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If you have requests for blog topics or questions about the Austin real estate market, please ask! You are welcome to email me directly or leave a comment.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Travel & Leisure Magazine Ranks Austin Among Top US Cities

Readers of Travel & Leisure Magazine have ranked Austin one of the top 25 travel destinations in the United States. What makes Austin a great place to visit, also makes it a great place to live!

Austin’s best overall characteristic was voted Live Music. We came in 1st place for the Singles Scene, and 2nd for Barbeque. (My favorite place for barbeque is The Salt Lick, just outside of Austin in Driftwood.)

We also ranked high in the following categories: After Dark, Safety, Public Parks/Spaces, Food/Dining, Attractive/Athletic People, Fun, and Wild Weekend. To see the full list of rankings, click here: http://www.travelandleisure.com/afc/2007/city/austin.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How to Choose an Inspector

When choosing an inspector, you want to find someone who is professional, knowledgeable, and pleasant to work with. So how do you figure out who fits that description? Ask people you know for recommendations. Your Realtor will likely have a few names and possibly even you know someone who has bought a house recently. Then call and talk to a few different inspectors on the phone. The phone call is not just for quantitative information like cost, time, etc. It is also to see whether they are willing to take the time to talk to you and how they respond to your questions.

Ask if you can attend the inspection. As I said in my previous blog: I highly recommend that you do. It will give you the opportunity to ask questions and learn about your potential new home. Most inspectors are happy to explain what they are doing and why it is important. They will also answer any questions you have that come up at a later time. If the inspector doesn’t want you to attend, or is impatient at answering your questions, find someone else.

When you call the inspector, he will also have some questions for you, so have this information handy:

  • address of the house to be inspected
  • square footage of the house (could affect the cost)
  • year home was built
  • type of foundation (could affect the cost)
  • sellers disclosure (some want to see it, some don’t)
  • any concerns you may have

The inspector may not inspect atypical systems or items, such as swimming pools, wells, or septic systems, and some inspectors will not conduct environmental tests or wood-destroying insect inspections. Be sure to ask when you are making the appointment and whether it will incur an extra charge. If they do not, you will need to make those appointment separately.

Here is a list of questions for quick reference:
• How long have you been licensed in Texas?
• Are you a full-time home inspector?

• How much do you charge?
• What could cause an additional charge?
• How much would you charge if I ask for a reinspection after repairs are completed?

• What will the inspection include?
• Do you inspect gas lines, swimming pools, spas, septic systems, and wells? (You can identify other atypical systems or items.) Do you charge extra for these?
• How long will the inspection typically take? (Anything less than two hours is not long enough for a thorough inspection.)

• Will you supply a written report? (The inspector should.)
• When can I expect to receive the written report?
• Can I attend the inspection?
• Can I call you with questions that come up later?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Inspections are Important!

A house is an expensive and important purchase, and an inspection allows you to know what the condition of the house is. To quote an old proverb, “Forewarned is Forearmed.” If you know about any potential problems earlier, then you are better prepared to handle them when they arise later. A professional home inspection can also be a helpful tool if you choose to continue negotiating on the property with the seller.

In Austin, a home that is 1500-2000 sq.ft. can cost around $400-$500 due at time of inspection. A thorough inspection will take a minimum of 2-3 hours. Afterward, the inspector will provide you with a written report in a timely manner detailing what he found and any recommendations he may have.

If the house is occupied, be sure to notify the sellers agent of the date and time you have made for the inspection, so that the owners can provide access to the property. If the house is unoccupied, the inspector will need the utilities on to conduct a full inspection.

I recommend that you attend the inspection. It will give you the opportunity to ask questions and learn about your potential new home. Be sure to check first, but most inspectors will welcome questions and be happy to explain what they are doing and why it is important. They will also answer any questions you have that come up at a later time.

You can find a blank copy of the standard inspection report form at www.trec.state.tx.us to give you an idea of what may or may not be covered in the inspection. It should generally include the electrical, heating and central air-conditioning systems; interior plumbing, visible insulation, roof, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, foundation, basement, and the visible structure of the house. If the inspector sees something that concerns him but is but out of the scope of his expertise, he may recommend that you consult with another professional. For example, if there is a possible foundation issue, he may recommend that you have a structural engineer or foundation company take a closer look. Unless you have decided that there are too many other issues and you do not want the house, you should schedule the next appointment as soon as possible. If you are undecided, you should still schedule the next appointment as soon as possible. After all, the purpose of the inspection is to make sure that you have all the information so you can make an informed decision.

Next Blog: How to Choose an Inspector

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mortgage Market Woes

Here is the very simplified formula for what happened:

Low interest rates* + a lot of available money + housing boom
= Harder to see risks
= Investors willing to buy collateralized debt for more than the lenders paid
= Lenders lowered their standards for making loans and a lot of people (sub-prime/alt-a borrowers**) get loans who cannot repay them. If they get to a point when they can no longer make the monthly payments, all the borrowers had to do was sell the house for more than they bought it. The way the market was at that time, that strategy worked!

Then home values started to decrease…
> Risks became more apparent
> Investors will not buy or will only pay less to the lenders for the collateralized debt
= Lenders stop making risky loans
= For some lenders, it is too late. They already made risky loans that they cannot sell for more money. They can’t cover their losses and go out of business

*an interesting side-note…. rates were dropped in 2000/2001 to soften the blow of the collapse of the dot-com bubble

Here are a few more things to know that will help you understand. Although some banks and mortgage companies do keep the loans that they make, many sell their loans to investors on the secondary mortgage market. The lenders will group many types of loans (prime, alt-a and subprime) together and sell as it as collateralized debt. This is supposed to reduce the risk of the individual loans. Unfortunately, it also explains how the collapse of the sub-prime market can affect the prime and alt-a markets. What affects one market gets all of them.

Prime borrowers get the best interest rates on their loans because they have a good credit history and can prove that their income will cover the monthly payments. If they add to that the ability to make a down payment of 20% the purchase price of the property, then they are considered the least risky of borrowers.

Alt-A borrowers have a good credit history but either have little documentation or no documentation to prove their income. For example, people who earn tips or commissions could be in this category.

Sub-prime borrowers are the most risky and as a result, get the highest interest rates. They generally have problems with their credit history and cannot prove their ability to make the monthly payments on the loan.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Buy a House, Earn Frequent Flyer Miles!

I was checking my frequent flyer miles online the other day and made a really interesting discovery. It is possible to earn frequent flyer miles by buying, selling, financing, or refinancing a home!

I checked the websites of the major US airlines and most of them have some type of program where you can earn miles. A few also offer miles for new home warranties or other moving services. There are a variety of qualifications, such as using a particular mortgage company or an approved real estate agent. Be careful, at least one airline requires that you request to receive miles and state your intention of applying through their frequent flyer program at time of application. Check the airline websites under the advantage program partner guides for more detailed information.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Moving to Austin?

If you are thinking of moving to Austin or if you have already arrived, here are just a few of the things that make Austin a great place to live.

Mount Bonnell is one of the oldest tourist spots in Austin. It is the highest point within the city limits and
offers a great view of the downtown skyline, Lake Austin, and the hill country. An interesting fact; just to the east of Mt Bonnell is the Mt Bonnell fault (no worries, it's seismically dead) which is the boundary between the American South and the American West.

Barton Springs is a three acre pool that is located within Zilker Park. The sides have been cemented but the bottom was left natural creek bed. The water is generally about 68 degrees year round, which sounds really cold until you hit the 100+ degree summers. Then it feels great to go and cool off in the water!

Lady Bird Lake, formerly known as Town Lake, is actually part of the Colorado River. It was renamed this summer in honor of Lady Bird Johnson for her work beautifying the lake and the Hike and Bike Trail. Motorized craft is prohibited, but you will see a lot of people in canoeing, kayaking, and sculling. On the shores of Lady Bird Lake is Auditorium Shores,where the Austin City Limits Music Festival takes place along with other events during the year.

Austin City Limits is a television concert series that has been running on PBS since 1971. It has featured artists such as Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, B.B. King, Los Lonely Boys, Ray Charles, Etta James, Dixie Chicks...and the list just goes on! Once a year is the Austin City Limits Music Festival, a three day event with a lot of stages and a lot of performers! This year the event is Sept 14, 15, and 16. Tickets are still available!

South Congress is the portion of Congress Avenue that starts at Lady Bird Lake and runs south to a street named Oltorf. It's one of those places that is better to just experience. It's creative, funky, eclectic, and has fun shopping and great food. There is an event called First Thursday, which happens (surprise!) every first Thursday of the month. There is live music, and the merchants stay open late and host different events and activities.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Amazing Downtown Condo!

Last night I worked an open house for a condo downtown. The open house was an event for Realtors in the Austin area. The property tours are a really great idea and a very helpful tool. It is a way for Realtors to publicize their listings and get feedback on the property from other professionals that are in the business. It is also a good opportunity to network and exchange information.

The condo is one of the 5 Fifty-five residences at the Hilton Hotel. It is on the 30th floor, and has floor to ceiling windows so the view of the city is amazing. To the south is Lady Bird Lake and beyond, then pan 180 degrees across the west side of the city until you find the UT football stadium to the north. Last night, there were thunderstorms to the west of Austin, so the lightning flashing made a very impressive sight.

The condo itself is no less impressive! It is 5000 square feet, with cherry floors and 12 foot ceilings. There are three bedrooms (each with a full bathroom), another powder room, kitchen, living, dining, wet bar, library, media room, laundry room, and plenty of storage. Please feel free to email me for more information on this listing or any other you may be interested in.

Monday, August 27, 2007

information overload

This summer, I finally took the plunge and quit my full time job to become a full time Realtor. It's an abrupt change to go from an 8-5 desk job with a regular paycheck and rather good benefits to working for commission only. Especially when you don't know when that next commission check will be coming. I'll say right off that it's one of the best decisions I've made and I'm having a great time! There is just so much information to learn! Showing houses and writing contracts is actually the easy part. What takes longer is making the connections with other people in the industry so that you know who to call when your clients don't have a mortgage officer or an inspector or an electrician! What takes even longer is learning about mortgages, marketing, advertising.

I have had a good start though. In the first two months I worked as a full time Realtor, I closed on two houses!