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.

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