Norhill Subdivision

Norhill is an area of approximately 1200 homes within the Heights that was developed in the 1920s. It is made up of three sections that were developed at different times: Norhill, Norhill North, and Norhill East. Norhill North and Norhill East are joined by the Norhill Neighborhood Association and has been designated a historic district by the City of Houston. All areas of Norhill are subject to deed restrictions. However, the areas within Norhill Neighborhood Association have more restrictive requirements, especially as they relate to updating the exteriors of the homes. Most of the homes in the neighborhood are Craftsman bungalows with covered porches. Norhill is a highly walkable neighborhood.

Houston SkylineAs with all the areas within the Heights, Norhill is zoned to Houston Independent School District and is part of the City of Houston. The Heights comprises mixed use neighborhoods offering older and newer homes, shopping, and entertainment with easy access to downtown. It is most popular because of its proximity to downtown and because of the numerous historic neighborhoods and homes.

Over the last 12 months, 55 homes have been sold within Norhill with 45 of those homes built before 1930. For the homes built before 1930 and sold in the last 12 months, they averaged:

Listing Price: $496,187

Sales Price: $489,970

Sales Price per Square Foot: $334

Square Feet: 1466

Year Built: 1925

Of the 10 homes built in 1931 or later and sold in the last 12 months, they averaged:

Listing Price: $680,790

Sales Price: $678,750

Sales Price per Square Foot: $316

Square Feet: 2143

Year Built: 1974

If you like walking, a short commute to downtown and entertainment, historic neighborhoods, and a small town feel, Norhill may be a perfect neighborhood for you.

Downsizing

My Mom just moved from her home to a senior living facility. She cut her space by two-thirds, and she does not plan to move back to something larger. So, her downsizing was extreme and permanent. However, many of us have downsized over the years as we became empty nesters, moved from the suburbs to town, divorced, or tired of dealing with the yard. In many of these cases the change will not be “permanent.” However, in all these situations, there are steps to make the process more agreeable and successful. Broadly, those steps are:

Storage facility – For many, getting a storage facility is a first step. If you are going to attempt a new lifestyle that you are concerned you may regret (e.g., moving to a smaller space in town) or if you have furniture you are saving for your children’s homes, storing the extra furniture and china may make sense for a short period. However, after a relatively short period you will want to reconsider the storage facility and the extra items.

Start at least ninety or more days ahead of the move – Although not always possible, planning and working on the project over 3 to 6 months will help you make it a more successful move.

Think about your new lifestyle – Are you moving to town to be closer to social activities like restaurants and plays? If so, you may not need as much social gear as you had by your former pool or bar. Will you really need a bed in all the bedrooms or could one become office and TV space?

Involving your spouse or partner and others – The old sports gear you now want to trash may be your partner’s most sentimental item. And, an old Teddy Bear or baseball card collection may be something your kids want. Obviously, you and your spouse or partner and family members will have to be involved in the process. Also, make sure the furniture you want to save for the kids is something they will want.

Make a floor plan of your new space – Measure your new space and your major pieces of furniture. Envision where everything will go and map it on a floor plan. All you really need is a tape measure, and a ruler or straight edge. Determine if you will have enough space to add book shelves or other storage pieces.

Only take what fits – This may seem obvious. But, you do not want to create unhappiness with your new space because you are too cramped. If you love your books, but you only have room for one bookcase that will hold 100 books: limit yourself to 100 books. If you have half the cabinets, only take half of what your current cabinets hold.

Start making lists or piles – You will want to start with one closet or one room or one cabinet at a time. To the extent it is possible, go ahead and make it physical. If you can take your extra clothes from one closet to a local charity now: do it. But, if it is too difficult, such as thinking through the furniture in a bedroom, start making lists of where it will go.

Assignment of the items – The types or categories of piles or lists will be gifts to a relative, moving to new house, giving to charity, etc. Very little should go in a trash pile. Somebody will want it or someone needs it.

Heading HomeSentimental items – Some items have a sentimental value but cannot be moved. Maybe others involved will also find it sentimental or can use it. Certainly other relatives or friends may also find the items sentimental or possibly they need them. However, be careful in offering items as others may not find it as sentimental as you do. I have a friend who became a widow. Her husband had collected books, too many to take to her new home. Although she had no desire to sell them, she found selling them individually on eBay made her feel the new owners would love them like her husband had. I find donating items to charity always makes me feel better than putting it in the trash. Even if it creates more work, a solution may be much more satisfying. And, keeping a photograph of the item may be just as satisfying as keeping the item.

Do you really need it? – Empty-nesters moving from a suburban home to a patio home no longer need a mower or all the tools taking up space in the garage. Many people have 3 kinds of pots, 2 kinds of china, and 3 sets of knives. Over the period you are going through this downsizing process track what you actually use and get rid of the rest. Even if you think you are going to use something, can you borrow it or rent it later?

Decluttering – I have way too many files related to tax returns that are past the audit period, paperback books that I think I may read again, boxes of work documents from years ago, old electronics equipment, etc. that I would need to shred, give away and throw away. This may take longer than some of the other steps.

At your new home – Does the space work as you planned or do you need to “downsize” and “declutter” more? It probably makes sense to make one last try at your new home. If you have collections, it may make sense to store them under your bed and rotate a few pieces for showing. For kitchens and bathrooms, it may help to have shoe boxes or larger plastic containers to hold the items that used to cover the counters. The containers can be moved into and out of the cabinets when needed.

Multiple use furniture – In your new home, it may be beneficial to have a couch that makes into a bed, a coffee table that has drawers or other storage, and eating arrangements that can also work as office space.

We all have too much. Even if you are not downsizing to a new home, some of these steps may help you live a more comfortably. Best wishes for your new life.

Quickly Estimating the Value of Your Home

You want to know what your home is worth but you are not ready to sell. You may be considering whether to upgrade your kitchen or move. You may be completing a financial statement for the bank. Or, you may just be curious. But, you do not know a Realtor and do not want to go to a lot of trouble. Automated Valuation Models (AVMs) produce answers which may be useful to you.

AVMs use tax records which include information such as location, square feet, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and property tax valuations. They also use sales prices where available.

Nationally, AVMs are most accurate where the creator of the model has the most information, where home prices are lower, and in newer subdivisions where few homes have been updated. They are less accurate where less information is available, more expensive or custom homes are involved, and in older neighborhoods where significant differences exist because of remodeling and updating.

Inspecting the Home

Inspecting the Home

Historically, AVMs were used by industry insiders such as mortgage companies. However, more recently some national home search sites provide these tools as part of their effort to supply useful information to consumers and leads to Realtors. The most famous sites are Zillow and Trulia. However, if you search on the internet, there are other sites that advertise their services. I found a product from Chase using an internet search. I have paid for a proprietary AVM for over a year. And, because I am a Realtor, I have access to another AVM provided by the National Association of Realtors.

Of primary importance with these products is accuracy. In my review, Zillow was most transparent about accuracy. See their comments here. The “Los Angeles Times” recently produced an article discussing the issues with accuracy at Zillow. The other AVMs use price ranges or disclaimers or both. Homes in Texas present a unique issue in that the sales price of a home is not public information. So, while Realtors have access to this information through the MLS, the public is generally not aware of sales prices. This also means the local taxing authorities do not have access to this information and may not have access to information on remodeling if the remodeling is not done in a taxing authority where building permits may not be required (e.g., outside a city limit.) So, for example, the taxing authorities may not be aware of a pool or a completely remodeled kitchen and bathrooms. Both taxing authorities and the AVMs may become aware of sales prices and updating if the owners or Realtors input or provide the information to the AVM (e.g., Zillow or the Harris County Appraisal District – HCAD.) However, most owners and Realtors do not provide this information. As a result, the accuracy of AVMs is compromised.  In the Zillow accuracy disclosure, Zillow indicates their accuracy for Houston is one star out of four stars.

However, even with those limitations, based on my testing for my own home and recent transactions, AVMs may provide useful information, especially if taken in combination with information from other AVMs and HCAD. And, it may be fun or interesting to search these sites and others for the values. I have not identified specific AVM sites with my results because they all can be close or nowhere near right depending on the properties. My home is more difficult to value for an AVM, even if it were not in Texas, because it is an older home in a 1950s neighborhood that has new houses, extensively remodeled homes and homes that have had no major work since the 1950s. My results were:

Price per HCAD is within 20% of my market value.

Site 1 produced a range that was 19% below to 9% above my market value.

Site 2 produced a price that was more than 40% below market.

Site 3 produced a price that was 5% below market.

Site 4 produced a range that was 30% below market to 6% below market.

Site 5 produced a range that was 14% below to 11% below market.

I also looked back at my most recent transactions representing buyers and sellers. Using one of the AVMs, the actual sales price differed from the value estimated by from 14.8% lower to 27.0% higher, averaging a 12.8% difference.

Of course, these sites should not be used if you plan to sell your home. The best answer if you plan to sell your home is to find a Realtor who can use information from the MLS about prior sales and insight into the current market to help you come to an accurate estimate of the value. I would be happy to provide valuation information for your home without any obligation.

Residential Real Estate Designations

You may have noticed all the letters after some Realtors’ names. These designations or qualifications represent specialties and training completed by the Realtors. As part of your consideration of hiring a Realtor, evaluating whether the Realtor has spent the time meeting the requirements and developed the experience necessary to obtain the designations is one of the factors to consider. Only about 20% of the Realtors in the Houston area have one or more designations. The number of Realtors with each designation is presented in parenthesis after the designation title below. With HAR.com one can search for agents that have particular designations in the “Find a Realtor” page at http://search.har.com/memberfinder/. Among the most popular designations and their backgrounds are:

ABR – Accredited Buyer Representative (1,505): Realtors with this designation have competed special training designed to improve their skills in representing buyers and have documented past experiences representing buyers.

ALHS– Accredited Luxury Home Specialist (459): Realtors with this designation have completed specialized courses in working with luxury home buyers and sellers and have documented past experiences representing such clients.

CHMS – Certified Home Marketing Specialist (508): Realtors with this designation have completed specialized training in staging a home for sale.

CLHMS – Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (264): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in working in the luxury market and have documented performance in the top 10% of their markets.

CNE – Certified Negotiation Expert (1,166): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in negotiation techniques.

Meeting Neighbors

Meeting Neighbors

CRP – Certified Relocation Professional (82): Realtors with this designation have demonstrated experience working with relocation clients and have passed a certification exam.

CRS – Certified Residential Specialist (429): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in listing and selling, and have documented past experiences representing sellers.

ePRO – ePro Internet Professionals (570): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in working with the internet to assist their clients.

GREEN – Green Designation (135): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in green initiatives and working with green properties.

GRI – Graduate Realtors Institute (1,380): Realtors with this designation have completed considerable training in all aspects of residential real estate.

SFR – Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource Certification (771): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in working with buyers and sellers of distressed property.

SMP – Social Media Pro (316): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in utilizing social media to assist their clients.

SRES – Senior Real Estate Specialist (448): Realtors with this designation have completed advanced training in serving clients who are age 50 and over. Matters include specialized housing, reverse mortgages and tax matters.

SRS – Seller Representative Specialist (160): Realtors with this designation have completed special education in seller representation.

TAHS – Texas Affordable Housing Specialist (510): Realtors with this designation have completed specialized training to help first-time home buyers and to increase home ownership.

There are other designations to enhance the skill sets of Realtors. On HAR.com, you can hover over designations after a Realtor’s name and a description of the designation will pop-up. Designations do not guarantee qualification. However, they are useful indicators of a Realtor’s qualifications, and willingness to devote the time and effort required to obtain the training and pass the exams.

 

Inside West Loop

The area I call Inside West Loop is the 77027 zip code. Obviously, the term could extend to other areas south of US 59. But, 77027 includes shopping, restaurants and high-rise living I most associate with the term. The zip code includes a sliver south of US 59, and a very small area just outside the Loop. It excludes an area of River Oaks and all of Greenway Plaza. But, broadly it goes from US 59 to Memorial Park and from the West Loop to Buffalo Speedway.

For shopping, Inside West Loop includes the many stores of Highland Village and the about to open upscale River Oaks District. Also, The Galleria is just outside the Loop. The excellent restaurants include Tiny Boxwood’s, Liberty Kitchen, Escalante’s, P.F. Chang’s, Ragin’ Cajun, Ouisie’s Table, and Grotto.

Neighborhoods –

But, the reasons I love the area are the neighborhoods. The following data is from two reports I have done this year relative to the area. According to the Houston Association of Realtors® (HAR), there are 38 neighborhoods in 77027. The seven neighborhoods with the most homes in 77027 from largest to smallest are Afton Oaks, Royden Oaks, West Lane Place, Lynn Park, Weslayan Plaza, Oak Estates, and Highland Village.

The neighborhoods in 77027 are in transition. Homes being sold may be a 1950s ranch with little updating or a tear down, include a new addition, be a complete remodel, or be a brand new home. As a result, while the statistics provide a useful benchmark, large variations will be seen in individual homes.

Although prices are up, there are fewer homes being sold in 2014 compared to 2013 because there are fewer homes for sale. During July 2014, there were 37 single family homes for sale for an average price of $1.45 million with 20 of these homes in the seven subdivisions. There were six town homes for sale for an average price of approximately $760,000 and seven condos for sale with an average price of approximately $150,000.

Average home sales price by subdivision during the first half of 2014 according to HAR:

Afton Oaks – $1,100,000

Highland Village – $259,000

Lynn Park and Annex – $606,000

Oak Estates – $2,106,000

Royden Oaks – $1,360,000

Weslayan Plaza – $395,000

West Lane Place – $1,179,000

High and Mid Rises –

With more being built over the next 3 years along Mid Lane and Westcreek between Westheimer and San Felipe, this area will have a significant portion of Houston’s high rises. According to HAR, there are currently six high and mid rises in 77027 that had unit sales during the first nine months of 2014. They are Briarglen, Briar Place, Highland Tower, Inwood Manor, Park Square and The Willowick.

Prices for units and buildings can be significantly impacted by the age of the building, status of updating the building and unit, size of unit, cost of amenities, view from unit and amount of maintenance fees.

Average high/mid rise two bedroom condo sales price by building during the first nine months of 2014 according to HAR:

Briarglen – $500,000

Briar Place – $512,000

Highland Tower – $763,000

Inwood Manor – $777,000

Park Square – $218,000

The Willowick – $553,000

For additional information –

Homes, town homes and condos currently for sale in 77027 can be found at www.insidewestloop.com. And, to get an automated estimate of the current value of your home, please go to www.insidewestloop.smarthomeprice.com. Or, if I can answer any questions or help you in any way, please contact me at your convenience.

Buying a Condo

There are many advantages to buying a condo, including: security, amenities, views, social community and included maintenance. However, there are also some potential negatives to consider before deciding to buy a condo. Some of the matters on which to focus as you consider a condo are discussed below.

Ownership Interest – Instead of owning the building and the land as one would in a single family home, the ownership interest is the space inside the condo and an undivided interest in the building and common areas. As a result, the condo owners will share substantial costs to maintain and insure the building and common areas, and others will have a say in the operation of your home outside your owned space.

Condo Owners Association – Similar to a homeowner’s association, the condo association will be responsible for enforcement of bylaws and collection of fees. However, because of the greater importance of a common building, maintenance, and amenities; the Condo Owners Association will likely have more “intrusive” rules and significantly higher fees. One will want to ensure the bylaws are in line with their expectations of the level of Association control. In addition, one will want to review minutes to ensure there are no issues, and the board functions in a professional manner.

Houston SkylineCommon Areas – Common areas include the land, floors, lobbies, elevators, common services infrastructure such as air conditioning and water, and amenities such as pools and exercise facilities.

Maintenance and Common Area Fees – As compared to a single family home, a condo will have significant fees for the maintenance of the building, common areas, security and amenities. When buying a condo, a consideration of the fees will be significantly impact the total price one is willing to pay for the condo.

Social Aspects – One of the advantages or disadvantages of living in a condo, depending on one’s perspective, is the social aspects of the building. Are there many organized activities? Do the activities reflect your lifestyle? Do the common areas support interaction?

Insurance – The Condo Owners Association will have insurance on the building and common areas. The unit owners will need insurance on their space, including furnishings and liability. Ensuring the Association and you have proper insurance will be important to you and your bank as you obtain financing.

Financing – Historically, banks have had greater losses financing condos than single family homes. As a result, financing rates are generally slightly higher than for single family homes and required down payments are generally higher. Most financing for condos will require 50% of the condos be owner occupied, monthly dues for nearly all units to be up to date, and other ownership requirements. In addition, the bank will insist on certain requirements for the Association such as: appropriate insurance, adequate budget reserves and no pending litigation.

Miscellaneous Considerations – With respect to parking, one will want to consider security and walking distance. For overall security, is the level of security and cost appropriate for your needs? In a condo, space is at a premium. So, is there adequate storage for your needs?

Living in a condo provides many benefits one may not have in other living arrangements. However, one will want to be sensitive to the associated issues.

Homeowners and Flood Insurance

Protecting your investment in your home is an ongoing process. Whether you are adding a new roof, painting or buying appropriate insurance; there will be a significant cost to protecting your home. With flooding, hurricanes, and high wind in the Houston area; insurance becomes even more important.

Buying a home

When you are buying a home in Texas you will normally pay for an option period during which you can back out of the contract without providing a reason for a period of what is normally 7 to 10 days. Besides inspections, you will want to obtain quotes for your homeowners and flood insurance policy. Your insurance agent has information about prior claims on the house which might alert you to an issue. In addition, your agent can confirm whether flood insurance is required (whether the home is in a flood plain) and the cost. If it is required, it is an indication that over a long period, you may have to deal with water in your home or on your property. In addition, over the coming years, the federal government will be raising rates on required flood insurance significantly in trying to match their costs with your premiums. If you are not in a flood plain, flood insurance is not expensive and premiums are not projected to substantially rise in the near term.

Renewing Homeowners Insurance

Your homeowners insurance covers your home, out buildings, and personal property. It will also provide rental and other reimbursement if you have to live at another location while your home is being repaired or replaced. And, it provides a basic level of liability insurance in case you are sued by someone who injures themselves in your home.

Amount of Coverage – Since your coverage does not cover your land, the amount will be less than the total amount for which you home would appraise. Your agent can provide building costs per square foot based on your homes features (brick or wood, custom or not, number of bathrooms, number of stories, etc.) Because your repairs or rebuilding may cost more than the standard figures (for instance, after a hurricane when builders and materials are in short supply), you may want to consider adding replacement cost coverage.

Protecting Your Home

Protecting Your Home

Other Coverages – You will want to know what the policy covers and what it does not cover.  Besides not covering for flooding, there are other matters which may not be covered, but could be added to the policy. For instance, water damage caused by leaking appliances or backups, or mold.

Scheduled Items – Different insurance companies will have different requirements for scheduled items. For instance, jewelry above a certain amount, or certain collections believed to be worth more than a certain amount; may have to be scheduled and have an additional premium. This should be discussed with your agent.

Deductible – The more risk you are willing to assume, the cheaper the policy will be. You take on more risk by increasing the deductible. And, different categories of deductible can apply to different coverages. For instance, wind and hail damage may have a different deductible than other coverages. If you have damage to your home that costs $15,000 to repair (and you are paying for a replacement cost rider), and you have a $5,000 deductible. The insurance company will pay only $10,000 of the cost.

Credits and Discounts – Some insurance companies will reduce your premium if you use the same insurance company for your home and auto (and possibly other insurance.) In addition, many companies provide discounts if your home is monitored by a security company.

Shopping Around – Periodically, you will want to compare rates at different insurance companies. Some agents are independent agents representing more than one company. In theory, these agents can do some of the comparing for you. However, many of those agents do not represent a broad enough range of companies. The State of Texas offers information about insurance and an online tool to compare policy coverages at http://www.opic.state.tx.us/residential-property/compare-policy-coverages/homeowners. And, insure.com at http://www.insure.com/home-insurance/  offers information on insurance and provides links to obtain quotes.

And, one last thing, it would be beneficial if you could document your home and its contents with photos, video and receipts for the day you do have a claim. To do this right requires you to spend some time being somewhat uncomfortable reading unfamiliar information and a having a good insurance agent. It is not the way I want to spend several hours every year. However, when the next insurance bill arrives or the next hurricane hits, you will be glad you did. Good luck.