Central Texas Real Estate and Community News

April 9, 2021

Lenders Are Tightening Up on Mortgage Loans

mortgage loan not approved

© Андрей Яланский - AdobeStock

Beware: Your buyers could struggle to be approved for a home loan. As lenders tighten standards,  home loan approval is becoming more difficult, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that mortgage credit availability, which measures lenders’ willingness to approve mortgages, is at its lowest level since 2014.

“Because mortgage credit is more difficult to obtain, it is a more competitive environment overall,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of REALTORS®, told The Wall Street Journal.

Mortgage lenders are issuing more home loans at record levels. But those mortgages are most often going to those with stellar credit histories and borrowers willing to make large down payments. About 70% of mortgages granted in 2020 went to borrowers who had credit scores of at least 760. That is up from 61% in 2019, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Among borrowers with approved mortgages, the median credit score was 786 in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Lenders are being cautious in issuing loans as the housing market surges from strong homebuyer demand and higher home prices. Mortgage loan availability plunged about 35% annually in 2020. Lenders are being cautious as they look to protect themselves from making loans to borrowers who might lose their jobs amid the pandemic.

Forbearance is another fear of lenders. To receive approval for a mortgage, some borrowers are reportedly being asked to sign statements saying they have no intention of requesting forbearance after they are approved for a mortgage.

As The Wall Street Journal reports: “The meteoric growth of home prices has made some lenders reluctant to take on first-time home buyers or others they view as slightly risky. Lenders who were comfortable offering mortgages of $300,000 or $320,000 to borrowers with good-but-not-great credit histories might not be willing to lend the $350,000 or more now required to buy the same property.”

Mortgage lenders weigh multiple variables in approving applications, including the borrower’s employment history, income, credit score, and debt level.

Rejected mortgage applicants may find better luck soon, however. Credit requirements likely will loosen slightly this year as mortgage rates rise and prompt a decline in lenders’ bustling refinance business, Mike Fratantoni, the MBA’s chief economist, told The Wall Street Journal. “Since lenders aren’t being flooded with calls to refinance, more of their resources can be used to reach out to first-time buyers for purchases.”

Source:  https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2021/04/07/lenders-are-tightening-up-on-mortgage-loans

April 9, 2021

Pustka Family Barbeque serving walk-up brisket in Hutto

Mark Pustka, left, helps Dustin Pustka with the food truck three to four days out of the six days they are open. (Photos by Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)

Mark Pustka, left, helps Dustin Pustka with the food truck three to four days out of the six days they are open. (Photos by Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dustin Pustka and his dad, Paul, co-owners of Pustka Family Barbeque, opened the window to their red food truck three years ago in Hutto.

Growing up, Dustin said he developed a love for barbecue from watching his dad teach himself how to grill.

“Every Sunday, I would have a bunch of friends over, and we would cook a bunch of barbecue,” Dustin said. “Most of my life I’ve been around it.”

After working as an executive chef for around 11 years and having a family of his own, Dustin said he did not want to work more than 70 hours a week with late nights. When it was time for a job change, he said he discussed the concept of a barbecue trailer with his dad, and they teamed up to open the food truck together.

Although Dustin lives in Pflugerville, he and his dad chose to open in Hutto because it offered the small-town feel they liked. Since opening, the community has been supportive of their business, and word of mouth brings people from outside Hutto to the food truck, Dustin said.

Pustka Family Barbeque is located in downtown Hutto, and umbrella-covered picnic tables are available for seating. Meat options include prime brisket, ribs, sausage and chicken. Customers may also order sides such as beans, potato salad and jalapeno-green apple slaw or charred corn elotes salad.

As the weather gets nicer, it is common for the truck to sell out before closing time on Wednesdays through Fridays, but Dustin said it is impossible to predict when that will happen each week.

Tracking which dishes are most popular is not the only variable he needs to watch out for—Dustin keeps his eye on the weather day by day. On rainy days, he said they will not open depending on how long it pours in an effort to avoid wasting food.

“It’s already tough enough for a small business like this to survive and even more so when you cook a bunch of food and you end up not being able to sell it,” Dustin said.

During the week, Dustin’s uncle Mark Pustka will help with the truck three or four days out of the six days it is open. As far as cooking operations, Dustin said he does 100% of the cooking every day.

“People probably don’t realize that, and some may take it for granted of how good everything is and how much they enjoy it,” he said.

Source:  https://communityimpact.com/austin/pflugerville-hutto/dining/2021/04/06/pustka-family-barbeque-serving-walk-up-brisket-in-hutto/

April 2, 2021

Get to know Hutto's new Mayor Mike Snyder, City Council Member Amanda 'Mandi' Villarreal Salvo

Mike Snyder is sworn in as mayor of Hutto during the March 16 special session. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)


Mike Snyder is sworn in as mayor of Hutto during the March 16 special session. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)

Hutto City Council approved the results of the March 6 special election during its canvassing and swearing-in ceremony March 16. Mike Snyder and Amanda “Mandi” Villarreal Salvo were sworn in as mayor and City Council member for Place 3, respectively.

The special election was ordered to fill the place of mayor vacated by former Mayor Doug Gaul, who resigned Nov. 5. Until the election, Snyder served as mayor pro tem. Villarreal Salvo ran to fill the Place 3 seat, previously held by Snyder.

Council members and the mayor are typically elected for three-year terms; however, both Snyder and Villarreal Salvo filled seats vacated mid-term, and their terms will end in May 2022.

Mike Snyder, mayor

Before you were on City Council, what got you interested in local government?

The way our city was being run. I disagreed with the direction of the city from the city manager and the way the council was operating.

What challenges do you think the city is facing that you hope to find a solution to?

I think our biggest issue is we did not properly plan for growth over the last maybe four years. We waived a lot of impact fees and we just didn’t do our jobs in the last four years. We have a lot of catching up to do.

What is your leadership style?

It changes, depends on the situation and the person. Situational leadership is what I would call it.

What are some of your main goals going into your first few months as mayor?

Working out an emergency plan with the school district and other area municipal governments. Working on a Hutto community foundation. Also, there’s an idea I’ve been working with some people on a container park and some multipurpose builds.

What are some long-range plans you hope to accomplish?

I think in general it’s to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is hammer home the transparency, hammer home the voice of the people, making sure they feel empowered to speak. Really working with our minority groups in the city that feel like they have no voice and no power whatsoever. Empowerment, I guess, would be a big part of it. And then the third thing would be to continue to work on our commercial development, but do it in a way that actually makes fiscal sense not just to do it, to do it, which is kind of what we used to do.

What is something you would like Hutto residents to know about you?

I’m not as serious as I look.

Amanda “Mandi” Villarreal Salvo, Place 3

What motivated you to run for City Council Place 3?

I was on the HOA and just attending a lot of events in the community, and I’ve been doing public comment since I moved here. When we moved here, the reason that I started going to council meetings was because our water bill was ridiculously high. The more questions I asked, the more bombs that were getting dropped on me. I started making more public comments about stuff. People in the community just little by little started noticing, and so I was asked to consider [running for City Council].

What are some of your main policy goals going into your first few months serving in Place 3?

I want to make sure that the districts that we’re building now, in the long term they’re beneficial to the city. The other thing is our access of communication to the public. My background is, I own a marketing firm, so I’m all about content creation and over-communication, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all when it comes from your local government or any level of government. One of our issues that people are always talking about is our website. Our website, it’s not user-friendly; it’s also not accessible for people [who] are handicapped or visually impaired.

What is something you would like Hutto residents to know about you?

I kept my last name because my Hispanic heritage is just really important to me, and so when I got married it felt weird the idea of losing that. I grew up in South Texas, and my family is from Spain and Mexico. You grow up with certain values and culture, you know, it’s in your home and stuff, and it means a lot.

Source:  https://communityimpact.com/austin/pflugerville-hutto/government/2021/03/17/get-to-know-huttos-new-mayor-mike-snyder-city-council-member-amanda-mandi-villarreal-salvo/

April 2, 2021

Day Trips: Cookies, Cupcakes and More, Hutto

Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

Cookies, Cupcakes and More has survived the pandemic by providing an essential service to the residents of the Hutto area. The warmth of a baked good can bring comfort in a world gone wrong.

Lakeesha Seawood and her husband Andre began selling baked goods at the Hutto farmers' market in 2019. Their cookies and cupcakes were a hit with the Saturday crowd and led to orders for custom cakes and pastries.

The couple were content with just doing the weekly markets because both had day jobs. The Hutto business community thought it would be a sweet idea to add a bakery to the small downtown and gave the Seawoods lots of encouragement.

In October 2019 they moved into the former bank building in the center of old Hutto surrounded by a sea of big-box stores. Five months later the pandemic hit.

"We survived with God's grace," Lakeesha says. "And a lot of ingenuity."

Through the shutdowns they kept baking. A classically trained pastry chef, Emily Gladu is an artist when it comes to decorating the bakery's cakes and cookies. She says the number of wedding cakes dropped off during the pandemic, but not birthday cakes.

"We are still coming up with new flavors to keep our customers excited about us," Lakeesha says. "That's the fun part."

Cookies, Cupcakes and More is at the corner of East and Farley streets a block off of Highway 79 in one of the oldest buildings in Hutto. Featured pastries change daily, but almost any flavor, including gluten-friendly versions, can be ordered. The bakery has a second shop at 211 N. Main St. in Taylor. To see what's cooking, call 512/642-6262 or go to www.cookiesandcupcakesandmore.com.

18 Fun Facts About Cookies, Cupcakes and More in Hutto

1) The bakery has the most options of baked goods on Saturdays (including gluten-free pastries).

2) The pecan pie brownie combines pie filling that is Lakeesha Seawood's father's recipe between layers of chocolate brownies, and it's one of the shop's most popular pastries. One regular customer said, "It changed my soul."

3) From Chicago, pastry chef Emily Gladu had never had peach cobbler before coming to work at the bakery.

4) Lakeesha has customers who drive from Lago Vista, a 31-mile hourlong drive, on certain days to pick up their favorite flavors of baked goods.

5) The most popular single-serving cake flavors are carrot cake, red velvet, strawberry shortcake, and anything with filling.

6) The most popular cookies are oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, chocolate chunk, and snickerdoodle.

7) The bakery makes a classic sugar cookie that is "buttery, but not too sweet."

8) The hippo-shaped sugar cookies are a popular custom-ordered item decorated with school team slogans. All Hutto schools have the hippo as their mascot.

9) The town of Hutto adopted the hippo as its mascot after a hippopotamus escaped from a circus train during a fueling stop in Hutto. It is the only community in the U.S. with the hippo as its mascot. Visitors can have their picture taken with a life-sized Henrietta Hippo on East Street in old-town Hutto.

10) Recipes at the bakery are done by the cup rather than the weight to keep the batches small.

11) Lakeesha and Andre Seawood and their two sons are all good cooks, as are both of Lakeesha's parents.

12) Everything sold by the bakery is kid-tested and Mom-approved.

13) The bakery can put edible photographs on the baked goods.

14) An expectant mom had the bakery put the picture from her ultrasound on a batch of cupcakes.

15) Lakeesha once delivered a wedding cake to an unair-conditioned venue in the summer heat and kept the cake in her air-conditioned van for six hours waiting for the reception.

16) The daughter of a veteran, Lakeesha served 10-and-a-half years in the Air Force. She spent the last five years of her service at Fort Hood. Before joining the military, she graduated from Copperas Cove High School. Go Dawgs.

17) The bakery uses Amy's Ice Creams to make their ice cream sandwiches and milkshakes.

18) The building the bakery is in was built in 1883 and was once the town's bank and post office. It still has the original bank vault and pressed-tin ceiling.

Source:  https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2021-04-02/day-trips-cookies-cupcakes-and-more-hutto/

April 2, 2021

11 events in Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto for April-May

Round Rock Market Days are just one of numerous events happening in the city and surrounding areas during the month of May. (Courtesy: Round Rock Market Days)


Round Rock Market Days are just one of numerous events happening in the city and surrounding areas during the month of May. (Courtesy: Round Rock Market Days)

Things to do during April and May for Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto include a crawfish festival, environmental clean-up day and Round Rock Express opening day.

April 2: West Pecan Trivia Night

Put your knowledge to the test and earn some prizes along the way with West Pecan Coffee + Beer’s weekly trivia night hosted by Texas Red Entertainment. Guests are asked to bring lawn chairs. 7-9 p.m. Free.

West Pecan Coffee + Beer, 100 W. Pecan St., Pflugerville.



April 3: Round Rock Market Days

Ring in spring with Round Rock Market Days, featuring products from local artisans and farmers. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Free.

Prete Main Street Plaza, 221 E. Main St., Round Rock.

Facebook: Round Rock Market Days

April 10: Neel Cole & Southern St. at Brass Tap

Kick back with a pint and some socially distanced tunes with Neel Cole & Southern St., performing at The Brass Tap in downtown Round Rock. 9 p.m.-midnight. Free.

The Brass Tap, 204 E. Main St., Round Rock.


April 17: Play for All 500

The first annual Play for All 500 invites kids to bring out their mobility devices, from bikes to wheelchairs, for a race around the Play for All Abilities Park track. Age groups will be split into three divisions. Helmets required. 8-11 a.m. $5.

151 N. A.W. Grimes Blvd., Round Rock.


April 17: Crawfish Festival

Hutto’s annual Crawfish Festival & Car Show features activities for the whole family, from arts and crafts to food vendors and music. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free entry. $20 to register a vehicle. Downtown Hutto.



April 17: Environmental Clean Up Day

The City of Pflugerville Public Works Department is hosting the annual clean up day event to dispose of bulk trash items. Pflugerville residents should bring a photo ID and proof of city services, such as a utility bill. Acceptable items include mattresses, lumber, scrap metal and appliances. Arrive by 11:30 a.m.

Pflugerville Recycle Center 15500 Sun Light Near Way B, Pflugerville. www.utilitybilling.pflugervilletx.gov

April 19: Crafty at Home Cafe: Window Feeder

Ages 12 and older can build a bird feeder in this take-home craft activity. A virtual craft tutorial will be hosted by Adult Services Librarian Meg Miller. Registration opens April 5. Supply kits will be available for pickup at the Pflugerville Public Library April 12-24. Free, registration required.


April 23: Senior Watercolor Hour: Goldfish

Ages 55 and older can paint two swimming fish at home using watercolor paints following along with a YouTube video. All art materials will be provided. Supply kits will be available for pickup at the Pflugerville Public Library from April 16-23. Register online beginning April 8 or call 512-990-6375. Free, registration required.

Virtual event.


April 24: Earth Day Festival

Promote environmental awareness this Earth Day. Attendees will meet for a creek cleanup along with a variety of other activities. The first 400 who attend get a free Earth Day T-shirt. All ages welcomed. 9 a.m.-noon. Free.

Old Settlers Park, 3300 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock.


April 24: Prescription Drug Take Back Day

Drop off prescription drugs at this event hosted in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration.10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free.

2701 N. Mays St., Round Rock.


May 6: Round Rock Express Opening Day

The Round Rock Express will kick off the 2021 season against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. 7:05 p.m. Ticket prices TBD.

Dell Diamond, 3400 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock.


SourceL  https://communityimpact.com/austin/round-rock/events/2021/04/02/11-events-in-round-rock-pflugerville-hutto-for-april-may/

March 16, 2021

Austin-area housing market stays hot, sets January records

Austin-area sales of single-family homes, townhomes and condos soared almost 24% in January,

Continuing the Austin-area housing market's hot streak, home sales and the median price paid for those homes set records for a January, according to new data from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Low mortgage interest rates, high demand and a shortage of homes continue to fuel the market and drive prices higher, experts and real estate agents say.

Sales of single-family homes, townhomes and condos soared almost 24% in January, with 2,523 homes changing hands, a record volume for the month.  

Half of the houses sold for more than $365,000 and half sold for less, a January record for the median price and an increase of nearly 20% over January 2020's median.

The figures are for the five-county Austin region spanning from Georgetown to San Marcos.

Home sales and the median price inside Austin's city limits also set January records. Those sales were up almost 24% year over year, while the median sales price rose almost 20% to $455,000.

The recent winter storm is likely to add to the housing demand in Central Texas, said Susan Horton, president of the Austin Board of Realtors.

Horton said the storm and its fallout have "shown us, once again, that our homes are more important than ever." She said homebuyers and sellers should talk to their agents about how the storm's impacts could affect closing timelines, insurance policy terms and any additional inspections that may be required.

“While it will be weeks before we know the full impact of the winter storms on our communities, the disruption in transactions and the high demand for repair services will further complicate an already complex housing market," Horton said.

Vaike O’Grady, regional director with Zonda, which tracks the housing market,  said Austin's housing market shows no signs of slowing in the foreseeable future.

"High demand across all price classes, housing types and geographies means that low inventory and lightning-fast market conditions are not going away soon," O'Grady said in a written statement. “There is strength across every price point and demand for every product."

Although developers are building quickly and more than 6,000 homesites projected to come online within the next six months, "the overall number of lots in development is only just able to keep up with current demand, O'Grady said. "This means that homes will continue to sell as soon as they hit the market, and prices will continue to rise steadily in the months to come.”

Despite 2,878 new listings in January — an 11% decline from 2020 — active listings dropped about 74% to only 1,369 properties across the region. Housing inventory fell 1.3 months to a record-low 0.4 months of supply. Homes spent an average of 33 days on market, 33 fewer days than in 2020. 

Atoosa Ponsford, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Posh Properties in Austin, said sticker shock has been a recurring theme among her clients over the past year.

"Properties move at lightning speed," Ponsford said. "Most listings receive multiple offers, at 5% to 25% over the asking price with the appraisal waived, the same day they come on the market."

Ponsford said Austin has "seen decades of population and economic growth, but the acceleration this past year, especially in January/February of 2021, has been unprecedented."

She said buyers "are desperate for new and existing homes at all price points."

"Buyers can feel a sense of panic and want to submit dozens of offers at a time for homes they’ve never even seen," Ponsford said. "It’s not uncommon to see unqualified buyers ultimately backing out of contracts, and back-up offers winning the deals."

Ponsford said she has" multimillion-dollar buyers who feel like they are priced out of the market, and for the first time homebuyers, you can imagine how hard it is when they are going up against 20, 50, even 90 other offers—many of them cash."

"With interest rates remaining historically low for the foreseeable future and influencers/job creators like Elon Musk calling Austin the biggest boomtown America has seen in 50 years, we don’t see this market losing steam anytime soon," Ponsford said.

Source:  https://www.statesman.com/story/business/2021/03/01/austin-housing-market-stays-hot-sets-january-records/6782270002/

March 16, 2021

Why Are Credit Scores Soaring in a Recession?

close up of credit report showing score

Credit scores have never been higher, positioning more Americans to qualify for some of the best mortgage rates ever. Yet, nearly 10.1 million Americans remain unemployed and have skipped mortgage or debt payments. How can this be?

“It’s been bizarre with this recession to see credit scores go up,” Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, told MarketWatch.

At the beginning of 2020, FICO credit scores averaged 703. By October, the average FICO credit score rose to 711, Experian FICO credit score data shows. VantageScore credit scores rose an average of four points above 2019 scores to 690 in 2020. (In general, a FICO score above 660 and a VantageScore above 670 is considered good, MarketWatch notes.)

Government stimulus programs and relief measures during the pandemic may be helping. Studies have shown that many consumers used the stimulus checks to pay down their debts, which could have helped to boost their credit scores. Also, forbearance and deferment programs put in place during the pandemic for mortgages, student loans, and car payments may have freed up some money to allow borrowers to pay down some of their other bills. Under COVID-19 relief measures, lenders are required to report accounts as current or “paid as agreed” for borrowers who are delaying their payments due to financial struggles from the coronavirus.

“That means that consumers’ credit scores won’t be lowered if they didn’t have any preexisting delinquencies,” MarketWatch reports. “That would make it easier for these consumers to secure a loan or mortgage in the short- and medium-term.”

But credit scores won’t remain frozen. CARES Act provisions will remain in effect for 120 days after the national coronavirus emergency is terminated by the president or Congress. As borrowers are required to start repaying any frozen debts, they may start to see their credit scores decrease if they’re unable to make those payments.

Source:  https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2021/02/17/why-are-credit-scores-soaring-in-a-recession

March 16, 2021

6 Black-Owned Etsy Shops To Support During Your Next Decor Binge

Blackstyle home copy

Etsy has long been a top destination to shop for unique, handmade decor, but it's easy to get lost in the pages and pages of clickable products. So we wanted to take this moment to showcase the work of some of our favorite Black artists.

From African-inspired textiles to handcrafted farmhouse furniture, we're pretty sure this list has something for everyone. Without further ado, here are six amazing Black-owned Etsy shops you can support during your next decor binge.

1. Macrame magic

Pink Lady wall hanging

Macrame has been making a comeback in home decor for quite some time now, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another collection of whimsical designs quite like the ones by Nosse Ovienmhada of NossbossCreations.

With unique potted-plant hangers and wall art, these pieces are hard to pass up—especially if you love macrame as much as we do.

“Fiber art adds natural texture and earthy accents to any space,” Ovienmhada says. “It's a great way to balance hard lines and surfaces. I hope to stimulate the senses and create a story with my art—every room needs a story, no detail is too small.”

Have a particular plant you’d like to feature in a macrame hanging? You’re in luck, because Ovienmhada also takes custom orders.

2. Hand-poured candles

Cactus flower and jade candle

You can never have too many candles, especially when they look like the ones created by Tina Walter of Soulful Bliss Spa & Boutique.

With scents like cactus flower and jade, mimosa, and raspberry sangria, these candles are also topped with thoughtful details, including flower petals and crystals.

“The crystals I top my candles with are all for grounding, uplifting, and removing negativity,” Walter says. “I wanted them to be as beautiful as they are relaxing and soul-lifting—to bring a level of whimsy and warmth to any part of the home you choose to place it in.”

Looking to bring even more spa vibes into your home? Walter also makes body butters and bath bombs.

3. Bohemian dream textiles

White and black bogolan fabric

If you have an obsession with bohemian textiles, you’re going to need to brace yourself for this collection of mud cloth throws, wall hangings, and pillow covers created by Kedji Makoli of AisheaHOME.

Typically, when searching for a unique mud cloth throw, you might find one or two colors and patterns—and often they’re high-priced vintage pieces. But at Makoli’s shop, these beauties are made from scratch using authentic textiles, coming in a wide variety of patterns and color palettes.

“We like textiles that tell stories, those that have been made using ancestral techniques, those that sustain and unite communities,” says Makoli. “The textiles are like witnesses of our trips, of the endless hours in markets looking for that piece that thrills us.”

We promise you won’t need that long in this Etsy shop to find something you love.

4. Earthy art prints

"Hammock Time" print

Looking for something fresh to adorn the walls of your place? Look no further than these art prints created by Karina Daniel Parris out of her Louisville, KY, studio LovelyEarthlings.

Parris has always been drawing, but decided to put some downtime to good use by taking her art to the next level and sharing it with the world.

“Because I lived in these metropolitan cities—like Atlanta, New York, and Miami—you can see why my art includes tropical weather, fashion, and diversity,” she says.

With a range of prints and greeting cards featuring women set in lush green landscapes, these designs might just be the perfect summer vibes your place needs.

5. Farmhouse-inspired furnishings

Rustic coffee table

Nothing tugs at our heartstrings quite like a gorgeous piece of furniture. But what we love about the tables and decor designed by Ntebo Archerof ArcherHomeDesigns is that they’re actually made with your family in mind.

“We have three boys, so for us it's important that furniture serves the family and not the other way around," Archer says. "Our pieces are rustic and well-worn so that life can be enjoyed without worrying about how the coffee table is holding up.”

Add to your farmhouse collection with tables that won’t mind a little spilled lemonade this summer.

6. Vibrant lights

African wax print drum lampshade

If you’ve been trying to decide how to upgrade from your boring lampshade, you’ll find more than one solution in the London-based studio of Natalie Manima, also known as BespokeBinny.

These African-inspired lampshades, pillows, oven mitts, and table sets are all made using wax-print fabric and come in a variety of vivid colors and designs. And if you were worried about ordering from across the pond—don’t be. Despite the distance (and the pandemic), Manima still ships worldwide in just three to four business days.

Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/home-improvement/black-owned-etsy-shops-for-decor/

March 16, 2021

Pandemic Prompts Bigger Wish-Lists in Kitchens, Outdoor Spaces

father and child cooking in the kitchen

© eggeeggjiew - AdobeStock

Pandemic Prompts Bigger Wish-Lists in Kitchens, Outdoor Spaces

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people use their homes. It’s leading to several homeowners taking on renovation projects so they can better enjoy their spaces, whether inside or out.

HomeLight, a real estate referral company, surveyed more than 1,000 real estate professionals nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2020 to find out what housing qualities are the highest in demand among their home shoppers. Among their findings:

Outdoor spaces take center stage.

The desire for more outdoor space is a motivator to move for home buyers, according to the survey. The number-one outdoor upgrade home buyers want to see in 2021 is a firepit, according to 54% of agents surveyed by HomeLight. Firepits are the most popular in the Northeast and Midwest. However, in the South Atlantic region, agents say that a screened-in space is more desirable than a firepit.

Other items high on a growing number of buyer wish-lists for the outdoors, according to agents, are privacy via hedges or a fence; a full outdoor kitchen that includes a grill, sink, fridge, and bar; and a sunshade, such as from a canopy or retractable awning.


Outdoor features home buyers want most



Spicing up the kitchen.

A kitchen island, walk-in pantries, and more drawer and cabinet storage are the top three kitchen upgrades that buyers seek in 2021, according to real estate agents surveyed. Also, a “pretty backsplash” and smart appliances ranked high.

“This indicates extra counter space to chop and prep food, storage for stocking up on groceries, and lots of spots to tuck away the ever-increasing amount of kitchen gadgets are the priorities home buyers have in mind when they evaluate how much they love a kitchen,” the report notes.

The design styles in the kitchen may vary regionally. For example, real estate pros in the Pacific, South Central, and South Atlantic regions of the U.S. were the most likely to say that their buyers prefer to see a farmhouse or apron-front kitchen sink. Real estate pros in the Pacific, Northeast, and Midwest regions were more likely to say that their buyers favor smart appliances.

Expanding bathroom amenities.

The double-sink in the owner’s suite is the number-one desired bathroom upgrade in 2021 that home buyers want, according to agents surveyed. Buyers also are showing more appreciation for bathrooms with upscale shower heads—such as a rain showerhead or dual shower head—as well as greater storage, such as a linen closet with shelves. In the Midwest and Northeast, heated floors have become a bigger draw. In the Pacific, Mountain, and South Atlantic regions of the U.S., artisan tile work is a top desire of home buyers, agents report.

Source:  https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2021/01/26/pandemic-prompts-bigger-wish-lists-in-kitchens-outdoor-spaces

March 16, 2021

This Is the Best Time of Year to Get a Mortgage

living room with large picture windows, snow covered forest

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This Is the Best Time of Year to Get a Mortgage

Home buyers better hurry: This month may offer the best time of year to get a mortgage. But February can offer some of the best rates too, according to a new study from Haus, a home-finance startup.

The firm studied seasonality, loan size, credit scores, and other factors that play a role in mortgage rates. Researchers found that in January, lenders tend to offer discounts of nearly 20 basis points compared to the time period between June and October when rates are typically at their highest. After January, December and February tend to be the next cheapest months, according to the Haus study.

“While we can’t say for exact certainty why rates are lower in January than in the summer months, we can speculate that competition for customers matters,” Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Haus, notes in the report. “Since home buying and refinancing is seasonal, there is less mortgage origination in winter months, so it could be that lenders must lower their rates to stay competitive and attract business.”

But the housing market is booming this season. The Haus study analyzed loan data from Freddie Mac for more than 8.5 million mortgages that originated between 2018 and 2021.

Over recent weeks, mortgage rates have been hovering at all-time lows. But economists do warn that rates could rise over the coming months depending on the trajectory of the economy.

Many buyers don’t have much control over the timing of their loans. To put themselves in the best position, the study notes the importance of credit scores. Borrowers with credit scores above 800 tend to receive mortgages with rates that were 42 basis points lower than borrowers with scores below 650. Also, shopping around for a mortgage tends to result in savings. The study found a difference of 75 basis points between the most and least expensive large mortgage lenders nationwide.

“This means that, all else equal, the same borrower would get a 5% rate with the most expensive lender and a 4.25% rate with the least expensive lender,” McLaughlin notes.