The Good Life in Austin Texas


Architecture at the Umlauf - Lecture Series - October 1st

The next installment of the Architecture at the Umlauf Series is this week. This monthly series was founded by two of my associates at AvenueOne properties; Scott Harvey and Carla Umlauf (grand daughter of the esteemed sculptor) and is sponsored by our firm, AvenueOne Properties. The lectures take place at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and the series is now in it's second season.  There is a minimal charge of $5.00 for the event but is free to museum members. The next lecture falls on First WEDNESDAY this month and is specially catered by the hot new restaurant Mulberry (interior architecture by Michael Hsu).

Architecture at the Umlauf

And don't forget the AIA Austin Homes Tour next weekend: AIA Austin Homes Tour 2008


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8 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • September 29 2008 10:01PM

Two Words...that could save your life!

Road - Rage

I'm sitting in traffic about a quarter of a mile from the stop light at one of the busier intersections in Austin, Texas. Behind me cars stretch as far as I can see. I begin to feel the tension in my shoulders as my frustration starts to build. I am just about to shout (at no one in particular just out loud,) when I notice movement in the car next to me. I look closer and see a man pounding on his steering wheel and shouting. Next to him I see his companion. Her chin in her hand staring out the window and probably wishing she was somewhere else. At that very moment, I have an epiphany and decide from that moment on I would let people like him be upset for me in any frustrating driving situation. Whenever I was in traffic, I would be absolved from getting angry or frustrated by knowing that somewhere out there, there will be several people going off like a steam kettle. To this day, when stuck in traffic I almost always see someone carrying on in the same manor and these days it makes me laugh.

TrafficI read a recent interview with Tom Vanderbilt, a freelance writer and author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)," just published by Knopf. It's a well-researched 402-page book on the complicated and interesting relationship between people and the machines they drive  "at 88 feet per second (60 mph) or sit for hours in bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper traffic." Vanderbilt writes that driving is "the most dangerous thing most of us will ever do."  In the interview he makes some very interesting points.

He quotes a number of studies that prove without a doubt that we are not as skilled at driving as we have lead ourselves to believe.

  • Talking on a cell phone takes concentration, and Vanderbilt's book points out the many ways in which a driver becomes less attentive while on a call. Because of that split attention, he writes, "We become worse drivers and worse talkers."
  • "Accidents": The way we talk about traffic, Vanderbilt says, can make us think that driving a car isn't as dangerous a task as it can be. Consider the word "accident."
  • "We prefer the word ‘accident' because we all drive. When you hear about a plane crash, you don't hear ‘plane accident.' We wouldn't feel comfortable with that description because it would indicate someone throwing their hands up and saying, ‘Oh, accidents happen."
  • "This is the classic thing in traffic safety. You don't want to petrify people. But, on the other hand, you sort of do. ... Forty-three thousand people a year-that's just fatalities.
  • "There's so much associated with driving-romance and excitement. A survey by some Canadian people found that 50 percent of car commercials showed unsafe driving acts. What are they selling?" (The ultimate driving machine?)

For years, the state of Texas installed signs everywhere with just two words "Drive Friendly."  I think this simple message actually encouraged people (weather directly or subconsciously) to do just that. I wish Texas would bring them back because it might help. It is always irritating to be stuck in traffic, but the bizarre and aggressive nature of other drivers can also be maddening. For instance, I turn on the signal to change lanes and the person in the next lane (usually in one of those cars advertising its self as "the ultimate driving machine,") roars up to cut me off. Road side gawkers who slow to a crawl to look at anything at the side of the road from a clearing wreck to (in Austin at least) a man dressed in a pink thong pulling a wagon full of odd junk. Honking freaks, lying on the horn, if you don't move the instant the light turns green or just to express themselves at any given moment. You can fill in the blank with your own particular aggravation.Drive Friendly

Okay, I am going out on a limb here with some admittedly "half baked theories". Of all the things in the world that make me cranky, hunger is right up there in the top two or three. I think this also applies to the majority of people in the world today. Now, think about the fact that at least half of the population is on some type of diet. You see where I am going with this? Well, it makes sense that there are a lot of people on the road who are already on edge from self imposed hunger pangs that are just a snack away from losing it! I know I will catch flack for this but my other "prejudice" concerns the people who pilot the aforementioned "ultimate driving machines". Now don't take my word for this. Just start looking around and I feel certain that you will soon begin to notice many of the smaller versions of this car whipping in and out of traffic, turn signals apparently broken, barrelling down the road with no regard for others around them and generally "letting the ego take the wheel..." Okay, enough of that, you get my point!

As a real estate broker in Austin Texas I spend a great deal of time behind the wheel. I am one of those realtors who divide my time almost equally between representing listings and working with buyers. Over time, I developed a strategy to stay comfortable both physically and mentally while driving. I like driving a nice car that is as comfortable as possible and is also good for shuttling clients to various homes. I believe in a hands free phone system so I can talk and drive if the need arises. I utilize both an iPod as well as a subscription to Sirius radio for a wide variety of music choices. A word of warning: avoid choosing hard rock, punk, or speed metal when in traffic as this may increase the aggressive side of your driving nature. Always have a snack nearby to avoid the crankiness driven car tactics I mentioned earlier. Last but not least, give yourself ample time to get where you are going. If you are behind before you get in the car you are already inclined to drive like a bat out of hell. In no way am I preaching. I just hope we can all drive in harmony and save ourselves some emotional anguish and maybe even some lives.

As always, I remain yours in the social graces and will see you on the road.


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83 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • September 27 2008 01:16AM

1 in 10,859 - Standing Out in a Crowd of Agents

Standing out?While recently updating my E-key, I noticed that the roster function deleted 78 members and then added 84 members for a net gain of six. Looking at the roster total I saw that there were 10,859 agents currently registered with the MLS system in the greater Austin, Texas area. Now, that is a huge number of real estate agents in my part of the world. Out of curiosity I learned that in the last year approximately 12 percent of the agents had sold around 90 percent of the real estate. Further investigation showed that 70 percent of the new agents entering real estate quit in the first year. Of the 30 percent left, 90 percent of those quit in the second year. It appears that the people making the most of this massive turnover are those that own real estate schools. I talked about this with Jason Crouch (who also had the same experience)at lunch recently and was inspired to write this post! Thanks Jason!

I hear people say that with the downturn, maybe it will clear out some of the crowd but I have never found this to be true. In good times people flock to the profession in search of the so called "easy money". In bad times even more people seem to get a license because "if you can't do anything else you can always be a Realtor". As professionals we encounter and incredible amount of competition. The only way we can effectively stand out is by building a solid reputation based on results.

I often go on listing appointments and face the challenge that my soon to be client has both friends and family who are realtors. At these meetings I also see a lot of refrigerator magnets, calendars, cup holders, drink coasters, and other house hold items emblazoned with the names and logos of competing agents and companies (which is the reason I don't employ such marketing gimmicks.) Although 75 percent of my business comes from personal referrals I depend on my reputation and that of my company to build and expand my business.

I am fortunate to work at an independent high quality firm where all of the associates are FULL TIME most of the members are share holders of the company. Last year with 36 associate brokers and agents we sold nearly 300 million dollars worth of real estate in Austin, Texas. Compare that production with the largest company in town that has over 3,500 agents and likes to trumpet the fact that they sold 1 billion worth of properties. You get the picture.

No matter where you work, you can succeed by focusing on your abilities and what you can do for your client. It is paramount that you be truthful and realistic and (walk the walk) for any claims you make about your expertise. There are at least 2 dozen agents in my area that I know might beat me at any listing appointment where I compete. If that happens, that is fine. They are all very good agents and the only thing that distinguishes us is that different people work with different personalities.

The most important thing we all have to remember is this; in the majority of cases, a person's home is the single most valuable investment they will ever have. Because of this it is important to have the best representation possible. Not a friend, family member or part timer but someone who is a full time, committed professional with the clients' best interest at heart!1 in 10,859

Here's the difference: my clients can get the same service, effort and expertise as Neiman Marcus or they can go to Wal-Mart... which would you choose?




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115 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • September 18 2008 01:46AM

PIGGING OUT! Abuse of the ActiveRain points system…

I recently read two very good posts "Is Your Integrity Worth 25 Points?" - Blog Tips for Rain Drips and another by Bob Cumiskey where he describes bad blogging behavior and states "There are a few "so called bloggers" on the ladder who obviously blog just for the points." Both made me realize that I have also witnessed a number of other blatant attempts to "Game the System" here at Active Rain.Pigging out for points!

A short time after I joined several of us at my office received an email asking us to join ActiveRain and it turned out that the individual sent a mass email to numerous agents. Evidently, the person was hoping to rack up points by signing up new folks. I learned that the person was later contacted by Active Rain and stopped. I noticed later that this same person began to post the maximum allowable posts each week. I am not an editor or critic but none of the posts were compelling and most were cut and pasted with a few remarks and no outside comments, Curious I began to see similar actions in different parts of the country by people who were obviously, as Bob Cumiskey wrote, just Blogging for the points ~ the lazy blogger. I began to see others who would just post listings. One person in particular was part of a real estate team and would post individual units and homes (by copying and pasting the listings) in projects and by different builders who were represented by the whole group to rack up points! I don't really get that because I am unaware of the general public looking at listings on Active Rain since there are so many other sites where buyers can already view listings and home data.

Recently I noticed a new person rocketing up the ladder in my area  and when I looked at this person's profile and blog was amazed to see that they had created hundreds of posts and sent them to 30 and 40 groups at a time. I later saw that many of the posts had the X beside them but, undaunted, the individual continues to post 10 at a time in as many as 50 groups and continues to amass points. I assume the AR guardians will do something soon but that is as sad as it is irritating. They should not have to police this great site from those too ignorant, irresponsible or self serving to care what is correct protocol or even what constitutes decent manners. Every time I see someone abusing the system I am reminded that these are the same people who act inappropriately in the real world and whose corner cutting, ignoring of rules and unprofessional behavior give our profession a bad name. They are the ones who want to do as little as possible and get something for nothing!

Because of these examples, I decided early on to try and  put out something of good quality. I began to read posts by others and I learned that we must Blog Often but it begins to look like the Laffer Curve as applied to points. Blogging goes up. Points go up but quality can go down and the end result is Less than Zero. I also try to heed the advice that we must Blog with Purpose, I think Adam Waldman wrote that. I try to follow the lead by Rich, Majority Original Content" or "What's the Point of Points?" and especially the idea to adhere to "Free Speech has a Cost" - The ActiveRain Community Guidelines Re-Visited.

Rich Jacobson defined the goal of blogging and commenting perfectly "One of the most basic and foundational tenets of conversational blogging is to engage one another other in meaningful discussion and dialog. In order for this dialog to successfully occur, the blog author's content needs to be mentally digested, and the reader must respond with comments that are relevant to the topic, adding value to the conversation"

That's exactly what we should try and achieve and I really appreciate Active Rain and the new Localism as a platform to grow our business and to top it all off, it's FREE (or at least very reasonably priced when it comes to neighborhoods)! I do not pretend to be a writer and I do realize that I will never be at the top of the ladder locally but I will be happy to be in the top 5 or 10 and plan to make it there by trying to contribute compelling posts of substance, meaning and value to the realtors, lenders and my fellow members of Active Rain. Eventually, as Localism grows I want the general public to see something of value and not just masses of meaningless posts that do nothing to increase the level of discourse within our community.

One last thing, I do comment on posts and many times I see even more great comments and suggestions that add to the value of the original post. I think most people who take the time to write a legitimate blog want to hear a comment when they post so leave a one... whether it's for the points or to add to the discussion



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141 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • September 09 2008 09:32AM

"Pain is NOT a flavor!" - A Taste of Life in Austin TX (LOCALISM FEATURED)

Pain is NOT a flavor...

Hot Sauce Contest

August 24th was the 18th annual celebration of The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Contest here in Austin, Texas.  The event featured many vendors who promoted their sauces along with individuals vying for glory in the hot sauce world. The organizers raise money and collect food for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas. Attendance is free, but patrons are asked to bring non- perishable donations for the bank. It is supposedly the largest Contest and Festival of its kind and I have entered in fourteen of the contests since the beginning eighteen years ago! I arrived early with three entries, one for each category; Red, Green and Special category. First 3 entrantsI was joined by Ted Fick-C and Tom Spradling-R and as we told stories about past events & swapped "tastes"  I knew I was in trouble right away because my green entry was not near Tom's (he even grows his own peppers)! When I tried Ted's I was amazed, It was so complex and he smokes/roasts his veggies for SEVENTEEN hours. It was a red entry but I think it would have dominated in the special category commercial. And we were the first of 600 entries!

We like it Hot and Spicy in Texas and it's been that way for years. Chili peppers and the thousands of variations of salsas, sauces and pico-de-gallos testify to the unending search for the best combination to dip your tortilla chip (or literally anything else you might choose). Although I like hot & spicy I still maintain that "if it's too painful, it ain't good". Flaming Mouth

  OriginalsSo where do you draw a line? For J.P. Hayes, founder of Sargent Pepper's, an Austin sauce-making company, it's off the charts. J.P. has set up a booth at the festival every year since it started! We both realized that we were probably the only people attending  wearing the original  T-shirt  from the event's first year.  The first two years, the festival was billed as a contest between Austin and San Antonio but Austin ran away with the event both times and from then on it was just "The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Contest. Austin became the mecca for individuals, restaurants and commercial bottlers from all over the state seeking fame and salsa fortune!  Several thousand people attended and lined up for free samples from many of the restaurants and commercial bottlers as well as a huge tent displaying  some of the hundreds of individual entries. Heat linesBig Daddys

Tears of JoyThe Food Network was also on hand to record the show and interview  the restaurants, Commercial bottlers and each of the winners who took part! The entries are evaluated by a panel of celebrity judges who are given a group of the final samples after the bulk are tasted by a preliminary group of "tasters" (a job NOT suited for the faint hearted).  I already mentioned that I have entered this event many times and I need to say I have only received an honorable mention in the special category for a fresh Peach/Red pepper salsa my daughter and I entered in 2007.Pepper Style The rivalry is as fierce as it is overwhelmingly large! This year we entered the individual category with a new version of the salsa we entered last year and I also made a red and green version. I always like the festivities and attend for the fun as well as the possibility of actually placing but my daughter decided to stay home and avoid the crowds and heat! RancheroLater, I almost missed the announcements and when I managed to arrive at the stage, Tom Spradling, Farrell Kubena (partner with Torchy's Tacos) and Elizabeth Derczo (event organizer extraordinaire) were all excitedly saying that my daughter and I had taken 2nd Place in the special category!!! By the time I managed to check in at the awards desk and pick up our prize the Food Network folks had already moved on so I missed my chance at 30 seconds of fame on TV and that is fine.Bring it ON! I plan on returning again (with my daughter) and competing for 1st Place and I hope you can make it too!

Two Hot Mama's







 Some of the winners are pictured below left to right: Russell Lewis, Mike Rypka and friend of Torchy's awards in two restaurant categories, Kevin and Jill Lewis of Austin Slow Burn who won 1st in the individual special category as well as awards for the Commercial Bottlers too!

A few of the Winners! 

Complete list of winners in each category:



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68 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • September 03 2008 12:24AM