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Realtor Finds Unwanted Guests in Home

by Michael Scheffe | March 4th, 2011

This story from KRQE News, Channel 13 in Albuquerque, NM…

It’s hard enough selling houses in Albuquerque these days. Now local realtors have to contend with vacant properties becoming “love shacks”. “AWKWARD!”

Realtor finds unwanted guests in home:

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Most Cost Effective Home Improvements? Exterior.

by Michael Scheffe | December 16th, 2010

 The 2010-11 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report  is out.  And this year Realtors rated exterior improvement projects among the most cost-effective, demonstrating that curb appeal is still king when it comes to resale time.  In fact, nine of the top 10 most cost-effective projects on the list are exterior projects.

The report compares construction costs with resale values for 35 midrange and upscale remodeling projects comprising additions, remodels and replacements in 80 markets across the country.  Recognizing that housing trends are different as you travel across the country,the report divides the country into regions and reports the data separately for each region.  The on-line version of the new report allows you to select the region of the country and major metropolitan area you’re near for the most relevant information.

According to the report, replacing a front door returns the most money, with an estimated 102.1% of cost recouped upon resale.  It it is also the only project in this year’s report that is expected to return more than the cost. 

A mid-range garage door replacement, a new addition to the report this year, is expected to recoup 83.9% of its cost.  Both projects are small investments that cost little more than $1,200 each, on average.  The Realtors surveyed identified these two door replacements as projects that can significantly improve a home’s curb appeal. 

A great description of these projects and their costs can be found on the National Association of Realtors’ website.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3,838 Comments »

Lakeway Regional Medical Center Taking Shape

by Michael Scheffe | November 22nd, 2010

For years we’ve watched the 50-acre site on Highway 620 at Flint Rock Trace near Lakeway with interest.  First there were signs with the announcement of a new hospital on it.  Then dirt began to move.  Then dirt stopped moving.  Then the site sat still.  And then it sat still some more.  Then rumors swirled that the financing for the project fell through.  (Rumors that proved to be true.)

Then more news (that financing had been secured.)  And better yet, that it was government-backed financing.  And now here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving 2010 and construction of an over one million square foot medical complex is in full swing! 

That’s right.  I said over one million square feet; 1,100,000 when fully-phased to be precise.  To give you an idea of the scale, that’s very close to the size of the nearby Hill Country Galleria

With a 170-bed hospital at its core, the Lakeway Regional Medical Center site also includes two medical office buildings, parking garages, a day care center, an extended-stay hotel, and a retail center with shops and restaurants.  

The hospital will be operated by a group of doctors who have, collectively, invested $40 million of their own money in the construction of the $200 million+ project.  According to the developers, as a physician-operated hospital, the doctors will have much more control over patient care and how the hospital is run than they would ever have in a traditionally-managed, corporate-run hospital.

The hospital is scheduled to have a Level 1 Trauma Center (the highest level of trauma care in the nation.)  As a point of reference, only Brackenridge and Dell Children’s Medical Center offer Level 1 Trauma centers in the Austin-area.    Otherwise, as it was pointed out to me in a recent presentation that I attended hosted by the hospital developers, a Level 1 trauma center is a 45-minute helicopter ride from here.

As for the economic impact to the area, the hospital piece alone will initially employ nearly 1,500 people.   Likewise, from ancillary services like pharmacies to home health care to linen suppliers, I am told that each bed in a hospital like this has the potential to add 20 jobs to the local economy.  That’s over 3,000 new jobs created.  Moreover, as it stands, over half of the doctors slated to come to the new hospital are coming from out of the Austin area.  These doctors and their staffs will likely see virtue in living near the complex.  This means real estate sales. 

The magnitude of the financial impact the hospital could have on the area is mind-boggling.  Will it add to an already difficult traffic situation?  Almost certainly.  Will it add to the development and re-development of the surrounding area?  Probably so.  But the reality is that population in this area of Austin is predicted to double in the next 10 years.  That kind of population must have quality medical care, both emergency and non-critical, in the area.  The fact that a first-class, physician-managed facility might just be the offering is a real coup for area residents current and future.

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Posted in Austin Businesses, Austin Healthcare, Austin Texas Homes, Real Estate Sales | No Comments »

2010 Parade of Homes in Rough Hollow

by Michael Scheffe | October 25th, 2010

Well folks, this week (October 25-31, 2010) is the final week of this year’s Parade of Homes in Rough Hollow near Lake Travis.

The weather looks to be fantastic again this week in Austin.  So, if you’re going to be in town and you like seeing the latest and greatest in home furnishings, decor, automation, and appliances, definitely put this year’s Parade of Homes on your list.

From two-story studies to artificial turf grass to complete window-walls with lake views,  each of the seven homes available to tour has something truly special that you’ll come home talking about.

Above is the highlight reel from my tour last week…

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Posted in Austin Texas Neighborhoods, Parade of Homes, Real Estate Sales, Realtor Tours | 2,491 Comments »

Most original powder bath vanity

by Michael Scheffe | October 21st, 2010

I saw this powder bath “vanity” in a home I toured this afternoon at the 2010 Parade of Homes in Rough Hollow.

The vanity (for lack of a better description) is a stunning piece of art designed and built by master builders Matt and Kim Bailey.  The piece was carved from a solid piece of onyx and is back-lit to create the surreal luminescence.  The “faucet” effect (at some point I suppose someone will want to actually wash their hands in it) is created by a waterfall that cascades down the onyx from about 8 feet above.

I recognize the video is not the best quality, but it’s something you just have to see in person anyway!

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Posted in Home Staging, Realtor Tours | No Comments »

Fall Golf in the Hill Country

by jeffrey | October 12th, 2010

Ahhh, Fall golf in the hill country cannot be beat!  The heat that typically keeps us off the course in August and September has lessened and the cooler evenings help the course stay in good shape until around Thanksgiving.  The weekends are nice and most courses are usually a little less crowded as some golfers are parked in front of their TV sets or are down at DKR to take in a game in person.  I’m even seeing a few discounted tee times on on Saturdays since the number of rounds are dropping at most courses.  The beautiful weather even allows some to walk and enjoy a round of golf…yes, some golfers still walk and play like the players on the professional tours.

A game that one can play from age 8 to 80 and learn so many things about life and business in the wonderful hill country with beautiful weather is pretty tough to beat…kind of like par.

If you’re lucky enough to be a member, Barton Creek Resort, Lost Creek Country Club, and Austin Country Club are excellent options but so are Grey Rock Golf Club, Avery Ranch Golf Club and Falconhead Golf Club for the Austin area.  So what are you waiting for, get out there and enjoy some fall golf in the hill country! …and remember, you can always catch the college football night game when you’re done.

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Posted in Austin Outdoors, Austin Texas Weather | No Comments »

Texas Attorney General Moves to Stop Foreclosures

by Michael Scheffe | October 6th, 2010

In a bizarre twist to the mortgage crisis that has swept across the U.S. in recent months, the Attorneys General for dozens of states are taking steps to halt foreclosures in the their states.  

Most recently, the Texas Attorney General,  Greg Abbott, sent a letter to thirty or so mortgage-loan servicers doing business in Texas.  Here is a list of the mortgage companies receiving letters from the AG’s office.  The letter demands that the recipients immediately halt:  

     1. all foreclosures;

     2. all sales of properties previously foreclosed upon; and

     3. all evictions of persons residing in previously foreclosed upon properties.

The AG is demanding that the banks cease these activities until a review of their internal processes can be conducted. 

Whether or not the AG has the actual authority to stop anything is arguable.  After all, these are banks with contractual agreements with their customers (in the form of deeds of trust) that spell out what the parties to that contract can and can’t do.  What is clear in most deeds of trust is that “if you don’t pay, you can’t stay.”  That is, if you don’t make your mortgage payment then the mortgage company has the contractual right (with proper notice and opportunity to cure any default) to foreclose on the lien that secures your repayment. 

The AGs are not saying that foreclosures in and of themselves are evil and their citizens should be above the law and beyond their contractual agreements.  That would be silly. 

What they are saying though is that there appears to be evidence that some of these foreclosures may not be being handled in a lawful manner.  In that case, they may be invalid, unlawful, and/or most significantly, give rise to claims of fraud.  The allegations are that of widespread sloppiness, corner-cutting and perhaps outright fraud in the way some banks are processing the multitude of delinquent loans, foreclosures, loan modifications, evictions and the like that have inundated their industry over the last few years.

Specifically, Mr. Abbott’s office charges these banks with, among other things: 

     Signing thousands of documents a month without even reading them;

     Making affidavits to facts they couldn’t possible be aware of;

     Notarizing documents before they are signed by the party; and

     Signing documents with inaccurate statements about loan balances, changes, payments, etc.

So what can the Attorney General do about all is? 

Well, what the office does have the right to do is bring lawsuits against companies and individuals who are alleged to have committed fraud against the state’s citizens.  So what Mr. Abbott’s office has done is send a demand letter to these loan servicers saying basically ” it has come to our attention that you may have engaged in certain conduct and if you have we may sue you on behalf of our constituents for engaging in deceptive trade practices in our state”.  (That’s not exactly what was said, but you get the point.)  The demand letter is a required step under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act before a lawsuit can be filed.

Whether lawsuits will be filed or not, whether the loan servicers will be able to properly document their files, whether any missteps were made, etc., will remain to be determined.  But it seems highly unlikely that the recipients of the letter will be able (by any stretch of the imagination) to meet the 10-day deadline issued for producing the documentation demanded by the AG’s office.  That would seem to suggest that this move was merely a formality and a necessary first step in a grander plan.

The processes for approving short sales, loan modifications, foreclosures, and the like these days is ludicrous at best.  I have just negotiated my way through one recently for a client and it was a joke how many twists and turns we took.  That story will be the subject of another blog.  But the point is that there are literally millions of stories just like mine waiting to be told. It’s an enormous problem waiting for a solution. 

In its unprecedented move, the AG’s office has certainly added to the drama of this unfolding story.  Whether it will be part of the solution remains to be seen.   At the moment it would appear that it’s business as usual.  See this video report regarding foreclosure activity as recently as yesterday in Houston’s massive Harris County.

Stay tuned.

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Posted in Austin Texas Homes, Real Estate Sales | 2,450 Comments »

Hiking In And Around Austin: Pedernales Falls State Park

by celeste.nunn | July 29th, 2010

Ahhh…a lovely summer day at a local state park, hiking a bucolic walking/equestrian trail near the crystal clear Pedernales River. Cheap entertainment, too, at only $5 per person daily admittance fee (campers pay $20/night for sites containing electric and water hookups at this popular ranger-staffed park.) Sounds great, doesn’t it? We thought so, and thus, set off for Pedernales Falls State Park, just east of Johnson City in Blanco County. So begins another hiking adventure…

Getting there? As with our last hike, getting there was a bit of a haul. We like water on our mid-summer hikes, which usually entails a bit of a drive out west. This particular park is actually located in Blanco County, which is a bit of a drive but also very scenic and easy to find. From Austin, you’ll travel west on Highway 290; after nearly 30 miles turn right on RM 3232. Continue north until 3232 dead ends in a “T.” The entrance to Pedernales Falls State Park is to the right off of FM 2766. The ranger station for paying park entrance fees and collecting a map of the park is a bit less than 3 miles north of the park entrance. The trail to Pedernales Falls itself is a short (>1 mile) trail, and there are also two longer trails: an approximately 4 mile unnamed loop, which is reached by crossing the Pedernales River at Trammel Crossing, or the 7+ mile Wolf Mountain Trail. We opted for the 4 mile loop, and so made our way down the hill past the ranger station, then bore to the right, parking near campsites 33-34, where the trailhead began. River access is clearly marked and the trail was quite simple to find.

When did we go? On a Saturday morning around 8:00 AM. It was slightly overcast and quite muggy when we set out; the sun came out later in the day and it was starting to swelter when we arrived back at the car about an hour and 45 minutes later.

Pros: Well-populated but still remote feeling park and trails; proximity to Pedernales River & Falls; trails can be used for hiking, biking, and equestrian purposes. Crossing the river was a “pro” to me on a hot summer day, but if wet shoes aren’t your thing, be advised that the crossing is unavoidable if you want to do the 4 mile loop–and you have to cross right at the beginning of your hike as well as the end. Smart hikers (or at least those with more time to spare than we) will bring bathing suits and a picnic and enjoy lunch on the riverbank, followed by a cooling dip prior to heading home.

Cons: One word…horseflies. Hundreds! Both seasoned hikers, my hiking buddy and I douse ourselves with bug spray before every hike. Me, Off! with DEET, and she, an herbal spray from Whole Foods that smells much better. However, neither spray worked to deter the horseflies from landing on us at every opportune moment (pretty much any time we were standing still.) I have to say that her natural bug spray actually did better than mine; the flies landed on her but did not bite, whereas I was covered in painful bites at the end of the hike. It was so bad that my hiking partner actually gave her bug spray to a family with children that we passed on our descent; they didn’t have any spray and she feared that the kids would get eaten up! My warning to you: avoid humid summer days or pack your herbal bug spray…hers had citronella and a few other pungent herbs, which I’m guessing must taste really bad to horseflies! Another quick note that may be a “con” to some: the 4 mile loop is pretty strenuous if you take the right leg of the loop as opposed to the left. More uphill climbing and very few truly level spots. This was great for my Saturday hard exercise; but if you’re looking for a relatively easy, scenic hike, you might try the short hike to park’s namesake falls, or if your knees can’t do inclines, perhaps try the longer but more level Wolf Mountain Trail, both within the parkgrounds.

Summary: We won’t be doing this one mid-summer again due to the horseflies. However, this is definitely a park that has lots to offer and we plan to make another excursion out here soon to explore the falls and the Wolf Mountain Trail.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5,247 Comments »

Great MSN Money Article: The Psychology of Pricing Your Home to Sell!

by celeste.nunn | July 16th, 2010

Our readers may not know that personal finance is one of my interests…yes, I am one of those boring people that reads PF blogs and columns for fun. I feel like keeping my finances at the forefront and being surrounded (well, surrounded in virtual reality) by a community of people who do the same helps me to stay on track with my goals when I’m tempted to overspend. One of the great benefits of this is that sometimes I get a “reality check” on whether or not the advice that we provide to our clients in the real estate realm is actually fiscally responsible in the personal finance realm…and wouldn’t you know, according to this MSN Money article, it is! This article examines the psychology of pricing and the importance of making a logical, “coldblooded” decision on pricing right out of the gate, rather than making small cuts here and there as you go. Don’t listen to us…let the experts at MSN Money tell you why it’s important.

Posted in Real Estate Sales | No Comments »

Hiking In and Around Austin: Grelle Recreation Area

by celeste.nunn | May 26th, 2010

After a long, cold, and painful winter, I have emerged from hibernation raring to go for summer 2010’s hiking excursions! Once I was done babying my sprained ankle way longer than was really necessary, I decided to (wo)man up, buy an ankle brace, and hit the trails. The first spot we decided to hit this summer was the Grelle Recreation Area, an LCRA park near Spicewood on the south shore of Lake Travis, containing campsites, swimming and fishing access, and hike and bike trails. Entrance fee is inexpensive for day hikers at $5 per vehicle.

Getting there? Not too terribly difficult, but perhaps a bit of a drive for those of you who live North and East. For us Southwest Austinites, however, it means about a 25 mile jaunt down the Highway 71 “leg” of the Y at Oak Hill, to the Spicewood area. Once in Spicewood, take a right onto Spur 191, then another right onto CR 404. Finally, you’ll take a left on CR 412 and travel about 1/2 mile to the park site. What is a bit tricky is finding the entrance to the hiking trails once you have entered the park grounds. Fortunately, a just-awakening camper helped us out…you have to follow the road to the right as it winds through campsites and then terminates in a small cove where the lake shore will be on your left and campsites to your right. The trailhead is visible from the parking lot.

When did we go? On a Saturday morning around 7:30 AM. We were trying to beat the heat but moderate temperatures prevailed! This trail, while shaded, does traverse small creeks leading downhill towards the lake, and I could see how it could be a sweatbox at high noon.

Pros: Relatively high lake levels made the view gorgeous! Not much gain in elevation but definitely a moderate hike due to the terrain and lots of ups-and-downs, so a decent workout for only 2 miles. Restrooms near the trailhead…every female hiker’s dream. Also, while it seems this is a popular spot for camping, fishing, and swimming, the hiking/horseback trails were pretty deserted, making for a more enjoyable experience. My hiking buddy noted the swimming cove near the trailhead as we were coming out, and we agreed to pack our suits next time.

Cons: This park seemed poorly maintained/attended to. We were disappointed to encounter the map box empty but for payment envelopes. Furthermore, trail markers were present, but the trail itself was not well-maintained and there were a number of side trails to confuse a first-time visitor. It was obvious that horseback riders had traveled trails that were marked “No Horses.” Campers’ unleashed dogs were an annoyance. Lack of trail maintenance lead to several zones of “Ankle-Break Alley” for this wary hiker. As with all Central Texas hikes near creeks and the lake, mosquitoes were a definite concern. Pack the bug spray!

Summary: On a sunnier day, with a map, this would have been more enjoyable. Although this hike was not a fave, the possibility of an apres-hiking dip in Lake Travis plus the great views and moderately strenuous workout make this a trail we’d visit again.

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Posted in Austin Outdoors | 2,417 Comments »

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