Last year we began a new feature on our blog called Ask the Agents. It’s proven to be one of the most popular features on the website. Here is the current batch of questions – most of them from our clients – and answers.

Question: What does “short sale” mean?
Answer: When the net proceeds from a real estate transaction fall short of the debts secured by the liens against the property it is called a short sale. In other words, a house sells for less than what is owed on it. We have seen quite a number of short sales in Houston as a result of Hurricane Harvey: Many folks who had their homes ruined by the storm and had no flood insurance have had to sell their property for less than their mortgage – this is a short sale. In order for a short sale to work, the lien holder – typically the mortgage company or bank – has to agree to accept less than the amount still owed on the property. It’s a complicated transaction, because the lien-holder has the final say as to whether an offer can be accepted or not. 

Question: What is a setback?
Answer: Setbacks are, essentially, building lines. They are typically found in the deed restrictions of a subdivision. In River Oaks, building setbacks – and these include front, rear and side setbacks – can vary by the block. Always check with River Oaks Property Owners (ROPO) to find out what the required setbacks are on your block. To make it even more complicated, there are also prevailing setbacks. If you wish to discuss, please call us.

Question: How important is a home inspection when buying a house?
Answer: Very! Yes, you may save a few hundred dollars by not having a licensed inspector thoroughly check the house that you want to buy. But it will cost you in the long run. Every house, even brand-new construction, has deficiencies. Some are minor, but some are not. A standard home inspection examines the condition of the roof, HVAC systems, interior plumbing, electrical system, appliances, attic, visible insulation, walls, levelness of floors, windows and doors, the foundation and, if there is one, the basement. If you are looking at a stucco home in Houston, you should also order a stucco inspection (this is typically performed by a company that specializes in stucco) and, always, a termite inspection. These inspections usually take several hours for a large home, and the cost can range from $500 to $1500. On the upside, repairs recommended by the inspector can be a negotiating tool for you with the seller.

Question: Our bathrooms need help before we list our house. Where should we start?
Answer: Put away all the clutter, including toothbrushes, make-up and shaving paraphernalia. Scrub the sink, toilet, tub and floor. Don’t forget to polish up the chrome trim on shower doors and the faucets. Re-caulk the tub/shower, if needed. Deodorize the drains. Paint the walls and woodwork, if needed, with a neutral color. Replace dim lightbulbs with bright ones. Empty the trash can. Replace the shower curtain and liner. Invest in fluffy new towels, preferably white, and new bath mats, soap and perhaps a new toilet seat. Set out a single potted plant, such as an orchid, if there’s room on the countertop or a shelf. Allow yourself a single scented candle – Mixture’s Hedgerow scent is a nice soy candle we recently discovered at an open house.

For more questions about buying or selling a house, see Ask the Agents. Or email or