(Almost) Every House is Unique

Cat video. You’re welcome.

Recently, I have found myself consulting with a number of different people about future moves that are not necessarily imminent. I think this time spent together with potential clients is rewarding! Every situation is different and every house is unique in that it is situated in a particular place in the city, in a neighborhood, of a certain age, amount of updating, and is experiencing street changes, or street stability, according to what’s happening in the market.

After asking lots of questions about goals, future desired location, amount of support- family, and otherwise- financial strengths and weaknesses, and determining which emotions are most at play, I put together a suggested plan for tackling all the issues, including prepping the house, for that future move.

Before our meeting, I drive the neighborhood carefully, even if I already know the area well, looking for signs of change, looking for clues to what’s happening. If I see on the MLS that an older home that is mostly in original condition has recently sold, I’ll check from the curb to see what it looks like now. If it is in an area where older houses are being torn down to make way for new ones, I want to know if this particular older home has met that fate, or if it is still being used as a home. Toys and playthings in the front yard six months after the sale are a pretty good indication that this home isn’t being replaced this year.

In advance of my neighborhood drive, I study the MLS and all the properties that have sold in the past six months, or year, depending on the area, searching for sold prices, condition of homes, location in neighborhood, etc. I study the photos that the listing agents put up on the MLS to see the condition of the interiors. I look for homes that might be comparable to the home I am scheduled to visit. I make graphs and charts of market activity in that neighborhood or that feeder district to a particular high school, depending on which parameters I think are most relevant to that house in that location.

When I show up at the door, I already know a lot about the situation, and I bring my graphs, information on comparable homes, a Seller’s Disclosure that the owner will have to fill out sooner or later, and other useful papers. After we sit down and talk about the personal situation, I walk through the house, taking snapshots and noting things that need to be repaired and/or updated.

Depending on the house and the micro-market it inhabits, I use one or more sets of these eyes to examine the property: the flipper-investor eyes, the buy-and-hold investor eyes, the move-up buyer eyes, the downsize buyer eyes, the coming-from-a-different-state eyes, the moving-out-of-the-city eyes, the second-home eyes. The recommendations I make to prepare the house for sale are usually based on the least amount of stuff the homeowner can do to make the house desirable. Of course, price of the home and price of updating and repair is a big factor, too.

Some homes merit new faucets, new flooring, new paint, etc., because through these improvements the homeowner is likely to make a quicker sale, or sell at the higher end of a reasonable price range. Some homes will be purchased by a flipper and price is the only thing that will matter to those folks. Even within my written recommendations, I make two tiers- one is “must do” and the other is “would be nice to do, if possible”.

Here are three short samples from some write-ups I’ve done recently:

The two most important points at which we must capture a buyer’s imagination are from the street and then again just outside and just inside the front door. Those are our ‘hooks’. People have no clue when looking at your neighborhood from the street that there is an amazing view behind the privacy fences, so we have to pull them up and in until they arrive where we want them to be.

The goal of any effort put into your home between now and putting it on the market is to transform it from your ‘home’ into a ‘house’. In other words, it will become a commodity when it hits the market. Your best chance for getting the highest price the market will offer is to get as many buyers aware of its existence as possible (that’s my job) and to pull them from the curb and into the front door (your job and my job). What I am describing now is changes you can make to the real estate to help pull those people in. Staging, our last effort before taking pictures and putting it on the market, will come later.

Because you are looking at a limited time for owning and enjoying the house (5 years is your general estimate, but it could be much less), you will only make changes which, if not made, will result in more days on market to sell your house, or will make the price lower than it needs to be. The changes you elect to make to upgrade the house in the eyes of future buyers must be changes you would enjoy, too, for the length of time you own the house.

Now… why the cat video?  Today I met with a friend and fellow agent who has recently marketed and sold a house that was home to an elderly couple with dozens of rescued cats! What a feat! (It took a village.)  Our rescues in the video? There are only 11 and they are well-loved and cared for. But, I hope we don’t have to move anytime soon!

H2O

Went on a property tour this morning in the Dripping Springs area. Lenders and title companies often arrange these affairs on a regular basis for real estate agents and brokers who want to see a sample of what’s available ‘this week’.

It was rainy today. Really rainy. Not too many of us on the property tour. But, you know what? I love to tour properties in the rain, whether with clients, or just for my own education. That’s how you know what the drainage issues are. It’s fun to see how drainage problems have been solved, or forestalled, by French drains, dry streams, foundation grading, walls, etc. It’s also illuminating to see what hasn’t been solved: creeks over sidewalks, water running close to the top of a foundation.

Rainy weather when house-hunting also makes you super-aware of which roads are likely to be impassable in a storm. A phone app I like to use is ATXfloods.com. Shows me a map of all the low-water crossings in the area and which have been closed. Especially important in the hills!

It’s helpful to go house-shopping in the rain so that you can see if there are drainage issues.

By the way, I saw some properties on the market in Dripping Springs this morning that ranged from perfectly charming to gorgeous.

The New Home and Garden Show

Right here, in Dripping Springs, home to thousands of new homes in the next few years- The First Annual Home and Garden Show today and tomorrow. March 25-26, 10-7 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday at the Dripping Springs Ranch Park on Ranch Road 12.

Sponsored by Rotary Club of Dripping Springs, Harvest Rain, and Hill Country View, there is also a kid entertainment zone provided by Costco. They advertise builders, contractors, materials, decks, pools, spas, entertainment systems, storage, plants, landscape displays/materials, and kitchenware information and products on display. With plenty of parking, this sounds like a great day to me!

“What’s in it for ME?”

Sunbathing in the Woods

img_2444What happens when a very creative homeowner buys a home on an acre of Texas Hill Country woods? She builds a Moorish/Asian/Mexican winter sunbathing mecca, of course!

She generously shared her space with me and then sent me her personal photos to use on this blog. I really wanted you to admire her vision and I wanted to give you courage to live your own fantasy, too.

img_2445No resting spot complete without a cat!

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Fantastic! Do you have a favorite spot you’d like to share with us?

Back to the Soil

Some of you have asked for information on landscaping in this area, so I shall start with the Hill Country part of the region. There is also a Blackland Prairie part of the region, as well as a Piney Woods area. Each of these requires a slightly different approach.

Native Texas Plants

Here is my favorite resource: Native Texas Plants by Sally Wasowski and Andy Wasowski.

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is also a rich resource, including part of its website devoted to identification photos of native plants, the basis of which was donated by the Wasowskis.

Micro-climate. The key to choosing plants wisely is micro-climate, as well as local soil conditions. Extremely local. As in ‘exactly in the 5-foot diameter area in which I’m gonna plant this thing.’

  1. Is this the northern (exposed, colder in winter) side of the lot? Or, is this planting in a southern area protected by nearby walls or hedges?
  2. Is this plant gonna get full sun most of the day? If so, will it be happy when the temperatures are 110 degrees in the shade, and hotter in the sun?
  3. Am I putting this leafy critter into a pocket of soil plunked down by the builder; soil which was dredged up as fill dirt from someplace 20 feet underground; soil which has absolutely no organic nutrients in it? Am I planting in the thin, native limestone soil that is on a slope and well-drained? Am I planting in a small depression that holds water briefly after a rain?
  4. Am I planting under a tree that casts shade all day long? Am I planting under a cedar tree? (Very little will grow under a cedar tree.) See Underneath It All, my first post.
  5. Finally, the Big Question is ‘Are the deer gonna eat it?’ The answer is ‘yes’, so in heavy deer areas, plants need protective fences until the plant is big enough to withstand a bit of pruning by the native ruminants.

It’s pretty much the case that if you live in the western part of the central Texas area, and you see a lot of whitish, rocky soil nearby, you live in the limestone part of the region. If you live east, where you don’t see steep hills and your soil is blackish and pretty gummy, you live on the clayey Blackland Prairie. If you live out around Bastrop where there are, or were, lots of pine trees, you are in acid soil, which supports a different family of natives than the rest of the region.

Check out the plant sales at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Browse Barton Springs Nursery for native stock. Visit- and listen to- The Natural Gardener. Hill Country Natives is an online site that delivers in the area for orders over $200. I have purchased many natives from Vivero GrowersAND they have an awesome blog about plants and planting.

Maybe I’m prejudiced, but once you get used to enjoying the native landscape rocks and plants, you will come to appreciate the unique sense of place that they provide.

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Last half of February and the native Texas Redbuds are starting to bloom!

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I am in love with these Possumhaws- they have fabulous berries all winter long and then the spring green leaves start opening in February. No Cedar Waxwings have found this little group yet, or else the berries would have been digested.

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A+ use of Texas Mountain Laurels as an evergreen accent above the limestone retaining wall. Some Texas Mountain Laurels have already started popping out their gaudy purple, grape Kool-Aid scented, cluster blooms.

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First Four-Nerve Daisy I’ve seen in my neighborhood this year. It loves the rocky, caliche soil.

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This Agarito (also called Algerita) shrub grows really well in the shade of the oaks. It blooms yellow in the spring and fruits red berries in the summer, which can be used to make jelly. Also, if you want to keep people or deer away from some area, these prickly leaves will do it.

 

Underneath It All

Sky photo for blog

My first post here, and I have a photo of… countryside??? Context, it’s the context. This is the hill country on which half of Austin and many surrounding towns is built. The limestone foundation of this world is honeycombed with caves and covered with thin, alkaline soil supporting a fragile ecosystem.

Hint for homeowners: if you have a lot of trees that look like the one on the left,

IMG_1670best replace them with native live oaks, cedar elms, or another native tree well-adapted to the thin soil and dry conditions. The orange-tinged evergreen in the picture is a juniper, usually called ‘cedar’, and it sucks up water like nobody’s business.

The male trees also emit pollen in the winter, and lots of people are allergic to it. Almost 20 years old now, but revealing many Texas Hill Country secrets, is the Texas Monthly article on the subject of “The War on Cedar“. For further information on junipers and our landscape, read about and visit Bamberger Ranch Preserve.

What’s growing in your yard?