Statewide economic, population growth drove Texas real estate in 2014

texas flagTexas continued to be a national leader in economic, population and housing market growth in 2014, yielding significant growth in all areas of Texas real estate over the last year, according to the 2014 Texas Annual Housing Report released today by the Texas Association of Realtors.

“It’s a great time to live in Texas. The high demand for Texas real estate is not being fueled by speculation and investment activity – it’s driven by the thousands of people who move to the Lone Star State daily,” said Dan Hatfield, chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors. “People are moving to Texas from across America and around the world to take part in our state’s booming economy, business-friendly environment and quality of life.”

Texas currently gains more out-of-state residents than any other state and is a leader in home sales from international buyers. The 2014 Texas Relocation Report released in October showed that more than 584,000 people moved to Texas from out of state in 2013, whereas September’s 2014 Texas International Homebuyers Report showed that home purchases by international homebuyers reached its highest level in five years, contributing more than $11 billion to the Texas economy in a 12-month period.

The Lone Star State’s rapid economic, job and population growth had a positive impact on multiple segments of the Texas housing market over the last year. The 2014 Texas Homebuyers and Sellers Report released in March reported that Texans’ median household incomes rose significantly in 2013, increasing 9.6 percent year-over-year to $91,700. This is nearly double the nationwide increase of 5.6 percent to $83,000 during the same time frame.

“Virtually every segment of the Texas housing market has benefitted from our state’s continued growth,” adds Hatfield. “Over the last year, however, we saw several areas of Texas real estate that were still recovering from the recession in 2012 really begin to take off in 2013 and 2014, including luxury home sales and housing development.”

Luxury home sales surged to become one of the fastest growing price classes ($1 million or more) within the Texas housing market. January’s 2014 Texas Luxury Home Sales Report reported an average 35 percent year-over-year increase for luxury home sales in Texas’ four major metros in 2013. Small land sales in Texas – many of which were used for ranchettes, vacation homes and recreational uses – were also strong, with 4,189 small land sales statewide in 2013, according to April’s 2014 Texas Small Land Sales Report.

Housing development picked up significantly over the last year, with new home sales in Texas outpacing those nationally by more than half according to the 2014 Texas Homebuyers and Sellers Report released in March. While the 2014-Q1 through 2014-Q3 Texas Quarterly Housing Reports continue to show statewide inventory levels that are approximately three months below the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University’s balanced housing market level of 6.5 months, Texas homes sales in 2014 have kept pace with last year’s strong levels, putting 2014 on-pace to surpass 2013 as the second-best year in Texas real estate.

In addition, low inventory levels also drove Texas condominium and townhome sales to be the fastest-growing segment of the housing market, increasing an average 10.5 percent in Texas’ four major metros in the first half of 2014. As reported by the 2014 Texas Condominium Mid-Year Sales Report, condominiums were also a popular choice due to rising home prices statewide, which steadily increased between five and 10 percent during the year.

Despite this rapid market growth, tough lending standards and a competitive homebuying market caused some Texas homeowners to remodel their current homes instead of entering the market. The 2014 Texas Remodel Valuation Report showed that remodeling projects became increasingly more popular and profitable over the last year, with smaller, functional projects that boosted a home’s curb appeal yielding the most recoup costs statewide.

Hatfield concluded, “The Texas housing market will likely continue to be highly competitive in 2015, but rising housing development and inventory levels as well as greater access to homebuyer education programs like those promoted through Get Ready Texas will help make the dream of homeownership attainable for all Texans. This has been a glowing year for Texas real estate, and 2015 is on-pace to be just as bright.”


15 Perfect Ways To Have A Very Merry Christmas In Austin


It’s December and we know what’s on your mind. Starting now until December 25th, you’ll be thinking about what to gift your loved ones, how to stay positive if the season brings bittersweet memories, and where to find the best holiday eats and drinks. Here in Texas’ Capitol city, there are more than a million ways to make the holidays special — but these 15 activities are Christmas in Austin’s best and brightest do’s:

15) Show off your ice skating moves at Whole Foods Downtown

Whole Foods’ rooftop ice skating rink in 2013. Video: YouTube user Adrian Moseley.

You might not get to do much “real” outdoor ice skating in Austin, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any opportunities to lace up your skates and harness your inner Michelle Kwan. Chapparal Ice, for one, is a great year-round ice skating destination, and the temporary holiday setup at Omni Barton Creek Resort is quite impressive, to say the least — but without a doubt, the most “Austin” ice skating opportunity is found at Whole Foods’ flagship store on Lamar. Grab hot food or drinks on the lower level and then head on up to the rooftop plaza to enjoy holiday music and some good old-fashioned wintry fun with neighbors.

525 N Lamar Blvd. 512-476-1206. Tickets $10. Open daily through January 11, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Website.

14) Buy locally-made treasures at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

The 2011 Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Video: YouTube User Brandon Fuller.

This December 16 through 24, head down to the Palmer Events Center on Barton Springs Road for the shopping extravaganza of your life: the 39th Annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Featuring more than 160 fine art and artisan vendors, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar basically ensures that you’ll find epic (if not quirky) Christmas presents for friends and family members — and all while savoring cold beer and great food. Expect to hear a heck of a lot of live music too; this year’s Bazaar is hosting 28 native bands and musicians, including some pretty big names like Ruthie Foster, Ray Wylie Hubbard,Carolyn Wonderland, Shiny Ribs, and Mayeux and Broussard. Check the music schedule to see when your favorite band is up!

900 Barton Springs Rd. 512-447-1605. Day pass $7, kids 12 and under free. Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Website.

13) Lovingly decorate a cedar tree on Loop 360

Austinites usually start decorating the trees in mid-November. Video: YouTube user KXAN.

Let’s admit it: we Austinites get a little crazy with our holiday decorating. Take the 37th Street Christmas spectacle for example. Our 1.25-mile Trail of Lights in Zilker Park. Mozart’s 15-minute synchronized lights display. Well, for years, we’ve been channeling our powers of festivity into decorating the cedar trees that line the northwesterly section of Loop 360. If you haven’t ever participated, this is the year for you to discover your inner elf! Pack a box full of ornaments, garland, and an especially weird object or two and head out to Loop 360 to take part in this vibrant Austin tradition.

The catch: after New Years, come back and un-decorate or someone else will have to!

12) Ooh and ahh over the biggest Christmas tree in town

zilker holiday christmas tree seasons greetings lights tallest capitol domain

Speaking of Christmas trees… standing beneath the 155-foot Zilker Holiday Tree and spinning around while looking up is a sacred Austin tradition that you shouldn’t skip this season. The massive tree is a whopping 380 feet wide, so plenty of folks can perform their annual spins at once, with plenty of room to fall down in the dizzying aftermath. As you pay your yearly dues, keep in mind that the Zilker Holiday Tree is the biggest Christmas tree in Austin. Now that’s a sight worth seeing.

2100 Barton Springs Rd. 512-970-8891. Mon-Thurs free, Fri-Sat $3 per person. Open daily Dec 7-21, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Website.

11) Drink your weight in hot cocoa

hot chocolate cocoa holy cacao mozart's coffee roasters halcyon caffe medici

Apple cider and eggnog are entirely different, but they do have two things in common. First, they’re both Christmastime beverages, bringing on the holiday cheer with every sip. And second, both of them pale in comparison to hot chocolate in terms of glorious deliciousness. Admittedly, that last statement is biased. But seriously, you can find some killer hot cocoa in Austin and December is the perfect time to guzzle gallons of it!

10) Have the Mozart’s Coffee Roasters holiday experience

Mozart’s 2013 Holiday Light Show. Video: YouTube user Josh Drewien.

If you’ve been in Austin for any period of time, you know that Mozart’s Coffee Roasters has quite the holiday reputation. Every year, the coffee shop and bakery rigs their Lake Austin Blvd storefront with over 150,000 Christmas lights set to popular tunes, including the Texas Fight Song and the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s infamous “Wizards in Winter.” The show, which runs every hour beginning at 6 p.m. until closing time, is even better when coupled with Mozart’s delicious hot chocolate and coffees. Seriously, don’t miss this.

3826 Lake Austin Blvd. 512-477-2900. Free. Light show runs 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. most nights through January 1. Website.

9) Walk through the Austin Trail of Lights

The 2013 Austin Trail of Lights. Video: YouTube user Austin TrailofLights.

Forget walking: you’ll want to skip through this amazing lights display. With over 1.25 miles of Christmas lights, festive sculpture arrangements, live music, 30+ food trailers, photo opportunities with Santa, and one gigantic Christmas tree, the Austin Trail of Lights is an absolute must-have holiday experience. Generally attracting more than 425,000 people (which is more than ACL, F1, and SXSW draw individually) over its 15 nights of operation, the Trail has been a community fixture since 1965. This year marks the event’s 50th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a big one.

2100 Barton Springs Rd. 512-970-8891. Mon-Thurs free, Fri-Sat $3 per person. Open daily Dec 7-21, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Website.

8) Buy a real Christmas tree from a local farm

christmas tree cedar farm

Instead of setting up an artificial tree this year, try this: load the family into the van, drive out to an actual Christmas tree farm, and select a real tree to adorn your home this holiday season. As long as no one in your home has a cedar allergy, decorating your living room with a real tree can be quite the fulfilling adventure. There are five local farms within reasonable driving distance of Austin. Elgin CHRISTmas Tree Farm, located just 30 minutes east, has been providing Austinites with beautiful trees since 1984, and The Texas Christmas Trees Growers Association has four other awesome farms in the greater Austin area: Bill’s Trees in Georgetown, Coupland Christmas Tree Farm in Hutto, and Evergreen Farms Christmas Trees and Circle B in Elgin.

Just remember: when you’re ready to take your tree down, don’t just throw it away. Be a good little greenie and recycle.

7) Carol down Congress Avenue

The 2013 Holiday Sing-Along and Downtown Stroll. Video: YouTube user Renee Moreno.

At 6 p.m. on December 6, festive Austinites will gather in front of the Texas Capitol Building to participate in yet another beloved city tradition: Austin’s annual Holiday Sing-Along and Downtown Stroll. The event, which is coordinated and run by the Downtown Austin Alliance, KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9, begins with Christmas caroling at 6 p.m., followed by the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree, photos with Santa, live music from ASPVA and Invincible Czars (9th & Congress, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.), extended hours and fun activities at many downtown businesses, a farmers market, and lots more. You’ll even have the opportunity to donate canned goods to families in need. Now don’t that just beat all?

1100 Congress Ave. 512-469-0476. Free. Event starts at 6 p.m. Website.

6) Be Santa for a kid who’s got it rough

operation blue santa christmas holiday austin police department

Your Christmas in Austin would be grossly incomplete without gift-giving. Through the Austin Police Department’s Operation Blue Santa campaign, you can give gifts to folks who really need them: kids who may not get presents otherwise. With help from the Austin Fire Department, Austin Energy, Austin Water Utilities, the Texas National Guard, and a ton of other local businesses, organizations, and individual Austinites, APD provides roughly 5,000 families in the greater Austin area with full Christmas meals and presents for every little one. To make a difference through Operation Blue Santa, you can drop off unwrapped toys at any of these locations or adopt a family by filling out an online sponsorship application. The deadline is December 17!

4101 S. Industrial Dr, Suite 260. 512-974-2583. Website.

5) Infuse your holiday with weird on 37th Street

The 37th Street Christmas lights look different every year. Video: YouTube user Yogaduke.

There’s really nothing else like 37th Street’s annual Christmas spectacle. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

4) Appreciate a holiday classic: The Nutcracker

Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker has been running for 52 years! Video: Vimeo user Ballet Austin.

For a perfect holiday in Austin, we recommend not only experiencing your fair share of caroling, hot cocoa, and lights displays, but also watching classic theatrical performances like The Nutcracker. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, then you’re in luck. Thanks to Ballet Austin and The Long Center, we have an epic rendition of the timeless show right here in Austin — and in its 52nd year, no less! Find out more about The Nutcracker here.

701 W. Riverside Dr. 512-457-5100. Dec 6-23 — show dates and times vary. Tickets start at $15. Buy Tickets. Website.

3) De-Scroogeify yourself at A Christmas Carol

A dress rehearsal in late November. Video: YouTube user ZACHTheatre.

Another feel-good holiday classic that made it onto our must-see list is A Christmas Carol, a brand new musical based on that Dickens story about crotchety old Ebeneezer Scrooge that we all know so well. But this isn’t your ordinary musical — the show’s director, Dave Steakley, has actually managed to infuse the musical with reinvented rock songs in the spirit of Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge. If that isn’t totally and utterly magical, then we don’t know what is. Find out more about A Christmas Carol here.

1510 Toomey Rd. 512-476-0541. Nov 26 – Dec 28 — show dates and times vary. Buy Tickets. Website.

2) Pelt your friends with snowballs at Hill Country Galleria

snow snowball fight hill country galleria mall outdoor shopping fake faux snow real

It may not snow for real this season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t challenge your posse to an epic snowball fight or build a hipster snowman. Every December weekend before Christmas, Hill Country Galleria hosts a snow day for the whole city. That’s right — they actually haul in truckloads of REAL snow and pile it in the street between the mall’s Amphitheater and the Bee Cave Public Library for all to enjoy. How can your Christmas in Austin be perfect without a snow day?

12700 Hill Country Blvd. 512-263-0001. Free. Open Dec 6, Dec 14, and Dec 20 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Website.

1) Ride a train to the North Pole and back

Take a ride on the North Pole Flyer! Video: YouTube user TourTexasVideo.

Bet you didn’t know that you can take a train to the North Pole from Austin! It’s true — from now until December 21, the Austin Steam Train Association’s transforms its vintage train into “The North Pole Flyer.” For $42-47, you can ride the train to Bertram and back with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, enjoying delicious Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, listening to the Christmas Story, and spending quality time with loved ones along the way. It’s not exactly the North Pole, but this train is so festive it might as well be a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer!

401 E Whitestone Blvd, Ste C-100 (Cedar Park). 512-477-8468. Tickets $42-47 — sold out online, call for availability. Website.

From live performances to charity and real Christmas trees to fake snow, every one of these fifteen seasonal activities is guaranteed to grant you a wonderful Christmas in Austin. Here’s to happy holidays for you and yours, and a nifty New Years too!

Buyers Are Paying More for New Homes

home for saleRising prices may be putting new homes out of reach of more buyers. The median price of a new home sold in the United States climbed 15 percent from a year earlier. The median new-home price is now $305,000, which is the highest level on record, according to the Commerce Department.

Historically low interest rates, near 4 percent, and an improving labor market have helped to increase new-home sales, but sales were up only 1 percent in the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period in 2013. What’s more, October’s annual sales pace is only about half the average annual level of sales from 1996 through 2006.

“I think we saw a little price resistance from the consumer,” says John Johnson, David Weekley Homes’ chief executive. “There are a bunch of people who are waiting until they feel more confident about the future.”

Builders are selling fewer, more expensive homes, and those higher-end homes are making it more profitable for them, analysts say.

Meanwhile, as home appreciation has slowed, sales of more affordable existing-homes are increasing in recent months. Pending home sales are up 2.2 percent in October compared to a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $208,300, nearly $100,000 less than the median price for a new home.

“The increase in median prices for existing homes has leveled off, representing a healthier pace that has kept affordability in check for buyers in many parts of the country while giving more previously stuck home owners with little or no equity the ability to sell,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a recent statement about pending home sales.

Source: “New-Home Prices Surge Despite Lackluster Demand,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 1, 2014) and “Soft New-Home Sales Weigh on Recovery,” The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 27, 2014)

Thanksgiving Weekend Top Events in Austin, TX

Thanksgiving Weekend Top Events in Austin, TX

turkey trtTHURSDAY

The Best Bath Ideas That You Will Love & Are Cost Effective From Houselogic

If you’re looking for style, sanctuary, and long-term value, you can’t go wrong with these bathroom must-haves.


All those pretty photos on all those pretty home design websites are fun to click through — and maddening when it comes time to make bathroom remodeling decisions. Too many choices.

We’ve got your back: We distilled all the visual noise down to the essence of what makes a bathroom remodel truly great.

With the annual “Cost vs. Value Report” from “Remodeling” magazine pegging the average bathroom remodel at just over $16,000, you’ll want to make sure you get maximum comfort, convenience, enjoyment — and resale juice when the time comes to sell.

Here’s the definitive list of practical (and hedonistic) features.

1.  Heated Ceramic Tile Flooring

Bathroom ideas tile flooringImage: Backseat Boone

Enduring, waterproof, and good-looking, ceramic tile bathroom flooring is the classic, never-out-of-style surface material for any bathroom. Plus, consumers (read: future buyers) love it: In a survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), 83% of respondents said ceramic tile was their No. 1 choice for bathroom flooring.

With prices ranging from a mere $1 per square foot to $20 and more, you’ll find a huge array of choices, styles, and colors that’ll work with any budget.

But ceramic tile can chill your tootsies. Pair your ceramic with thin electric radiant mats that go under the tile without raising the floor level — ideal for retrofit installations.

A typical system uses about the same amount of electricity as three 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. Plus, radiant heat is often more efficient than forced-air heating because it eliminates heat loss through the ducts, says the U.S. Department of Energy. It also distributes heat uniformly across the floor, taking less time to warm a room than other types of heat.

At $5 to $15 per square foot to install, radiant mats are as easy on the budget as they are on the sole.

Nice-to-have ceramic tile accompaniments:

No-slip ceramic tile. With its finely textured surface, it’s great for traction, making it an exceptionally safe bathroom flooring for young kids or folks with limited mobility.

Look for one of two ratings on the packaging.

1.  A COF (coefficient of friction) standard of .60 or greater means the tile is rated as non-slip when wet by the Ceramic Tile Institute.

2.  The DCOF (dynamic coefficient of friction) AcuTest measurement, the new gold standard now coming on the market, requires a value of .42 or above for non-slip tile.

Tip: No-slip tile’s texture can trap dirt, and that requires extra elbow grease to clean.

Epoxy grout. New formulas resist staining and discoloration over time better than traditional ones. They’re also more flexible than regular grout and less prone to cracking, making them ideal for flooring installations.

The key to grouting success is the installer. Make sure your contractor is familiar with epoxy grouts, which require finesse to shape and handle. You’ll pay an extra $50 to $100 to cover a 6-foot-by-12-foot bathroom floor with epoxy, according to the Tile Council of North America.

Programmable radiant heat thermostat. Want to treat yourself extra nice? Greet the day with a sigh of relief when you add a wall-mounted programmable thermostat (about $60 to $200) that’ll start warming up your floors whenever you want. How about a half an hour before your alarm goes off?

2.  Curbless Walk-in Shower

Bathroom idea cureless walk-in showerImage: Molly McGinness

More than 60% of respondents to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects said walk-in, curbless showers are increasing in popularity. For good reason: They’re stylish, safe for folks of all ages, and oh so easy to clean.

They dovetail nicely with ceramic tile floors, too. You can have one continuous surface that moves seamlessly from shower to the main bath area.

Plus, they’re all about marketability. As the population ages, a contemporary walk-in is a selling point.

Be sure to hire a remodeling contractor with experience. Making a curbless shower takes know-how — the shower floor has to slope to the drain hole, which means the new drain will be located below the surface of the existing floor.

To make that work, you’ll have to remove old flooring and subflooring and alter the framing underneath the floor. It’s a good idea to consult with your local building authorities beforehand so that the work will be up to code and pass inspection.

Related: Dump Your Tub for a Dreamy Shower

3.  Quartz Countertop

Bathroom ideas quartz countertopImage: Joe Coulson courtesy of Atlanta Kitchen

We love natural stone, but in this battleground of soaps, lotions, pastes, and poultices, we prefer the impervious beauty of synthetic, low-VOC quartz.

“Consumer Reports” testing gives the edge to quartz over granite, citing quartz’s ability to resist stains and abrasions. It’ll look good year after year. Plus, the surface is so impervious bacteria can’t lodge in it.

Quartz countertop material is a synthetic composite made up of about 90% quartz particles held together with binders. It’s virtually maintenance-free —  it never needs to be sealed — and comes in dozens of styles and colors. If you’re stuck on the idea of stone, many quartz versions mimic the real thing.

Quartz runs $40 to $100 per square foot, installed (about the same as granite, although some varieties of granite get very pricey).

4.  One Big Sink Instead of Two Small Ones

Togetherness is a beautiful thing, but in the master bath, you’re church and your partner’s state. Establish your individuality without losing your bond with a large (38-inch or more) sink ($350 to $1,200). One big sink saves more counter space than two, and still lets you both wash up simultaneously.

Spec an undermount sink to go with your quartz countertop — undermounts have no protruding lip and help make cleanup a snap. The perfect companion to quartz countertops, undermount lavatory sinks are the preferred choice of 87% of respondents to a 2013 survey from the NKBA, and have been for several years.

Tip: Extra-large undermount sinks may need extra support. Check the sink specs and confer with your installer before you buy.

Related: Smart Ideas for Under-Sink Bathroom Storage

5.  Single-Hole, Motion-Activated Faucet

Ah, the savings. “Motion-activated, touchless faucets shut off automatically so you’re not running the water continually, like when you’re brushing your teeth, which saves a significant amount of water,”  says NKBA president John Petrie.

Besides that, we love the fact that sleek, single-hole touchless faucets are right in step with the calm, simple lines of transitional style. Transitional is a universally appealing, trend-defying design that’s cozy, elegant, and ensures a great return on your investment.

Finally, have you ever tried to clean around a two-handle vanity faucet with a narrow (4-inch) spread? Did you require therapy afterward? We heartily endorse the single-hole, lever-type faucet for your bathroom sink — and your sanity.

These tres-cool faucets run $200 to $650 and up. Some have temperature controls so you (or your kids) can’t get scalded.

For extra utility savings, look for faucets with the WaterSense label that use only 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) compared with the standard 2.2 gpm flow of regular faucets.

Related: High-Tech Kitchen Faucet: A Hip, Smart Retrofit

6.  Humidity-Controlled Exhaust Fan

What’s homebuyers’ No. 1-requested bathroom feature? An exhaust fan, says a report from the National Association of Home Builders. Wow — bath fans beat out linen closets and separate tubs and showers.

A fan or an operable window in a bathroom is required by building code. But who wants to open a window in winter to get rid of excess humidity? Get a fan with a humidity-sensing on/off switch. It’ll turn on when moisture levels are high and automatically shut off when things return to normal. That keeps mold at bay, ensures you’re not sucking out air-conditioned or heated indoor air, and prevents the fan from using power long after it needs to.

Tip: Make sure your contractor vents the fan to the outside, not the attic, or you might develop mold problems aloft.

Other fan options include multiple speeds, nightlights, and manual timers; you’ll pay up to $600 for a fan with all the goodies.

7.  High-Efficiency, Dual-Flush Toilet

Saving water is our future; a high-efficiency, dual-flush toilet reduces water usage and appeals to any buyer looking for a cost-effective home.

That’ll be an even more important selling point before too long. Several major U.S. cities — including Atlanta, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C. — could be out of water by mid-century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By law, today’s toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. California has even tighter restrictions: no more than 1.28 gallons per flush. A toilet that meets either standard of water conservancy may be certified by the EPA and carry the WaterSense label.

But we prefer to go one step further with a high-efficiency, dual-flush model toilet featuring a water-sipping, 1-gallon flush for liquid waste, and either a 1.6-gallon or 1.28-gallon flush for solid wastes.

All 25 toilets recently tested by “Consumer Reports” “removed liquid waste superbly,” including the dual-flush models. This is a change, says CR, from previous tests, when many dual-flush models performed well with solid wastes but underperformed with liquid wastes.

Tip: Bidets are standard features in Asia and Europe, but they’ve been slow to catch on in the U.S. (and there aren’t any WaterSense-labeled models). Nevertheless, some manufacturers are creating hybrid toilets and toilet seats ($650) that have bidet features, and we’re going on record as recommending them. They save lots of TP, and they appeal to our melting-pot homebuyer mix of races and cultures, a benefit when it comes time to sell.

Related: More Smart Ways to Save Water and $$

8.  Pocket or Sliding Barn Door

Bathroom ideas sliding barn doorImage: Porter Barn Wood

The floor area of a bathroom is precious. Why waste any with a swinging door that eats up some 14 square feet of space? A pocket door or barn door slides out of the way without requiring any clearance, leaving more room for storage and design flexibility.

Google Trends shows that interest in sliding barn doors hovered at a lukewarm rating of about 40 from 2004 through 2011, when interest upticked to 70 before reaching an all-time high of 100 just last year — the highest possible rating on the Google interest scale.

The sliding door phenomenon partners neatly with sustainability: old, salvaged doors of all kinds make showpiece barn doors for your bathroom.

So pocket or barn doors? Either can work well, depending on your budget.

Our editors had a lively debate about recommending pocket doors, which disappear into the wall. Some said the typical recessed door pull for pocket doors is awkward and can pinch fingers.

Modern tech to the rescue: You can find edge-mounted pocket door hardware with a handle that pops out at the touch of a button ($121). Or, add a door stop inside the wall framing to prevent the door from sliding all the way inside the wall. That way, you can safely use a recessed pull or add a traditional handle or knob to open and shut the door.

Tearing out drywall and reframing for a pocket door is $1,000 to $3,500, depending on the complexity of the job.

You can install a barn-style door, which hangs from a track above the doorway and slides in front of a wall., for less. It’s a good DIY project. Barn door kits cost $400 to $900, but if you’re handy, buy the hardware for $100 to $500 and make your own door, or find a used door at a salvage building supply store.

Related: Cool Improvements: Replacing Your Interior Doors

9.  Calm Colors

It’s always cool to be up on trends, but we say make your bathroom an exception. It’s your sanctuary — it should be soothing and filled with light.

That doesn’t mean it has to be boring. In fact, it’s a good idea to include a painted wall surface so you can dash color about on a whim and change it just as easily. Non-permanent items, such as artwork and antique mirrors, add beaucoup personality.

But permanent surfaces — ceramic tile and fixtures — need quiet, calm neutrals. White, beige, and gray are favorites. In fact, the NKBA says gray is the trendiest color for baths these days, so you win on two fronts, for now.

“A neutral color palette really is safe, especially in terms of resale value,” says NKBA’s Petrie. “You can always be expressive with colorful towels or curtains, things that are less expensive and easier to change than more permanent features.”

Plus, lighter colors help bounce light around, helping you see what a fantastic bathroom you’ve put together.

Read more:
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Are You Too Late to Get a Great Deal on a Home This Year?

home for saleDid you start off the year with plans to be in a new home by the end of summer? Think it’s too late now to find a great home and get settled by the holidays?

According to real estate expert Leigh Gillig, you need to stop worrying and start looking for your new home now. “Essentially, there is no time like the present,” Leigh said.

It’s All Coming Together

After 30 years helping people find new homes in all types of markets, Leigh knows what she’s talking about. “I always say, ‘You pay if you wait,’” she explained. “We know what today’s interest rate is. We know where home prices are. What we do not know is the future!”

So far this year, home prices have increased modestly while interest rates for those who plan to buy their home with a mortgage have remained low. So from a financing standpoint, now is a great time to buy a home.

The housing market generally cools down starting in September, so fewer people are shopping for homes and fewer homes are on the market. “The closer we get to the holidays, the lower the inventory will get,” Leigh said. Right now, your choice of homes is the best it will be for the rest of the year. That’s why it’s important to begin your search now, she explained.

There’s also some evidence that home prices take a dip in the fall and winter, but Leigh cautions against setting your sights on an outright steal. “You will not get 2010 prices in 2014,” she said. “People are not giving away their homes any more. Even a less desirable home that needs some work will be appropriately priced.”

What About a Newly Built Home?

If your goal is to buy a newly constructed home, Leigh has some tips for you to keep in mind. “Your best new construction buys are completed homes,” she said. “Once a builder finishes a home, their profit starts to dwindle.” The longer the home sits, the more interest, taxes, insurance and utility costs add up. The builder will be more willing to make a deal so he can still make money.

“Don’t try to wheel and deal on a home that’s not yet built,” Leigh advised. “A builder won’t bother building a home if he won’t make his regular mark-up.”

Get Your Home Search Started Today

All that boils down to a couple of important points for home shoppers to remember:

1. Market conditions are favorable—home prices are stable, interest rates are low, and you still have plenty of homes to choose from.

2. You may face some challenges finding your perfect home and negotiating a good deal with sellers or builders.

Courtesy of:

Austin is the 2nd best real estate market in the country.

austin at sunsetThat’s the assessment of the Urban Land Institute, which published its annual “Emerging Trends in Real Estate” report Wednesday.

The report is based on interviews with real estate investment experts around the world and is prepared in association with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Austin has had a strong showing the past four years, but the outlook for 2015 is the best ever, especially for a secondary market. For specific sectors, Austin is ranked No. 2 for investment, No. 4 for development and No. 1 for homebuilding.

Of particular note is the fact that Austin ranked No. 1 for office investment and development — which has to be good news to active office developers includingEndeavor Real Estate Group, Cousins Properties, HPI Real Estate Services and Investment, Stream Realty Partners, Karlin Real Estate Group, Ryan Cos. andBrandywine Realty Trust. All have major office projects under construction.

The market that beat out Austin in all sectors is neighboring Houston. Dallas/Fort Worth came in at No. 5 while San Antonio was way down the list at No. 23.

“Austin has been a favorite of survey respondents for a number of years,” the report states. “Survey respondents and interviewees like the industrial base, the appeal to the millennial generation and the lower cost of doing business in Austin.”

Supply concerns potentially could have a negative impact for investors of industrial, hospitality and multifamily properties, the report added.

Austin also earns kudos for the strong representation of investors and developers that are locally based.

“The availability of capital and an active local development community should guarantee a steady flow of investment opportunities in 2015,” the report concludes.

The one sector where Austin lags behind is in industrial product. Austin is not a distribution hub and likely won’t become one, given transportation infrastructure weaknesses and the fact that no major east-west interstate highways cross through the area.

By:   at Austin Business Journal