Too Much Weather

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It is hard not to think about the weather, even when I look outside and see bright sunshine and early fall temperatures.

Keller Williams Disaster Response Teams have been “on the ground” along the Texas coast following the disaster that was Hurricane Harvey, carrying 18-wheeler truckloads of cleanup supplies to leased warehouse space close to the points of need. Agents and brokers in the Keller Williams family have been coming and going from undamaged areas for a week now, helping KW agents in the coastal areas clean out their storm-and-flood-damaged homes. This next week was supposed to be the annual Keller Williams Mega Camp in Austin, during which there are speakers and sessions on all aspects of the real estate business. This year is different, however: all attendees will be bused to the coastal areas on 137 chartered buses to help make more order out of chaos for areas devastated by Harvey two weeks ago. Agents come from all over the world to Mega Camp, so there will be a lot of people working to clean up Texas this next week.

I was just in the office of the man who is coordinating the buses and the work sites so that help is spread evenly where it is needed, and making sure that Keller Williams’ efforts are not duplicating efforts by other groups in the same locations. He said that the 18-wheelers are already loaded with supplies for the Florida area after Hurricane Irma hits.

The current hurricane report from the Washington Post is here, and I have quoted it below describing Category 4 winds:

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

It is too late to re-engineer or do major preparations right in the immediate path of this storm, but Consumer Reports published some great articles on acting quickly after storms and flooding.

What Flood Insurance Does and Does Not Cover

How Flood Victims Can Get Financial Help

How to Salvage Your Valuables After Serious Flooding

Writing Off a Catastrophic Loss

 

 

 

The Measure of Things*

* Or, ‘Why square footage listed on the MLS points toward the truth, but might not be truth itself’. 

Just me being silly before leaving for my “What is ANSI?” class at Austin Board of Realtors

I am pretty sure the 100-foot tape measure in the video is older than I am, by the way.  Here’s bringing you information from Friday’s class on measuring square footage…

Where does that square footage number come from on a home-for-sale listing? It will say something like “according to tax records” or “according to owner”. But, really where did the county appraisal district or the owner get that number?

If the house was originally built as part of a subdivision of houses going in pretty much all at once, the builder probably had blueprints for 4 or 5 different house designs and the house in question came from one of those blueprints. Did the builder follow that blueprint exactly, or are there variations in the homes that all came from the same blueprint? Who knows? But, the county probably used the builder’s blueprint numbers to assign a square footage to the house in question.

If a house has no blueprint that is available, the county tax appraiser can come out and, using a wheeled device running along the ground, measure the footprint of the foundation to the nearest foot and calculate the square footage of the foundation from those measurements. (How exact do you think that is?) And, if the house has a second story, the footprint number is doubled to represent an approximation of the size of the house. Imagine if the upstairs portion of the house is a loft with only half the square footage of the room below. Or, imagine rooms under the sloping roofline that are scarcely high enough to stand up in. The county appraiser does not know these things just by looking at the house from outside, so the square footage calculation might be off considerably from the area a person can actually walk on inside the house.

Even square footage that was calculated by a licensed appraiser hired by a previous seller or by a previous lender might be a deceptive number. Until fairly recently, there was no standardized way of measuring square footage. Some measurements would include the thickness of interior walls in the total square footage and some would not. Some would include staircase space, some not. Some older measurements might include square footage of upstairs rooms with only 6-foot ceilings, while newer measurements would not. And so on and so forth.

A licensed appraiser is required now to use methods spelled out by the American National Standards InstituteWhich is a good thing, because we can compare two different house sizes measured recently by licensed appraisers.

But, if we are looking at the work of an appraiser from years ago, we simply don’t know how the square footage was calculated at that time.

Are you starting to be a little skeptical about how personally important that number is on the builder’s marketing material, or on the MLS listing? Yeah, me too. That’s why you always hear me answer the square footage question with exactly what we know, “1843 square feet according to the tax records“, or “5220 square feet according to the builder.” I am not trying to evade the question as much as I am emphasizing the approximate nature of that number we’re all looking at.

How does this affect you? Buyer or seller, you are gonna want the buyer’s lender to see an appraisal that matches what the buyer is offering for the house, right? I mean, what if the appraiser comes up with square footage that is considerably less than the square footage that has been on the county tax records all these years? The appraisal might not match what everyone has been thinking that amount of square footage should be worth! Either the buyer coughs up more funds from her pocket, or the deal falls through, ‘cuz no lender is going to make a loan greater than the ascribed value of the house.

Two lessons:

  1. If you are a seller and the square footage listed on the tax records, or from another source when you bought the house, seems really off from what you are observing when you are in the house, you might want to hire your own appraiser to make the calculation using the most up-to-date methods. Why risk going down a long road toward closing a sale when the whole thing comes to a screeching halt because the buyer’s appraisal is lower than the contract amount?
  2. If you are a buyer and you are running around trying the get the most square footage for the dollar, how are you going to know when you’ve found that touchstone? Can you trust the exact number you are seeing on the listing?

Buyers: calculating the value of a home in your mind should not begin and end with price per square foot. I hope you see by now that this is not a trustworthy number! Like I said, that number is a signpost that points toward truth, but it is not likely to be Truth itself.

Sources: Candy Cooke’s class on “What is ANSI?”

Square Footage- Method For Calculating: ANSI Z765-2013 from Home Innovation Research Labs

 

Finding a Contractor

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Need a new roof? How ’bout a bathroom remodel? What about getting some additional electrical outlets in that 1965 split-level?

You are looking for a contractor, aren’t you?

I just recently heard a Facebook tale of woe from a friend who had hired an electrician to do some work at her house. Upon completion, the work didn’t pass inspection, AND the electrician in question was reluctant to admit that there was a problem, AND he had a ‘smart’ attitude, too. Does this sound familiar? Very few of us have escaped this sort of encounter.

Angie’s List just had a useful article on hiring a contractor. I receive a print copy of the bi-monthly magazine and here are a few tips I found there, plus a couple of my own:

  1. Talk to friends and neighbors who have had similar work done. You can add or subtract potential contractors on your interview list just by finding out about other people’s experiences. Caveat #1: some people are negative in general, and will find fault with most any workers who come near. Is your consultant in this category? Caveat #2: Every contractor, even the best, has one job that just didn’t go well from the very beginning. You can’t make a judgment call based on only one customer’s opinion. Remember this when you read online reviews, too; frequently, only people who have a gripe bother to leave a review. Conversely, the business might have found a way to front-load the reviews with artificially positive comments.
  2. Ask if the business has ever done business under a different name. DBAs (doing business as) are easy to get, and if the business has a lot of DBAs in its past, it might mean the business has something to hide and is trying not to leave a trail.
  3. If the contractor you are interviewing is in a field that can be licensed, such as plumber or electrician, the contractor will gladly give you the license number. If you run into resistance at this point, best run the other way or do a lot more homework, either because the person is not licensed, or because the person has let the license lapse, or it has been revoked.
  4. Ask the contractor for contact information. You want a street address of some sort, because if the person is operating without a permanent address, it is too easy for them to disappear when there is a problem with the work down the line.
  5. Ask for a copy of the insurance policies that will cover workers’ compensation AND damage to your property. Make sure the policy looks adequate to cover whatever disaster happens- you don’t want to be the one liable for injury to the crew!
  6. Make sure the contractor specializes in the type of work you want done. For most jobs, you want someone who does that work all the time, not just every once in awhile when business is slow otherwise.
  7. Ask yourself how the contractor makes you feel when you are discussing all these points. If the person is reluctant, or glosses over answers, or denigrates you for asking the questions, 1) the person isn’t going to get easier to work with than when he/she is trying to impress a new customer and 2) the person probably has something to hide, or feels insecure about the number of complaints she/he has received in the past. Remember what your mom told you about ‘not making excuses’? Yeah, that. You don’t want to hear a bunch of excuses from a person your are considering hiring.

have had terrible experiences with remodelers and other contractors and I have had wonderful experiences over and over again with other home maintenance and remodeling contractors. I can tell you that the previous suggestions are worth following.

I have one picky, perfectionist friend I rely on for great recommendations over and over again. I figure that if Stephanie is happy, then I will be, too. Who is your trusted picky-person?

 

Dripping Springs Opportunities

Today, right now, at 1:31 pm, there are 130 new, under construction, or to-be-built-soon homes on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in the Dripping Springs school district. They range in price from $247,250 to $1,499,000, and a few even have acreage. There is even one cabin-style wood house on acreage out in the Henly area. By the way, there are some homes with an Austin zip code which are zoned to Dripping Springs, and there are houses in Driftwood, too, which are zoned to D.S.

Dripping Springs Independent School District

Now if it’s recreation you want in the DSISD, there are 22 homes on the MLS, of various ages, which have…. pools AND horses allowed. Sign me up! Oh, and the prices range from $525,000 to $3,197,700.

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See the baby? This was the end of May- I wonder what this little fawn looks like now? They are all starting to lose their spots.

Lynn Bridge 512-970-9121

Get Away for a Few Hours

We have the good fortune of living only a 30-minute drive from Wimberley, Texas. It is an old ranch community, but in recent decades, it has re-fashioned itself as a tourist and arts destination, too. The Blanco River runs through it (and periodically floods parts of it) and several creeks, including Cypress Creek, wind through town and nearby ravines.

Mom and I took off this morning for a bit of shopping and lunch in Wimberley. Our first stop was Kiss the Cook, housed in a former residence on the town square (which is NOT square). The owner is Bren Isgitt and she opened the shop 16 years ago.

The merchandise is all kitchen ware and kitchen gadgets, so there really is something for everyone, right? Of course, Mom and I both loaded up our shopping baskets.

I’m pretty sure shops in Wimberley are required to have creative front doors. This one adds a relevant sign to its door.

Here’s the ‘flavor’ of this kitchen shop:

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Also, the next time I need a thematic cookie cutter, I know where I’m going.

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Janie

When you’re in a shop in Wimberley, you just naturally start a conversation with people working there, unless they start the conversation first. Janie was working at the counter today and she admitted that she is a newcomer, only having been there for 6 years. We touched on many topics, including the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, a blog post topic for another day.

Next, Mom and I wandered over to a new shop in another old building off the square, Ceremony Botanical Studio, which opened in May. Mom is a sucker for succulents, and this shop has great ones.

After we made our purchases, I parked Mom on a handy porch bench while I walked a couple of blocks to the public lot, where I’d left the Realtormobile in deep shade. 🙂

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Wimberley has done its best to accommodate the tourists

After wading through heavy Wimberley Market Days traffic to retrieve Mom, we drove about 3 miles north on Ranch Road 12 to eat lunch at Jobell Café and Bistro. Not sure, but I think this is housed in a former 1970’s-era residence which has been completely renovated to be an attractive restaurant.

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Good thing I took this photo before the restaurant became so packed with diners that you couldn’t see the designed ambience.

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I snapped the lunch menu for you:

We read the dessert selection first, so that we’d be mindful of our ultimate goal when we ordered lunch. I chose the Carprese Quiche and Mom had the Avocado and Heirloom Tomato Grilled Cheese on sourdough. We split a Salted Caramel Crème Brûlée. And, yes, it was all wonderful.

After lunch, I made a drop-off at a former client’s home in Woodcreek and then we drove back to Dripping Springs. I love ‘having’ to go to Wimberley for business or pleasure!

As of this morning, there were 89 homes in 78676 (Wimberley) listed for sale, with prices ranging from 195K to 5,995K. As you might imagine, these come with varying amounts of acreage associated with them. If you are feeling the need to list your Wimberley home, or to buy a Wimberley home, I would welcome your call. 512-970-9121 will find me.

 

 

 

Training

Thursdays around here are supposed to be “Thematic Thursday”, which loosely means, “The theme of this blog is real estate, so on this day, I will describe the work of a real estate professional.”

I have heard lots of misconceptions and confusion about what real estate professionals actually DO, so I will give you some helpful information from time to time about what the business of residential real estate is. I will also veer over into raw land and farm and ranch from time to time.

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Here’s what a real estate professional might look like after she exchanges her ‘appointment clothes’ for her blog-writing t-shirt and shorts.

In order to become licensed in the State of Texas, a person must complete:

180 classroom hours of the following qualifying real estate courses

Principles of Real Estate I (30 classroom hours)

Principles of Real Estate II (30 classroom hours)

Law of Agency (30 classroom hours)

Law of Contracts (30 classroom hours)

Promulgated Contracts Forms (30 classroom hours)

Real Estate Finance (30 classroom hours)

(This is directly from the Texas Real Estate Commission website.)

Then you take the licensing test and pass it. That will give you an inactive license. A salesperson’s license only becomes active when she works for a broker.

So, a broker has even more experience and courses to become a broker because a broker is responsible (and legally liable!) for everything her licensed salespersons do professionally. A licensed salesperson does not work for a client. A licensed salesperson works for a broker, and it is the broker who is working for the client, even if they never meet. This is spelled out for the public in a handy-dandy document that TREC requires me to give you at our first conversation about specific real estate: Information About Brokerage Services.

Now, back to ‘training’. The state legislature is the body that sets the licensing requirements, and in Texas, they have prohibited themselves from increasing classroom requirements by more than 3 hours per legislative session. So far, in recent legislative sessions (which happen every other year), our requirements have been increased. I am all in favor of this- real estate is a complicated business and a salesperson does well to choose a brokerage that gives plenty of additional training and mentoring!

Salespeople and brokers are required to renew their licenses every two years. I am coming up on two years and I have already renewed my license until August 2019. First-time renewals require 90 classroom hours on certain topics and an additional 8 classroom hours on legal issues. I chose to get my Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI) designation with my 90 hours.

While it is possible to do all the ongoing training online, I choose the more challenging route of taking classroom hours. I find that being in a room of 20-60 people is stimulating and offers me countless insights from everyone else’s experiences. Discussions are great! How to take days and days of classroom time during a busy set of transactions in my professional life? It’s HARD and will probably require temporary sleep deprivation. My truly challenging moment was two full back-to-back days of classroom instruction while fielding 20+ offers on a property. We can’t work during the class hours, so it all has to come in breaks and after driving home at night.

If you look on the TREC website, you can find me (License #659436) and see that I have taken more than just the 98 hours of instruction time in order to renew my license- all my official classes are listed. There are unofficial classes, too, especially from lenders and from title companies. I love going to these and finding out, or reminding myself, of laws, practices, and procedures.

The next designation I plan to earn is Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®), helping older people with finances, living arrangements, and modifications of real estate.

I took last week off and went to the Seattle area to help out with:

These two grand-persons, while their parents were teaching.

You know what? Even when I’m out of town, I still have my phone, I still check messages, and I still have real estate conversations.

Have a question for me? Call me at 512-970-9121, or email me at lynnbridge@kw.com. I’m here!

Glass ‘n’ Me

Did NOT think I could get excited about a pane of window glass. Wrong, wrong, wrong! We have started replacing double-paned window glass at our house and got the first set installed yesterday. I keep staring out the windows in complete appreciation and awe of what just happened!!! It is the difference between squinting through dirty eyeglasses at the sunny landscape and looking boldly through expensive sunglasses- suddenly the view is clear and crisp, yet not glare-y.

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Before

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After

So here’s the deal about double-pane glass: the less reliable the glue between the layers and the less careful the process, the faster that factory seal will fail, ruining the vacuum between the panes. How do you know a seal has failed? You start seeing moisture between the panes of glass; moisture that cannot be removed from inside the house or from the outside. Or, you start seeing a whitish film on the window that cannot be removed because it is between the panes. Or, you see dirt between the panes.

We compared some prices, then called in Fair and Square Glass Repair, a local business that travels widely in the Austin/San Antonio area. They came out and we talked about the situation, and Trey Doran, the owner of the business, educated me on the type of window frames we have and the type of glass we have. He gave me a tutorial on how our particular windows function and on how I can best care for them. Then, I made a spot decision which windows I wanted to change out first. This is not a cheap project, but we had moved into this house with some milky panes, and I knew that it was a repair/update that I wanted to accomplish and enjoy. We decided to do it a little bit at a time. We are also replacing torn and damaged screens with Fair and Square, upgrading the glass panes and the type of screen while doing it.

About a week after Trey took the measurements, he and his son returned with glass and new screens in hand. I am sorry to say that I had to leave during a lot of the procedure, but I took a few pictures at the beginning.

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He popped out these strips that hold the panes from the inside.

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Using a strong suction device to hold the old glass in order to remove it to the outside.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a torch and a scraper sitting on the outside ledge. Missed this part, but it must have been exciting.

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Oooooo, cleaning up those beautiful new panes!

Aside from the tremendous pleasure that looking through clean glass brings, these panes are highly energy-efficient and they block 95% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. You know how your fabrics, paintings, and furniture fade near windows? Yeah, well, not with this glass. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

Although we have been pretty prompt on needed repairs to our homes and on decorating to our taste, we have a track record of putting off updating certain features that are still functional until suddenly we decide to put our house on the market. Then, we go into high gear and do all sorts of things to the house that we could have done years before and actually ENJOYED ourselves before we decided to move. We have made a plan for updating and upgrading this house so that we won’t be in a bind, or leave money on the table if we should decide to move, or if some circumstances force a move.

Here’s a question for you: if my house is on the market and my neighbor down the street has her house on the market, which windows are going to give a better impression when  buyers walk in- the milky windows down the street, or my clear, high-definition view of nature?