Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jaime Ulmer Real Estate Blog: Great Article about Texas Real Estate, The Federal Tax Credit, & Why to Use a Texas Realtor

First-time buyers can get a no-interest $7,500 loan


Those either/or deals you sometimes see on car commercials have always bugged me. They offer you a discount on the price of the car or an interest-free loan. To me, it’s not an interest-free loan when the car costs $3,000 more if I don’t pay cash.

Thankfully, the U.S. government’s offer of an interest-free $7,500 loan for first-time homebuyers is straightforward. Actually, they call it a tax credit. And it is. If you’re a first-time buyer, you can get an income-tax credit of 10% of the purchase price of the home up to a maximum credit of $7,500.

What does a tax credit do for you? If you have an income-tax bill of $10,000 and qualify for $7,500 tax credit, you would be required to pay only $2,500 in taxes. If you had a $5,000 income-tax liability, you would actually receive a $2,500 tax refund for the year.

I mentioned that the credit is for first-time homebuyers. The government considers you a first-time buyer if you (and your spouse, if married) haven’t owned a principal residence in the last three years. The credit begins to phase out for individuals with gross income higher than $75,000 and joint filers with incomes above $150,000. Once you get to incomes of $95,000 (single filer) and $170,000 (joint filer), the credit is completely phased out.

Although this is called a tax credit, I said it was an interest-free loan. That’s because you must pay the credit amount back over a period of 15 years. If you qualified for the full $7,500 credit, you would pay back $502.50 per year.

If you sell your home before the 15-year repayment period, you must pay back the remaining amount from your home-sale proceeds. If there’s no gain on the sale of the property, the remaining balance does not have to be repaid.

There is a bit of a catch, I suppose. This buyer incentive is only available until June 30, 2009. So if you’re considering making that leap to homeownership, there’s a real incentive to act in the next few months. Even if you purchase a home in 2009 (before June 30), you may be able to take advantage of the credit on your 2008 tax return that you file in 2009. As with any decisions you make that have tax implications, be sure to discuss this with your tax professional. And when you want assistance in making good real estate decisions, you’ll want to rely on the expertise of a Texas REALTOR®.

Article can be found HERE.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reuters News Story: US mortgage applications post largest gain ever

By Julie Haviv

NEW YORK, Dec 3 (Reuters) - U.S. mortgage applications surged by the largest amount on record last week as a new Federal Reserve program pushed interest rates down to their lowest level in more than 3 years, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.

The U.S. housing market is suffering the worst downturn since the Great Depression as a huge supply of unsold homes, tighter lending standards and record foreclosures push down home prices.

But, the latest weekly data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed potential borrowers were lured by enticing mortgage rates, which dropped dramatically after the Federal Reserve unveiled a plan last week to buy up to $500 billion of mortgage securities backed by government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae (FNM.P: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Freddie Mac (FRE.P: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), and Ginnie Mae.

"This clearly was an early holiday gift from the Federal Reserve to mortgage holders and home shoppers," said Mike Larson, a real estate and interest rate analyst at investment firm Weiss Research in Jupiter, Florida.

"But, the MBA's data is only for submitted applications, not closed loans, so a good amount may get rejected because qualifying standards are tighter and many applicants will probably find they do not have the equity to refinance given the decline in home prices," he said.
As long as unemployment is climbing and the economy is weakening, the impact on the home purchase market should be much more muted than the refinance market, he said.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Texas’ Real Estate Markets Healthier Than Most

Hey! Here's a great article by David Jones, a senior editor with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

Texas’ real estate markets never caught the housing bust bug that spread like the flu across most of the United States. But now the doctors tell me that the Lone Star State is showing some of the symptoms that flattened residential sales nationwide.

Jim Gaines, Ph.D., an economist for the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, keeps his finger on the pulse of the state’s major housing markets. If one market misses a beat, he knows it.

First, the bad news. Because Texas housing markets were at a peak in 2007, it should come as no surprise that Gaines’ latest housing market checkup shows widespread weak home sales.
Statewide, existing home sales in May 2008 were down 15.4% from a year ago. Again, that was to be expected as the Texas building and sales bubbles had to subside eventually.

Lubbock and McAllen received the best reports. Home sales in the High Plains market declined only 0.5%, the least of any examined. McAllen’s fell 1.7%. By comparison, sales of existing homes were down 20.6% in Austin, 14% in Dallas, 33% in El Paso, 13.8% in Fort Worth, 15.7% in Houston, and 23% in San Antonio.

Texas home prices holding steadyThe good news for Texas homesellers is that prices are holding. That’s in stark contrast to what’s happening in other parts of the country. The national median home price fell by 1.8% in 2007, which was the first time a negative change had been recorded since the 1960s. By May 2008, U.S. home prices were already down another 6.8%.

In contrast, the statewide median price for an existing home in Texas is $151,300, up 1.4% from May 2007.

Lubbock had the state’s highest price increase during the year – up 11.1% – with a median of $113,100. Amarillo’s median of $122,200 was 7.4% higher than a year ago. Austin’s 6.1% increase pushed its median to $194,700. El Paso’s median was $137,800, up 5.8% in 12 months.
Home prices in some areas of Texas did fall in the last year. Beaumont’s median of $127,600 is 7% lower. McAllen is down 5.5% to $100,400.

Statewide inventory higher than normalOne of the vital signs Gaines keeps an eye on is months of inventory on the market. That is, how many months would it take to sell all the existing homes in an area at the current sales pace? About six months is considered normal. In general, the bigger the inventory, the sicker the patient.

Texas has an overall inventory of 6.9 months. Nationally, the existing home inventory is 10.4 months (and the new home inventory is 11 months).

El Paso and McAllen are two Texas cities with bulging inventories. McAllen has the biggest stock of unsold homes – 15.2 months. El Paso is close behind at 12.1 months.

Cities with notably small inventories include Amarillo (5.5 months), Austin (5.7 months), and Lubbock (5.5 months).

“Getting back to normal” is how many real estate people describe today’s Texas market. The doctors at the Real Estate Center agree with that diagnosis.

This article - and others - can be found by clicking this link.

Have a great day!
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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Amidst the Turmoil, Perry says Texas economy is strong

Check out the article below! The Texas economy is strong - buying Texas Real Estate is a choice that will really pay off for many smart investors...

By Kate Alexander, Robert Elder

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

As the stock market shed 3.6 percent of its value Monday, Gov. Rick Perry talked up the Texas economy before sitting down with some agency chiefs for a "frank discussion" about the implications of the national economic turmoil for the state.

"I'm very pleased to say that our state's economy is better suited than just about any other state to weather this financial crisis," Perry said Monday during the meeting at the Capitol.

It is a message that state officials have often proffered since the economy took a turn for the worse a year ago.

Perry, however, added a note of caution. "As strong as our economy is, it is still interlaced with the economies of other states that are in substantially worse condition than we are," Perry said.

The Texas economy is growing but at a slower pace than in recent years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported last month. Culprits include high commodity prices and the ongoing credit crisis. Employment in Texas grew at a modest 1.4 percent annualized rate in August, and residential real estate and construction continue to flounder. Exports remained strong, however, thanks to the decline of the dollar, and oil and natural gas prices remained high enough to keep the energy business humming.

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said no one can be certain how the Texas budget next year might be affected by national conditions. For instance, the state might have to put more money toward children's health insurance and Medicaid because the federal budget is being stretched thin, he said.

"Looking backward, things were going great," Lavine said. "But going forward, we're driving into the fog." Ronnie Jung, the executive director of the $105 billion Teacher Retirement System pension fund, was one of the agency chiefs who met with Perry.

Other leaders who attended the meeting were Ann Fuelberg, executive director of the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the $22 billion pension fund for state workers; and Holland Timmins, chief investment officer of the Permanent School Fund, the state's $24 billion endowment for public education. Jung later held a previously scheduled conference call for TRS members and told them that benefits "are not directly impacted by the day-to-day market swings" that garner the headlines.

Jung said the system, which serves 1.2 million active and retired members, is a defined benefit plan whose benefits are determined by age, years of service and salary.

"In the long run, investment returns are critical to a sound retirement system," Jung said. He said he thinks that the Teacher Retirement System's investments are broadly diversified and won't be too damaged by the current market turmoil.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Want a fancier-looking room? Try wainscoting: Do-it-yourself design and installation tips

By Paul Bianchina, Inman News

One way to really dress up a room and try your hand at some different decorating techniques is to consider wainscoting. There are a number of ways to combine materials to create some very attractive wainscoting effects, and the cost doesn't need to be prohibitive.

Traditionally, wainscoting is tongue and groove boards or raised or flat paneling sections that are applied to the lower part of a wall. The wainscoting extends from the top of the baseboard up to a height of usually between 3 and 5 feet off the floor, and is topped off with a horizontal molding. In addition to its decorative appeal, wainscoting had the very practical advantage of protecting the lower portion of the wall from wear and tear.

Today, however, wainscoting has taken on a somewhat less specific definition. It can be just about any combination of materials, including paint, wood, wallpaper and even fabric.

A wainscoting application consists of three elements: the lower portion of the wall, the upper portion of the wall, and the dividing line between the two. How you mix and match those three elements is up to your individual taste and budget.

Splitting Up The Wall

One of the first things to decide for any wainscoting project is where the dividing line will be between the two different materials. For a room with an 8-foot-high ceiling, a division of approximately 3 feet on the lower half and 5 feet on the upper half tends to give the best balance. Many Craftsman-style homes used the reverse of that, with about 5 feet of paneling on the lower half, capped with a wider molding that was suitable for shallow storage. For best appearance, the dividing line should not be exactly half way up the wall.

To get a better idea of how different proportions will work, tape some newspaper or other material on the wall at a couple of different heights. This will give you a better representation of how the two halves will balance out, and you can adjust them accordingly.

Installing Traditional Wainscoting

To achieve the look of a board wainscoting, you can install individual narrow, tongue and groove boards; you can install wider boards that are milled on the face to look like two or three narrower boards, which simplifies installation; or you can install 4-foot-wide beaded paneling, which again replicates the look of individual boards but installs faster. With any of these methods, finish off the top of the boards with a horizontal molding such as a wainscot cap or a chair rail.

For a paneled look, there are kits available that include a routed base molding, a routed top molding, routed vertical strips, and the panels themselves. The pieces all interlock with one another, and as long as you take some time with the layout to ensure that the panels are balanced to the width of the wall, you can achieve a beautiful, traditional paneled wainscoting in a relatively short time. If you are an avid woodworker, there are specialized router bits that help you cut the individual pieces yourself and save some money.

With wood, you have the choice of painting or staining the material to get the look you want. For painting, the boards and paneling are available in medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which paints nicely and is less expensive than solid wood. For stained wainscoting, you can select from pine, fir, oak, cherry, maple and other woods.

Wood strips, paneling and moldings can all be found at most home centers and lumberyards, along with all the installation materials you need. Some larger stores also carry the paneling kits, or they can order them for you. You will also find a wide selection of wainscoting paneling kits online.

Other Wainscoting Materials

In addition to traditional wood, there are lots of other material combinations that will work very well together. You can experiment with different combinations of materials to achieve the exact look that works for your d├ęcor. In general, heavier materials such as wood and fabric look best on the lower half of the wall. Also, darker paint colors and darker, more heavily patterned wallpapers look best on the bottom.

Your wainscoting choice may be something as simple as two different colors of paint. You can also use a solid paint on one section of the wall, and some type of textured paint effect on the other section.

Another easy wainscoting can be achieved with two different wallpapers. Select a lighter paper with a more open pattern for the upper half of the wall, and a darker paper or one with a vertical stripe or heavy pattern for the bottom. You can also combine the two materials by using paint on one section of the wall and wallpaper on the other.

With any of these combinations, separate the two sections of wall with a painted or stained wood molding. To really accent the installation, finish everything off with a crown molding as well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sellers, don't be difficult when showing home -- Tips on decluttering, accommodating buyers, staying sane

By Dian Hymer, Inman News

Selling a home while you're living in it can be trying during any market. Today's sellers are generally looking at a longer marketing time than was the case a few years ago. Appropriate pricing for this changing market can shorten the misery. So can taking a few precautions.

The houses that look the best are the ones that get serious attention from buyers. Preparing a house for sale is more important than ever. Keeping it in pristine condition can be a challenge, particularly for sellers with small children and pets.

One benefit of decluttering your home before you try to sell it is that you'll have less to clean up before a showing. Some sellers find it helpful to keep everyday essentials like toothbrushes and children's favorite toys in plastic tubs. These can be hidden in a closet, under a sink or under a bed and brought out when the public is not around. Before showings, the tubs can be quickly filled and stashed away.

Your house should look its best when a prospective buyer comes through, so set up a showing procedure that requires agents to call in advance to let you know when they're coming. This way, you'll have time to straighten up the house before it's shown.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Don't be too restrictive with showings. It's difficult to sell a house that can't be shown. You need to strike a balance between accommodating buyers and saving your sanity. If a buyer wants to come on short notice, at a time that's inconvenient, ask if it's possible to reschedule. But keep in mind that some of the best buyers are relocating from elsewhere and may not have much flexibility in their schedule.

Most experienced real estate agents advise sellers to leave their home when it's being shown to prospective buyers. Sellers should also be absent during open houses. The reason for this is that a seller's presence can stifle a showing.

Buyers need to critically examine a property before they can decide to buy it or not. This is an important part of the sale process. It's difficult for most buyers to talk frankly with their agent about a listing if the seller is home.

There will be times when leaving the house is out of the question. In such cases, make yourself scarce. Take a walk in the neighborhood; take the dog with you; or work in your home office. Don't follow the buyers around your house pointing out attractive features. Leave this work to the agents.

Even though you may enjoy entertaining, try to keep home life simple while your house is on the market. Don't plan big events and children's sleepovers at your home. Taking the family out for dinner can provide a nice break, especially if buyers want to see your house after work.

Agents should not show up unannounced if the showing instructions in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) indicate that agents are to call the sellers before showing the house. However, if this happens more than once or twice, one option is to ask your agent to remove the lock box and leave it with you to put out when an agent makes an appointment. You don't need to let an agent in who hasn't followed the MLS instructions.

THE CLOSING: For some properties, and in some areas, it's appropriate for the listing agent to show the property to buyers and their agents. However, this can restrict showings. The buyers will not only need to coordinate their schedules with their agents' schedules, they also need to find a time that works for the listing agent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New Featured Listing: 209 Watersong at Cimarron Hills

4 bed/4.5 bath 3,908 sq.ft. $1,095,000

This custom home is located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country at Cimarron Hills in Georgetown, about 20 minutes north of Austin. A true artisan’s creation, this home offers almost 4,000 square feet of Venetian style architecture and is located in an award-winning Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course community featuring a newly opened Clubhouse and Spa. Membership is available to one of the area’s most coveted country club lifestyles.

Upon entering this Texas estate, a formal dining room and engaging living area with wet bar and fireplace carved from natural stone greets each guest. A sizable study and extraordinary great room highlight the passionate attention to detail for which this homebuilder is known.
Volume ceilings, rope lighting and hand-chiseled marble floors grace the first floor.

The epicurean kitchen features pecan custom cabinets, professional stainless steel appliances and well-thought details throughout. The master suite opens to grand views of the century-old oaks and rolling Hill Country. The highlight of this room is the old-world style master bath with Venetian bronze faucets, granite countertops and a 6’ Jacuzzi tub.

Three additional bedrooms and 3.5 additional bathrooms complete this exquisite estate, located in a quiet and pristine area of this renowned community poised by majestic oaks and breath-taking views.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Austin, Texas Real Estate

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