Texas Land Sales Continue to Grow

This week's release of the Texas Small Land Sales Report by the Texas Association of REALTORS® shows a 14.2% increase in volume for 2016 while the average price per acre declined 0.3% year-over-year.
“As our state’s population continues to grow and the footprints of Texas cities expand, the demand for rural land will only increase,” said Vicki Fullerton, chairman of the Texas Association of REALTORS®. “At the same time, after consecutive years of rapid growth in real estate land prices, prices in many regions have leveled off.”
Statewide, 6,992 small land tracts were sold in 2016, with the Austin-Waco-Hill Country, Northeast Texas, and Far West Texas regions all registering sales volume gains of more than 20%. Only the West Texas region saw its sales fall year-over-year, with a 20.6% decline. The statewide average tract size fell to 36 acres, three acres less than in 2015.
Even as the statewide average price per acre dropped slightly to $5,647, only two regions marked an individual decline in average price per acre. Far West Texas saw a 64.9% decrease in average price per acre, but the region represents less than a percent of small land sales in Texas. The average price per acre in South Texas fell by 3.9%.
“While the Texas land market remains strong, multiple factors are impacting land sales activity throughout the state,” said Charles Gilliland, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. “Rising prices of irrigated farmland and a sluggish agricultural sector are driving up land costs in the Panhandle, and residual effects of the oil and gas downturn have slowed small land sales activity in West and South Texas. Statewide, shortages in prime land are stifling land price growth as developers consider less desirable land tracts.”
Infographic with data from the 2017 Texas Small Land Sales report

What Home Inspectors Don't Inspect

Home inspectors are quite thorough. Before you buy a house, they'll scrutinize things you never thought to look at in your many walk-throughs, from cracks in stucco to how well the toilet flushes. In fact, their checklists include over 1,600 features, all with the goal of helping you decide whether the home is in good enough shape for you to close this deal—or whether you should back out while you can. Given that a basic home inspection costs $300 to $500 but could save you thousands in repairs, that's a sweet deal!
And yet, home inspectors don't check everything.
For one, conditions such as mold, radon, or asbestos that require laboratory samples or equipment are the stuff of specialty inspections, which cost extra or must be conducted by other specialists.
Here's what home inspectors conducting a basic search aren't eyeballing, and what you can do if you want to make sure your prospective new home checks out on all counts.

Electrical outlets behind heavy furniture

For one, basic home inspections evaluate only the stuff these professionals can see or access easily. That means if furniture is blocking certain areas, your home inspector isn't about to throw out his back to lug it aside.
“I’ve had china cabinets in front of an electrical panel, and there’s no way we’re going to move that stuff,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, headquartered in Des Plaines, IL. Instead, ask the home seller to move such items in advance so the inspector can do his work without heavy lifting.

Roof

Home inspectors will gamely climb onto your roof and check for missing or warped shingles and make sure flashing and gutters are in good shape. There's one huge caveat: Your roof should be less than three stories tall and not too steep. If it is, they'll probably pass. After all, if they fall, it's a long way down!
“We’ll go up on roofs if it’s safe," says Lesh. "But if it’s raining or it’s too high, we're not able to get to it.”
It's reasonable to worry about the roof, which is a big-ticket item. You can hire a specialized roof inspector for $500 to $750 to examine roofs that a regular inspector will avoid. Some, hoping to get business if they turn up issues, will even inspect it for free; others charge according to location, roof height, and material. If they can’t climb onto roofs, they can perform an infrared inspection that assesses temperature differences along your roof to determine where heat is escaping.

Fireplace and chimney

Home inspectors will typically open and shut dampers to make sure they’re working, and shine a flashlight up the chimney to check for big obstructions like a bird nest. But that's typically where their inspection ends.
Want more? A fireplace inspector can perform a Level 1 inspection to look for soot and creosote buildup, which could start a chimney fire. This extra inspection will cost about $80 to $200. If the home has experienced an earthquake or major storm, a chimney inspector will perform a Level 2 inspection, which adds visits to the roof, attic, and crawl space to check for damage ($100 to $500).

Ground beneath your home

While home inspectors will thoroughly check the home, the ground beneath it might go largely ignored. So if you're worried about the land's structural integrity—or whether it shifts, tilts, or has sinkholes or a high water table—you'll need to hire a geotechnical or structural engineer.
These professionals test the soil for an array of problems, but it'll cost you: Basic testing costs $300 to $1,000, and drilling a bore hole for deeper investigations can cost $3,000 to $5,000. That’s a lot to pay for a hunch, so if money is tight, go to PlotScan, a free site that will tell you the history of sinkholes and other natural catastrophes in the vicinity of your home—and help you assess whether more research should be done.

Swimming pool

Basic home inspectors will turn on pool pumps and heaters to make sure they’re working. But inspectors won’t routinely evaluate cracks or dents in the pool. For that, you'll need a professional pool inspector, who will run pressure tests for plumbing leaks. He'll also scrutinize pumps, filters, decking surfaces, and safety covers. The cost will hover around $250 or could be free if you end up hiring the pool company for regular maintenance.

Well and septic system

If your inspector works in areas where wells and septic systems are common, for an extra fee ($150) he might test your well water and check that your septic system is running correctly.  But if most houses he inspects are on public well and water, you’ll have to hire a well inspector.
Well inspectors—typically employed by companies that install or repair such systems—will collect water samples for lab analysis for coliform, arsenic, and other harmful bacteria and chemicals. They will ensure that well parts such as seals, vents, and screens have been properly maintained and that the well and pump can produce enough water. This will cost around $250.
Does the home have a full-on septic system? Then for $100 to $200, a septic system inspector will check your tanks, baffles, and piping; evaluate the inside of septic tanks using a camera to check on concrete conditions; and make sure wastewater is going into the tank, not leaking to the surface.
Source:Realtor.com 6 Shocking Things Your Home Inspector Won't Check

Tips for Home Staging

Getting ready to list your house for sale? Putting some effort into staging it well can impact how quickly it goes from just listed to under contract. The keys to successful staging are pretty basic: declutter, depersonalize and deep clean. But there are some little-known tactics that experts swear by. Here are a few home staging tips to help you prepare:

1. Draw eyes to a room's best attribute, whether that's a beautiful fireplace or a window with a great view, by strategically placing a decorative accent like a vase or large plant nearby.
2. Clean out and organize closets, cabinets, and pantries, leaving more space than you normally might. This can give potential buyers the impression that your home has storage to spare.

3. Remove rugs to give the appearance of unbroken floor space and
 make the room seem larger.

4. Add fluffy white towels to your bathrooms. The neutral hue implies cleanliness and can give the room a spa-like feel. Add hand towels in color for an extra accent.

5. Turn on interior lights during an open house, even if it's daytime. If your home is outfitted with compact fluorescent bulbs, be sure they have enough time to warm up to full capacity before the event begins.

6. 
Widen the walking area around major pieces of furniture, such as beds and sofas. A few extra inches can make all the difference.

7. Not all rooms need to be furnished. Leave a room unfurnished for buyers to imagine how they could use your space.

8.  Remember, buying a home is an emotional event. If the buyers leave your home with a good feeling of being able to see themselves living a happy life in your home, it will go a long way to nudging them to make an offer!

Vinyl Flooring is in the Spotlight

If you think vinyl flooring is a thing of the past, think again. Yes, vVinyl can get a bad rap. Often it’s confused with linoleum and conjures up memories of outdated, cheap 1980s flooring rolled out in sheets. But lately, vinyl is showing itself as anything but “cheap” looking. It can be laid out in planks, tiles, and sheets and it’s getting some trendy looks.
The vinyl flooring industry is booming as new designs resemble the look of real hardwoods but without the high maintenance. Vinyl is known for being scratch-proof and even waterproof, which is making them especially appealing in the kitchen and bathroom. Plus, vinyl is known for being more pet-friendly and that’s increasingly important nowadays. (Consider, 61 percent of households own a pet or plan to soon, according to an NAR pet study. As such, pet-friendly flooring is proving to be a growing motivator in home remodeling decisions). 
Vinyl flooring options are now available in styles that mimic current wood styles, in everything from oak, pine, and walnut to even hand-scraped options.
You have several color choices with vinyl too, from gray to espresso and white.


And vinyl isn’t just for resembling the look of hardwoods. You can also get vinyl that resembles tile, marble, and cement too.


The installation of vinyl is also getting more trendy. You can install it in a herringbone pattern on the floor or diagonal. Wide plank vinyl is one of the trendiest and some designers even say it can make your room look larger too.

Read more about “2017 Vinyl Flooring Trends” at FlooringInc.com.

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

Bathrooms
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.

Bedrooms
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. 

Closets
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.

Kitchen
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 

Texas Association of REALTORS 2016 Texas Real Estate Year in Review

Texas home sales volume and home prices reached all-time highs for the second year in a row in 2016, according to the 2016 Texas Real Estate Year in Review Report released today by the Texas Association of REALTORS®.

“Strong gains in end-of-year home sales activity were a key factor in making 2016 another record year for Texas real estate,” said Vicki Fullerton, chairman of the Texas Association of REALTORS®. “Last year’s record home sales activity was fueled by the momentum of multiple years’ strong job and population growth across the state, despite the fact that Texas job and economic growth began to slow in 2016.”


Texas home prices rose steadily throughout last year, with the median price in 2016 increasing 7.7 percent from the year prior, to $210,000. Over the same timeframe, Texas also experienced continued growth in home sales volume, which increased 4.6 percent to 324,924 homes sold in 2016.


Jim Gaines, Ph.D., chief economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, explained, “The 2017 Texas housing market is projected to keep pace with last year’s strong levels, but it may be difficult to match 2016 levels due to current housing supply levels. Household incomes are rising at a disproportionally low rate than home prices, creating housing affordability challenges across the state. In housing development, labor shortages and regulatory barriers are slowing construction and in turn, driving up new home prices.”


The state’s low housing inventory level remained consistent with the prior year, ending at 3.3 months of inventory in December 2016. According to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, a market balanced between supply and demand has between 6.0 and 6.5 months of inventory.


Texas homes also continued to spend approximately the same length of time on the market in 2016, an average of 58 days, and active listings increased 6 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Chairman Fullerton concluded, “Rising home prices and skyrocketing property taxes are driving up the cost of homeownership at an alarming rate. Growth in property values makes homeownership a strong investment, but must be balanced by lower tax rates so that Texans are not being forced out of their homes. The Texas Association of REALTORS®urges state legislators to pass legislation that ensures an honest and transparent conversation occurs at the local level if more tax revenue is needed and gives property owners the right to decide when their tax rates should be raised.”


About the Texas Real Estate Year in Review Report
Data for the Texas Real Estate Year in Review Report is provided by the Data Relevance Project, a partnership among local REALTOR® associations and their MLSs, the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, and the Texas Association of REALTORS®. The report provides annual real estate sales data from a statewide perspective and for 25 metropolitan statistical areas in Texas.

Click here for the full report.

2017 Home Design Trends

Housing styles emerge slowly and typically appeal first to cutting-edge architects, builders, and interior designers. As a trend spreads and gains wider interest, it may go mainstream, become almost ubiquitous, and eventually lose its star power. Just look at once-favored granite, which now has been replaced by the equally durable and attractive options of quartz and quartzite.

The economy, environment, and demographics always play a big role in trend spotting. But this year there are two additional triggers: a desire for greater healthfulness and a yearning for a sense of community.

1. Community Gathering Spaces
The combination of more time spent on social media and at work and the fact that fewer people live near their family members has caused many to feel isolated and crave face-to-face interactions.

Multifamily buildings and even single-family residential developments are rushing to offer an array of amenity spaces to serve this need. Some popular options include clubhouses with spiffy kitchens, outdoor decks with pools and movie screens, fitness centers with group classes, and drive-up areas for food-truck socials. At its Main+Stone building in Greenville, S.C., The Beach Co. began hosting free monthly events such as its “Bingo & Brews.” Make sure you know which buildings, communities, and neighborhoods offer these sought-after social events and gathering spaces so you can help clients connect.

2. Taupe Is the New Gray
White remains the top paint color choice due to its flexibility and the fact that it comes in so many variations (PPG Paints has 80 in its inventory, according to Dee Schlotter, senior color expert). Though white has been upstaged by gray in recent years, this year many will be searching for a warmer neutral, which is why paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams named “Poised Taupe” as its 2017 Color of the Year. “Poised Taupe celebrates everything people love about cool gray as a neutral, and also brings in the warmth of a weathered, woodsy neutral and a sense of coziness and harmony that people seek,” says Sue Wadden, the company’s director of color marketing.

Dallas-based designer Barbara Gilbert considers taupe a smart alternative since it still performs as a neutral with other colors, cool or warm. She expects to see taupe on more exteriors — blending well with roofs, doors, window frames, and surrounding landscape — but it also will turn up indoors on walls, ceilings, kitchen cabinets, furnishings, and molding. It might even work to help update a listing clad in gray, she says, as the two colors work well together.

3. More Playful Homes
Americans work harder now than ever, with many delaying retirement or starting second careers, so they want their homes to be a refuge and a place to unwind.

Spaces that encourage play are trending higher on buyer's wish lists, whether it’s a backyard bocce court (the latest outdoor amenity to show up in residential backyards) or a putting green. And sports don’t have to be relegated to the outdoors. says Gilbert; technological advances have allowed for rapid improvement in indoor golf simulators, for example. While some of her clients have installed modest models, she’s working on a dedicated golf room with software that gives homeowners virtual access to any golf course in the world. Though landscape architect Steve Chepurny of Beechwood Landscape Architecture in Southampton, N.J., designs putting greens with synthetic grass that range from $12,000 to $30,000, he also notes he’s seeing more playfulness outdoors in the form of non-sports amenities, such as pizza ovens.

4. Naturally Renewable, Warmer Surfaces
The pervasiveness of technology throughout homes has resulted in a corresponding yearning for more tactile surfaces and materials that convey warmth. Natural cork is a perfect expression of these needs, with the bonus of being low-maintenance.

 In recent years, cork, a renewable material harvested from the bark of cork oak trees, has resurfaced as a favorite for myriad uses, and for good reason. Some credit designer Ilse Crawford’s introduction of cool, edgy cork pieces in her “Sinnerlig” collection for IKEA for the resurgence. Aside from aesthetics, the material is appealing since it’s resistant to mold, mildew, water, termites, fire, cracking, and abrasions. Moreover, cork can be stained and finished with acrylic- or water-based polyurethane. Chicago designer Jessica Lagrange likes to incorporate cork to clad walls and floors. “It’s an especially effective and forgiving choice since dents bounce back and floors retain heat,” she says.

5. Surface-Deep Energy Conservation
As energy costs continue to increase, the search is on for ways to save. Incentives to do so only increase as states and municipalities enact new, stricter energy codes. While energy-wise appliances and more efficient HVAC systems are still appealing to homeowners looking to save on their utility bills, less costly surface upgrades are gaining in popularity.

After New Jersey increased its requirements for insulation, architect Jason Kliwinski, principal at Designs for Life and current chair of New Jersey’s AIA Committee on the Environment, went looking for new options. He found new low-E window film that can double the performance of glass at one-fifth the cost of a full window replacement. Several options for this film are on the market now, and Kliwinski says manufacturers such as EnerLogic are producing versions that are invisible when installed. Other surface-change artists that lower energy use and that are cost-effective and relatively easy to apply include a ceramic insulating paint coating for walls and a thermal energy shield for attic interiors. Tesla, the innovative manufacturer of electric cars, is just debuting solar glass tiles that resemble traditional roof materials such as slate and terracotta, but provide passive heat gain.

6. More Authentic, Personalized Use of Space
As home prices escalate — up 5.5 percent, according to CoreLogic Case-Shiller — and baby boomers downsize to retire or cut costs, every inch of available space counts more than ever. To make the best use of space for each resident, design professionals are zeroing in on how clients want to live rather than thinking about how people use space generically. “One size doesn’t fit all any longer,” says Mary Cook, whose eponymous Chicago-based design firm specializes in amenities, public spaces, and model home interiors.

Buyers are likely to see a greater variety in terms of layouts, building materials, home systems, color palettes, and furnishing choices, both in model homes and in houses staged for sale. Listing agents can take the cue from this trend by helping sellers highlight the flexibility of their spaces when putting a home on the market. Buyers’ reps should similarly showcase a range of living options in each home-shopping session.

7. The Walkable Suburb
Urban centers have long been a magnet for residents wanting to walk rather than drive to work, shopping, and entertainment. But the trend is now spreading to the suburbs where being close to a town center — and public transit into a larger city — offers similar appeal.

Real estate salesperson Stephanie Mallios of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Short Hills, N.J., has seen a huge uptick in interest and value in single-family homes and townhouses close to town centers, especially those near a train station if residents commute to a large metropolitan area. “Most homes for sale in my area list the number of blocks and steps to public transit in their marketing materials. Homes far from everything have become less valuable,” Mallios says. The most appealing towns also incorporate individually owned shops rather than chain stores.

8. Healthier Homes
Consumers have been increasingly aware of hazardous indoor environments over the last few years, but news of the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Mich., raised awareness to a nationwide level in 2016. Homeowners are actively seeking out healthy water supplies, purifiers, and HVAC systems, along with nontoxic paints and adhesives. A newer element to this trend in 2017 will include enhanced environmental testing.

According to studies from both the Urban Land Institute and McGraw-Hill Construction. You should expect to see more buyers hiring health experts to examine listings and requiring in-home contaminant removal prior to a sale. Your clients will also have greater access to additional home products that promote healthy sleep patterns, such as those featuring UV and LED circadian lighting.

9. Shifting Hearths
The traditional log-burning fireplace has lost some appeal as homeowners realize it’s less energy-efficient and can send more particulates into the air. But there are a number of replacement options waiting in the wings.

Homeowners have been switching out their log-burning fireplaces with new gas models for many years. Newer on the market are the ventless alcohol-burning fireplaces that can be placed almost anywhere and without costly construction, says Los Angeles–based designer Sarah Barnard. Another increasingly popular solution is to build a fireplace outdoors, according to landscape architect Chepurny.

10. Counter Options
Much like granite did, quartz and quartzite are predicted to be kitchen favorites until another material comes along. But other green laminate options are gaining in popularity, and they’re no longer just for the budget-minded consumer.

A new countertop can make a big difference in the appeal of a room. Sally Chavez, senior product designer at Wilsonart in Temple, Texas, which manufactures engineered surfaces, says laminate options that mimic stone, wood, distressed metal, and concrete are gaining in popularity. But she recommends avoiding designs that include the “spots and dots” or speckled patterns from decades past. Some newer countertop options offer an additional perk: They lessen the time and cost of installation and also eliminate the need to discard the old countertop. 

Trend Transformations, an Italian manufacturer with a U.S. manufacturing facility, incorporates recycled granite, glass, and even seashells in its surfaces, which are installed over an existing countertop. Installation can be finished within a day, and prices are competitive with quartz and quartzite. Because these countertops are less porous than traditional stone, they’re also more resistant to stains and scratches.

11. The Transforming Office
Regular work-from-home time among the non–self-employed population has grown by 103 percent since 2005, according to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a San Diego–based research and consulting group focused on workplace change. Her organization estimates that number will continue to grow at between 10 percent and 20 percent a year.
Brad Hunter, HomeAdvisor’s chief economist, says almost any area of a house can become a workplace, but the most functional ones incorporate built-ins and furnishings that serve a dual purpose. That same desire for flexibility may someday translate to layouts that can easily change to a homeowner’s whim, such as the KB Home ProjeKt movable wall concept in its “Home of 2050” at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo this past October.
Source: Realtor.com

Renting Out Your Home? Get Landlord Insurance

Maybe you’re moving up to a bigger home and holding on to your former residence as a rental property. Or maybe you’ve tried to sell your home without success. Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking about renting out your home, you need to look into landlord insurance.

Homeowners insurance covers your house if it burns down, your possessions if there’s a break-in, and medical and legal bills if someone gets hurt on your property. Problem is, homeowners insurance might not offer protection if you decide to rent out your home. Landlord insurance does. Set aside half a day to research policies.


Renting Out Your Home Raises Risks
Homeowners insurance typically covers owner-occupied, single-family residences, says John W. Saunders, president of Slemp Brant Saunders, an independent insurance brokerage in Marion, Va. When your home doesn’t meet that definition because it’s being rented out regularly, it’s no longer covered.

Most homeowners policies will cover an occasional short-term rental if, say, you’re going away for a few weeks, says Dave Millar, a partner at Riley Insurance Agency in Brunswick, Me. “But if you have a summer home you’ve decided to use as an income property and are putting different people in there every week,” he explains, “that’s a lot higher risk for the insurance company.”

The risk is also higher for both you and your insurer when you rent out your home on a full-time basis. You have an increased responsibility for injuries on the property, whether to your tenants or your tenants’ guests, says Bob O’Brien, vice president of Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance in South Portland, Me.

Insurers also experience more claims on tenant-occupied properties because tenants typically don’t care for properties as well as owners would. Renters are less likely to either identify or report maintenance needs, says O’Brien, and may be unfamiliar with a home’s systems like the location of the water shut-off.

When you decide to become a landlord, inform your insurer and ask about a specific landlord insurance policy, sometimes known as a dwelling fire policy or special perils policy. Coverage from a basic landlord policy isn’t quite as broad as a homeowners policy, says O’Brien, but it includes big risks like fire, wind, theft, and ice damage.

There are several levels of dwelling fire policies: DP-1, DP-2, and DP-3. The higher the number, the better the coverage. “A DP-3 policy might provide replacement cost on the house and theft of contents coverage for your belongings,” says Millar.

Expect to pay 15% to 20% more for landlord insurance than you did for homeowners insurance. In recent years the average cost of homeowners insurance was $822 a year. Tack on 20%, and that would put the average annual premium on landlord insurance at about $986.

A landlord policy covering a one-year rental for a home in Maine insured for $370,000 and personal property for $10,000 would cost $1,170, for example, says Millar. Expect to pay even more if you allow short-term rentals. The same insurance for the home if rented by the week for 12 weeks during a year would be $2,170.

Other Insurance Policies to Consider
Landlord insurance typically covers the house itself, other structures on the property such as sheds, the owner’s possessions (but not the tenant’s possessions), lost rental income if the house is damaged and uninhabitable, and some liability protection for the owner in case of injury or a lawsuit. Policies vary, however, so read the fine print. If lost rental income isn’t included, you might be able to add the coverage for an additional $50 a year, says Saunders.

Also consider an umbrella policy that provides additional liability protection beyond the limits of your landlord policy. “If you’re talking about owning more than one house, and your net worth is starting to build up, then you should consider an umbrella policy,” says O’Brien. You can usually get an additional $1 million worth of liability coverage for $250 to $300 a year.

Finally, O’Brien advises that you require tenants to buy renters insurance that protects their own property. Remember, landlord insurance only covers the owner’s property. In recent years, the average cost of renters insurance has run $182 annually.
Source: HouseLogic: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/home-insurance/renting-out-your-home-get-landlord-insurance/?site_ref=mosaic