Gallup polling released its “U.S. Community Well-Being Tracking” poll this week, which charts the percentage of residents of a given area based on their overall health and well-being. The list looks at a wide swathe of U.S. cities, but Gallup’s filtering also allows for us to break it down by state, meaning that we can take a look at every Texas metro area with at least 300,000 people in it (which gives the short-shrift to much of West Texas), and put them in a head-to-head competition.
The poll breaks down several different categories by percentage of the population: Obesity, frequent exercise, frequent consumption of fresh produce, smoking, daily stress, and insurance—as well as an overall well-being number.
Diving into these numbers, some things that seem obvious are, in fact, obvious: Stress levels, for example, are higher in more impoverished parts of the state, which means that the Rio Grande Valley reports stress rates in the neighborhood of 63 percent. (Of course, the variance between the most stressed and least stressed parts of the state is fairly mild—Austin is the least-stressed place in Texas, but still 57 percent of residents report daily stress.)
More interesting are the numbers surrounding a handful of health indicators: Frequent exercise, frequent consumption of fresh produce, and insurance coverage are all at their highest rate in the Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood area. This makes sense if you think about it for half a second—an area surrounding a major Army post is going to be populated by people who know how to work out; whose meal-planning involves more than just the Whataburger drive-thru; and who likely have military insurance. (Of course, Killeen also has more smokers than anywhere else in the state, with nearly thirty percent of the region—or more than twice the percentage of smokers in El Paso.)
Like stress, poverty is also a fairly good indicator of obesity rates: the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area reports obesity rates of 38.3 percent, which is nearly fifteen points higher than the lowest-ranked city, Austin. (Corpus Christi, Beaumont, and Port Arthur also hover near the top of that list—while San Antonio has the second-highest obesity rate of any large city in the entire country.)
Shockingly, more than half of the respondents in the Rio Grande Valley report being uninsured, as well. Its 51.2 percent of the population without insurance coverage not just the highest percentage of people in the state, it’s also the highest percentage in the entire country by a wide margin—in second place is El Paso, with the still-very-high number at 34.5 percent, and the only other community in the entire country with more than thirty percent uninsured is Yakima, Washington, a Central Washington city with a population under 100,000 people.
The poll also determines a number it declares the “overall well-being,” though that’s not a percentage of the population and it doesn’t explain precisely how it arrives at that figure. Whatever exactly it means, it seems that people are happiest in—big surprise—wealthier cities: Austin, Dallas, and Houston take the top spots there, while Beaumont, Corpus Christi, and McAllen bring up the rear.
Ultimately, numbers like “overall well-being” may not tell us much, but there’s a lot to learn from the realization that such wide gulfs between the insured and the uninsured, or the people who smoke and who don’t, or who are able to take advantage of their access to fresh food and those who aren’t, exist here in Texas. The fact that there’s a strong correlation between poverty and lower public health isn’t really a revelation, but it’s sobering to realize nonetheless.
The Austin metro area’s economy has been the nation’s top performer through the recession and the recovery, according to a new study by The Brookings Institution.
The four major Texas Triangle metropolitan areas, consisting of Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio topped the list in that order. The report used data compiled through the first quarter of 2013.
The Washington, D.C.-based policy institute ranked the nation’s metro areas and compared changes in jobs, unemployment, gross product output and home prices for each area through three time periods: the recession, the following recovery and the period combining both. The Austin area’s economy ranked seventh nationally during the recession, third during the recovery and first in the period that combines both the recession and the recovery.
Other cities on the top 10 list include Oklahoma City; San Jose, Calif; Provo, Utah and Omaha, Neb.
Austin’s job creation, gross product output, housing prices and unemployment far outstripped the national average both during the recession and the subsequent recovery. More detailed information on the metro area’s economy is available on the Brookings website.
The recovery figures are often touted by local economic development officials, who note that Austin fared much better relative to the rest of the nation in the most recent recession than it did during the previous technology bust.
So far this year, the housing market has been hampered by negative factors such as weather, higher mortgage rates and prices, shortage of properties for sale and tight lending practices. Even so, the housing market continues to grow. The outlook for 2014 is good — not only for residential but for the real estate industry as a whole.
Regarding residential properties, experts predict smaller price increases this year. Their best guess is that prices will be up but not as much as last year. Some surveys show consumers expect to pay 3 percent more each year for the next ten years. In other words, home prices will likely increase less than mortgage rates, indicating that the consumption motive to purchase a house is stronger than the investment one. Also, the futures markets have home price increases at 5 percent annually. Experts see a continued buyer preference for rentals because household formation has been slowed by unemployment.
The effect institutional investors have on home price increases is comparable to the homebuyer tax credit. Any long-run, permanent effects they have are unclear. Institutional investors are perceived as having a temporary effect on home prices. Purchasing decisions are made based on profit and return; single-family homes do not represent the same cost structure as apartment buildings to maintain and service. As home prices and interest rates increase, profitability decreases for institutional investors. Given this, the long-run market potential for 1.7 to 1.8 million housing starts per year is still years away.
For the commercial sector, private nonresidential construction has picked up since the recession ended. While commercial builders saw a strong decline during the recession, construction has begun to pick up again. Experts see growth throughout the private, nonresidential construction sectors.
Retail construction remains muted because of a lack of growth in consumer spending and an increase in consumer preference for online purchases.
In contrast, hotel construction has picked up largely because of a boost in corporate profits, which has fueled business travel. Hotel construction is particularly cyclical, and it closely follows the pattern of real gross domestic growth and corporate profits.
The outlook for industrial construction growth remains uncertain. Institutional construction has seen a volatile recovery after a 2013 decline precipitated by a lack of funding at the federal, state and local government levels.
After a muted 2013, office construction has picked up, driven by employment growth in the energy and technology sectors. More jobs means more demand for office space in regions with a strong energy-technology presence.
Workplace density is increasing and will have an impact in future building construction. In 2010, the average space per office worker globally was approximately 225 square feet. By 2013, 64 percent of global corporations were at 150 square feet or less space. By 2018, it is expected that 52.3 percent of global corporations will be at 100 square feet or less. That’s because the most effective way for companies to lower costs is to increase density.
Real estate sector analysts have expressed concerns about the shortages in the supply of skilled labor to build houses, and commercial and office buildings. The shortage is said to have been caused by an older construction labor force, a movement to other industries, less immigration labor and a generational problem in training and recruiting young workers.
As long as the economy continues generating slow job growth, the real estate sector will continue to grow at a slow pace. Job growth is needed to increase household formation as the hiring of new workers leads to greater demand for housing and commercial and office space. This has been the case for Texas where metropolitan areas, such as Houston and Austin, continue to show the strongest performance in real estate markets versus other regions that lack energy and technology industries.
The Central Texas real estate rush shows no signs of slowing down. With international events like South by Southwest shining the spotlight on Austin and influential magazines like Forbes putting Central Texas city’s at the top of the best lists almost every month, its boom time. This is credited to a low unemployment rate and a business friendly culture for this economic surge. “I compare Texas to California in the 1950′s,” Sprague said. “The land of opportunity. It’s because of fewer regulations.” But, it comes at a cost to some. Affordable rental housing in Austin is almost non-existent.
The occupancy rate is around 95 percent. And it if you want to live downtown you have to pay to play. Sprague also says traffic, road construction and public transportation are major concerns that must be dealt with over the long term. But, Sprague believes with about 60,000 people moving to Central Texas every year the newcomers see Austin as a bargain. “We’re basically on the top of the pile,” Sprague said. “There are consumers that don’t feel that but compared to other states we are doing phenomenally well and there are only seven states that have pre-recession numbers. Texas leads that.” He says there’s little or nothing standing in our way.
Courtesy of KEYE News Austin
That means unless you can claim more than those amounts, there’s no reason to itemize.
One of the most common ways to get over the threshold, however, is to own a house and unlock the many deductions that come with home ownership. But it’s not as simply mailing a mortgage bill to the IRS and reaping the rewards. There are a bunch of very specific deductions that require specific paperwork.
Here are six important tax tips to look for if you’re a homeowner:
Claiming mortgage interest is the biggie, and one of the most common deductions among taxpayers.
“It’s evolved over the last 10 years, but we now have a cap of $1.1 million in mortgage debt that we can deduct for tax purposes,” said Monica Rebella, a certified public accountant in California. This includes first mortgages, as well as mortgages on second homes.
Rebella also points out that the deduction even covers multiple loans, so those with a primary residence in Ohio but winter home in Florida can claim the interest on both, so long as the total is under the $1.1 million cap.
Just be careful, she warns, of claiming a mortgage interest deduction on home equity loans that haven’t been used to improve the property.
“If you refinanced your loan and decided, ‘Hey, why don’t we take another $50,000 out in equity,’ but then you don’t use that money to, say, build a pool, that’s not fully deductible,” Rebella said. “You have to use the money to improve the house, or you are not allowed a deduction for that.” Read more…
Is renting or buying a better financial bet? Every six months, Trulia’s chief economist Jed Kolko runs the numbers to answer that question and help you stay on top of the trends. So what does Trulia’s Winter 2014 Rent vs. Buy Report tell us? Although the gap between renting and buying is narrowing across the U.S., homeownership is still 38% cheaper than renting.
Homeownership remains cheaper than renting nationally and in all of the 100 largest metro areas according to Trulia TRLA -1.84%’s latest Winter Rent vs. Buy report. Rising mortgage rates and home prices have narrowed the gap over the past year, though rates have recently dropped and price gains are slowing. Now, at a 30-year fixed rate of 4.5%, buying is 38% cheaper than renting nationally, versus being 44% cheaper one year ago.
The rent versus buy math is different in each local market. Buying ranges from being just 5% cheaper than renting in Honolulu to being 66% cheaper than renting in Detroit. But even for a specific market, the cost of buying versus renting depends on how much home prices rise (or fall) after you buy. Our model assumes conservative home price appreciation, but – as we all know after the last decade – home prices can unexpectedly rocket or plummet.
Buying Beats Renting Until Mortgage Rates Hit 10.6%
Even though prices increased sharply in many markets over the past year, low mortgage rates have kept homeownership from becoming more expensive than renting. Also, in some markets, like San Francisco and Seattle, rents have risen sharply; rising rents hurt affordability relative to incomes, but rising rents make buying look cheaper in comparison.
Will renting become cheaper than buying soon? Some markets might tip in favor of renting this year as prices continue to rise faster than rents and if – as most economists expect – mortgage rates rise, due both to the strengthening economy and Fed tapering. For each metro, we identified the mortgage rate “tipping point” at which renting becomes cheaper than buying, given current prices and rents. If rates rise, Honolulu would become the first metro to tip, at a mortgage rate of 5.0%. San Jose and San Francisco would also tip before rates reach 6%. But those are the extreme markets. Nationally, rates would have to rise to 10.6% for renting to be cheaper than buying – and rates haven’t been that high since 1989.
Courtesy of Forbes Magazine