Making a run for the borderMaking a run for the borderBryan PopePope
El Paso skyline

Mexico is Texas' largest trading partner, so it stands to reason that this relationship would have a significant impact on the border region's economy, not to mention the state's. It also stands to reason that we would create a report tracking that region's economic activity.

With our new Texas Border Economy​ report, we have. The report, which will focus on El Paso, Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville, will be issued monthly.​

"The border area is one of Texas' major economic regions," said Dr. Luis Torres, a research economist here at the Real Estate Center and one of the authors of the report, "so it's important to know what's happening there. We're the number one exporting state in the country, and a lot of goods and services cross through all these border cities."

Texas Border Economy monitors many of the factors that influence this region's economy, including housing, employment, wages, the peso-per-dollar exchange rate, and, of course, trade.

Center Research Assistant Wes Miller, another of the report's authors, said he noticed two distinctive things about the border region as he was doing research for this publication. One was its reliance on the federal government in terms of jobs and the education system. The other was its reliance on the Mexican economy.

"If the Mexican economy is doing well, then the border communities traditionally do well," Miller said.

Texas Border Economy is available free on our website. Once you're done reading it, you might also check out Torres' other report about Texas trade, 'Texas' Stake in International Trade Through its Exports and Some Foreign Direct Investment​.'
The taxman goethThe taxman goethBryan PopePope
2017-05-18T05:00:00ZCenter News
​​Jerrold Stern then and now

​Today is the Real Estate Center's 46th birthday. While we've had fun celebrating the occasion, there's also been some sadness at hearing that one of our longtime associates is retiring from his role with us.

Dr. Jerrold Stern began writing for the Center as a doctoral student in 1978, only seven years after legislation creating the Center was signed into law.

"I remember when I was hired by the, then, Texas Real Estate Research Center as a doctoral student," Stern recalled in an email to the Center staff. "I interviewed with the TRERC’s first director, Dr. Pat Wooten. He asked me, 'Do you think you can write so people can understand it?' I responded, 'I think I can, sir.'  He then hired me. Who knew that day would lead to a nearly 40-year career with the Center?"

Since then, Stern has written 94 articles and reports for us, most of them covering real estate tax issues. If you read Tierra Grande regularly, chances are you're familiar with his work. If you're not, visit our online research library and search under his name.

Despite his longevity with the Center, many of us "newbies" here have never meet Dr. Stern in person. He spent much of his career as an accounting professor in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

"I have greatly enjoyed my association with the Center from my doctoral student days during the late 1970s through now," Stern said. "I have treasured the opportunity the write for the Center. It’s truly been an honor to be associated with the top organization of its kind in the U.S. I will most certainly miss my Center friends and colleagues, many of whom I have known and with whom I have worked for literally decades."

Dr. Stern, we thank you for years of service and friendship, and for taking complicated tax laws and explaining them so clearly that even my third-grader could probably understand them. Your contributions to Tierra Grande will be missed. We wish you the very best in your retirement.
Good, bad home renovationsGood, bad home renovationsDavid JonesJones, D.

​​​​Renovated home

Not all renovations are equal. Before you start knocking down walls, the experts offer some words of advice. They say the two most important words to remember are: resale value.

Basically, remodeling projects are either ones that pay off when you sell the house and ones that don't. For simplicity, let's just call them renovation winners and losers.


Luxury rooms. Unless you live in an upscale market, you won't recoup an investment in an indoor basketball court, wine cellar, sauna, or movie theater when you sell, reports RISMedia's Housecall. Remember that today's technology is tomorrow's eight-track player.

Swimming pool. With an average cost of nearly $40,000, pools are an expense seldom recovered when the home is sold. Many think a pool limits resale value. Some buyers just don't want to do the maintenance. A guy I know builds pools for a living; when looking for another home, however, he would not consider any with pools. I've always thought that having a friend or neighbor with a pool is the better way to go.

Gaudy accents. Gold-plated molding or mosaic-tile backsplashes might be your dream, but they may not be in vogue when it's time to sell. I recently heard about a home on the market that's decorated entirely in a clown motif. That could be a tough sell unless the buyer's a real Bozo.

Trends counter to local standards. Improvements that price your home out of the norm for those in the neighborhood may net you far less than you put in. Having the most expensive home on the block makes it hard for a real estate agent to find comparables when pricing the home to sell.

My wife is a real estate agent. She says a common losing remodel involves converting the garage to some other use. Just this week a homeowner wondered why her home with a garage-turned-game room wasn't selling when properties in the neighborhood were on the market less than a week.


Steel doors. The front door is a good place to invest, says RISMedia. Steel doors cost about $1,000 but offer many advantages. The National Association of Realtors reports steel-door upgrades bring the highest return on investment of any home remodel.

Solar panels. The average rooftop solar system pays off in seven and a half years. From then on, they are money in the bank. One study shows buyers willing to pay more for properties with solar panels. For more information on the value of residential solar, read Dr. Harold Hunt's article “Here Comes the Sun."

New siding. Talk about curb appeal. Your home's exterior makes the first impression. According to Remodeling Magazine, new siding recoups 92.8 percent of its cost.

New roof and windows. Replacing roofs and windows are also high on the list of winning improvements, returning 80 percent or more at resale. If the roof leaks, nothing else matters. Buyers will move on to another property.

​Broadband access. Homebuyers want to be connected. Faster internet speeds increase your home value as much as 3 percent.

Other items. In “Which home improvements pay off?" HGTV.com notes that other improvements pay off, too. Kitchen and bathroom remodels continue to be two of the best investments you can make in your house. Renovations that are not apparent (such as improved insulation) may pay dividends for the current homeowner, but they don't add to the curb appeal for the tire-kickers.

If you are going to repaint, consider your color choice carefully if you have resale in mind. Neutral color schemes are the safe bet.

Should you replace that old carpet? It's hard to predict what a new buyer wants. Maybe you should clean the old carpet and give an allowance for a new floor when setting the price. A couple I know thought replacing their carpet would help their home sell. The first thing the buyer did was rip out the new carpet and put down wood.

Want to know what homebuyers want? Take a tour of new homes in your area. The things home builders are splurging on is a good indicator of what buyers of existing homes want, too.​​

What's your H2O IQ?What's your H2O IQ?Bryan PopePope
2017-05-04T05:00:00ZInfrastructure & Transportation

Rio Grande 

​Soil & Water Stewardship Week is currently underway.​​​ This year's theme is "No Land, No Water," so now seems an appropriate time for a pop quiz on Texas water knowledge.

  1. About how much water do Texans use annually?
  2. What percentage of that is groundwater?
  3. Groundwater comes from how many Texas aquifers?
  4. Which aquifer provides most of the groundwater used by Texans?
  5. What percentage of groundwater is used for crop irrigation?

Let's see how you did.

According to Texas A&M University's Texas Water FAQ​, Texans use about 16.5 million acre-feet of water per year (one acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons of water). Sixty percent of that is groundwater. Groundwater comes from 32 Texas aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer beneath the High Plains of West Texas yields about two-thirds of all the groundwater we use in Texas. Generally speaking, about 80 percent of all groundwater used in Texas is for watering crops.

​So, Texans use a lot of water, and with waves of newcomers moving here each year, water is going to become an even more precious resource. In fact, the Texas Water Development Board projects that by the 2040s cities and industries will surpass agriculture in water usage.

This makes conserving water all the more critical. To that end, here are some water conservation tips​, also courtesy of Texas A&M's Texas Water website:

  • Conduct a household water audit to assess how efficiently you're using water and identify ways to improve. Some water utilities offer free water audits or water audit kits to their customers.
  • Check toilets, faucets, and shower heads for leaks.
  • If you have a lawn irrigation system, do certain areas of your yard stay damp an unusually long time? That could mean you have a leaking valve, pipe, or sprinkler head. Check those as well.
  • Speaking of irrigation system, adjust the settings to meet plant water needs without overwatering them.
  • Has your sprinkler system ever continued running during a downpour? Consider investing in a rain shut-off sensor. They're inexpensive. 
  • Here's a tip your entire family can use: Turn the water off when brushing teeth.

For more on the state's water challenges and water-management efforts, read "Water Planning and Groundwater Management," "Marketing Texas Groundwater," "Just Add Water," and "Big Gulp: Quenching Texans' Thirst for Water​." You can download them free from our website.

If a photo is worth a thousand words . . . If a photo is worth a thousand words . . . David JonesJones, D.

​​​cowboy boots

If a photo is indeed worth a thousand words, then this post offers up 22,000 words of fine reading — 23,000 if you include the video.

It's a visual roundup of last week's 27th Annual Outlook for Texas Land Markets conference held in San Antonio. The Real Estate Center corralled​ some 450 attorneys, lenders, land buyers and sellers, appraisers, real estate agents, and others to hear all about economics — rural and otherwise.

The photos were shot by our staff photographers JP Beato III and Alden DeMoss.​ See the whole herd at http://txrec.io/2q6Eo7k​.

Two cars in every garage, six chickens in every yard?Two cars in every garage, six chickens in every yard?Bryan PopePope
​​​​Chickens in yard​​​​
Last week, the State S​enate unanimously passed SB 1620​, which would allow residents in a subdivision to keep as many as six chickens in their backyards.

More than likely, you already knew about this. I first learned about it this weekend on my neighborhood's "friendly" Facebook page. Folks there were squawking with excitement over the prospect of having a daily supply of fresh eggs.​

Naturally, the bill led to more than a few puns from legislators. Lauren McGaughy with the Dallas Morning News​ captured a few of the best (worst?).

​​​"I truly feel this is an egg-ceptional piece of legislation," said Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood. "How did you hatch this idea? I would like to peck at it a little bit. Did you egg-nore any stakeholder?"

"This applies to a half a dozen chickens," said Sen. Royce West of Dallas. "Is that with or without fries?"

The Houston Chronicle, for its part, posted video of Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston going all Foghorn Leghorn​ during a discussion about the bill.

The bill, which can be viewed here​, does include a few restrictions, of course. In addition to limiting the number of chickens a resident can keep, it calls for a prohibition on breeding poultry and keeping roosters. It also calls for a minimum distance between a chicken coop and a residential structure.

Of course, as of this writing the bill is still with the House, so let's not go counting . . . well, you know the rest.
Clover there! Clover there!Clover there! Clover there!Bryan PopePope
The early onset of spring was brought to my attention this year not by the fields of bluebonnets and ​Indian paintbrush, nor by the unseasonably warm temperatures that settled in by mid-February.

No, this year it was thanks to my buddy's tirade against clover, which for several weeks now has been assaulting his yard. Over the years, this fight has escalated into all-out war involving vigorous and regular applications of weed-and-feed that has damaged his grass.

Ever the pacifist, I attempted to point out some of clover's more positive attributes. For example, from an aesthetic standpoint, there's​ its lovely, dark green color and velvety feel (take off your shoes and revel in its coolness). From an environmental standpoint, it's great for bees (on second thought, better leave your shoes on). And surely you've tasted delicous clover honey.

My friend wasn't buying it.

Okay, then let's be practical about it. It's good ground cover that's easy to maintain.

Nope, still not buying it.

Fine. Then, as in any war, the b​est way to defeat one's enemy is to understand one's enemy.

​​​​To that end, an article​ on Todayshomeowner.com digs into the science behind what makes clover flourish and what you can do about it. Here's what they said:
  • Poor soil. Do a soil test to determine levels of nitrogen and other nutrients (editor's note: click here to find out how ​Texas A&M AgriLife Extension can help). Improve your soil quality by aerating and top-dressing with good-quality compost mix. You may need to repeat this for a few years until the soil is in better shape. Be sure to test different areas of soil, since the clover patch may be different from the rest of the yard.
  • Low nutrients. Feed your lawn with an organic slow-release fertilizer that will improve your soil as it breaks down. Chemical fertilizers quickly leach away and eventually make the problem worse.
  • Over irrigation. Water leaches nitrogen away, so heavy rains, overwatering, and overlapping sprinkler patterns can create inviting spots for clover.
  • Cool temperatures. If spring weather has been cool, soil microbes might not be active enough to mo​ve available nitrogen into your lawn grass, giving clover a head start in the growing season.​​​​​
If, like my friend, you feel that ​chemical warfare is your only path to victory, here's what the Texas Agrilife Extension Service says:

"The best thing to get rid of clover in St. Augustine is a 'clover killer' such as Ortho Weed and Clover Killer or any contact herbicide, which has label instructions for use on St. Augustine grass. If label instructions are followed, the herbicide cannot and will not kill the turf.

"Remember that clover is a reseeding winter annual and will not and cannot reseed and compete in a healthy, thick turf. Granted, if clover is allowed to grow and cover a turf area it can shade-out the desired grass. Clover can also damage and delay bermuda grass green-up in the spring if allowed to cover.

"If you are worried about herbicide damage to the area, regular mowing will remove the clover and avoid the damaging competition. Mow often enough to avoid clover seed formation, especially in the spring.​​​​"
Feeling crabby? A bigger home may helpFeeling crabby? A bigger home may helpDavid JonesJones, D.


In the animal kingdom, humans are not the only species with the urge to find a bigger home. One of my favorite videos is the BBC production "Amazing Crabs Shell Exchange." It's had more than 1.5 million views.

Part of the video's attraction is its relevance to real estate. That is, the smallest household (a little hermit crab) has outgrown its current abode and needs something larger. Unfortunately, there's nothing on the market (a beachfront lot). So, the little crab waits for something to come along.

Meanwhile, larger crabs are also feeling the housing pinch (pun intended). When a new shell washes ashore, it sets off a scene reminiscent of California's housing boom that produced wild scrambles for a listing. H​ermit crabs line up from largest to smallest awaiting the big homeowner to make its move.

When at last the biggest crab on the block moves into a new home, the vacated shell is quickly claimed by the next largest hermit crab. That one is then claimed by the next in line, and so on until everyone has new digs.

As sometimes happens in real estate with multiple bidders, not everyone lives happily ever after. In the BBC video, the original little hermit crab is shoved aside at the last minute by a neighborhood tough bully who grabs the shell just as the little crab is about to move in.

At this point, the small crab's original shell has already been "sold" to another household, and the smallest crab faces homelessness and death in the hot, tropical sun. Eventually, however, it does find another shell, although it's far from a dream home. Despite a big hole in the shell, the small crab moves in.

That is how real estate works, even if you are crabby.

Stay tuned for part two from BBC video: "Shell Game: Home Repairs Even a Crab Can Do."​


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