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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

Sixty-one percent of consumers say they’re interested in learning more about home automation, according to recent market research from the Consumer Electronic Association. Home owners have an increasing number of options, too.

Smart-home technologies are growing, with everything from the ability to remotely control a home’s lights and temperature to sending text messages to appliances or monitoring a home’s security and energy consumption from a smartphone.

Mass adoption of smart home technology has been slow and is likely still 10 years away. But smart-home technology has made strides in recent years with easier-to-use designs and more flexible products. The smartphone has been fueling that growth, said Matt Rogers, co-founder and vice president of engineering at Nest.

Smart homes can be trained to react to the owner and be automated based on the owner’s lifestyle: Lights can turn on when it senses the owner is a certain distance and can turn off as the owner leaves, said Mike Soucie, Revolv’s co-founder and head of marketing.

Homes are being outfitted to capture predictive analytics that can help owners know when something is wrong, too.

“You have a check engine light on your car that tells you when something is wrong,” explained Mark Hanson, product development lead at “But with a home, you often don’t know until something breaks. With [smart home] technology, your home will tell you when something is about to go wrong.” 

New Smart Home Technology Ideas

  • Texting appliances: LG’s new Home Chat smart platform connects your home’s appliances to your smartphone, allowing you to text back and forth. For example, you can text your fridge: “What groceries do I need?” And it’ll respond with a text containing a grocery list.  
  • App-controlled home: Samsung has debuted its Smart Home App, which allows home owners to control several appliances in their home, from the TV to connected appliances, wearable tech, and more. Home owners can personalize settings on their electronics and then control them remotely. For example, they can view cameras in their TV or other devices while they’re away from home; receive alerts from the Smart Customer Service feature when something in their home is going wrong, such as an appliance malfunctioning; and use a voice-control setting to speak commands to the home, such as turning off the lights by saying “leaving.” 
  • Voice-controlled thermostat: Honeywell recently introduced a Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat that responds to voice commands. For example, say “make it cooler,” and the thermostat will cool the house by one degree. Or, tell the thermostat to “make it five degrees warmer,” and the thermostat will follow your voice prompts.  
  • Touchscreen locks: Schlage has touted a new lock that can be opened or locked with a four-digit code and controlled with a smartphone app. The lock will also send home owners alerts if the lock is being tampered with or the wrong code has been entered a certain amount of times.
  • Smart lights: Lumen has introduced an app-enabled LED Smart Bulb that can be controlled wirelessly via a smartphone. You can dim the lights, set the lights to come on at a certain time, and even choose from 1 million colors to set the right mood. The lights also can be set to blink to alert you when you have an incoming phone call. 

source:  REALTOR® Magazine


Existing home owners are taking a bigger share of the housing market while investors—who have been the powerhouse until late—are slowly retreating.

“A sustainable housing market typically includes a more balanced share of first-timers, move-up buyers and investors, and that's how the housing recovery is shaking out,” Realty Times reports. 

Taking the lead: Current home owners—whether move-up, move-down, or move-over buyers— reports the Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse.  Recent home price gains and the return of equity is prompting more to make the move, particularly as concerns rise that mortgage rates may soon cut into housing affordability. 

Meanwhile, first-time home buyers are still being held back according to HousingPulse. Rising housing costs and mortgage rates as well as toughening up of lending standards have continued to shut out some first-timers. 

The investor share in home purchases has dropped. Rising home prices and fewer distressed homes are prompting more investors to pull out of the market, which they had been dominating. 

source:  Realty Times


What are some of the most popular home features luring home buyers? 

The real estate brokerage Redfin surveyed 435 of its real estate professionals across the country to find out what the biggest real estate trends are with home features.

According to the survey, real estate professionals identified the following features as the most popular among home buyers:

•    Open floor plans
•    Move-in-ready homes
•    Granite in areas such as bathrooms or kitchens
•    Upgraded windows
•    Locations near public transportation
•    Energy-saving appliances
•    Large closets
•    Updated lighting fixtures
•    Two-story home with a bedroom on the main floor
•    Wood floors

The survey revealed the following home features are not popular with home buyers:

•    Popcorn ceilings
•    Carpet
•    Lack of parking
•    Small kitchens and bathrooms
•    Minimal amount of natural light
•    Dated homes
•    Wallpaper
•    Low ceilings
•    Limited storage space
•    Loud location on a busy street

source:  Redfin Blog 


Short sales can take up to three times longer than a traditional transaction. A lot can go wrong in that timeframe. These are the most common delays, according to a recent article by George “Gee” Dunsten, a real estate broker and president of Gee Dunsten Seminars, at RISMedia.

  1. Title issues: Be sure to do a title exam at the beginning in order to identify all individuals on the deed and mortgages, and determine all lien holders.
  2. Lack of communication with the lender: Lost documents and misunderstandings commonly cause delays. Make it a habit to follow up with the mortgage servicer twice a week to avoid unnecessary delays.
  3. Delaying the start: Some short sales have not even begun until a contract to purchase has been initiated. But this could add up to two extra months to the process. The lender won’t even look at a buyer contract until a seller candidate for a short sale is approved and the market value has been determined, Dunsten writes.
  4. Incomplete packages: Make sure you carefully submit all the documents completely and accurately. Submitting incomplete packages is another common culprit of delays. All home owner financial information will need to be kept current and forwarded to the servicer every 30 days, Dunsten writes.

source:  RISMedia


If you put out a complaint box for customers of US banks and financial firms, you will get hundreds of thousands of complaints. That's what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—which was set up by Elizabeth Warren before she became a US senator—has discovered. And the bank that has drawn the most complaints is Bank of America. Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank were other top targets of consumer wrath.

In June 2012, the CFPB launched a consumer help center where Americans can lodge complaints against banks and financial institutions they believe are ripping them off. The information in the center's data base is public. So you can tell which Wall Street entities provoke the most gripes. Ranked by number of complaints, the top five most reviled institutions are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Equifax, which is a credit-reporting agency, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank. 

Debt collectors, mortgage servicers, and student loan servicing companies also fall within the top 20. As of last weekend, consumers had filed over 265,000 complaints. Bank of America earned 38,833 complaints, Wells Fargo drew 26,055, and JPMorgan Chase was the subject of 20,057.

These numbers show that bigger is not necessarily better. The number of complaints largely corresponds with the size of the bank. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo are the largest four US banks by assets. All other banks on the list above are among the 20 largest.

The majority of complaints targeting Bank of America—over 27,500 of them—concern mortgage practices, including foreclosure processing. In 2012, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally Bank—the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers—entered into a $25 billion settlement with 49 states and the federal government over the banks' use of faulty foreclosure documents. (Bank of America recently agreed to pay a fine of $16.6 million to the Treasury Department to settle allegations that it processed nearly $100,000 in transactions for drug traffickers between 2005 and 2009.)

Out of the 26,055 complaints filed against Wells Fargo—which is accused of directing minority borrowers into subprime loans in the lead-up to the financial crisis—close to 6,000 concerned issues consumers had with their checking or savings accounts, including complaints over fees and charges. In 2010, Wells was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to customers for manipulating debit card transactions in order to rack up overdraft fees.

About 5,100 of the consumer complaints about Citibank concerned mortgages and foreclosures. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice slapped a record penalty on Citi for violations on the investor side of the bank's mortgage business. The DOJ fined Citi $7 billion for telling investors that the toxic mortgage-backed securities it sold in the mid-2000s were high-quality.

Over 3,700 of the complaints against JPMorgan Chase concerned problems with consumer bank accounts, including disputed fees. Last September, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered Chase to fork over $309 million to 2.1 million customers for charging them for services such as identity theft protection and fraud monitoring without obtaining consent.

Americans filed over 5,000 complaints with the consumer agency regarding debt collection, more than 27,000 over mortgage servicing practices, and north of 5,500 concerning student loan servicing.

source:  Mother Jones and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


With home buyer demand strong and available residential units in short supply, many developers in New York, Miami, and other cities are pre-selling units months or even years before new buildings are completed.

In Miami, the 18-story Faena House had half of its 47 units under contract, with buyers making 50 percent cash deposits on the $2.5 million-to-$50 million units even though concrete was still being poured at the basement level.

Presales are important to developers now that lenders are requiring that at least 50 percent of units are sold or another benchmark is met before the construction loan is completed; in South Florida, much of the construction is bankrolled with buyers' cash down payments.

Developers have employed such tactics as using mini helicopters to take photos of the city skyline, shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to create mini replicas of different apartments, and even using art exhibitions to market their projects. 

However, experts say presales come with the risk that developers might underprice the units or the housing market might tumble again before the project is finished.

source:  Wall Street Journal


Scammers continue targeting home owners, prompting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue warnings to underwater borrowers about widespread mortgage-modification scams.

Scammers try to dupe home owners by claiming to be affiliated with government agencies or programs. They make promises to obtain a mortgage modification on behalf of the underwater home owner. They will charge up-front fees for their service and usually instruct the home owner to stop paying their mortgage and not to contact their lender.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for unscrupulous con artists to take advantage of our nation's housing crisis by targeting home owners looking for help from the Troubled Asset Relief Program's Home Affordable Modification Program," says Christy Romero, special inspector general for TARP.

Home owners should beware of anyone contacting them pretending to be from a government program — such as the Home Affordable Refinance Program or the Home Affordable Modification Program — who try to charge them for a service. Government programs like HARP and HAMP do not charge for services related to counseling, refinancing, or modifying loans.



Ocwen Financial Corp., a servicer of residential mortgages, launched a loan modification program to reduce the principal on a mortgage for delinquent borrowers, but the borrowers must agree to let loan investors share in future appreciation of the home’s value when the market recovers. 

Through the Shared Appreciation Modification program, Ocwen will write down the principal of the loan to 95 percent of the home’s current market value. The amount written down will then be forgiven in one-third increments over a three-year timespan, as long as the home owner remains current on the modified mortgage. 

Then, “when the house is later sold or refinanced, the borrower must share 25 percent of the appreciation with the investors that own the loan; borrowers keep 75 percent of the gain,” the company notes.

Loan modifications are available only to home owners in negative equity. 

"Like all modifications, SAMs help home owners avoid foreclosure. But they also restore equity,” says Ocwen CEO Ronald Faris in a public statement about the program. “That's a significant benefit to the customer and, we believe, the economy and housing market. Psychologically, it's important too. Our analytics tell us that an underwater mortgage is one-and-a-half to two-times more likely to default than one with at least some positive equity.” 

The program is one of the few principal reduction programs started by a private company. 

source:  HousingWire, GlobeNewswire 


Zillow, Inc. has announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia, Inc. for $3.5 billion in a stock-for-stock transaction, which is expected to close in 2015. The combined company will keep both the Zillow and Trulia consumer brands and will see Trulia CEO Pete Flint maintaining his position, though he will report to Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff.

Zillow’s announcement noted that both brands “are primarily media companies, generating the majority of revenue through advertising sales to real estate professionals.” By combining, they are hoping to save $100 million in costs by 2016.

The National Association of REALTORS® noted that, regardless of the moves of the two websites, REALTORS® themselves remain integral to the process of buying and selling a home.

“This proposed merger doesn’t change anything,” said NAR President Steve Brown. “This is just one of many online resources available to consumers. The REALTOR® remains central to the real estate transaction, and NAR is committed to making sure that remains the case.”

Zillow's move is another sign of the growing importance of online sources of real estate data. In the past, Trulia has struggled to compete with Zillow and®, and its $355 million acquisition of Market Leader late last year was questioned by some analysts.

In June, Trulia laid off 85 Market Leader employees. Initially, Inman news reported that they would be retiring the brand, but Trulia clarified later that they would maintain Market Leader products.

Panos Mourdoukoutas wrote in Forbes that the two companies don’t necessarily have as much power as may seem now.

“Zillow’s weak spot is that listing agencies have the upper hand,” Mourdoukoutas wrote, noting that the combined companies may be able to increase what they charge agents for ads, but that they ultimately need data from agents, some of whom may not be willing to pay higher prices. “That could explain the Zillow’s negative operating margins, and the large short positions. As of May 2014, 45 percent of Zillow’s shares were short—Trulia’s short position was even worse, with 52 percent of its shares being short.”

source:  Realtor Magazine


Many former home owners displaced by foreclosure are being left with no other option but to rent. They’re increasingly turning to renting single-family homes, which is the fastest growing segment of the rental market, according to Fannie Mae research.

Three million former home owners from the foreclosure crisis will likely rent single-family homes by 2015, according to estimates by John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

"In the next five to 10 years, you'll see tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions, of dollars of private equity" pouring into the single-family rental business, Justin Chang, principal of investment firm Colony Capital, told USA Today.

But some home owners are concerned about what the surge in renters will bring to their neighborhoods. Some home owners say that renters don’t tend to take care of the yards or home maintenance as well as home owners, they have more parked cars lining the streets, and they are more disconnected from their neighborhoods. Some home owners fear that more rentals coming into their neighborhoods will hurt home values too.

They may have reason for their concern: A study completed last decade showed that a 10 percent increase in a neighborhood’s home ownership rate led to about a 3.6 percent increase to home values, according to a study by Edward Coulson, a Penn State University economist. Coulson’s preliminary data on newer research suggests that an increase in rentals to a neighborhood may slightly decrease home values.

Some cities have taken steps to limit the number of the rentals. West St. Paul, Minn., and some other Minnesota communities, for example, have adopted laws to limit single-family home rentals to 10 percent of homes on a neighborhood block.

However, some critics argue that investor-owned rentals could help give some neighborhoods a much-needed lift. Some renters may do a better job at upkeeping homes than a distressed home owner, let alone a home that just sits vacant, they argue.

source:  USA Today