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As temperatures soar in Houston, so do our utility bills.  When I was a child, my grandfather was conscientious about wasting energy and constantly reminded us to “turn off the light when you aren’t in the room” and “shut the refrigerator door when you get what you want”. These may seem like small details, but there was a time when we not only worried about every penny spent, but we also worried about running out of energy at one point.

I think we have discovered that we will probably not run out of energy any time soon, but we should all be aware of energy efficiency, not just for our pocket books, but also the planet. “A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned”. Why throw those pennies away when they can go into a savings account? Below are some economical tips to help make your home more energy efficient and save you some “pennies” this summer:

  • Add ceiling fans to every room.
  • Replace air filters regularly-when dirty, your AC has to work harder to cool your home, and can even stop working, costing you even more $$.
  • Install a programmable thermostat so that the temperature adjusts to 75-78 degrees when no one is home. This can save you 10% on your cooling costs.
  • Change light bulbs to LED– the average household dedicates 11% of it’s energy costs to lighting and this small change can save you 50%-70% on your lighting bill. Better yet, use natural light!
  • Add insulation to your attic. Over time, the insulation in our attic loses efficiency and volume. You can purchase batt insulation at your local hardware store and install yourself. You should have 10 to 14 inches of insulation in your attic.
  • Use electronics responsibly. Refrigerators and freezers should not be near a stove, direct sunlight, or in the garage. Most of us put an extra refrigerator or freezer in the garage, and this is one of our largest energy suckers. Also unplug phones and computers when not charging. Get in the habit of turning off all electronics, including your computers when not in use. Electronics and appliances consume 20% of our electric costs.
  • Cook smart! An enormous amount of energy is wasted when cooking. Use lids to cook faster and put pans on the proper size burners. Try not to use your oven during the heat of the day. Better yet, barbecue on the grill during the summer.
  • Change the way you do laundry. Only wash when you have a full load, and clean your lint trap every time. This will not only prevent a fire, but also help your dryer to work more efficiently.     
  • Seal and insulate your home. Your local energy provider may send an auditor to your house to help determine leakages in your home. The most common leakages occur here:
  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weather-stripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

We are approaching the one year anniversary when Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, and I am sure that what is foremost in most people’s minds, is “will it happen again”?  As a flood victim myself, the first time we had a heavy rain after Harvey, I cringed, then breathed a sigh of relief when nothing happened.

An estimated 20% of flooded homeowners sold their homes to investors following Harvey, and as expected, many of those remodeled homes have started to come on the market. Some of these homes are being priced way above pre-flood value, while others are priced around the pre-flood value or slightly below. However, there is very little movement, and the prices on these remodeled flood homes are starting to drop.

As predicted, buyers have not forgotten what happened when the reservoirs were opened and 1000’s of homes were flooded overnight in the Energy Corridor. I spoke to one agent, and she said that her buyers are avoiding flooded zip codes entirely. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair, since most zip codes were not entirely impacted, and these homes are being rebuilt better than ever. While the location of these homes in the Energy Corridor and Katy are exceptional, most of the homes were dated both cosmetically and structurally, so the silver lining after Harvey is that these homes are being remodeled better than ever.

While I understand the concerns that these homes may flood again, I have to remind buyers that this was the largest rainfall in the history of the United States, so those odds have to be pretty slim, correct? No one can guarantee that any home in Houston doesn’t have a risk of flooding, and Harvey proved that point to 150,0000 homeowners, of which only 15% had flood insurance,and many were not in designated flood zones. So why not purchase a new, more energy efficient home with modern interiors in a great location? In 2-3 years, buyers will have forgotten about Harvey, and when given the choice, the remodeled home will have more value than the dated homes in these neighborhoods.

As the broker/owner of Energy Realty, I am working hard to remind buyers why these neighborhoods were, and are, a great place to live. I hope to release my first video on Memorial Thicket by next week, so stay tuned.

Homeowners, please continue to work with your HOAs to insure that the lawns are being maintained, even in the vacant homes. There is a notable difference on both sale and rental activity in the communities that have pristine lawns and the aftermath of Harvey is no longer visible. The resilience and strength of Houston can be seen throughout all of these neighborhoods as homes are being restored and people are moving back in. We are Houston Strong and are our real estate market will be back!

Having suffered losses from Hurricane Harvey, I feel that I know more about floods and flood insurance than I ever wanted to. Homes that were not in flood zones flooded across the city,  forever changing our views on the need for flood insurance. As hurricane season approaches again (June 1-November 30), I hope every homeowner in Houston and surrounding cities has purchased flood insurance by now. By the time a hurricane is in the gulf, it is too late! The National Flood Insurance Program has a 30 day waiting period for flood insurance to be effective unless you are either just purchasing a home or refinancing one. It is highly advisable to purchase flood insurance at the time of closing on your new or refinanced home to avoid the waiting period.

Over eight years ago, a representative with Harris County Flood District explained the flood risk in Houston in very clear terms, “Houston is a flood zone,” she said. “It all depends on where the rain falls. Houston is flat and the water has nowhere to go. If you put a penny under a pool table, that is our slope.” I often hear the statement,  “If I didn’t flood after Allison (and now Harvey), there is no way I will flood.” Over 200,000 homes were impacted by flood waters following Harvey, and it could be your home next time. Why take a risk?

The other thing we learned after Harvey is that NFIP insurance has a maximum payout of $250,000 for the dwelling and $100,000 for the contents. Before Harvey, I could not fathom $250,000 of damage to a home, but many of the homes in the Energy Corridor exceeded this amount of damage not only because of the high water levels, but also because the water sat in our homes for over 2 weeks! In the Villages, where homes are valued at $1 million plus, $250,000 is a drop in the bucket to restore those homes. I have learned that it is possible to purchase supplemental insurance to cover any loss above $250,000 through a private insurance, so if you want to be fully insured, call your insurance today, but be warned that if it is determined that your loss does not exceed $225,000, the supplemental will not pay anything!

The biggest lesson we learned is that every homeowner, renter, and business owner in Houston metro should have flood insurance! While less than 15% of homeowners had flood insurance, there were probably less than 5% of renters that had a flood rider on their renters insurance. Who knew that you needed a flood rider on a renter’s policy? Flood waters destroyed the entire contents of the lower floor of apartments and homes across the city, and renters learned that they were not insured.  Some people lost everything they owned overnight, yet they were not in a flood zone, so their insurance agents did not advise or require a flood rider. Lesson learned-even if you rent, ask for flood insurance.

9 months in the aftermath of Harvey, the remnants of the destruction can still be seen around Houston as some homeowners and businesses are struggling to restore homes and businesses.  If you are not in a 100 year flood plain, flood insurance through NFIP is only $450 a year, which is equivalent to $37.50 a month. Even if you didn’t flood this time and you think the risk is low, why take the risk? The next heavy rain fall could be in your neighborhood or the drainage in your street could back up and water could enter your home. Rising water from any source that enters your home is not covered under your standard insurance policy. Please call your insurance company today. 2″ of water in a home can cause $30,000 of damage. Don’t take that risk!

The national news is reporting that homes sales are hot, inventory levels are low, and it is a buyer’s market. That may be the case on a national level, but the Houston market does not follow the national market. While some areas of Houston are “hot”, even the Houston Association of Realtors reported a “cooling down” of the market the end of the March. Once again, the beginning of the year took off and showings doubled from last year, but buyers seem to be on the fence again, at least in the Energy Corridor.

What’s going on? Oil prices are up, but at the same time, interest rates are also going up. According to our inventory levels for Houston as a whole, which are under a 4-month supply, it should be a buyer’s market in Houston as well, so let’s evaluate this from a more local level. Let’s face it- we are a bit spoiled in Houston. The average home takes 90-120 days to sell, but prior to 2015, home in Houston sold in 30-60 days. Perhaps our market has normalized, and we just need to get used to it.

From our perspective at Energy Realty, we are seeing some price ranges (under $450k) in Katy selling fast and receiving multiple offers if the home is in good condition, updated, and priced well. Other neighborhoods seem to be moving slower, even when priced well and in good condition. Buyers seem to still be looking either for an exceptional home, or a bargain. This may be why the flooded homes that are being sold as is continuing to sell fast, while the remodeled flooded homes are not moving. We are still testing this market to see how open buyers will be to purchase in areas that flooded this soon after Harvey.

While Houston’s economy is no longer dependent on the oil sector, the oil slump over the last 4 years has impacted our economy and real estate market. Over 450,000 jobs were lost worldwide in the oil sector, and these are the people who predominantly purchased homes priced over $500k. With oil prices on the rise since the beginning of the year, why aren’t we seeing the housing market pick up at a faster pace than expected? According to analysts in the oil industry, the real estate market lags behind the oil industry by 6-12 months. If oil prices stay up, we could see this market turn to a seller’s market by the end of the year, and this could be a hot summer in Houston!

Stay tuned as we give you Real Views on the real estate market in Houston…

This month I have to get on my soap box and ask, what has happened to customer service in this country? What happened to the days of calling a company and someone actually answers the phone? Why do we spend 15 minutes pressing buttons and sometimes waiting on hold for over an hour to speak to a live person?

Unless all our lines are in use, when you call Energy Realty, you speak to a live person. Although I am not a large corporation, I think it is important to speak to someone that can either answer your questions or direct you to someone who can. Personally, I am tired of calling a service company and reaching a person in another country that is following a script rather than truly listening to my issues and finding a resolution. Why do I have to spend 20 minutes going through a script of questions every time I call?

Real Estate is a service industry as well, yet so many Realtors do not want to pick up their phone and actually speak to someone.  Communications take place by text and e-mail, and we have lost the art of more direct communication. As a professional in the industry, I have learned that it is important to review Contracts in person so that our clients understand what they are signing and what their obligations and rights are prior to signing. I love the ease of e-signature as much as anyone, but how many people never read what they are signing?

Words can be misconstrued over text or e-mail, so when resolving conflict or negotiating, it is better to actually speak to the other party, either over the phone, or face to face.  Technology has brought us so many wonderful tools and made our lives easier in so many ways, but it is also distancing us from effective communication.

As more information becomes available on the internet, I still believe that nothing replaces the interaction with a live, knowledgeable person. We can find a “how to video” for almost anything we want to do, and some people may choose to follow that route, but many people will choose to hire an expert to assist them. In the end, a true professional will not only save you time, but often save you money as well.

There are so many details involved in a real estate transaction, so it is important to work with a professional that can guide you through the process and provide a full service experience. I am a big online shopper, but sometimes I require a local business that is available to answer my questions in person.  I want the Ace Hardware experience, where I can feel like a person and not a number.

I recently attended the Women’s Council – Houston Industry Event featuring both Ted Jones and Bob Hale for the 2018 HAR and Economic Updates, and left with a good feeling about the forecast for real estate in 2018. Both speakers presented an optimistic forecast for increased sales in Houston and a rebounding market.

Realtors are the foot soldiers, so we see firsthand what is happening in the market and can present a realistic picture of the activity in the field. At Energy Realty, we have seen both showing activity and open house activity double in the last few months, and many homes for sale have started to go under contract.

Since we are located in the heart of the Energy Corridor, a large percentage of our inventory last year was impacted by flooding, but we have continued to assist home owners with selling flooded properties both on and off the market so they can move on and rebuild their lives. The average price of flooded homes has increased by 10-20% as more investors arrive in Houston and make this market more competitive. A listed flood home sells on average for $50,000 more than the off market homes.

Our agents have been on the ground advising flooded home owners, and at this time, the only known is the “as is” flood home. We know what the as is flooded homes are selling for , but in the next month or two, we should have a better grasp of what remodeled flooded homes will sell for. To date, I have only seen a few comparisons of remodeled flooded home sales; one home in Westchester sold 10% under pre -flood value, and another home in Lakes on Eldridge sold at 100% of pre-flood value. Stay tuned as this market heats up…

Spring is the season for selling homes, so we hope to see inventory improve, offering buyers more options. If you have been thinking of selling your home, this may be the year to sell! Interest rates are on the rise, but should stay in an affordable range through the end of the year. Please call an Energy Realty Realtor today for professional advice on buying or selling.

The Houston real estate market has been about as consistent as oil prices and the weather lately! Let’s face it, if we are completely honest, 2017 was not a great year to sell a home. Houston was hit hard by unstable oil prices, and then Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc the last quarter. It is tough to sell a home when buying activity drops to half of what we saw in the first two quarters of 2017. If your home sat on the market for 3-6 months with little activity, don’t feel bad–a lot of sellers experienced the same thing.

I received calls from a lot of anxious sellers last year, and although I would love to tell every seller that I have some magical potion to sell homes in any market, I prefer to be honest and up front from the beginning. While every detail like staging, photos, updates, and pricing made a difference, there were no guarantees that this would sell your home.

2017 was as upredictable as oil prices. It was not surprising to see a neighbor’s house go under contract with multiple offers while the one across the street sat with little showings. The “wow” houses continued to sell as well as homes priced under market. What creates that “wow” factor in a home? While every seller believes that they have the most beautiful home in the neighborhood (and they should), they may have missed all the changes in home design over the last 10 years. Below are some of the “wow” factors that could help a home sell faster in today’s market:

  • Large back yard with pool, outdoor kitchen, or living space. The average back yards are a dime a dozen in Houston, but I have seen an impressive back yard sell a house in days. If you have a small yard, your realtor may give you some tips to make it more appealing.
  • Open living spaces and high ceilings. This is something that is not easy to change and may not be characteristic for your neighborhood. Buyers today like open spaces and in Texas we entertain in our kitchen. An open kitchen gives you more breathing room.
  • Updated Kitchen. White cabinets and counters have been the rage for the last 5 years. If you have old wood cabinets, think about painting them. Not only will it update your kitchen, but it will makeyour kitchen look larger. If appliances are old, this may be a decent investment to help your home sell faster.
  • Update bathrooms. Updating a bathroom is a lot less expensive than a kitchen. A bathroom can often be updated with new counters, faucets, and lights. Don’t have a budget to update? You would be amazed at how new faucets and lights can transform a bathroom. Add a framed mirror and neutral shower curtain. These are details that a professional realtor can offer guidance on.
  • Fresh paint and flooring.A fresh coat of paint can transform a house and make it look new again. Believe it or not, the reds and tans are no longer in style. A neutral color palette will appeal to a greater number of buyers and help your house sell faster. My go to color is Accessible Beige by Sherwin Williams. Flooring can be a lot more expensive, and you may not have the budget for it. If carpet and floors are in good shape, a good cleaning can make a big difference. Don’t forget to clean dingy grout!

These tips will help your house sell faster in a down market. 2018 is heating up, so it may not be necessary to update and improve your house in the next few months, but a clean, fresh smelling home will always give a better first impression. Remember that buying a home is an emotional decision in most cases. A clean and well staged home has a better chance of giving a buyer warm fuzzies about living there.

Happy New Year! The Christmas decorations are coming down and everyone is resuming their normal routines again after the holiday break.  We ended 2017 with a bang after being hit with Hurricane Harvey and the market did not rebound as we had hoped it would the three months following Harvey.

Ringing in 2018, the stock markets rallied this week and so did oil prices, surging over $60 a barrel for the first time in almost 2 years! Analysts are predicting that prices could go up as high as $80 a barrel in 2018, which will have a positive impact on our real estate market.

If you are reading the newspapers, it seems that Houston’s real estate market picked up after the hurricane, but if you have been trying to sell your home for the last 5 months, your perspective might be different. Home sales did surge in some areas after the hurricane, but how many of those homes were flooded and sold to investors? Flooded homes are a hot commodity and are seeing multiple offers in many cases, while non-flooded homes continue to move slowly.

Why is there such a demand for flooded homes while other homes remain on the market until prices drop? I believe that buyers are looking for deals, and the flooded home is a perceived value. Whether or not the flooded home is truly a deal, buyers perceive these homes to be a deal, just like a foreclosed property. The reality is that by the time you add the rebuild cost to the flooded homes, they may not be the best “deal” on the market, so all costs should be evaluated carefully.

As we move into 2018 and oil prices move into a more positive direction, I am optimistic that our real estate market will continue to revitalize as well. As we pack our holiday decorations away and put 2017 behind us, we look forward to seeing more buyers gain confidence again and we sell more homes in 2018!

Energy Realty officially re-opened our office just before Thanksgiving,  2.5 months after the Army Corps of Engineers released water from the reservoirs and flooded our community.

I want to thank Vista Management and the owners of our shopping center for being proactive in restoring our office and making it better than before! We have new floors, new cabinets, new counters, new furniture , and new computers. I hope that we can be an example to the community that we can all come back after Hurricane Harvey and be stronger and better than ever!

I am also happy to report that I am back in my home after restoring it after Harvey, and I am re-building my other home in Memorial Thicket. Many neighbors, clients, and friends have reached out for guidance on what their options are in regard to selling a flooded home or remodeling it, and both I and my agents have been scurrying around the neighborhoods offering guidance and assistance when needed.

Whether you are remodeling your home or selling it, please seek professional guidance so that we can help you protect your investment.

Every situation is different, so it is important to evaluate all of your options before making a decision. Our communities are slowly turning around, and we are seeing signs of life as families move back into their homes. Some of the lawns have green grass again, and as every day passes, life is more normal again.

I am not sure what 2018 has in store for us, but there is a positive buzz in the air! Houston suffered tremendous losses in 2017 with huge layoffs and then Hurricane Harvey, but we are on our way back. We expected to see the market turn within 2-3 months of the hurricane, but ran into the holidays and continued layoffs. There are some changes in the horizon with higher mortgage limits and tax reform that could impact the housing market in both a positive and negative way.

I remain optimistic that 2018 will be an amazing year for Houston, so I want to encourage all of you to enjoy the holidays. We wish you a joyous holiday and a Happy New Year!

By now, many flooded homeowners are on the road to recovery and are starting the rebuilding stage in their homes. As a flooded homeowner myself, I understand many of the concerns and obstacles ahead for all of us, so I would like to share some of my insight on how we can rebuild our homes and not only regain the lost values, but also increase the values of our homes and neighborhoods. 

As the Broker/Owner of Energy Realty, I have the advantage of seeing the changes in construction and remodeling on a daily basis as I tour both new and old construction homes on the market. In this newsletter, I have included articles to make our homes more modern and appealing as we rebuild our homes, but I will try to highlight some of the elements that I think are more critical: 

  • Proper Remediation:  The first step before remodeling is to have your home professionally remediated by a professional, certified moisture remediation company like Servpro. I hired laborers to tear out sheet rock and flooring, then had a local Servpro company complete the remediation with drying machines, dehumidifiers, and anti-microbial for $2100. Please call Thad with Bear Creek Servpro at 713-501-5652 if you have not done this.  I then had AQ Mold Testing Services test for mold prior to starting construction on my home, and I passed! My home is mold free!  The mold test was $500, and they will issue me a certificate from the Health Department that my home was mold free after the flood.  This is a critical step! 
  • Open Floorplans:  Prior to 1990, homes were constructed with kitchens closed off to living areas. Most new homes built after that time opened the kitchen to the living area. This accommodates a lifestyle for families so that they can be together when they are cooking and is also a great lay out for entertaining. No matter how appealing we make the other rooms, everyone ends up in our kitchen! I hired a design firm called Kent and Kent at www.kentandkent.com. I am happy to share my designs for an open floor plan upon requests. 
  • Timeless Finishes:  Design trends change every 10 years, so what we updated 10 years ago is already out of style. Oil Rubbed Bronze faucets and fixtures were the rage 10 years ago, but they are already outdated. Believe it or not, gold is back, but I believe it will be out again in 10 years. If you don’t want to remodel your home again in 10 years, select classic finishes like chrome or brushed nickel;  hardwood floors in medium brown finish; and white cabinets. Greige is the trending color for walls currently, but may be out of style in 10 years as well.  However, it is not expensive to re-paint, so if you like the grays, go for it! White walls are coming back, so don’t be afraid to go with this timeless neutral. 
  • Update for Your Neighborhood:  Your updates need to be a consistent with the quality found in your neighborhood. I see home owners make the mistake of over updating for their neighborhood often. Talk to your neighbors or look at their homes. If you are in a custom built neighborhood, you will need higher end finishes, but if you are in a starter neighborhood, you can install lower grade finishes that look great. 
  • Update the Exterior:  Now that we have the opportunity to update our interiors, we should make our exterior look new as well. The water from the floods could have damaged exterior paint, fences, pools, and landscape. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but don’t forget to make the exterior look new as well. 

We have a long path ahead of us, and the floods were devastating to so many. I am confident that we can see the bright side of the damage caused by Harvey and rebuild our neighborhoods to be better than ever! I have a team of experienced agent on hand to sit with you and offer guidance on rebuilding, or I am happy to share the names of contractors, designers, and builders. Harvey Knocked Us Down, but We Will Rebuild Together! 

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