GREATER HOUSTON Homes and Lifestyle

(281) 773-6332

Helping You Make SMART Real Estate MOVES!
RE/MAX SOUTHWEST
        EMAIL ME        14905 Southwest Fwy, Sugar Land, TX 77478     Phone: (281) 491-1776     Fax: (111) 111-1111
Rita Nelson CRS, GRI has intensive knowledge and experience helping buyers; sellers; and investors purchase, sell, and exchange homes and real estate in Metropolitan Houston, Tx including the cities of Bellaire, Katy, Missouri City, Pearland, Richmond, Stafford, and Sugar Land. I obtained a Business degree/minor in Real Estate from the University of Texas at Austin. I Welcome the Opportunity to help you; your friends and neighbors with all of your real estate needs!
NOV
11

Gated communities in the Houston suburbs                                    

    LakeforestMedian appraised value: $971,900Lakeforest is Katy's most prestigious neighborhood, with a 24-hour guard on duty and sprawling custom estates. Many of the homes here have a view of the well-maintained lake, vast square footage and custom upgrades. Photo: HAR       
                                                           
      A yacht club? A boat dock? These might sound like amenities you'd find at a luxury resort, but some Houston locals are enjoying these perks within their own communities.

National publications are often quick to remark on Houston's booming housing market and great square-foot-per-dollar value. In addition to reasonably priced homes, Houston's suburbs are enjoying a new construction boom.

Falling oil prices are spurring the construction of houses, and much of that growth is benefitting first-time homebuyers. Especially those with special requests.

Among the housing trends that residential developers are conscious of are tech-friendly structures, green construction practices and gated communities. They're aware of the appeal that fenced-in subdivisions present to homebuyers, and they're happy to acquiesce.

What makes gated communities so attractive? In part, it's due to the security and reduced traffic. But for many buyers, another perk is the prestige with which they are associated. 

Gated communities often conjure images of mansions, and in many cases that is true. But for some Houston outskirts, gated neighborhoods are increasingly affordable, even when compared with central Houston's houses. 

See the slideshow at link below for a look at some of the Houston area's best gated subdivisions        

Gated communities in the Houston suburbs

Darla Guillen, Houston Chronicle
 -
AUG
26

Recent data shows rents for apartments in the Houston area are increasing at the fastest pace on record.  

 
Construction

Construction underway on a Montorse-area apartment complex. Houston has experienced fast risings rents and is building more and more projects to make up for shortage. (Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle)

Recent data shows that apartment rents are increasing at the fastest pace on record in the Houston region, at the same time households are shifting from owning to renting.

CBRE, a Los Angeles-based  real estate brokerage firm with offices in Houston, analyzed second-quarter data that rank Houston among the markets with a growing demand for multifamily developments. Others include Dallas,  New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Seattle,  Denver, Orlando, Raleigh, N.C., Tampa, Fla., and Boston.

According to the firm,  Houston’s multifamily market is seeing positive absorption, fast rent growth, plenty of new construction, and strong investor interest. Rents are growing at the fastest pace on record, 4.9 percent overall year over year, according to CBRE.  More than 18,000 new units are expected in the market by the end of 2014. According to Real Capital Analytics, Houston posted $1.2 billion in multifamily sales in the second quarter of this year, a gain of 48 percent from the first quarter.

“Although new supply is robust, new units continue to trail demand, which has been driven by significant net migration and job growth. Houston added 370,000 new jobs since the recovery began and expanded by more new residents than any other U.S. metro in 2013,” Sara Rutledge, director of research and analysis at CBRE, said in a statement. “The local economic expansion also supports steady household income growth, helping to maintain affordability despite strong multifamily rent growth.”

Data analyzed by Houston-based Apartment Data Services also shows steep rent increases across the region, not just in desirable Inner Loop areas. ​ 


Q2Multifamily_MV_Press

Here is a breakdown of some of top rising rents in each sub-market for the last 12 months:

Central: Heights, 9.5 percent increase
Northeast: Greenspoint, 9.2 percent increase
Northwest: Tomball/Far Northwest, 14.1 percent increase
Southeast:  Gulfgate/Almeda Mall, 8.1 percent increase
Southwest: West Memorial/Briar Forest, 14. 4 percent increase

Source Houston Chronicle 8-2014
by Erin Mulvany

Greater Houston TX Real Estate and Homes for Sale

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JUL
1

BUILDER- NEW Construction Homes

From $150,000 to One Million+ Rita has you covered in helping you navigate the new construction market in Greater Houston.
I help you compare the track record of local builders via the most current national rating data and my years of hands on experience in the field. You will benefit from my long term, active experience and knowlege of neighborhoods, school districts; property tax rates; HOA Maintenance Fees and Developer Capitalization Fees in Houston, Sugar Land, Katy; Missouri City; Stafford, Pearland; Rosharon; Manvel; Richmond; Fulshear; and Cypress Tx.   

Beautiful photograph of the model home in Long Meadow Farms - Winston Park

With my negotiation skills, I assist you in making the best offer to the builder/ getting your dream home at the best price, knowing in advance what other comparable new homes recently sold for and knowing of all possible builder discounts.

I am also there throughout the construction phase to insure that your dream home becomes the detailed reality your family planned.

VIEW/TOUR BRAND NEW HOMES from the comfort of your home. View your Favorite Builders including David Weekley; Perry; Newmark; Toll Brothers; Ryland; Village; Lennar and hundreds more.

View your favorite neighborhoods of Cinco Ranch; Oak Forest; Riverstone; Sienna Plantation; Telfair; The Woodlands and hundreds more. Choose homes ready for Quick Move-In; Frame Stage; Slab stage; or build from scratch - YOU Decide!

View the full FLOOR PLANS of all homebuilders along with custom design options, and view each exterior elevation. Use the detail mapping tool on the right upper side of the Greater Houston map to draw a custom search area. OR Select brand new homes based on city; school districts; subdivisions.

Click Link now >>> http://realtorrita.buildersupdate.com/Search/PropertySearch.aspx
   Buying a NEW home has never been So Easy; and so Exciting!

 

 

JUN
1
 Top 10 lists: Residential Real Estate    
      
A house under construction in Cinco Ranch. (Dave Rossman / For the Houston Chronicle)

A house under construction in Cinco Ranch. (Dave Rossman / For the Houston Chronicle)

Here are highlights of residential real estate coverage in the Houston Chronicle 100 special section.

Most active communities

Ranked by number of houses started in the Houston area in 2013, according to Metrostudy.

  1. Cinco Ranch: 819
  2. Riverstone: 714
  3. The Woodlands: 713
  4. Cross Creek Ranch: 462
  5. Aliana: 451
  6. Sienna Plantation: 448
  7. Woodforest: 444
  8. Pine Mill Ranch: 380
  9. Firethorne: 375
  10. Canyon Gate West: 365

Most active builders

Ranked by the number of houses closed in the Houston area in 2013, as tracked by Metrostudy.

  1. Lennar/Village Builders: 2,229
  2. Perry Homes: 1,552
  3. D.R. Horton: 1,423
  4. K. Hovnanian/Brighton/Parkwood: 1,202
  5. Taylor Morrison/Darling: 1,007
  6. Pulte/Del Webb/Centex: 967
  7. Long Lake/Lakeridge: 956
  8. KB Home: 893
  9. MHI/Coventry/Plantation: 821
  10. Ryland Homes: 691

Houston Chronicle / Katherine Feser

For a Free Market Analysis / ON NEW HOMES
DON'T PAY TOO MUCH!

Call RITA Today!

281-773-6332

rita@ritanelson.com

MAY
22
If you're renovating a property to add value, the 2014 Texas Remodel Valuation Report shows you exactly where to spend your money.

The report analyzed the project recoup costs and recoup cost growth in 2013 for over 20 different remodeling projects nationwide, in the south central U.S., and in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio.  

Smaller projects that boost a home’s curb appeal continued to be popular in most markets. Steel entry door replacements, for example, ranked No. 1 for total recoup cost nationwide, in the west south central U.S., and in Houston, recouping up to 105.5% of the total project cost. In addition, projects that increased a home’s livable square footage using existing spaces showed significantly higher recoup cost values and growth in 2013. Basement remodels ranked in the top five for recoup cost in four of the five major cities in Texas, recouping up to 99.6% of the total project cost.

Larger remodeling projects or additions were popular mostly for functional, utility rooms such as kitchens, bathrooms and garages:

Kitchen remodeling projects ranked in the top five for recoup cost in the west south central U.S. plus all five major  markets in Texas, recouping up to 143.8 percent of the total project cost.

o Bathroom remodeling projects ranked in the top five for growth in recoup cost in the west south central U.S., Austin, Dallas, and El Paso, including ranking No. 1 in Dallas with a 23.6 percent gain in recoup cost. 

o Garage additions ranked in the top five for recoup cost in Dallas and El Paso, recouping up to 86.8 percent of the total project cost.


Conversely, costly room additions and upscale remodeling projects were among the least profitable projects. Sunroom additions, for example, ranked in the bottom five for recoup cost in five Texas metro areas, recouping a maximum of 61.3% and as little as 38% of the total project cost.

Houston

Home remodeling projects in Houston had the second-greatest overall recoup cost values amongTexas’s five major cities, with the highest project recoup cost at 105.5 percent and the lowest at 48.9 percent.

Steel entry door replacements were the most profitable project, recouping 105.5 percent ($1,153) of the total project cost, a 9.2 percent ($100) gain in 2013.

The largest gain in recoup cost in 2013 was in backup power generator installation, which jumped 29.7 percent ($3,470) to recoup 93.6 percent ($10,419) of the total project cost.

Sunroom additions were the No. 5 fastest-growing project in 2013, increasing 4.8 percent ($2,471) to 52.5 percent ($36,189) of the total project cost, despite also being the No. 2 least profitable project in Houston.



source -www.TexasRealEstate.com  Editorial Staff 

Download the 2014 Texas Remodel Valuation Report



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MAR
16
 

FEB
24

Texas Housing Boom Seen as 'Strong and Enduring'
February 4th 2014 by Jim Forsyth

The Texas housing market boom is 'strong and enduring,' a report by the Texas Association of Realtors confirms.

The average home value in Texas rose 8.48% in 2013, and TAR's Stacy Armijo says the boom is not the result of investors and house flippers, but instead is a healthy and deep rooted boom which is caused by home buyers flocking into the state to purchase homes.

A lot of people wonder, are prices increasing more because we are in another bubble.  "That doesn't seem to be the case," she said.

And the nice thing about the boom, according to Jim Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M, is that it is truly raising all boats, and is benefiting people across all parts of the economic spectrum.

"The price increases in the fourth quarter are relatively consistent across the state," he said. "Those increases are being seen in markets of every size, not just in the largest Texas markets, so that indicates broad-based appreciation for Texas real estate."

Armijo says the demand is coming from the state's strong and continuing job growth, driven by energy, high tech, and other sectors.

"This demand is coming from having more people move to the state, and wanting to live here and have a home here, because it is mo
re affordable than many parts of the country," she said.

The key driver of higher home prices is the housing inventory on the market. Currently statewide, the housing inventory of 3.6 months, which is about half of the 6.5 months which is considered a balanced market.

In fact, the TAR reports the only thing that can stop the boom from continuing is a lack of housing, and Armijo says that is good news for the construction sector, as well as electricians, plumbers, and everybody else who is involved in home building.

"When someone buys a home, suddenly they need more furniture, they need lawn care, they need paint, they need lots of things that go on for home services," she said.

 
       
                
                    Greater Houston Market Report - January 2014
Houston’s real estate market saw gains in all measurements in January when comparing sales to January 2013. Total property sales, total dollar volume and average and median pricing all rose on a year-over-year basis.

Month-end pending sales totaled 3,730, a 3.9 percent gain over last year and another possible indication of a steady but lower volume of sales when the February numbers are tallied. Active listings, or the number of available properties, at the end of January dropped 15.9 percent to 28,211.

Houston's inventory of available homes remained flat at a 2.6-month supply month-over-month in January, but was down from the 3.6 months of supply one year ago. The inventory of single-family homes across the U.S. currently stands at 4.6 months, according to the latest report from the National Association of REALTORS®.


This puts Houston in a firm SELLER's MARKET position.   A BALANCED Market exist when there is a 5 to 6 months supply of available inventory.


CATEGORIES JANUARY 2013 JANUARY 2014 CHANGE
Total property sales 4,667 4,929 5.6%
Total dollar volume $904,858,281 $1,147,677,815 26.8%
Total active listings 33,532 28,211 -15.9%
Total pending sales 3,591 3,730 3.9%
Single-family home sales 3,889 3,957 1.7%
Single-family average sales price $200,079 $244,070 22.0%
Single-family median sales price $150,000 $177,000 18.0%
Months inventory* 3.6 2.6 -27.3%
* Months inventory estimates the number of months it will take to deplete current active inventory based on the prior 12 months sales activity. This figure is representative of the single-family homes market.

Single-Family Homes Update

January sales of single-family homes in Houston totaled 3,957, up 1.7 percent from January 2013. That marks the 32nd consecutive monthly increase. It also represents the smallest one-month sales increase since June 2011 and the lowest one-month sales volume since February 2012.

Home prices reached the highest levels ever recorded in Houston for a January. The single-family median price climbed 18.0 percent from last year to $177,000 and the average price soared 22.0 percent year-over-year to $244,070.

Foreclosure property sales reported in the HAR Multiple Listing Service (MLS) continued its months-long decline, dropping 53.2 percent compared to January 2013. Foreclosures currently make up 9.2 percent of all property sales, down from a 19.6 percent share a year earlier. The median price of foreclosures rose 6.9 percent to $86,625.

January sales of all property types in totaled 4,929, a 5.6 percent increase over the same month last year. Total dollar volume for properties sold rose 26.8 percent to $1.1 billion versus $905 million a year earlier.


What about YOUR Home and Your Neighborhood?
For Your Personal Market Analysis - CALL Me TODAY


                   Providing SOLUTIONS to YOUR Real Estate Needs!

 ritanelson@remax.net  /  281-773-6332
 

Today's MORTGAGE Rates

   

2014%30-year fixedJanFebMar4.404.504.60
30 year fixed rate mortgage – 3 month trend

 

Source: Bankrate.com Texas and National Trends


 
JAN
17
Better Homeowners
 
Single-Family Homes for Rentals

Single-family homes used for rental property have distinct advantages over other types of investments.

 An investor can borrow 75-80% at fixed interest rates on appreciating assets with definite tax advantages and reasonable control. The financing alone is attractive compared to some investments that require 50% cash and have floating rates at prime plus for one or two years.

Home prices have adjusted 30-40% around the country, mortgage rates are incredibly low and rents have risen in the past two years due to more demand and shorter supply. Indicators like these point to a strong and sustained rental market.

Consider that you bought a $125,000 home for cash that would rent for $1,250 per month. With $15,000 income and allowing for property taxes, insurance and maintenance, it is still reasonable to expect $10,000 net income. You'd have an 8% return on investment without considering tax savings or future appreciation compared with 5-year CDs paying less than 1.5% and a 10-year Treasury yield at 1.65%.

The reasonable control has a lot of appeal to many investors who find the volatility of the stock market unacceptable and don't want the risk associated with some of the alternative investments.
 
With single family rentals, it is the tenant who is responsible for all utilities; and lawn care.  Once number of units move beyond a two unit duplex, the landlord typically becomes responsible for water/sewer; trash; and lawncare. These costs reduces net profit.  However, one appeal of multi-family properties is that if there is a vacancy in one of the unit, income continues to flow in from other units of the property. 

 Please contact me if you'd like to know more about available opportunities.

 

Rita Nelson
RE/MAX Southwest
(281) 773-6332
ritanelson@remax.net
www.RitaSellsHomes.com

 
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JAN
1


Greater Houston TX Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Find homes for sale in Houston, Katy, Missouri City, Pearland, and Sugar Land using the city searches below.   www.RitaSellsHomes.com

RELOCATION TOOLS
  research schools; compare zip codes; check crime rates; receive Daily Listing Alerts of listings in your favorite neighborhoods.

NOV
6
 
Better Homeowners
 
Water Damage - Covered or Not?

A number of things can cause water damage to a home and it's important to know whether they're covered by your insurance policy. Some water damage may be covered and other may not be. Generally, you need an incident to invoke coverage rather than something gradual due to lack of maintenance.

However, some incidents are specifically exempt from homeowner policies such as floods. A flood can be described as rising water due to overflow of inland or tidal waters or unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface water from any source.

Homes in designated high-risk flood areas with mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders are required to have flood insurance.

Even if you don't live in a dedicated flood zone, you could be affected by flood damage. Review your policy about water damage and call your insurance agent to get a better understanding. Ask if you need to purchase additional coverage or separate flood insurance along with other questions.

Flood insurance can be purchased for the building and the contents. The average flood insurance policy costs about $600 per year. For more information, see the National Flood Insurance Program.

 

Rita Nelson
RE/MAX Southwest
(281) 773-6332
ritanelson@remax.net
www.RitaSellsHomes.com

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OCT
28
 Over the years, Houston has had no shortage of famous citizens with big personalities.   Beyonce and Barbara Jordon are a couple that comes to mind - and then there is beloved, Bum Phillips, famed coach of the Houston Oilers, who was just memorialized a week ago in late October.   Recently however, I was pleased to become aware of a famous Houstonian of a different sort.  Someone totally off the radar from most of us, but no less wildly talented with a passionate following.  After reading the info below and viewing the artwork, it is hard not to be moved by the beauty of her work and thus root for her and contribute towards her efforts of a full recovery.

All the Best!  Libby.


International Quilt Festival/Houston pays tribute to Libby Lehman

Inspiring quilter honored at Quilt Show - Houston Chronicle

www.houstonchronicle.com/.../Inspiring-quilter-honored-at-Quilt-Show-...

 

http://bit.ly/1dSRls6 47 quilts -from LIBBY LEHMAN collection
Quilt Festival - Houston Tx 2013//
 
http://www.gloriahansen.com/weblog/?p=8543 << Libby needs our help article.


 

Tour Libby's Quilt Exhibit with Alex and Meet Libby's Sisters
November 02, 2013


 

Greater Houston TX Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Find homes for sale in Houston, Katy, Missouri City, Pearland, and Sugar Land using the city searches below. www.RitaSellsHomes.com

RELOCATION TOOLS
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OCT
18

How to Use Your Nest Egg to Qualify for a Mortgage

Little-known rules can help people on a fixed income refinance an existing mortgage or buy a new home.

Getty Images
By Rachel L. Sheedy

Want to refinance your mortgage before interest rates take off? Typically, a borrower needs to show enough work-related income to repay the loan. But as a result of a little-known change in underwriting rules, retirees may be able to use their nest egg to qualify for a new mortgage.

Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored housing finance giant that guarantees mortgages, now allows lenders to consider retirement-account assets to help retirees qualify when applying for a new mortgage or to refinance an existing one. The provision "lets you take advantage of your holdings to a greater degree," says Keith Gumbinger, vice-president of HSH Associates, which publishes mortgage information and rates.

Assets that can be counted under these rules include retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s, lump-sum retirement account distributions and annuities. "The borrower must be fully vested, and the retirement assets must be in a retirement account that is immediately accessible," says Brad German, a spokesman for Freddie Mac. That means the money cannot be subject to an early withdrawal penalty and cannot currently be used for income.

The formula to use a nest egg works like this: A lender takes 70 percent of "eligible" assets. The lender may then subtract closing costs and other loan expenses.
However, if you pay closing costs from a taxable or non-retirement account, the closing costs will not be subtracted from the eligible assets. Regardless of the loan term, the balance is then split by 360 months, and the monthly installment is added to your monthly income to help you qualify for a mortgage.

Say you have $1 million of eligible assets -- 70 percent of that is $700,000. After subtracting $10,000 in closing costs, you have $690,000. That amount divided by 360 is about $1,917. So $1,917 can be added to your monthly retirement income to help you qualify. Social Security benefits and income from dividends and interest have always been allowed to count under Freddie Mac underwriting standards.

Under these rules, generally known as "asset depletion" or "asset dissipation" rules, you will need a substantial down payment, says Ron Wivagg, national sales manager for Prosperity Mortgage, in Chantilly, Va. You'll need at least a 30 percent down payment if you're buying a new home or at least 30 percent equity if you are refinancing. "This helps us manage the risks involved in making this option available," says German.

Even though the asset rule changes went into effect in spring 2011, Freddie Mac executives noted in May on a company blog that the rules hadn't garnered much attention from lenders or borrowers. These rules are "just starting to get more popular as people are aging," Wivagg says.

Check With Lenders

To make use of these rules, Gumbinger advises asking several different lenders whether they are using the Freddie Mac guidelines. Finding a lender "shouldn't be too hard since any lender selling mortgages to Freddie Mac can make this option available to their customers under our guidelines," says German. He says that about 2,000 lenders nationwide do business with Freddie Mac including all of the major national and regional lenders.

For those who are interested in refinancing, now may be the time to figure whether it makes sense for your situation. Mortgage interest rates were at 60-year lows, from about 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, this spring. Although rates have risen, Gumbinger says that if you have an older mortgage with a higher rate, there could still be an opportunity for you to refinance.

The nationwide average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was recently 4.76 percent, and a one-year adjustable rate mortgage averaged 3.02 percent, according to HSH Associates. For a snapshot of current mortgage rates in your area, check HSH.com and plug in your zip code.

by Kiplinger Oct 18th 2013 

Greater Houston TX Real Estate and Homes for Sale

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AUG
20


 

Better Homeowners
 
   Rent or Buy?

The question plaguing every tenant who wants a home of their own is whether they should continue to rent or is it the right time to buy?

The combination of good prices and low mortgage rates make it considerably cheaper to own than rent in most markets. Assuming a person is qualified with a down payment and won't be moving for several years, there may not be a better time to buy a home.

In the example below, the total house payment is $1,281.01 compared to $1,500 to rent the same home. Before you consider any of the financial benefits attached to home ownership, it's cheaper to own than to rent.

The net cost of housing falls to $764 or just more than half the house payment when you consider the principal reduction due to normal amortization, a modest appreciation and the tax savings along with a reasonable maintenance expense that a tenant would not have to pay.

One of the biggest benefits is the growing equity. As the value goes up, the unpaid balance goes down. A favorable leverage causes their low down payment to grow to $40,609 in a short seven years based on a modest 1% appreciation.

There's an expression often heard in real estate circles: "Whether you rent or buy, you pay for the house you occupy." You're either buying it for yourself or you're helping the landlord buy it.

Check out a Rent vs. Own to see how your numbers will compare to this example or call me to do it for you.  

Also -  Ask me About Special Programs for 1st Time Buyers; Teachers; Policemen; Firemen; low to moderate income buyers.  Assistance with downpayment/closing costs Can Be - Available for you!

 

Rita Nelson
RE/MAX Southwest
(281) 773-6332
ritanelson@remax.net
www.RitaSellsHomes.com

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MAY
1


To put the best face on a listing and appeal to buyers who follow feng shui principles, keep these tips in mind.

1. Pay special attention to the front door, which is considered the “mouth of chi” (chi is the “life force” of all things) and one of the most powerful aspects of the entire property. Abundance, blessings, opportunities, and good fortune enter through the front door. It’s also the first impression buyers have of how well the sellers have taken care of the rest of the property. Make sure the area around the front door is swept clean, free of cobwebs and clutter. Make sure all lighting is straight and properly hung. Better yet, light the path leading up to the front door to create an inviting atmosphere.

2. Chi energy can be flushed away wherever there are drains in the home. To keep the good forces of a home in, always keep the toilet seats down and close the doors to bathrooms.

3. The master bed should be in a place of honor, power, and protection, which is farthest from and facing toward the entryway of the room. It’s even better if you can place the bed diagonally in the farthest corner. Paint the room in colors that promote serenity, relaxation, and romance, such as soft tones of green, blue, and lavender.

4. The dining room symbolizes the energy and power of family togetherness. Make sure the table is clear and uncluttered during showings. Use an attractive tablecloth to enhance the look of the table while also softening sharp corners.

5. The windows are considered to be the eyes of the home. Getting the windows professionally cleaned will make the home sparkle and ensure that the view will be optimally displayed.

Source: Sell Your Home Faster With Feng Shui by Holly Ziegler (Dragon Chi Publications, 2001)

5 Feng Shui Concepts to Help a Home Sell
          

Greater Houston TX Real Estate and Homes for Sale

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MAR
30
 

Increase your chances of selling your home quickly with this eight step solution:

1. Ask a friend to help you de-clutter. You're probably so used to your clutter that you don't see it anymore. Ask an objective friend to help you pack up anything cluttering your home.

2. Clear off countertops in the kitchen. Think model home sparseness. Display only a couple of decorative items or a plant. Hide the trash can in a cabinet. Clean off the refrigerator.

3. Remove all photographs. Buyers want to imagine living in your house. That's hard to do with a wall filled with Aunt Martha and Little Johnny.

4. Clean out your closets. Make them look spacious even if you have to pack most of your clothing and store it elsewhere.

5. Depersonalize your bathroom(s). No matter how cute your toothbrush holder is, seeing someone's personal items is a turnoff. Put them in a container and hide it under the sink.

6. Pack knicknacks. Buyers want to dream of their collections filling the rooms, not yours.

7. Rearrange furniture to open up the space. Remove most items from bookshelves to visually expand the space.

8. De-clutter your yard. Remove toys, empty flower pots, and anything that does not enhance your curb appeal.
By Barbara Myers

Greater Houston TX Real Estate and Homes for Sale

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MAR
21
 
Houston housing inventory in February fell to its lowest level since December 2008 as home sales grew briskly for the ninth straight month.
FEB
15

 

While being a landlord certainly has its cons, tops among its pros are the tax deductions for rental homes enjoyed by owners.

From finding tenants to fixing faucets, renting out a home can be a lot of work. Yet perhaps the biggest reward for being a landlord isn’t the rent checks, but rather the considerable tax deductions for rental homes.

The tax code permits most owners of residential rental properties to offset income by writing off numerous rental home expenses. IRS Publication 527, “Residential Rental Property,” has all the details. IRS Publication 910, “Guide to Free Tax Services,” has a complete list of publications on such topics as selling your home and business use of your home.

Writing off rental home expenses

Many rental home expenses are tax deductible. Save receipts and any other documentation, and take the deductions on Schedule E. Figure you’ll spend four hours a week, on average, maintaining a rental property, including recordkeeping.

Here are some of the most common deductible expenses for rental homes, according to the IRS. You can usually take these write-offs even if the rental home is vacant temporarily. In general, claim the deductions for the year in which you pay for the expenses:

  • Advertising
  • Cleaning and maintenance
  • Commissions paid to rental agents
  • Home owner association/condo dues
  • Insurance premiums
  • Legal fees
  • Mortgage interest
  • Taxes
  • Utilities

Less obvious deductions include expenses to obtain a mortgage, and fees charged by an accountant to prepare your Schedule E. And don’t forget that a rental home can even be a houseboat or trailer, as long as there are sleeping, cooking, and bathroom facilities. Moreover, the location of the rental home doesn’t matter. It could even be outside the United States.

Limits on travel expenses

You can deduct expenses related to traveling locally to a rental home for such activities as showing it, collecting rent, or doing maintenance. If you use your own car, you can claim the standard mileage rate. For 2011, it is 51 cents per mile for the first six months and 55.5 cents for the final six months. The 2012 mileage rate will remain 55.5 cents, unless the IRS adjusts it based on swings in gas prices.

Traveling outside your local area to a rental home is another matter. You can write off the expenses if the purpose of the trip is to collect rent or, in the words of the IRS, “manage, conserve, or maintain” the property. If you mix business with pleasure during the trip, you can only deduct the portion of expenses that directly relates to rental activities.

Repairs vs. improvements

Another area that requires rental home owners to tread carefully is repairs vs. improvements. The tax code lets you write off repairs—any fixes that keep your property in working condition—immediately as you would other expenses. The costs of improvements that add value to a rental property or extend its life must instead be depreciated over several years. (More on depreciation below.)

Think of it this way: Simply replacing a broken window pane counts as a repair, but replacing all of the windows in your rental home counts as an improvement. Patching a roof leak is a repair; re-shingling the entire roof is an improvement. You get the picture.

Deciphering depreciation

Depreciation refers to the value of property that’s lost over time due to wear and tear. In the case of improvements to a rental home, you can deduct a portion of that lost value every year over a set number of years. Carpeting and appliances in a rental home, for example, are usually depreciated over five years.

You can begin depreciating the value of the entire rental property as soon as the rental home is ready for tenants, even if you don’t yet have any. In general, you depreciate the value of the home itself over 27.5 years. You’ll have to stop depreciating once you recover your cost or you stop renting out the home, whichever comes first.

Depreciation is a valuable tax break, but the calculations can be tricky and the exceptions many. Read IRS Publication 946, “How to Depreciate Property,” for additional information, and use Form 4562 come tax time. You may need to consult a tax adviser.

Profits and losses on rental homes

The rent you collect from your tenant every month counts as income. You offset that income, and lower your tax bill, by deducting your rental home expenses including depreciation. If, for example, you received $9,600 rent during the year and had expenses of $4,200, then your taxable rental income would be $5,400 ($9,600 in rent minus $4,200 in expenses).

You can even write off a loss on a rental home as long as you meet income requirements, own at least 10% of the property, and actively participate in the rental of the home. Active participation in a rental is as simple as placing ads, setting rents, or screening prospective tenants.

If you’re married filing jointly and your modified adjusted gross income (same as adjusted gross income for most persons) is $100,000 or less, you can deduct up to $25,000 in rental losses. The deduction for losses gradually phases out between income of $100,000 and $150,000. You may be able to carry forward excess losses to future years.

Let’s say that for the year rental receipts are $12,000 and expenses total $15,000, resulting in a $3,000 loss. If your modified adjusted gross income is below $100,000, you can deduct the full $3,000 loss. If you’re in a 25% tax bracket, a $3,000 loss reduces your tax bill by $750, plus any applicable state income taxes.

Tax rules for vacation homes

If you have a vacation home that’s mostly reserved for personal use but rented out for up to 14 days a year, you won’t have to pay taxes on the rental income. Some expenses are deductible, though the personal use of the home limits deductions.

The tax picture gets more complicated when in the same year you make personal use of your vacation home and rent it out for more than 14 days. Read our story about tax deductions for vacation homes for an explanation.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Donna Fuscaldo

JAN
15

Texans adjusting to changes in homestead exemption rules

Some Texas homeowners are finding that they face new rules when applying for a homestead exemption on their property, the result of a new law that took effect in September.

The rules — which lawmakers say are intended to prevent fraudulent homestead exemptions — will affect people whose circumstances have changed.

That includes first-time buyers, those purchasing a new home or people who have become eligible for a different type of homestead exemption, such as turning 65 or becoming disabled. It will not affect homeowners who already have a homestead exemption on their primary residence.

House Bill 252, which created the new rules, requires applicants for new or revised homestead exemptions to provide a copy of their Texas driver's license or state issued ID card and a copy of their vehicle registration receipt. The old rules didn't require people to show ID or proof of residence when they applied for homestead exemptions, so there was concern that people were claiming homestead exemptions on multiple properties.

Homestead exemptions remove a portion of a home's value from taxation, lowering the amount of property tax a homeowner must pay.

The measure's author, state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, said the changes were needed to prevent property owners from claiming homestead exemptions on more than one property. Hilderbran said he heard complaints from appraisal districts across the state about homestead duplications — particularly from out-of-state and in-state residents filing exemptions for vacation homes.

"We needed to add integrity to the system," Hilderbran said.

Jim Robinson, the Harris County Appraisal District's chief appraiser and legislative chairman of the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts, said the state needed to crack down on duplication of homestead exemptions.

"You're talking about major theft, really, when (homestead duplication) occurs," Robinson said. "The homestead exemption is the single largest source of tax relief for people, and when you have people who are cheating on it and are saving gigantic amounts on taxes that they really should be paying, it means that the taxing units where this cheating is occurring have to set a higher tax rate, which penalizes everybody to raise the money that they need to fund their budgets."

Alvin Lankford, chief appraiser for the Williamson Central Appraisal District, said he thinks the new rules were needed.

"Now you can tell if this person actually lived in the home that they are claiming the homestead exemption on, whereas prior to this legislation, you could not tell that," Lankford said.

Robinson said one problem occurring all around Texas has been property owners applying for homestead exemptions for rental properties.

"We had one case where a man and woman (in Harris County) had more than a dozen homesteads on their ... rental properties, and on each case, they used the address of the rental property, but they would use a different variant of their names. On some of them, they would show both of them as the owner; on some they would show either the husband or the wife as the owner," Robinson said.

While the new rules require additional steps for some Texas homeowners, officials with Central Texas appraisal districts say they have heard few complaints.

David Valle, the Hays Central Appraisal District's chief appraiser, surveyed employees to see how people have responded to the new requirements. He said staff members said the change has prompted little frustration for those applying.

Marya Crigler, chief appraiser for the Travis Central Appraisal District, said the district has not received any negative feedback from the change.

"At first people were confused, but we have tried to make the new laws and requirements as transparent as possible in terms of what they need," Crigler said.

Jena Coolidge

JAN
10
 

Understanding Foundation Problems

Inside hints

A floor that’s not level is one tip of a possible foundation problem. Some people can sense this easily; others never notice even when a floor sags a couple of inches.
 
If you’re in the latter group, there are other ways to hear your house whispering that the foundation is rising or sinking unevenly: A door begins to jam or fails to latch; cracks appear in walls, especially over doorways or windows or where walls meet ceilings; cracks open in vinyl or ceramic tile over a concrete floor. Windows that fail to budge or to close completely also hint at foundation problems, assuming the culprit isn’t just sloppy or sticky paint or rotten wood frames.

Slab foundation problems

If you have a slab foundation, a structural engineer can help determine whether these signs point to normal settling or to structural damage. Expect to pay $500-$700 for a structural engineer to inspect your foundation and provide an evaluation, and as much as $2,000 for a full set of drawings for an engineered solution.

If it’s a structural problem, your foundation is settling unevenly and has the potential to skew or pull apart the framing unless you take action. Best case: You can get the house level again just by keeping soil near the house evenly moist, either by irrigating during dry weather if you live in a damp climate or by switching to landscaping that doesn’t need irrigating if you live where it’s usually dry.

Worst case: You need to underpin the foundation with helical screws or concrete piers. Installation costs $1,200-$1,500 per pier, with one every 6 to 8 feet.

Outside, take the long view

Moving outside, check to see if your foundation is straight by sighting down the length of your foundation wall from each corner. You should see a straight line. A bulge or divot in either a block foundation or a poured concrete wall could signal that the foundation has shifted.

Check for leaning walls with a level. If the top of the foundation sticks out beyond the walls in one area, the foundation wall may have tipped. Any signs of shifting or bowing means that the soil may be expanding and contracting, putting pressure on foundation walls, and remedial steps are necessary.

The poke test

If your house has a poured perimeter foundation and it appears to be shedding sand, poke it in a few places with a sturdy screwdriver. The concrete should be so dense and hard that you do no damage. If you can excavate a hole, the concrete could be deteriorating because the mix contained dirty or salty sand, or too much water. This problem, common in homes built in the early 1900s in some parts of the country, has no remedy short of a new foundation, perhaps a $35,000 prospect.

Checking crawl spaces

In the basement or crawl space, look for foundation problems that may include a system of posts and concrete supports, or piers. Posts should stand straight and be firmly planted underneath the beams they support. Bottoms of posts should rest firmly on concrete piers.

You shouldn’t find puddles or see framing that’s wet. Check for rot by probing wood posts with a screwdriver or awl.

Puddles and other signs of moisture in a crawl space may indicate poor drainage around the perimeter foundation. Be sure that gutters aren’t plugged, and that soil slopes away from the foundation at the rate of 6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet.

Reading cracks

Concrete and block foundations usually have at least a few cracks. The trick is recognizing which are insignificant and which are serious.

As concrete cures, it shrinks slightly. Where the concrete can’t shrink evenly, it tends to crack. Cracks where there is an L-shape section, such as where a foundation stairsteps down to follow a hillside, are probably shrinkage cracks, especially if they meander and taper down to a hairline. These aren’t a structural issue, though you might need to plug them to keep the basement or crawl space dry. Hairline cracks in the mortar between concrete blocks are also rarely worth worrying about.

If you find small cracks (less than 1/16-inch wide), paint over them with a concrete waterproofing paint (about $25 a gallon). Then check periodically to see whether the paint has cracked, which means the gap is opening up under pressure.

Stairstep cracks in masonry joints are a bigger concern, especially if the wall is bulging or the crack is wider than ¼ inch. A plugged gutter or other moisture problem outside is probably exerting pressure on that part of the wall. You’ll need a structural engineer to help identify a cure, which can include bolting on steel braces ($500-$700 each, often spaced about 6 feet apart along the wall) or using epoxy to glue on straps of carbon-fiber mesh ($350-$450 each, similarly spaced).

Horizontal cracks are most serious, and indicate that water-saturated soil outside froze and expanded, pushing in and breaking the foundation. Perhaps gutters backed up and heat was off for an extended period during especially cold weather. The consequence: You probably need a whole new foundation.

Horizontal cracks also occur because of problems with underlying soil. If you have soil that expands when damp and shrinks when dry, you face the same range of solutions as if you had a slab foundation. Hire a structural engineer to help you sort out your options.

JAN
5
 
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