The Joys of Downsizing to a Smaller, Better Located Austin Home

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on July 23, 2010 · 25 comments

The Crossland Family has Super-Down-Sized from our nice, big, 2-year old custom home in Oak Hill to a crappy old 1970s house in Westlake. Now Me, Sylvia and our two teenagers are “crammed in” to an 1859 sqft rancher compared to the former 3316 sqft home, and 3701 sqft in the home prior to that.

This new house has a bad sewer line (and slow flushing commodes), aluminum wiring, former slab repairs, cracked sidewalk leading to the front door, termites, small secondary bedrooms, a giant dead tree in back, leaking sprinkler system, old worn out carpet (layered on top, believe it or not, of an older worn out carpet underneath), and a punch list of needed repairs and fix-up things at least 20 items long and growing daily. I’ve had a parade of vendors in and out of the house since we moved in two weeks ago and more on the way. This place was a rental home for 20+ years. I couldn’t move a renter into a house like this without hearing an earful of complaints, but we did it ourselves. And we couldn’t be happier with our new home. We absolutely love it.

Why are we so elated about our move into this dump? Location, first and foremost. More on that in a minute. But, also, we’ve grown weary of maintaining nice big houses on acreage and the accompanying expenses of that lifestyle. I mowed my own lawn 2 days ago for the first time since 1999 after me and my new neighbor spent an hour working on the old mower, taking apart and cleaning the carburetor, and getting it running.

I don’t need lawn service once a week anymore. We don’t need maids to come keep everything clean and shiny every 2 weeks. We don’t need a professional window washer to clean gigantic picture windows twice a year. This new house has 1 A/C filter to keep changed, the old one had 5 filters and I needed a 10ft step ladder to get to them all because of the nice high ceilings we had. The old house had high-end fussy appliances that were expensive to repair. This house has Plain Jane appliances that work surprisingly well, especially the black dishwasher that doesn’t match our white gas range and stainless fridge, all tucked nicely underneath a fabulously 70s seven foot two inch kitchen ceiling with yellowing plastic covers over the fluorescent lights. The new house has 32 light bulbs, the old house had over 100 light bulbs. You get the point. To sum up the lifestyle change in one word, I’d have say I feel “unburdened“.

But our primary motivation in leaving our beloved Oak Hill was location, getting closer back in to the core of Austin and living in a home from which we can walk places and better enjoy the Austin lifestyle.

Our oldest daughter will be able to walk to Westlake High for her senior year instead of commuting from Oak Hill as we have for three years. She has friends in the neighborhood. Our younger will have 4 years of walking to Westlake High, though we will have one year of backward commute to the Waldorf School in Oak hill so she can finish 8th grade there. One more year of fighting traffic at the dreaded “Y” in Oak Hill, but we’ve already lined up carpooling.

But now we can walk to not only the school but any number of establishments in less than 15 minutes, including Trianon Coffee house, where I often meet people to sign papers, Thundercloud Subs, a Yogurt shop, Chipotle, Kinkos/FedEx, Redbox at McDonalds, the post office, the library, and much more. We’ve already been taking advantage of this walkability. And if that’s not good enough, the bus stop for the Number 30 Barton Creek Mall/Downtown is a 6 minute walk from my new front door.

Last Saturday, Sylvia and the girls headed to Zilker Park (5 minute drive) at 4PM and laid out a blanket to stake out a spot for the Zilker Hillside Theater free showing of Annie at 8:30PM. Then they swam in Barton Springs Pool and hung out with friends (while I worked). I planned to meet them there later. The way this worked before is I would drive there and we’d end up with two cars to drive home afterward. This time, from the new house, I hopped the #30 bus at Walsh Tarlton for $1 and made it from my front door to our blanket, stage center, in exactly 23 minutes, including walk time through Zilker from the drop off at Barton Springs Rd. Awesome. Easy. Practical. And only one vehicle to bring home.

This #30 bus will get us into the heart of 78704 along Barton Springs Rd. and up into downtown in minutes. Dinner at Roaring Fork on Congress? No parking hassles. SXSW Festival? No parking hassles. ACL Fest? I’ll be the one getting off the bus at the front gate. Concert at Auditorium Shores, Plays at Zach Scott Theater, lunch anywhere on Barton Springs or downtown, SoCo, Casa De Luz, or a walk around Town Lake – all a quick, easy bus ride while the car and its operating expenses and parking hassles stays home.

We’ll be empty-nesters in 5 years and this home is the perfect size and location for Sylvia and I as we head into retirement and hopefully spend more time having fun and traveling once the kids are on their own. We don’t want to be trying to take care of a big empty house. This one is all we need, and yes, we will fix it up and make it nicer eventually, and we got such a great deal that the condition items don’t matter.

Finally, the thing that’s really hard to quantify or explain is simply the feel, the vibe of being close to people and things again. Feeling like an Austinite living in Austin instead of just outside it. The walk-ability and the freedom of not feeling 100% dependent on a 15+ minute drive to go places and do things. The closer interaction with neighbors instead of a shout hello and a wave from 300 feet away across our professionally manicured 1+ lawns.

The small things too, like true single-stream recycling service, and the bus service. No HOA fees, but city enforcement. We can vote again for local governance instead of being stuck out in the County with no voice in city elections.

And, even though we do still drive most places because of the nature of our work, these seem like short quick jaunts instead of tiring journeys through the dreaded Y in Oak Hill. Coming South on Mopac or 360 and exiting Bee Cave is a lot different than continuing on down through the Y in Oak Hill, especially between 4PM-6PM. The back way to Rudy’s BBQ on 360 is 4 minutes from my house, with no freeways. I’m in heaven.

So, as we’ve encouraged our buyers over the years to buy as close in to Austin as you can afford, because we believe there is value in proximity, we are now once again finally enjoying the benefits of that ourselves. And it’s really great to be doing so.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 M1EK July 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm

“Feeling like an Austinite living in Austin”

Ironic. Westlake != Austin.

I’m glad you’re enjoying being closer in, but be aware the #30 is a bus route chronically in danger of cancellation (although it seemed to escape that fate in the 2020 service plan).

2 Tim July 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm

It is awesome. We’re at the corner of IH-35 and 71 and it’s amazing how easy it is to get places. I think the time I’ve gained not sitting in traffic has added years to my life.

Now you need to convince Westlake to join CapMetro so we can get good bus service on 360…

3 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR July 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Hi Mike,

Actually, yes, Westlake=Austin in some areas, including ours. There are really two “Westlakes”.

1) The City of West Lake Hills, the boundaries of which can be seen on this map:
http://www.westlakehills.org/maps_large.php
This represents the official boundary of the areas in which a home is actually located within the city jurisdiction of West Lake Hills. Most of Westlake Dr., from The High Road all the way to Cap of TX Hwy (360) is not actually in the city of West Lake Hills. Which brings us to #2.

2) The general area referred to as “Westlake”, which pretty much matches the boundaries of Eanes ISD, or the 78746, and all of the 78733 zipcode. This includes neighborhoods such as Lost Creek, Barton Creek West, and the Woodhaven neighborhood where we now live, which is actually located inside the boundaries of the City of Austin. Everything east of Walsh Tarlton and south of Bee Cave Rd. is actually the city of Austin, including Barton Creek Mall.

Steve

4 JMVC July 24, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I work for Cap Metro. The #30 is in no danger of being eliminated anytime in the near future. Actually, with the impending elimination of the very low-ridership # 29, frequency on the #30 will likely increase.

5 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR July 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Hi JMVC – yes, I’ve rode the #30 twice now, just this evening for the second time actually. It was over 50% capacity northbound when we got on at Walsh Tarlton, and nearly full by Barton Springs Rd. after more people got on at Spyglass and Zilker. The southbound later had only 1 rider when we got on at Zilker around 8PM.

It seems to be a well used bus route. Would seem an odd one to delete.

Steve

6 Brian July 26, 2010 at 6:28 am

May have missed it – did you sell the previous property or are you renting it out?

How long had you been planning the change?

7 M1EK July 26, 2010 at 7:01 am

You would think so, but CM is cutting the #9, and the West Austin parts of the #21 and #22. Leaving a larger number of total riders completely in the lurch. The assumption that #29 riders will just take the #30 is wishful thinking along the lines of the plans to serve the riders of those other lost routes with ‘flexible’ service that will quickly prove useless. (and remember that you’re talking to the guy who called the Red Line correctly, unlike JMVC).

So you’re pretty close to my office then – we should do lunch sometime. I’m in one of those buildings at the corner of 360 and Westbank.

8 M1EK July 26, 2010 at 7:29 am

Sorry, read JMVC’s comment too quickly after too little sleep thanks to baby. The frequency improvements for #30 in the long-range plan are to bring it up to every 30 minutes from every 40; a change hard to notice. This level of frequency is clearly endangered by future Red Line operating cost increases.

9 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR July 26, 2010 at 7:47 am

> did you sell the previous property..?

It’s under contract, being sold.
Steve

10 M1EK July 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Re-read; I was short on sleep that morning. The #30 is certainly not safe at the existing 40 minute or the proposed 30 minute headways (the new ‘high’ frequency). To be sure, the Red Line operating cost debacle is likely to put the kibosh on bus service increases in the 2020 plan (which didn’t budget as much operating cost as is being planned for the Red Line or as little fare revenue).

11 edward July 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

Steve, so glad your family is enjoying the benefits of living closer to your children’s school and a more urban setting.

Question for you. I often hear criticisms of Westlake residents enjoying the parks of Austin (namely the Town Lake / Lady Bird Lake Trail, Zilker Park) without paying for them. I do not know if such criticism is warranted. Would you please help me understand the distribution of Westlake property taxes and how the residents of Westlake help contribute to the upkeep of the Austin parks Westlake residents frequently use. Many thanks.

12 M1EK July 30, 2010 at 11:57 am

edward, since Steve is in the CoA as he responded to me, he’s contributing to those parks. Westlake residents don’t, of course.

13 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR July 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm

> I often hear criticisms of Westlake residents enjoying the parks of Austin

Seems like an odd thing to often hear. I’ve lived in Austin for 25 years and haven’t heard that. But we do in fact live in the City Limits of Austin portion of Westlake, as described above.

To your larger point, the public facilities of any community are free and open to whomever wants to use them, unless restricted in some way. Libraries would be an example, where you have to show proof of residency to have the previledge. If the City of Austin wanted to limit public park use, it would be difficult or impossible to accomplish, unless entrance gates were set up and ID required.

Thanks!
Steve

14 Julia July 31, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I was so shocked when I read this entry!! I never would have expected you and your family to do something like this (not that I know you personally, just from what I’ve read on your blog). I am delighted that you are sharing the benefits of smaller houses, urban living, etc. Too many people think that bigger houses are better without considering the bigger costs to remodel, to heat, to cool, to furnish, to clean and to mow!

I am so glad you are happy and love your home even though it is not perfect! Thanks for blogging about it and sharing your good experience!!!

PS – I also live in town with no HOA. Very nice to not ever have to worry about an HOA pestering me. IMO, the City of Austin laws seem plenty good enough in enforcing upkeep.

15 edward August 2, 2010 at 9:14 am

Many thanks for the responses Steve and Mike. In absolutely no way am I suggesting that the city of Austin restrict access to the park system. It just seems odd (unfair?) that some residents of “Austin” do not contribute their share for the upkeep of parks all “Austinites” enjoy.

16 Peter August 3, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Great post and insight. Thanks..

Your current lifestyle gives me the goosebumps about Central Austin. Although the ‘new’ house itself appears a lot of work. How do you reconcile with the dreaded ceiling height? That is one of the few luxuries in life i am unwilling to forego (we are stuck here in faint vibe NW Austin). Maybe you could post pictures from then and now for your next blog entry.

Best wishes to you and keep up the good work. You should really get the title “Austin’s Realtor”.

17 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR August 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm

> How do you reconcile with the dreaded ceiling height?

The living and master bedrooms have vaulted ceilings, very nice. The other rooms are low, but that’s the way it is. Kitchen is super low with the old drop-down lights.

Steve

18 sylvia August 7, 2010 at 6:51 am

The hardest thing for me to adjust to is the size issue. Since we moved from a 3300 square foot house to an 1800 + square footer, we have had to “let go” of a lot of stuff. Our office is currently the 4th bedroom which we have had to tear apart again after we moved in so we could access the phone lines (we had a lot of trouble with ATT and the phone move), so now we have our laptops, printer, etc set up in the formal dining room. It is a pretty crazy set up. I hope to have the office set up again by Monday….

The nicest thing about the house, aside from the great location, is the view to the backyard to all the trees and wildlife. There are large windows in the back of the house that I always keep open so we can enjoy the view. Luckily the house faces south and the back is to the north, so we never have direct sunlight coming into the house. These large windows with the nice view and the vaulted ceilings in the main living area and master bedroom really helps to offset the low ceilings everywhere else.
Sylvia

19 Sara August 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm

My husband raised out ceiling on a 1977 ranch. It was very difficult as the 30 yr old wood was very hard–think petrified. In hind sight I would have left the furdowns(?) and put a large skylight in the center surrounded by cans.

20 Kelly August 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Congratulations Steve and Sylvia! I just e-mailed Sylvia before I visited here so I didn’t know your udpate. So happy to hear you’ve made the move and (I hope) have made the sale on your other home. We’ve always lived in small homes and I think it is so much nicer not having so much sq. footage to clean. While we can’t walk to much aside from the local park, marina or the teeny-tiny store – we’re still enjoying our new “ranch” life. We’ve had to adjust to shopping once a week instead of daily and we cook nearly all of our meals at home now. We hope to help create more of a small city communitiy here as the years progress – who knows we may open a bakery! We know it will be an adventure and love hearing about yours too!

21 Garreth Wilcock August 18, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Retiring in 5 years? I like how everyone picks up on the downsizing theme, but retiring? I hope you’ll keep blogging – your blog has been an inspiration to me since I got into the real estate business.

22 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR August 18, 2010 at 11:45 pm

> Retiring in 5 years?
Well, “retire” as in work for fun instead of necessity. I don’t think we could sit around doing nothing for long.

> I hope you’ll keep blogging ..

Thanks, I’m trying. Have had a dry spell lately. Just so busy it’s hard to sit down and write.
Garreth, yours is one of the better real estate blogs in Austin. You put a lot of thought and effort into your topics. I hope my readers will click over and have a look.
http://garreth.featuredblog.com/

Steve

23 scott August 19, 2010 at 9:18 am

I think, Steve, you and Sylvia are part of a larger trend…I’ve not been on your blog for a long spell, but was a frequent poster against Austin sprawl, and the ways we could amelieorate the same….I thought, and still do, that that sprawl was destroying the “golden goose” that attracted so many folks to Austin in the first place. The Centrifical force pushing growth out reminded me of that amusement ride, the cyclone…was actually named the Texas round-up, ironically, at our local carnivals growing up….just a push push push in all directions outward.
The open question was, would Austin ever develop a dymanic urban residential core, with the requisite city services and business services that would attract a critical mass of residents? Seems like this may happen now, per a confluence of several things…First, the era of the cookie-cutter suburban mega-house is spent…the boomer families that created that phenom have very much begun the “empty nest” syndrome, and no longer need or are willing to spend time maintaining such space, let alone the huge expenses they entail.
There are far fewer families just behind that boom to purchase those houses, and many of them are hurting economically, so surely there will be a surfeit of supply per megamanses for years to come. ..commercial real estate has also hit rock bottom, and the crazy funding for outlying strip-malls and big box stores that seemed to pop out of nowhere overnight is largely gone….as it stands, there is a huge overhang just to lease what has been built already in sprawlville..
This all leads to the revitalization of central urban areas, in Austin, and all over the USA.
It will not supercede suburban and outlying life, but will take FAR more share of the same than it once had….many young people today, as you have mentioned, Steve, will be renters by choice/necessity in the next decade. They will also be far more inclined to live in-city, per those same preferences. Healthy boomers will be making the same transitions you are, in many cases, and moving to decent central areas….
I am absolutely certain that Austin’s city center will be the most vibrant and growth-orientated section of the entire metro in the next decade, and I greatly look forward to seeing it grow, adding whatever input I can to the same!

24 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR August 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

Hi Scott, thanks for your comments..

Kelly, opening a bakery sounds awesome. Let us know how that goes!

Sara – yes, I’ve been contemplating a skylight, but it’s way down the list of things needed at this point.

Steve

25 Elisabeth May 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Just stumbled upon this post and found it very encouraging. My husband and I live in a 1970′s home in New England–I think it was built in 1974. It is small and cozy with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and is about 1300 sq ft. (in our area of the country, 2000 sq. ft is considered a big home!) It is in a great location…a quiet street just off a cul-de-sac with a nice view of a golf course and mountains off in the distance. The mortgage is affordable for us, and living here has enabled me to stay home with our two kids and home-school them, which my husband and I both really want to do. But, sometimes dissatisfaction creeps in and I find myself envious of friends with much larger and more modern homes. I was going through one of those periods where I was wishing for something bigger and better (without popcorn ceilings) when I came across your post. The fact that you downsized to get out of one of those homes, and actually seem happier in the older, smaller home with the better location was very reassuring to me. As I said, we have a great location, wonderful next-door-neighbors who are almost like family, and my husband has an easy commute to work. The maintenance on the property is low, as we are in a wooded area and many people don’t have lawns to upkeep and mow…we just spread some fresh mulch around in the summer and plant some annuals in some pots. I love that my husband doesn’t have to spend his weekends mowing, pruning etc. So, thank you for helping me to see our situation from a different perspective! I think I’m even ok with our popcorn ceilings now : )…I read your other posts. You are a good writer and make some very good points! Thanks and God bless!

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