First-time homebuyers are finding it harder and harder to get into their dream home.

The National Association of Realtors said that first-time homebuyers make up only 28 percent of the national housing market in a Jan. 28 new story, the lowest number since the organization started measuring the demographic in 2008. According to the NAR, first-time homebuyers typically make up about 40 percent of the market, but several factors are keeping them from purchasing a home, including higher competition for lower priced properties, which are being swept up by investors at increasingly high rates.

Cash purchases accounted for 42.1 percent of all U.S. home sales in December, up from 38.1 percent in November, and up from 18 percent a year prior, according to RealtyTrac.

Tight credit is also preventing younger home buyers from qualifying for a mortgage to buy a home, as mortgage lenders require higher down payments. FHA loans, which many first-time home buyers turn to for the low downpayment requirements, have seen their market share decrease recently after an increase in premiums and fees this year made them less attractive to some.

However, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are lending more to first-time buyers, according to a report from Inside Mortgage Finance. The share of financing for first-time home buyers by the mortgage giants reached 19.5 percent in December, up from 14.1 percent a year prior.

Dallas agents have noticed this trend, too. Keller Williams Urban agent Britt Lopez says that in 2012 and 2013, first-time homebuyers made a huge impact on the market, coming off the fence to buy properties in the $300K to $400K range. In those two years, first-timers made up about 60 percent of her client base.

“I believe that the improvement in our basic economy here in Dallas has been the catalyst for the influx of ready, willing, and able buyers into the market,” Lopez added. “I also think that the interest rates and mortgage requirements play a huge part in the buying temperature. Potential buyers pay very close attention to the media regarding mortgage statistics and real estate prices. If a threat of rising rates and prices looks imminent then they will rush to buy now.”

On the other hand, some buyers have been squirrelling away, renting to save up for a down payment, waiting for the perfect time and perfect house to make the perfect investment. While planning is a great asset, sometimes buyers have missed out on deals by waiting too long.

“I believe that there are many buyers who have been ready for a while with their credit and down payment money, waiting for the most opportune time to buy. They watch and wait and pounce as soon as the right property comes available,” Lopez said. “The shortage of property has caused multiple offers to be much more common with many first-time buyers having to try for several homes before they get one.”

Kathy Murray has found that many first-time buyers have saved up for a considerable down payment — a must now that zero-down financing is more rare than a black rhino. Murray says she sees many first-time buyers with at least 20 percent down, but hasn’t closed on a first-time deal yet for 2014.

With new mortgage qualifications and increasing rates, it’s likely we’ll see fewer first-time buyers for the remainder of 2014. What do you think?



Great story from our favorite Dallas Observer reporter, Eric Nicholson, on the proposed $1 million makeover the White Rock Dog Park is getting.

It’s probably the most popular dog park in all of North Texas, considering that when I’ve taken my Great Pyrenees mix there, I’ve run into folks from Frisco and Murphy. It gets a lot of use, and some days it’s little more than a fenced-in mudhole, so it could definitely use some work. But $1 million worth of work?

Maybe the world is ending, but I’ve finally found something Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway and I can agree on. Caraway, no stranger to colorful language, represents District 4, an underserved area of Southern Dallas.

“I just want to make it a point, we don’t have a dog park, and doggone it, if all these millions of dollars in these dog parks with air conditioned dog houses and all these other things that they got going, then give us something,” Caraway said. “At least put us in a plan for a dog park somewhere.”

Folks in Oak Cliff have been working to bring a dog park to their neighborhood, but roadblock after roadblock has kept organizations such as FIDO Oak Cliff from realizing their dream. Add the existing problem with stray and dumped dogs throughout Southern Dallas and … let’s just say I see what Caraway is getting at. It’s a quality of life issue. Until we really focus resources in underserved areas, Southern Dallas isn’t going to thrive no matter how many great-sounding initiatives Mayor Mike Rawlings launches.

“Our priority has been what? Stray dogs,” Caraway told Unfair Park this morning. “Well goddamn, that’s kinda unfair that we’re fighting stray dogs that we can’t pick up” and Greyson and Allen are suggesting they should pour their cut of bond money into dog parks.

“Our priorities are totally different from what they’re saying,” he says. “We’re already the ones that are under-recognized, for lack of a better word, economically.”

Dog parks are huge selling points in neighborhoods, and the White Rock Lake area has benefited handsomely from having a huge off-leash park in the area. It has permanently etched the neighborhood’s reputation as a dog-friendly area in the minds of all North Texans. If neighborhoods south of the Trinity had park facilities such as these, they’d benefit from that investment, too.

What do you think? Are dog parks amenities that add a significant value to a property’s location? Or are they more of a liability than we think?

Swananoah Front

Homes priced at $1 million or more are moving like hotcakes in Texas, according to the 2014 Texas Luxury Home Sales Report from the Texas Association of Realtors. The figures, assembled using data from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, show that every Texas metro area posted double-digit growth in luxury price ranges.

Dallas posted a 22 percent increase in luxury home sales for the period between January and October 2013, the report shows, with Austin posting a whopping 55 percent increase (no wonder Trulia is calling our capital city way overvalued). Houston came in second with a 46 percent increase in luxury home sales, and San Antonio posted an 18 percent increase.

“Data from the Texas Luxury Home Sales Report shows that million-dollar homes are playing an increasingly important role in the Texas housing market,” said Dan Hatfield, chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors. “The housing slump is behind us and as Texas’ economy and population continue to accelerate, we’re going to see increasing development and demand in larger, higher-priced homes with luxury amenities.”

So, what’s driving the increase? It’s mostly thanks to the influx of high-paying tech jobs in Austin, and in Houston it’s likely due to oil and gas wealth moving into the area. For Dallas, a brisk job market driven by a healthy financial sector, as well as oil and gas wealth, could be fueling the luxury real estate market. The increase in sales definitely shows appreciation, though, and it makes you wonder just how many of these $1 million-plus properties are second homes or even investments.

“It’s common for luxury homes to have a significantly longer sell time and higher housing inventory than the average home simply because the pool of interested homebuyers is so much smaller,” said Jim Gaines Ph. D., and economist with the Real Estate Center. “However, this data still indicates strong demand, particularly in Austin, where homes of $1 million or higher are close to 10 percent of all active listings and are selling in less than six months, and in Houston, where housing inventory is only 7.4 months.”

Here’s the Dallas-Fort Worth market breakdown from the report:

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 809 luxury homes were sold between January and October 2013. Luxury home sales made up 1.1 percent of the total housing market and experienced a 22 percent increase in sales compared to the same period in 2012. This is slightly higher than the 19 percent year-over-year increase of the Dallas-Fort Worth housing market as a whole. As of October 2013, there were 922 active luxury home listings, 4.1 percent of all active listings on the market. The housing inventory for a luxury home was 11.4 months, 8.4 additional months than that of the Dallas-Fort Worth housing market at large.




Salem Boohaker, Belk'sHe is Salem Boohaker, the General Manager of the new Belk department store going in at the Galleria.

Salem is single, has no children, and I am told he is having a tough time finding a neighborhood to call home in his new home, Dallas. Yes, Belk is that new store going in where Saks and (be still, my heart) Marshall Fields once was, at the Dallas Galleria.

I know Addison Circle is nearby, and it rocks, but I’m also told that Salem wants to be in a more urban environment because that’s what he is used to. More lofts and such. Good eats and drinks not far away, and walkable except when there is an ice storm.

So let us help him find a ‘hood, then a home. What do you think about Uptown? Downtown? The Galleria is a straight shot up the Dallas North Tollway, and I’ll bet Mr. G.M gets a pretty decent parking space.

NB_15FieldsBFile photo from the Dallas Morning News, and I Heart It!

By the way, I thought Steve Brown’s recent post calling Belk’s product line “a bit down market from deluxe Saks” was a bit snarky. I would like to know the last time Steve was in Saks Galleria. The place was like a morgue, and it saddened me when I shopped there. You are talking to a Chicago girl who was raised at Marshall Fields and who spent her very first paycheck at Saks Fifth Avenue on Michigan Ave. I went to Marshall Fields’ Dallas opening, I ate at the elegant top-floor restaurant, I dressed my children in clothing from the Fields children’s department on the top floor. Of course it was all wonderful in a building designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, this was 1981, the heyday of retail! To this day I think the Galleria is an easier mall to shop and park at (and more secure) than even my beloved NorthPark.

When Fields left Dallas, I needed anti-depressants, though having Saks moved in filled the void. I could still go to State Street or Watertower Place in Chicago.

Now I cannot bear to see downtown Chicago without a Marshall Fields, it’s too painful.

belk                                                           File photo from the Dallas Morning News

So I am welcoming a new store that boasts of family management– the store was founded in 1888 in Charlotte, N.C. by William Henry Belk and his brother, a physician — brothers sounding very much like the Marcus family. There is a Belk’s in Kerrville, been there. I don’t blame them at all for altering the facade of the original Johnson structure because it screams Marshall Fields to anyone who remembers, always has, always will. The new formal peaked entryway with a metal screen and a huge glass tile store logo over the door will brand it as Belk’s, not Fields. I hear Kate Spade is one of the many designer lines they carry, along with (very excited) Lily Pulitzer.

Steve, guess what I bought the last time I was in Saks at their clearance sale last spring? A pair of Kate Spade sandals.

downtown fort worth at sunset, texas

Trulia’s Chief Economist, Jed Kolko, isn’t necessarily infalliable, but he does have an interesting perspective more often than not. His views on the broader economy are often spot-on, though, which really puzzles me on his recent forecast for 2014 that says increases in home values will slow next year, and that many of the markets posting big increases in 2013 will grow stale.

But don’t write off North Texas entirely, as Fort Worth made Kolko’s list of places to watch for 2014. Why didn’t Dallas, Austin, Houston, or even San Antonio make the list, but Tulsa, Okla., does? Kolko explains (emphasis added):

Why are so many of the high-profile markets of 2013 missing from our list? We ruled out markets that were more than a little overvalued according to our latestBubble Watch, which eliminated most metros in Texas and coastal California. We also struck markets with a large foreclosure inventory (thanks for the data, RealtyTrac), like most of Florida. Our 10 markets to watch, therefore, should have strong activity in 2014 with few headwinds.

Interesting… I don’t know if many sellers in Dallas would consider the market overvalued, but considering what’s for sale and how brisk the market is moving, I’d say the increases in overall value would be more of a correction from being previously undervalued.

Still, Kolko had a list of trends to watch that rings true with what we’ve been saying for the past few months. Chief among them is that buying a house will become more and more unaffordable for Americans. Kolko also prognosticated that the home-buying process would become “less frenzied,” that 2013 will be the year of the repeat homebuyer, and how much prices slow will be more important than when they slow and where. Finally, Kolko says that renters will turn more to urban apartments than any other option — good news for the people who’ve constructed all those swanky buildings in Uptown and converted buildings in the downtown area.

Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments!


Reno sign

We think we’ll stay in Reno. We’d never have dreamed as much — not if we could dial back to early 2012, anyway — but that’s the same story everyone has.

One of my fiancé’s colleagues has family members who promised, despairingly, that they’d “pray for” him when he relocated here. Naturally, he’s fine now.

“People come for an internship or something,” a local woman told me at a dinner party last week, as wine began to swirl up the part of my brain that’d prompt me to get her contact information, “and they wind up staying forever.”

We also know a couple in their 60s, a well-traveled pair with roots overseas, who quickly rented a place in Reno so they could stall long enough to find permanent property in California. That was decades ago. They never left.

Others, like my mother, hope to move here because her (sainted) future son-in-law and I arrived first, and because my stepdad would like all the classic cars and semi-rural properties. Mom is also 60, so she gets hot a lot — which makes her pretty livid during Texas summers. I get it. And I’m thrilled.

At any rate, we all hope to capitalize on Reno’s real estate market as it continues to recover.

Our neighborhood isn’t one for starter homes, though, and we haven’t mustered the guts to ask our landlady if she’ll sell.

Off Mayberry Drive, for instance — a nearby area with fewer historic buildings but better views and supposedly lower prices — I picked up an info sheet for a tiny, bare-bones 2/1, just for reference.

The house was nothing special, with boxy lines and no real landscaping or tree growth. Its asking price? $240,000.


That’s no real estate fortune, especially by Dallas standards, but the place was boring, and visually very similar to a mobile home. Ours is brick, nearly three times as big, full of mahogany trim and stained glass, and walking distance from trendy little bars and the Nevada Museum of Art.

This isn’t boasting. It suggests we may be renting well beyond our means, and that we should save for a down payment rather than get used to luxury we don’t own.  Even if it’s not a stunner, our future abode will be ours — ours to paint, ours to landscape, ours to mess with until it feels like a self-portrait.

Buying art and furniture to match our rental isn’t exactly a genius move, either, but I’ve been doing it. I’m too smitten to stop. And the fact that our neighbor’s ivy-covered house makes our living-room window into a postcard is no help.



Georgia Fisher’s fiancee, Matt, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, which is a matter of minutes from Reno.

“No offense,” my old friend Eric told me when he and his DFW-born wife, April, visited earlier this month, “but we didn’t think Reno’d be anywhere near this nice.” (“You see a lot of bare trees this time of year,” I’d warned them, “which’ll give you a clear view of all the titty bars. It’s general nekkidness.”)

Actually, it’s nothing like that. Not really.

We took our friends to nearby Lake Tahoe, of course, winding through heavy pines and early snow as our car made the roughly 2,000-foot climb.

April Thedford and Eric Reynolds


Georgia Fisher’s friends, April and Eric, were amazed by Reno and plan to move there, too.

“It’s like this is supposed to be home,” April murmured, her gaze fixed on an endless stretch of turquoise-clear water. “I just feel it.”

Another day, we zipped out to Virginia City — a touristy but convincing homage to the gold and silver rush that first brought prospectors to the area. The olde-tyme, hokey stores are one thing, but the mine carved into a mountain is real, as are the winding switchbacks that’ll lead you into town, and the striking old cemetery that seems to hang suspended over valleys as vast and quiet as the ocean.

Our guests liked Reno itself, though; the Middle Eastern food and hip secondhand joints on Virginia Street, for one, and the sweet people who’ll come out of the woodwork if you let them.

“That dude’s walking his cat on a leash,” Eric chortled as we made the very short drive from home to downtown.

“Yer cat’s beautiful,” I hollered from the car window, wondering if the longhaired old guy would take it as harassment. But his face broke into an ear-to-ear grin, and he waved hard as we took off.

By the time they left for Texas, our friends had decided in earnest to look for jobs here. April’s parents will be joining them, wherever they settle. This makes us so happy that we could scream loud enough to endanger the friendship itself, so we’re playing it cool.

They say Reno is how Austin used to be: friendly and funky and sort of small. We’ll take it.

7707 Northaven Front

Let’s talk about Hill Haven Heights, OK? I love this area. It is a fabulous neighborhood bordered by North Central Expressway, Hillcrest, Forest, and Royal, so it’s extremely accessible. It’s also full of great single-family homes and a few great condo communities. It’s not far from the Park Cities, Preston Hollow, or the scads of shopping options lining Highway 75.

7707 Northaven Living

And it’s not out of reach, price-wise, either. In fact, you should check out this amazing traditional at 7707 Northaven Road marketed by Clay Stapp agent Richard Baker. It’s on the market for a recently reduced $529,000. Considering the upgrades on this home, that’s fantastic!

7707 Northaven Dining

With more than 3,100 square feet, four bedrooms, three and a half baths, and a two-car garage, this home is plenty big for a family. And considering the neighborhood, this is a great house for someone relocating to Dallas. Sometimes it’s hard to find a home like this, that’s move-in ready, plenty of room to move around, and has a family-friendly backyard, pool included. If you’re headed to Dallas for a job transfer, this is the home to buy.

7707 Northaven Kitchen

You’ve got granite and travertine, hand-scraped hardwood floors, upgraded kitchen with stainless steel appliances including a wine fridge and custom cabinetry, and two full living areas with an open floor plan. Behind all of that you’ll find practical upgrades such as a radiant barrier insulating the roof, tankless hot water heaters, and a new roof. The large backyard is nothing to sniff at, either.

7707 Northaven Master 7707 Northaven Master bath

The master suite is spacious and features an upgraded bath, including a ceiling fan. This is an often-overlooked feature that really helps during the summer. In the bedroom area you’ll notice French doors that look to the pool and deck area — another great feature that makes this room a wonderful retreat.

7707 Northaven Backyard

And if you’re relocating to Dallas, you’ll probably be overwhelmed by your first summer. All the more reason to consider this home, which has a great pool for cooling off when the heat reaches triple digits.

What do you think of this house?

Nest Protect

More and more buyers are opting for “wired” homes that fully integrate alarms, media, and safety, but it’s not accessible for all price ranges.

Until now that is.

Today Nest, the creators of their gorgeous interactive programmable thermostat, launched “Protect.” It’s a full-featured smoke detector that not only works with Nest thermostats, but can send push notifications to your smartphone when something’s up. It also has a motion detector, and in case you like your bacon crispy, it can be deactivated with a gesture instead of furiously batting a spatula or tea towel at it. And it’s gorgeous, too.

Nest Protect and thermostat

Here’s the dish on how it works from Gizmodo:

Protect is packed the the gills with sensors—for smoke and CO of course, but also for heat, light, motion, and ultrasonic waves. These sensors aren’t slapped on to add shelf appeal, or turn your home into a life-streaming Big Data experiment gone wrong (see your home’s microbe count visualized!). Rather, they’re all part of a use case in which Protect is a truly heads-up device.

Nest Protect Push NotificationLet’s pretend for a second that you’ve screwed up a grilled cheese (again? You doofus!). After detecting smoke, Protect will issue a vocal warning that smoke has been detected, rather than going off at full blast. (A fascinating aside: The voice is female because, according to Nest, studies have shown that young children are more easily woken by a female voice than by an alarm). If you’re in another room, the motion sensor will sense it and beam the warning to the nearest Protect via Wi-Fi. The newly-overhauled Nest app will also send a push notification to your phone, along with the option to call emergency services. The ring of LED light at Protect’s center turns a vibrant yellow—something’s up.

Then, since it’s a false alarm, you can silence Protect by waving your hand nearby, or dismissing the push notification. If the smoke doesn’t clear up, though, the warning escalates into a full-blown horn alarm (and the LEDs flash red). After the danger has passed, Protect’s voice system lets you know everything is back to normal, and the LEDs glow green.

All this for just $129 — quite a bit cheaper than retrofitting a ranch with full-featured wired home automation. What do you think?