Friday, October 30, 2009

Austin American Statesman - Austin Home Sales: Area home sales jump, fueled by tax credit

Existing home sales in Central Texas rose 6.4 percent in September, the first year-over-year increase in more than two years, and the median sales price also was up, rising 2 percent to $185,250, the Austin Board of Realtors reported Tuesday.

Sales were buoyed by factors including a federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for eligible first-time homebuyers and mortgage interest rates that are hovering around 5 percent.

The 1,780 sales last month were up from 1,748 in August and up from 1,673 in September 2008. The number of sales due to close in October was up 24 percent from a year ago, an indication that the tax credit is continuing to spur sales, real estate agents and experts say.

With pending sales up and prices stabilizing, it seems "to indicate a market that is beginning to recover," said Charles Heimsath, an Austin real estate consultant, although he predicts "a slow ascent into recovery over the next 12 to 18 months."

Heimsath and other experts have cautioned that the housing market, locally and nationally, could lose steam if the tax credit is not renewed, although there are proposals in Congress to extend or broaden it.

"Still, it does appear the worst of the housing downturn is behind us, although it may be some time before we see a marked turn upward," said D'Ann Petersen, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, adding that she expects "a slow, prolonged recovery."

Nearly half the sales in September were for homes costing between $100,000 and $199,999 — a typical price range for a first-time home.

Nick Teplitz moved to Austin from Los Angeles in late May, drawn by the city's reputation as a "hip, fun city" and lower housing costs than in California.

He said the tax credit was a factor in his purchase of a unit at 2020 Congress, an apartment building that was converted to condominiums on South Congress Avenue.

Teplitz, a writer, closed on his condo June 30, paying under $100,000 for a one-bedroom unit.

Instead of "flushing $2,000 a month down the toilet" on rent in Los Angeles, Teplitz, 32, found he could own his home in Austin for one-third that much.

He said he thinks the tax credit should be extended, because it's "definitely going to keep the market afloat right now ... and keep people buying."

Jay Gohil, chairman of the real estate board, said the tax credit is likely to feed sales into November as buyers scramble to make the deadline.

The credit was passed earlier this year as part of the federal stimulus package. It provides a 10 percent credit, up to $8,000, for first-time buyers and those who have not owned a home in the previous three years. It is available to single buyers who make less than $75,000 a year and couples who make $150,000 or less.

Through September, the 14,286 home sales were down 14 percent from the same nine months of 2008, and the median price was unchanged, at $190,000.

But home sales have been slowly improving this year along with the economy, spurred by the tax credit and low mortgage rates.

Nell Hanson, a real estate agent with JB Goodwin Co., said the company "has had a huge influx of buyers who want to use the tax credit." Although an extension of the credit would be beneficial, "the low interest rates and the potential rise in the median price in Austin for 2010 will keep sales going up," Hanson said.

Greg Cooper, CEO of Goldwasser Real Estate in Austin, said "it would be suicide for the (housing) market" if the tax credit isn't renewed.

"I can't see them (Congress) taking it away right now," Cooper said, at least not until job growth comes back and unemployment eases.

Cooper said sales at his firm were up 51 percent in September over a year earlier, and "if we close what we have pending," October's sales will be triple that of last October's.

"Obviously, the stimulus is clearly helping," Cooper said.

Steve Cochrane, managing director at Moody's, an economic forecasting and consulting firm, said he thinks that there is "a better than even chance" the credit will be renewed. He noted that there are positive ripple effects, as owners sell their entry-level homes to first-time buyers and are able to move to another home.

Asked whether the credit is artificially propping up the market, Cochrane said: "One can argue that any kind of government stimulus is artificial. But if it acts as the spark to get the market going, that can be fine. The government doesn't have to stay in the business of providing the spark forever."

View article in Austin American Stateman

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Forth of July Recipes!

Fire it up and then cool it off this Forth of July with my favorite recipes!

4th of July Cherry Bombs Recipe

  • 12 fresh habenero peppers
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/2 package dry onion soup mix
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried red bell pepper flakes
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 10 Ritz crackers, pulverized to very fine consistency
  • Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, soup mix, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper flakes thoroughly. Allow to sit at room temp until you are ready to use.
  • Wearing rubber gloves, slice almost through the top of each pepper, leaving the top as a flap. With a small melon scoop, remove the seeds and white pulp from each pepper. Place cream cheese mixture in a small decorating bag and with a medium 'o' tip pipe mixture into each pepper, mounding slightly at the top. Brush pepper flap with some of the egg and close flap to seal.
  • Refrigerate peppers for 30 minutes. Dip chilled peppers in egg wash and roll in cracker crumbs. Next step is to place peppers in the freezer until hard frozen, about 3 hours.
  • Just before serving, remove peppers from freezer and drop into hot 375 degree oil and fry until golden. Pipe three dollops of cream cheese mixture decoratively on each plate and place one fried pepper in the center of each dollop. Decorate with sliced pickled cherry peppers, and leaf lettuce. Serve hot with a warning and fire extinguisher handy. Top of Form
Cantaloupe Fruit Salad

  • 2 ea Med. Cantaloupes *
  • 1 ea Large Pineapple **
  • 1 c Raisins
  • 1 c Fresh Shredded Coconut
  • 1 c Finely Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 ea Large Apple ***
  • 1 x Low-fat Yogurt
  • *Remove rind and seeds from cantaloupe.
  • **Cored, Peeled, and cut into small chunks.
  • ***Cored and cut into small chunks.
  • Cut the cantaloupes into small chunks and mix with the pineapple, raisins, conconut, and walnuts in a large salad bowl.
  • Scoop yogurt into individual serving bowls and pass the fruit salad. Stir to coat and enjoy. This dessert is wonderful on a hot day.
4th of July Red, White, and Blue Pizza
  • 1 pt Strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1 pt Blueberries
  • 1T plus 1 t Sugar, divided
  • 1 T Brandy
  • 4 6" Pizza Crusts, homemade or store bought
  • 1 1/2 c Whipped topping, thawed
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  • Combine strawberries, blueberries, 1 teaspoon. of the sugar and the brandy.
  • Sprinkle pizza crust with the remaining sugar.
  • Bake 6-8 minutes on baking sheet; cool slightly.
  • Fill with crust with strawberries and raspberries.
  • Serve with a big dollop of whipped topping.
Alcoholic Beverages

4th of July Lemonade

  • 1 part Jack Daniel's bourbon
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 1 part sweet-and-sour mix
  • 4 parts lemon-lime soda

Combine all ingredients and serve this refreshing drink over ice.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage

Summer Delight Punch

  • 6 oz Can frozen orange juice
  • 2 1/2 c Pineapple juice
  • 12 oz Can apricot or peach nectar
  • 1 ea Bottle ginger ale, (2 litre)
  • 1 ea Lemon, sliced
  • Mix together the lemonade, orange juice, pineapple juice, and nectar and chill.
  • When ready to serve drinks, add the ginger ale. Garnish with lemon slices.
Red, White, and Blueberry Freezee

  • 1 c Whipping cream
  • 1/2 c Frozen blueberries
  • 1 ds Lemon juice
  • 1 x Sugar to taste
  • Small Strawberries for garnish
  • Mix together the whipping cream, blueberries, lemon juice, and sugar in a blender.
  • Top with a few strawberries. This refreshing drink is great on a hot day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lake of the Hills Regional Medical Center Another Step Closer

After nearly a year of negotiations Scott & White will soon add 22 acres of land to the 19 acres already donated by developers for construction of the future 40-acre Lake of the Hills Regional Medical Center in Marble Falls. “We’re another step forward,” says Scott & White President and CEO Alfred Knight, M.D. This latest development opens the way for the City of Marble Falls to begin connecting utilities to the site. Here’s what you can expect in the months to come:
  • In 6 to 12 months. Utility lines to be completed, ground breaking for a medical office complex offering OB/GYN, orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, neurology, and urology services.
  • Nine months later: Construction of the medical office complex complete construction of the 80-120 bed level – two trauma center to begin.
  • 18 to 24 months later: Construction complete on comprehensive care center and cardiac care facilities and advanced surgical laboratory, and imaging centers.
  • The new medical campus will sit on 75 acres which developers will open for assisted car facilities, private medical practices, and other commercial enterprises.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Our New Colt: Bailey's Poco Buz

My Garden: Photos

All time easy and favorite recipe for Blackberry Cobbler

The recipe ingredients consists of 1-1/2 sticks butter or margarine, 2 cups all purpose flour, 2 cups sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 cups milk, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 4- ½ cups frozen blackberries.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees . While the oven is pre-heating add sticks of butter to a 13x9x2 baking pan and place into the oven to allow butter to melt. Remove pan from oven when butter has melted. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl, add milk and vanilla extract the dry mixture and mix well.

Once butter has melted evenly distribute the blackberries into the bottom of your baking dish. Pour cobbler batter evenly over the blackberries. Place baking dish in oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until done. When done crust will become golden brown. Serve warm or with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream.

Recipe: Blackberry Liqueur Sauce

4 Cups Black Berries 1 tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup Chambord 1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ cup sugar 1 pouch liquid pectin

Wash blackberries, drain. Combine blackberries, Chambord and sugar in a saucepan; let stand 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Stir in liquid pectin. Return mixture to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars , leaving ¼ inch head space. Adjust two- piece caps. Processing 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
If you can’t wait to sample, like my husband, great on cheesecake as a topping and also as a sauce for Blue Bell’s Home Made Vanilla Ice Cream. This way you illuminate the need to can or process, just let it sit to absorb all the flavors. And then use as a topping.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

10 Steps To Sell More Quickly In Stalled Markets

10 Steps To Sell More Quickly In Stalled Markets

by Peter G. Miller

We're well into the prime real estate selling season for much of the country, a marketplace less certain in many areas than in the past few years.

We don't fully know what will happen in 2007, but to date many markets have stalled if not declined. For most long-term owners selling in such a marketplace, appreciation from past years assures profitable sales, but perhaps not as profitable would have been the case in 2006.

But still, owners in all cases would like to maximize their profits. What to do? If you're a seller, there are 10 negotiating steps you can take to make sure your home has the best chance for a top price and a quick sale.

Step 1: Get a local broker. In a slow market there are relatively fewer buyers. It follows that to generate the most demand you want your property exposed to as many purchasers as possible. Who do buyers contact when they want a house? Brokers. Figures from the National Association of Realtors show that 85 percent off all buyers rely on real estate brokers when buying a home while 80 percent rely on the Internet. Who posts real estate information on the Internet? Local brokers.

Step 2: Read the sale agreement. Virtually all jurisdictions have a standardized real estate contract which over the years have become lengthy and complex. If you use one then you're automatically agreeing to all unmodified terms and conditions, so read the entire agreement so you know what is being said.

But is there something in the proposed agreement that should be changed, removed or added? Brokers should provide a copy of the sale agreement they expect to use at listing presentations and this document should be read to avoid surprises and misunderstandings. Since these are form agreements, anything not required by law can be changed with a suitable cross-out or addenda. For details, speak with your broker or attorney.

Step 3: Know the marketplace. In terms of negotiation it's not good enough to know recorded sale prices because they frequently don't tell the whole story. For instance, two homes may both have recorded sale prices of $500,000. One may actually have sold for $500,000 while the other sold for $500,000 but the owner gave a 3 percent seller credit to the buyer for a new roof and appliances -- that's $15,000 off the top. Local brokers who actually make sales know the innards of recent transactions are thus are in the best position to provide negotiating advice.

Step 4: Know your terms. You know your property will sell at some price point, but rather than a given price it's best to think of a home as a package of price and terms. For instance, in a slow market it may be better to pay a "seller contribution" to help buyers off-set closing costs than to lower the sale price. In many cases, the seller contribution may be smaller than a price reduction and much more attractive to buyers who need cash to close.

Step 5: Reduce deposit requirements. To make a contract work there's a need for a buyer deposit, the "consideration" necessary to bind a deal. If you're a seller you want the largest possible deposit, but in a slow market you may have to settle for less. Buyers, for their part, want to make the smallest possible deposit if only because a big deposit represents a huge psychological commitment -- and a financial one.

Less consideration may be appropriate if the buyer is pre-approved for a loan, the purchasers have a strong interest in the property and no better offer is in the picture.

Step 6: Throw in stuff. Do you really want to move a swing set or a washer/dryer? In some cases it may be best to "reluctantly" part with such items if only a buyer will make an offer.

Step 7: Update MLS photos. If it's August and your MLS photo shows a home with four feet of snow in the front yard then buyers can guess that the home has been for sale for a long, long time -- meaning the price and terms are, um, flexible. Perhaps more "flexible" than you would like. Have your broker post newer photos.

Step 8: Review the marketing plan. The marketing plan developed by your broker should be reviewed as often as necessary to assure that; one, it is being followed and; two, it is changed as necessary.

Step 9: Visit open houses. It's always good to visit open houses or, as they're otherwise called, the competition. It's not easy to be objective, but is there something other owners are offering which might work for your property? Something you can make into a bargaining point? Maybe an offer to re-paint the living room in a color of the buyer's choice is not a bad idea.

Step 10: Have context. It's silly to worry about small costs and concessions when your core goal is to sell the home.

In one situation, a buyer demanded an extra $500 to resolve some alleged concern just before closing. We thought this was simply an example of buyer's remorse and said yes, got an otherwise terrific price, and closed. Soon thereafter the local market slowed and prices softened. It was far cheaper to "lose" $500 then to locate another buyer a few weeks or months later when the market was harsher and our final sale price might have been many thousands of dollars less.

Would we have rather not paid the $500? Sure. But $500 was a small cost in the context of a rapidly changing market, one where delay could have meant a serious price reduction.

Know the Facts: Mortgages

Check out this great article, written by my friend Suzanne Mayer (click the image below to read it):

For Some, It's Finally Time to Dive Into Housing Market

Wall Street Journal

February 11, 2009

For Some, It's Finally Time to Dive Into Housing Market


For years, even as her friends bought huge houses in the expensive Phoenix market, ElizabethChild remained a renter.But in January, the airline customer-service agent and her boyfriend closed on their first home.

The three-bedroom, two-bath house, complete with granite countertops and a pool, had been listedfor $340,000 in late 2007, but the couple bought it for $220,500. "Six months ago I didn't thinkI would own a home," says Ms. Child, 27 years old.

"And now I do. It's so perfect."Elizabeth Child and William McGeary were able to buy their first home after prices in Phoenixdropped sharply.The housing bust is creating a new group of winners: first-time home buyers.

People who sat onthe sidelines -- often watching wistfully as their friends became homeowners -- are suddenly ina position to grab some great deals. Indeed, first-time home buyers made up 41% of all buyers atthe end of 2008, up from 36% in 2006, according to a recent survey from the National Associationof Realtors.

The new buyers are being lured in by home prices that are down about 25% from their peak levelsin mid-2006, according to the S&P/Case-Schiller Index. In some markets, prices have dropped evenfurther -- slumping around 40% in Phoenix, Miami and Las Vegas. Lower mortgage rates have alsohelped make real estate more affordable, and as houses languish on the market longer, morehomeowners are willing to negotiate.

With Congress considering plans to sweeten a tax credit forfirst-time home buyers, the picture could get even brighter.

"Buyers are now coming back into those hard-hit markets to take advantage," says Lawrence Yun,chief economist for the Realtors' association. "It's a buyer's market."Ululani and Scott Larson looked for a house in the Seattle area several years ago, but held offfrom buying, deterred by the high prices.

"I felt like we were missing out, because everyoneknows it's the American dream to buy a home and build equity," Mrs. Larson says.The couple was shocked to discover recently that they could afford a four-bedroom home inFederal Way, Wash.

The assessed value of the home in January was $400,000, Mrs. Larson says.Their offer of $315,000, with a down payment of $15,000 was quickly accepted by the relocationcompany, which had had the property on the market for six months.

"Honestly, I didn't think we'dget as nice of a house as we did," Mrs. Larson says.Of course, would-be buyers need decent credit scores and the money for a decent down payment.Also, finding the right property can be a challenge for first-time buyers, who tend to beseeking less-expensive homes.

The typical first-time buyer purchased a home costing $165,000last year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Yet some of the best bargainsright now are in luxury condos and sprawling single-family houses.

"The disproportionate McMansion inventory doesn't work," says Shari Olefson, a real-estatelawyer who works in southern Florida. "Even if you qualify for the loan, there are huge overheadcosts to buying a larger home."

Still, real-estate agents and mortgage lenders are banking on first-time buyers to helpstimulate the otherwise dreary housing market. Many are holding workshops and informationsessions designed specifically for first-time buyers, addressing federal and state taxincentives for homeowners, local prices and ways to take advantage of low mortgage interestrates.

Tim Epps, a mortgage adviser in Tulsa, Okla., runs rent-vs.-buying simulations forwould-be buyers and recommends that other prospective buyers do the same long-term calculations.Mr. Epps and many mortgage lenders recommend that buyers come up with as big a down payment aspossible, even though Federal Housing Administration loans will allow some first-time buyers toenter the market with as little as 3% down. ( has more information about FHA loanprograms designed for first-time buyers.)

"Even if [a home owner] loses some paper equity, in the long run, there are some tax benefits,"says Mr. Epps, referring to the deduction for interest paid on mortgages and the credit forfirst-time home buyers.Elizabeth Child bought a home once listed at $340,000 for $220,500.

The $7,500 tax credit for first-time buyers, which Congress passed last year, has had littleeffect on the market so far. Because the credit has to be repaid, buyers are viewing it asanother loan, industry experts say.

But the stimulus package that Congress is working on islikely to repeal the provision that requires buyers to pay the credit back and possibly enlargethe tax credit as well.For many buyers, the biggest question is whether to hold out for even better conditions.Historically, recoveries in the housing market are slow, and most experts expect the prices tostay low for some time.

That means people can take their time shopping for the right property,real-estate experts say.John Stratton, an agricultural engineer in Lisle, Ill., was serious about buying last summer butheld off from making a bid.

Some of the money he planned to use for a down payment sufferedlosses from mutual-fund investments. He's also waiting for prices in his area to go downfurther. "I can do better investing in things other than real estate," he says. "Right now, I'mnot diving in."Patience can pay off. Jen and Drew Rocky spent over a year tracking their prey before the pricewas right.

In the summer of 2006, they saw the four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom home of their dreams inSherman, Conn. The asking price was $565,000, "completely out of our price range," Mrs. Rockysays.But they didn't give up.

The Rockys kept driving by the vacant house. They had online alerts tonotify them of changes in the property's listings. They went to town hall to research the home'spublic records. As they suspected, the home was in foreclosure.

"There were liens all over theplace," Mrs. Rocky says.They bought the home in December 2007 for $410,000. "I felt so vindicated," Mrs. Rocky says. "Wegot a good deal, but I'm sure there are even better deals out there."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Other states fueling most Texas growth: Fellow citizens move here seeking jobs at same time immigration from outside U.S. falls

By MIKE SNYDER Copyright 2008 Houston Chroniclel; Dec. 22, 2008, 11:43PM
More people are moving to Texas from other states than from other countries as the state'srelatively strong employment base attracts families struggling with foreclosures and layoffs elsewhere, the Census Bureau reported Monday.

Between July 2007 and July 1, 2008, nearly 141,000 people moved to Texas from other states, compared with about 92,000 international migrants, the bureau said.

The data provide a fresh indicator of how longstanding immigration patterns into Texas are changing.

In the early years of this decade, international migration into Texas was two to three times asgreat as domestic, but the trend reversed starting in 2006.

Much of Texas' international migration historically hails from Mexico and Central America, whereimmigrants fled poor conditions. But the surging domestic migration into the Lone Star State isnow likely to come from economically depressed states such as Michigan, which lost about 46,000 residents between July 2007 and July 1, 2008.

Texas gained 484,000 residents last year, more than any other state. In percentage growth,Texas' 2 percent tied for third with North Carolina and Colorado behind Utah, 2.5 percent, and Arizona, 2.3 percent.

Domestic migration in Texas last year was almost three times what it was in 2005. It peaked in2006, when an influx of Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina contributed to about 220,000 Texas domestic migrants.

Karl Eschbach, the state demographer, said Texas has continued to produce jobs while employment declined in many other states. He said this was the key factor driving the increased domestic migration.

"For the past several years, job growth in the United States means Texas," Eschbach said. "The Texas economy has so much outperformed the rest of the country."