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Taxes: Homestead Exemption

Posted by Stephanie Quirk on March 14, 2019  /  in Blog, Home Buyers Tips  /  No Comments

What You Need to Know About the Homestead Exemption

Saving money is at the top of every homeowner’s list, especially during tax season. With all the available credits and deductions available to owners, one important tax break not to miss is the Residence Homestead Exemption that can help save money on property taxes.

What is the Homestead Exemption?

Per the Texas Comptroller, “a homestead can be a separate structure, condominium or a manufactured home located on owned or leased land, as long as the individual living in the home owns it. A homestead can include up to 20 acres, if the land is owned by the homeowner and used for a purpose related to the residential use of the homestead.”

What Are the Benefits to the Homestead Exemption?

By claiming the Residence Homestead Exemption, an owner can remove part of the value of their property from taxation, essentially lowering their taxes. You are basically paying the taxes on the value of your home after the exemption amount is applied.

What Form is Needed When Filing Taxes?

In the State of Texas, Application Form 50-114 is required to apply for the Residence Homestead Exemption and can be obtained through the State Comptroller’s Office. Click here to download and print the form.

Is there a deadline for claiming the Homestead Exemption?

Typically, Homestead Exemption forms should be submitted by February 1st of a given year.

Is There a Fee to File Homestead Exemption Form?

No, there is not fee to file the Homestead Exemption Form. If there is a company offering to file on your behalf for a fee it is more than likely a scam.

Get the Homestead Exemption Form for Texas here.

Disclaimer: The information provided should not be considered tax or legal advice. For full details concerning the Homestead Exemption in Texas, visit the Texas Comptroller’s website or contact their local office.

What’s Your Home Actually Worth?

Posted by Stephanie Quirk on March 05, 2019  /  in Blog, Home Sellers Guide, Home Sellers Tips, Newsletters  /  No Comments

It’s easy to look up how much money you have in your savings account or the real-time value of your stock investments. But determining the dollar value of a home is trickier.

As a seller, knowing your home’s worth helps you price it correctly when you put it up for sale. If you price it too high, it may sit on the market. But price it too low and you may be losing out on a good chunk of money (nobody wants that!). For buyers, it’s important to know a home’s worth before you make an offer. You want your offer to be competitive, but you don’t want to overpay for the property.

Even if you’re not a buyer or seller right now, as a current homeowner you might just be curious about the value of your home. Keeping track of your home’s worth year over year helps you understand the trends in your market. So when you are ready to sell, you can take advantage of a good window of opportunity.

The good news is, a trained real estate agent—who understands the nuances of your particular neighborhood—can determine the true market value of your property … and at no cost to you!

THE THREE TYPES OF HOME VALUES

When you start the process of buying or selling a home, you’ll frequently hear the words appraised value, assessed value, and true market value. It’s important to know the difference between each one so you can make better, informed decisions.

Appraised Value

A professional appraiser is in charge of determining the appraised value of a home. These appraisals are typically required by a lender when a buyer is financing the property. And while the lender is the one requiring this information, the appraiser does not work for the lender.1 Your appraiser should be an objective, licensed professional who doesn’t have allegiance to the buyer, seller, or lender—no matter who is paying their fee.

The number the appraiser comes up with (the appraised value) assures the lender that the buyer is not overpaying for the property. For example, imagine a seller lists a home for $400,000. They reach a deal with the buyer to sell the home for $375,000. However, if an appraiser evaluates the property and determines that the appraised value is actually $325,000, then the lender will not lend for an amount higher than that appraised value of $325,000.2

When figuring out this number, an appraiser will compare the property to similar homes in your neighborhood, and they’ll evaluate factors such as location, square footage, appliances, upgrades, improvements, and the interior and exterior of the home.

Assessed Value

The assessed value of a home is determined by your local municipal property assessor. This value matters when your county calculates property taxes each year. The lower your assessed value, the less property tax you’ll pay.3

To come up with this value, your assessor will evaluate what comparable homes in the neighborhood have sold for, the size of your home, age, overall condition, and any improvements or upgrades that have been made. However, most assessors don’t have full access to your home, so their information is limited.

Assessments are done annually to determine how much property tax you owe. Many counties use a multiplier (typically between 60%-80%) to calculate the final assessed value. So, if the assessor determines that the value of the home is $300,000, but the county uses a 70% multiplier, the assessed value of the home would be $210,000 for tax purposes.4

If your assessed value isn’t as high as you envisioned, don’t sweat it. Many homeowners appeal their assessment in favor of a lower valuation so that they can save money on property taxes. If you’re interested in appealing your property tax assessment, let us know. We offer complimentary assistance and would be happy to help you build your case.

True Market Value

True market value is established by your real estate agent. It basically refers to the value that a buyer is willing to pay for the property. A good real estate agent is an expert in determining true market value because they have hands-on experience buying and selling properties. They understand the mindsets of buyers in your market and know what they’ll pay for a desirable house, townhouse, or condo.

As a seller, knowing your true market value is important because it helps you choose how much to list your property for. It can also help you decide if you want to make any improvements to your home before putting it on the market. Your agent can help you figure out which updates and upgrades will have the biggest impact on your true market value. 

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH ONLINE CALCULATORS?

When figuring out your home’s value, you might be tempted to see what popular real estate sites like Zillow, Redfin, and Trulia have to say. When you use an online calculator to determine your home’s value on these sites, it is just an estimate. It’s not an actual appraisal or the “true market value.” These sites all have their own algorithms for coming up with their estimates. For example, Zillow comes up with their “Zestimates” by calculating “public and user-submitted data, taking into account special features, location, and market conditions.” 5

These online estimates can be a great starting point for opening up the conversation with your real estate agent about your home’s worth. But even Zillow recommends that you use a real estate agent for coming up with the actual market value of your home. The site says that once you get your “Zestimate,” you should still get “a comparative market analysis from a real estate agent.”

Having an agent involved in this process is essential because they understand the market better than a computer ever could. They’re showing property in your city every single day, and they know the particular preferences of buyers and sellers in the area. Young professionals, large families, empty nesters, and other groups are all looking for different things in a home. A local agent has most likely worked with all of them, so they understand what every segment in your market is specifically looking for. 

HOW AN AGENT FINDS YOUR HOME’S TRUE MARKET VALUE

So, how does an actual real estate agent determine true market value? They’ll start by doing a comparative market analysis (CMA). This means they’ll compare your home’s features to similar properties in your area. For the CMA, the agent looks at the below factors to influence their assessment of your home’s worth:6

  • Neighborhood sales – Your agent will look at similar, recently sold homes in your neighborhood to see what they sold for and what they have in common with your house.
  • The exterior – What does your home look like from the outside? Your agent will factor in curb appeal, the style of the house, the front and backyard, and anything else that impacts how the house looks to everyone walking and driving by.
  • The interior – This is everything inside the walls of the house. Square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, appliances, and more all influence the overall market value.
  • Age of the home – Whether you have a newer or older home affects the number your agent comes up with as part of their assessment.
  • Style of the home – The style of your home is important because buyers in different markets have different tastes. If buyers prefer ranch-style homes and you have one, then your home may sell for a premium (aka more money!).
  • Market trends – Because a local agent has so much experience in your market, they have their finger on the pulse of your area’s trends and know what buyers are willing to pay for a property like yours.
  • Location, location, location – This one’s probably the most obvious. Your agent will think about how popular the area is, how safe it is, and what schools are like.

A computer algorithm simply can’t take all of these factors into account when calculating the value of your home. The reality is, nothing beats the accuracy of a real estate agent or professional appraiser when it comes to determining a home’s true market value.

YOUR AGENT IS THERE EVERY STEP OF THE WAY

 Determining a home’s true market value is a real estate agent’s forte. If you’re a seller, your agent will help you find your home’s market value so you can list it at the right price.

For buyers, your agent will help you determine the value so you can come up with a fair offer. Your agent can also set up a personalized home search on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for you so you’ll receive emails of listings that meet your criteria. This will help you see what’s out there in your city and how properties are being priced.

 

Get a Complimentary Report With Your Home’s True Market Value

Curious about your home’s true market value? Call us to request a free, no-obligation Comparative Market Analysis to find out exactly how much your home is worth!

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. Chicago Tribune –https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/chi-ugc-article-what-is-the-difference-between-market-value-a-2013-09-30-story.html
  1. SFGATE –https://homeguides.sfgate.com/market-value-vs-appraised-value-1206.html
  1. ValuePenguin –https://www.valuepenguin.com/mortgages/what-is-the-assessed-value-of-a-house
  1. Movoto – https://www.movoto.com/blog/homeownership/assessed-value-vs-market-value/
  1. Zillow – https://www.zillow.com/how-much-is-my-home-worth/
  1. realtor.com – https://www.realtor.com/advice/sell/assessed-value-vs-market-value-difference/

When to Replace Smoke Detectors

Posted by Stephanie Quirk on February 12, 2019  /  in Blog, Uncategorized  /  No Comments

When is the best time to replace your smoke detectors?

According to the experts, every 8 – 10 years is typically when you should replace a smoke detector.

Manufacturers’ instructions will vary from brand to brand, so, keeping up with service times is essential to protecting your home. Change the batteries at least twice a year as recommended by FEMA.

Once the batteries are changed out, push the test button to ensure functionality. There are two types of detectors; hard wired and battery operated. It is current Austin code that every bedroom, hallway, and area that is heavily occupied, like living rooms, has a smoke detector.

For more tips and advice on how to install and maintain smoke detectors in your home, visit the City of Austin online today. To take part in the Free Smoke Alarm program, offering smoke alarms to any person in need, by visiting AustinTexas.gov.

têt 2019

Posted by marketing on February 05, 2019  /  in Blog, Uncategorized  /  No Comments

I just got back from  a month in Southeast Asia, spending time in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. A real trip of a lifetime! If you would like to see our more than 2,500 photos we are happy to share! Here is a taste of our adventures.

Carol Dochen, Broker

8 Home Design and Remodeling Trends for 2019

Posted by Stephanie Quirk on February 05, 2019  /  in Blog, Home Buyers Tips, Home Sellers Tips, Newsletters  /  No Comments

If you’re a current homeowner, or in the market to buy, you’re probably curious about the latest trends in home design.

Sellers who make strategic updates before listing a property can generate increased interest from buyers and, in some cases, a premium selling price. And buyers should consider which features of a home will need updating immediately (or in the near future) so they can factor renovation costs into their overall budget.

Even if you have no immediate plans to buy or sell, we advise our clients to be thoughtful about the colors, materials, and finishes they select when planning a remodel. Making over-personalized or unpopular design choices could hurt a home’s value when it does come time to sell. And selecting out-of-style or overly-trendy elements could cause your renovation to feel dated quickly.

To help, we’ve rounded up eight of the hottest home design trends for 2019. Keep in mind, not all trends will work well in every house. If you plan to buy, list, or renovate a property, consult a professional who can help you realize your vision and maximize the impact of your investment.

WARMER PAINT COLORS

White and grey aren’t going anywhere, but expect to see warmer tones and more earthy neutrals popping up in 2019. Cold whites are being replaced by warmer, softer whites. And warmer tones of grey have become a popular alternative to the cooler grays we were seeing earlier in the decade. Dove grey—with a lilac undertone—is a particular favorite with designers this year.

Sherwin Williams chose Cavern Clay, a warm terracotta, as its 2019 color of the year, while Behr selected Blueprint, a mid-tone blue. Benjamin Moore’s selection is Metropolitan, a sophisticated grey.

If you’re preparing to sell your home, consider a light, neutral paint color. Neutral colors provide a blank canvas upon which a buyer can envision placing their belongings, and lighter colors make a room appear larger and brighter.

MIXED METALS

Don’t feel limited to using one metallic finish throughout your home—or even throughout a single room. Designers are mixing metals in 2019, and their favorites include copper, brass, pewter, gunmetal, and matte black.

Experts suggest picking one metal hue to dominate your color palette and a contrasting tone to complement it. If your room has a warm color palette, choose a warm-hued primary metal, such as brass or copper. For cool palettes, choose a cool-toned metal, like pewter or stainless steel. You can also experiment with mixing finishes, such as polished and hammered copper.

From faucets to cabinet pulls to accent pieces, swapping out your old or dated fixtures is an easy—and relatively inexpensive—way to modernize your decor. Mixing metals adds depth and gives your room a more curated look.

OUTDOOR ELEMENTS

Bringing outdoor elements into the home can help warm up a sterile space. And natural materials can soften a modern design esthetic.

Homeowners are increasingly looking for ways to incorporate these materials throughout their home. Especially popular right now: stone, copper, concrete, and wood. From concrete showers to agate stone tiles, designers are finding unexpected ways to bring the outside in.

One notable exception: granite countertops. Engineered quartz—a combination of ground quartz and resin—overtook natural granite stone as the most popular countertop material in 2018. This durable, low-maintenance, highly-customizable product has won over homeowners and designers alike.

ALTERNATIVE APPLIANCES

Stainless steel has been the industry standard for years, but the market is trending toward variety and fresh alternatives. Homeowners have more options available than ever to personalize their kitchens with vibrant colors, black stainless, or modern white appliances. Another favorite? Integrated appliances that blend seamlessly into cabinetry. Built-in column refrigerators, which allow you to customize the design and size of your freezer and refrigerator, are becoming a “must-have” in high-end homes.

Advancements in technology have also brought a new wave of appliances to the market. Induction cooktops are replacing commercial gas ranges as a gourmet favorite. And french door ovens and steam ovens are also gaining in popularity—especially ones with smart features you can control from an app on your smartphone.

COLORFUL KITCHENS

White will always be a classic choice, but color is finally coming back to kitchens. More homeowners are choosing cabinets in alternative neutrals like black, cream, and grey, along with colorful options like green and blue. Also popular? Wood cabinets in stains like warm chestnut and fruitwood.

Two-tone kitchen cabinets remain a homeowner favorite, as well. To incorporate this trend, try pairing darker lower cabinets with lighter upper cabinets or a colorful kitchen island with neutral-colored perimeter cabinets.

OPEN SHELVING

Swapping upper kitchen cabinets for open shelves continues to be a popular choice in 2019. It’s a cost-effective update that can make a kitchen feel larger and brighter. However, it’s not a practical option for everyone. Before you commit, test it out by removing your cabinet doors for a few weeks. See how it feels to have your glasses and dishware on display.

Not ready to give up all your upper cabinet storage space? Replace just one or two upper cabinets with open shelves for a lower-commitment but still-updated look.

STATEMENT TILE

The ubiquitous white subway tile is finally fading in popularity. In 2019, homeowners are gravitating toward more colorful choices, creative textures and finishes, and alternative shapes. Especially hot right now: hexagons, arabesques, diamonds, and Moroccan fish scales.

Natural stone remains a favorite, including marble, quartzite and river rock. But advancements in porcelain tile that mimics stone, and even concrete, has made it an attractive, affordable, and low-maintenance alternative.

SHOWCASE CEILINGS

Once an afterthought, ceilings are taking center stage. While 2018 was all about statement walls, statement ceilings are shaping up to be the darling of 2019. Designers are using bold paint colors, wallpaper, intricate moldings, fabric, and other materials to transform a ceiling into something truly special.

Want to incorporate this trend without going too bold? Choose a classic design, like coffered or wooden beams. Or stick with wood paneling or tin tiles for a more timeless look. Even something as simple as painting a ceiling the same color as the walls can make your space feel more modern.

DESIGNED TO SELL

Are you contemplating a remodel? Want to find out how upgrades could impact the value of your home? Give us a call for a free consultation!

Buyer preferences can vary greatly by neighborhood and price range. We can share the insights we’ve gathered from working with buyers in this market … and offer tips on how to maximize the return on your remodeling investment. And if you’re in the market to sell, we can run a Comparative Market Analysis on your home to find out how it compares to others in the area.

Want to learn more about how to stage your home to sell? Contact us at info@dochenrealtors.com to request a free copy of our report: 10 Staging Secrets From the Pros for a Quick Sale at Top Dollar!

Sources:

  1. Decor Mag –
    https://www.decoraid.com/blog/home-design-trends-2019
  2. Gates Interior Design –
    https://gatesinteriordesign.com/hottest-new-kitchen-and-bath-trends-for-2019/
  3. House Beautiful –
    https://www.housebeautiful.com/home-remodeling/interior-designers/a24844028/home-trends-for-2019/
  4. Houzz –
    https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/114552119/list/32-home-design-trends-that-will-rule-in-2019
  5. Invaluable –
    https://www.invaluable.com/blog/mixing-metals/
  6. Real Simple –
    https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/decorating/decorating-tips-techniques/design-trends-2019-according-to-designers
  7. Sebring –
    https://sebringdesignbuild.com/top-trends-in-kitchen-design/

What’s Ahead for Real Estate in 2019?

Posted by Stephanie Quirk on January 17, 2019  /  in Articles, Blog, Home Buyers Tips, Home Sellers Tips, Newsletters  /  No Comments

As we begin another year, everyone wants to know: “Where is the housing market headed in 2019?”

It’s not only buyers, sellers, and homeowners who are impacted. The real estate market plays an integral role in the overall U.S. economy.  Fortunately, key indicators point toward a stable housing market in 2019 with signs of modest growth. However, shifting conditions could impact you if you plan to buy, sell, or refinance this year.

HOME VALUES WILL INCREASE

The value of real estate will continue to rise. Freddie Mac predicts housing prices will increase by 4.3 percent in 2019.While the rapid price appreciation we witnessed earlier in the decade has slowed, the combination of a strong economy, low unemployment, and a lack of inventory in many market segments continues to push prices higher.

“Ninety percent of markets are experiencing price gains while very few are experiencing consistent price declines,” according to National Association of Realtors (NAR) Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.2

Yun predicts that the national median existing-home price will increase to around $266,800 in 2019 and $274,000 in 2020. “Home price appreciation will slow down—the days of easy price gains are coming to an end—but prices will continue to rise.”

What does it mean for you? If you’re in the market to buy a home, act fast. Prices will continue to go up, so you’ll pay more the longer you wait. If you’re a current homeowner, real estate has proven once again to be a solid investment over the long term. In fact, the equity level of American homeowners reached an all-time high in 2018, topping $6 trillion.3

SALES LEVELS WILL STABILIZE

In 2018, we saw a decline in sales, primarily driven by rising mortgage rates and a lack of affordable inventory. However, Yun isn’t alarmed. “2017 was the best year for home sales in ten years, and 2018 is only down 1.5 percent year to date. Statistically, it is a mild twinge in the data and a very mild adjustment compared to the long-term growth we’ve been experiencing over the past few years.”2

Yun and other economists expect home sales to remain relatively flat over the next couple of years. Freddie Mac forecasts homes sales will increase 1 percent to 6.08 million in 2019 and 2 percent to 6.20 million in 2020.1

“The medium and long-term prospects for housing are good because demographics are going to continue to support demand,” explains Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist for LendingTree. “With a slower price appreciation, incomes have an opportunity to catch up. With slower sales, inventory has an opportunity to normalize. A slowdown in 2019 creates a healthier housing market going forward.”4

What does it mean for you? If you’ve been scared off by reports of a market slowdown, it’s important to keep things in perspective. A cooldown can prevent a hot market from becoming overheated. A gradual and sustainable pace of growth is preferable for long-term economic stability.

MORTGAGE RATES WILL RISE

The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates three times this year, resulting in a rise in mortgage rates.5 While no one can predict future mortgage rates with certainty, Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale estimates that the rate for a 30-year mortgage will reach 5.5 percent by the end of 2019, up from around 4.62 percent at the end of 2018.6

While mortgage rates above 5 percent may seem high to today’s buyers, it’s not out of line with historical standards. According to Hale, “The average mortgage rate in the 1990s was 8.1 percent, and rates didn’t fall below 5 percent until 2009. So for buyers who can make the math work, buying a home is likely still an investment worth making.”7

What does it mean for you? If you’re in the market to buy a house or refinance an existing mortgage, you may want to act quickly before mortgage rates rise. To qualify for the lowest rate available, take steps to improve your credit score, pay down existing debt, and save up for a larger down payment.

AFFORDABILITY ISSUES WILL PERSIST

Although the desire to own a home remains strong, the combination of higher home prices and rising mortgage rates will make it increasingly difficult for many first-time buyers to afford one.

“Buyers who are able to stay in the market will find less competition as more buyers are priced out but feel an increased sense of urgency to close before it gets even more expensive,” according to Hale. “Although the number of homes for sale is increasing, which is an improvement for buyers, the majority of new inventory is focused in the mid-to-higher-end price tier, not entry-level.”6

What does it mean for you? Unfortunately, market factors make it difficult for many first-time buyers to afford a home. However, as move-up buyers take advantage of new high-end inventory, we could see an increase in starter homes hitting the market.

MILLENNIALS WILL MAKE UP LARGEST SEGMENT OF BUYERS

“The housing market in 2019 will be characterized by continued rising mortgage rates and surging millennial demand,” according to Odeta Kushi, senior economist for First American. “Rising rates, by making housing less affordable, will likely deter certain potential homebuyers from the market. On the other hand, the largest cohort of millennials will be turning 29 next year, entering peak household formation and home-buying age, and contributing to the increase in first-time buyer demand.”4

Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, predicts the trend will continue. “Millennials are also likely to make up the largest share of home buyers for the next decade as their housing needs adjust over time.”6

What does it mean for you? If you’re in the market for a starter home, prepare to compete for the best listings. And if you plan to sell a home in 2019, be sure to work with an agent who knows how to reach millennial buyers by utilizing the latest online marketing techniques.

WE’RE HERE TO GUIDE YOU

While national real estate numbers and predictions can provide a “big picture” outlook for the year, real estate is local. And as local market experts, we can guide you through the ins and outs of our market and the local issues that are likely to drive home values in your particular neighborhood.

If you’re considering buying or selling a home in 2019, contact us now to schedule a free consultation. We’ll work with you to develop an action plan to meet your real estate goals this year.

START PREPARING TODAY

If you plan to BUY this year:

  • Get pre-approved for a mortgage. If you plan to finance part of your home purchase, getting pre-approved for a mortgage will give you a jump-start on the paperwork and provide an advantage over other buyers in a competitive market. The added bonus: you will find out how much you can afford to borrow and budget accordingly.
  • Create your wish list. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? How far are you willing to commute to work? What’s most important to you in a home? We can set up a customized search that meets your criteria to help you find the perfect home for you.
  • Come to our office. The buying process can be tricky. We’d love to guide you through it. We can help you find a home that fits your needs and budget, all at no cost to you. Give us a call to schedule an appointment today!

If you plan to SELL this year:

  • Call us for a FREE Comparative Market Analysis. A CMA not only gives you the current market value of your home, it will also show how your home compares to others in the area. This will help us determine which repairs and upgrades may be required to get top dollar for your property, and it will help us price your home correctly once you’re ready to list.
  • Prep your home for the market. Most buyers want a home they can move into right away, without having to make extensive repairs and upgrades. We can help you determine which ones are worth the time and expense to deliver maximum results.
  • Start decluttering. Help your buyers see themselves in your home by packing up personal items and things you don’t use regularly and storing them in an attic or storage locker. This will make your home appear larger, make it easier to stage… and get you one step closer to moving when the time comes!

Sources:

  1. Freddie Mac Economic & Housing Research Forecast –
    http://www.freddiemac.com/research/pdf/201811-Forecast-04.pdf
  2. National Association of Realtors 2019 Forecast – 
    https://www.nar.realtor/newsroom/2019-forecast-existing-home-sales-to-stabilize-and-price-growth-to-continue
  3. Bankrate 2018 Year in Review –
    https://www.bankrate.com/mortgages/year-in-review-for-housing-market/
  4. Forbes 2019 Real Estate Forecast –
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/alyyale/2018/12/06/2019-real-estate-forecast-what-home-buyers-sellers-and-investors-can-expect/#a98b80a70d9a
  5. Mortgage Bankers Association Forecast –
    https://www.mba.org/2018-press-releases/october/mba-forecast-purchase-originations-to-increase-to-12-trillion-in-2019
  6. Realtors.com 2019 National Housing Forecast –
    https://www.realtor.com/research/2019-national-housing-forecast/
  7. FOX Business –
    https://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/where-mortgage-rates-are-headed-in-2019

DIY Moving Tips

Posted by sydjohnson on January 17, 2017  /  in Articles, Blog, Home Buyers Tips  /  No Comments

When it comes time to move in Austin, here are some tips that will help get you by.

Moving can be a stressful time. You are excited about moving into your new place, but you may not be apprehensive about the move itself. Organization becomes your best friend if you are considering a DIY move.

1) Set up childcare. Whether it is a family member or someone you hire for the move, having childcare in place is a must while you are moving back and forth between the old home and the new home. It’s impossible to move those heavy boxes with kiddos wrapped around your ankle.

2) Set up meals ahead of the move. Just like childcare, meals are the last thing you want to think about when making a move. Prepare meals ahead of time to keep at the new place that can easily be warmed up.

3) Throw out the items you no longer need. There is no doubt you will come across things during packing that you have forgotten about, no longer use, or simply don’t have the room for. Donate these items to a local charity or have a garage sale and make money toward moving costs.

4) Take inventory of your belongings. Now that you have gone through and thrown out what you don’t need, it’s beneficial to make an inventory list to ensure your belongings make it to your new place. Check each item off the list as it is packed up. Your inventory list is also useful for home insurance.

5) Pack items that you don’t need access to.Toiletries, clothes, and such important electronics should be packed in overnight bags and separate from what is going into the moving truck. It is important to pack by the room. For instance, you want to avoid packing pots and pans with the kid’s room.

6) Label each box accordingly. Ensure everything is labeled somehow, whether marker or labels, for easier unpacking. It will also be useful for the movers to place the boxes in the appropriate room, eliminating the huge pile of boxes in the new place could take even longer to unpack because you have to figure out where it all goes.

7) Use plastic tote boxes to pack. Cardboard boxes can be ruined during a move and it’s almost guaranteed that not everything will get unpacked immediately upon move in. Plastic bins will be the way to go when staying organized. Purchase the totes with lids, pack seasonal items such as decorations, clothing, and so on, and then stack them in the garage without worrying about weather elements ruining anything.

Make your move. By using these organization tips during your move, you can save time, money and the additional headache. It will all be worth it once you’re settled in and the pride of moving yourself is priceless.

4th of July Events in the Austin Area!

Posted by marketing on July 01, 2016  /  in Blog  /  No Comments

Check out any of these great Austin area Independence Day celebrations near you!

Austin
40th Annual HEB Austin Symphony July 4th Concert and Fireworks 40th annual July Fourth Concert and Fireworks
Date: July 4th
Concert start: 8:30 PM
Fireworks start: 9:30 PM
Place: Vic Mathias Shores (Auditorium Shores)
Price: Free

NWACA (Northwest Hills) 4th of July Parade
Date: July 4th
Starts: 9:00 AM
Place: North Hills Drive
Price: Free

Bee Cave
Hill Country Galleria Independence Day Celebration
Date: July 4th
Place: Hill Country Galleria
Starts: 6:30 PM
Price: Free

Buda
Red, White and Buda Red White and Buda
Date: July 4th
Place: Buda City Park
Festival starts: 7:00 PM
Fireworks start: 9:30 PM
Price: Free

San Marcos
Summerfest SummerFest
Date: July 4th
Place: Plaza Park
Festival starts: 6:00 PM
Fireworks start: 9:30 PM
Price: Free

Round Rock
July Fourth Frontier Days Celebration July Fourth Frontier Days Celebration 
Date: July 4th
Parade starts: 10:00 AM
Place: Downtown Round Rock
Festival starts: 12:00 PM
Place: Old Settlers Park
Fireworks start: 8:30 PM
Place: Old Settlers Park
Price: Free

Pflugerville
Pflugerville Pfirecracker Pfestival Pflugerville Pfirecracker Pfestival
Date: July 4th
Place: Pflugerville Lake
Starts: 6:00 PM
Price: Free

Cedar Park
Fourth of July Celebration Fourth of July Celebration
Date: July 4th
Parade starts: 10:00 AM
Place: HEB (Cedar Park) Center
Festival starts: 4:00 PM
Place: Milburn Park
Price: Free

Bastrop
Bastrop Patriotic Festival Bastrop Patriotic Festival
Date: July 2nd
Place: Fisherman’s Park
Starts: 4:00 PM

Lago Vista
Lago Vista Fourth of July Celebration Lago Vista Fourth of July Celebration
Date: July 2nd
Parade starts: 10:00 AM
Place: Dawn Drive
Festival starts: 11:00 AM
Place: Near Greenshore Park and Lago Vista Golf Course
Price: Free

Leander
Leander Liberty Fest Leander Liberty Fest
Date: July 3rd
Starts: 6:00 PM
Place: Highway 183 between Hero Way and San Gabriel Parkway
Price: Free

Mayor Adler’s “Smart Corridor Resolution”

Posted by marketing on July 01, 2016  /  in Blog  /  No Comments

Last month, Austin Mayor Steve Adler introduced a resolution to upgrade transportation along some of Austin’s most congested roadways.  Here’s his press release!

According to a new Public Policy Priorities poll commissioned by the Austin Monitor, the worst thing about living in Austin is — by far — transportation. More than half of Austinites (51%) chose transportation, beating out housing (20%) by better than a 2-to-1 margin. More Austinites are frustrated at transportation than they are at all their other concerns combined.

It’s time to do something meaningful to address our frustrations with traffic options and congestion.

Last week I introduced the Smart Corridor Resolution to help kick off the community discussion about our mobility challenges. Our Council and community should have a robust discussion about this city’s mobility needs, and all options should be considered. The Smart Corridor plan, which will decrease traffic congestion, improve transit, increase transportation options, and build safer sidewalks and protected bike paths, should be a part of that discussion which starts today at the Mobility Committee’s meeting at City Hall.

The streets in the Smart Corridor plan are the ones we drive on all the time: Airport Boulevard, East Riverside Drive, North and South Lamar, FM969 & MLK, and Burnet. Almost half (49.6%) of Austin’s population lives within two miles of these streets, and they were not built to carry this much traffic. If we can turn these old state highways into Smart Corridors, we’ll be improving traffic congestion in a way that makes transit more effective and attractive and makes biking and walking safer and more convenient.

What makes these roads “Smart Corridors”?

So what would we be doing to these old state highways that would turn them into “Smart Corridors”? Everybody gets something, so the roads would better for everyone: pullouts and queue jumps for rapid transit, protected paths for bicycles, sidewalks and safe crosswalks for pedestrians, turn lanes and access management for vehicles, and smart signals that we can time remotely in response to weather, special events such as games letting out, collisions, etc.

Here’s how that would work:

Never get stuck behind a bus again

Ever get stuck behind a bus? You won’t on a Smart Corridor because of pullouts. See in the picture above how the bus pulls out of traffic to offload passengers? Buses pull over, and you keep going. It’s that simple.

Queue jumps are how the bus gets back into the flow of traffic. Special traffic lights give the bus a 10-second head start, giving the bus an advantage over regular traffic that keeps the bus moving, which in turn makes public transit more attractive. This is one example of how we can reduce traffic congestion in a way that helps other forms of transportation, in this case buses.

“Cycle Tracks” – AKA protected bike lanes

Another way we can help traffic is by building what are called “cycle tracks,” or protected bike paths. There are a lot of ways this helps traffic congestion: First, surveys show that thousands of people in Austin would ride their bikes more if they had safe, protected bike paths, and even if you’re not one of those people the driver in the car in front of you might be. Also, protected lanes reduce bike-related injuries at intersections by 75%, which isn’t just a safety benefit. Collisions are a major source of traffic delays. Finally, if bikes have their own lane, vehicles won’t have to slow down to avoid cyclists.

Everyone wins by getting where they’re going more quickly and much safer, and we’re improving traffic congestion in a way that makes active transportation a better option for many people.  A 2013 study by the City of Austin found that 50% of Austinites would be more likely to bike to work or on errands if they had safe, protected bike paths.

Turning bays and left-turn lanes

Ever had to stop a few times driving down Lamar or Burnet because someone was turning left mid-block? Getting stuck behind someone turning left isn’t just annoying. It’s a design flaw in an old state highway, but it’s something we can fix by turning it into a Smart Corridor. By limiting the driveways and building dedicated left-turn lanes, we can minimize blockages and increase traffic flow by directing the turning vehicle out of the through lane.

Smart traffic lights & hybrid beacons

We can also make some smart changes when it comes to signalization. First, we can install smart traffic lights. Everyone wants us to time the lights now, but our existing technology is outdated. You know how we time the lights now? We send a city worker out with a stopwatch and a clipboard once every four years to do it by hand. This is not how we should be managing traffic in one of the smartest cities in the world.

The Smart Corridor plan would include funding for new, smarter traffic lights that the Traffic Management Center could adjust remotely. If there is an accident, a flood, a concert letting out, or any other event affecting traffic, we could instantly change the light patters to make our traffic flow better — you know, exactly like you thought the lights worked now.

Also, we can install pedestrian hybrid beacons that are already in use in some places around Austin. These make our roads safer by reducing collisions involving pedestrians by 69%, but they also increase traffic flow because they only stop traffic when someone needs to cross the street and not on an automatic cycle.

How much would this improve traffic?

It’s important to know that the way we measure the effectiveness of roadways such as these old state highways is to measure delays at intersections. When we talk about traffic congestion on these roads, we talk about delays at intersections. If the intersections work better (as each of the changes described above would do), that means your wait at those intersections is shorter.

Here are some representative examples of what city planners say would happen if we do the Smart Corridor plan:

South Lamar: Turning South Lamar into a Smart Corridor would have a profound effect on traffic congestion. If we make the long-term improvements included in the Smart Corridor plan, wait times at intersections during morning rush hour on South Lamar would improve 61%. If we do nothing, wait times at intersections in the mornings will increase 216%.

In the evening rush hour, wait times at intersections will decrease 51% if we do the long-term projects. If we do nothing, evening rush hour delays will increase 113%.

North Lamar: If we turn North Lamar Boulevard into a Smart Corridor, morning delays at intersections would decrease 48%, and evening delays at intersections would decrease 49%.  Comparative data is not yet available.

Burnet Road: If we do the long-term work on Burnet Road, morning delays at intersections would decrease 11% and afternoon rush hour delays would go down 27%. Comparative data is not yet available.

Airport Boulevard: If we do the long-term projects in the Smart Corridor plan, delays at intersections during your morning commute would decrease 10%; if we do nothing, delays will increase 40%.

In evening rush hour, wait times at intersections would decrease 20%; if we do nothing, wait times at those same intersections will increase 40%.

Tumlin Report: Fix the corridors

To fix all of Austin’s mobility problems would cost $8.5 billion. The Smart Corridor plan is where we begin. Jeffrey Tumlim‘s report to the Austin Transportation Department says one of our biggest priorities as a city should be improving our corridors.

“Austin has a problem of success. Austin is a thriving city, and its success has resulted in severe traffic congestion,” wrote Tumlin. “Austin’s current success threatens its future.”

Among the eight priorities Tumlin identified was “implement corridor plans with a focus on walkability.”

“The City of Austin has invested great effort in developing several thoughtful corridor and special district plans. … These plans and others establish Austin’s forward-thinking planning, and they are already positively impacting the urban landscape.”

We paid millions of dollars to develop these corridor plans, and right now they’re sitting on a shelf — literally. It’s time to take them down and get to work.

How clogged roads become “Smart Corridors”

Summer Energy Saving Tips

Posted by marketing on June 27, 2016  /  in Blog  /  No Comments

Summer’s just around the corner, and so is the infamous Texas heat!  Here are a few tips to save energy, and a few dollars as well!


1.  Fans can make temperatures around you feel up to 4 degrees cooler.
2.  Set your thermostat at 78 degrees or higher when your home is unoccupied.
3.  Keep debris, high grass and other obstructions away from your air conditioner’s condenser so airflow to the unit is not blocked.
4.  Clean your A/C condenser/evaporator coils at the beginning of the season.
5.  Clean or replace filters monthly.
6.  Caulk or weather-strip around your windows and doors.
7.  Shade your outdoor A/C unit.
8.  Plant trees to shade your south and west facing windows.

summer heat shown on thermometer with 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 38 degrees Celsius. Sunlight breaking through cumulus clouds on blue sky in background. Photo taken with dslr camera, flash used.