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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

Social Security turned 80 this month, and the massive retirement and disability program is showing its age.

Social Security’s disability fund is projected to run dry next year. The retirement fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035. But once the fund is depleted, the shortfalls are enormous.

The stakes are huge: Nearly 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get monthly Social Security payments, a number that is projected to grow to 90 million over the next two decades.

And the timing is bad: Social Security faces these problems as fewer employers are offering traditional pensions, forcing older workers to think hard about how they will afford retirement.

“This is a program that’s been immensely popular since it began,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP. “Increasingly, people recognize that saving for retirement is becoming harder and harder, and Social Security is becoming even more important.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. Here are things to know about the federal government’s largest program on its 80th birthday:

WHY IS SOCIAL SECURITY AT RISK? Social Security’s long-term financial problems are largely a result of demographic changes. Every day, about 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65. These are the baby boomers.

Typical boomers, however, didn’t have as many children as their parents did. As a result, relatively fewer workers are left to pay taxes.

In 1960, there were more than five workers for every person receiving Social Security. Today there are fewer than three. In 20 years, there will be about two workers for every person getting benefits.

Americans are also living longer. In 1940, someone who was 65 could be expected to live about 14 more years, on average. Today, they can expect to live an additional 20 years, on average.

BENEFITS Last year, Social Security paid nearly $850 billion in benefits – about a quarter of all federal spending. The average monthly payment is $1,221. That comes to about $14,700 a year.

For most retirees, Social Security accounts for the majority of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2016? The trust fund that supports Social Security’s disability program is projected to run dry in late 2016 – right in the middle of a presidential election. If Congress allows that to happen, it would trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits to the 11 million people who receive Social Security disability.

Congress has an easy fix available. Lawmakers could redirect tax revenue from Social Security’s much bigger retirement program, as it has done in the past.

If Congress redirects the tax revenue, the retirement fund would lose one year of solvency, so both the retirement program and the disability program would have enough money to pay full benefits until 2034. At that point, Social Security would collect enough in taxes to pay 79 percent of benefits, according to the program’s trustees.

Republicans are balking at the fix. They see the funding crisis as an opportunity to improve a disability program that they believe is plagued by waste and abuse. They want to change the disability program to reduce fraud and to encourage disabled workers to re-enter the workforce.

Democrats are much more eager to defend the disability program, noting that its modest benefits keep millions of disabled workers and their families out of poverty. They say Republicans are manufacturing a crisis by refusing to redirect tax revenue between the trust funds.

HOW BIG IS THE LONG-TERM PROBLEM? The numbers are beyond comprehension.

Social Security uses a 75-year window to foreits finances, so the projections cover the life expectancy of every worker paying into the system. Over the next 75 years, Social Security is projected to pay out $159 trillion more in benefits than it will collect in taxes, according to agency data.

That’s not a typo.

Adjusted for inflation, it comes to $35.3 trillion in 2015 dollars. That’s nearly twice the national debt, which took the entire federal government 239 years to accumulate.

DID CONGRESS ALREADY SPEND THE TRUST FUNDS? Yes. For much of the past three decades, Social Security produced big surpluses, collecting more in taxes than it paid in benefits. Social Security invested those surpluses in special U.S. Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

They are now valued at $2.8 trillion.

But as Social Security was generating surpluses, the rest of the federal government was running deficits, for all but a few years around the turn of the century.

To finance deficit spending, the Treasury borrowed from the public and from other federal programs, including Social Security.

DIDN'T CONGRESS FIX SOCIAL SECURITY UNDER REAGAN? Yes. Social Security was on the brink of insolvency in the early 1980s when Congress and President Ronald Reagan agreed to gradually increase payroll taxes and to reduce benefits, in part by gradually raising the retirement age. Those changes didn’t permanently fix Social Security, but they provided enough revenue to pay full benefits for about 50 years.

In today’s political climate, another feat like that would be historic.

source:  Associated Press




More home owners have planned to renovate their houses this year, according to Houzz, a remodeling Web site. The company surveyed approximately 100,000 home owners, and 53 percent of them reported that now is a good time to remodel. 

More home owners getting motivated to increasing the values of their houses by improving the “look, flow, and layout” of these residences.

The most popular renovation projects were centered around bathrooms and kitchens. Twenty-eight percent said they were planning a bathroom remodel or addition, while 23 percent of those surveyed said they were planning a kitchen remodel or addition in the next two years. Over the last six years, home owners have spent $28,030 on average to remodel their kitchens, according to the Houzz survey.

Top 10 Remodeling Projects That Offer the Biggest Returns

source:  Inman News


Where are the biggest increases in rental rates likely to occur this year?

Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, and Michigan may offer some of the highest returns for investors, according to a new analysis by RealtyTrac, which recently analyzed the markets most likely to offer the best returns in buying residential rental properties.

“With home ownership rates at their lowest level in 20 years, historically low levels of housing starts and relatively low home prices in many parts of the country, there is still plenty of opportunity in the U.S. housing market for single family rental investors employing a variety of investing strategies,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Whether focusing on markets where home ownership-shy Millennials are migrating, markets where recovering Gen X home owners-turned-renters are prevalent, or markets Baby Boomers are testing for retirement, investors can find good options with solid potential rental returns.”

Best Markets for Overall Rental Returns

RealtyTrac analyzed median sales prices for single-family homes and condos and average fair market rents for three-bedroom properties, along with unemployment rates and demographic trends, among 516 U.S. counties. RealtyTrac found the following markets had the highest overall potential rental returns:

  1. Clayton County, Ga. (Atlanta metro area)
  2. Bibb County, Ga. (Macon, Ga. metro)
  3. Baltimore City, Md. (Baltimore-Towson, Md. area)
  4. Richmond City, Va.
  5. Wayne County, Mich.

Best Markets for Renting to Millennials

RealtyTrac analyzed where the millennial share of the population was above the national average and where potential annual returns on residential properties were 9 percent or higher. It identified the following millennial markets as having the highest annual rental returns:

  1. Baltimore City, Md.
  2. Richmond City, Va.
  3. Philadelphia County, Pa.
  4. Wyandotte County, Kan.
  5. Richmond County, Ga.

Best Markets for Renting to GenXers

  1. Atlanta
  2. Chicago
  3. Jacksonville, Fla.
  4. Little Rock, Ark.
  5. Orlando

Best Counties for Renting to Baby Boomers

  1. Tampa, Fla.
  2. Ocala, Fla.
  3. East Stroudsburg, Penn.
  4. Homosassa Springs, N.Y.
  5. Binghamton, N.Y.

source:  RealtyTrac


The Penske Truck Rental’s list of top moving destinations has plenty of sunny locales.

Here is the list of some of their top cities:

1. Atlanta
2. Phoenix
3. Orlando, Fla.
4. Dallas/Fort Worth
5. Chicago
6. Houston
7. Denver
8. Seattle
9. Sarasota, Fla.
10. Charlotte, N.C.

There are no new market entries.

No region moved up or down more than two positions, with Dallas/Fort Worth dropping two places, from second to fourth. Half the list (Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Sarasota, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C.,) remained in identical positions.

“As this list indicates, U.S. residents continue migrating primarily toward warm weather areas,” noted Don Mikes, Penske’s vice president of rental. “The list is compiled through online consumer truck rental reservations and through our call centers.”



A major beach expansion has begun in Galveston, Texas, representing the largest sand nourishment project to take place on the Texas Gulf Coast this year.

The project will use 725,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from the Galveston Ship Channel to create 20 blocks of additional beach along the island’s seawall between 61st and 81st streets.

"This is the single largest volume of sand ever placed on Galveston’s beaches," said Park Board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun. "This project is part of a long-term strategy to build public beaches, protect community assets from storm surges and increase property values on the island."

The $23 million project is sponsored by the Galveston Park Board, City of Galveston and the Texas General Land Office. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District, which dredges the ship channel every 18-24 months, will place the material on the beach in lieu of offshore.

The project will take approximately 60 days to complete. During construction, public access to west seawall beaches between 61st and 81st streets will be limited.

In addition, volunteers are also signing up now for the nation's biggest coastal cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 26.

The 2015 Texas General Land Office Adopt-A-Beach Fall Cleanup takes place at 30 of Texas’ most popular tourist beaches. Volunteers can sign up online at

Each volunteer will be given data cards, gloves, pencils and trash bags. Participants are advised to wear closed-toe shoes, bring sunscreen and plenty of drinking water.

Texans who are not able to attend the cleanup can help keep their beaches clean by making a tax-deductible donation online.  

source:  Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees and Texas General Land Office


Five to six million new renter households may be created within the next 8 years, caused from low inventories of homes available and tight credit conditions, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Rental demand is expected to particularly increase among seniors looking to downsize their homes, as well as young adults and a growing immigrant population.

“We expect to see an increase in household formation and for a variety of reasons that household formation is likely to be more heavily concentrated among renters and households who are likely to be renters for somewhat longer than was the case for the last 20 years,” Barry Zigas, director of Housing Policy for Consumer Federation of America, told HousingWire.

Tight credit conditions continues to be one main culprit holding back home ownership among some potential buyers.

“Credit for home ownership borrowing will likely be tighter and potentially more expensive, relative to earlier times,” Zigas predicts. “Families will likely have less wealth because the rising generation is starting with less wealth. If down payments are at any significant level, it will be a barrier to acquiring a home for longer than may have been the case in the past.”

source:  HousingWire


Overall, today’s home buyers tend to be fairly knowledgeable about the real estate market, but there are still a few points of confusion in the process, a survey by Zillow of 1,000 potential home buyers finds. 

Here are the five main areas of confusion the survey revealed: 

  • Appreciation: About 42 percent of home buyers believe home values will appreciate by 7 percent a year. Reality: Historically, home values in a normal market appreciate by 2 to 5 percent in a year. 
  • Mortgage insurance: 41 percent of buyers think they will have to purchase private mortgage insurance, regardless of the amount of their downpayment. Reality: Buyers only need to purchase PMI if their downpayment is less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price.
  • Appraisals: 56 percent of the buyers said the purpose of the appraisal was to determine if a home was in good condition. Reality: That’s the purpose of a home inspection; an appraisal estimates fair market value. 
  • Home owner’s insurance: 37 percent of home buyers said that buying home owner’s insurance is optional. Reality: Lenders require homebuyers to purchase homeowner’s insurance. 
  • Ownership: 47 percent of home buyers said a prospective buyer owns a home after the purchase contract is signed. Reality: The purchase and sales agreement is the beginning of the closing phase, but it can be a long process until they finally take ownership. 

source:  Zillow Inc.


Hawai'i home owners tend to take on the most debt in their home purchases with an average home loan amount of $677,299, according to a study by, which revealed the average loan amounts on residential real estate purchases.

That means the average home owner in Hawai'i would have a monthly payment of about $3,234 for a 30-year mortgage, before taxes and insurance, according to LendingTree data. 

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, home owners take on the lowest loan amounts at $137,182 or $655 monthly mortgage payments, on average. 

The national average for a home loan is $222,261 with a $1,061 average monthly payment for a 30-year mortgage at 4 percent, according to LendingTree. 

The following are the top states with the highest loan amounts, including the average closed home loan, according to LendingTree: 

  • Hawai'i: $667,299.33
  • Washington, D.C.: $393,453
  • New Jersey: $344,240.85
  • New York: $340,124.50
  • Maryland: $328,650.89
  • Connecticut: $326,416.85
  • Virginia: $312,930.83
  • California: $310,676.35
  • Utah: $276,211.67

source:  LendingTree LLC


Austin-based Whole Foods plans to open one of its new concept stores — 365 by Whole Foods Market — at the northeast corner of Yale and Loop 610 near the popular Houston Garden Oaks/Greater Heights neighborhoods.

Whole Foods will lease space for the new concept — the first of its kind in Texas — in a new project to be developed by Houston-based Fidelis Realty Partners called Yale Marketplace.

The 365 store offers a more value-oriented mix of products.

A Fidelis partnership bought the 4-acre parcel last month. The property houses Neff Rental, a construction equipment rental operation.

"We are really excited about the progress we have made with securing real estate in markets where there is high demand for both quality food and value in a convenient format," Jeff Turnas, president of 365 by Whole Foods Market, said in a statement. "Yale Marketplace in Houston, Texas is an ideal location to bring a fresh new shopping experience that draws from Whole Foods Market stores' best innovations and gives them a new expression both in terms of the look and feel of the store and product assortment."

source:  Houston Chronicle


A new study pitted two rival grocery store chains – Whole Foods and Trader Joe's – against one another to find out which grocery store increases the value of nearby homes the most.

To determine if it's better to buy near Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, RealtyTrac looked at home values, appreciation, and property taxes across the country in ZIP codes with these grocery chains.

There's good news for home owners living near a Trader Joe's, according to the study. Home owners near a Trader Joe’s have seen an average 40 percent increase in home values since they purchased compared to home owners living near Whole Foods who have seen a 34 percent appreciation.

Homes near a Trader Joe's tend to have a higher value on average at $592,339 – 5 percent greater than the $561,840 average value for homes near Whole Foods. For comparison, the average value of homes nationwide is $260,068 across all ZIP codes nationwide.

In property taxes, home owners living near a Trader Joe's pay an average of $8,536 in property taxes each year, 59 percent more than the $5,382 average for home owners living near a Whole Foods. That is also much higher than the national average for property taxes, which is $3,239 across all ZIP codes, according to the analysis.

source:  RealtyTrac