community Association foreclosed on the home. The home sold at auction to SFR Investments Pool 1 LLC, which paid $6,000 — the amount owed to the HOA. Bank of America tried to schedule its own foreclosure sale on the property, but SFR stopped the sale, saying its purchase of the home erased the $885,000 outstanding mortgage balance.

If that decision stands, investors see this as a perfect opportunity to cash in on heavily discounted properties.

"This is one of the greatest returns in real estate that I've ever seen," says Jay Bloom, director of investment firm First 100 LLC, which has purchased more than 1,000 homes in states such as Nevada and Washington.

David Stevens, president of MBA, says banks will have to take that risk into account and even possibly raise mortgage rates in Nevada.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency also says it's concerned, since it would prevent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from recovering money on their foreclosed properties in Nevada.

"FHFA is concerned with the decision and is reviewing its significant implications for housing finance," a spokesman for FHFA said in a statement.

source:  Wall Street Journal


An index that measures home values, home equity, and mortgage debt for home owners 62 and older surged to an all-time high in the second quarter of this year, surpassing a prior record in the fourth quarter of 2006.

The National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association/RiskSpan Reverse Mortgage Market Index reached a record high of 195.29 in the second quarter of this year compared to the previous high of 192.03 in 2006. On a quarter-to-quarter basis, senior home equity has increased by $117.1 billion.

"The strong gains in housing wealth among America's seniors are an encouraging economic indicator for the millions of boomers who weathered the recession on the cusp of their retirement years," says NRMLA President Peter Bell. "The home equity they've worked so hard to build up can serve as a valuable financial management tool for years to come."

According to the index, the increase in senior home equity compared to the first quarter was driven by an estimated $122.8 billion rise in the aggregate value of senior housing, which helped to offset a $5.7 billion increase in senior-held mortgage debt.

The second quarter marked the thirteenth consecutive quarter for index rises. An estimated $4.08 trillion in the aggregate value of senior home equity represents a 38 percent recovery from the post-Recession trough in the second quarter of 2011, when senior equity levels had dropped to an estimated $3 trillion, according to NRMLA.

source:  National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association and HousingWire


Home owners who choose to default on their mortgage even though they can afford the monthly payments can expect to take a significant hit to their creditworthiness, some credit rating firms say.

A record of the default — initially as much as 200 points — stays on a credit report for seven years. This will have an impact on the defaulter’s ability to get credit of all kinds and potentially his or her ability to buy insurance and even get a job.

The debt that foreclosure erases may also be considered income, and Uncle Sam may want to collect taxes.

"It's by no means a move to be undertaken lightly," says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian.

source: ARA Content