Advice for Consumers
Welcome to the Advice for Consumers blog, where you'll find tips about buying, selling, and leasing property, and so much more.
Sure, REALTORS® help you buy, sell, and lease property, but they also advocate for public policy that helps consumers.
For example, the Texas Association of REALTORS® recently announced its support for the property tax reforms provided in Senate Bill 2, now making its way through the Texas Legislature. The bill 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,” said TAR Chairman Vicki Fullerton.
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.
The association believes the bill will help give property owners transparency during the tax-rate setting process and encourage voter participation. To better understand the property tax process, visit hiddenpropertytax.com.
It’s nice having options, right? Especially when it comes to making a big purchase like a home. If you’ve started your home search by using online listing sites, you’ve probably found a long list of properties you want to tour.
Even though it’s exciting to see what’s out there, are you wondering how you’ll be able to choose a favorite? Are you overwhelmed with your choices? That’s normal. In fact, research shows that when people have too many options, they have a harder time making a decision and tend to be less satisfied with their selection. Instead of making such an important decision on your own, there’s an easy way to get there faster: Hire a Texas REALTOR®.
Texas REALTORS® can help you quickly focus on properties worth seeing because they can eliminate those that may look good online but don’t actually meet your needs. They also have access to current information about whether a home is still on the market, and when homes you thought are out of your price range might actually be open to negotiations. This is information you won’t find on your own searching online, and even if you could, it would take a lot of your valuable time.
Visit texasrealestate.com to find a Texas REALTOR® who can help you avoid wasting your time and the stress that can come with choosing the perfect home.
REALTORS® from every part of Texas are traveling to the state Capitol April 4 to visit with their elected officials. They will discuss issues like property taxes, mortgage finance, and eminent domain. Texas REALTORS® get involved in this manner because they want to make sure our state representatives and senators know how current proposals may help—or harm—Texans. And they want to be part of the process of creating policies that strengthen our economy and protect private-property rights.
How do these efforts impact you? Thanks to Texas REALTORS®' involvement in government, your property taxes are lower than they would otherwise be, you have constitutional protections prohibiting expensive tacked-on transfer fees when buying and selling property, and our state is starting to address pressing needs with our transportation and water infrastructure.
Rest assured that Texas REALTORS® will be looking out for your interests on April 4 and beyond!
Not having enough credit history for a credit score doesn't necessarily mean you must go through a drawn-out manual underwriting process to get a home loan. If you have a history of making housing payments on time and references, you could benefit from a new automated process from Freddie Mac, a quasi-public agency that purchases mortgages.
Starting in June, borrowers without credit scores can see if they're eligible for purchase mortgages or no-cash-out refinance transactions on one-unit owner-occupied homes. Lenders will be able to use Freddie Mac's automated assessments to quickly approve your loan with greater confidence that Freddie Mac will purchase it. Loans will still be evaluated against Freddie Mac's credit requirements, but the automated process should allow lenders to more efficiently serve borrowers.
First-time sellers beware: there are lots of myths out there about the right way to sell your home. While your Texas REALTOR® is your first line of defense against making these mistakes, here are three common selling myths busted:
Myth: I bought a house, so I know what it's like to go through a real estate transaction. I'll sell my home on my own and save money by not using a real estate agent.
Truth: Texas REALTORS® don't work for free, but that's because they provide valuable assistance through the home-selling process. Selling isn't the same as buying, and a Texas REALTOR® can help you reduce your risk of making a costly selling mistake. Plus, they help clients with the ins and outs of property transactions every day and are plugged into your local housing market. If you DIY, that means you'll have to spend time marketing your home adequately, be available to show the home yourself, and navigate your way through a tricky transaction alone.
Myth: If I price my home higher than market value, I'm leaving room for negotiations.
Truth: Buyers have no idea you're employing this strategy and won't understand why your price is too high. Many won't even view your home, much less put in an offer. When your home is priced improperly, it's more likely to sit on the market, making potential buyers think there's something wrong it. When that happens, you'll probably wind up with lower offers than if you had priced the home fairly at the start.
Myth: All I need to do is mow the lawn and hide my stuff in a closet and my home will be ready to show.
Truth: Is a mowed lawn and hidden clutter all it takes to attract you to a home? It won't work for potential buyers of your property, either. Your Texas REALTOR® might go through your home with you and identify areas that could use some sprucing up to make your home more appealing. Or, he or she might recommend working with a home stager to make the best impression. Be open to those suggestions … your Texas REALTOR® knows what makes a property sell quickly for top dollar.
Buyers often want to know what their utility bills for a property will be. The answer isn’t always straightforward.
The products and building techniques that determine a house’s energy efficiency may be hidden from view. However, there are ways to learn this information.
If the seller made energy improvements to the house—upgraded insulation, new windows, efficient appliances—he will brag about it. And it’s likely the listing agent will include that in the property’s marketing materials and descriptions. If you don’t see those types of improvements listed, here are some questions to ask the seller or his agent.
- How much are the utility bills? Compare the costs to that of a similarly sized house.
- What’s the R-value of the insulation? Many people won’t know the answer, but those who do will give you valuable information. Here are the recommended R-values for different regions of the country.
- What do you know about the windows? For most of the Texas, you want windows with a Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of less than 0.25; the range is between 0 and 1, with the lower the better. If that information is not available, look for double glazing with inert gases between the panes, reflective tints, and low-E coatings that reflect heat.
- Are the appliances Energy Star rated? Energy Star is a voluntary program of the Environmental Protection Agency, and products with an Energy Star label are more energy efficient than standard products.
- Do you have the maintenance records for heating and cooling equipment? Heating and cooling equipment that is not properly maintained wastes energy.
Signs to look for
When walking through a property, do you see programmable thermostats? These devices let homeowners regulate heating and cooling based on need rather than at a set temperature, saving energy. Also, look for energy labels on appliances, which compare the product's approximate energy use to similar products. Just by glancing at the label, you can tell whether the appliance falls in the energy-efficient category or the not-so energy-efficient category.
Your Texas REALTOR® can help you communicate with the sellers and look for information about a property’s energy consumption. And be sure to discuss your energy-efficiency concerns with a home inspector, as he will examine the property’s systems.
Fran J. Donegan writes home- and garden-related content for The Home Depot, which carries a wide selection of energy-efficient insulation options, as well as numerous other publications. He's also the author of the books Pools and Spas and Paint Your Home.
As a homebuyer or seller, an accepted contract is exciting. But hang on … the deal’s not done.
Thankfully, if you’re working with a REALTOR®, he or she can guide you through all the potential twists and turns on the way to closing.
An option to back out
For starters, most purchase contracts include a termination option. The buyer pays the seller a fee for a specified period of time during which the buyer can cancel the contract. The buyer can exercise this option for any reason. In fact, he doesn’t even have to explain why.
A closer look at the property
Buyers usually hire inspectors during the termination-option period. Inspections that reveal items in need of repair may prompt a buyer to ask for a price reduction or repairs prior to closing. Or the buyer may simply choose to cancel the deal.
Transactions sometimes unravel when a buyer cannot obtain the financing specified in the contract or the property does not meet the lender’s requirements. For example, appraisals can come in lower than the purchase price, or there may be issues with obtaining insurance for the home.
The list goes on
Option periods, inspections, and financing are three common trouble spots for transactions, but there are many others. Problems with title insurance or the survey, disagreements about items that convey, issues related to homeowners associations, or damage to the property after acceptance of the contract but before closing are a few examples of issues that can arise.
You have a valuable resource
Communicating with your REALTOR® about each stage of the transaction will minimize surprises and increase the chances that your transaction will proceed smoothly.
When preparing to buy or sell a home, you might search online real estate portals or keep an eye on local real estate news, but there's a better source of real estate data.
Thanks to the Data Relevance Project—a partnership among local REALTOR® associations and their multiple listing services, the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, and the Texas Association of REALTORS®—you can get a firsthand look at what's happening in your market.
The 2016 Texas Real Estate Year in Review Report includes information on 25 metropolitan statistical areas across the state, often with county-level data, as well. Learn how home prices have changed, the number of active listings, how long homes stay on the market, the amount of housing inventory, apartment rents and vacancy rates, and affordability figures—all for your area.
This data can help guide your housing or real estate decisions and make you a more informed consumer when it comes time to consult with a local REALTOR®.
It doesn’t take much to change a buyer’s impression of a home.
Add some peeling paint, a leaky faucet, and dirty dishes in the sink of an otherwise appealing house, and suddenly the buyer crosses that property off his list. Just as minor imperfections can turn off a buyer, a few small actions by you can make your home seem even more appealing.
Fix conspicuous problems. You want to put your home’s best foot forward. If you can’t afford to remedy all the problems with the house, at least fix obvious ones. A buyer will notice the rotten porch railing or cracked window pane on a casual walk-through.
Show the owner’s manuals. Sure, everything’s available online, but you still need to know the model number of your oven, dishwasher, and microwave when something breaks. Showing buyers that you’ve kept that information suggests that you’ve taken care of other things related to the house.
Make an effort outside. Short grass makes bare patches less obvious, and a few bags of mulch around trees and in flower beds can work magic on an otherwise lackluster yard. Add in a planter of colorful flowers by the front door, and you’ve added significantly to your curb appeal.
A little effort goes a long way with buyers, so ensure your home makes a great first impression.
There are more than just logistical challenges when you move with children. Many kids feel emotional about leaving their friends or old home behind. Here are some common challenges kids face when moving and ways to help them feel more comfortable in their new place.
When your child is nervous about a new school …
Coordinate a tour of the school well before she starts so she can get familiar with the building. See if you can also introduce her to teachers and a few classmates so she’ll have connections on her first day.
When your child is upset about leaving friends behind …
Put together treats your child can use to remember his far-away friends. Include a photo album, frames, and other mementos from your child’s hometown.
When your child is worried the new city won’t have familiar activities …
Get your Texas REALTOR® to help you find out where your child can participate in the hobbies she enjoys. Whether she likes to play soccer at the park or take art classes after school, your Texas REALTOR® should be able to point you in the right direction for kid-friendly activities in your new location.
Check out more tips for smoother moves, including buying, selling, and leasing information, from texasrealestate.com.