Three haunted Texas properties that'll make your spine tingleThree haunted Texas properties that'll make your spine tingleHayley RiederRieder
Public Facilities

​​​​​​​If there's one thing Texans love, it's a good ghost story. With Halloween creeping up on us, we thought we'd celebrate some of our favorite haunted Texas real estate.

The Grove is an 1861 home in Jefferson, a small East Texas town around 40 miles northeast of Longview. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Texas Registered Historic Landmark. At first glance, you may mistake the building for a cozy old home. But this private residence is home to more than just the living.

Some call the house one of the most haunted locations in the Lone Star State. The chilling ghost stories date back over a century. The first sign of paranormal activity was in 1882 after T.C. Burke purchased the home. He and his family moved out after only a month. 

Prominent specters in the home include a wandering lady in white and a man rushing through the garden as if late for an appointment. A rascally ghost in the den is particularly fond of the ladies.

In La Grange stands a beautiful Victorian Gothic building now home to the city's visitor center and chamber of commerce.

The former Fayette County jail in La Grange, Texas. 

The former Fayette County jail housed many infamous "guests" during its time, including two members of Bonnie and Clyde's gang. But it's rumored that some visitors never left. 

The most disturbing of the apparitions is the Widow Mary Dach. The mother of three was accused of killing a farmhand who helped her after her husband's death. Sentenced to death in 1933, Mary was to be the first woman sent to the electric chair, but she starved herself to death before the penalty could be given. The suicidal spirit is said to haunt the halls of the historic building.

Fortunately, not all Texas ghost stories are sinister.

The USS Lexington, a decommissioned aircraft carrier harbored in Corpus Christi as a floating museum, is home to a friendly ghost. Up to 200 visitors have reportedly seen this white-uniformed, blue-eyed young seaman.

"Charly" reportedly died on the ship after a Japanese Kamikaze attack off the coast of the Philippines on Halloween in 1944. But the sailor is no haunting figure. Reports claim the seaman is a "polite young man" who shares his knowledge of the ship with visitors.

It may be a coincidence, but the Lexington's nickname has long been "The Blue Ghost." The Japanese Navy reported sinking the aircraft carrier four times during World War II. Japanese sailors believed that the ship was able to return from the grave.

There are so many more Texas ghost stories, but we'll end it there. What's your favorite piece of haunted real estate? Let us know by tweeting to us @TexRec​ with the hashtag #HauntedTXRealty.  ​

Texas real estate licensees by the numbersTexas real estate licensees by the numbersBryan PopePope
2017-10-11T05:00:00ZCenter News

​​​Each month, the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) posts the number of real estate licenses held and real-estate-related complaints under investigation.

I find the number of licenses (just over 178,700 in August) interesting because our funding comes from fees paid by licensees. But TREC goes a step further and provides a breakdown of those numbers, which gives us deeper insight into the people we serve. Here's how last August's numbers broke down:

  • Real estate sales agents, 131,824
  • Real estate brokers (individual), 33,215
  • Real estate brokers (business entities), 10,204
  • Real estate inspectors (apprentices), 138
  • Real estate inspectors (licensed), 141
  • Real estate inspectors (professional), 2,992
  • Residential services companies (home warranties), 46
  • Registered time-share projects,155

The commission had just over 1,600 complaint cases open at the end of August 2017. They received 519 new complaints that month. They closed 542.

Year to date, the vast majority of complaints TREC has received (30 percent) have involved sales issues (e.g., negligence, rebate, referral, earnest money).

As of the end of August, 83 percent of complaint cases were open no more than six months. Thirteen percent were open six to 12 months, and only 4 percent were open a year or longer.

By the way, if you want to dig deeper into TREC's operations, the commission makes it easy to do. Click here​​ for a list of their monthly staff reports, strategic plans, financial reports, and much more.

Key to economic growth? More education, more trainingKey to economic growth? More education, more trainingBryan PopePope
Infrastructure & Transportation

Laser machinery picture 

​​The U.S. economy is growing at an average rate of 2 percent per year, down from its normal 3 percent.​​​​​ What will it take to get that rate back up?​​

The answer is complicated, but Center Research Economist Dr. Luis Torres told me one thing is clear: You can't just throw money at the problem.

"Monetary policy isn't enough. The Federal Reserve can't make a person more educated, and that's what we need," Luis said. "We have all of these structural issues — especially in the area of education and training — that are preventing our growth."

Luis had just returned from a national business economics meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, so this was fresh on his mind.

"Jobs have actually come back," he said. "Job openings are at a higher level than before the economic crisis. In this country, if you're highly trained and educated, you're probably going to have little trouble finding a job. But if you're low-skilled with little training, you're going to struggle."

By education, Luis said he's not referring only to college degrees.​ He said that while we do need, say, engineers, we also need welders and mechanics.

He said other structural problems include a drop in workers because of an aging population, tax policies that could use some adjusting, infrastructure needing improving (airports, roads, internet, etc.), and immigration policies that need to be reformed.

Luis talks about this in much more depth on this week's Real Estate Red Zone podcast. Click here​ to listen.​

Climbing the social (media) ladderClimbing the social (media) ladderHayley RiederRieder
2017-09-28T05:00:00ZCenter News
​​​Social media image
Over the past year, the Real Estate Center has overhauled its social media accounts, adopting new technologies and techniques to determine how we can best reach our constituents.

HootSuite, a social media managing platform, has helped us create and schedule posts on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages efficiently. More importantly, it's provided us with valuable data that has taught us more about the audience we serve: you.

One thing we learned is that not all social media platforms are the same, and users' habits vary by platform.

We found that women make up 57 percent of our Facebook followers, with most of them between 45 and 54 years old. Our fans are most active on Facebook between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and they prefer posts about RECON and the Red Zone podcast.

Meanwhile, our Twitter users prefer content posted between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Fridays. Fifty-three percent are male, and around 80 percent are homeowners. Links to third-party content ​and Center research are among the most popular, especially if the Tweet includes an infographic.

We joined Instagram in June 2016, making it our youngest social media account. Like Facebook, 57 percent of our followers are women, but they tend to be younger (25 to 44). We learned not to worry about the news on this platform, concentrating on beautiful images of Texas and our publications.

LinkedIn is our fastest-growing account, with the number of followers doubling in just a year. Those followers prefer to log in between 8 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They are most interested in housing statistics and research. Our approach to LinkedIn is nearly opposite of our Instagram strategy. Instead of worrying about images, we focus on information and data.

The Center is relatively new to the world of social media marketing, but we're growing faster than we ever imagined we would. Thank you to everyone who follows us and engages with our content.
Putting a life back together after Hurricane HarveyPutting a life back together after Hurricane HarveyBryan PopePope
Center News
​​About two weeks ago, I met a couple whose house in Cypress took in six inches of water in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. A cleanup crew I was with had carried a mountain of soured carpeting to the curb, along with a dozen or so pieces of furniture that were already beginning to warp from the water damage.​

It was as muggy inside the house as it was outside, and the air smelled faintly of mold and mildew. The neighborhood was well established with green lawns and lots of tall trees. Except for the growing piles of damp trash outside almost every house, it was a lovely neighborhood. 

The homeowners we were helping were obviously tired and frustrated (this was the third flood their house had survived, the second being only last year). The husband was undergoing cancer treatments, adding to their already high level of stress and fatigue. But they were safe, and so were their two grown children and three small dogs.

Having been through this recently, they knew to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) right away and get that process started. They'd already talked to a contractor about getting the walls dried out and repaired. It wouldn't be too long before their ruined furniture would be replaced.

All things considered, they felt lucky.

For many folks, though, this was their first first-hand experience with a natural disaster. They may not know how to file insurance claims or apply for disaster relief. They've probably heard of FEMA, but they may be unaware of the range of services that are provided at one of FEMA's disaster recovery centers. If they need basic legal advice about lost legal documents or if they need to report price-gouging, do they know there's a free hotline available through the State Bar of Texas?

There's a huge tangle of issues that one has to work through following a disaster of this magnitude. There are countless services out there that can help, but you have to know where to find them. The Real Estate Center has a new publication that can help. It's called the Hurricane Harvey Disaster Resources Guide, and you can download it from our website​.

Our staff research attorney, Rusty Adams, has compiled phone numbers and web addresses for dozens of organizations that can assist with housing, food, replacement of certain legal documents, crisis counseling, tax relief, and more. He also provides tips that may save you time and headaches when you go to file insurance claims.

Download our Hurricane Harvey Disaster Resources Guide today. It's free.
What's keeping nominal wages down?What's keeping nominal wages down?Luis TorresTorres
For the past year, the U.S. labor market has moved toward full employment. This hasn’t spurred rapid nominal wage growth (Figure 1). The reason is low inflation and dismal productivity growth.​
Nominal Wage Growth
Nominal wages are real wages plus inflation. Nominal wage is measured in dollars, while real wage is measured in purchasing power. Workers care about the real wage because it measures actual purchasing power of goods and services. Firms also care about the real wage because it captures the cost of hiring labor and is determined by productivity.

Why is measuring real wages important? Let's say that nominal wages and overall inflation both go up by 5 percent. That means there is no change in the amount of goods and services you can purchase. In other words, you’re no better or worse off. But if overall inflation would have risen by 7 percent, you would be worse off because you could purchase fewer goods and services. In other words, “inflation ate your raise.”

The phrase “inflation ate your raise” was common during the '70s when inflation was high and obstinate. That's why nominal wages rose at a higher rate during that time. Inflation has systematically trended down since then, accompanied by a decline in nominal wages (Figure 2). Don’t expect a big increase in nominal wages when inflation is currently below 2 percent.
Nominal and Real Wage Growth and Inflation
So how about real wages? Real wage growth peaked during the late '90s, boosted by the surge in productivity. It has since fallen as productivity has declined. Real wages are still increasing (meaning real purchasing power is increasing) but at a lower rate than in the '90s.

Going forward, if productivity does not increase at a higher rate, neither will real wages. This will cause nominal wages to grow basically at the current rate if inflation continues to be low.

Higher productivity means higher real wages, which translates into an increase in purchasing power.​​
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!Extra! Extra! Read all about it!Jim GainesGaines
​​Part of my job as the Real Estate Center's chief economist is to field questions from the media. I receive calls and emails almost daily from reporters with questions about real estate market conditions, especially those pertaining to the state's housing market.

Here is one such e-mail exchange I had earlier this month with a WalletHub reporter who had questions about economic indicators, foreign buyers, interest rates, and millennials.

Is now a good time to buy? What economic indicators should potential buyers be watching?

Yes, now is a relatively good time to buy given low interest rates (with expectations of rates rising in near term), some easing on credit terms and mortgage loan underwriting, and the fact that home prices are increasing fairly rapidly in most areas. The biggest negative to buying is lack of choice due to historically low supply of houses being offered for sale. It would appear that many would-be buyers are discouraged from the lack of available choices, which in turn makes them less likely to sell the house they currently own.

Are foreign buyers driving up the cost of U.S. real estate? Which cities are most affected?

Foreign buyers may affect some neighborhoods or a particular segment, but so far they haven’t had that large of an impact on overall markets. Foreign buyers appear to concentrate primarily on the major urban areas, so their relative impact gets “watered down” due to the overall size of the market. For the most part, foreign buyers tend to operate in the higher-priced market segments, so their impact within a narrow field could be important in the short run in a particular market segment.

How likely is it that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates in the coming months? How will this impact the housing market?

The Fed is most likely to make only one more rate increase this year, probably in December. So far, the Fed’s interest rate changes have had little impact on the housing market as the ten-year Treasury rate and the 30-year mortgage rate have actually fallen following a Fed funds rate increase. Going into 2018, I don’t think the Fed funds rate changes will have that much impact without more pronounced economic changes in the demand for credit.

Why are millennials still sitting out of the housing market? What can be done to increase homeownership rates for this cohort?

I think the millennials are starting to become more active in the homeownership market partially because they are another year older and moving further into the “normal” life cycle conditions that foster homeownership (i.e. they are getting married and having children).​​​ The millennials we’ve been talking about for the past five years are now approaching 38 or 39 years old.  The 20-somethings are still renters and, yes, there are a lot of them, but the future of the housing market for the next five years is going to be more and more dominated by the so-called millennials.

In evaluating the healthiest housing markets, what are the top five indicators?

Top five indicators (in no particular order): job growth, population growth, family income growth, new home construction, and home prices.

You can read the full WalletHub article here​.
(Don't) Curb your enthusiasm(Don't) Curb your enthusiasmBryan PopePope

Front exterior of house For many homeowners, a home's "curb appeal" is a source of pride. Certainly it is to me, although often the best I can usually hope for is to keep the lawn mowed, the dead plants removed from the flower bed, and the driveway reasonably well swept.

Sometimes, though, the situation calls for more. If, for example, you're planning to put your house on the market. Obviously you want your home to be as attractive as possible to potential buyers. On the other hand, you don't want to put too much cash behind the effort. So what do you do?

This being National Curb Appeal Month, I asked RECON subscribers who are in the business of selling houses to share their best tips for sprucing up a home's front exterior quickly and inexpensively. All of the respondents agreed that a fresh coat of paint on the door and shutters, along with fresh plants and mulch in the flower beds, is the best way to make a strong first impression.

For the homeowner who wants to put just a little more effort and money into it, DIYNetwork.com​ also suggests:

  • replacing your old mailbox, making sure you follow city regulations;
  • putting up new house numbers if your old ones are faded;
  • planting a tree, keeping in mind how big it will get and whether it will eventually encroach on your home;
  • installing exterior lighting that fits the style of your home and makes your entryway safer; and
  • adding flower boxes to your front windows, especially if your house lacks color.
​Need more ideas? Looking for inspiration? Chances are you've seen HGTV's program, 'Curb Appeal.' It's been around for years. Their website has galleries and videos to point you in the right direction.

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