2 U.S. Cities on the List for World’s Most Expensive Cities in 2021

Two U.S. Cities, New York (Ranked #6) and Los Angeles (Ranked #9), are on the list for the world’s most expensive cities in 2021 for the Worldwide Cost of Living Index. How do those two cities compare to Houston, Texas?

Overview

 Houston, TXNew York, NYLos Angeles, CA
 Population2,316,1208,253,2133,970,219
 Median Income$45,728$52,737$49,682
 Median Age32.635.734.6
 Avg. Home Price$220,000$654,300$883,400
 Unemployment Rate8.0%11.2%10.6%
 Avg. Commute Time2740.7830.93
Source: bestplaces.net as of 12/2/2021

Cost of Living

 Houston, TXNew York, NYLos Angeles, CA
 Overall96.5187.2173.3
 Food & Groceries98.1116.6104.1
 Health92.4112.689.4
 Housing80.2294.3298.2
 Utilities96.5150.593.7
  Transportation119.0181.1165.3
 Miscellaneous100.4121.2104.5
Source: bestplaces.net as of 12/2/2021
100 = National Average (Below 100 means cheaper than the US average. Above 100 means more expensive.)

December Home Maintenance Checklist

Use this December Home Maintenance Checklist to get your home ready for winter and to protect your family.

COMPLETE DEEP DUSTING

  • Change Air Filters
  • Make sure you dust. With the furnace on and a lot of activities indoors in the winter months dust from the summer and fall get stuck in small areas.
  • Wipe down light switches, dust your lamps, ceiling fans and give your baseboards a solid dusting.

CHECK ALL OUTDOOR LIGHTS

  • Clean Rain Gutters
  • Make sure all of your outdoor lights are working. It gets darker earlier and the weather conditions can be treacherous.
  • Make sure you can see your walkways clearly.
  • Check your outdoor garage lighting.
  • Consider installing outdoor solar lights with motion detector features.

CAULK SHOWER

  • Caulk your shower. Mold and grime get into the crevices and pose health dangers.
  • Check to make sure your showers and bathtubs are adequately caulked to prevent water damage.

CLEAN RANGEHOOD

  • The stove and oven are getting a lot of use during the holidays.
  • Your range hood funnels out fumes and odors out of your home. Not only is a dirty hood unsightly but it can be dangerous.

CAULK TOILETS TO THE FLOOR

  • Caulking your toilet to the floor minimized odors. It also keeps your toilet secure.

CHECK FLASHLIGHTS

  • Winter is known for power outages. Now is a good time to check all your flashlights and batteries. Make sure you have plenty of extra batteries on hand.
  • With nightfall arriving early in the Winter make sure you’re prepared for those extra hours of darkness. Keep a few extra flashlights on hand.

STORE WATER

  • Now is a great time to stock up on drinking water. Wintertime pipes freeze. You want to ensure you have plenty of drinking water on hand in the event of an emergency.
  • Be prepared and keep water on hand. Most grocery stores have water dispensers that allow you to fill your own jugs.

STORE CANNED AND DRY FOOD

  • Winter brings with it storms, power outages and nature can interrupt our daily life.
  • Make sure you have canned and dried food on hand in the event of an emergency.

CHECK ATTIC INSULATION

  • Make sure your home is well insulated. Proper insulation can help lower your heating bill. One of the biggest culprits of a high heating bill is inadequate attic insulation.
  • You can also hire a professional to assess your attic. It’s a great investment for peace of mind.
  • Taking measures to adequately insulate your attic can pay you great dividends.

Cheat Sheet for Montgomery County Property Tax Dates & Deadlines

Here’s the cheat sheet for Montgomery County property tax dates and deadlines for homeowners.

January 1: 1st day to apply for homestead exemptions to reduce property taxes.

  • Click here to begin your Montgomer County homestead exemption application or to see the variety of options to reduce your Montgomery County property taxes.

January 31: Last day to pay previous years’ property taxes without penalty and interest. Note: If you have a mortgage most mortgage companies collect the property taxes each month, hold it in escrow, then pay the tax bill on your behalf each year. If you are unsure contact your mortgage lender.

April 30: Last day to file for homestead exemptions to reduce property taxes.

May 15: Last day to file a protest for property taxes with the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).

  • Click here to begin a Montgomery County property tax protest application..
  • Click here for more information on how to protest your Montgomery County property tax appraisal.

October 1: Tax assessor mails tax bills for the year. You can view the statement online at the Montgomery County Tax Payments page.

Cheat Sheet for Galveston County Property Tax Dates & Deadlines

Here’s the cheat sheet for Galveston County property tax dates and deadlines for homeowners.

January 1: 1st day to apply for homestead exemptions to reduce property taxes.

  • Click here to begin your Galveston County homestead exemption application.

January 31: Last day to pay previous years’ property taxes without penalty and interest. If you have a mortgage most lenders collect the property taxes each month, hold it in escrow, then pay the tax bill on your behalf each year. If you are unsure contact your mortgage lender.

April 30: Last day to file for homestead exemptions to reduce property taxes.

May 15: Last day to file a protest for property taxes with the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).

  • Click here to begin a Harris County property tax protest application..

October 1: Tax assessor mails tax bills for the year. You can view the statement online at the Galveston County Tax Office website.

Cheat Sheet for Harris County Property Tax Dates & Deadlines

Here’s the cheat sheet for Harris County property tax dates and deadlines for homeowners.

January 1: 1st day to apply for homestead exemptions to reduce property taxes.

  • Click here to begin your Harris County homestead exemption application.
  • Click here to see the variety of options to reduce your Harris County property taxes.

January 31: Last day to pay previous years’ property taxes without penalty and interest. If you have a mortgage most lenders collect the property taxes each month, hold it in escrow, then pay the tax bill on your behalf each year. If you are unsure contact your mortgage lender.

April 30: Last day to file for homestead exemptions to reduce property taxes.

May 15: Last day to file a protest for property taxes with the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).

  • Click here to begin a Harris County property tax protest application..
  • Click here for more information on how to protest your Harris County property tax appraisal.

October 1: Tax assessor mails tax bills for the year. You can view the statement online at the Harris County Tax Payments page or request an electronic tax bill.

5 Must-Do Tips For a Successful Staging

Selling a home can be a tough task, but there are ways to increase its curb appeal to improve the odds of making a sale. Homeowners are encouraged to take on a number of tasks to get their homes ready for sale.

1. Fix it up
Finding issues with a home and fixing them is a surefire way to improve the odds of selling a home. You know your house better than anyone – fix the broken shingle, grease the squeaking door, caulk the leaky shower. Getting out the tools can go a long way to attract a buyer.

2. Keep it clean
When selling your home it’s critical to keep clutter at bay, pick up and keep the home its cleanest. Consider having professional cleaners come in a day before an open house to ensure it’s spotless.

3. Tone it down
When selling a home, it’s critical to appeal to the masses. That might mean toning down certain aspects of the place. Sure, your young daughter might have thought four different color paints looked nice in her bedroom, but a prospective buyer might not have her unique taste. The best practice when selling a home is to remove any personal items, helping buyers picture themselves there.

4. Mind the details
Everything matters when selling a home, so going the extra mile could make all the difference. For instance, having a copy of any bills could clue a buyer in on how much utilities will cost, thus helping them make their decision.

5. Optimize your space
Make a home look as large as possible. This could mean rearranging or even removing furniture. Doing so will make a home more appealing.

Buy Your First Home Within 12-Months: A Step-by-Step Guide

12 Months Out

Check your credit score. Get a copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. The three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are each required to give you a free credit report once a year. A Federal Trade Commission study found one in four Americans identified errors on their credit report, and 5% had errors that could lead to higher rates on loans. Avoid last-minute bombshells by checking your score long before you’re ready to make an offer. And work diligently to correct any mistakes.

Determine how much you can afford. Figure out how much house you can afford and want to afford. Lenders look for a total debt load of no more than 43% of their gross monthly income (called the debt-to-income ratio). This figure includes your future mortgage and any other debts, such as a car loan, student loan, or revolving credit cards.

There are plenty of calculators on the web to help you determine what you can afford. If you’re pushing the limits, start reducing your debt-to-income ratio now. To get a reality check on what you may actually be spending every month, review the previous 2 months of bank statements.

Make a down payment plan. You do not have to have a 20% down payment. If you can swing it, do it. Your loan costs will be much less, and you’ll get a better interest rate. If, however, you’re not quite able to save the full amount, there are many programs that can help. FHA offers loans with only a 3.5% down payment. But they require mortgage insurance premiums, which will drive up your monthly payments. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of nonprofit homebuying programs in Texas. Also, check with credit unions, and your employer might even have an assistance program.

As you’re planning your savings strategy, keep in mind that banks like you to see that you’ve had stable funds in your account for 60 to 90 days before applying for a loan. Don’t worry: You can still use a financial gift from a family member or bonus received near the time you buy.

9 Months Out

Prioritize what you most want in your new home. What’s most important in your new home? Proximity to work? A big backyard? An open floor plan? Being on a quiet street? You’ll make a much better decision on what home to buy if you focus on your priorities. If it’s a joint decision, now is the time to work out any differences to avoid frustration and wasted time. Perhaps most important: Know what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

Research neighborhoods and start visiting open houses. But now’s when the fun begins, too. Use property listing sites, such as HAR.com, to find out about neighborhoods, public transport, and cost of living.

Start visiting open houses to get an idea of what kind of homes are in your price range and what neighborhoods appeal the most. Seeing potential homes will also keep you motivated to continue reducing your debts and saving for your down payment.

Budget for miscellaneous homebuying expenses. Buying a home has some miscellaneous upfront costs. A home inspection, title search, property survey, and home insurance are examples. Costs vary by locale but expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars. If you don’t have the cash, start saving now.

Start a home maintenance account. Speaking of saving, start the good habit now of putting a little aside each month to fund maintenance, repairs, and home emergencies. It’s bad enough to have to call a plumber. It’s worse if you’re paying credit card interest on that plumbing bill.

6 Months Out

Collect your loan paperwork. Banks are very particular when it comes to mortgage loans. They demand a lot of paperwork. What they’ll want from you includes:

  • W-2 forms — or business tax return forms if you’re self-employed — for the last two to three years
  • Personal tax returns for the past two to three years
  • Your most recent pay stubs
  • Credit card and all loan statements
  • Your bank statements
  • Addresses for the past five to seven years
  • Brokerage account statements for the most recent two to four months
  • Most recent retirement account statements, such as 401(k)

If you start collecting these documents now, it’ll lessen the stress when it’s time to get your loan. Bonus: Looking closely at your loan documents each month will also help you stay focused on saving for your down payment and keeping your debt-to-income ratio low.

Research lenders and Realtors, specifically buyers’ agents. A buyer’s agent will work in your best interest to find you the right property, negotiate with the seller’s agent, and shepherd you through the closing process. Your agent also can be instrumental in finding a lender who’s familiar with first-time homebuyer programs.

Even better, look for a mortgage broker, who will shop for a competitive loan rate for you among multiple lenders, unlike a bank, which can only offer its own products.

3 Months Out

Get pre-approved for your loan. At this point, if you’ve been following this timeline, your credit score, paperwork, and down payment should be on track. You’ve done your research on lenders and buyers’ agents. Now it’s time to start working with them. First, you’ll need to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Make an appointment with your lender or mortgage broker and bring all your paperwork. He’ll run a credit check on you and tell you how much of a loan you’re approved for. It often makes sense to borrow less than the maximum the lender allows so you can live comfortably. Draft a budget that accounts for mortgage payments, insurance, maintenance, and everything else you have going on in your life.

Start shopping for your new home. Once you’re pre-approved, the buyer’s agent you’ve chosen will be able to target homes that meet your priorities in your price range. This way you won’t be wasting time looking at homes you can’t afford.

2 Months Out

Make an offer on a home. It usually takes at least four to close on a home. So if you have a firm move-out date, allow enough time to deal with any hiccups that can delay closing.

Get a home inspection. One of the first things you’ll want to do after an offer is accepted is have a home inspector look at the property. If the home inspector finds something that needs repair, that’s a common example of something that can delay closing.

In the Last Month

Triple-check that all your financial documents are in order and review all lending documents before closing. You’re in the home stretch! If you’ve been keeping your documents up to date, and your down payment is in reserve, these final steps are the easiest. Reviewing the mortgage documents is probably the most difficult. Your agent can help guide you through them.

Get insurance for your new home. Don’t forget to secure insurance before closing. You’ll need to bring proof of insurance to closing.

Do a final walk-through. Do a final walk-through of your new home, usually a day or two before closing, to make sure the home is in the shape you and the seller have agreed upon.

Get a cashier’s check or bank wire for cash needed at closing. Make sure you get the exact amount of cash needed for closing. You’ll get that number a few days before closing so you can secure a cashier’s check or arrange to have the money wired. Regular checks aren’t accepted.

That’s it. Congratulations!

How To Add A Name To A Deed In Harris County – Get the Form

To add a name to a deed in Harris County:

  1. Download Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) from 25.25(b)RP here.
  2. Check the box “Change to new owner*”
  3. In the Ownership Information section, enter the legal names of the current owner and the additional owner(s) in the Owner’s Name field
  4. Complete all other fields in the form
  5. Mail the form AND a copy of the deed or closing statement to:

Harris County Appraisal District
Information & Assistance Division
P.O. Box 922010 Houston TX
77292-2010

If you have any questions, please call HCAD Assistance at (713) 957-7800

To add a name to a deed in Harris County:

  1. Download Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) from 25.25(b)RP here.
  2. Check the box “Change to new owner*”
  3. In the Ownership Information section, enter the legal names of the current owner and the additional owner(s) in the Owner’s Name field
  4. Complete all other fields in the form
  5. Mail the form AND a copy of the deed or closing statement to:

Harris County Appraisal District
Information & Assistance Division
P.O. Box 922010 Houston TX
77292-2010

If you have any questions, please call HCAD Assistance at (713) 957-7800

Tax Appraisal Assessed Value Vs. Market Value

As a buyer or seller, you will likely hear two “prices” thrown about: assessed value versus market value. So what’s the difference?


While assessed value and market value may seem similar, these numbers can be different—typically assessed value is lower—and they’re used in distinct ways as well. So let’s clear up any confusion so you can wield these terms to your advantage.

What is the market value? Market value is the price that a buyer is willing to pay for a home, and that a seller is willing to accept.

Real estate agents are trained to pinpoint a home’s market value, which is done by looking at a variety of characteristics, including the following:

  • External characteristics: Curb appeal, exterior condition of the home, lot size, home style, availability of public utilities.
  • Internal characteristics: Size and number of rooms, construction and appliance quality and condition, heating systems, and energy efficiency.
  • Comps, or comparables: What similar homes in the same area have sold for recently.
  • Supply and demand: The number of buyers and the number of sellers in your area.
  • Location: How desirable is the neighborhood? Are the schools good? Is the crime rate low?

A home’s market value often is a good starting point for all kinds of things. For one, listing agents use market value to help sellers come up with a fair asking price for their homes. And, since buyers shouldn’t just trust what sellers say their place is worth, their own agent can also estimate the home’s market value and come up with a different price than they think their clients should offer. No number is right or wrong; the ultimate deciding force is what price a buyer and seller are willing to shake hands on to close the deal.


What is the assessed value? When trying to understand the assessed value of a property, you must know who is doing the assessment and why the property is being assessed.

Municipalities, mostly counties, employ an assessor to place a value on a home in order to levy property taxes on it. To arrive at a value, the assessor (similar to a real estate agent) looks at what similar properties are selling for, the value of any recent improvements, any income you may be made from, say, renting out a room in the property, and other factors—like the replacement cost of the property if, God forbid, it burns down in a fire (which sounds dark, but assessors are thorough professionals who consider every possibility).

In the end, the assessor comes up with the value of your home. Then, he multiplies that number by an “assessment rate,” a uniform percentage that each tax jurisdiction sets that is typically 80% to 90%. So if, say, the market value of your home is $200,000 and your local assessment rate is 80%, then the assessed value of your home is $160,000.

That $160,000 is then used by your local government to calculate your property taxes. The higher your home’s assessed value, the more you’ll pay in taxes. 

In Texas, homeowners can claim homestead tax exemption for their primary residence, which further reduces the assessed value by as much as 20%.  Using the same example above, the $160,000 assessed value will be further be reduced by 20% which is $32,000.  The resulting assessed value is $128,000.  $128,000 is then used by your local government to calculate the property taxes.

What assessed and market values mean to you. While a home’s market value can rise and fall precipitously based on local conditions, assessed values are typically more immune to fluctuations. 

But the bottom line is, don’t get bent out of shape if you hear your assessed value isn’t as high as you’d hoped. The assessed value is used mostly for property tax purposes. Homebuyers and sellers, on the other hand, look more to market value instead.

However, the assessed value can come up when you buy or sell a home because this number, unlike the loosey-goosey market value, is public knowledge contained in property records. So, rising assessed values bode well when home sellers try to justify their sales price to a buyer: “Hey, the assessed value is $310,000, and I’m only asking $320,000.” Likewise, buyers can use assessed value to justify a lower price: “Hey, the assessed value is $260,000, and you’re asking for $300,000. What gives?”

But the thing to remember with both assessed and market value is that at the end of the day, the price of a home is all in the eye of the beholder. The only number that matters is what a buyer and seller can agree sounds right, so don’t take any number you see too seriously.

Texas Homestead Exemptions – Helpful Guide for What You Need To Know To Reduce Your Property Taxes

Filing your Texas homestead exemption is a great way to kick off homeownership since you can significantly reduce the taxes on your home. I’ve assembled all the information you need to know to submit your homestead exemption request to the local appraisal district in your area. Note: If you’ve already filed for exemption, here’s how to check the status.


What is a Homestead Exemption? 
Texas Homestead Exemption reduces the taxes you owe on your home by lowering your home’s taxable value. For example, Texas school districts offer a $25,000 tax exemption for qualified applicants, which means if your home appraises for $200,000 as of January 1st, the amount you pay in school taxes is based on $175,000 ($200,000 home value less the $25,000 school tax exemption). Other taxing authorities (e.g. county, city) may offer exemptions of up to 20% of your home’s value, so filing for a homestead exemption is worth your while.


Who is eligible for a Homestead Exemption? 
Homestead Exemptions in Texas are granted to homeowners who apply for the exemption on the home they consider their primary residence. Homeowners must live in this residence as of January 1st of the year in which the exemption is requested. There are exceptions to this rule described in the application if you are 65 or older, disabled, 100% disabled veteran (or the surviving spouse), surviving spouse of an armed services member killed in action, or surviving spouse of a first responder killed in the line of duty.


What is the Homestead Exemption Application process?
It’s a simple form – typically 2 pages that ask for basic information such as the owner’s name, property address, and type of exemption requested. Harris County has a mobile app to file electronically which makes it even simpler and you avoid the actual paperwork and having to mail anything out. The links to the forms for Galveston County, Harris County, Brazoria County, and Fort Bend County are below to make it easy.

That’s the basics but here are some key things to remember:

  • It’s free to apply for homestead exemption. If you get a letter from Home Designation Services or any company asking for money, throw it away. Don’t get scammed! If you’re unsure, call your local property tax office.
  • Once you are granted the exemption, you do not have to reapply for it annually unless the Appraisal District notifies you that a new application is required. This is rare so it’s unlikely.
  • Homestead can only be used for your primary residence only. It can’t be used for secondary homes, vacation homes, or investment properties such as rental properties.
  • The deadline is April 30th but do not delay filing. Get the form, fill it out – it takes minutes, and get it sent to the appraisal district. If you need help or have questions, call me, text me, email me. Whatever you need to do – but get that form turned in as soon as possible. If you miss the deadline you will have to wait until the following year to submit it.
  • When submitting the form you need to prove your homestead. That’s done by including a copy of your driver’s license. The important thing here – The address on the driver’s license must match the address of the property you are applying.
  • For married couples, either person may be listed as the owner, just be sure the required documents that are submitted are for the person listed as an owner. 


Disclaimer and Additional Information The information above is not to be considered tax advice but is provided as a helpful reminder. For the official rules and details on Texas Homestead Exemptions, visit the Texas Comptroller’s website for additional information on Texas Homestead Exemptions.