I often experience something many Austinites will never know. A quiet uncrowded Austin. No traffic. No noise. No crowds. Just peaceful serenity and bliss.
There is no turning back – no solution – for Austin’s traffic problems, congestion, growth, commercial encroachment into central neighborhoods, and myriad other small and big annoyances caused by Austin’s economic “success”. We all have to develop coping mechanisms to keep our sanity intact. Resistance is futile. You will either assimilate, or move away in disgust. I don’t want to leave Austin, I want to Love Austin. I want to keep that love alive. So I’ve adjusted my personal lifestyle and business practices in ways that equip me to better cope with the new reality of life in Austin. Here’s what I do.
Wake up at 5AM and go Running
You don’t have to run, you can walk, or do something else. Either out your front door through your still-sleeping neighborhood, or drive to your favorite hike and bike trail, park, or the gym. There will be no traffic. The city will be yours. At 5-6AM, there are typically only about 3 cars parked under the Mopac bridge at Town Lake.
Running (or walking) around Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake) in the pre-dawn silence, under the dim light of the Zilker Moon Tower, and the distant glow of downtown Austin, is as peaceful and quieting an experience as one can know. When I do this, usually Sunday, Monday and Thursdays, I do it unplugged. No iPod music. Just the dark silence of the morning. I usually encounter no more than a few others on the trail, depending on the weather and how early I go. By 6AM, the trail starts slowly populating, but is still uncrowded, and by 7AM, the normal early birds are there, the sun is up, and it’s no longer deserted. Continue reading
When you read a news article about Austin real estate that reports average and median home prices, the values quoted are often those from total Austin MLS sales. Those sales figures are compiled from the entire Austin MLS service area, including suburbs, nearby cities as well as some far flung areas. The “Austin MLS” might more accurately be referred to as a “Central Texas MLS”.
Therefore, you might read in one of the “Best of” articles about Austin, that “The Average Sold price for single family homes in the Austin Metro area for 2013 is $314,300 and the Median Sold price is $235,000”.
Those values are represented in the green bars in the graph above. To those thinking of moving to Austin, a median price of $235K sounds pretty affordable. It means half of all houses in “Austin” sell for less than $235K. A buyer with good credit earning the Austin median family income of $65K annually, can qualify for a mortgage payment of $1,950 per month at 5%, or a $266K home. Austin seems like a sweet deal and a great place to live to an outsider reading about it.
Buyers will sometimes ask “is Builder X a good builder?” My answer is that your builder’s brand name doesn’t matter enough to make it a decision point in your new home purchase decision.
In other words, if a hypothetical buyer is torn between two similar to-be-built home options in the same neighborhood, I will tell that buyer that the brand name of the builder should NOT be a deciding factor. There are more important things such as the lot itself, the floorplan and standard finish-out.
But I read some bad reviews about Builder X?
Ignore those. You cannot protect yourself from a bad builder experience by ruling any builders out, and you cannot increase your chances of a good builder experience by limiting which builders you consider. Researching builders is folly. The same builder can build two houses side by side, and those two different buyers may have completely different experiences. In fact, one project may go smooth, and the other has a lot of problems. Each build is its own standalone project with its own unique and different problems that will arise, because the lots, floorplans and buyers are all different. That’s normal and expected.
In Texas, as in most Sunbelt states, all the “production builders” use the essentially same pool of subcontractors. It’s not that different from the PC you buy (Dell vs HP), or even many appliances and cars. Drive through the neighborhoods and you’ll see trucks from Casa Mechanical and Chistianson Plumbing working in the same subdivisions on different builder’s home. Few builders have in-house framing crews anymore. All sub out the roofing. All trades get subcontracted out now. It’s these subcontractors that do the work, not the “builder”, which isn’t really a “builder” in the strict sense of the word, but a construction management and marketing company.
Sylvia and I usually attend an annual Austin Real Estate Economic Update to find out what the coming year holds. This year, I exclaimed to her, “Why bother? It’s going to be full tilt boogie, just like 2013“. I mean, Austin is rumbling along with all cylinders firing. There is nothing I need to hear about 2014 that I don’t already know. We’re gonna be working our butts off and house prices are going to keep rising.
For many, this is good news. If you’re going to sell a home in Austin this Spring or Summer, you’ll be happy. If you’re buying a home in Austin, you better have an “A Game”, and you better be ready to bring it. And I mean bring it. You don’t buy a house in Austin anymore, you compete for one. Oddly, you’ll be happy too, when you finally win a multiple bid competition and pay too much for a house.
Many of our Realtor friends had record production years in 2013, as did Sylvia and I. Most are looking forward to another busy year in 2014. But I don’t like it. I don’t want to be this busy. And I think, to some degree, these manic real estate swings and rising values are ruining Austin, and the real estate profession. Everything has become hyper-instant. Everything is Urgent. Sylvia called on a new listing the morning of Jan 2nd which had already gone under contract with 7 offers New Years Day. This wasn’t even in a “hot” area. Why aren’t people sleeping in on New Year’s Day instead of out fighting over a house?
I know. It’s a weird thing to complain about, being busy, doing well, enjoying professional success. Shame on me. Continue reading