The readers always writeThe readers always writeDavid JonesJones, D.
2017-01-12T06:00:00ZCenter News


Questions. We get our share. It's not unusual to get several a day. It seems many people want help making better real estate decisions. A couple of letters recently, however, were a bit out of the norm.

A land planner-developer from Buda wrote to us about a book we published 30 years ago that's no longer in print.

"I came across (Private Rights to Property) while . . . trying to find material to support my contention that many laws or regulations used by local governments to restrict the use of a person's property are a violation of the property owner's rights.

"Where and when I acquired it (the book) I do not know, but the gentleman that wrote it was a genius. I have not finished reading it, but it appears to be a fantastic discussion of the subject."

In response to the letter, the staff agreed with the writer that the book was as current today as it was when first published in 1986. A rare print version of the book in the archives was scanned, and within 48 hours of receiving the letter, the 60-page book had been republished on the Center website.

Private Rights to Property: The Foundation of Freedom, Prosperity and Harmony by John W. Allen is available here. The staff is reviewing hundreds of other titles no longer in print to see if other "golden oldies" need a second chance.

Some letters are from the public.

Recently, an inmate in the Maine State Prison wrote," I am interested in the multifamily sector . . . from A-Z." He was looking for information on "local" rents, operating expenses, and finding investment properties.

We advised the inmate where he could find some "local" Texas data but that we don't do research on Maine real estate.

About the same time, a homebuyer wrote. "I am trying to find out if an unsolicited real estate offer is proper in that the real estate agent presented us with a sales contract offer on property, which provides we would pay him a 6 percent real estate commission based on the sale. The agent specifically told us over the phone that he would be representing the buyer. That sounds unfair to us because, as the buyer's agent, he would not represent our best interest. Is this legal, is it wise? Any advice for us?

Legal questions go to our new research attorney Rusty Adams.

Many questions relate to our data warehouse. With the unveiling of our new cooperative efforts with the Texas Association of Realtors, and local Realtor associations there have been numerous data-related questions. Many writers want to drill down further into the data than the agreements with our partners allow. Data questions go to our Data Research Scientist Gerald Klassen.

We even handle questions you might not expect. Last month a writer inquired, "How many cows per acre is the standard for Benjamin, Texas, in Knox County? Our rural land expert Dr. Charles Gilliland used his agricultural economics background to handle that one.

Would-be real estate licensees have many questions. Among the most common are: How do I get started in real estate? What classes do I need or where can I take them?

Those folks are referred to the Texas Real Estate Commission website and to our free online publication Obtaining a Texas Real Estate License.

The takeaway for this post is that the Real Estate Center tries to help Texans make better real estate decisions. Send your questions to info@recenter.tamu.edu. If we don't know the answer, we will try to find you someone who does.​

Our website: So easy even a caveman can use itOur website: So easy even a caveman can use itBryan PopePope
2017-01-05T06:00:00ZCenter News

​​​​Before we shut down for the holidays last month, we invited RECON subscribers and our social media followers to tell us which of our website's features they find most useful. In exchange for their feedback, we sent them a free copy of our 2017 wall calendar (which doubles as our annual report).

The response was immediate and, overall, extremely positive. To all of you who took the time to participate, we say thanks.

Our NewsTalk Texas news database, research library, data, monthly economic reports, and RECON newsletter turned up repeatedly on the list. Even our quizzes got a shout-out.

One person by the name of Fred didn't single out a particular feature, but rather made a general comment about usage.

"I like it because I am not tech savvy and I can find my way through it and get the info and help I need!"

Phrasing it even more succinctly, another respondent said "So easy to navigate even a caveman can do it!"

Here's what others had to say (some have been edited for clarity):

  • "​NewsTalk Texas is a great way to find out what is going on around the state, especially in smaller markets often overlooked by other mainstream media." (Editor's note: We had no idea we even were mainstream.)
  • "The data tab is full of useful information for projecting future growth in our city. It's helpful for corporations planning to move into the area."
  • "Market Research shows the real figures, and I can see other market changes."
  • "The data section—specifically the population and employment statistics—are helpful when pulling together info for investment memos."
  • "I find the information on development projects around the state to be very informative and useful in identifying areas of growth and development interest."
  • "The data—especially the information on building permits, population, etc.—is easy to find since it's all in one place."
  • "Keeping up with the latest real estate developments is helpful to learn about the many different industries and retailers coming to our state!"​
  • "I enjoy the presentations. They contain a wealth of information for our appraisal district's use."

Now, to the one respondent who said "the 'exit' button," your lump of coal should arrive shortly.

Five things you didn’t know about the Real Estate CenterFive things you didn’t know about the Real Estate CenterDavid S. JonesJones, D.
2016-12-21T06:00:00ZCenter News

​​​​​​​​​​Before being accepted by Texas A&M University, the Real Estate Center was spurned by four other Texas institutions of higher learning.

The University of Texas at Austin, UT-Arlington, Texas Tech University, and Southern Methodist University all said "no" to housing the Texas Real Estate Research Center on their campuses.  Julio Laguarta, who is considered our founding father (and is a Texas Longhorn)​, once called the Center's acceptance by Texas A&M in 1971 a "marriage made in heaven."

If confirmed by the Senate, a member of President-Elect Donald Trump's cabinet will be someone who once chaired the Real Estate Center Advisory Committee.

Not only is Department of Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry a former Texas governor, his six-year appointment to the Center's Advisory Committee included a stint as chairman in 1983-84. Other former Advisory Committee chairs to serve in Washington, D.C. have included the 80th Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Fred McClure, President George H.W. Bush's special assistant for legislative affairs.

Tierra Grande magazine costs real estate agents less than $2 per year.

More than 163,000 copies of the January issue of the Real Estate Center's flagship periodical, Tierra Grande magazine, will be mailed next month. The cost to print one copy will be 28.6 cents. Mailing adds 20 cents. That means one magazine costs 48.6 cents. The four issues annually, therefore, cost only $1.94 cents.

The Real Estate Center was the first unit on the campus of Texas A&M University to have a desktop publishing system.

In 1987, the Center entered the digital age in a big way. Built by a company called Xyvision, the system had a scanner the size of an office desk. The "desktop" workstation was the size of a breakfront. The whole system cost more than $200,000.

The Center funded a $100,000 professorship at the University of Texas.

The William Jennings Professorship was funded by the Real Estate Center at UT-Austin in 1977. At the same time, the $100,000 Julio Laguarta Professorship was funded in Mays Business School at Texas A&M. The money was for help in the education of future real estate leaders.​

When picking college, check out neighborhood, tooWhen picking college, check out neighborhood, tooDavid JonesJones, D.


Living in a small college town isn't bad at all. I've lived in one for more than 40 years. Upon graduation, I was eager to see the world. Years later, while raising young children in a big Texas metro, I had an opportunity to return to the campus community, and it's a decision I never regretted.

When I saw my home of four decades ranked as one of 2016's Best College Towns and Cities in America, I was pleased others could see from a distance what I have been privileged to view up close.

In fact, two Texas locales are ranked in the top 20 nationally in the recent WalletHub study.

College Station, home to Texas A&M University, ranked 10th both overall and in the small city category. Austin, home to the University of Texas, was 18th overall and second in the large city category.

Houston was 10th, Fort Worth 22nd, Dallas 26th, San Antonio 38th, El Paso 42nd, Arlington 45th, and Corpus Christi 47th in the big-city college category.

At 18th, Waco was the highest ranked Texas city in the top 50 mid-sized communities. Lubbock was 25th, McAllen 40th, Denton 41st, and Laredo 46th.

San Marcos, 45th, was the only other Texas locale in the top 50 small-sized college towns.

According to the WalletHub website, "Experts have argued that an institution's geographic location is just as important as a strong curriculum and supportive school environment to a student's academic success and personal development."

Researchers at the College of Charleston said, ". . . a town or city that provides opportunities such as museums, shopping, sports, concerts, and the like may be better all-around environments for many students."

WalletHub analysts compared 415 U.S. cities of varying sizes based on 26 key indicators of academic, social, and economic opportunities. Among the variables were "cost of living," "quality of higher education" and "crime rate."

Here, for example, is how College Station ranked in some of the major categories:

  • 119th – Cost of Living for Young People
  • 41st – Quality of Higher Education
  • 76th – Cost of Higher Education
  • 163rd – Nightlife Options per Capita
  • 35th – Share of Part-Time Jobs
  • 141st – City Accessibility
  • 91st – Crime Rate
  • 28th – Share of Rental Units
  • 26th – Students per Capita 

Texas' cities fared particularly well in the category of "lowest cost of living for young people." Texas took the top four spots with Edinburg No. 1, Brownsville No. 2, McAllen No. 3, and Laredo No. 4.

"Fit is one of the most important elements of selecting a college or university, and that includes the environment that the institution is in," said Amy Aldous Bergerson, associate dean for undergraduate studies at the University of Utah. "Students should think about how well the campus and the surrounding area 'get along,' what opportunities there are for interactions with the off-campus environment, and whether the town supports their personal needs."

"Local authorities, businesses, and higher education institutions should work together to strengthen civic indicators from educational outcomes, reduced crime rates, and more accessible public transportation," said Michael S. Harris, associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University. "Affordable, high-quality off-campus housing is a concern for students as well as residents. Universities and city leaders need to work in partnership to ensure safe, affordable, and accessible housing options are available."

"The surrounding community can be important in considering the transition to college," said Amanda Rutherford, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. "An urban-to-urban move or a rural-to-rural move might be less stressful than an urban-to-rural move or rural-to-urban move. That said, the larger transitions can also allow students to increase their learning in a way that challenges assumed norms and worldviews."

"Surrounding town is important relative to the size of the university. If the latter is small, it's very important; if large, the surrounding town's importance diminishes," said Arthur Cohen, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.​

Texas taxes: No easy answersTexas taxes: No easy answersBryan PopePope
​​Few Texas property owners are fans of the property tax, but many local services, including public schools, depend on the revenue. While a number of alternatives have been suggested, they each come with challenges. Center Research Economist Dr. Charlie Gilliland talked about them on yesterday’s Real Estate Red Zone podcast. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

Business income tax
Texas is ranked 49th on business income tax, ahead of only Delaware. Statistical reports that have been generated by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association show that the Texas tax burden on businesses is already relatively high compared with the rest of the country.

State sales tax
“We rank 37th nationally,” Gilliland said. “When you look at the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association report that came out in February 2015, businesses paid well more than half of all property taxes and somewhere around 42 percent of all sales taxes. So businesses are picking up much of the tab in both of those areas right now.”

“We’re sort of in a noncompetitive stance when it comes to our tax structure relative to business, so piling it on might have a real negative impact,” he said.

Personal income tax
Gilliland said how much a person would benefit from replacing property tax with a personal income tax depends on that person’s situation.

“In any kind of a tax tradeoff situation, there are going to be winners and losers,” he said. “If you’re not a property owner, you’re essentially avoiding paying the property tax. You probably wouldn’t avoid paying an income tax. Meanwhile, property owners who are facing high property tax burdens would see a reduction in their property taxes because an amendment to the Texas constitution requires that two-thirds of any personal income tax has to be used for property tax relief.”

For more on this, listen to this week’s Red Zone podcast. Also, read Gilliland's latest article, "Tex​as Tax Conundrum​."​
I'm dreaming of a highly regulated, HOA-approved ChristmasI'm dreaming of a highly regulated, HOA-approved ChristmasBryan PopePope
​Driving through my neighborhood the other evening, ​​​​I noticed a seven-foot inflatable Will Ferrell "Elf" ornament swaying gently in someone's front yard. A house farther up the street was illuminated by enough Christmas lights to make Clark Griswold jealous.

Ordinarily, our neighborhood, like many these days, is tightly restricted by homeowner association (HOA) rules, so I was pleasantly surprised to see some leeway where holiday decorations are concerned. Perhaps our HOA's heart isn't two sizes too small after all.

If you live in a neighborhood with strict HOA rules, here are a few tips to help you avoid receiving a curtly worded reprimand—or, worse, a fine—because of well-meaning but overly enthusiastic holiday decor.

Obviously, start by reading your neighborhood's governing documents or checking with the HOA or its management company to find out how early decorations can go up and when they must come down.

Be respectful of your neighbors by avoiding displays with loud music, sound effects, or flashing lights.

Speaking of neighbors, you might check with yours before you deck the halls to make sure your plans won't cause any problems.

Use common sense. For example, consider not arranging exterior lights in the shape of an extended middle finger, regardless of how you feel about your HOA's rules.
Texas economy getting back on solid groundTexas economy getting back on solid groundLuis TorresTorres
​Recent job​ gains in both mining and manufacturing could signal the end of the Texas economy's oil-driven slump, according to data from both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Texas Workforce Commission.

Employers added 13,700 jobs last month. Mining added 1,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted monthly basis. The last positive addition was in November 2015 with a gain of a 100 jobs. Before that it was December 2014 with 200 jobs.

Manufacturing added 2,000 jobs last month thanks to an increase in the number of durable goods jobs (300). Th​is marks the second consecutive month that manufacturing jobs have registered growth. Nondurable goods have not registered ​​​job growth since last June.

The service sector continues to be the main driver of growth in the state’s economy, with trade, transportation, and utilities registering the biggest job gains with 8,200 jobs. Other services, such as health care (6,100 jobs) and financial activities (4,400 jobs) contributed to gains last month as well.

The unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage point to 4.7 percent.

Incorporating October's employment growth of 1.1 percent (based on the Dallas Federal ​Reserve early benchmark revisions) and the revised leading index data into the Dallas Fed’s Texas employment forecast leads to a 2016 estimate of 1.5 percent year-over-year growth for December, up from last month’s estimates of 1.2 percent. The forecast suggests that 183,800 jobs will be added in the state this year and that employment next month will reach 12.1 million.

Based on the recent momentum in jobs and the flatness in the Texas leading index, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas expects the state to continue growing at a pace of 1.6 percent in the fourth quarter. The general indicators of the Texas economy continue to point toward moderate growth.

​With the improvements in the energy and manufacturing sectors, the Texas economy looks to be on solid ground and will likely advance in 2017.

Under starry skies above: Texas’ largest landownersUnder starry skies above: Texas’ largest landownersDavid JonesJones, D.
In the October issue of Tierra Grande magazine, the Real Estate Center told the behind-the-scenes story of the 535,000-acre W.T. Waggoner Ranch sale. The buyer was Stan Kroenke who owns more than 800,000 acres outside Texas. In state, however, he is only the fourth largest landowner.

According to The Land Report, the Lone Star State’s largest landowner(s) are the King Ranch heirs. Their holdings total 911,215 acres.

The O’Connor Ranch heirs are second with 580,000 acres. The majority of their holdings are along the Coastal Plain in and around Aransas, Goliad, La Salle, McMullen, Refugio, and San Patricio Counties. They moved up in the top ten list with 80,000 acres bought recently in Far West Texas.

The Briscoe family owns the third most sizable chunk of Texas – 560,000 acres. Former Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. more than doubled the 200,000 acres his dad put together between 1890 and 1954. Family holdings include ranches in South and Far West Texas.

According to The Land Report, the rest of the top ten Texas landowners in 2016 are:

5. Hughes family, 390,000 acres.

6. Malone Mitchell III, 384,000 acres.

7. Nunley Brothers, 301,500 acres.

8. Jeff Bezos, 290,000 acres.

9. Kokernot heirs, 278,000 acres.

10. Anne Marion​, 275,000 acres.


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