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Sales of existing single-family homes in Texas were up 7 percent last month from a year ago, according to the latest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data. September figures for most Texas MLSs.

About 24,640 homes were sold last month, over 1,600 more than the same month last year, but almost 2,800 less than in August.

So far this year, 217,690 homes have been sold, about 1 percent more than this time last year.

The median price — $185,500 — was up 8 percent over a year ago.

Months inventory was at 3.7 months. Six months is considered normal.

For an in-depth analysis of the latest MLS data go to the Real Estate Center's website.

source:  Texas Real Estate Center
Despite the jump in the latest median single-family home price — $220,600, up from around $160,000 just a few years ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS® — the large price gains are not denting affordability.

Even with home prices climbing, home ownership remains affordable because low mortgage rates have helped to offset the price gains, writes Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, at NAR’s Economists’ Outlook blog. Also, incomes have risen slightly as the unemployment rate has fallen, which also has helped to improve the affordability picture.

A home buyer buying a median-priced home at the current mortgage rate and having a 20 percent down payment would make a monthly payment of about $867. That is 15.9 percent of monthly gross family income, compared to an average of 21.3 percent over the past 30 years, Yun notes.

source:  National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook blog 


When it comes to mortgages and home improvement, many consumers have some complaints, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America, which reveals the top consumer complaints.

Among its list of top “worst” consumer gripes: mortgage-related problems, home improvement, timeshare sales and resales, Internet sales, and fraud.

Many of the mortgage complaints have stemmed from the foreclosure crisis and home owners who owe more on their loans than their homes are currently worth, according to the study.

Home improvement and construction complaints remain a top complaint, mostly centered around “shoddy work” or “failure to start or complete the job,” according to the study. Consumers also complained about a surge in telemarketing and mail solicitations for home repairs “disguised as offers to perform free energy audits.”

Landlord and tenant complaints mostly centered on “unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, and illegal eviction tactics,” according to the report.

Other real estate-related complaints involved timeshare sales and resales, retirement communities and assisted living facilities, and real estate fraud.

source:  Consumer Federation of America


When it comes to remodeling, exterior replacement projects have routinely rewarded home owners with more bang for their buck.

This year is no different: REALTORS
® rated many exterior improvements as among the most valuable home investment projects as part of the Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report.

Two additional siding replacement projects were in the top 10, including foam-backed vinyl siding, expected to return 69.6 percent of costs, and upscale vinyl siding, expected to recoup 69.5 percent of costs. Three door replacements were also among the top exterior replacement projects. The steel entry door replacement is the least expensive project in the report, costing little more than $1,200 on average and expected to recoup 73 percent of costs.

The upscale garage door replacement jumped seven spots to number six this year, primarily due to the average cost of the project declining more than 15 percent nationally. The upscale and midrange garage door replacement projects are expected to return more than 71 percent of costs. One window replacement project — upscale vinyl — rounded out the last exterior replacement project in the top 10, expected to recoup 69.1 percent of costs.

According to the
Cost vs. Value, seven of the top 10 most cost-effective projects nationally in terms of value recouped are exterior replacement projects. REALTORS® judged an upscale fiber-cement siding replacement as the project expected to return the most money, with an estimated 78 percent of costs recouped upon resale.

The report compares construction costs with resale values for 35 midrange and upscale remodeling projects comprising additions, remodels, and replacements in 80 markets across the country. Data are grouped in nine U.S. regions, following the divisions established by the U.S. Census Bureau.
, NAR’s consumer Web site, includes dozens of remodeling projects, from kitchens and baths to siding replacements, which indicate the recouped value of the project based on a national average.

The report, which is produced by 
Remodeling magazine publisher Hanley Wood LLC, was completed in cooperation with NAR.

source: NAR

Social Security is the largest source of retirement income for many retirees, but how far those checks will stretch depends on how much you’ve earned in Social Security benefits as well as where you live.

For retired workers, the average Social Security benefit was $1,294 per month at the end of 2013, which equates for a couple to be about $31,056 in annual Social Security benefits (also adjusted for inflation).

U.S. News & World Report recently crunched Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine where a retired couple could live comfortably using Social Security as their main source of income. The publication factored in basic expenses like typical costs for housing, food, utilities, transportation, and health care.

Some of the cities found as possible havens where retirees' Social Security income alone covers basic costs are:

  • Albuquerque, N.M.: Home owners age 65 and older who have a mortgage pay a median of $1,078 per month, or about $368 per month if they have the mortgage paid off.
  • Austin, Texas: Retirees pay a median of $1,395 per month with a mortgage, or $545 if they own the home.
  • Buffalo, N.Y.: Retiree home owners pay $1,009 monthly, on average, if they’re still making payments on their home, or $466 monthly if they paid off their home.
  • Columbia, S.C.: Home owners age 65 and older pay $1,074 monthly with a mortgage, or $367 if they have the house paid off.
  • Grand Rapids, Mich.: Retiree home owners pay $1,080 monthly with a mortgage, or $427 per month if the home has been paid off.
  • Jacksonville, Fla.: Retiree home owners pay $1,247 per month, on average, if they still have a mortgage, or about $405 if they have paid off the house.
  • Pittsburgh: Retirees pay $1,023 per month, on average, if they still have a mortgage, or $434 if they have paid off their house.

 source:  U.S. News & World Report 

Lighting's a vital part of homes and consumes 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States. But a new technology — LEDs that come in sheets — promises to give both agents and home owners unprecedented flexibility when showing and using homes.

"Organic LEDs" — technology already used in many smartphones and televisions — use half as much energy as equivalent fluorescent lightbulbs and can be laminated to walls and ceilings, according to a report in MIT Technology Review. They also don't require the heat sinks that the shells of LED lightbulbs typically hide, making them both cooler and structurally simpler.

While OLEDs are currently 10 to 100 times more expensive than conventional lighting right now, companies such as Konica-Minolta, OLED Works (formerly owned by Kodak), and Philips are finding new ways to ramp up production at lower costs.

Even with that, an OLED lamp is expected to drop from today's $9,000 to the $600 to $1,600 range over the next few years. So early adopters for these lamps may be luxury and other high-end housing. Konica-Minolta will be able to manufacture a million 15-centimeter-wide panels per month, says Technology Review.

source:  MIT Technology Review

With stairs being one of the first elements home buyers see when they enter the front door of many homes, sprucing up the steps can be a great investment.

"People think of stairs and hallways as strictly utilitarian a place to get somewhere else," says Genevieve Gorder, host of HGTV's Dear Genevieve. "But they are some of the most beautiful places to decorate."

Gorder offers these ideas for making the stairway more attractive:

· Tile the risers, the vertical part of the stairs that get scuffed easily.

Paint a runner in a bold shade of marine paint. Or do it in a pattern, like a stripe or polka dot.

· Carpet the stairs with a pattern that hides dirt – even if the rest of the house has hardwoods. (As an added plus, carpeted stairs are safer than bare, potentially slick ones.)

source: Associated Press
With another tax filing deadline passing, some people never throw tax records away. Others do not keep them long enough.

Knowing what to hang on to, why certain records are needed and how long they should be saved can save storage space and prevent problems should you be audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“There are tax and nontax reasons for keeping records,” says Dr. Jerrold Stern, professor of accounting in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “For tax purposes, income sources and amounts need to be identified through W-2 wage statements, 1099 forms — interest income, mutual fund income and stock transactions — and other documentation.”

Writing in 
Tierra Grande magazine, the quarterly magazine from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Stern notes that records also may be needed for insurance purposes or to obtain a loan.

“Expenses need to be documented to support deductions in the event of an IRS audit,” says Stern, also a Center research fellow. “Documentation can be in the form of a cash receipt, credit card statement or cancelled check. Interest and penalties may be levied if deductions are disallowed for lack of records.”

Keeping tax records is helpful to guide the preparation of future tax returns and for filing an amended tax return, he says. The IRS can furnish copies of prior-year tax returns if necessary.

“Records associated with tax returns should be kept at least until the statute of limitations runs out,” writes Stern. “The statute of limitations is the time during which the IRS is allowed to audit a tax return”

“For most people, tax records other than those pertaining to assets, such as real estate and securities, could be discarded after three years,” says Stern. “Even so, a longer period seven or more years is prudent.”

source:  Texas Real Estate Center

College towns have long been known as havens for investors looking to cash in on rentals or turn a profit on a home flip. RealtyTrac recently ranked the best college towns for flippers in 2014.

RealtyTrac analyzed public four-year universities that had enrollment of 20,000 or more as of 2012 and also were located in counties that had unemployment rates below the national average of 6.2 percent. The top 10 college towns for flipping were ranked based on the average gross return on investment (ROI) percentage for single-family home flips there during the first eight months of 2014. (Note: Some college towns did not have sufficient sales or flipping data to be included in the rankings).

Here are the college towns that topped RealtyTrac's 2014 list:

  1. University of Minnesota (Minneapolis)
    Average gross flip profit: $105,292
    ROI: 65.59%
  2. University of Washington (Seattle)
    Average gross flip profit: $168,247
    ROI: 61.88%
  3. University of Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.)
    Average gross flip profit: $53,763
    ROI: 55.01%
  4. San Francisco State (San Francisco)
    Average gross flip profit: $402,790
    ROI: 54.16%
  5. Thomas Edison State College (Trenton, N.J.)
    Average gross flip profit: $40,497
    ROI: 48.06%
  6. University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
    Average gross flip profit: $41,235
    ROI: 47.95%
  7. University of Colorado (Denver)
    Average gross flip profit: $103,658
    ROI: 45.86%
  8. University of Cincinnati
    Average gross flip profit: $45,929
    ROI: 44.88%
  9. University of Akron (Akron, Ohio)
    Average gross flip profit: $35,909
    ROI: 42.95%
  10. North Carolina State (Raleigh, N.C.)
    Average gross flip profit: $61,028
    ROI: 38.52%

source:  RealtyTrac

Homebuilders are throwing in some extras to lure home buyers back this fall in many markets. For example, 10 homebuilders in a new suburban Phoenix community called Bridges at Gilbert are offering swimming pools, built-in barbecues, and subsidized mortgages.

Joseph Beben, a home buyer in the Phoenix area, says he chose to have a house built by Woodside Homes, which agreed to cover up to $10,000 of his closing costs as well as the price of a swimming pool. Beben will pay $332,000 for a 3,000-square-foot house. 

"Builders in volatile housing markets, such as Phoenix, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Orlando, are sweetening offers as sales slow," Bloomberg Business reports.

The large increases in home prices last year have discouraged some buyers. The number of new-home communities in Phoenix rose by a third in the past year to 457, but sales per community dropped 45 percent last month from a year prior, according to Jim Belfiore, president of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting.

Builders in Nevada also saw a big drop in sales this year. In Las Vegas, new-home sales surged 32 percent in 2013 — but in the first eight months of this year, they have fallen 26 percent from the previous year, says Dennis Smith, president of Home Builders Research, a Las Vegas-based consulting company. A similar trend is taking hold in Sacramento, Calif., where new-home sales plunged 16 percent last month year-over-year.

Builders are beginning to discount homes and look for ways to boost sales. Orlando builders, for example, reportedly are advertising discounts and appliance packages, as well as offering to cover closing costs, after new-home sales dropped 19 percent year-over-year in June.

Buyers are enjoying being the drivers at the moment in some of these markets. Bob Berg, a retiree from Chicago, was looking for homes in the Phoenix area. "A couple of builders said to me, 'What will it take for you to buy this home?'" Berg says. "That's kind of drastic when they say something like that. It tells me they want to move that home."

source:  Bloomberg BusinessWeek