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Archive for October, 2009

Discount Realtors

by Michael Scheffe | October 28th, 2009

traffic-light-red_350I had a prospective client tell me recently that another agent he was speaking to had offered to rebate half of her commissions back to the client and he wanted to know if I would do the same.  While acknowledging to him that there are certainly circumstances under which we feel it appropriate to negotiate our fee structure, I wanted to share with him some important things to consider when approached by discount realtors.

Firstly, the 1.5% rebate is largely a ploy by discount realty shops to “buy” clients because their poor service doesn’t win them repeat business or referrals like others.  Oftentimes, they are able to offer these kinds of concessions by requiring that the client use their title company, mortgage company, home warranty company and other ancillary businesses.  The higher fees generated by these ancillary services are used to offset the discount in the real estate commission.  Anytime you’re being told that you’ll pay less here if you also use these other services, you should ask yourself why.  These are businesses, not charities, and their interest is in their profit, not yours. 

Here’s some important math to keep in mind with discount realty:

On a $225,000 sale, the buyer’s broker commissions are $6,750. If 1/2 of that is rebated to the client, that leaves $3,825 to be split between the agent and his/her broker (company).  With typical splits at 50/50, that means the agent’s portion is $1,912.

How much time and attention do you think an agent under that kind of an arrangement is going to spend with each of his or her clients.  The answer: as little as humanly possible!  Seriously.  And how many clients does he or she have to juggle at one time for those kind of numbers to work.  Answer: more than they could handle effectively.  And, perhaps most importantly, what kind of agents do you think discount firms attract with those kind of numbers?

This lower-cost, lower quality approach is why most people don’t get their taxes done at Wal-Mart or Costco.  Volume is good if you’re buying toilet paper and frozen chicken breasts, but not when you’re hiring someone to assist you in one of the largest, most expensive purchases you’ll make in your life.  And certainly not in the kind of market we’re in today where there’s so much negotiation going on.  Market knowledge and negotiating skills are more critical now than ever.

Buying a home is a much more complex and dynamic process than many people initially think.  Thousands of dollars (tens and hundreds of thousands in some cases) flow one way or the other (to the buyer or the seller) in the course of the transaction depending on how well the agents advocate for their clients.  That advocacy begins from the first time those agents speak.  An agent who has to sell twice as many homes as others just to make the same amount of money has one goal in mind:  get to a contract as quickly as possible.  It’s not that they’re bad people; they’re not.  They’re just in a position where it doesn’t make good financial sense for them to spend much time or energy getting their client the best deal.

The next time you hear of someone thinking about using discounted real estate services, ask yourself what’s really being saved.  Is it their money or just their agent’s time?

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Posted in: Real Estate Sales | 1 Comment »

Hiking In and Around Austin: Onion Creek District Park

by celeste.nunn | October 26th, 2009

One of my favorite outdoor activities is hiking. I like it so much I’ve even been known to hike during our hottest summer months! Granted, you have to get up pretty early if you want to enjoy your hike in August or September. One of the best things about autumn and spring in Austin is that our weather is usually dry, crisp, and sunny–perfect for hiking! Therefore, I hope to be able to get some posts up in the near future about hikes I’ve tried here in Austin…and I’ll be taking advantage of the awesome fall weather as much as possible. Please note that I’m not a professional hiker, just a layperson who loves the outdoors!

The first hike I’m documenting, Onion Creek District Park,  is 2.46 miles and a little off the beaten path (or at least it was to me.) It was recommended by a colleague who rides horses here, and who thought it would be an enjoyable hike for us.

Getting there? We took William Cannon east to a right on Pleasant Valley. Then we took the next left (it sneaks up on you!) on Springville and immediately following, a left on Onion Crossing. Right on Vine Hill, then a final right when Vine Hill dead-ends into Onion Creek Parkway. Onion Creek Parkway terminates in a sign that says “no motorized vehicles” and you will see a playscape and restroom facilities to the right and trail-head to the left. Park to the right.

**NOTE: street signs were down on both Onion Crossing and Vine Hill…a GPS would have been handy but was not necessary, so plan to keep your eyes peeled if you don’t have one!

When did we go? On a Sunday afternoon around 1 PM. Moderate temps, dry and sunny.

Pros: Onion Creek was rocky, with clear running water that was ankle to mid-calf deep in some places. Extra points for a hike with water, although there’s no telling how it might look if not for recent rains. Designated an off-leash area by Austin Parks & Rec (which might be a con to some!) and also a horse path (ditto.) Not too strenuous, minor elevation changes. Solitude might be enjoyed even on a weekend day of very nice weather–other than right at the trailhead, we saw one horseback rider and one hiker with dogs the entire 3 hours we were out.

Cons: Path is extremely overgrown in some areas due to recent rains/probable low maintenance. Trails are not well-marked and there are a plethora of off-shoots that terminate abruptly. Mosquitoes were thick–wear plenty of repellent if you plan to undertake this hike after a rain or during humid summer months. Expect some creek-crossing if you plan to hike a longer distance. Horses appear to travel this trail frequently–enough said! If you venture off the beaten path, watch out for hunters and their traps! Although illegal, we were warned by a hiker about poachers on the property and we encountered a metal trap not far from the path.

Summary: Not my favorite hike, but worth doing at least once if you have an interest in Austin hiking. Onion Creek is very pretty and if you have a horse or dog(s), this hike might be for you!

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Posted in: Austin Outdoors | No Comments »

Support Local Businesses! UFCU Edition

by celeste.nunn | October 23rd, 2009

ufcu_hdr_logoOne of the things that I love the most about Austin is our community’s commitment to local businesses. That wouldn’t be possible without tons of great local companies TO support! By luck or by design, we’ve become a germinating ground where really cool, socially responsible, innovative, and community-supporting companies can flourish.

I decided that I’d like to shine a light on some of these companies, and my first one, as you may have guessed from the graphic, is University Federal Credit Union. Since it was established in 1936, I’m guessing the landscape of Austin looked very, very different when UFCU first opened for business. However, they’ve been a strong, not for profit, members-owned credit union ever since!

I shouldn’t have to extol the benefits of credit union membership to you; financial personalities such as Clark Howard have already done that. I will say that as a long-time member of UFCU, I have been personally impressed by their commitment to their members and their interest in bettering the Austin community, with great rates, financial education programs for kids, teens, and grown-ups alike, and more. Finally, and perhaps most importantly to our clients, they are often the best and least expensive source for their members to obtain a loan, whether that loan is for a car, education, or my favorite…the home of your dreams.

Other real estate and mortgage professionals can attest that this year has been an interesting time to shop for a loan. Even some buyers that last year we’d have thought of as “bullet-proof”, with high credit scores and cash reserves, have been the victim of overzealous lending practices as the market swings back towards more conservative lending practices in an effort to stem the tide of toxic loans. UFCU has been a voice of reason in actually speaking with their members (novel concept!), assessing whether or not the loan makes sense based on their complete financial picture, and finally, getting the deal closed quickly. You aren’t just a loan application number to UFCU, with a loan processor in another state. Your loan staff is here in town, working on your file, and available for you to speak to in person.

Had a good (or bad) experience with UFCU? I’d love to hear about it…

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Posted in: Austin Businesses | 134 Comments »

Fall Carnival Time

by Michael Scheffe | October 23rd, 2009

LPE CarnivalSeems like just a couple of weeks ago we were still bemoaning 100 degree days and the merciless summer drought.  How could it be that today we awoke to a brisk 50 degree morning after 3 days of soaking rains? 

The answer:  FALL has apparently ARRIVED! With so much of our landscape adorned with evergreens (cedar and live-oaks) we can’t much look to changing leaf colors to signal this seasonal transition.  No sir.  In Central Texas nothing marks the Fall calendar better than the annual elementary school Halloween Carnival.  And that time is HERE.

So mark you calendars accordingly.  Some great ones:

Lake Pointe Elementary Carnival : this Saturday, October 24th 2-6 pm
Eanes Elementary Carnival: this Sunday, October 25th 1-5 pm
Cedar Creek Elementary,Carnival: this Saturday, October 24th 11:30 am – 3:30 pm


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Posted in: Austin Texas Neighborhoods, Austin Texas Weather | No Comments »

Z’Tejas Chef Plans New Eatery

by Michael Scheffe | October 22nd, 2009

JackAllensLongtime chef and originator behind Z’ Tejas restaurants, Jack Gilmore, will soon be opening a new restaurant in southwest Austin.

The restaurant, dubbed “JackAllen’s Kitchen”, is located near the “Y” in Oak Hill at the site of the former “Y Bar and Grill”.  According to the eatery’s website, diners will be treated to “Texas-inspired, craveable food” in a casual atmosphere.  Gilmore expects to be open after Thanksgiving.


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Posted in: Austin Dining and Entertainment | 99 Comments »

New Bee Cave Central Park Opens

by Michael Scheffe | October 21st, 2009

Bee Cave Central ParkOn October 15th 2009, the City of Bee Cave  officially opened its brand new $4.5 million “Bee Cave Central Park”. 

The much-anticipated community park is situated on a picturesque 50 acres of rolling hill country landscape between R.R. 620 and State Hwy 71 in the shadow of the area’s new Hill Country Galleria.   The park’s activity-centric design features two large covered pavilions, playscapes, 2 miles of walking trails, sport courts, an enclosed dog park and a disc golf course. 

Although there’s plenty here to keep visitors active, it’s clear by the eco-friendly design that the natural surroundings are the real main attraction.

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Posted in: Austin Texas Neighborhoods | 7,542 Comments »

Austin Rain Totals

by Michael Scheffe | October 21st, 2009

LCRAI had someone direct me to this excellent Austin weather website recently. .  The site is a fantastic and easy place to check current and historic Austin rainfall totals.

The site, administered by the Lower Colorado River Authority, shows (among other things) the rainfall totals from the LCRA’s vast network of rain guages in the state.  For those of us skywatchers who are counting every drop and rooting desperately for rising Austin lake levels, this is like discovering google for the first time.  So the next time you ask yourself  “I wonder how much it has rained in Austin today” or “How much did it rain in my neighborhood”, you can find a quick answer.

The site revolves around a google-powered map that lets you pan and zoom in and out to find the area your interested in.  You can see Austin rainfall totals over the last year, week, 24-hours, etc.  (Even, it would appear, real-time accumulations!)  If that’s not enough to hold your attention, you can choose from a healthy variety of map overlays that show everything from Austin area lake and stream levels and flow rates to humidity and temperature levels.

Have fun raindancers!

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Posted in: Austin Texas Weather | 314 Comments »

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