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

Tree Falls On Property Line: Who Pays? Who Picks Up the Pieces?

When a neighbor’s tree falls over your property line, yell TIMBER, then call your insurance company. Homeowners policies cover tree damage caused by perils like wind and winter storms.

Most policies cover hauling away tree debris if the mess is associated with house damage; some will cover cleanup even if no structures were harmed.
When a Tree Falls

Your neighbor is responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line only if you can prove he was aware that his tree was a hazard and refused to remedy the problem. Regardless, your insurance company restores your property first, and later decides whether or not to pursue reimbursement from the neighbor or his insurer if the neighbor was negligent in maintaining the tree.

Before a Tree Falls
Write a letter to your neighbor before his dead, diseased or listing tree falls through your roof or over your property line.

The letter should include:
Description of the problem
Photographs
Request for action
Attorney letterhead—not necessary but indicates you mean business.
Trim Their Trees

If the limbs of a tree hang over your property line, you may trim the branches up to the property line, but not cut down the entire tree. If a tree dies after your little pruning, the neighbor can pursue a claim against you in civil or small claims court. Depending on the laws of your state, your neighbor may have to prove the damage was deliberate or caused by negligence, but may also be able to recover up to three times the value of the tree.

Before you cut, tell your neighbors what you intend to do to protect your property. They may offer to trim the whole tree instead of risking your half-oaked job.
Your Tree Falls

It’s always a good idea to take care of your big and beautiful trees, and keep receipts for trimmings and other care.

But if your tree falls over a neighbor’s property line, do nothing until their insurance company contacts you. You may not be liable unless you knew or should have known the tree was in a dangerous condition. If you pruned a tree or shored up trunks to prevent problems, gather your receipts to prove your diligence.
Source: HouseLogic: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/home-insurance/tree-fall-property-line/?site_ref=mosaic

8 Ways Your Old Stuff Can Become Creative Storage

Don’t let your old stuff freeload! Put it to work. Use that old suitcase, file cabinet, magazine rack — even items you might ordinarily pitch into the recycling bin — to help organize your home. You’ll save money, and your family will benefit from unique storage solutions that fit your lifestyle.

Go on: Unpack your creativity and pack up your clutter into old stuff you never before thought to use as storage.

1. Tin Cans Become ... Winter Gear Storage
Hats and gloves and boots, oh my. With three young children and a small entryway, Clare Fauke gets desperate to see her floor each winter. “I needed a way to contain things in a spot everyone could reach,” she says. While cooking chili one day, she had an aha moment. “Those 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes were the perfect size to [use for stowing] a couple of baby gloves,” says Fauke who lives with her family in Chicago.

She washed out the cans and made sure there was no torn metal around the edges. Then she screwed the cans to a piece of scrap wood and attached the whole thing to the wall by the door. “It really helps discourage the kids from throwing their things everywhere,” Fauke says. And the cost is minimal if you wait until those tomatoes are on sale.

2. Old Strawberry/Fruit Containers Become ... Organizers
Berry-lover Mickey Mansfield of suburban Charlotte, N.C., found himself knee-deep in plastic strawberry boxes. He decided to use an empty one as a first aid kit in the garage. Like berry vines, the idea grew.

Now, he uses them to store crayons, markers, and craft supplies. “They’re ‘free’ (just the cost of the strawberries), easily replaceable, and see-through,” Mansfield says. “The kids can see exactly what they’re grabbing.” He finds they can hold up for years. They’re stackable and strong enough, he says, to store batteries and Matchbox cars.

“I even leave the cars in the container, which has holes, and dunk the whole thing in a bucket filled with a solution of water and bleach to disinfect them,” he says. “Then I just tip them over to drain and dry.”

3. Old Suitcase Becomes ... Charging Station
Even chargers deserve a nice home. With four kids ages 7 to 17, Brenda McDevitt was finding chargers, tablets, cords, and cell phones all over her suburban Pittsburgh home. She wanted a centrally located storage center and looked no further than the perfect-sized container that happened to already be in her home: a vintage suitcase she was using in a decorative display.

“I’ve always loved the look of them,” says McDevitt, who admits to collecting old suitcases from mostly roadsides. “I’ve never paid for one, and I always have a couple of suitcases laying around for things like magazine storage. Or I’ll put them under a bench or on top of a cabinet.”

McDevitt relined this vintage case with a cheery fabric to make the inside of the charging station as chic as the outside. She then drilled some holes in the back for the cords to exit and left a power cord inside so everyone can plug in their devices out of sight. 

4. Plastic Magazine Racks Become ... Freezer Organizers
Anyone who has ever had something fall out of the freezer onto his toes knows the dangers of rifling through bags of frozen vegetables, packages of meat, breads, and leftovers. The fix is so simple — plastic magazine racks. (If you don’t have some lying around, you can find them at an office supply store for $6 or less.) Slide them in your fridge and fill them up. Your toes will thank you.

5. Window Frame Becomes ... Hanging Bathroom Storage
Who says a window can’t be a door? Erica Hebel wanted to create a rustic-looking storage cupboard for her “itty bitty powder room that is ridiculously shaped and hard to get into” in suburban Chicago. She began with a $3 wood window purchased at a barn sale. “A bit worn, but that adds to its character,” she says.

6. Stool Becomes ... Gift Wrap Organizer
Hebel cleaned the wood and the glass panes. Then she built a cabinet box with three pine boards for shelves, plywood for the back, and a few small hinges using a brad nailer, a stud detector, and a Kreg jig.

When the cardboard box housing Sarah Ramberg’s wrapping paper finally gave out, she remembered a photo she had seen of an upside-down stool used to corral fabric bolts. That led her to an idea.

The Greenville, S.C., “biologist by day” spray-painted an old stool, slathered on a coat of sealant, and put four casters on the seat so she can “wrap and roll from room to room.” Ramberg cut a “crazy print” thrift store pillow case in half to create catch-all pouches to attach to the side. “It’s a ‘low sew’ project,” she says. And low-cost, too: The stool was from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and four swivel casters cost as little as $6.

7. Filing Cabinet Becomes ... Garage Workbench
Renee Fuller of Midlothian, Va., got a chainsaw for Mother’s Day. Where to put it? When she saw how expensive a new tool storage solution would be to buy, she thought of an old lateral filing cabinet stuffed with junk sitting in her garage.

Fuller spray-painted the cabinet with gray Rust-Oleum and made two rectangles in chalkboard spray paint for drawer labels. Then, she put inexpensive wheels on the bottom. The top is a laminated countertop a neighbor had thrown away. Fuller attached it with SPAX multi-material screws. Total cost of the project: $35

8. Kitchen Cabinets Become ... Dining Room Storage
Who knew unwanted oak kitchen cabinets plus old fence wood could equal a built-in dining room buffet? Pulled from a kitchen Connie Harper’s husband was helping a friend remodel, the cabinets fit perfectly along the wall in the Harpers’ Tyler, Texas, dining room.

The cabinets were in good condition, so the Harpers lightly sanded the doors, painted the interior and exterior with white satin paint, and bought new bronze-finished metal hardware and hinges. The top is old pine fence board from a fence they’d taken down. They laid the pieces side by side, sanded them lightly, and sealed the top with a coat of polyurethane.

“It gives me satisfaction to see something that’s headed to the dumpster, bring it home, and give it new life,” Harper says. The project took about two days and cost $25 for the hardware.
Source:HouseLogic: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/storage-ideas-hacks/diy-storage-ideas/?site_ref=mosaic

Texas Association of REALTORS® Releases 2017 Texas Relocation Report

Texas ranked second in the nation for relocation activity in 2015, according to the Texas Relocation Report released earlier this month by the Texas Association of REALTORS®. Analyzing statewide and national migration data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the report showed that Texas continues to be a high-demand destination for U.S. residents relocating across the country. 
“The diverse job opportunities and high quality of life in Texas continue to drive in-state and out-of-state migration to Texas cities and counties, both big and small,” said Vicki Fullerton, 2017 chairman of the Texas Association of REALTORS®. “This is the third consecutive year that Texas has gained more than 500,000 new residents from out of state.”
According to the report, Texas experienced a net gain of out-of-state residents in 2015, with 107,689 more people moving to Texas than Texas residents moving out of state. This is a 4 percent increase in the net gain of Texas residents from 2014 (103,465 residents).
The total number of residents moving to Texas from out of state in 2015 increased 2.8 percent year-over-year to 553,032 incoming residents. The highest number of new Texans came from California (65,546), followed by Florida (33,670), Louisiana (31,044), New York (26,287), and Oklahoma (25,555).
Texas once again ranked third in the nation for the number of residents moving out of state (445,343) in 2015. The most popular out-of-state relocation destinations for Texans were California (41,713), Florida (29,706), Oklahoma (28,642), Colorado (25,268), and Louisiana (19,863).
This is the first Texas Relocation Report to feature comparative relocation data by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim and New York-Newark-Jersey City recorded the highest number of resident migrations to Texas in 2015. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington recorded the highest number of incoming residents from out-of-state (117,982), followed by Houston-The Woodlands-Sugarland (101,604) and Austin-Round Rock (46,598).
At the county level, Harris County led the state with a net gain of 18,945 residents relocating to the county from out of state, but four of the top 10 counties with the highest net gain of residents from out of state were located in North Texas (Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties).
Fullerton concluded, “As thousands more people choose Texas to further their careers, grow their businesses and raise their families each year, the need for initiatives that protect our state’s affordability, mobility and economy become increasingly critical. In the upcoming legislative session, Texas REALTORS® will be actively advocating for sustainable, long-term policies that will support our state’s enduring population growth.”
About the Texas Relocation Report
The Texas Relocation Report is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U-Haul. The report analyzes county relocation data for the 43 largest demographic areas in Texas. The Texas Association of REALTORS® distributes insights about the Texas housing market each month, including quarterly market statistics, trends among homebuyers and sellers, luxury home sales, international trends, and more.
Source: texasrealestate.com:

SABOR’s 2017 Housing Forecast Provided Outlook on 2017 Market

The San Antonio Board of REALTORS® hosted its 2017 Housing Forecast earlier this month at the J.W. Marriott Hotel to an audience of approximately 1,000 REALTOR® and Affiliate members. Participants at this annual event heard from a series of locally and nationally recognized speakers sharing their expertise on market conditions, industry trends and community conditions and how those factors will affect the 2017 real estate market.

“In 2016 we outpaced 2015’s sales figures, and we expect to carry this momentum into the New Year,” said Angela Shields, President and CEO of the San Antonio Board of REALTORS®. “An event like this is a prime opportunity for our members to prepare for the demands of a busy housing market by staying informed of the factors shaping our industry.”

Topics covered this year ranged from downtown living and the luxury market to job growth, company relocations, area parks, water, transportation, land sales and the Texas economy. 

The keynote presentation was given by Dr. Mark Dotzour, Real Estate Economist, who spoke about the current conditions in the Texas market while offering some insight into the coming year. Dotzour pointed out that consumer confidence has spiked in the last few months and there is no hint of a recession on the horizon. While home prices in the area have risen over the years, Texas remains more affordable than other large states.
Source:SABOR

Understanding and Reducing Debt

Many people find themselves owing money, whether it's a credit card, car payment or student loan. And while debt is common, there are compelling reasons to reduce and eliminate it.

The Many Costs of Debt
For starters, there's the interest. The longer you take to pay down your balances, the more interest you rack up, which adds to the cost of your original purchase. Spending your cash on balance minimums can also prevent you from building up significant financial reserves, like emergency savings.

Debt can also get in the way of your housing goals. Lenders may hesitate to award you a mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio is too high. Debt can also hurt your credit score, which is a metric landlords use to screen tenants.

Strategies to Pay It Down
The good news is there are practical ways to reduce what you owe. Start by tallying up all of your debts and tracking your monthly spending to identify areas for cutbacks. Then create a budget. From there, you could follow one of two popular approaches for paying things down:


With the "snowball method," you chip away at your smallest debt first and make minimum payments on everything else. Then move to the next largest debt as you pay things off.
The "avalanche method" has you focus on paying the balance with the highest interest rate first, regardless of how much you owe, and working your way down from there.

There are pros and cons to each strategy. And regardless of which approach you take, you may slip up a time or two; don't let that deter you. Just keep your focus on why you want to eliminate your debt and be sure to celebrate your small victories along the way.
Source: Sharon Floyd - Gold Financial (210) 317-8834