The Good Life in Austin Texas

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WHY I OUGHTA!!! (Commenting on blogs)

Talking trash

As a relative newcomer to Active Rain, I am learning at a fast clip that there are many wide and varied opinions and that a lot of people can get very upset and speak out rather vociferously at times. Sometimes it's to express anger or hurt and at other times it's intended to insult or intimidate. I think this is odd but then again it's not surprising. It's easy to comment from the safety of your computer without being nose to nose with others and often I think that folks would never make some of the remarks they do in person. I have a little different perspective and it's probably from my previous career.

Fight!I spent sixteen years working in different areas of the construction industry and as many of you may surmise, the communication styles are vastly different. Sometimes they are very *#%@!...different I have seen many times when arguments on the job site escalated to physical contact and outright fighting! When I first entered real estate, I was fortunate to work for a small upscale firm here in Austin that specialized in the luxury home market and though I had so many years in construction, I still came from a good family, was relatively educated and had been taught manners and tact. The broker at the company (did I mention that I was their first "token male"?) and my mentor taught me so much about the style and quality of doing business although she used to say "Russell is the easiest person with whom another agent can do transaction or the hardest, it all depends on their attitude!" Yes I was rather combative and aggressive in my negotiating style but over time she and my mentor polished my sharp edges and taught me when to be tough and when to be conciliatory and to always look at the big picture with an eye toward being REALISTIC!

I always welcome intense and passionate dialogue between folks but I do not respond well to insults or intimidation and I do not think anyone else does either.

In construction when you have an argument you might get socked in the nose. In real estate, people just talk behind your back or crab at you from the safety of their computer terminal and I can live with that!

I have often spoken out too quickly but I try to remember that words once spoken (or posted) are like rocks thrown and you can't take them back!

Have a great week and let's all try and remember to use a little tact!

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28 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 28 2008 09:16AM

What’s all the fuss about buying a Localism neighborhood?

I have been reading with growing interest a number of posts and comments concerning the upcoming localism neighborhood sale/ land rush:

http://localism.com/sponsor

There appears to be a number of different opinions about the subject and I would like to add my two cents worth. Please bear with me because I want to comment on each of the issues and do the best I can to articulate my responses to each.

A number of people have indicated that they feel they have been working and marketing themselves in a region and do not want someone else to have that particular area. The sentiment being that for some reason they "deserve" the location.  I guess the most extreme are those who would like to have an entire city. I think this is unrealistic because there are lots of agents in any particular city and more than enough business to go around. There are others who would like it narrowed to a zip code. I know that many people expend a lot of money, time and energy marketing these areas and want something in return but I know that there are many realtors in every part of the country who may feel the same way about these localities but again there are potentially thousands of homes within a zip code. I live and work in Austin, Texas and my primary focus is in Central, West and Southwest Austin and the Eanes School District in the $500K-4.95M price range. There are many neighborhoods within these areas and frankly I have farmed a couple for many years. Again, that hardly seems reasonable and in addition there are 7 or 8 different zip codes in the areas I work that encompass many more THOUSANDS of homes. Narrowing the bids to smaller areas seems fair and reasonable to me so neighborhoods could probably work and let me give you an example.

When I first moved to my neighborhood in the Eanes School District in 1992 (an area with more than a thousand homes), it was referred to me by a fellow realtor. I mentioned that I would probably work there and that we might compete. There are at least five other realtors living there that regularly list and sell homes in the neighborhood. Her comment to me was that I should not worry because each of the realtors working the area had completely different personalities and ways of doing business and that someone that employed me would probably not use her or any of the others. I have always admired this realtor and her advice was right on the nose! My point here is that even if someone stakes a claim to YOUR neighborhood, it does not mean you are going to lose business or that the new person is going to dominate the market at all. They might not even use what they have and that's the point. It is a great idea but an agent will have to actually put some work into it to make it profitable and don't we all hopefully do that every day?

Here is another way of looking at the issue. Purchasing a neighborhood in Localism is a tool. My previous life, before I entered real estate in 1989 was as a carpenter/construction worker. I went through an intense four year apprenticeship program combined with working on site and learned everything from the ground up. I learned to use various tools to complete many construction tasks from the foundation to finish out. I eventually went on to be a Construction Foreman and Superintendant as well as co-founding a company that designed and built furniture and high-end finish out projects all over Texas. As realtors we have a toolbox full of different tools that we can employ along with our experience to generate business and deliver the best possible service in the most professional manner for our sellers and buyers.

I plan to bid on a couple of neighborhoods that I have worked for years and hopefully will add this service to my tool chest an means of increasing my marketing and market share. If I am successful at signing up the neighborhoods, I will add this component to my marketing to increase and develop my market share. If not, I will continue to learn more in this incredible community and frankly I have already received so many great ideas that my assistant and I will be busy trying to use everything else we have found so useful here.

I like that active rain has provided such a great forum for the exchange of constructive ideas and look forward to as much brain storming as possible Again, this will probably generate some serious discussion and I am not attempting to create controversy but you can never tell when it comes to "opinions".

I'm just sayin'...

Russell

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76 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 26 2008 01:03AM

Four Texas Cities listed in Forbes Magazine-Best Cities to Buy a Home!

Austin Night ViewI have recently been posting positive news about Austin in my Blog and in order to deflect comments from skeptics who often claim that realtors are just being "mindlessly positive" because it is our "bread and butter"

I offer the newest data from a Forbes Magazine article as confirmation that, in spite of the current economic downturn things are still relatively good here in Texas. A great new article has announced that four of the top ten cities in America to buy a home are located in Texas. Stating that there is "Lots to Like In the Lone-Star State" the magazine noted that "Texas dominated our lineup of mortgage-worthy areas. Thanks to a business-friendly tax environment, many large corporations call the Lone Star State home, which creates jobs and tax revenue.

 

Quoting the data in that magazine, they are rated in the following order.

1. Houston, Texas

Houston, we don't have a problem. Well known as an energy industry hub, this growing metro area recently made Forbes.com's Top 10 Up-And-Coming Tech Cities thanks to the Houston Technology Center and bubbling entrepreneurial tech scene. With home prices on the rise by 6.6% and vacant homes disappearing by 11.3% in the last two years, this is one area where buyers can feel safe jumping in.

2. Austin, Texas (Home sweet home!)

Here, a whopping 98.5% of homes are filled, and that small sliver of vacancy is thinning. Home prices, meanwhile, have surged from $163,800 in 2005, to $183,700 in 2007.A trendy art and music scene--the city plays host to music festivals South by Southwest and Austin City Limits--makes it an affordable place to live for any culture vulture. In addition the article also noted that "The University of Texas campus provides young blood and research-related jobs to No. 2 city Austin. This state capitol is a hip area on the rise. The vacancy rate has fallen by 37.5% in the last 24 months to just 1.5%, despite a lot of building in recent years. And buying isn't much more expensive than renting. An average mortgage payment is $1,022.40, and average rent hits $767.

5. San Antonio, Texas

This Latin-flavored American city is growing fast thanks to bustling businesses and a low cost of living. Having major corporations like IBM certainly helps attract residents who bring brains and tax revenue to the city. With a median home price of $150,900, up from $133,900 in 2005, it's an affordable place relative to the rest of the country. Home to professional basketball's Spurs, this town is packed--just 2.4% vacancy--and full of Texas pride.

6. Dallas, Texas

Shiny skyscrapers and charming suburbs make Dallas a tempting place to sign mortgage papers. With appreciating median home prices in the $150,000 territory, just about anyone can get in. And with just 2.5% of homes vacant, it appears they are. While the city has a reputation for cowboy boots and big trucks, Dallas is a sophisticated metropolis that rivals any major U.S. city in terms of culture and cuisine.

Again, I am not just another "pie in the sky",  "everything is just fine" here optimist and wanted to share this relevant and compelling information for those with interest in Austin and Texas!

Have a great weekend! Russell

 

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14 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 25 2008 06:57PM

What sellers want to know about a potential listing agent!

Austin Skyline I answer questions for buyers and sellers in several on line forums and recently had a number of requests for what a home seller should look for in a listing agent and what questions to ask. 

 

•1.  Start by doing a few hours of research on line and with friends who live in your area. Ask around... get to know who has the most signs, ads and marketing material in your neighborhood. Compile a list of agent names and use these questions to help you determine which agent is right for you.

•2.     Who are the most active agents? Not just the name you see most, the "neighborhood specialist" often is not as objective because of the perception that a sign in the yard is more important than listing your home at a realistic price. Look for at least three in the neighborhood.

•3.  Interview prospective Realtors and ask for information. You can often get a good idea of which agents are the most professional by looking at their promotional materials. If their own materials aren't professional, how well are they going to market your home? Track how long each agent takes to respond to your request and how quickly they follow up. If they don't respond efficiently to your listing requests imagine how they'll handle potential home buyers.

•4.   How long the agent has been in business and what professional organizations are they associated with? The length of time a real estate agent has been licensed is not a sure fire sign that they've been an active seller. They may have been in business for 10 years but only part time and an agent needs to be in business full time at least 2 years to be viable. So take into account what the time they have worked and also the professional organizations they belong to. The minimum should be a licensed professional who's a member of the local real estate board and multiple listing service as well as the state and National Association of Realtors.

•5.   How many homes has the agent listed and/or sold in the area? Look for an agent who has experience with homes similar to yours and is active in your area. If your home has special features look for an agent with experience in those areas. Your agent should have a good record of selling homes, not just listing them. After all, this is your ultimate goal.

•6.   Do the agent have an assistant or support staff? By employing someone to handle the details of their business the agent can spend more time servicing your needs.

•7.   How often will the agent hold open houses? Simply putting a sign on your lawn and holding open houses every Sunday will not sell your home. Too frequently open houses are used for a newer agent in the office to attract buyers. No one likes to be pressured and it is best to have the listing agent hold the open house because they know more about your home and the area and are better able to help with all prospective inquiries.Look for an agent with a specific plan for each open house. The plan should be just one facet of a complete marketing plan.

•8.   What listing price do you recommend and what is that price based on? Pricing is the most critical step to selling your home. Take great care in choosing an agent with the knowledge to price your home effectively. Keep in mind the selling price should attract prospective buyers to your home, get you top dollar in the current market and reflect the condition of your home. Be realistic and avoid ‘yes agents', who will say ‘yes' to any request or price while your home languishes on the market. Low ball agents will try to talk you into an artificial price simply to sell as fast as possible.

•9.    What does the listing agreement entail, what are the beginning and expiration dates, and what are the fee amounts you will be paying? Have your agent go over every detail in the listing agreement with you until you understand it completely. Make sure the beginning and ending dates are on the agreement; in this market a good standard for length is four to six months. Know exactly what fees you will be paying and remember that less is not always better. If the agent stands to make very little commission you can bet it will be reflected in the amount of time and effort that is spent marketing your home. If the agent reduces their commission to get the listing it may mean they intend to spend very little money promoting the property.

•10.   What types of things separate you from your competition and will you give me some feedback? - How effectively will they advertise? Do they have Internet presence? Will all the leads be followed up on by your agent? Agents who are innovative and offer new methods of attracting home buyers will measurably outperform agents who rely on methods of the past. Marketing effectively these days requires progressive strategies that add value and service for both buyers and sellers!

If you or anyone you know is anticipating purchasing or selling real estate in the Balcones Neighborhood or anywhere in Central, West or Southwest Austin or the Westlake/Eanes School District area, I would be happy to be of assistance. Let me put my nineteen years success helping upscale buyers and sellers in Austin's finest neighborhoods to work for you. Contact me for a private consultation at your convenience!

 

 

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20 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 22 2008 09:12AM

Has Texas managed to dodge the bullet (and avoid most of the current economic downturn)? Part II

Austin Skyline View

To follow up on my most recent post I came across some interesting information from the Texas State Comptrollers Office.

Susan Combs has been quoted at several functions across the state. She has cited economic growth 60% above the national average and the creation of more than a quarter-million jobs statewide between April 2007 and 2008.

Comptroller Combs has forecasted a 3.2% growth in the GSP for FY 2008 versus the national projection of just 2% economic growth, due in large part to the state's ability to avoid the widespread sub-prime mortgage crisis and housing crunch. She has also noted that "Our state does not have grossly overpriced housing, a young family can still get a home," Combs said, "Texas has generally avoided the sub-prime mess and housing crisis. Consumer confidence is up." "Texas is also bucking the national trend when it comes to unemployment. While 320,000 jobs were lost in the U.S. last year, Texas added 262,000 in 2007 and another 81,000 since January."

For more information about the Texas economy and latest information regarding the state's economic outlook you can access the  Texas State comptrollers website here: Comptroller's website.

I hope this helps to give a balanced perspective.

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3 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 21 2008 02:29PM

Has Texas managed to dodge the bullet (and avoid most of the current economic downturn)?

Austin Skyline ViewI wanted to continue my posts about how well Austin and Texas is doing and recently came across the following comment posted by a buyer:

"Of course all the realtors are optimistic about buying in Austin, it is their job and their bread and butter."

It is a shame that much of the general public has such a low opinion of our industry but that is just how it is these days. I offer the following information as reassurance that the current state of affairs in Texas is not just some realtor "pie in the sky" optimism. In reviewing 2007 and the first half of 2008.

  • No. 1 greenest city in America, MSN.com
  • No. 1 in terms of job growth, Forbes' "Best City for Singles"
  • No. 1 city for growing businesses, Expansion Management's "2007 Mayor's Challenge Rankings
  • No. 1 overall economic vitality, Moody's Economy.com, "Business Vitality Index"
  • No. 1 of top four cities to watch, AARP's The Magazine's "Great Places to Live"
  • No. 2 for overall characteristics, Travel + Leisure's "America's Favorite Cities"
  • No. 2 best eco-neighborhood (SoCo took the honors), Natural Home magazine
  • No. 2 best walking city, Prevention Magazine
  • No. 2 fastest-growing wine region (Hill Country), Orbitz.com
  • No. 3 adventure city, National Geographic Adventure's "50 Best Places to Live and Play"
  • No. 3 best city for young singles, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
  • No. 3 top city for making movies, MovieMaker magazine
  • No. 5 luxury housing market, Unique Homes magazine
  • No. 7 hottest job market for young adults, Bizjournals
  • No. 10 healthiest city in America, Sperling's Best Places
  • No. 16 hottest entrepreneurial city, Inc. magazine, "Boomtowns 2007"

The high-tech, a booming film industry and the University of Texas all helped propel Austin to the top of Forbes' 2008 list of America's Fastest Growing Metros. Forbes credits the local boom to high-tech employers like Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) and IBM (NYSE: IBM) as well as the University of Texas, which is producing ample engineering talent.

I wanted to emphasize that we are stiil going to feel the effects of the nationwide slump but confidence in the Texas economy and a continuing population growth are helping us avoid the extreme downturn ths is occuring elsewhere so there is good news here!

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9 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 21 2008 02:14PM

What's so Great about Austin and Texas at Large? Part 2

Austin Night TimeIn my last post I talked about the real estate market in Austin and Texas. We apparently have managed to dodge a bullet as far as suffering the same catastrophic losses and mortgage meltdown that has enveloped many parts of the country. Again, I am not adopting some sort of "Pollyanna" attitude but laid out convincing facts and figures supporting the idea that we still have a healthy and actually growing economy. Yes we are feeling the effects of problems in the rest of the country but have managed to avoid the extremity of the troubles.

 Market aside, we have some of the most affordable housing in Austin and Texas than in many other similar communities throughout the USA. (Although Austin is now the highest that it's ever been)

We have a great climate and YES I hear you that it is HOT this time of year but there are so many great ways to stay cool in Austin. We have one of the best Public Park systems in the country and many neighborhoods have community pools in the local parks. Many people like Barton Springs which is probably the crown jewel of swimming holes in Texas. Located in Zilker Park, the natural limestone lined pool is fed by numerous springs and at 68 degrees year around, it will cool you off in an instant during the warm months and ironically many people swim laps there in the winter because it's actually warmer than the air temp! Deep Eddy near Mopac and Lake Austin Blvd. is one of my favorite swimming pools is also fed by cold springs is located along the Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake) running trail and is a great place to cool off after a run. The lake also offers rowing, canoeing and kayaking. Zilker Park is also the location of many musical and theatrical events including the ACL Festival and larger outdoor touring acts and an incredible Kite Festival and competition every spring.

Lake Austin, which runs 26 miles in between the low water crossing at Red Bud Trail and Mansfield Dam, is a great place to swim, boat, ski, and wakeboard to generally relax and stay cool. City Park (off 2222) offers camping, day swimming and boat launch for al motorized boats and watercraft. The lake is monitored by LCRA and is a constant level lake.

 Lake Travis, west of town is a very large body of water offer every type of outdoor and water recreation available. The lake is NOT constant level and usually rises and falls every few years depending on the climate, rain (or lack there of) and however much water we have to send down stream to the rice farmers on the coast and anyone else that has a contract for water from the system. It is funny but there are several pieces of land the periodically appear when the lake is really low that are called the "Sometimes Islands". The lake is still a fantastic place to enjoy all water activities and is big enough to accommodate almost any of the larger boats. The main basin is very popular for sailing enthusiasts.

 OK it can get really HOT here at times but there are more than enough ways to stay cool!

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2 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 19 2008 03:46PM

What's so Great About Austin and Texas at Large?

As a fifth generation native Texan I know the old adage "you can always tell a Texan, you just cannot tell him anything..." I do think the Texas market has escaped suffering many of the dilemmas currently taking place in other parts of the country. I am cautiously confident that we will continue to prosper and grow in spite of the current economic downturn and problems throughout the real estate industry and other parts of the business environment. I do not want to sound overly optimistic or unrealistic but there are several factors that lead to the conclusion.Downtown Austin Texas

•1)      Texas went through the same problems in the late 80's and early 90's with many foreclosure and business closings during the S&L crisis. When I first entered real estate in 1989 there were as many as 2,000 foreclosures in the Austin and Central Texas area EVERY month. Many lending requirements were changed back then to safeguard consumers and during recent years you did not see the large volume of predatory loans that were so prevalent in the subprime market.

•2)      Many of the largest numbers of subprime foreclosures in other parts of the country were created by builders who also had their own loan companies. The builders' primary focus became that of loan companies and again regulations were stretched or in many cases abused.

•3)      Although we have escaped many of the problems in the rest of the country, we still have a 24.4% increase in inventory a drop in pending contracts and solds. I feel like it's more of a case of hesitation (for a number of obvious reasons). Our office tracks open houses and over the month of June and the first part of July, there have been large numbers  of Serious lookers in Downtown, Central, West and South West Austin and just this week offers are beginning to appear again.

•4)      For the third year in a row, more people moved to Texas than any other state. The population growth is keeping our market from dropping and though more of a buyer's market than in the past, at this point we are just flattening out a bit.

•5)      Texas has consistently been in the top ten in many categories of life style, affordability (although it is more expensive than ever to live in Austin now) and job growth. Employment demand is still high and continues to grow.

I first moved to Austin in 1974 (from West Texas) to attend school and thought it was perfect and should stay the same. Over the years it has grown and developed in good ways and sometimes not so great BUT it is still one of the best places in Texas or the USA and I cannot say enough about our wonderful city. I have been working with buyers and sellers in Central Texas since 1989 and the first buyer I sold from out of state was in 1990. At the time, they told me it would be good to shut the door and Austin would be great without any more people. Last month helped a family from California move into the Eanes school district in South West Austin and they said the same thing! There are a few things I miss about the "old" Austin but honestly, the only thing I can really complain about is...the traffic! I will talk more about that in my next post.

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6 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • July 18 2008 01:08PM