Yesterday, September 1st, I walked through a rental property in South Austin that had been vacated the day before. I had my Flip Mino Video Camera with me so I decided to make a short video of the walk-through and share a few things about what I look for when walking a vacant rental property after a tenant move out.
The result is one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what I’m doing, or how to make a good video. I move too fast, muddle my words, don’t hold the camera steady, etc. I look like a dork and sound stupid. My Inner Critic is telling me to forget it, don’t post it. It’s terrible. Learn some video editing first. But if I wait until I know what I’m doing, it will never happen.
I have the camera mainly for vacations and recording family stuff, but I’ve thought for a while now that it might be fun to start making some video blogs, so this is what I’m starting with, for better or worse.
Here goes …
If you wonder what it’s like being a landlord, you’ll find it interesting (if you just watched the video) that the tenant emailed me the same day, after not following the instructions provided for returning keys, and stated in the email, “I spent a lot of time cleaning the house. I hope it was up to your standards.”
This is why I don’t allow tenants to walk through properties with me, or meet them for move-out walk-throughs. There is too big of a disconnect between what I observe and what a tenant deems to be acceptable. For more on that, read my past article “Why I Never Do Move-out Walk-throughs with Departing Tenants”
Back to video making and why I decided to go ahead with my first rough draft right out of the gate.
Read more …
Two weekends ago I was running errands that took me from my home in Oak Hill in SW Austin, to my bank in South Austin, then to drop my daughter off at KidsActing in East Austin off East MLK. Then up to preview a house in North Austin, then up to Round Rock to see if the make-ready was complete on one of our new listings, then out to NW Austin near Spicewood Springs Rd and Hwy 183 to check on another house. After that I headed south, down Hwy 183 back to my office on Mopac to pick up mail, then to check on a lease listing near Zilker Park before I stopped for a late afternoon lunch at Green Mesquite on Barton Springs Rd.
I noted throughout the day of driving around that, for the most part, there is not anything aesthetically “special”, unique or visibly distinguishable about Austin. At least not along the main arteries I drove. In fact, much of Austin, viewed from the main travel arteries – especially the IH35 and 183 corridors – is, frankly, ugly.
Except for the drive through Zilker Park, and the generally large number of trees adorning Austin, I could have been driving around any city in the USA, if visual observation of commercial establishments and roadways were to be the only criteria.
So what makes Austin special? What makes Austin “Austin”? Increasingly, I believe, as “Austin” has grown to become the “Austin Metro Area”, it’s harder to differentiate the stuff we encounter on a daily basis from that which might be encountered on a daily basis in, say, Cleveland, Phoenix or Houston. The real Austin has become a sub-category of the greater Austin area.
Or perhaps, after living here almost 25 years, I’m so accustomed to what makes Austin special that it’s not readily apparent to me anymore and I’d need to go live somewhere else for a while and come back to really appreciate it. Maybe I take it for granted, except for certain areas.
A few years ago I got lost in Houston and I pulled into an outdoor mall off a busy boulevard to look at a map. There, in that parking lot, I observed the exact same grouping of stores found on Brodie Lane in South Austin. As I scanned across the stores, there was Pet Smart, Barnes and Noble, CompUSA (now extinct), Old Navy, OfficeMax, World Market, a Chinese restaurant, etc. This could have been Anytown USA. So too can most such strip mall locations in Austin, from strictly an observational standpoint of what you actually see in front of you, where you shop, and what you do in the course of a normal day.
So what makes Austin “Austin”? In other words, what do we have going on that is rare, or hard to find elsewhere, both for residents and visitors? What tales would a visitor have to tell after a 3 day visit? Where would she have gone and what would she have experienced that would generate tales of wonder for friends back home? Certainly not staying a weekend with a friend in Round Rock, visiting the outlet malls and eating out at a Chilis, then catching a movie, right? That’s not an “Austin” visit.
Nor is a true Austin visit flying in, staying at the La Quinta near the airport, renting a car and driving to Circle C, Steiner Ranch, Avery Ranch, and other popular Austin subdivisions in the suburbs, grabbing meals at fastfood places, and dinner at Chilis. Subdivisions and 90% of the eateries in Austin can be found anywhere in the U.S. So buying a DR Horton in Austin in a Subdivision close to a Pet Smart, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Old Navy, OfficeMax, World Market, and a Chinese restaurant doesn’t mean you’ve arrived in Austin, or that you even “live” here, if we define “Austin living” as experiencing the uniqueness of Austin, not just having an Austin mailing address.
So what makes Austin “Austin“?
Well, I think there are some things we can talk about, though I also think a typical person can live here and never experience any of them if they don’t get out and do it on purpose.
I recently harvested thousands of tax records for marketing purposes. I pulled from the Travis County property tax records database all of the “absentee” owners of single family homes in South Austin, including area codes 78704, 78745, 78748, 78749, 78739 and 78736.
An “absentee owner” is one for whom the mailing address is different than the property address. This method of determining which homes are rentals is not perfect, but there is no better way.
Prior to filtering and deduping the raw data, I had 4,374 names, many of whom own more than one property. Of those, 3,487 (80%) have a Texas mailing address. Of the Texas addresses, 3,068 have a Central Texas (Austin area) mailing address.
So, 80% of the rental homes in South Austin are owned by Texans, and 70% are owned by local landlords who live in or around Austin.
Which state is the next highest represented by ownership?
You guessed it…Californians own 467 of the homes in my sample data, which represent 11% of the rental homes in South Austin. All other states were way behind, but the next highest was Arizona with 37 properties, Illinois with 26, Washington with 21, Hawaii with 20, Colorado and New Mexico with 16 each. The rest of the city would probably produce similar ratios and ownership breakdowns, though I would expect the California percentage to be higher in the newer outskirt areas than they are in South Austin.
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I received a call from a KEYE42 News reporter yesterday wanting to interview me about the impact on gas prices on suburban areas further away from Austin. I said “ok”. The link to the piece they showed is below.
The interesting thing to me about these interviews is how the final piece generally conveys the message intended (by me) but still misses the mark somewhat. The “$50K cheaper 30 miles out” came from an example I gave the reporter comparing the commute for a state worker who lives 8 miles from downtown in South Austin, in a 2,000 sqft home that costs $200,000 versus that same downtown worker who bought a 2,000 sqft home 20 miles further out in Hutto for $150K ($50K cheaper, 30 miles farther).
The Hutto home owner will save about $300/mo. on their loan payment by saving $50K on the purchase price of the home. But that owner will commute 40 miles round trip further each day (28 miles from Hutto to Austin vs. 8 miles from South Austin).
At 20 mpg and $4/gal, that home owner gives back $175/mo. of their lower house payment to fuel costs. The $4/day toll eat up another $85/mo. That drops the total savings of the cheaper, further home to about $60/mo before factoring in the extra wear and tear on the vehicle, added depreciation from higher miles, the value/cost of the additional hour each day commuting, etc.
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