And just like that, we’re moving again

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on May 23, 2014 · 6 comments

moving_outHave you ever woken up on a Friday morning with no intention of moving and by 5PM that day have submitted an offer on a home? That’s what Sylvia and I recently did, and it’s not the first time.

We really thought our current place in Westlake would be our “forever” retirement home. We’ve slowly improved and updated it, but still had a major kitchen and master bath redo and expansion in our future. The location is, in my opinion, the best in Austin for both our current working/family and future empty-nester lifestyles. 8 minutes to Town Lake, Zilker or Downtown, easy access to Mopac or 360, walking distance Trianon Coffee, FroYoyo, a Thundercloud Subs and more. Even a Cap Metro bus stop 6 minutes walk from our front door goes through Zilker Park and into downtown.

Our daughter can walk to Westlake High, and we’re within even closer proximity to the elementary and middle schools, which is what draws so many families and gives the Woodhaven neighborhood such a good mix of great people. It’s really perfect. A geographically “central” location without the quirky annoyances and absurdities of the 78704 areas.

But …Prices in the ‘hood have gone through the roof. It’s not going to be affordable or practical as a retirement home. If we make the contemplated improvements, our “retirement” home – a basic 1970s rancher – would be transformed and more highly valued and thus produce an annual property tax bill bigger than I want to swallow for the next 30 years. Sure, we’d be building equity, but still, property taxes seem to have gone too high already.

And blame it on ego, or whatever, but we’ve worked hard to provide for our kids and ourselves, we save heavily and live frugally, and I just don’t see the point of all that if we’re going to live out the rest of our days in a small old 1,800 sqft ’70s home with a cramped 8×5 master bath, even smaller closets, and an apartment sized kitchen. We deserve more and we’ve earned it. It was fine for 4 years, but it boils down to that common “love it or leave it” decision that confronts those in our situation, where central Austin land values have made the home you already own unaffordable to improve or financially impractical to hold longterm.

Therefore, we’d been more seriously tossing the idea of returning to SW Austin a year from now, after our youngest graduates high school, to Villages at Western Oaks, Circle C or Legend Oaks. Somewhere in that 78749 zipcode (Mopac/Davis/Slaughter area) which, in my recently adjusted opinion, is now the very best overall neighborhood in Austin for both families and empty-nesters. Good schools, awesome amenities, convenient location. Since we sell in that area, we know the market and keep our eye on activity, and lately it’s been hotter than hot.

When I saw a new listing pop up that fit our (future) needs – 1-story, 2200+ sqft, nice master bath and kitchen + home office – I nonchalantly printed and gave it to Sylvia, who was going to be in the area anyway, and said “here, while you’re down there, go preview this one, just for the heck of it”. 

When she got there, there was a line to show it. 30 minutes later she got in and called me saying “I really, really like this house”. Hmmm. “How much do you like it, on a scale of 1 to 5?” I asked. “5” she said.

So I went and had a look. I could have gone either way. It’s a great house with an awesome forested yard – perfect layout for us in a premium location. But, we hadn’t made the decision to actually move this soon. This seemed sort of sudden. Nevertheless, as I’ve advised other husbands, when your wife says “this is the one”, let her have her way. Make it happen, dude.

Of course it went into multiple offers, over list, but we brought our A-Game and prevailed by paying what seems like “too much”, but really isn’t when all factors are considered.

And so, just like that, we’re moving again.

We’re either crazy, stupid or smart. I’m not sure which. In this case, we had zero search planning or discussion, no hand wringing, no months of looking, looked at just one house on one day and bought it in less than 24 hours. But we’ve made similar abrupt purchases in the past 20 years and, oddly, they always turn out to be better purchase decisions than the carefully thought out reasoned ones. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure others can relate.

I do second guess the rationale, but after walking through it again in my head, and with a calculator, always end up again feeling like it’s a very solid decision. In this way, even though we’re Realtors ourselves, we are not much different than the many buyers we work with when it comes to buying a personal home. We experience the same trepidation, especially when the decision has to be made so quickly – in fact instantly. In this market, there is no real time to contemplate, reflect and think. Act now or miss the boat. Trust your gut, make the decision, then do it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura (So Ca) May 23, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Steve,
Congrats for finding a home you’ll enjoy. I don’t know your ages, but we have less time in front of us then behind us, so I say throw caution to the wind, yeah, pencil it out, and then take the risk. I’m really happy for you two.

We bought our “toe -tag” home with the intention of it being our forever home as well, but now we’re not so sure. Our street has some slobs living on it, and we have good neighbor etiquette. Our garage door isn’t open, unless we use the Vette, and when the car cools, the door goes down. I have a pet peeve about garage doors and messes left outside. We came from a very pricey HOA luxury tract. But we have self-discipline and class, and don’t need a totalitarian father figure (HOA), per se.

California’s prop 13 hold our property taxes at bay, but this historic bubble priced us out of the level of housing we wanted, and our taxes have technically doubled per sq ft. That’s a hard nut to crack and swallow.

Go for your next chapter of housing, and enjoy the journey. No one is getting out of this alive.

2 Sara June 3, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Prop 13 seems fair because California has income tax, but when you loose your property tax rate lock when you move it makes it very hard to make a move. Interest rates could act the same way in the future. I would be loath to move at 6% when i am locked in at 3.5%.
i think property taxes should be linked to general inflation, not house prices, especially in a housing market manipulated by subsidized low interest rates.

3 Laura (So Ca) June 4, 2014 at 9:05 am

Sara
Great critical thinking. It always perplexes me why the young’ins hate prop 13, because long term owners pay a lot less in taxes, due to buying pre-epic housing -finance bubble. Prop 13 caps our property tax increase to a 2% annually. Considering compounding, it’s still no bargain.

We bought a 1970′s ranch fixer that should have cost us $250K, instead of $400K. We had to gut the house ($100K) before we could move in. It use to be a “kennel”. (Prior owner’s business was dog flipping.) This bubble was great for the FIRE sector, and that’s all.

I think low interest rates are locked into the govt financing their enormous debt load. I also believe (KNOW) the BLS’s inflation stats are BS. Greenspan, Reagan, and Congress (Reagan signed with glee) a re-formulated of inflation, and that was one of the pinnacle changes to the BLS.

This country is a mere shadow of its’ former self. I’m now a political atheist (recovered repuke).

4 Laura (So Ca) June 4, 2014 at 10:10 am

Sara & all,
There is a good article in the recent The Economist about China’s real estate bubble starting to lose oxygen and on life support, dying, finally. It gives you a good perspective. The World’s Central Banks work for the oligarchy of each country.

5 Greg Hart June 4, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Great article. Keep blogging Steve. I love it!!! You are too good at it to not do more of it. :)

6 Alison Shuman August 19, 2014 at 5:14 pm

The property tax issue drove me out of my home in NW Austin a few years ago. My tax bill was 40% of my monthly payment, and I could envision no scenario where it would even come down. Even when the house was paid off, the taxes would be more than I could stomach. Basically, the same situation you have.

I sold, and bought a small condo near Northwest Hills and am extremely pleased. Sure, I have HOA fees, but my taxes are a third what they were for my house.

My next house will be as small as possible, in the lowest-tax area that is decent to live in – will figure that out in a few years.

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