Why Housing Is on Track for a Good Year

Low mortgage rates and strong job growth are giving the housing market one of its best years in decades—even as overall economic growth has weakened—according to Freddie Mac’s monthly Outlook report for May. The report’s optimism is a change from the mortgage giant’s previous predictions when economists said the housing market likely would not perform as well as it did in 2016.

Read more: Yun: Home Sales on Pace to Hit 5.6M This Year

New-home sales in March were better than expected, and existing-home sales that month rose to the highest level since 2007. Now Freddie economists expect home sales to top 6 million in 2017. “Despite weak economic growth, housing got off to a good start in 2017 because low mortgage rates have given the spring homebuying season a pleasant surprise,” says Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Mortgage rates started March just above four percent and have mostly drifted lower since then, even falling below 4 percent. With home sales, housing starts, and home values up, 2017 is shaping up to be the best year for housing in over a decade.”

Also, unemployment in the U.S. is at 4.4 percent, the lowest rate since 2001.

Mortgage originations in the first quarter of this year totaled about $60 billion more than expected, mostly due to an uptick in refinances, according to Freddie. Mortgage originations in 2017 are expected to rise to more than $200 billion. In the first quarter of this year, 49 percent of refinancing borrowers took cash out. That also marks the highest share since the fourth quarter of 2008 but remains far below the peak of 89 percent in the third quarter of 2006.

Source: “Outlook: Housing Gets Off to a Good Start,” Freddie Mac (May 24, 2017) and “Freddie Mac Pulls a 180 in Housing Outlook,” Mortgage News Daily (May 25, 2017)

What Owners Want in Kitchen Remodels

Kitchen revamps tend to be one of the most popular home remodeling projects. About 10.2 million American households tackled a kitchen remodel or replacement work in 2015, according to a recent report from the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Homeowners tend to want new flooring, countertops, cabinets, sinks, and faucets in their kitchen remodel.

Also, "more homeowners are incorporating smart technology using the Amazon Echo or Google Home to connect to their appliances for cost savings, energy efficiency, and convenience," says Elle H-Millard, who specializes in kitchen and bathroom trends at the NKBA.

The majority of homeowners aren't spending big bucks on their renovations. Forty-one percent of homeowners’ work in their kitchen remodels was devoted to replacement projects costing less than $1,500. Twenty-two percent of respondents say they had minor remodeling done, between $1,500 to $5,000; 18 percent of homeowners had major remodels completed that cost between $5,000 to $10,000; and 19 percent completely remodeled their kitchens, spending more than $10,000.

Nearly 80 percent of homeowners who underwent a complete kitchen renovation spent on new appliances, according to the NKBA. Refrigerators were the top appliance replaced, followed by range ovens and dishwashers.

As for countertops, homeowners still largely prefer granite, followed by laminate at 23 percent and marble at 19 percent.

Homeowners still say they like wood flooring best too, but they weren't as likely to splurge on real hardwood flooring for their kitchen renovations, according to the NKBA’s survey. Laminate flooring was the most popular material in the kitchen at 32 percent, with ceramic and stone tiles following closely at 31 percent; both are often designed to mimic wood. Actual wood, meanwhile, was chosen by 18 percent of survey respondents.

"Wood has that timeless feel," says H-Millard. But "porcelain tile would be much more durable than wood, [and] laminate would be much more cost-effective."

Sinks were another popular area of kitchen renovations. Stainless steel is the most popular option at 72 percent, but 9 percent of homeowners opt for enameled cast-iron sinks.

Source: “Remodeling Your Kitchen? The Most Popular Appliances, Finishes, and Flooring,” realtor.com®

Home Insurance Myths

Most mortgage lenders require borrowers to purchase home insurance, but many buyers may be confused about what their policy covers. Realtor.com® recently highlighted several common myths consumers believe when it comes to home insurance.
Myth number one: All of a home's belongings are covered. "A homeowners insurance policy is not designed to cover everything," says Jeanne Salvatore, chief communications officer at the Insurance Information Institute. "Each policy clearly states what's covered and what's not." Personal valuables, for example, aren't typically covered by a basic policy. "If you have valuable art or fine jewelry inside your house, you might need a scheduled personal property policy to cover these items," says Laurie Pellouchoud, vice president at Allstate.
Myth number two: Coverage should be based on the market value of a home. Fifty-two percent of buyers believe they should purchase insurance coverage based on their home's market value, according to a survey by Insure.com. However, with most insurance policies, rates are based on the cost to rebuild the home, not the value of the property. "In most cases, you need less coverage than the market value of your house," Salvatore says.
Myth number three: Flood coverage is included in most standard policies. Flood coverage typically is not included in standard insurance policies. Homeowners who live in an area that is prone to flooding likely will be required to purchase a separate policy to protect themselves. Separate flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program and some private insurers. Even homeowners who live outside a flood zone may be wise to consider buying the extra protection against floods, experts say.
Source: 6 Home Insurance Myths That’ll Cost You Big-Time, realtor.com®

Tips for Home Staging

When you are selling a home, it is important to make a good first impression.  That means you will have to do some preparation and clean-up to get it to show its best. The better home looks, the more likely it will be you'll get an offer quickly. Here is a basic outline to get you started. For more details, contact me. 

Overview Clean-up 
Use scented items to create an inviting smell in your home. Bad odors can deter some buyers. Empty the garbage daily to reduce odors.

Clean all windows inside and out, ensuring they are functioning properly.

Repair broken items in your house (doors, cracks, etc.). In most cases, buyers will ask for broken items to be repaired. Repair all holes in walls.

Rearrange furniture or move furniture room to room to create more space and open area.

Vacuum all carpet and hardwood floors. Scrub and clean tile and grout throughout your house.

Make sure that light bulbs are working, replace with higher wattage bulbs to create more light if needed.

Room by Room Sprucing

Clean all surfaces. Put toiletries in drawers or cabinets. Clear all items out of shower stalls and tubs except for necessities. Leave out a bottle of hand soap along with a hand towel.

Fold bath towels in thirds on towel racks daily. Purchase new towels if needed. Keep toilet lids closed. Clean the shower curtain, or replace if needed.

Give your shower and tub a fresh bead of silicone caulking around the edges to make them look neat and clean. Repair any cracking or peeling areas and clean any moldy areas. Paint the room, if needed.

Make beds daily and replace bedding if needed. Clear off excess items on nightstands, dressers, etc.
Pick up all clothes off the floor. Remove excess furniture that will impede movement through the room. 

Keep closet doors closed. If you have a walk-in closet keep the floor clean and free of laundry and clutter. Arrange items to create a tidier closet.

Family Room, Living Room
Clear off all coffee tables and end tables, remove all ashtrays. add air fresheners. Rearrange furniture for the best traffic flow.

Dining Room:
Clear off the table, leave a centerpiece or other decorative item. Remove additional leaves from tables to make the room look bigger.

You want to show a lot of counter space. Clear all unnecessary objects from the kitchen countertops. Clean and empty the sink. Remove all soaps, sponges, and supplies out of sight and under the sink.Clean stovetop and oven. Repair broken tile or loose corners on counters.

Remove all pictures, magnets, drawings, messages, etc. from the refrigerator. This makes the room look cluttered.

Laundry Rooms:
Keep counters and sink clean and empty. Put soaps, towels, etc. in cupboards.

Top Trends for Landscaping

What does your landscaping 
say about you?

As the days grow longer, our focus shifts to the outdoors. We're tired of being stuck inside all winter and love that it's light out when we get home from work. You might start out by using the grill for more meals, eating outdoors on a mild evening and start dreaming about... that next homeowner project. 

Spring is a great time to assess your home's landscaping from many angles. 

  • Does your front yard have great curb appeal for friends, neighbors and future home buyers?
  • Are your children encouraged to burn off that energy that makes you exhausted just watching them?
  • Does your family enjoy cooking and eating outdoors?
  • Are you relaxing at night, and entertaining outdoors?

Chances are you've got some great ideas about how to improve your landscaping, but aren't sure where you should invest your time and money. That's where the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) survey of top residential landscape trends can be really helpful. 

Their annual survey covers outdoor design elements, landscape/garden elements, recreation amenities, outdoor structures and sustainable elements. You might expect the focus to be on tangible things you use in your backyard, and you'd be wrong. More homeowners want outdoor living spaces that are 1. environmentally sustainable; 2. reduce water costs (remember all the droughts); and 3. low maintenance. 

So here are the top ten projects landscape architects predicted in the survey conducted in February 2016. 

Landscaping for Sustainability 

With droughts hitting so many parts of the US, it’s no surprise that water issues are a hot topic. California with their turf replacement rebate program, is leading the way in redefining outdoor landscaping that requires little or no irrigation. And there are books like The Water-Saving Garden, to help you save water too. 

  • Rainwater/graywater harvesting (88%) means reusing wastewater from your home for landscaping. It comes from kitchen sinks, dishwashers, bathroom sinks, tubs and showers … but not toilets (called blackwater).
  • Native/adapted drought-tolerant plants (85%) suggests the obvious, that we use native plants that thrive in your environment, with an emphasis on drought tolerant plants like cactus.
  • Permeable paving (77%) focuses on allowing stormwater to seep into the ground below it, to reduce runoff.
  • Drip/water-efficient irrigation (72%) is a great alternative to sprinkler systems. It uses emitter tubing above or below ground, to deliver a slow and precise amount of water directly to the plants (check it out on Amazon).
  • Reduced lawn area (72%) speaks for itself, replacing water guzzling grass with gravel, wood chips, pavers or even artificial grass (article with pros and cons for top 10 options).

Landscaping Elements that Use Less Water 

As you make changes to your landscape and gardens, consider adding elements that require less water. The environment will thank you, and lower water bills are helpful too. 

  • Food/vegetable gardens (75%) are gaining popularity, and provide their own type of green in your backyard with the added benefit of fresh vegetables.
  • Rain gardens (73%) are designed to handle the extremes of moisture and lots of nutrients that are found in stormwater runoff. For this reason, they’re most often found at the bottom of a hill (learn more).
  • Native plants (86%) can be challenging when we’re not used to seeing them. You can learn about these plants at your local nursery, a nearby botanical garden or online at PlantNative.org or Wildflower.org.

Low Maintenance Landscapes (85%) similar to low maintenance decisions for your house, are all about saving you time so you can enjoy your home more. Even if you’re an avid gardener, you might prefer spending time in your flower or vegetable gardens versus mowing the lawn. 

The only landscaping element to make the top 10 list, was fire pits/fireplaces at 75%(firepits cost less than you think). Maybe we’ve already established your outdoor cooking and eating routines, so now it’s time to sit down and relax by the fire! 
Source: McNair Custom Homes

The Texas Association of REALTORS® Supports Property Tax Reforms in Senate Bill 2.

The Texas Association of REALTORS® has announced its support for the property tax reforms provided in Senate Bill 2, now making its way through the Texas Senate.
“The Texas Association of REALTORS® agrees with the Senate Finance Committee’s decision that the bill is indeed a good move for Texas property owners, who are currently paying the sixth-highest property taxes in the country,” said TAR Chairman Vicki Fullerton.
Fullerton explained that Senate Bill 2 is a positive step forward in ending the common practice of local elected officials misleading taxpayers when budgets are adopted at the local level.
"When local elected officials hide behind increasing property values to justify larger budgets, taxpayers suffer. Senate Bill 2 goes a long way to fix this problem and provide more transparency and honesty in the local tax-rate setting process,” she said.
The bill reduces the rollback rate for local taxing entities and requires an automatic rollback election if the local taxing entity exceeds the rollback rate. Despite some comments to the contrary, the bill does not limit the amount of revenue a local taxing entity may generate.
“We believe SB 2 will help give property owners the transparency during the tax-rate setting process they deserve and encourage voters to participate in the rate-setting process. We hope the Texas Senate will vote for the betterment of the property tax system,” Fullerton said

Lowering Credit Card Interest Rates

When was the last time you evaluated the interest rate on your credit cards? The higher the rate, the more that "borrowed' money is costing you. If you'd like to keep more of your hard-earned cash, consider the following action plan for securing a lower rate.
Negotiate -- Sometimes it's as simple as asking. In fact, three out of four people who request an interest rate reduction are successful. First, take note of your history with the company, including how long you've been a customer and the timeliness of your payments, and collect interest rate offers you've received from their competitors. Then make the call, and share this information. If the representative can't help, politely ask for a supervisor.
Transfer -- Even if your company refuses to budge, you may be able to move your high-interest balance to another card. Companies frequently lure customers from their competitors with low-interest or even zero-interest offers. If you're able to pay off your debt during the promotional period, you can save money just by making a switch. Just be sure to compare the terms of each offer before you decide to go for it.
Improve -- It's always worth it to take steps to improve your credit score, which impacts your ability to qualify for low rates. Paying off debt is key, but there are other things you can do as well. Set up bill reminders or automatic payments to ensure timely payments, correct errors on your credit report and keep your balance low compared to the credit available on your card.
It may take a little while, but once you successfully reduce your interest rates, you'll have more money at your disposal to achieve your financial goals.
Source: Sharon Floyd - GOLD FINANCIAL SERVICES  - (210) 317-8834