Breaking the Bank

When you’re working on commission, planning for tax season can feel overwhelming, and if you’re unprepared, that tax bill can really break the bank. That’s why Victoria Gillespie of  Realtors Federal Credit Union recommends you put away half of each commission check for taxes and a short-term reserve account.

I know, it’s not what anyone wants to hear after closing a transaction, but it’s smart financial planning that Realtors should heed. Gillespie’s advice is part of the National Association of Realtors’ Your Money Matters series of financial advice for real estate professionals.

Gillespie says that planning for slow seasons such as fall and winter is something you shouldn’t overlook. She suggests setting aside 50 percent of every commission, with 30 percent going into an escrow-type account for taxes and 20 percent going into a reserve fund for slow sales seasons, with a goal of saving six months of income as soon as possible.

That means if you earn $5,000 in commissions on a home sale, you should think of it as $2,500 in commission income. “I know that sounds like a dramatic number, but I think it’s important practitioners see it that way,” says Gillespie in the video.

The fact is, you’re going to pay about 30 percent of your income each year in taxes, and it’s a lot easier to pay that by setting aside money each time you get paid so, come tax time, you have the money available. And on the reserve fund, that’s so you have a comfortable cushion of income for those months when you close fewer transactions than you need to pay your bills.

View the full video below:

What do you do to keep yourself prepared for April 15th?

Proposition 6 Results by County


The results are in, and while many agreed that Proposition 6 was the best plan available to secure the future of Texas water, it garnered 73.37 percent of the statewide vote — a considerably safe margin.  Among constitutional amendment propositions on the statewide ballot, Proposition 6 garnered more votes that Propositions 3, 5, and 8.

What’s most interesting is the county-by-county reports from the Texas Tribune. While the Texas Hill Country and West Texas will likely be those most desperate for water, Proposition 6 didn’t pass muster in several counties throughout those regions. And many areas of East Texas shunned the proposed constitutional amendment that would tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund to secure more water resources. Find out more about Proposition 6 and its provisions here.

Check out more detailed results from last night here.

Shopping for a house requires the organizational skills of a master planner. How do you remember every detail of the listing you just looked at—never mind the house from last week or last month?

It can be nerve wracking to say the least. So we’ve put together a list of iPhone apps to help you pull everything together (many are also available for Windows and Android). Arm yourself with these tools and you’ll never forget which charming 60’s ranch house has a water heater in the guest bedroom.

Do you have a favorite app? Let us know about it in the comments.

Snap it, measure it, look it up — owning these apps creates a library in your pocket.

The Real Estate Dictionary

dictionaryMost real estate dictionaries cost between $4 and $10. Some are even $50. This bare-bones, no-cost app stands out among the free options.

Assets: It’s an easy to navigate and comprehensive dictionary of real estate terms—from construction to contract. When your home inspector is blathering on about a cracked collar beam, you can quickly discover just what that is.

Liabilities: There’s no search function, so users have to navigate to a letter tab and then scroll.

Mortgage Calculator Pro

mortcalcThere are a ton of free mortgage calculator apps out there, and you get what you pay for. This is the single non-free app in the survey, but it’s worth every penny of the 99 cents it costs.

Assets: Users can save various loans and loan configurations, so there’s no need to retype the information each time. This makes it easy to add or subtract variables, such as HOA fees, maintenance costs, different interests rates, and play with the numbers. Users can send loan info and amortization schedules to contacts via email. It also has features for auto and other kinds of loans, so it’s not a one-and-done purchase.

Liabilities: There’s no option for interest-only loans, it’s not free, and it’s brown … so much brown.


homesnapHomesnap is a little creepy. It lets users search a map of listings,  just like the major listings-search apps below, but its main feature is to “snap” a photo of any house and dig up its county appraisal and recent sale info. Homesnap also has a “stealth” mode that identifies houses near the user’s GPS location and serves up the same kind of goods.

Assets: Immediately identify the tax appraisal and see other interesting info on homes surrounding any listing.

Liabilities: Immediately feel like a creep.

Magic Plan

magicplanThis app is so good that it should actually cost something. Magic Plan allows a user to capture the dimensions and features of any room in a house. The process is just like taking a series of photos. The app then returns room dimensions and door locations so users can easily determine whether or not they can wedge their grand piano in the study.

Assets: Create a floor plans for multiple houses quickly with photos and notes. Users can email room plans in pdf and jpg formats for free. The app also allows users to send the data to Home Depot flooring departments, share it on social media and more.

Liabilities: It can be difficult to use in narrow spaces like galley kitchens and other oddly shaped rooms.


evernoteWhile not specifically related to house hunting, Evernote is a do-it-all note-taking app that has uses even after the closing papers are signed.


Assets: Evernote is actually a suite of tools that lets users capture web pages, bundle photos, record voice notes, and just type plain old notes. Each can be organized into an individual notebook that can be synched among all of a user’s computers and devices, and shared with friends, whether they are Evernote users or not.

Liabilities: None. Download it now!

These apps all do the same basic thing: They allow you look at homes on the market. Plug in a ZIP Code or a neighborhood, a price range, and parameters such as number of bedrooms and baths, and the apps display the results on a map or on a list. All have websites that synch with the user’s phone, so a search saved on a laptop shows up on the user’s mobile device. All have photo galleries, MLS information and agent info.

What makes one better than the other? Let’s plow through their strengths and weaknesses:

realtorcomAssets: Like other apps of its ilk, uses your phone’s GPS to display nearby properties. Its standout feature is that it allows the user to draw a circle, square or any other closed shape on the map and shows only listings within the boundary. Buyers can also share favorite properties and other information with their agent from within the app.

Liabilities: Searches for recently sold listings don’t show prices, but they do show the amount under or over the asking price for which the property sold. Users can’t save sold listings as favorites.

For Sale By Owner

fsboAssets: This is the most useful app to find listings that aren’t on the MLS, and DIYers will find it intuitive to use. Its search results highlight pending sales, new listings and regular sales, and it keeps a history of results, which is handy if you forget to save a favorite.

Liabilities: There is limited information on each property and there are fewer properties to view than on the MLS. The app also doesn’t offer links to schools, tax information or similarly helpful info.


truliaAssets: Trulia’s best feature is its ability to plot neighborhood amenities on a map. Buyers can see the nearest grocery stores, parks, gas stations banks with ratings and reviews from Yelp. Users can also toggle map overlays for information on crime, flooding, earthquakes and more.

Liabilities: Trulia app doesn’t default to residential property searches, so the user will want to dial in specific settings—unless they just happen to like looking at vacant industrial lots. Map overlays for crime are very general “heat maps” and don’t display information on number or type of criminal activities.


redfinAssets: This app includes decent mortgage calculator that allows a user quickly summarize monthly ownership costs, including insurance, taxes, and bills. It also provides the most detailed information on sold properties in its class, including prices. Users can take notes and add their own photos to favorite properties.

Liabilities: Agent features work only with Redfin agents.


zillowAssets: Zillow presents clear, easy-to-skim listing info with multiple graphs and charts that summarize financing estimates and the home’s position on the market, including Zillow’s own estimate of its worth. There are direct links to a property’s listing on the county tax sites, and summary of its tax history in the app. The app also allows users to get custom mortgage quotes from online brokers.

Liabilities: Map icons are subtle and can be difficult differentiate from one another. There is no rental search.


Marc LeeMarc Lee is a freelance writer and film buff who loves real estate almost as much as Candy herself. He lives in Dallas. Contact him via

Trulia Heatmap Tornadoes Dallas


(Graphic: Trulia Heatmap From NOAA tornado data)

love what Trulia manages to do with a little data. This company is consistently making the best tools that break down statistical information, helping homebuyers decide which areas best suit their needs. 

Their newest tool, the Natural Hazards heatmaps, are perfect for seismophobics, potamophobics, brontophobics, and pretty much any other weather-related phobia you can think of. With data from the USGS, FEMA, NOAA, and the Forest Service, Trulia has created color-coded models showing which areas pose the greatest risk for these natural disasters.

Of course, if you plan buy wherever you want — data be damned — I’m sure these maps will help you negotiate your homeowner’s insurance policy. Take a minute to click around on their Trulia Local page for Dallas. It’s interesting stuff.

On the flipside, if you want to avoid natural disasters altogether, Trulia Economist Jed Kolko has compiled a list of the top-10 U.S. cities least likely to be hit with an act of God. Topping that list is Syracuse, N.Y., with Cleaveland and Akron, Ohio, in second and third, respectively. Fourth is Buffalo, N.Y., and fifth is Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md.


Hyatt Regency San Antonio

Clients expect agents to know everything about the process of buying and selling a home, but with the constant regulatory changes and market adjustments … well, it’s best to stay abreast of everything, right?

That’s where the fantastic seminars put on by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University come in. The center will host its 27th annual Ad Valorem Taxation seminar on Aug. 28 – 30 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Antonio. What’s better than getting your continuing education credits out of the way right next to the Riverwalk? Yeah, I couldn’t think of anything, either.

If you want to save a few bucks, register before Aug. 7 for the earlybird fee of just $485. The regular registration fee is $515.

Oswald House Vernon Bryant DMN


Photo: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News

Lee Harvey Oswald lived in the unassuming brown brick house at 1026 N. Beckley Avenue right up until he was apprehended for allegedly shooting the president. It was the last place he is known to have lived.

And now it can be yours.

It’ll cost you, of course. The owner of the home, Pat Hall, wants to sell the house next month, but don’t expect her to list it for the market. According to the write up from Oak Cliff reporter Roy Appleton, Hall has a figure in mind.

“It’s not going to be too low,” she said during a recent tour of the house. “I’m selling history here.”

I am very interested to see how much this home goes for, especially considering its history and place in our national memory. This is the place that Oswald fled to before holing up in the Texas Theatre. It’s the place that he rented under an assumed name, where he kept quiet and out of the way. It’s the last place he lived before he became infamous.

Hall’s late mother, Fay Puckett, lived as well with the Oswald yoke, a past that continues to attract tour buses, history hounds and the unexpected — as in the Lee Harvey Oswald look-alike actor from Austin who showed up at the front door one day.

“It was kind of weird having that guy standing there,” Hall said. “It took me back.”

After her mother died, Hall, 61, opened the place to tours for several years, encouraging — with some success — donations toward its upkeep.

But she and her house aren’t getting younger. The structure needs repairs here and there. The public demands of history, she said, have been a burden, something she doesn’t want for her children.

So basically, if you buy this house, you can consider it an investment. Put a gift shop in there and add some parking and voila — tourist attraction. You’re close to Zang and Colorado, and Lake Cliff Park, too. There are some great restaurants nearby as well.

DCAD appraised this home at $60,830. Put in your over/under below.

Mortgage House Keys

There’s been some debate in Washington on what to do about the country’s growing inability to pay its bills. As a means to shrink the budget deficit, the House Ways and Means Committee discussed doing away with the popular mortgage interest deduction.

It’s a pretty popular tax break for homeowners. It allows taxpayers to deduct the amount paid in interest on a home mortgage from their total tax liability, which, depending on the amount of the mortgage, can be a significant help in easing the sting of tax season for many in the upper income brackets.

While the standard deduction is $12,000 for a married couple filing jointly, the higher amount of the mortgage, the greater the overall deduction would increase the margin of benefit on their tax rate. This makes homeownership much more attractive than renting, for which there are no deductions.

Still, Congress isn’t sold on eliminating a popular deduction such as this one, according to Accounting Today.

Dave Camp“Homeownership is an integral part of the American dream, and the Tax Code has long provided a variety of incentives to make it easier for families to buy and own a home,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). “We also know that the real estate industry plays a large role in our economy. So, this is an area that needs careful, thoughtful review.”

No kidding, Dave. I can see wealthy homeowners up in arms over this idea, which could make owning multiple properties and high-end homes in sought-after locations a tough sell come tax time. Heck, our property taxes are already ridiculous in Dallas County.

If we’re going to start trimming deductions, where should Congress start?