Category Archives: Blog

Picking the Right Real Estate Agent

You’ve made your plans and you’re ready to start house hunting. Or you’re looking to sell your home. Either way, you can’t do it alone. It’s time to find a Realtor, but how? Here are a few things to keep in mind when finding the right real estate agent for YOU.

How is their track record? 

Real estate is a commission-based job so unsuccessful agents don’t last very long. Finding someone with enough experience under their belt is the way to go and to be extra sure, check their listings (both new and old). Look at the agent’s previous listings and asked those clients how the agent handled their needs. Then look at the listings the agent has on the market now and how long they’ve been there. You can even check an agent’s awards to figure out their specialty. You want to do as much research on the agent before deciding on an agent.

What is their ratio in buying & selling? 

As you go through the process of buying and/or selling your home, you will see that agents tend to specialize with one process versus the other. If you’re planning to do both buying and selling, picking an agent who shows a balance between the two will make the whole process much easier. That way, you don’t have to keep going back and forth between your selling agent and your buying agent.

How many agents have you checked out?

Don’t be afraid to shop around for agents. Just like buying a house, you don’t want to pick the first one you see. Compare at least three different agents and do your research on all of them. Meet with each one and interview them all before coming to your final decision.

How do you feel about them overall?

In the end, it’s all about you. How do YOU feel about the agent? Do you feel an instant connection or is there some awkwardness between you two? Chemistry is key in the buying/selling process, especially since you’ll be working closely with them for the next few months. Communicating your wants and needs early on will help clear the air of any uncertainties. And sometimes, going with your gut feeling will lead you to the best agent for you.

Home Renovation Budgeting Tips

You’ve done it. You bought the house of your dreams. Except… the kitchen isn’t really what you envisioned. And the bathroom would look so much nicer with a stand alone tub. Renovating your home is the way to go but how much should you put in to the project? Can you even afford it? Luckily for you, we have some tips that will help you create the best budget for your wallet!

Plan Everything

Don’t pick up that hammer just yet. Planning is a huge first step in the renovation process, especially if you want to budget everything out accordingly. Having the best strategy beforehand will make the decision-making process easier later down the line. Here are some guidelines to follow when making your renovation plans.

  • Dream Big, Stay Realistic: There’s no harm in striving for that dream kitchen or bathroom but keeping a practical mindset will help keep the costs down. Create a list of all the things you want in your renovation if money wasn’t an issue. Then introduce the costs and see what can be done and what can’t. This way you can keep what you want but cut back on the frivolous things that can be added later.
  • Keep Your Home Value in Mind: Most people renovate their homes because they want to change a certain aspect of it. However, you need to keep in mind the return on investment (ROI) of the project. Will overhauling your front door increase your home value? (Yes, yes it will.) How about replacing the hardwood floors with carpet? (No, no it won’t.)
  • Make a Smart Budget: According to Zillow.com, your renovation costs should be no more than the value of that room as a percentage of the overall house value. The example they give is a kitchen renovation, which is about 10 to 15 percent of a home’s property value. If your home is worth $200,000, your renovation should be between $20,000 to $30,000.

When Hiring Contractors, Pick Quality over Cost

Contractors are an essential investment for any renovation project so don’t feel like you need to jump on the first one you see. Check Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor for quality contractors that have a good history and standing with the previous clients. Pick at least three contracts to place a bid on your project and throw out the lowest bid out of the bunch. Contractors who provide the lowest estimate usually cut corners at your expense.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Unexpected renovation problems are ALWAYS bound to happen, there’s no way around it. Take precautions by leaving out 10 to 20 percent of your budget to unforeseen issues and expenses.

Houston’s Newest Historic Landmark: The Astrodome

On May 29th of this year, the Astrodome was named a historic landmark by the Texas Historical Commission. It received a Texas Historical Landmark Marker thanks in part to the World Champion Houston Astros who paid for the marker. The ceremony featured key speaker Dene Hofheinz Anton, the daughter of former Harris County Judge and Houston Mayor, Roy Hofheinz. She herself worked tirelessly to help the Astrodome receive this highly-regarded title.

A Brief History

The Astrodome began construction in 1962 and was opened in April of 1965. It was the first domed stadium in the United States and its conception and creation was lead by Mayor Hofheinz. The stadium housed many events for the Houston Astros, Houston Oilers, the Houston Rockets, and the Houston Livestock & Rodeo Show. It also was the stage for several historical events like the Battle of the Sexes tennis match and Latina singer Selena’s last televised concert before her untimely death.

Events in the stadium declined in the late 1990s and the Astrodome’s doors eventually closed in 2002. It only reopened again in 2005 to house the victims of Hurricane Katrina before closing again soon after.

What Lies Ahead

With its new Texas Historical Landmark status, the Astrodome is now protected from being torn down. Plans have been made for the stadium to be converted into an event center with an indoor parking garage. Construction is set to begin this October and is projected to be finished by 2020.

Biggest Selling Fears

Selling a home is a stressful event, whether it’s something you’ve been planning for months or something you must do soon out of necessity (job relocation, marriage, etc.). There are three common fears when it comes to buying but all those fears have reasonably easy solutions to them.

No One Wants to Buy

Most people are afraid to take that first step because they know when the best time to sell is. A home that’s on the market for too long is a red flag to most buyers and sellers want to avoid that stigma at all costs. Luckily, all you need to avoid this is a plan and a real estate agent. The agent will provide you the information you need to start the selling process and planning months, even years in advance will prevent your home from staying on the market too long.

Feeling Overexposed

Selling your home means opening your home to strangers, a big source of anxiety for most sellers. However, you have little to fear if you take the right steps before your first open house. De-personalizing your home not only ups its appeal but also helps you not feel so overexposed to your unwanted guests. Working with real estate agents also gives you control on when you want your open houses. Buyers will never visit your home unaccompanied by your agent.

Underpriced by Agent

Working with a real estate agent means having all your plans laid out on the table, for BOTH parties. Communication is key when pricing your home, but you must keep in mind who the expert is. If you do feel uncomfortable by how your agent is pricing your home, list with someone else. However, if multiple agents price your home at a similar price, it might be a signal that your price expectations are a little too high.

 

 

 

Top Schools Near Your NEW Home!

With the new addition of the Waring property, we now have 5 gorgeous properties ripe for the taking. However, there more’s to a home than just the building. What’s the neighborhood like? The community?

School is a big factor for families when moving into a new home so let’s take a look at the top schools near our listings! Note: All scores (except the last entry) were pulled from GreatSchools.org. Click on the link to find out more about their rating system.

Briargrove Elementary School

Rated 7 out of 10, Briargrove is where your little one will attend if you choose Pine Forest as your new home. Briargrove Elementary is an International Baccalaureate World School that focuses on teaching critical thinking skills at an early age. Briargrove also has the Vanguard Program geared specifically towards Gifted and Talented children. To learn more, check on their website

Memorial High School

Memorial High School is rated an 8 out of 10 thanks to their high test scores and college readiness. Memorial High School offers a wide variety of AP courses to help your teen prepare for college. The Bridlewood property is in Memorial High’s zoning so if you have an older child about to enter high school, Bridlewood is perfect for you! For more info about Memorial HS, click here.

 

Hunters Creek Elementary

Do you like the Bridlewood property but have an elementary-aged child? Then they’ll be attending Hunters Creek Elementary, rated 8 out of 10! They pride themselves on being a “No Place for Hate” school and maintain this philosophy in their teaching style. Find more about Hunters Creek Elementary at their website.

West University Elementary School

One of the highest rated schools on this list, West University Elementary received a 10 out of 10 for its test scores and student progress. They made the Texas Honor Roll and are recognized by the Educational Results Partnership (ERP) as an Honor Roll School. If you decide you like our Drake property the best, this is your child’s new school! Check out more information about West University Elementary here.

Lanier Middle School

Ready to move in this year to our Waring property? That means your pre-teen will be attending the other highest rated school; Lanier Middle School. Lanier Middle School is another International Baccalaureate World School that focuses on teaching students to “make practical connections between their studies and the real world.” Click here to find out more about Lanier Middle School.

 

The Post Oak School (Houston Campus)

Unfortunately for the Jackson property, the public schools zoned in that area did not score well. However, the private schools around that neighborhood are rated as some of the highest in the city. If your child is around middle-school age (12-14) or about to enter high school by the time you move in, the Post Oak School will be the perfect fit. The high school section is an International Baccalaureate World School that can provide an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma upon graduation. This guarantees that your teen is “recognized around the world and ensure an increased adaptability and mobility for IB students.” They are also advocates for the Montessori method which you can learn more about here on their website.

Luxury Home Sales Soar in June

Luxury home (homes that start out at $750,000) sales are up 25 percent compared to last year across the country. Although it’s most prevalent in the San Francisco, New York, and Denver markets, luxury home sales are also skyrocketing to new heights right here in Houston. According to HAR.com, Houston has seen an increase in luxury home sales by 18.4 percent, the highest in sales performance compared to all property types. The entry level luxury home price tier has increased 4.6 percent this year in more than half the real estate markets in America while the median entry level luxury home price is now at $1 million.

June not only saw the highest sales but also the fastest with market inventory moving 6.5% faster and the median age on market has dropped from 112 days to 105 days since last year. These record-breaking numbers is a good sign for the real estate market, especially as the city draws closer to the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Home buyers are still cautious when it comes to buying homes in high flood-risk areas but overall, Houstonians are confident in the recent economic trends to buy more costly homes.

Kitchen Color Trends of 2018

Is your kitchen looking a little drab? Try one of these six color trends to bring life back into your cookery!

Gray: The new “neutral” color. It’s versatile enough to work anywhere in your kitchen, whether you choose to put it on your walls or your cabinets. It can be everywhere or be the statement piece of the room. Works best with modern kitchens!

Blue: A color that is usually associated with hindering your appetite but can actually give your kitchen a calming or classy presence. It all depends on the shade you choose. Navy blue makes your kitchen refined while a soft blue radiates more peaceful vibes. Darker blues work best as a statement color while softer blues look better on your walls.

Purple: One of the bolder colors on this list, purple is considered the color of royalty. Treat it as such and keep it as a statement piece on your cabinets or on your island. Don’t go overboard or the energy you wanted to inject into your kitchen will be loss in the chaos.

Green: Although purple is the established color of the year (according to Pantone), green is the REAL color of the year. Popping up more and more in both modern and traditional kitchens, green can be used to add warmth or coolness into your kitchen. Any shade will do and whatever you pick will give a different vibe to your kitchen. Some trending greens are teal green, hunter green, and sage green.

Red: Nothing says bold quite like red. Red can add pop and color to your kitchen by keeping it to your appliances. It also works best if you’re on a budget since you can keep the rest of your kitchen white or neutral.

6 Tips to Improve Your Home’s Web Appeal

Gone are the days of driving to a home with a ‘For Sale’ sign and looking at it through your car window before making that call to the Realtor. Cell phones and internet access has made it easy for people to view home listings with the touch of a button. It’s not curb appeal anymore, but WEB appeal. And web appeal brings a whole new set of rules to the real estate game. Here are 6 tips that can help improve the web appeal of your home!

Take High-Quality Pics: 20 seconds. That’s how long people look at photos of listing on average. Photos must be both high-quality and eye-catching to grab people’s attention. Luckily, technology nowadays allows sellers to take those high-quality photos using their phones. Just make sure your phone is up to the task. Also invest in a tripod, whether you’re using a camera or phone. If you don’t feel up to the task of taking your own pictures, you can always hire a professional. They range about $500 or higher (and be prepared to pay upfront) but there is always the chance this fee can be deducted from the Realtor’s commission.

 

Pick the Best Time: The time of day you take your photos are also extremely important. You should always aim to have a sunny day as the background of your home. If you’re taking the pictures yourself, make sure to have the sun on your back so there aren’t harsh shadows. Home is shaded from trees? Keep that flash on, even during the day time to brighten up the shot. And if you have good front yard landscape or architectural lighting, try taking shots after sunset. The lighting of your home against the purple-orange hues of the sky will do wonders your web appeal.

Angles are Your Friend: Highlight the different features of your home both inside and outside by taking shots of the same area using different angles. Keep the shots leveled though and when picking pictures for each room, don’t use all the shots. People have shorter attention spans when checking out homes via their phones so keep it to 2-3 pictures of each area unless you’re featuring something new in each picture (for example, different angles of your backyard but one has the pool while the other has the fire pit centered).

Keep it Clean: Both indoors and outdoors need to be in tip-top shape for the photos. Outdoors should have the lawn mowed, bushes manicured, and no trashcans in sight. Indoors must be decluttered and, if need be, have a deep clean to make it look brand new. Also, de-personalize! People want to envision themselves in your home. No home photos, cars, or anyone’s belongings in the pictures.

Don’t Give Away the Date: Along with de-personalization, keep anything holiday related out of pictures. Anything that dates your home will give away how long your home has been on the market. Also, if you take photos of your home in the winter where snow or dead trees are in the foreground, make sure to update the photos when spring comes around.

Sell the Lifestyle: De-personalizing your home doesn’t mean make it lifeless. Sell the “lifestyle” of the home by putting in different props or details that make the home livable. For example, put some flowers on the dining room table or eyeglasses and a book in the living room. Buyers want to picture themselves in the home so make them feel it!

Need more help with selling your home? Contact us today!

Oil Prices and the Houston Housing Market

Skyline of Houston, TexasWe’ve been getting asked, A LOT, about what the real estate market in Houston is going to do in 2015 with oil prices dropping so far so fast.  The short answer is we don’t know for sure, and neither does anyone else.  However, we do have some ideas based on a combination of expert opinions, research, and gut feelings.  We are using this same information to make buying and selling decisions in our business so this is not a, “Do as I say.  Not as I do” opinion, but a plan we’ve put in place in our own real estate businesses (Custom Home Building, Real Estate Brokerage, Flips, and Rentals) that are all centered around the real estate market.

Houston’s 2015 Economic Forecast
On January 6th the Greater Houston Builder’s Association (GHBA) hosted Dr. Mark Dotzour of the Texas A&M Real Estate Center who, in our opinion, is the foremost expert on the industry.   We were fortunate enough to attend the presentation and will attempt to summarize his presentation below with a sprinkling of our own research:

Demand For Housing Is High
People are moving to Houston (and Texas) in record numbers.  In 2014 Houston was the #2 city in the country for population growth.  It is also the #1 destination for U-Haul trailers for five years in a row, with an average of 137,000 people moving to the city per year.

Supply of Housing is Low
Anytime available home inventory is below 6 moths it’s considered a seller’s market.  According to the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR), inventory in December 2014 was at 2.5 months.

Affordability
Houston is still considered a bargain compared to most of the country.  Ask anyone from the East or West coast and they are shocked to find how far their home buying dollar goes here.  The relative affordability of Houston housing should help insulate a drop in pricing.   You can find more information on affordability here:  Culture Map:  Houston Housing Underpriced  

Builders Cannot Keep Up With Demand
Lending

Banks learned from their mistakes in the 2008 real estate bust.  They are not willing to loan to builders at a rate that can keep up with demand.

Labor Shortage
In addition, there is not enough labor to build the houses.  When oil was booming the construction industry lost a good deal of their labor force to the oil fields.  This causes longer build times delaying delivery of finished homes.  Builders are fighting over labor.

Increased Time to Build
It now takes, in the Houston area, two to four months longer to build than it did several years ago.  One reason we already discussed, which is a labor shortage.  In addition, with apartments and other commercial property being constructed all throughout Houston, architects and engineers are flooded with work, which means it takes longer to push out a set of plans for city approval.

In addition, the city is taking longer and longer to approve plans because they do not have the staff to review.  What used to take a week or two can now take up to two-months for city approval.

Homebuyer Lending
Bank have also changed their underwriting criteria for homebuyers.  Once again, learning their lessons from 2008, they are requiring higher credit scores to qualify.  In addition, they are requiring 20% down payments.  This equates to buyers not getting into trouble with their loan (for the most part anyway… there are always a few).

What this means for the banks is that they are in a better position financially because they do not have as much risk in the market.

Interest Rates
Interest rates are at historical lows and are anticipated to stay low for the foreseeable future.

City Diversification
Houston is no longer just an “Oil and Gas” city.  It is much more dynamic than in the 80’s when the whole city went bust because of oil prices.

Dr. Dotzour believes oil prices will remain low through the summer and possibly into the fall.  They will then begin to rise again.  How high?  No one is certain.  However, he had sound reasoning in his presentation, and this is the one that stood out the most to me.  Oil derived from fracking will drop significantly as most of the oil from these wells (70%) are extracted within the first year.  With oil dropping below $50 a barrel drilling will significantly decrease.  This will lead to less supply, which will lead to increased prices.

There are other factors to consider as well.  Dr. Dotzour also pointed out that the economy continues to expand despite the U.S. fighting 5 wars concurrently:

  1. A “HOT” war with Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan
  2. Cyber war with Russia and North Korea
  3. Currency war with China, Japan, and Europe
  4. Carbon war with OPEC
  5. Mortgage war with Dodd-Frank regulators

He believes part of the precipitous drop in oil prices is the U.S. trying to suffocate Putin in Russia, and are doing a pretty good job of it.

More than likely oil prices will rebound in late summer or early fall.  How much no one is sure.  What does all this mean for the Houston Real Estate market?  The indicators point to real estate prices stabilizing and possibly going flat, but sales will continue to happen as supply for housing is low and demand is high. Homes may sit on the market longer but will hold their values.

Ways to Reduce Your Risk
If you are like us you like to hope for the best and plan for the worst.  Here are some strategies you can implement to reduce your risk while the market shakes out:

Location
We all know that location is king in real estate.  Buy in the nicer parts of town.  Avoid “War Zones.”  For example, the Inner loop and Galleria remained attractive and still experienced price appreciation even in the worst real estate market in history from 2008 – 2012.  You will pay more for these types of properties, but you reduce your risk.

Do Not Factor in Appreciation
This is key.  When analyzing projects look back not forward.  If prices have been going up in the area you want to buy, it can be tempting to anticipate the price continuing to rise.  We strongly recommend you never project price appreciation into a buying decision.

Do Not Over-Leverage
One of the major advantages real estate offers is the ability to leverage an asset to increase returns.  This can also work against you; especially in a declining market.  We recommend taking a page out of the banker’s handbook… keep at least a 20% margin (or better).  Simply, don’t finance more than 80% of the value of the asset and, with the market potentially in flux in Houston, you probably want to keep that at 70% loan-to-value.  What this means to the investor is you could potentially absorb a 30% drop in prices.

Even in one of the worst (if not the worst) real estate market ever to hit Houston in 2008 through 2012, prices only dropped 5% – 6% (on average).

Price Point
Even when an economy stagnates or contracts there are two segments of the real estate market that tends to still do well.  It is the lower-end (below $120,000) and the luxury market ($750,000+).

In the lower-end of the housing scale I would caution against flipping (reasons why are for a different article).  However, if you are looking to pick up some rental property this is when you buy.  Rentals in this price point are in high demand.

On the luxury price point there also tends to be a steady market.  Why?  Because the wealthy tend to have cash reserves and can afford large down payments (if not purchase with all-cash) and have high credit scores that allow them to qualify for bank financing.

Cash Flow
If you are going after rental properties do not purchase them if they do not have positive cash flow.  Negative cash flow can get you into trouble if the market goes South and you cannot sell when you originally timed.

Also, assume you will hold your rentals for the long-term.  A mistake we see rental investors make is they think they will hold the asset for a year or two and then sell to pull out their equity.  The problem is timing.  If the market dips you could be at break-even or worse because you have to also keep in mind there are costs to sell the property (Realtor commissions and closing costs, which can run 7% to 10% of your sale price).

If you go in with the mentality the rental will be a long-term hold, but you will sell if the market is right, you will be not only be financially positioned, but also mentally positioned to ride out any valleys in the market.

Renovation Cost Estimates
Because of the construction going on all around Houston prices for materials has increased significantly.  In addition, labor prices have gone up due to the lack of manpower lost to the oil and gas industry.  We could see a decrease in labor and materials in 2015, but I wouldn’t count on it.  When you are budgeting for your project plan on your renovation costing you more in 2015.

Great Product
Competition for buyers will increase in 2015.  This means you need to have the best product on the market in whatever neighborhood you are buying in.

Competitively Priced
You also need to be competitively priced.  We’re not saying if you have the best product you can’t command a higher price, but be careful not to get greedy.  Your house will sit on the market costing you money.

One of our mentors beat this into our head continually.  Best product.  Best Price. It’s a winning combination.

Conclusion
Like we mentioned throughout the article we are not clairvoyant and neither is Dr. Dotzour or anyone else we have referenced.  However, based on the experts, research, and a feeling for the market (being deep into it every day), we believe the Houston real estate market will forge ahead.  Perhaps not at the pace it’s been on, but we don’t see a collapse happening in 2015.

Houston #1 U-Haul Destination in the Country

u-haul-2013You’ve heard us mention the Houston is the #1 destination for U-haul’s in the country. Did you know that in 2013 it was the 5th year in a row the city took the top spot? If you’ve been looking for a new home you know there isn’t much out there, and what is out there moves very quickly. If you’ve been wondering why it’s because 137,000 people a year are moving to Houston and need a place to live.

Below is a link to the article…

http://www.uhaul.com/Articles/About/2018/U-Haul-Names-Houston-as-the-Number-One-Top-2013-US-Destination-City