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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

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) 2015 rate changes are set to take effect today, April 1. 

On average overall, rates are rising 10%. This is consistent with the 5-10% increases prior to the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act. There is also a new surcharge to pay for recent NFIP legislative reforms.

Last year, Biggert-Waters was amended for about 20% of policy holders who bought an older property (including second homes) and jumped from a subsidized rate to full cost for flood insurance overnight.

The amendments resolve the implementation problems by resetting the rates to pre-Biggert-Waters levels and capping them at 18-25% per year in the future.

source:  NAR


When the guy who owns most of Hell retires, who steps in to take his place?

That's the question facing the tourist destination Hell, Michigan, where business owner John Colone decided to retire and sell his properties. Rick Beaudin, CDPE, SFR, the self-styled "Pinckney Pirate" with RE/MAX Platinum in nearby Brighton, has listed the properties -- including Scream’s Ice Cream and Diner, the Helloween Hell Souvenirs Shop, a putt-putt course, and a wedding chapel -- for $999,666. Appropriately, the listing was posted on a Friday, the 13th.

Included in the purchase, according to, "are merchandising rights to 'Hell' as well as its websites and social media accounts." But be ready for stiff competition: A Detroit-area performance group has initiated a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to buy the property. At last check, the campaign's two dozen–plus backers have pledged more than $45,000, but, with a goal of $1,333,666 — explaining that they "added extra to the campaign to help alleviate the Kickstarter fees and some of the building construction costs" — they may have a snowball's chance in Hell of achieving their goal.



According to a study by Nokia, people say they are more likely to reach out to their friends and family via text messages or e-mail than a voice phone call from a mobile or landline phone. 

Twenty-one percent of survey respondents said they preferred to send an SMS text message to contact someone; e-mail was the second preference, at about 18 percent. Meanwhile, 17 percent of respondents said they prefer a voice call from their mobile phone. 

Messaging services like WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, and instant messengers were all found to be more favored by survey respondents than making a voice call from a landline. 

Also when given the choice of sending a message to someone over Facebook or talking face-to-face, 10 percent said Facebook was the best way to communicate, while 8 percent said face-to-face was preferred, according to the study. 

Nokia did not release how many people were surveyed in its study. 

source:  AFP Relax


Cash buyers take advantage of bargain housing prices. These buyers may also put consumers who need financing at a disadvantage. 

Sellers often prefer cash deals because it can mean faster closings and transactions that are less likely to fall through. Some sellers are even accepting lower offers because they are from cash buyers than higher offers from a financing buyer just because they view it as a more solid deal that will be quicker to the closing table. 

So how can your financed buyers compete? Experts offer a few tips.

Get pre-approved or pre-qualified for a mortgage. “The smartest thing they can do is make sure they talk to a competent mortgage banker … to pre-approve them ahead of time,” says Mike Litzner, broker and owner of Century 21 American Homes in New York.

Show you’re in good standing. You'll improve your chances of getting a seller to accept your bid by having more cash that you’re willing to put down, showing you have a stable job, and good credit, Litzner says. Also, a well-prepared, typed-out contract that includes a cover page summary of the contract deals is another way to show you’re a serious buyer, says Dan Quinn, a real estate professional with Prudential Carruthers REALTORS® in the Silver Spring area of Maryland.

Offer more earnest money. Offering a high down payment and high deposit can also help improve your chances of beating out a cash bidder, Quinn says. 

Act quickly. “What I found out is with these cash buyers, they act quickly,” Quinn says. “To compete, you have to act quickly. A lot of times, these are investors and they have a relationship with these listing agents.” Buyers' agents should develop rapport with the listing agents too, Quinn says. 

Realize, however, that while some sellers may be highly motivated to accept a cash buyers offer, even if it’s lower than others, sellers with more equity in their homes may be less wooed by lowball cash offers, says Donne Knudsen, a mortgage loan originator with Cobalt Financial Corp. in Los Angeles. Instead, sellers who still have equity in their homes likely will be more motivated by the best and highest offer, since closing quickly may not be as critical to them, she says. 

source:  MarketWatch


Freddie Mac has begun offering mortgages with down payments of only 3 percent — the first time they've been this low on the GSE's loans in nearly five years. The move is expected to make more credit available to entry-level borrowers.

"By launching our 3 percent down payment mortgage now, at the start of the spring homebuying season, lenders will be ready to serve qualified working families who are ready to buy and keep the recovery going," Dave Lowman, executive vice president for Freddie Mac's single-family business, writes on its Executive Perspectives blog.

Fannie Mae began insuring 3 percent down payment mortgages in December.  

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, recently said it wanted to make it a priority to "work to increase access to mortgage credit for creditworthy borrowers," according to FHFA's 2015 Scorecard for Freddie Mac. Tight credit conditions and high down payment requirements in recent years have been blamed for sidelining potential home buyers and causing a sluggish housing recovery.

Besides 3 percent down payments, Freddie Mac's Our Home Possible Advantage Program, which is aimed at supporting first-time buyers as well as low- and moderate-income borrowers, is allowing no minimum from borrowers in contributions. That means parents or relatives now can cover 100 percent of the down payment through gifts.

source:  Freddie Mac


In February, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a special enrollment period for those with an ACA penalty for failing to have qualified health coverage in 2014.

The CMS, the federal agency charged with administering the Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance exchange, announced this special federal exchange enrollment period for people who are surprised to find when they go to do their 2014 taxes that they have to pay an ACA penalty for failing to have qualified health coverage last year. The special enrollment period runs from March 15 to April 15.  

According to CMS, those eligible for the special enrollment period must:

  • Live in states with a federally-facilitated marketplace,
  • Currently not be enrolled in coverage through the federal exchange for 2015,
  • Attest that when they filed their 2014 tax return they paid the fee for not having health coverage in 2014, and
  • Attest that they first became aware of, or understood the implications of, the Shared Responsibility Payment after the end of open enrollment (February 15) in connection with preparing their 2014 taxes.

Coverage brought through the special enrollment period before the 15th of the month will be effective the first day of the following month.

Since the federal announcement, a number of states with their own exchanges have implemented a similar policy.

source:  U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services 


Single female households continue to grow: About 20 percent of recent home buyers were from single females, according to National Association of REALTORS® data. 

An recent article at Realty Times highlighted the characteristics female buyers tend to want in a new home:

Proximity to family: Female home buyers tend to say they want to live closer to their extended family than their job. 

Safety. They’ll likely want to review crime trends for neighborhoods, streets, and buildings as safety tends to be a big priority for female home buyers. 

Traditional use. According to a recent Coldwell Banker survey, men are four times more likely than females to turn an extra 12' x 12' foot space into an entertainment room.  However, females tend to be more traditional in their sense of space and are more likely to respond to seeing a house how it already is. “She’ll come up with her own plans,” the article notes. 

source:  Realty Times


With tight inventories and more competition, buyers are finding they have less negotiating power in today’s market. CNNMoney recently highlighted some of the following tips to help home buyers be more successful in their purchases this spring: 

1. Lowball offers are a waste of time: “The days when you could scoop up a house for 20 percent less than the list price are long gone,” the article notes. Homes are selling much closer to their asking price nowadays, surveys show. Michael Murphree, a real estate professional in Birmingham, Ala., says he advises his clients that if homes are selling below the list price in an area but are still being sold in less than two months to make an offer that is no more than 2 to 3 percent below the asking price. If homes are selling above the listing price, Murphree advises clients to make their first offer at the full asking price.  

2. How to win a bidding war: To do that, agents say come with a higher price and fewer contingencies, and be flexible with when you can move in. In some transactions, the sellers could be left trying to find new housing for themselves, so some real estate professionals suggest leaving the closing date blank on the contract and allow the seller to fill it in, or be willing to negotiate a leaseback if the seller needs more time to vacate. 

3. Shop around for financing: Credit unions and small banks tend to offer the lowest rates and may even be less strict about their underwriting, Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, told the site. Cecala recommends getting a good-faith estimate from one lender and then showing it to other lenders to see if they can beat it. 

source:  CNNMoney


Welcome to the AskinsOnline current Housing Trends eNewsletter.

This eNewsletter is specially designed for you, with national and local housing information that you may find useful whether you’re in the market for a home, thinking about selling your home, or just interested in homeowner issues in general.

The Housing Trends eNewsletter contains the latest information from the National Association of REALTORS®, the U.S. Census Bureau and reports, videos, key market indicators and real estate sales statistics, a video message by a nationally recognized economist, maps, mortgage rates and calculators, consumer articles, plus local neighborhood information and more.

For the latest information, click here.


Foreclosures continue to fall across the country and the return to normal levels may be on the horizon for many places, according to a new report.

Foreclosure filings fell 4 percent in February, reaching the lowest level since July 2006, according to RealtyTrac’s U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. Foreclosure filings reflect the number of default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions. The U.S. foreclosure rate now stands at one in every 1,295 homes that received a foreclosure filing in February.

"Given that August 2006 was the peak of the housing bubble, this eight-and-a-half year low in foreclosure activity is a significant milestone and a sign that nationwide foreclosure activity is on track to return to historic norms this year — and is possibly even headed below historic norms given the skinny-jeans-tight lending standards over the past five years," says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "In markets where foreclosures were processed more efficiently we are seeing foreclosure numbers now below pre-crisis levels in some cases. Conversely, the cleanup of deferred distress is continuing in markets where a logjam of in-limbo foreclosures is still lingering from the housing crisis — as evidenced by rebounding foreclosure activity in those markets."

24 states posted year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity. Activity was most elevated in Massachusetts (up 53% year-over-year) and New York, up 19 percent.

States With the Highest Foreclosure Rates

The following states posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rates:

1. Maryland: 1 in every 564 housing units received a foreclosure filing in February (foreclosure activity has fallen 1 percent compared to a year ago there, however)

2. Nevada: 1 in every 569 homes received a foreclosure filing (a 12 percent rise from a year ago mostly from a rise in foreclosure starts)

3. Florida: 1 in every 570 housing units (despite a 35 percent decrease in foreclosure activity compared to a year ago)

4. Indiana: 1 in every 871 housing units

5. Idaho: 1 in every 877 housing units

6. New Jersey: 1 in every 895 housing units

7. Illinois: 1 in every 906 housing units

8. Delaware: 1 in every 957 housing units

9. Ohio: 1 in every 1,000 housing units

10. North Carolina: 1 in every 1,088 housing units

source: RealtyTrac