Category Archives: Neighborhoods

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.

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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.

SELECTING A PRICE

The vast majority of homes sold in the Houston area go through the Houston Association of REALTORS’ MLS, which means a real estate agent was involved in the transaction. For each home listed, the REALTOR had proposed a price at which to list. When you list, how do you evaluate the REALTOR’s proposal?

You want to use Goldilocks pricing. Not too high because you will make the home sit longer, and possible buyers will start wondering what is wrong with the house. Not too low just to get a quick transaction. But, price it just right. Factors you may want to consider in evaluating the REALTOR’S proposed price are:

  1. The market sets the price. You and your REALTOR are not driving the process. The market is. So, what you paid for your house, how much you have spent on upgrades, or how much you need to net from the transaction have no impact on a possible selling price.
  2. Supply and demand will impact the price. A market equilibrium exists if there is a 6 or 7 months’ supply of homes on the market. The number is calculated using homes for sale divided by number of homes sold in the prior 12 months. If there are 50 homes on the market and 100 sold in the prior twelve months, there exists a 6 months’ supply. If there are fewer homes on the market, it is generally helpful to the seller in pricing the home. And, when there are more homes on the market, it is generally helpful to the buyer.
  3. Prices are very local. In calculating the months’ supply, one would want to use your neighborhood or subdivision. And, if there is a significant difference in size or pricing in the neighborhood, the calculation would need to be modified for relevant or comparable properties.
  4. Compare your home to the homes that are for sale. You can search homes for sale in your neighborhood and study how relevant the homes that are for sale are to your home. You can also visit open houses. The relevant homes you select are the competition, and your home will need to be priced in line with the competition. Relevancy can be determined by relative:
    • At Home

      At Home

      Size – For both the home and the lot. The larger the size, the larger the price.
    • Number of bathrooms –  The more bathrooms, the higher the price
    • Location – Are the homes on a corner (higher), busy street (lower), views (the better, the higher the price), near noise (freeway or a nearby entertainment area will reduce the price.)
    • Age – Many neighborhoods in Houston are mixed with older and newer homes. Your relevant homes should be from the same generation.
    • Condition – Well maintained homes will obviously improve the price comparison.
    • Flooding and foundation issues – In Houston, many homes have had water in the structure. A history of water will reduce the price. The status of the need to repair the foundation will impact the price.
    • Quality of remodeling – Poorly done remodeling or additions will reduce the asking price.
    • Uniqueness – A home that is different from others in the neighborhood (e.g., all bedrooms down and living area up, or a much larger home than others in the neighborhood) may make a home more difficult to sell, lengthen the selling process, or reduce the possible selling price.
  5. Staging can help. Having a professional stager or using a list of steps your REALTOR provides (e.g., plant fresh flowers and put mulch in the flower beds) can both speed the sale and improve pricing.
  6. Appraisals can be a limit on the price. Even in an excellent market for the seller, most homes will need to be financed. As a result, the appraisal for the bank may limit your ability to pursue a higher asking price.

When you select a price, there are three basic theories:

  1. Odd pricing – Pick a price like $236,475. It will make people curious and get a conversation started.
  2. Grocery or gasoline pricing – Price your home at $299,999 as it may sound less expensive than $300,000.
  3. Internet pricing – Many homebuyers or their agents use round prices to search for homes. If the round numbers are $290,000 to $320,000, they are going to miss your house priced at $289,900. With all the technology in use today, I prefer the round or internet pricing theory.

Although you can rely on your REALTOR to propose reasonable pricing, you will want to use these guidelines to evaluate their suggestion. Good luck.

Home Buying Process – Part III of III

POST CONTRACT TO POSSESSION

This is Part III of three parts listing the broad steps in the home buying process. Parts I and II were included in prior posts. The steps listed are generally in order of occurrence. Although, some will occur at the same time or cross other steps.

Checks  – The checks you wrote when the offer was prepared are delivered by your REALTOR to the seller’s agent (option money) and to the title company (earnest money – generally 1% or so of purchase price.)

Option period – The standard contract provides an option period in which the buyer may back out of the contract with no reason required. During this option period you and your agent will complete the steps not completed during due diligence and have inspections performed. Your REALTOR can provide you names of general inspectors and those that can review for termites, foundation issues or other specialized concerns. You will need to obtain the inspection reports and negotiate repairs to be paid by the seller prior to the end of the option period.

In addition, you will want to complete due diligence with your insurance agent by obtaining the CLUE report if you have not previously done it, and obtain an estimate of homeowner’s insurance and flood insurance.

Loan Application – As soon as the contract is executed you will start the loan application process. As part of this, the bank will request an appraisal. Your REALTOR may provide data relative to comparable homes to the appraiser. The bank will also be concerned about the status of the title and will wait on the title commitment from the title company. The buyer can back out of the transaction if the financing is not approved.

Title Company – The title company holds the earnest money until release is approved by the parties to the contract or closing, depending on whether the contract closes. They also review the title for encumbrances (issues), provide title insurance to the buyer and the buyer’s bank, ensure all conditions of the contract are met and perform closing.

They will provide the preliminary title commitment (which notes any issues) to the bank, the buyer and the seller. Each party will have a chance to review it for issues. The bank or the buyer may back out of the transaction if there are issues with the title.

Insurance and Utilities – You will want to arrange for your homeowner’s and flood insurance to commence on your closing date. If it is hurricane season, it sometimes takes 30 days after purchase for flood insurance to be effective. So, you will want to discuss this issue with your insurance agent.

Having Fun at Home

Having Fun at Home

Walkthrough – You will perform a walkthrough the day of closing but prior to closing or the day before closing. The purpose is to ensure no major issues have arisen (e.g., a fire) and that repairs to which the seller committed have been made. The buyer may want an inspector to review repairs made.

HUD-1 – Also called an allocation or settlement statement, the HUD-1, or similar document if there is no financing, sets out the sales price, down payment, fees and other financial activity associated with the transaction. The buyer and seller and their REALTORS will review the statement in detail to ensure all amounts are appropriately calculated and allocated. It cannot be prepared until the bank provides the loan commitment. So, in many cases, this is right before closing.

Closing – Prior to closing the buyer will purchase a cashier’s check or arrange a wire transfer for the “down payment” (amount shown as paid at closing on the HUD-1.) At closing (which can be an event for each party or one event for both parties), each party signs numerous documents transferring title and setting up the loan. During closing or shortly after (could be the next day), the bank funds the loan to the title company. Once closing and funding have occurred, the buyer owns the house. Unless the seller enters into a short-term lease with the buyer, the buyers are given keys and can take possession.

Congratulations. It is now your home.

Home Buying Process – Part II of III

GETTING TO CONTRACT

This is Part II of three parts listing the broad steps in the home buying process.  Part I was my prior post. The steps listed are generally in order of occurrence. Although, some will occur at the same time or cross other steps.

View properties – At this point, you have selected several properties to see which seem to meet your requirements (needs and wants). Especially, if you are seeing several houses at once, take pictures to help remind yourself of the houses. It also helps to take notes and name the houses (e.g., the Dungeon, the Castle, the Hipster, etc.) In taking notes, it is especially important to comment on what you really like or dislike about a particular house. This helps you decide about the house and helps your REALTOR fine tune the search.

Inspecting the Home

Inspecting the Home

Pre-offer – Once you have decided to make an offer you will want to complete some due diligence. Depending on the timing (how quickly you want to make the offer), you will want to complete some or all the following steps. If not completed now, all but the market analysis can be completed during the option period which will be discussed in Part III.

If prepared, review the seller’s disclosure. This form is required to be completed in the majority of residential transactions. It will generally be completed as part of the listing process. But, it may not be prepared until after an offer is signed. If not prepared, the contract will give you an “out” after you review the disclosures. The seller’s disclosure will tell you issues of which the seller is aware (e.g., termites, foundation issues, broken air conditioner, etc.) It is prepared as of a certain date. Depending on timing (how old the signatures are), you may want it re-signed/updated by the seller.

Check with your insurance agent to obtain the CLUE report which lists all claims made against the home. You will also want to obtain an estimate of homeowner’s insurance and determine whether the home is in a flood plain. If it is, you need the elevation certificate from the current owner for your insurance agent to determine your flood insurance rates.

Your REALTOR will prepare a market analysis of comparable homes to evaluate a reasonable range for the offer price. The market analysis will have sales prices of comparable homes sold in the last six months or so.

Write an offer – Once satisfied and an offer price is selected, the REALTOR can prepare the offer. There are standard forms REALTORS use with blanks for offer price, etc. Depending on your comfort with the transaction, you may have a lawyer review the documents. There will be additional forms for neighborhood association disclosures, MUD disclosures, financing details, etc. Your REALTOR will submit the offer to the listing agent. The listing agent is required to present the offer to the sellers unless the sellers are no longer accepting offers (i.e., they have an existing offer with which they want to work or have accepted an offer.) Generally, due to timing issues, your REALTOR will obtain two checks (one for the option period and one for earnest money) before submitting the offer. Your REALTOR will hold the checks until both parties sign the agreement.

Negotiate terms – The sellers will accept, decline or indicate a willingness to work with the offer. Depending on the REALTOR, this may be documented in writing or communicated orally. Once one party communicates different terms to the other party, that communication becomes a new offer. An offer becomes a contract when it is executed (when the second party – buyer or seller – signs.)

Part III will include the steps to finance and buy the home.

Home Buying Process – Part I of III

Getting Ready to Look

This is Part I of three parts listing the broad steps in the home buying process.  The steps listed are generally in order of occurrence. Although, some will occur at the same time or cross other steps. I have put “Select a real estate agent” first because an agent can help at each step. However, some buyers prefer to perform a number of the steps alone or on the internet. And, up until one makes an offer, that will work.

Select a real estate agent – In Texas, all real estate agents work for the seller until the buyer signs an agreement with an agent to work for you as the buyer. And, in almost all cases, the seller pays the entire cost of the commission. So, as soon as you know you want to buy a home, it makes sense to sign a buyer’s agent agreement. It gives you a free consultant and someone representing your interests. Either party can terminate the Buyer’s Representation Agreement at any time.

Making sure

Making sure

In selecting an agent, ask your friends if they have someone they would recommend. Most agents will focus on a particular part of town or niche (e.g., townhomes for young professionals.) Most will also have training and designations in particular subjects. And, they would be willing to meet with you for an interview. Based on the recommendations of friends, location specialties, niches, training and personality, you can select an agent.

Obtain Loan Pre-approval – There are two reasons to make this early in the process. First, it is beneficial to have the bank’s view of your ability to pay for a particular amount of loan and to obtain their input on size of down payment (which will affect rates.) They can also offer different types of loans and payment plans. Secondly, many sellers will want a copy of the pre-approval as part of the offer. The pre-approval is a review of your credit and ability to pay. The third leg (collateral) of the loan process will not start until you have a contract on a home.

Select a neighborhood or neighborhoods – Broadly, after selecting neighborhoods based on price ranges, most people are concerned with schools; proximity to work, shopping and recreation; safety; and feel (e.g., homes well maintained, new homes, old trees, etc.) More recently, with changes in flood insurance rules, you should consider whether the neighborhood is in or out of the flood plain. Your insurance agent can determine the flood plain status.

Select home preferences – Price, size, yard, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, having a fireplace, size of garage, pool, stairs, etc. should be considered when thinking about the home. These considerations can be broken into needs versus wants. And, I prefer to weight the criteria based on importance. However, most people do not go into that much detail.

Select properties to view – HAR.com has the most up to date information on homes listed for sale in and around Houston. And, you or your Realtor can set up automatic searches to notify you when a property fitting your needs and wants is listed. In the current market, it is important to react quickly as many homes are sold in a few days.

At this point, you are ready to start receiving information about homes and selecting those you want to see. Good luck.

Inspections and the Option Period

At Home

In Texas, the standard contract to purchase a home gives the buyer a choice to purchase the home in its present condition (“as is”) or purchase in its present condition, except for specific items the seller will repair. Unless there is something specific known at the time of the offer, most buyers mark the “as is” box.

The contract also includes an optional option period. During the option period, the buyer has an opportunity to discuss the potential home with an insurance agent and have the home inspected and tested. Prior to the end of the option period, the buyer will generally propose an amendment to the contract as a result of the information gathered after the contract was executed. And, a new round of negotiations occurs prior to the end of the option period. If the buyer is not satisfied with the seller’s willingness to resolve issues, the buyer can walk away and still receive the earnest money deposit.

From the insurance agent, pricing for homeowners and flood insurance should be obtained. In many parts of Houston, a flood plain elevation certificate will have to be obtained to price the flood insurance. An elevation certificate can be produced by a surveyor if the sellers do not have one. A CLUE report can also be obtained by the insurance agent summarizing prior damage claims on the home. Flood insurance pricing and prior claims are the two key pieces of information needed during the option period.

One or more inspectors should evaluate and test the property. The most important issues for the inspectors in the Houston area are:

Wood Destroying Insects – Most homes of any age and a few new ones will have been exposed to termites and other wood destroying insects. Ensuring the infestation is not active is key.

Foundations – Most of Texas for over 100 miles from the coast is a build-up of sand and dirt. As a result, foundations are not built on rock and after a period the foundations must be repaired. In general, the older the home, the more likely the foundation will need repair or have been repaired in the past.

Drainage – Most Houston homes need to drain from the back to the front and will need a path or drainage system for that to occur. Poor drainage can lead to wood rot, landscape issues and mold issues.

Electrical and wiring – Evaluating whether the electrical system and wiring are working properly, are adequate for the buyer’s needs and are up to date are major concerns as issues can lead to fire hazards.

Under slab plumbing – In homes built before the mid-1970s, cast iron pipe may have been used. The pipes should be inspected for blockage and leaks. The cast iron pipe will likely have to be replaced at some point.

Stucco – Because of the humidity and wetness in the Houston area, stucco should always be tested and inspected for leaks and water penetration.

Other – Roof age and condition, and adequacy of heating and air conditioning equipment are areas of concern.

In selecting an inspector or inspectors, each of these areas should be addressed. Once the buyer knows all the issues, determining a final negotiating stance during the option period can be finalized.