Austin Real Estate Update - All Good Signs

Yes, this is a random photo of a caged canary...but get it? Maybe the bird is thinking about moving to a new home...

According to Austin Board of Realtors, pending sales contracts on Austin homes in January 2009 are up by 11%. This is likely just a natural surge resulting from the virtual halt on business in November and December [thanks credit freeze]... still though, that's a compelling statistic that buyers are apparently out there, taking advantage of the "buyer's market".

Other good news, in January 2009, new listings on the Austin MLS are down 4%, keeping the inventory of residential real estate at a healthy level. (about 8500 homes, just shy of 6 months of inventory) Remember, 6 months of inventory is an equilibrium between a seller's/buyer's market.

What's selling? Homes priced at or below market...and selling surprisingly fast.

It's real estate. The market goes up. It goes down. It's a buyers' market. Don't be afraid. If you are selling: acknowledge that it's a buyers market and market accordingly. If you are buying: embrace the scene and enjoy.


Historic Victorian Home Relocated and Restored to 78704

Wow. Talk about renovating. "The Marlin House", newly relocated and for sale on South Mary St. in funky, quirky Bouldin Creek neighborhood of Austin, zip code 78704 is AMAAAAZING.

The Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1890 in Marlin, Texas (southeast of Waco) and relocated some 100 miles to Austin's Bouldin Creek neighborhood by Pricilla Glover and Ivan Spaller of Urban Nature, a local real estate development company.

4 bedroom. 4 baths. 3200 square feet. Two masters. Viking appliances. Butler pantry. Long leaf pine floors. City views. the list goes on and on and on... mmmmmm.
Property listed for sale at $1,095,000 by Green Mango Real Estate. I hope they find a buyer in this market... it's unique and special enough, they just might swing it. The developers certainly didn't overlook a single detail.


Live Alternative Theatre in Austin

Last night was a big night.

Began with a "pre-Inaugural Ball" for toddlers at a friends' house in East Austin. I must applaud my friends for holding such a festive party to commemorate this major historical event...for not only the kiddos, but for all of us. My 3 year old daughter was thrilled to don her red and white polka dot flamenco dress (although, bad mommy forgot her dancing shoes...which she brought to my attention just as we pulled up to the party and she still had on her flip flops - I felt just awful). I dug out my grandmother's rhinestone jewelry, a floor length black bridesmaid dress, and a feather boa. My daughter was THRILLED with the attire although a little disappointed when her friend's house didn't have an actual ballroom like she has seen in the movies. (only took 3 minutes to get over this as they tore through the playroom dancing to music from the Nutcracker) Evening was complete with frosted "Obama" sugar cookies and one guest who stamped the back of her green silk charmeuse cocktail dress with Obama's election night victory speech. This dress was AMAZING... and sorry -- once again didn't have a camera handy. I am a moron.

THEN, I met a friend at Salvage Vangaurd Theater, also in East Austin, to take in opening night of "My Bugatti Story", an original play written by Paul Ehrmann, part of the 2009 Frontera fest. I am certainly not a theater critic, but I enjoyed this play immensely. Just over an hour in length, the play takes you through one man's journey of saving his own sanity when he takes on the persona of a Bugatti race car driver and becomes a hero of the French Resistance during WWII in Paris, France. Lively characters and actors. Interesting and noble concept of one's ability to save his own sanity. Next performances for "My Bugatti Story" are Saturday 1/24 at 7:45 PM, Sunday 1/25 at 5:45 PM, and Saturday 1/31 at 12:00 PM. Tickets are $10.

Also be sure to check out the rest of Frontera Fest which continues through February 14th. Other local Austin playhouses also participating in the festival include Hyde Park Theatre and Blue Theater. What a wonderful treat to have such intimate, funky venues at our fingertips to enjoy alternative theater. Off to pick out another play to attend.


Affordable Family Friendly, Pet Friendly Rental Near University of Texas?

Yes, there are a few affordable rental houses with good schools, pet friendly, and close to the University of Texas still around. Here is a 2 bedroom / 1 bath cottage in the highly desirable French Place neighborhood. Renting for $1275 per month, this is one of the least expensive single family rentals within a 3 mile radius of the University of Texas (cheaper by about $300). It's in wonderful condition with gleaming original pine wood floors and even central AC. It's also within walking distance of much loved Maplewood Elementary school and a stone's toss away from Manor Road restaurants like El Chile, Vivo's, East Side Cafe, and Clementine's Coffee Shop.

Click here for full listing.


More Natural Food Stores Coming to Austin

Exciting stuff... 2009 will bring Austin three spiffy new natural food stores including Sprouts Farmers Market, Natural Grocer, and Newflower Farmers Market.
Fall 2009, Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market will be opening in Rollingwood in the Mira Vista shopping center at Bee Caves Road and Edgegrove Drive, in the current Office Max space. Sprouts will also take up a portion of the John Williams Interiors space. John Williams Interiors will be closing their Rollingwood location this month and consolidating into their Anderson Lane space, which they plan to be bigger and better with more design resources.

Colorado-based Natural Grocer will be opening at 3901 Guadalupe in Hyde Park in the next couple of months.
Newflower Farmers Market will be opening a new location at William Cannon and Manchaca next month. NFM fashions itself after Trader Joes, selling a large portion of private label product lines and price conscience produce. This is especially good news for South Austinites who have been hoofing it all the way to Whole Foods downtown or Sun Harvest on Lamar up until now.
That will make 8 good sized natural food markets in Austin, a city of less than 1 million people (not including burbs).
Note to self for further research one day when I have some "free" time (that's a joke) ... what city has the highest # of natural food stores per capita?

Vino Vino Yum Yum

Quite a serendipitous evening last night when the hub-man and I lucked into sharing a babysitter with friends (like hitting a clearance sale...1/2 price!!) and our early evening engagement ended ... well... early -- We took the opportunity to head over to Vino Vino to catch Miles Zuniga, singer/songwriter for Fastball doing a solo performance. His performance was strong, witty, heartfelt, and lively... and included special guests like new Austinite Freedy Johnston (Bad Reputation).

Of course, Vino Vino on Guadalupe in Hyde Park remains one of my all time fave local restaurants. Even my husband, a jaded veteran of the wine industry, is consistently thrilled with Vino Vino's enormous old world selection (and prices) of wines by the bottle (seen lining the walls in the pic above). They also have a beautiful menu offering small plates, "bigger" plates, and a selection of fine cheeses. My hubs was in love, quite literally, with a bottle of Corbieres (a French AC Red Wine) for $20 and the bison slider (mini-burger) for $5.


Tragic End for Kids Thrift Store Finds?

Upsetting news this morning from a fellow Austin momma: A new federal law goes into effect February 10th that will ban all products sold for children 12 years of age and younger that have not been tested for lead and phthalates (chemicals used to make plastics more pliable). This includes used children's used clothing as well as handmade products. The testing is prohibitively expensive for small businesses and products that have not been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead.

This is really not the best way to handle the threat of lead in our children's lives.

First of all there is the economic backlash that will cause many small businesses to shut their doors including small clothing manufacturers, handmade toy companies, and children's consignment shops. We really don't need any more economic stumbling blocks for our small business owners these days. Didn't congress get the memo on that?

Second, there is the economic impact on all of us budget conscience parents. I personally try and take advantage of consignment shops and thrift stores to find barely used clothing and gear for my kids. I recently bought my son's baptism outfit consisting of a brand new pair of Strideright white dress shoes and a Kissy-Kissy white sweater at the Pumpkin Patch consignment shop here in Austin. (neither of which I will ever put on him again). I paid a mere $15 total. I would have paid close to $100 if I had bought them new.

Third -- what about teaching our kids to reuse and recycle? Now little Suzie and Johnny will grow up with the notion that you have to buy new for it to be safe?

I understand that we all need to practice safety and that lead in our children's toys is a significant health hazard. However, this is really not the best approach. Can't the government somehow make lead testing more affordable for small businesses? They seem to be making sure that digital television will be affordable and accessible for all Americans with the changeover next month. Or why not hold parents accountable for our buying decisions? We can all buy home lead testing kits online!

I believe this is going to create a black market for children's thrift. I envision myself opening up a "speakeasy" on a dark alley in urban East Austin (probably my own house) selling contraband used designer children's clothes, vintage Fisher Price, and Exersaucers. I will keep everyone posted on that.

Sign the petition against the law: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/handmadetoys?e
More details here: http://tinyurl.com/88wc6e

Photo credit: Brandy Sims on Flickr.com


THRIFT STORES AND CONSIGNMENT SHOPS ARE SAFE FROM THIS LAW! Still appears that the small manufacturers and crafters remain unprotected.


My Family Portrait - For Real

I am normally not one for the whole family portrait "let's all wear white shirts and jeans" thing... but check this one out!

Taken by Alison Eden, a fab child portrait photographer here in Austin...and buttoned-up family portraits really aren't her thing either.


Restaurant Review - Peche

Myself and 3 girlfriends hit "Peche" in downtown Austin last night for dinner. Located in the old Malaga space on 4th street between Colorado and Lavaca, this is a bistro in every sense of the word. A quintessential French brasserie menu down to the moules, frites, and croque monsieur. The restaurant also offers an interesting selection of European alcoholic drinks and is especially known for serving absynthe. The prices are right too with entrees between $12-$15 and excellent wines by the bottle as inexpensive as $22.

The girlfriend who organized the evening is a frequenter of Peche (forgive me, there are two accents on "Peche" but can't seem to recreate them with my English keyboard) and she was able to give us full run down on the menu before ordering. She considered the Steak and Frites (cost $14) as the "Best dinner deal in town..." I don't eat red meat so I can't confirm. However, 2 of the 4 of us followed her recommendation and ordered this as their meal. Both were pleased. I had the Coq Au Vin (cost $13). I am 95% sure they serve this chicken dish "on the bone" in France which is why during the 2 years I lived in France I never ordered it (my #39 on list of weird food aversions). However, at Peche, it's happily "pulled" chicken over a parmesan palenta. A moderately stylized version of the dish, yet altogether good.

Sorry I don't have a picture of the restaurant to post (sigh...next time) -- but basically the decor is unchanged from the old Malaga except for the addition of some slightly ostentatious black crystal chandeliers suspended high above the bar, some giant leather couches (that we all decided were almost TOO soft and cushy to sit on and eat and carry on a conversation) and a green faux painted wall at the entrance.

Overall, worth a visit. Of course, we went the night of the national college football championship so it was empty -- but apparently quite a hotspot for the trendy downtown crowd.


Latest Austin Real Estate Market Statistics

Here are the latest stats on the Austin real estate market for the month of December 2008. Thanks to Alamo Title for compiling and sharing.

Units for Sale in Austin: (compared to December 2007)
New listings were down 12.84%.
Pendings were up 34.86%.
Solds decreased by 16.01%.

Average Austin Real Estate Prices:
The "New Listings" average list price is up 2.36% to 300,316. In December 2007 the average list price was $293,392.
Sold average sales prices decreased 5.66% to $238,867. For December 2007 it was $253,205.

Active Listings
We had 9,929 active listings during the same week in 2007. Today there is 10,097 active listings. That is 3.78% increase from last year. Total inventory for Austin area MLS is 5.77 months - still hovering at the equilibrium between buyer/seller market.


What's Selling in Austin

For the first part of 2008, sales volume here in Austin was on par with 2004 sales volume. This made sense given that 2005, 2006, and first half of 2007 were booming markets and of course our local market would reflect the national economic decline on some level. However, during the last few months, our 2008 sales volume has gone and slipped to below 2004 levels.

Source: Alamo Title

So now, you would think – there must be some great deals out there! Right? Well – the answer is sometimes. Even with the local slow down, quality houses that are priced and marketed right are selling very quickly here in Austin. On average, houses are selling for 95% of list price. My last listing sold in 10 days at 98% of list price. The biggest discounts are on new construction homes from builders or homes priced over $700K (which are NOT selling fast). So, if you find a house and you want to make an offer, definitely go low with your offer, but don’t expect gigantic discounts.

With that in mind, if you are thinking about listing your Austin home for sale this spring, in today’s market you must pull out all the stops. The MLS listing, a sign in the yard, and an open house are really only the beginning. To sell at the maximum price in minimum amount of time, you must make your home as competitive as possible. Do not overprice “just to see what you can get”. Choose an agent who implements progressive marketing strategies including blogging, Facebook, Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, virtual home tours, and customized websites. I personally syndicate my listings on over 30 websites. Staging and presentation of the home are also more important than ever. Finally, your agent should be providing you with constant feedback as to what potential buyers are saying when they tour your home.

Below are some example SOLD properties from the month of December to give you an idea.
1809 Rockmoor Ave: Original List price $549,950, Sold Price $545,000
Immaculately updated, unique property located in MLS area 1A within walking distance to Lake Austin. 2 bed/ 2bath, 2020 square feet, .25 acres; 9 days on market

5915 Rickerhill: Original List Price $264,900, Sold Price $250,000
Cute little Circle C home with 4 bed/2 baths, 2091 square feet, .19 acres, 45 days on market

700 Jessie Street: Original List Price $450,000, Sold price $438,500
Beautifully staged, fully updated with modern design located in MLS Area 7 (south Austin), 3 bed/2bath, 1370 square feet + bonus building, .21 acres; 9 days on market

1007 Arcadia: Original List price $175K, Sold Price $160K
Handyman special located in MLS area 2; 3 bed/ 1 bath, 1692 square feet, .17 acre lot

4708 Mirador: Original List price $4,495,000, Sold Price $3,400,000 (included $350K in non real estate items)
Custom built new construction located on 5 acres in MLS area W; 5 bed/ 5 baths/3 half baths, 8650 square feet

800 E. 451/2 Street: Original List Price $299,000, Sold price $250,000
Cute 1939 bungalow with hardwood floors, original tile bathrooms, kitchen and detached 1 car garage located in north Hyde Park, 2 bed/1 bath, 1056 square feet, .18 acre lot



Happiness is playground equipment that spins you round and round and round until you are so dizzy you can't walk straight and you fall to the ground in a pile of giggles.
Taken at Phil's Icehouse on Burnet Road this afternoon while we waited for our to-go order.


New Year, New To-Do List

I am a chronic list maker and as if I need yet another list of things to-do in my life... here 'tis for 2009:

1. Embrace my toddler's vivid imagination and lack of self discipline before they're gone
2. Ramp up my marketing efforts for real estate (sorry mailing list friends and trees)
3. Read more fiction (currently have a stack of non-fiction on my night stand)
4. Run a half marathon
5. Fill the blank pages of my 2nd born child's scrapbook
6. Eat more vegetables
7. Speak French with my kids
8. Drink less wine "with dinner"

Unfortunately, I don't think my heart is really into #6 or #8, but I need to at least put them down there because I know I need to work on them.

Well -- off to devise more new and inventive ways to pester my client database. Gary Keller (author of Millionare Agent & founder of Keller Williams Realty) calls these points of contact "touches" which sounds much nicer.