Texas beefing up for ChineseTexas beefing up for ChineseWesley MillerMiller

Texas beef and China blog illustration

In June, China accepted its first shipment of American beef in 14 years amid advancing trade discussions. An isolated case of mad cow disease in 2003 prompted American beef bans across the globe, shrinking industry exports by 93 percent (see figure). Beef exports did not fully recover until 2010 and have bounced around $360 million since 2013.

U.S. beef producers have long lobbied for renewed access to the massive Chinese market. Rising incomes and dietary shifts pushed China's beef imports to $2.6 billion in 2016, making it the second largest beef importer (behind the U.S.). However, American beef faces stiff competition from Australia, where exports totaled $600 million to China in a 2016 China-Australia free trade deal.​​​

Total beef exports chart

In 2002 to 2003, China imported just $23 million of American beef, accounting for less than half of a percent of U.S. beef exports. China's role was even smaller in Texas, accounting for less than one-fifth of a percent of beef exports at $1 million. Unsurprisingly, China's American beef prohibition was unnoticeable, but bans in Japan and South Korea slashed Texas exports by $249 million in 2004.

Japan and South Korea slowly regained confidence in the American product, surpassing pre-crisis import levels from Texas in 2014 at $296 million combined. While other nations followed suit, the Chinese ban held fast despite growing domestic demand. American beef still found its way into the country through Hong Kong, but quantities were limited.

In 2016, Texas exported half its beef to Asia; renewed access to China opens another vast market in the region. Increased cargo quantities benefit Texas producers by stimulating economies of scale, thereby driving down average transportation costs—a vital component in transcontinental trade.​

Are you anti-social (media)? Probably not if you're in real estateAre you anti-social (media)? Probably not if you're in real estateBryan PopePope
2017-07-19T05:00:00ZCenter News
​​​Earlier this year, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) surveyed its members about their social media practices. The results are included in NAR's Real Estate in a Digital Age 2017 Report.

What did they learn?​
  • Seventy-four percent of female Realtors are active on social media compared with 66 percent of male Realtors.
  • Sales agents use it the most (72 percent), followed closely by broker associates (70 percent) and brokers (67 percent). Appraisers are a distant fourth at 41 percent.
  • Fifty-seven percent of Realtors are either “comfortable” or “extremely comfortable” using social media. Only 7 percent don’t use it at all.
  • NAR measured usage of eight social media platforms. Facebook is most used by Realtors (80 percent), followed by LinkedIn (71 percent), Google+ (32 percent), YouTube (30 percent), Twitter (28 percent), Pinterest (21 percent), real estate blogs (16 percent), and Instagram (14 percent).​​

Alright, so quite a few of you are using social media in your work, and Facebook and LinkedIn are your favorite platforms.

I have good news for you. The Real Estate Center is also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and we post information pertinent to your job daily, often multiple times a day.​​​

For example, already this week we've shared information about Longview home sales, insurance payouts to Panhandle wildfire victims, Texas foreign-bought land, and Dallas' national standing as a good place to buy office space.

Of course, we also like a dash of levity with our social media. ​​​By following us​, you can amaze and amuse your colleagues by knowing that it's National Pecan Pie Day (something every Texan ought to know), National Iced Tea Day, or National Day of the Cowboy. Last summer, we ran a social media campaign where we invited people to vote on their favorite small-town Texas name. It proved enormously popular. (Oh, and Happy, Texas, won.)

For more fun, participate in our latest giveaway. We've invited our social media followers and RECON subscribers to share their funniest DIY home-improvement disaster stories. Participants will be entered in a drawing for a $25 Home Depot gift card. Click here to tell us your story. Who knows? You could end up reading your story here in a week or two.

Slicing the real estate pie 100,000 waysSlicing the real estate pie 100,000 waysDavid JonesJones, D.
2017-07-13T05:00:00ZCenter News


Real estate pie picture

Real estate is hot. But you know that. It's been in all the newspapers. With so much talk about who is selling what to whom and where, it should come as no surprise more Texans are signing up to become real estate agents.

In May alone, the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) issued 16,216 sales agent licenses, slightly more than the same month last year. That brought total Texas active sales agents to 101,382. 

If you think that's a lot of folks trying to get a share of the real estate pie, you're right. But that's only part of the picture. Texas also has 43,343 active real estate brokers. With an estimated state population of 27.9 million served by 144,725 real estate licensees, that means there is one real estate agent for every 193 Texans of all ages—renters and homeowners alike.

But, wait. If there are 16,000 new licensees being signed up each month, why aren't they as thick as fire ants? That's because 10 percent of the real estate agents make 90 percent of the money. Many new agents don't make it past their first license renewal, which comes after two years.

The old adage that the three most important ingredients to the real estate pie are location, location, and location, also applies to where a licensee sets up shop.

WalletHub did a report on “2017's best places to be a real estate agent." Honolulu was ranked No. 1 based on “real estate market health" (home turnover rate, days on market, etc.) and “job opportunity and competition" (sales per agent, median home price, agent wages, etc.). Austin was the highest ranked Texas city at No. 10 (falling from No. 4 last year).

If you want to know how much real estate agents in each Texas city make, check out salary.com.

Has it really been 40 years already?Has it really been 40 years already?Bryan PopePope
2017-07-06T05:00:00ZCenter News
​​​​First edition of Tierra Grande magazine

Last week, REC Senior Editor David Jones stopped by with the news that Tierra Grande, our flagship magazine, turned 40 this year.

Longtime readers have grown so accustomed to the quarterly publication's reliable research and beautiful design that starting a magazine back in '77 probably seemed like a no-brainer. It wasn't.

Jones said then-director Dr. Alvin B. Wooten was "a bit skeptical." He said Wooten and others on the staff had experience with academic or refereed journals, but they were uncomfortable writing for the public.

"Shortly after the first issue was published," Jones recalled, "Dr. Wooten told me, 'Well, that’s one magazine in the books. Do you think we can find enough material for a second?'”

The rest, as they say, is history, although Wooten's concerns didn't go away entirely.

"He frequently cautioned the staff to avoid the 'big error,'" Jones said. "He worried that publishing a big mistake would have a long-lasting negative effect on the young Center. We established a formal review and approval process using green cover letters. That process continues today, except the cover sheets are blue.

"It took a couple of years before the staff really understood the concept of popular magazine writing. Although they did not say so to me, I think the staff secretly hoped the magazine would just go away if they ignored it."

It didn't. In fact, on July 13, 1977, Wooten sent a memo to the staff saying, “Each staff member should now consider the magazine a reality and begin planning accordingly.”

The magazine was an instant hit with readers. The inaugural issue included articles about economic growth, homebuyer demographic, and real estate education. There was even a profile of that most quintessential of Texas towns—Luckenbach.​

Some of these topics will undoubtedly ring familiar to today's readers, but there's a key difference.

"Articles in early issues were based on data that was months and sometimes years old," Jones said. "Today, data is current, and authors write more about what is going to happen rather than what has happened."

Of course, evolving technology has made a difference in the life of the magazine as well.

"The digital age makes it possible for us to publish electronic versions of articles days, weeks, or even months before they appear in the print version. That keeps content relevant," Jones said.

One other thing changed as well: the size of the magazine's audience.

In the beginning, Tierra Grande was mailed only to the 35,000 Texas real estate brokers. Today, it goes to all active and inactive licensees. As of this month, that number is about 166,000.
Tierra Grande readers speak outTierra Grande readers speak outBryan PopePope
2017-06-29T05:00:00ZCenter News
​​​It's been five years since we asked Tierra Grande readers what they think of our magazine, and a lot has changed since then. We've said goodbye to a few long​-time writers and hello to some new ones. We've also moved to "digital-first" publishing, which allows our website visitors to read most TG articles days or even weeks before the magazine hits mailboxes.

In light of all these changes, now seemed like a good time to once again find out what TG readers think. So we did. Earlier this year we rolled out our survey. We heard back from 182 readers. That's 75 fewer responses than we received in 2012, but, as Senior Editor David Jones noted, the feedback was surprisingly comparable.

When asked how they would rate the overall value of TG, just over 80 percent said "very good" or "excellent." More than 95 percent of respondents "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that TG articles contribute to their knowledge and understanding of real estate.

"The magazine is full of interesting, comprehensive articles," said one person. "I have used several in conjunction with my local paper to educate the average consumer on legal steps/issues that come up during real estate transactions. Many of the articles have enlightened my agent/broker members as to new rules, regulations, or upcoming legislative issues."

Seventy-eight percent share magazine articles.

"Great job, great publication, valuable resource. I look forward to reading it when it comes in and sharing some of the content with clients and fellow Realtors," one reader wrote.

Sixty-one percent were unaware that they can read TG articles online well before the magazine is published. And while we're very proud of our move to digital-first publishing, the vast majority of readers (70.6 percent) prefer the printed edition to an interactive digital magazine. Even so, 79 percent said they would read a digital TG if that was the only option.

Of course, there's always room for improvement.

"More content, more content, more content," said another respondent. "I view the magazine as a core resource. I would prefer it be produced bi-monthly."

Bi-monthly? That's a pretty tall order, but we'll certainly take it under advisement.

Oh, one more thing: Ten respondents were randomly selected to receive $25 Amazon gift cards. Congratulations to Minor Taylor, John Luna, Michael Bray, Eileen Keller, John Crews, Holly Christian, Parke Patterson, Shad Bogany, Richard Meyer, and LadyBarbara Cato. Your cards have been sent.​
Last call for the mall?Last call for the mall?David JonesJones, D.


To paraphrase a quote attributed to Mark Twain, reports of the death of America's malls may be greatly exaggerated. In 2017 alone, there have already been several obituaries.

A new report, however, calls the death notices premature. In “Why Mall Reuse is Just Beginning," author Brian Landes, director of GIS/location intelligence for Transwestern, said, “Statistics on malls tell a somewhat different story. . . . When malls are reconsidered and repurposed for other uses, their value may far exceed their use as conventional retail space."

Landes acknowledges the decades of mall challenges: online shoppers, bankrupt retailers, and millennial rejection of the suburban mall and the lifestyle it represents.

He notes that despite the growing number of stories that focus on malls' demise, regional malls have had positive net absorption since 2010 (the only blip in absorption was in 2009 at the height of the recession.)L

“At the end of 2016, occupancy across the U.S. was 95 percent, equating to 848 million sf. Store closures have increased, but for the most part, malls have rolled with the punches, finding tenants or alternative uses," wrote Landes.

Notwithstanding Amazon's incredible success and the growing adoption of e-commerce among shoppers of all ages, most purchases are still made offline, he said, and will be into the indefinite future.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), of the $4.7 trillion in 2015 retail spending, only 8.3 percent happened online. Nearly 97 percent of 2015 retail spending happened in brick-and-mortar stores.

The report acknowledges the increased pace of major retail chain store closings. Since the beginning of 2017, plans have been announced to shutter more than 3,500 stores nationally. More than 62 million sf of retail space will go dark in the span of four months. Big box spaces (Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's) are the most difficult to fill unless subdivided or repurposed.

“The picture is not entirely dismal," said Landes. “In 2016, the U.S. retail market experienced 105 million sf of net absorption, representing a growth in occupancy of nearly 1 percent." According to ICSC, mall productivity rose 0.7 percent in the last year to $465 per sf.

Landes believes the millennial migration that reinvigorated many urban neighborhoods will transfer its energy to the suburbs, which are becoming denser, more diverse, and offering more amenities. Many regional malls will adapt to the ongoing changes.

The report highlights four malls, two of which are in Texas.​

  • Highland Mall in Austin. 575,000 sf. Built in 1971. Austin's first regional mall is now owned by Austin Community College where the focus is technology education and in-demand job skills training. Unused space is expected to be developed as multifamily housing.
  • ​Windsor Park Mall/The Castle in San Antonio. 1.2 million sf. Built in 1976. After sitting vacant since 2005, the mall became the corporate headquarters for Rackspace in 2007. The cloud-hosting technology firm spent more than $100 million in renovations to create an exciting and environmentally friendly workplace known as “The Castle." More than 3,700 work there. The project has attracted new retail to the area.

“For the most part, malls are attracting new tenants through strategic marketing and property enhancements," said Nick Hernandez, managing director of retail for Transwestern. “And in cases where a retail mall no longer makes sense, we have seen many owners successfully adapt to the changes in their trade areas by repurposing the mall for another use."

Here are more examples of what's being done to give new life to malls.

Timeshare tales and tipsTimeshare tales and tipsDavid JonesJones, D.
Maui beach resort

It sounded too good to be true: a week in Maui at a Marriott resort, including a rental car, for only $699 for two people. Keep in mind this was pre-Sept. 11 pricing when vacationers still crowded Hawaii’s beaches. My wife and I had enough frequent flyer miles to take care of air fare, so the first day airplanes were flying after the terrorist attack, we were off.

Keta had been the first to suspect something was amiss. “This could be one of those timeshare presentations,” she recalled the night before we left. “Someone called today from the resort and said we must be sure to stop by the welcome center and pick up the packet of free discount coupons they have for us.”

A shiver went up my spine. Several years earlier we had spent an evening in hell having our arms twisted during a timeshare presentation at Lake Conroe. Even the grandfather clock prize everyone was guaranteed to receive turned out to be cardboard.

“Well, at least they will be twisting my arm in paradise,” I thought.

As promised, the rental car was waiting. Of course, getting our luggage into the Toyota Echo required several attempts. We arrived at the hotel both weary and wary.

“Two J-2 welcome packets needed at registration,” the clerk said over the telephone. “Aha!” I thought. “Here it comes.”

“Welcome to Maui,” said the wahine as she placed a lei around our necks​. “The welcome center is open until 8 p.m., so be sure to come by and pick up your packet of free discount coupons,” she said with a smile.

I couldn’t help but wonder why she had not brought the coupons with her. When I looked over my shoulder, I knew.
Across the lobby was the welcome center. It must have been three blocks long with a huge glass storefront. Inside I could see a world map with lights blinking at numerous locations. Above the map a sign proclaimed these were Marriott’s worldwide resort locations. A couple with leis around their necks sat at a desk while a well-dressed young man spoke to them. Avoiding eye contact with anyone in the welcome center, we hurried to our room.

We never did get the sales pitch. Each day we left the hotel early and returned after dinner. But we returned to a daily message on our telephone reminding us that Marriott had a packet of discount coupons waiting for us in the welcome center. Our timeshare experience of years past had left us unnecessarily paranoid. Timeshares have changed.

Brand name companies—Disney, Marriott, and Hilton—​are now active in timeshares or vacation clubs. There’s more flexibility, too. We knew owners can trade their weeks for stays at worldwide properties but only after we returned did we discover you also can trade for services such as plane tickets and cruises.

“Cruises! Did you say cruises? I knew we should have gone to the welcome center,” said Keta. She loves to cruise.

Vacation timeshares give you the right to use a vacation home for a limited, pre-planned period.  Owning a piece of resort property guarantees you an annual vacation and the chance to exchange the privilege for other properties around the world. It is an alluring dream fueling an industry that sold $8.6 billion in 2015.

Timesharing intervals have been sold in condominiums, cruise ships, houseboats, recreational vehicles, campgrounds, buses and airplanes. The latter has really picked up momentum since the terrorist attacks.

Two basic types of timeshare units are sold: fee simple, in which the buyer gets title to a fraction of the unit, and right-to-use, in which the purchaser is entitled to use the unit for a specified period but does not have ownership interest.

In a typical timesharing program, weeks (also called intervals) are offered at a golf, seaside, or ski resort at prices starting in the $16,000-$19,000 range, depending on the season, quality of accommodations, and location. Sales may be financed over several years by the developer or an outside source. Generally buyers pay a percentage of the price down and the remainder in installments. In addition, they must pay annual maintenance fees and the cost of a resort exchange program.

While many timeshare ventures have been successful, there are pitfalls. Under a right-to-use (lease) agreement, you do not have title to the property. Some timeshares are offered before construction has begun or adequate financing has been obtained. Buyers can lose their money if the project fails. Here are some timeshare tips from the Better Business Bureau.

Remember, it’s a vacation. Don’t look at a timeshare strictly as a real estate investment. Look at it like you would an expenditure for an annual vacation.

Visit the site. If you can’t, find someone you trust who can. Make sure it’s an area you like and would enjoy returning to year after year.

If a “free” inducement is offered for you to come and inspect the resort, find out if you will end up having to pay a lot of money for travel expenses and extra charges after your trip. I have been called many times and told I won a free cruise to the Bahamas. Of course, I have to get to Florida first; the cruise lasts one day; and I have to hear about a timeshare.

Remember a timeshare is a major investment. Ask questions. Do not sign anything unless you are fully aware of the consequences. Be particularly wary if salespersons pressure you to sign that day without allowing time for you to consider carefully what the contract involves.

Determine if the unit is offered as fee simple or as a right-to-use unit. Fee simple units usually are more expensive, but they may provide some tax benefits. They also allow buyers to have a voice in the resort’s management. Right-to-use units often have a lower price and less management responsibility, but resale rights may be limited.

A timeshare isn’t a one-shot deal. Find out how long-term management of the resort will be provided and whether the operating budget will meet future needs.

Offers of exchanges for other timeshares are an important consideration. But there may be no assurance the resort can provide you another accommodation that is desirable or available at the time you prefer. The resort may not continue its contract with a given exchange or with any exchange. Don’t buy a timeshare in a less desirable location expecting to “trade up.”

Timeshare owners pay maintenance costs for the resort. These annual fees usually run around $600 but will increase as the property ages. And the fee may not cover major expenses. Make certain your money is held in an escrow account until you have title to the unit.

Lastly, consider the alternatives. Carefully weigh all costs of buying a timeshare, including costs of taking a vacation every year. Can you afford the travel costs and other expenses of a vacation annually, either to your unit or to one you have exchanged for? If your timeshare is in another state or country, recovering your money in the case of a breach of contract may require traveling to the locale where the transaction took place.

For more tips on timeshares, read MarketWatch's article, "6 things to know before you buy a timeshare​."
Moonscape: Selling unreal estateMoonscape: Selling unreal estateDavid JonesJones, D.

Lunar real estate pictureTalk about out-of-this-world real estate. Would you believe millions of earthlings have bought land on the moon?

According to the Lunar Embassy, more than 400 million acres of the moon have been sold worldwide. Among the buyers are former U.S. presidents and movie stars (think “Star Trek.")

The Lunar Embassy is the brainchild of Dennis Hope, who in 1980 claimed ownership of the moon and other planets in our solar system. Hope bases his claim on what the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty does not say. While the treaty stipulates no government can own extraterrestrial property, it does not prohibit individuals and corporations from doing so.

“Therefore, under laws dating back from early U.S. settlers," proclaims the Lunar Embassy website, “it was possible to stake a claim for land and register it with the U.S. government office of claim registries." Hope, better known as the “head cheese," says his confidential list of lunar buyers includes celebrities, companies buying gifts for clients, investors, professionals, space hobbyists, and NASA employees.

One acre of moon property from Lunar Embassy is $24.99. Five acres will run you $124.95.For those needing more “space," Lunar Embassy has properties on Mars, Mercury, and Venus.

But Hope isn't the only one claiming title to the moon and selling parcels to would-be moonies. Lunarland.com has a standard package that includes one acre for $29.95. For another $10, they will put your name on the deed. A 20-acre purchase for $249.99 adds a framed map marking the exact location of the moon site by lunar quadrant, lunar lot number, and lunar latitude and longitude. But, wait; there's more. The package includes a 12-milligram (0.000423 ounce) piece of moon rock. The lunarland.com website shows the current locations already sold. Of course, it's of the lighted side of the moon only.

In February, SpaceX announced it will fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon in 2018. In a news release, the company said the passengers have made a “significant deposit" for the cost of the mission. Whether they own moon property or are “just looking" was not revealed.

Buyers of moon properties don't have to worry that they are being ripped off by being stuck with swampland. There is plenty of beach there, just no water.

Who really owns the moon? Geneva, Ohio, residents say they do. They claimed the moon as their own back in 1966. Thirty-five Geneva residents signed the “Declaration of Lunar Ownership" 50 years ago and unveiled it to the world at the high school auditorium. The city also claimed the right to rent or lease its moon holdings should two-thirds of the population approve. They were considering the sale of 100 deeds for 100 acres for $100 per acre.

Meanwhile, in an effort to bring the planetary land rush down to earth, Virgiliu Popa, Romanian space lawyer, notes that claims on celestial bodies have been going on for a long time. He writes that behind all the fun people have with moon “ownership," there's a serious element to the debate.

NASA and private companies are poised to play major roles in space colonization. Russia and China also have landed rovers on the moon. China plans to reach Mars by 2020 and eventually build a moon base. The European Space Agency says the peaceful exploration of space requires international collaboration.

Members of the International Institute of Space Law, the International Astronautical Federation, and others see the need for serious discussions on extraterrestrial property rights.

Once the colonization of the moon and planets begins, this will no longer be a laughing matter. Should oil be discovered on lunar land, you can bet more Texans will be donning space suits to walk in the steps of Alan Bean of Wheeler, Texas, and the fourth person to set foot on the ​moon.


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