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Homeownership

Geothermal energy without a volcano: Austin’s intro to Green Energy Living

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Finding alternate energy sources that work hasn’t been a clear path, but this Austin neighborhood is trying to break new ground with geothermal energy.

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EcoSystem showing geothermal energy and solar energy for home system.

For decades humans have been chasing the next great energy source. Despite the push from certain oil and gas companies to keep fossil fuels as the main sources of power, innovators have been pursuing new ways to keep us powered. Over the years we’ve found a number of alternatives, such as solar, wind, nuclear, wave, and geothermal energy. But each comes with their own issues and possible dangers.

Solar energy isn’t fine-tuned enough yet. The required number of solar panels to keep a home running at top power outputs isn’t reasonable except in certain climates. Deserts with few cloudy seasons are the only possible places that it is reasonable. Some areas of Texas get enough sun to supplement their power grids but nothing close enough to run their homes. Unless we can make the interface between solar energy and energy conversion more efficient it will never fully replace anything.

Wind power, yet another energy source that would change the face of our planet to supply us with enough energy to keep us going. The geography necessary for wind turbines to create anything worthwhile is hard to come by. Yet again we have something that won’t work.

I could go on for a long while. I could even drag out a discussion about Chernobyl. But that’s not where we want to go here. Human ingenuity can turn to the better. It takes time and patience as well as some learning.

In Austin, a small 2000 acres, a little valley by the name of Whisper is starting something new. Eco Smart Solutions has gone and used the shotgun method. After inventing a new type of geothermal energy distribution, they then combined this with other forms of green energy. Using the natural heat of the Earth they are using thermal conduction to help produce energy. To help supplement this they are also installing solar panels on all houses to increase energy output.

The new system, referred to as a Geogrid, is established and connected throughout the community. Typical geothermal homes are used for one house alone but in this community that’s the difference. Running specially made pipes throughout the community and also through a central monitoring center allows a computer the keep track of the issues and abnormal temperature changes. This connectivity also allows for more savings and monitoring. Any imbalances between locations can be balanced out with other geographical locations.

Of course, one way we start monitoring the effectiveness of things is to do comparisons. The HERS Index is a Home Energy Rating. Typical homes these days rate at a 100 on the scale. These are the homes with typical energy connections that rely on power grids. The Whisper Valley homes have actually gotten down to a 7 on the scale.

The difference between these homes and previous forays into green energy is that the geothermal index that is being used exists in almost every part of the planet. The pipes are drilled down approximately 350 feet and that is all the temperature difference that is needed for the Austin area. This geothermal gradient is different across the world depending on mantle thickness and distance from the equator. However, the change in temperature is more related to the pressure associated with matter on top as you go deeper instead of geographical location.

We’ve got some new opportunities coming down the pipeline. Personally, I can’t wait to own a home where I don’t have to worry about a power grid. I’ve now lived through a Texas blizzard in Houston, surviving huddled on my couch with my animals and some candles. Here’s to the future.

Robert Raney is a geoscientist whose been writing and painting for years to get his creative fix in. While working on his thesis in theoretical planetary physics he was also creating fantastical worlds on paper for fun. He's an at home Texan Houstonite who currently works slinging drinks at a local LGBTQ+ bar in the gayborhood, when not fielding oil & gas jobs that have taken him around the world.

Homeownership

National Homeownership Month: Tales of triumph, yet challenges linger

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Every June, America celebrates National Homeownership Month. It’s a time to celebrate ownership opportunities, and see where to improve.

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Hand holding keys to homeownership.

June is National Homeownership Month, a time that as an industry, we take stock of where we stand as a nation and how we can improve the path towards the American Dream. It has become more difficult than in the past – to address the shifting sands of that dream, the following editorial is penned by Bob Goldberg, CEO of the National Association of Realtors®, America’s largest trade association:


The thirteenth house that Kelly Johansen visited that day turned out to be the lucky one.

Alongside her Realtor® Michelle, Kelly spent an entire Saturday in the fall of 2018 touring properties across Northern Virginia. Like many Americans who have purchased a home over the past half-decade, Kelly felt the pressure of an immensely competitive market, particularly in one of the more sought-after regions of the country.

Still, she didn’t want to be rushed into a decision she would later regret. And she was willing to pass up the options that didn’t feel quite right.

Fortunately, after a dozen misses, their last planned stop of the day was the one that would change Kelly’s life.

“After a quick look around, I stood in the living room and I just started crying,” Kelly recounts today from that same room. “I said,

‘Michelle, this is my house. This is my house. I know it is.’

“And Michelle just told me, ‘Don’t cry, we’re gonna get it for you.’ It was a beautiful moment, and I just absolutely knew that this house was destined for me.”

Michelle, of course, was able to help her client close on the house of her dreams. Kelly has now lived in the Arlington, Virginia, townhome for almost four years. Here, in a neighborhood that once served as military housing barracks, she’s built roots, community, and some significant housing equity.

Before making the decision to buy, Kelly rented for nearly 11 years. She longed for homeownership, but as a self-professed “terrible saver,” she didn’t think the goal was realistic. That was until Michelle helped her realize she could buy without bringing 20% to the closing table.

As a single female, Kelly makes up a rapidly growing share of homebuyers in America.

The National Association of Realtors®’ most recent Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, published in November 2021, found that 19% of all homes sold over the preceding year were bought by unmarried women. This is now the second-largest homebuying demographic in the U.S., behind only married couples.

There are some 83 million property owners in this country. And countless others aspire to achieve their own version of the American Dream. That’s been especially evident as home prices have remained steady while interest rates rise and inflation strains budgets for families everywhere.

This and every June, America recognizes National Homeownership Month.

For NAR, it’s a time to celebrate all of the life-changing, generational wealth-building opportunities that come with property ownership.

We often tout statistics like the one showing a homeowner’s net worth is, on average, about 40 times that of a renter. It isn’t hard to see why, either. The typical U.S. homeowner accumulated nearly a quarter of a million dollars in housing wealth over the past decade.

Still, thanks in part to a historic, nationwide shortage of available homes, too many aspiring buyers remain on the sidelines. This six-million-unit gap is the consequence of decades of underbuilding and underinvestment, according to research conducted last year by the Rosen Consulting Group.

As a result, many of those who are able to find and close on the perfect home can feel like they’ve won the lottery.

That’s a reality that isn’t lost on Dorothy Edwards or her wife, Rachel Pryately.

The newlyweds relocated from Seattle to the East Coast last winter to be closer to their parents and siblings, finding temporary accommodations as they got acquainted with the area. Hoping to start a family, they knew the added support would be appreciated someday soon.

Dorothy and Rachel sensed, however, that they needed to be settled in a community of their own—with a home of their own—before they’d feel comfortable beginning the next chapter of their lives.

Today, as they spend nights on the deck of their single-family home in Huntington, Va., hearing kids outside playing until after the sun sets, they know they’ve found the perfect environment for a young, growing family.

“We are so lucky and privileged to be able to put down roots for our family in this way,” Dorothy reflects today from their home just a few miles off the Potomac River.

“Buying our home and building community has kickstarted some of our life goals and has been so important with all of these upcoming milestones.”

“It’s just such a happy thing. The process of creating a home together with my wife has been so sacred.”

The fact is, however, that the act of becoming a homeowner shouldn’t feel like such an extraordinary, exclusive achievement. It is, of course, a milestone in the lives of so many, and it’s something that should be celebrated for everything it represents: freedom; financial security; safety; comfort.

But this is where we are reminded that the work of ensuring homeownership is available and accessible to everyone in America still has a way to go.

“We never imagined homeownership for ourselves,” Dorothy says. “We didn’t think it was possible for us, so it was never a goal. But once we realized it could be possible, and with the help and support of our families, we went all in and landed in the perfect spot. We are so grateful to have gotten to this point.”

Today, both Dorothy and Kelly say they continue to encourage friends and family who are still renting to make the leap into homeownership.

For Kelly, who works in the service industry, it can sometimes be difficult to convince colleagues – many of whom are reliant on tips and live paycheck-to-paycheck – that they too have the ability to manage and pay down a mortgage.

“I’m super proud to be a homeowner, especially given this market,” she says. “Anybody I know who rents now I’ll tell them, ‘You’re throwing your money away. For the same amount of money, you can have a mortgage.’

“And I know personally they don’t even need to put that much money down. I tell them, ‘Don’t worry, just have a conversation with Michelle and she’ll hook you up.’”

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Homeownership

Side hustle your home for use in film and TV (for BIG bucks!)

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Are you interested in a side hustle and willing to offer up your humble abode to be part of the magic of filmmaking? We give you the details!

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As a reader of AG for Real Estate, we know you may be a real estate practitioner, but you’re also a likely homeowner (or have endless clientele that could benefit from the following information, so enjoy)!

In this housing market, no matter what you’re looking for – be it a studio-style tiny home or a 13-bed mansion with a guest house – you’re going to pay top dollar. That was the case for Mary Kay Seery (not to be confused with the MLM) and her husband, Billy Seery, when they moved from the prominent East Village in New York City to a Victorian-style home in Brooklyn.

Their friends heavily questioned the decision, but with Mary being a life-long real-estate broker, she knew the underestimated value – especially when it came to staging it for use in movies or television shows as a side hustle. Their home has starred in Girls on HBO, Mysteries of Laura on NBC, The Affair Season 3 on Showtime, and many more.

“I’m sure we’ve made over $500,000 so far.” The home was purchased for $490,000.

“While state film commissions have increasingly brokered relationships between property owners and filmmakers and location agencies will shop your property for a fee, many – if not most – production companies do it the old-fashioned way. You don’t find them. They find you.”

For example, an anonymous flyer was dropped into the mail slot of a Chicago home in June 2019. The owners, Rian Akey and Shaun Kane, responded immediately to the scout but did not hear back for filming until September that same year. Turns out, the crew wanted to transform the living room of their 1885 Queen Anne home into the Smutny Funeral Home for the FX crime drama Fargo Season 4.

Once agreed, the crew quickly transformed the heart of their home, adding tobacco-stained wallpaper, a swinging entrance door, folding chairs, and flower stands, and last but not least…the casket.

“We had a coffin in our living room for almost a year.”

Due to NDAs, which are standard between homeowners and the location manager, Kane and Akey could not disclose the payment they received for the whole 11-month ordeal. What we do know is that the upfront cost for using the location is relative to labor union fees, production size, the renovation before and after, and how long the shoot will last.

Other stories follow suit all over the US. Carroll Belser, who resides in Sunnyside Plantation in Edisto Island, SC has seen her inherited 1875 family home transform for The Notebook, L.L. Bean photoshoots, Short Term Rental TV Pilot, and more. In Prospect Park South, New York City, Ms. McFeely has allowed her home to be the filming location for A Price Above Rubies, Half Nelson, The Groomsman, and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

Homeowners do warn that there can be mishaps during the filming process. Floors tend to become heavily worn from foot traffic, the crew may want to shoot in a room not originally specified, or filming could get extended for a longer period of time than originally agreed.

However, Ms. Seery says that the follow-up repairs usually whip things right back into shape, but to “make sure you have a good relationship with the location manager,” and to ask for extra payment if necessary.

Still interested in the side hustle and willing to offer up your humble abode to be part of the magic of filmmaking? Contact your local government’s film and TV office to register your home as production-friendly. You can also use online databases to list your home similar to Airbnb, like LocationsHub, Reel to Reel locations, or Set Scouter. You may also just get lucky and have a location scout reach out to with interest in using your home.

All of that to say, using your home for movies or television can be “lucrative, but also disruptive.” Be prepared to renovate your floors, be put up in a hotel, and for film fans to take photos on your front porch for years to follow. Lastly, you should be able to watch the film or show back to see someone “die” in the corner of your living room or take a pregnancy test in your bathroom.

If you can handle all of that, let the cast, crew, and CASH roll in!

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Homeownership

VA loans give veterans the hope of homeownership, the American Dream

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) After a veteran of the US Navy was honorably discharged due to injuries, VA loans offered a chance to pursue homeownership.

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Three servicemembers standing in uniform representing their ability to pursue homeownership with VA loans.

On this Memorial Day in America, the following editorial is penned by Bob Goldberg, CEO of the National Association of Realtors®, America’s largest trade association, to offer insight and deep gratitude for the many sacrifices made by our veterans, observing the role we have in helping to make their American Dreams come true:

Leslie Smith and his wife, Beth, don’t have a story too dissimilar from most Americans.

In the early days of the pandemic, the young couple felt smothered by their 700-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C.

They were fortunate to both have safe, stable jobs, but assumed they’d need a few more years to save up for a down payment on a home that fit them better. Still, feeling restless and unsettled, Leslie and Beth started looking at some larger rowhomes in the city.

Leslie, a veteran of the United States Navy, spent many of his enlisted years stationed aboard the USS Nimitz in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But his time in the service left him with two bad knees and an injured back, and he was honorably discharged in 2006.

Not long after beginning their home search, Leslie and Beth met a Realtor® who connected them to a loan officer with experience helping military and veteran homebuyers. Through their conversations, they learned that Leslie’s time in the service, coupled with his qualified disability, opened up a world of possibilities they never knew existed through the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program.

The time they thought they’d need to save for a down payment? All but erased, given the terms of the VA loan for which they could qualify.

Concerns that a VA loan wouldn’t cover the full price of a home in the high-cost D.C. market? No problem, as the cap for VA home loans was eliminated in 2019.

And the extra room in their monthly budget they assumed they’d need to cover private mortgage insurance? A non-factor, with Leslie’s service-related disability ensuring their mortgage would contain no PMI no matter how much they put down.

“Right after seeing all of this,” Leslie recounts today, “I turned to Beth and told her, ‘Well, I guess we’re ready now.’”

To hear Leslie and Beth tell their story, one can’t help but feel proud that the VA home loan program is delivering on the benefits promised to those who served this nation in uniform. The couple lights up when discussing the value their home has gained since it was purchased, and they speak with such appreciation for all the people who helped them recognize the opportunities this program afforded.

But through these conversations also comes the realization that so much more can be done to ensure our veterans and their families understand the full scope of benefits available to them.

As they were finalizing the transaction, Leslie and Beth sat down to meet with their tax advisor, himself a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. When Beth disclosed the terms of their new mortgage—specifically the absence of any monthly PMI payment—the accountant assumed there must be a catch.

“You’ll have to pay that money somehow,” he told them. “They’ll get you on it somewhere else.”

“He was completely puzzled,” Beth notes today. “We educated him a little bit… And we’ve since gone on to educate some of our friends who are veterans to make sure that they know this benefit is out there and that they can get into a home with nothing down.”

Since its establishment at the height of World War II, the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program has helped some 25 million U.S. veterans purchase and maintain homes of all sizes in every corner of this country.

Homeownership is the American Dream. But it’s not just about four walls and a roof, a front porch, or a fenced-in backyard for kids and dogs to run.

The American Dream is about what this space represents. It’s about safety and comfort. Financial security. The opportunity to pursue our own happiness on our own property on our own terms. A home is where we are free, where we are loved, and where we are protected.

Homeownership is the American Dream because the places we call ‘home’ represent everything we hold dear as sovereign and fiercely independent Americans.

Every member of our armed services has sacrificed something in defense of these ideals—as have their spouses, children, and parents. We have a responsibility to help them achieve their American Dream.

The National Association of Realtors® has worked from our position as America’s largest trade association to help ensure the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program remains an accessible resource for veterans looking to purchase a home as a benefit for their service.

Earlier this year, we released a two-part video series hosted by our 2022 President Leslie Rouda Smith examining many of the common misconceptions and advantages of the program.

Realtors® can also pursue a Military Relocation Professional certification to better prepare them to work with U.S. servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The program educates NAR members to make sure they are helping military homebuyers find the housing solutions that best meet their needs while taking advantage of every possible benefit.

As part of our broader advocacy efforts in Washington, NAR was one of the loudest voices pushing to remove the cap on VA home loans at the close of the last decade. It’s a change that made a significant difference in the lives of Leslie and Beth, and for countless other veterans like them.

Today, Memorial Day, we remember all those who gave their lives in defense of this country. As we honor their immense sacrifices, we also look for ways to better recognize and repay the men and women who have survived the horrors of combat and returned home to live out the ideals they risked everything to protect.

Because when they do return, access to a safe, comfortable home should never be in question.

“We wouldn’t be here without the VA loan,” Beth says today of their beautiful, equity-rich property in Northwest D.C. “It’s a phenomenal house, we’re super grateful for it, and we want every veteran and military family to be aware that this benefit is out there for them, too.”

Bob Goldberg is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Realtors®

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