19 May 2010

Timing the Housing Market in Houston

The Wall Street Journal / June Fletcher

Q. My husband will retire in December. Our plan is to sell our family home, which we've owned for 19 years and is almost paid off, and move to a retirement community near our daughter in Atlanta. Because it takes a long time to sell homes these days, we figure we should put our house on the market now if we want to have it sold by Christmas. But we read that real estate prices may start improving next year, so we wonder whether it would be better to wait until next spring's selling season. What should we do?

A. Normally I'd suggest that you not try to time the real estate market or let its cycles dictate when you move. But since you don't seem to be under any compelling financial pressure to relocate, I recommend that you wait.

I wouldn't necessarily give this same advice to everyone: Overall, the expiration of tax credits for home purchases, coupled with an expected rise in foreclosures and short sales and higher mortgage interest rates, is likely to keep home prices weak over the coming year. So for most people who want to sell, there isn't much to be gained from holding out for more favorable market conditions.

But given where you live, and where you want to move, procrastination is likely to pay off for you. According to FirstAmerican Core Logic, which forecasts home price trends based on a repeat sales index that tracks prices of the same homes over time, Houston apartment and home values have been rising—they were up 4% in February from a year earlier, and are expected to rise an additional 3% by February 2011. Meanwhile, prices in Atlanta, where you're headed, dropped 2.3% in the year ending in February and are expected to fall an additional 4.5% over the next year.

Moreover, it may not take as long to sell your home as you expect. According to Altos Research and Real IQ, the average time a home takes to sell in Houston has been shrinking: Down 10.9 %, to 122 days, from January to March. If you put your house on the market now and it sold in four months time, and closed a month later, you'd have to find another place to live for at least three months before your husband retires. According to ads on Craigslist, furnished one-bedroom apartments in extended-stay hotels can easily run upwards of $2,000 a month in Houston; add to that the cost of keeping your belongings in storage. Then there's the incalculable cost of living in limbo, a state of anxiety that puts pressure on you to find a new house in a new neighborhood quickly, even if it isn't quite what you wanted.

There just doesn't seem to be any upside to your listing your home now. You'll be better off if you use the time before your husband's retirement for de-cluttering, landscaping and prettying-up your home so that it draws top dollar next spring.

05 May 2010

Fort Worth Fastest-Growing North Texas City in 2009


Bolstered by continued growth in the Alliance Corridor and in-fill housing completions in established areas like the Seventh Street district, Fort Worth was the fastest-growing city in North Texas last year.

But the lingering effects of the recession are still slowing down the regional housing market. The level of new single-family housing units and Fort Worth apartments was the lowest since 1989, according to figures released Thursday by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Fort Worth added 15,950 people for a total of 736,200, a sizeable step ahead of second-place Dallas, which added 10,000 people for a total of 1,316,350. Third on the list was Frisco at 6,250.

"The story is we are growing during a recession. It's very positive in this environment," said Tim Barbee, director of research and information services for the council.

For Fort Worth, "the story is the same as last year," when the city added 17,400 people, he said. "The growth has been surprisingly consistent, especially considering the downturn," Barbee said.

But the totals are slim compared with pre-recession numbers. In 2006, Fort Worth added 37,000 residents.

Tarrant County grew by 21,650 last year for a total of 1,829,400, an increase of 1.18 percent. At 2.87 percent, Crowley notched the fastest rate in the county, growing by 350 for a total of 12,550. By comparison, Arlington (370,650) was essentially flat, adding 200 people for a rate of 0.05 percent.

The 16-county North Texas region grew by 89,770 people to 6,729,400. In 2005, it was 6,075,000, up from 5,309,277 in 2000.

Among smaller cities in the region, Prosper in Collin County notched a one-year hike of 31.69 percent, adding 2,250 for a total of 9,350. In 1970, it had 501 residents. Roanoke in Denton County added 550 residents, an 8 percent increase to 7,500.

The council's population estimates are based on building permits, occupancy factors and household size factors.

For the first time in a decade, new single-family housing completions fell below 20,000, said Donna Coggeshall, research manager for the council. The region added 18,840 homes in 2009, compared with 27,300 in 2008. It's the lowest rate since 1989, when the region added 15,250 units, she said.

Despite the slowdown in new home construction, 2009 single-family occupancy rates were similar to 2008's, she said.

Fort Worth added 3,891 new single-family units and 3,452 multifamily completions.

"Compared to Dallas, Fort Worth still has room to grow," Coggeshall noted. "Most of that came in the Alliance Corridor, but there was also in-fill additions in areas like Seventh Street, where condos, town homes and apartments in Fort Worth were completed."

There was a small rebound in the number of new multifamily units (15,200) added to the regional housing stock, she said. In 2008, 13,400 multifamily units were completed.

"Multifamily developments that have been stalled by the economy are now being finished up in response to demand for rentals," she said. "Occupancy rates are up slightly this year."

Considering the economic climate across the country, Barbee said, North Texas is faring well.

"Other areas are flat or declining, and we're still growing. It has slowed down, but it is still happening. Compare that to places like Las Vegas," he said. "A lot of places would be happy to have these numbers."

By his own personal economic barometer, things appear to be looking up, Barbee said.

Two years ago, when the recession bared its teeth, the amount of traffic noticeably slowed on his commute to work at the council's office near Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington.

"In the past few months, it has picked back up," he said.

03 May 2010

Night Construction Speeds Dallas Convention Hotel


DALLAS — As the city winds down every day, one of its highest profile construction projects revs up.

"We're about a third of the way down with the building structure right now," said Michael Hite, general superintendent of the new Dallas convention center hotel.

Three days a week, while the city is asleep, cranes spin, trucks arrive and concrete construction crews go to work on the site just north of the Dallas Convention Center.

It's not at the crack of dawn, but in the middle of the night. The main reason is to pour concrete.

Texas concrete contractors have quietly been adding one new floor every week — often before the city wakes up.

"Logistically, we don't have to deal with rush hour traffic in the morning," Hite explained. "We're able to be not so much of a burden with the City of Dallas, especially on a downtown project where you have concrete trucks staged for literally five, six, seven hours at a time. We're less of an impact to them."

What's most remarkable about the overnight work is how fast special additives help the concrete harden. Twelve hours after it's poured, workers can walk on it.

They've built up to the eighth floor now, which is one-third of the 23-story structure.

The 1,000 room hotel is set to open in about two years. It's estimated to cost $550 million.