Real Estate FAQs


Q: Can I Contest My Property Taxes?
A: Many people do, mainly because determining value can often be tricky.  This is especially true in a changing market when local prices either take off dramatically or plunge precipitously, like during the Texas oil bust of the 1980s.
While it is up to a professional assessor to evaluate property value for tax purposes, property owners are usually allowed to contest their assessment until a certain date after they are made public.
Once you contest, you will have to prove why you think your property is worth less – few homeowners contest hoping to pay more taxes!  The two most popular ways for determining value are an appraisal and a comparative market analysis. With an appraisal, a professional estimates the property's market value based on recent sales of comparable properties.  A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents will offer free analyses to win your business.
Contact your local tax assessor's office for procedures on appealing your property tax assessment.
Word of the Day
Fiduciary. Person acting in a position of trust, responsibility and confidence for another, such a broker for his client.
Maintenance fees. Paid by a condominium unit owner to the owners’ association for upkeep of the common areas.
The 5 Best Ways to Improve Productivity
One of the biggest buzzwords in the electronic age is ‘multi-tasking,’—an idealistic phrase suggesting the best workers are able to do several things at once. But, says Rick Newman, chief business correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, the fact is that multi-tasking can impair productivity, raise anxiety levels, and ultimately impair your health.
“Multi-tasking,” he points out, “causes attention fragmentation, which happens when we try to direct our brain power to a number of different things at once—and it really doesn’t work so well. Even ringing phones and dinging email alerts can temporarily lower your IQ.”
Newman consulted with behavioral scientists to formulate the five best ways for workers to improve, not hamper, their productivity:
  • Ask yourself if you’re addicted – If your children are ‘Blackberry orphans’ battling for attention because you can’t ignore a tweet or an email, you are electronically addicted. You need aggressive strategies – like leaving your devices behind once in a while – if you are to rejoin the real human race.
  • Selectively detach – Give yourself the power to work uninterrupted during certain times of the day. That means giving correspondence a time and place and denying the urge to read and answer every incoming distraction.
  • Turn everything off – If you find it impossible to deny every ding, take the plunge and turn off your devices – at least until you have a handle on your workload and can afford a little time for catching up.
  • Say no as often as possible – It’s hard to ignore the boss when she wants something asap, but you can say no to co-workers who tend to interrupt your work. Make yourself unavailable for gabbing, and shorten your to-do list by leaving off items that don’t really need to get done.
  • Say something meaningful – Busy people who manage their time well don't read emails, blogs, or Facebook updates that tell them what somebody had for breakfast. They spend their time on useful information. If you post your thoughts for professional reasons, leave out the personal trivia. Add value by saying something relevant or linking to informative material.
Exercise – Physical activity can de-clutter the brain, and many exercisers say they feel bursts of creativity after just 15 or 20 minutes of working out. If you're going to do it, try to single-task instead of running while you answer a few emails.
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Word of the Day
Maintenance fees. Paid by a condominium unit owner to the owners’ association for upkeep of the common areas.
Tenancy by the entirety. A form of joint ownership reserved for married persons; right of survivorship exists and neither spouse has a disposable interest during the lifetime of the other.
Q: What Should I Know about Mechanics Liens?
A:  A mechanic’s lien is a “hold” against your property that provides contractors and suppliers legal recourse to assure payment for services.  The liens vary from state to state and allow for a cloud on the title of your property and foreclosure action.  Also, if you paid the contractor, but he failed to pay the subcontractors and laborers – who do not have a contract with you – then the workers may file a mechanic's lien on your home.  This could result in a double payment by you for the same job.  You can protect yourself from unwarranted liens by selecting your contractor carefully and managing your construction project responsibly.  Also, most construction lenders will specify a payment distribution process that involves the securing of lien waivers.  The remodeling contract should address this as well, assuring that the general contractor is responsible for all payments as well as any costs required to remedy lien disputes that may arise.  
7 Strategies for Growing Your Retirement Egg
As the New Year begins, the vast majority of American workers vow to save more money. But life gets in the way, and the truth, for many, is that savings wind up getting short shrift. Financial strategists at The Motley Fool, a money guide for skilled and less-experienced savers, have put together a seven-strategy plan to help consumers maximize retirement savings:
  • Pay yourself first – You may have heard this before, but saving must be your number one budget item. The only way to ensure you hit aggressive savings goals is to put a sum of money away each month before the rent and other bills eat it up.
  • Start early – The sooner you start putting money away, the bigger the likelihood you will save enough for an easier retirement. Putting larger sums away at a more advanced age will likely not make up for the years you missed.
  • Take advantage of employer match – Most employers offer a match to employees' retirement savings either as a percent of salary or contributions. Either way, it's free money and an opportunity you shouldn't pass up.
  • The 500 Plan – This is a tough one, but the iPlanRetirement blog proposes a plan to save $1 million in just 20 years. You put away $500 every month for a year. The next year, increase the savings to $600 – and increase the savings by another $100 a month every succeeding year.
  • Save your raises – Most workers can count on an annual raise, at an average of five percent. If you stow the raise away each year for 20 years, you will be on your way to amassing $1 million.
  • Increase income, but not spending – If you aren’t getting raises, look for other ways to increase your income. Get a part time job. Buy and sell on eBay or at a swap meet. Use your crafting, writing or other talents to earn extra money.
  • Take on some risk – It’s hard to amass a hefty sum by depositing your money in a savings account. A major savings goal requires substantial returns, and the only way to realize those returns is to take on some investment risk. Do some studying first, or get advice from a professional financial advisor.
Word of the Day
Maintenance fees. Paid by a condominium unit owner to the owners’ association for upkeep of the common areas.
Q: What Should I Look for in a Warranty from a Remodeling Contractor?
A: A well-written warranty document detailing specific information should be provided and incorporated as an addendum to the construction contract.  Information should also be provided as to the procedure to follow for prompt warranty services, as well as what happens should a dispute arise over warranty issues.
How to Avoid Costly Repairs with Inexpensive Maintenance
In our quest to help homeowners save money while avoiding the disruptive headaches of costly repairs and breakdowns this winter, your RIS Consumer Confidant sought the advice of Summer Mandell at The Texas Association of REALTORS® (
Mandell says first-time homeowners can avoid some costly mistakes by doing routine home maintenance that protects their investment. Check out her basic home-maintenance checklist to help get started.
  • Check gutters regularly to make sure they’re properly attached and clear of sticks and leaves. Also confirm the flow of water from your gutters is away from your home to avoid foundation damage.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly. Experts also recommend changing batteries when you change the clocks in the fall and spring.
  • Change filters in your home at intervals recommended by your HVAC manufacturer, especially if you have allergies or pets.And arrange for seasonal checks on the heating and cooling system to avoid emergency repairs.
  • Hire a tree-service company to inspect trees on your property to identify weak limbs that should be cut before a storm.
  • Toilets that run and faucets that leak when not in use are wasting your water. Sometimes you can fix these problems yourself, but hire an expert if you’re in doubt.
  • Check the water supply hose to your washing machine, which can leak and cause expensive damage.
  • Clean the dryer vent regularly - not just the lint trap - which should be cleaned often, too. Clogged dryer vents can be a fire hazard.
  • Clean around the vents and coils underneath and behind your refrigerator to support its efficiency. Also check for gaps when it’s closed to make sure your cool air isn’t being wasted.
  • Check your doors, garage door, windows, and any places where pipes and wires enter the structure for gaps and cracks. Replace weather-stripping that’s missing or in disrepair and add caulk where needed to keep heat/cool in and keep bugs and small creatures out.
Q: What Are Some of the Legal Considerations Relative to Remodeling?
A: There are many, including those surrounding zoning, permits, variances, and building codes.   All of these regulations are the government’s way of controlling the physical development of land and public-safety standards for such things as building design, construction, alteration, repair or demolition.  The regulations vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next and can result in fines or serious consequences.  There are also often engineering approvals and requirements related to grading, site drainage, utility connections, wells and septics, and sometimes fire regulations.  Another area of legal considerations involves contractual issues tied to responsibilities for permits and approvals, code and regulations compliance, insurance, financing, and warranties.  If construction financing is to be provided by a lender, there will often be requirements relative to progress inspections, construction draws, lien waivers, title insurance, holdbacks, etc.  It may be worthwhile to hire an attorney to provide guidance on these issues and to assure the completeness and fairness of the remodeling contract.