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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

Everyone wants to live in a smart place. But the magic mix that draws people in is composed of a lot of different dynamics coming together all at once, according to the National Geographic Channel’s Smart Cities program.

“A city needs a heart and soul—typically the center, where people congregate for work and leisure. Smart cities are well-connected locally and internationally, have a sustainable lifestyle, and are places where people come first,” says Ian MacFarlane, consultant for the program.

National Geographic’s Traveler magazine recently compiled a list of the 50 top attributes that make for a smart city, naming cities that exemplify each factor along the way. Of course, the authors were thinking of travel destinations when they put the list together, but many items on their list matched attributes that make for a top place to live, too. Here are a few that resonated with the U.S. real estate industry:

  • Support for local artisans. Example: Paducah, Ky. was recently named a UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art for its promotion of its fiber arts assets and its attempts to attract creative types to its LowerTown Arts District.
  • Dreamers who foster innovation. Example: San Francisco is a city that has more than its fair share of tech start-ups and their eager investors.
  • Urban farming. Example: Manhattan was ahead of the curve when Bell Book & Candle started growing greens in aeroponic rooftop gardens many years ago.
  • High-tech data streams. Example: Chattanooga, Tenn. got the nickname of “Gig City” for its lightning-fast Internet.

The magazine included 47 other examples from around the world of how cities are demonstrating the types of intelligence that delight travelers and residents alike in the upcoming issue.

source:  National Geographic’s Traveler magazine 


Reverse mortgages are an increasing option that baby boomers turn to as they age to cover living expenses, but heirs may get stuck with the final bill, The New York Times reports.

“In the future, more homes passed on to children will come with a bill attached – the balance due on these equity loans,” The Times reports.

Reverse mortgages allow home owners 62 and older to borrow money using their home’s equity as collateral, freeing them from monthly mortgage payments. However, interest and monthly insurance premiums are charged throughout the life of the loan with the total balance becoming due when the borrower permanently moves out of the home or dies.

Heirs will have to handle how the loan is repaid, depending on how much equity remains in the house as well as whether they want to keep the home. But when a property changes hands, the first lein holder on the property title must get repaid and heirs have 30 days decide how to repay it. Heirs may have up to six months to sell the home, or arrange financing by getting a separate mortgage to refinance the home and pay off the reverse mortgage. Two, 90-day extensions are often permitted.

But lenders note: The heir will not be required to pay any shortfall if the home fails to sell or if they don’t sell it for enough to pay the full loan amount.

source:  New York Times


Luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc. CEO says that home buyers may be taking longer to make a home purchase, but “once they do, they’re not skimping on the extras.” 

Douglas Yearley, Toll Brothers’ CEO, told the Associated Press that buyers are loading the “house up with just as many options as they did in those glorious days of ’03, ’04, ’05.”

Yearley says they are seeing about $110,000 per house in upgrades.

“The buyers may be a little more cautious, but once they buy, they still want all the bells and whistles,” Yearley says. 

source:  Associated Press


The Texas Eagle Ford Shale play should produce oil and gas for at least about 16 years as better technology boosts drilling capabilities, says a Texas A&M University economist.

Harold Hunt, a research economist with the university’s Real Estate Center, said he felt confident about the production estimate for the booming South Texas shale play based on the number of wells that are being drilled annually there. He said he expected production will cap out at 20,000 wells.

The play could produce for up to about 64 years if technology allows drillers to get more oil and gas from less acreage, Hunt said. In one forecast, about 80,000 wells would be needed to fully produce Eagle Ford leases, which would increase its productive lifetime.

Hunt said drilling technology should improve in the Eagle Ford, which differs from shale formations in other parts of the country because it produces both oil and gas rather than just one or the other.

“It’s the most interesting play of all the shale plays,” said Hunt.

Mark Dotzour, the center’s chief economist, 
foresees continued growth in the economy that should pick up speed if Congress addresses deficit concerns.

“Americans have credit capacity to buy stuff again, and that, in combination with pent-up demand, should produce positive job growth and not a recession, regardless of who’s president and who’s in Congress,” said Dotzour.

He admitted his optimism is not shared by many business people.

source:  San Antonio Express-News

What home-design trends will likely catch on in new construction? 

Builder Online recently spoke to Mollie Carmichael, principal at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, and Nick Lehnert, executive director at architecture firm KTGY, about the design trends that are gaining popularity in the new-home market this year:

Private space

Baby boomers, empty nesters, and Gen Yers are showing a preference for homes that have more private outdoor spaces, straying from the traditional "public" backyard, according to surveys. One way some builders are fulfilling this desire is by positioning the home's architecture strategically around the outdoor space to enclose it more and allow it to be more open to the interior living spaces. They also are creating more covered outdoor spaces.

The "Super Kitchen"

Besides being a place for cooking, the kitchen is also the entertainment/conversation area in a home. Open-kitchen layouts have continued to grow in popularity, putting kitchens more front-and-center and visibly exposed to other areas of the house. Kitchen islands are offering extra seating and prep space while larger pantries are offering greater storage. "As the hub, it becomes a consumer's dream to design these elements together with function, practicality, and flair," the designers say.

Bigger Media Hubs

More home owners are looking for a place for their large flat-screen television. Larger television sizes are prompting more builders to realize the need for greater wall space to hang the televisions and larger entertainment rooms to accommodate more seating.

Larger Garage Spaces

If home owners had their way, garages wouldn't be just for parking the cars. More home owners want spaces for hobbies and storage, and builders are taking notice by creating larger garages for multi-use purposes.

Home Offices

An office and den space is becoming a bigger desire among home buyers, and the location of it in the home is becoming increasingly important. Placing the home office off the entry is no longer considered the most practical location for it, but builders are experimenting with moving it closer to the "living" area, such as off the kitchen or the family room.

Two Homes in One

As multigenerational living gains popularity, builders are responding by carving out more separate spaces for several generations to live together. For example, some builders are offering semi-independent suites with separate entries, bathrooms, and kitchenettes.

source:  BUILDER Online 


An improving housing market made it a different picture in many areas compared to recent years, housing experts say. A recent article at notes some of the following trends that took shape in the housing market during the last 12 months:

1. Fierce competition.

Housing affordability is at record highs, due to falling home values and mortgage rates hovering near record lows. More buyers are taking notice and jumping off the sidelines. And mixed with sinking inventories of homes listed for sale, the competition is getting more fierce.

Investors are snapping up bargain prices, often in all-cash deals, which means greater competition for traditional home buyers too.

"Rents are going up, and as long as there are properties at the level where investors can get the positive cash flow, they will continue to invest," says Jed Smith, managing director of quantitative research for the National Association of REALTORS®. Smith adds that first-time home buyers, in particular, may find increased competition from investors in trying to snag some of the best deals on the market.

2. More renters show desire to become home owners.

Recent surveys have shown that buying a home nowadays is more affordable than renting. As such, more renters are finding home ownership more enticing.

The signs are already starting to show: About 59.5 percent of tenants recently surveyed say they intend to renew their leases this year, which is the lowest rate since early 2009, according to a study by Kingsley Associates.

3. Mortgages get a little pricier.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration recently have raised their loan fees, which means home buyers can expect to pay a little more for their mortgage.

"Those who don't have credit scores in the high 600s to low 700s may be forced to go the FHA route," says Ed Conarchy, a mortgage planner at Cherry Creek Mortgage in Gurnee, Ill. "And they will be stuck with the higher fees."

Buyers with smaller down payments can expect to pay more for FHA mortgage insurance premiums, which have risen to 1.75 percent of the loan total. cites an example illustrating the higher fees: A borrower who takes out a $200,000 FHA loan will likely have to pay about $3,500 for mortgage insurance upfront. Prior to the increase taking effect, borrowers would pay about $2,000 for that same loan amount.

Borrowers with higher mortgages can expect higher fees too. The FHA announced that in June it’ll increase its annual insurance for mortgages more than $625,500. "A borrower who lives in a high-cost area and takes out the maximum $729,750 (which is the FHA limit for high-cost areas) will pay $912 each month in mortgage insurance alone," reports.


For-sale-by-owners are rare nowadays. In fact, the number of FSBOs dropped to record lows over the past few years.

Unrepresented sellers make up less than 11 percent of the market according to the NAR REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

With today’s more complex transactions--such as with short sales and foreclosures and frequent changes in mortgage lending--more sellers are finding comfort in the help of real estate professionals to guide them through the process.

FSBOs once were lured to try to sell themselves because they thought they could save on commission fees, but now sellers are realizing that if they don’t use an agent, it’ll likely cost them more in the long run, experts say.

"Selling by owner does not guarantee the seller will put 5 [percent] to 6 percent more in his or her pocket in trade for doing all the work and taking on potentially costly liabilities,” Margaret Woda, associate broker with Long & Foster in Crofton, Md., told The Washington Times. “On the contrary, prospective FSBO buyers have their eyes on that 5 percent to 6 percent as well. It's more likely the buyer will win this negotiation in a buyer's market with a huge price reduction--probably even larger than the saved commission."

Some FSBO sellers also often make the mistake of listing their home at a higher price than the market warrants. But even if they do find a buyer for that price, unless it’s a cash purchase, the home has to be appraised and many deals can then fall apart.

source:  Washington Times 
Nationwide apartment rental firm says the majority of apartment seekers are looking for apartments in the $500 to $700 price range, followed by $700 to $900.

Distance from the city center was also a factor, with the majority of apartment hunters seeking homes five miles form the city center, followed by 10 miles, then 20 miles.

These are the other top features that apartment seekers sought over the last 12 months:

Washer and dryer in unit
Pets (allowed)
Air conditioning
Some paid utilities
Washer and dryer connections
Furnished available
Fitness center
Swimming pool
Short-term lease available
Gated access
Oversized closets

Builder confidence in the new-home market rose to its highest reading in nearly 9 years, according to the latest reading from the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. September marked the fourth consecutive month that builder confidence has been on the rise.

"Since early summer, builders in many markets across the nation have been reporting that buyer interest and traffic have picked up, which is a positive sign that the housing market is moving in the right direction," says NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly.

For the new-home market, builder confidence rose to a level of 59 in September, according to the index. Any reading above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as "good" than "poor." The seasonally adjusted index measures builder perceptions of the single-family new-home market on home sales and sales expectations for the next six months, as well as builders' perceptions of buyer traffic. All three of the index components in September posted gains, with current sales conditions and traffic of prospective buyers rising to 63 and 47, respectively. Expectations for future sales also rose two points to 67.

Builder confidence also rose across every region, with the Midwest posting the largest gain in September, followed by the South.

While builder confidence is up overall, builders are noting that one segment of buyers is notably missing from the market.

"While a firming job market is helping to unleash pent-up demand for new homes and contributing to a gradual, upward trend in builder confidence, we are still not seeing much activity from first-time home buyers," says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Other factors impeding the pace of the housing recovery include persistently tight credit conditions for consumers and rising costs for materials, lots, and labor."

source:  National Association of Home Builders

Housing affordability nationwide creeped lower once again, as home prices continue to outpace incomes, according to the National Association of REALTORS®' Monthly Housing Affordability Index. Nevertheless, price gains are slowing and mortgage rates are hovering near yearly lows, which is helping to keep homes more affordable to the average family.

The median single-family home price in July was $223,900, rising 5.1 percent year-over-year.

Affordability in July fell from the previous month in all regions, excluding the Midwest. NAR researchers note that the Midwest was the only region to experience a slight gain in affordability because of lower home prices and qualifying incomes.

However, affordability has fallen from year-ago levels in all regions, with the West seeing the largest decline — 4.6 percent.

"The rise in mortgage rates was modest this month, so purchases at this time are still favorable when you compare the locked-in monthly payment of a mortgage to the rise in rents," according to NAR's affordability analysis. "New-home construction and an increase in inventory during a time of low rates could lead to more manageable price growth and more sales."

source:  National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook Blog