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Article from Houston on the Cheap

Lavender Run in Cypress, Houston Lights Display

Houston is full of neighborhoods decked out in Christmas lights — often synchronized to music. But how do you find these places tucked within a larger community? Word-of-mouth is certainly one way. I took the question to Houston on the Cheap’s Facebook page for readers’ suggestions on their go-to light displays in the area. After doing my own research, too, here is my list of Houston’s don’t-miss Christmas light displays in 2013:

Prestonwood Forest — This is considered the “granddaddy” of Houston neighborhoods with entire streets participating in elaborate light displays since the 1970s. This year lights are on December 7 – December 29 (dusk to 10 pm weekdays and till 11 pm weekends). The 2013 awards have been announced: Best All-Around (13911 Charlynn Oaks), Best House (14510 Ravenhurst), Best Block (8100 Kenmark) and more. Check out the Visitor’s map for details. The neighborhood is off Tomball Parkway (SH249).

Moss Lights (League City) — The Moss family started a static lights display in 2010 and has just been building up each year. 2013 has 80,000 lights synchronized to 9 songs that required 400 hours of programming. The light show is 7 days a week through January 5, 2014. The lights play 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm (Sunday – Thursday) and till 11:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays. Music is transmitted over 107.1 FM. Check out some of its videos online. Located in League City at 540 Southampton Lane. {Thanks to reader Amanda for sharing.}

Lavender Run (Coles Crossing in Cypress) — The Mayer family started a synchronized lights display at their home, 15911 Lavender Run, about six years ago giving 100% of its donations to a new charity each year.

The 25-minute light show runs nightly through January 1 at 7 pm, 7:40 pm, and 8:20 pm. This year, the family linked into seven neighbors’ houses for a full street effect. They also added fun new elements including snow machines, fire machines, bubbles, new laser light effects, and vanilla/strawberry smelling fog in addition to the 60,000 lights! All donations this year go to Make A Wish Foundation. They say it’s the Grand Finale, so don’t miss it! Music is broadcast on 107.1FM. Visit their website at ChristmasInCypress.com. [I visited this display this year and loved it. Can’t wait to take my family…]

Johnson’s Christmas Corner (Cypress) – The Johnson family’s light display (since 2006) features 77,000 lights and nightly themes of music such as Classic Christmas, Modern Classics, and Christmas Mash which plays everything. Kids can visit Santa on Saturday nights. There are snow machines, which the kids love! Music is broadcast on 94.1 FM. Located at 14811 Cypress Meadow.

Dickinson Festival of Lights (Dickinson) – For 16 years, the Dickinson community comes together to create a Dickinson Festival of Lights, a free walk-through lights display at Paul Hopkins Park. Lights will be on nightly through January 1, 6 pm – 9 pm. All parking and shuttle buses are free. Parking on weekends is courtesy the Dickinson Plaza Shopping Center, exit 19, I-45 N feeder. {Thanks to reader Melissa for suggesting…}

Viney Creek light display

Franck’s Christmas Light Show (Copperfield) — The Franck family on Viney Creek shares a neighborhood lights tradition since 2008. Songs are timed to music. The lights show runs nightly from 5:30 pm – 10 pm (Sunday through Thursday) and till 10:30 on weekends. Located at 15923 Viney Creek. Music is broadcast on 89.7 FM. [I visited this display this year and loved it.]

Christmas Katy (Katy) – This home in Pin Oak is celebrating its 7th year of synchronized Christmas lighting. It features 53,000 LED lights, 32 ft. tree, 10 ft. Nutcrackers, and 15 songs in its show. Neighbors are incorporated into the show so it’s a beautiful street. Music is broadcast at 89.9 FM. Hours are 6 pm – 10 pm (Sunday through Thursday) and till 11 pm on weekends. Located at 24603 Stoughton Court off I-10 and Pin Oak in West Houston.

Woodland Heights (Heights)-– This area of the Heights is known for its Christmas lights. This weekend is its Lights in the Heights, Saturday, December 14, 6 pm – 9 pm. Streets are blocked off to enjoy the lighted homes and musical performances — right from the porch!

Pecan Grove (Richmond) — This Fort Bend neighborhood near Richmond is known for its Christmas lights. Hayrides are not uncommon as folks gather up the kids and drive through the many lighted streets. {thanks to readers Reagan, Michelle, and Julie for suggesting…}

River OaksDrive through River Oaks to see the stately homes and huge oaks wrapped in lights. These traditional displays are amazing with dripping lights and more. It’s fun to ogle at the big homes!

Admission fees for lights: The neighborhoods listed above are all free. Houston-area has several paid holiday light displays:

Santa’s Wonderland
Moody Garden’s Festival of Lights
Zoo Lights at Houston Zoo

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heatingNow that temperatures are dropping across the country, its time to think about how you can slash your heating bills for the season. Here are five low-cost and/or no-cost moves to help you save money while staying comfortable at the same time.

1. Add insulation. Adding insulation and weather stripping can slash your annual energy costs up to 30% by keeping out the cold or heat and minimizing the stack effect. Start by sealing large gaps around the chimney, furnace flue, plumbing pipes, ductwork, light fixtures, and soffits in your attic. Then lay insulation between attic-floor joists and on the hatch or door, or add more if it’s already there. Look for insulation that’s become dirty, a sign of air movement that reveals other gaps you must fill. Also, insulate ducts running through the attic.

2. Seal up the leaks. Caulking and weather-stripping cracks and gaps around your home are some of the most cost-effective steps you can take to conserve heat. Focus on the attic, basement, windows, and doorways. Also. check near pipes, vents, or electrical conduits that go through the wall, ceiling, or floor. When sealing leaks, use “no-VOC” or “low-VOC” caulking to minimize potentially harmful indoor gases. Look for these products at your hardware store or online.

3. Program thermostats for savings. Shave up to 20% off your heating costs by lowering the thermostat 5 degrees F at night and 10 degrees F during the day if no one is home. Most electronic setback thermostats let you set different schedules for weekdays and weekends. Some automatically switch from heating to cooling, and many tell you when it’s time to change your furnace or air-conditioner filter.

4. Save money on hot water. Insulating hot-water pipes and lowering the temperature on your water heater from 130 degrees to 120 degrees can help you save up to 5% on your energy bills.

5. Shorten showers. Showers account for two-thirds of your water-heating costs, so even shaving off a few minutes can help. Replacing a showerhead that’s more than 12 years old with a low-flow model can save up to half the hot water used for showering.

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whole-foods-bag_300The Howard Hughes Corporation® (NYSE: HHC) and its wholly-owned subsidiary The Woodlands Development Company (TWDC), recently announced that Whole Foods Market® will soon begin construction in Hughes Landing on Lake Woodlands, a 66-acre mixed-use development within The Woodlands. Hughes Landing is anticipated to be a dynamic environment featuring up to 11 office buildings; shopping, dining and entertainment; an upscale hotel; a fitness center and up to 800 multi-family residences.

 

“Local residents have long expressed strong interest in having a Whole Foods Market in The Woodlands,” said Paul Layne, Executive Vice President of Master Planned Communities for The Howard Hughes Corporation. “It will be an exceptional destination within Hughes Landing and across The Woodlands, adding to the many benefits of living, working and playing in this vibrant community.”

 

Founded in 1980 in Austin, TX, Whole Foods Market is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by “Health” magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Food, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. With 73,000 Team Members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by “FORTUNE” magazine for 16 consecutive years. The grocer currently has more than 350 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

 

“The Woodlands is a great fit for us,” said Mark Dixon, President of Whole Foods Market’s Southwest Region. “We are excited about the Hughes Landing development and its central location that is easily accessible to residents of The Woodlands and surrounding areas.”

 

Whole Foods Market plans to open its new 40,000-square-foot store in Hughes Landing in 2015. The main entrance will be situated off Lake Front Circle, near the intersection of Lake Front and Lake Woodlands Drive. Ample surface parking will be located adjacent to the market.

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FHABackToWorkProgram

FHA BACK TO WORK LOAN PROGRAM – A minimum of 12 months have elapsed since the date of foreclosure, deed-in-lieu, short-sale, bankruptcy CH. 13 or 7.  FHA is allowing for the consideration of borrowers who have experienced an Economic Event and can document that:

  1. 1. Certain credit impairments were the result of a Loss of Employment or a significant loss of Household Income beyond the borrower’s control.
  2. The borrower has demonstrated full recovery from the event.
  3. The borrower has completed housing counseling from HUD- approved housing counseling 30 days before but no more than 6 months prior to making a loan application.

This program is now available from many lenders.  Contact us today for a referral to a participating lender

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Credit_reportYou just found out your mortgage interest rate from your lender and it’s much higher than advertised rates. You know your credit is better than that so why is it costing you more than it should to buy a home?

Before you lock in your rate, do some quick investigating.

You could have an error on your credit report that is affecting your credit scores, which in turn, affects your interest rate.

According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), approximately one in four U.S. consumers have an error on at least one or more credit reports that could be serious enough to lead to higher rates on loan products. Worse, only one in five consumers were able to obtain a modification to their report.

The three credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Transunion and Equifax, collect data independently – which increases the margins for error. Your lender has no way to know if your report is correct, so it’s up to you to get copies of each of your credit reports and check for errors.

Once a year you are entitled to see a free copy of your credit report. You can go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com and order the reports separately. This is important because banks typically run one report to help set your interest rate. They also check credit reports again just before your loan closing, so you want to make sure that all three credit reports are correct.

If you find an error, you must report it in writing to the appropriate credit reporting agency. Include your name, social security number, date of birth, a copy of the report with the error circled; and copies, not originals, of documents such as social security cards, final payments, release of lien, court orders, or whatever you need to get the report changed.

Make sure your lender has copies of everything so you can prove the credit bureau is in error, not you.

The work you put in is well worth it. According to the FTC, consumers were largely successful at disputing erroneous data.

  • 25% of consumers said the error was corrected by credit reporting agency
  • 80% of consumers said some modification was made to their credit report
  • Over 10% saw their credit scores changed after filing disputes
  • Credit scores changed up to 25 points for 5% of consumers
  • One in 250 consumers saw their scores rise 100 points or more

Once you’ve been able to get each report corrected, you’ll be able to get a better loan rate.

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short-sale-see-sawWhat does “SHORT SALE”  mean?

Short Sale  means the lender has to accept LESS than what is owed on the mortgage – or the house can’t be sold.

Homes purchased at the TOP of the MARKET (often with a minimal downpayment and/or with a hefty mortgage) can be tough to sell in this market … simply because the expected SALES PRICE is below what the owner needs to repay on the loan.

Given the current real estate environment  (and significant drop in real estate values)   mortgages can be higher than a home’s market value, what it’s worth or what it will likely sell for.  That can make a house virtually unsellable unless the current owner can cough up the difference and  pay-off his or her mortgage  …OR  convince the bank to accept a reduced pay-off.

What constitutes a SHORT SALE:

1) IT’S  NOT A SHORT SALE if the owner can come to  the closing table with sufficient funds to pay off the loan.

2) IT IS A SHORT SALE IF THE BANK  AGREES TO (even if just in theory!) A SHORT PAY-OFF (ie. less than the amount due on the loan).

The difference between Approved & Unapproved Short Sales:

1) With an APPROVED SHORT SALE  the lender has already agreed to the SALES PRICE.

2) With an UN-APPROVED SHORT SALE  the  lender is aware of the predicament the seller is in (having to sell in a market where the value of the property is less than what’s owed on the loan).  An unapproved short sale  means that the lender  has theoretically agreed to the idea of entertaining an offer on the property (for less than the amount owed on the mortgage).  But the lender’s commitment is rather nebulous.  An official commitment  from the bank won’t come until well after the contract offer-to-purchase has been accepted by the seller,  then presented to and reviewed by the lender (AND IT’S THE LENDER WHO HAS THE FINAL WORD!).  The lender is free to entertain the offer in any fashion they please: counter, accept, or reject it outright … Typically an un-approved short sale is a long and drawn-out process (3-8 months).

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Hughes LandingThe first Hughes Landing tenants began moving in to their new offices in One Hughes Landing in early September, but the office building is only the first of many projects on the horizon. With residential, retail and dining projects planned in the near future, demand for space is strong for the 66-acre mixed-use development.

 Plans for Hughes Landing include 1.5 million to 2 million square feet of office space, 800–1,000 apartment units, 175,000–200,000 square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet for a hotel and a fitness center to serve workers, said Alex Sutton, co-president of The Woodlands Development Company.

Within two years, much of Hughes Landing—located on the east side of Lake Woodlands between Grogan’s Mill Road and Lake Woodlands Drive—could be completed, including a grocery store, parking garage, restaurants and luxury apartments, he said. Sutton said the entirety of the development, including as many as 11 office buildings, could take five to 10 years to complete, depending on demand.

“There’s a lot of buzz in the market that Hughes Landing has created,” Sutton said. “There’s a strong interest in it, and we’re very pleased at the pace that it’s going.”

Retail and residential

Development has always been planned for the tract of land—on the east side of Lake Woodlands between Grogan’s Mill Road and Lake Woodlands Drive—but the development company debated how much space should be allocated for residential and commercial development, Sutton said.

The development company finalized plans a little more than a year ago, Sutton said, and construction began on One Hughes Landing—the first office building—about 10 months ago. “You look at the [Hughes Landing] area and you see developments all around it,” Sutton said. “This is a place where the time has come.”

Although most of the early construction has focused on commercial development, other areas could break ground in 2013. Sutton said construction should break ground by the fourth quarter of this year for a 40,000–50,000-square-foot specialty grocer and a parking garage as the Development Company finalizes leasing for the space.

Paul Layne, executive vice president of master-planned communities for the Howard Hughes Company, said the development company is discussing a lease with Whole Foods. If constructed, it would be the first Whole Foods in The Woodlands.

Hughes Landing will also house what the development company is calling Restaurant Row, an area that will feature at least six restaurants. Escalante, a Mexican restaurant, has already signed a lease, while Eddie V’s, a seafood restaurant, and Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar are close to signing, Layne said. He said the development company is also seeking an Italian restaurant, and as many as 40 restaurants are vying for those few spots in Hughes Landing.

“It’s tremendously popular right now for high-end retail, and restaurants, particularly, are really interested right now,” said Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership.

Staley said the EDP was recently contacted by one major restaurant group from Orlando seeking data on Hughes Landing and The Woodlands, indicating how far the demand reaches.

Construction on Restaurant Row could begin once all restaurants are signed, Sutton said.

The first phase of residential development could begin this month, Sutton said. That includes an eight-story multi-family building with 391 luxury units and 20,000 square feet of retail on the first floor. Discussions are also underway for possible entertainment attractions, including a live music venue, a bowling alley and venues similar to Main Event or Dave & Buster’s.

“You develop a place with energy, and it becomes a place where people want to be,” Sutton said. “And that is why we’re being real careful in selecting our retail. We want to make sure there’s energy.”

Layne said discussions are also ongoing with two possible properties for the development’s hotel: Element by Starwood and Embassy Suites.

Office space

The first of as many as 11 possible office buildings within Hughes Landing, One Hughes Landing is complete and will begin housing tenants this month. Construction began on Two Hughes Landing in June, which should be nearly identical in size to One Hughes Landing, Sutton said.

The third office building could begin construction in spring 2014 once Two Hughes Landing nears completion. Future office buildings should follow suit, breaking ground shortly after the previous building’s completion date.

“The interest picks up considerably once construction picks up and the tenant can see there’s actually a building there,” Sutton said.

The third office facility could be as tall as 12 stories, while the fourth could be 14 or higher as the buildings get farther from the water, Sutton said. The development company has even considered an office building on the water.

Sutton said 87 percent of the leases for One Hughes Landing have been signed, although 95 percent of the leases will soon be finalized for the 197,000-square-foot, 8-story building. Tenants include Layne Christiansen, PetroQuest Energy and Post Oak Bank.

Frank LaRosa, senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Layne Christensen, said his company should add more than 100 jobs when it moves from Kansas City. LaRosa said the housing market and increased property taxes in The Woodlands, compared to his company’s previous location, are not ideal, but the area offers a good labor base for new employees and strong amenities.

“We determined it was in the best interest of the company to reconsolidate and bring our leadership team together in a new location,” he said. “We selected The Woodlands first and foremost because it’s close to our energy services market, which is a growing business for us, and because of the amenities in Houston.”

Although Sutton said no tenants have signed leases yet for Two Hughes Landing, he and Staley believe the demand is strong.

“[One Hughes Landing] filling up so quickly is a good indicator of how strong it is right now for office demand,” Staley said. “Two is taking off as well and three should be right behind.”

Transportation concerns

With 66 acres being developed less than a mile from Town Center, Sutton said Hughes Landing will increase traffic in the area. However, he said the development company has planned for infrastructure in that area, and much of the infrastructure in place is underused.

Sutton said such improvements could include expanding roads from four lanes to six lanes at certain intersections for left and right turns. The development company has also planned for overpasses at Grogan’s Mill Road and Research Forest Drive and at Grogan’s Mill and Lake Woodlands Drive.

Sutton said The Woodlands Township could also expand the trolley service to Hughes Landing.

“We are very hopeful that the trolley will come out to Hughes Landing and come back to the Town Center and those areas,” Sutton said

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