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Mortgage interest rates at “surprising” 50-year low (May 2010)

by Michael Scheffe | May 25th, 2010

NBC Today Show Finacial Editor, Jean Chatzky, says that with mortgage interest rates at 50-year lows, now may be time to refi or buy.

Global financial crises have investors pouring money into US Treasuries which, in turn, pushes mortgage interest rates down.  Chatzky says this was an unexpected turn of events that is not expected to last, but rather could “change in a month” if and when the European financial crisis begins to settle.  Watch more…

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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What Home Buyers Want and How You Can Make it Happen

by awhittenberger | February 26th, 2010

In a recent study of home buyer preferences conducted by Avid Ratings Co., we learned a lot about what today’s new home buyer is looking for.  How does this relate to properly packaging, marketing and staging an existing home when going on the market? First of all, we can probably assume that these preferences would be applicable to those purchasing pre-owned homes as well.  Since the definition of staging includes “preparing a property to appeal to the most number of buyers as possible” and this study shows us what most buyers are looking for, BINGO…we’ve got the ingredients for our action plan right before our eyes. Thanks to this study, we know where focusing our attention will yield the best ROI when staging a home to sell. Ready to get started?

First let’s take a look at the Top Features Buyers Want in a New Home:


1. Large kitchens with an island.

2. Energy-efficient appliances and high-efficiency insulation and windows. (These were the most sought-after “green” features from buyers.)

3. Home office or study

4. Main-floor master suite

5. Outdoor living room

6. Ceiling fans

7. Master suite soaker tubs and oversize showers with seating areas

8. Stone and brick exteriors

9. Community landscaping with walking paths and playgrounds.

In this blog series, we’re going to dig a little deeper and see how we can take this helpful information, and use it to help us in staging a pre-owned home. After all, you’ve got to be able to compete with new homes and well as other pre-owned homes if you’re putting your home on the market. This is a beauty contest you won’t want to lose!

Stay tuned for our next blog entry where we’ll discuss Item #1: Buyers want to see large kitchens with an island…

In the meantime, do you have a staging or design dilemma? Log on to www.theinterioritycomplex.com and Ask Dr. Dotty the Design Therapist. We’ll be sure to answer your question in an upcoming blog entry!

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Three Cheers for our Hometown!!!

by Michael Scheffe | February 25th, 2010

CNN reports that Austin’s economy is forecasted to lead the nation in recovery. 

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The Backyard is back…almost

by Michael Scheffe | February 13th, 2010

After an almost two-year hiatus from the music scene, Austin’s most famous outdoor music venue, The Backyard is preparing to making it’s much-anticipated return in Bee Cave.

With most of the rest of us, I was heartbroken when it was announced in 2008 that The Backyard was closing its doors as a result of being squeezed out by the encroaching development that is the Shops at The Galleria.

But this may just be one of those rare instances where the newer version IS actually a better one.  The new location, just west and north of the old one (on the opposite side of Highway 71).  Is in a larger, more picturesque setting with…. wait for it… AMPLE PARKING.  That’s right, the owners are promising plenty of parking ON SITE!  No more parking a mile down 71 and trekking the oftentimes dangerous and dusty paths along a highway carrying cars speeding along at 60+ miles an hour. 

Looks like first up will be an “exclusive, First-Look” event on Saturday, May 1st, followed by the Gypsy Kings on May 6th and then Willie’s famous 4th of July picnic this mid-summer. 

Here is a link to a good video I found.   The Backyard is back…almost.

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Value-priced Organic Grocer Opens in Bee Cave

by Michael Scheffe | February 11th, 2010

On Wednesday, Newflower Farmers Market officially opened its doors at its new Austin location in Bee Cave

Newflower is a part of the Sunflower Farmers Markets chain (www.sfmarkets.com),  a rapidly growing chain of full-service grocery stores offering consumers high quality natural and organic products at lower prices than traditional organic/health food stores.

Founded almost 10 years ago, Newflower’s niche is in providing a value option in the natural and organic foods industry. They have 27 retail stores located throughout Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Texas.  By keeping their overhead low — no frills stores, no big corporate offices — they aim to provide good, healthy “better than supermarket” grocery options at regular or “better than supermarket” prices. 

I tried them out today and love it.  Planning for a little “in home” Valentine’s Day supper, we bought 3 good-size, hormone-free New York Strip steaks for $3 a piece!  For a “surf and turf” option we were tempted to add some great-looking 5 oz lobster tails for $4 each. 

Check out this week’s sales flyer for some of the other awesome deals on HEALTHY food items!

Hey, if it costs LESS to eat BETTER, I’m IN!

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Lake Travis Selected for 2010 AquaPalooza Event

by Michael Scheffe | February 1st, 2010

It’s official. 

Austin’s Lake Travis has been selected as the site for this summer’s “AquaPalooza” in late July.

For lake enthusiasts, it’s a huge deal.  The annual event draws thousands of boats and people.  According to its promoters, last year’s event at Lake Martin in Alabama attracted over 80,000 people and 15,000 boats. (I can’t decide whether this makes me want to make immediate travel plans for that weekend or head out to the lake myself to see what that kind of humanity would look like in the water.) 

As its name implies, “Aquapalooza” is essentially the marriage of an on-the-water music festival and large scale boat show.   The event’s sponsor, Sea Ray Boats, promotes it as “The World’s Largest Boat Party”.  The huge gathering features live entertainment, water-related games, contests, and giveaways.  Previous events have hosted such big name entertainers as Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, Everclear and Soul Asylum.   In picturesque fashion, flotillas of boats, tubes and all form of watercraft “raft up” with each other to watch performances broadcast over giant sound systems and video monitors.

The selection of Lake Travis couldn’t be at a better time for local area merchants.  Two years of exceptional drought and the accompanying low lake levels have been tough on business.  But, 80,000 people will spend lots of money on groceries, restaurants, gasoline, sun tan lotion and everything else under the sun.  Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce President Laura Mitchell said in the Lake Travis View recently, “it will probably create the most significant economic impact the local business community has ever seen.”   That’s certainly great news.

Three cheers for this year’s El Nino!  Keep filling that lake up; we’ve got a festival to put on.

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Posted in Austin Dining and Entertainment, Austin Outdoors | 6 Comments »


Schlitterbahn Announces New Waterpark in Austin

by Michael Scheffe | January 27th, 2010

Schlitterbahn Waterparks is expected to announce shortly that it plans to develop a new waterpark and resort on a hundred acre tract in Cedar Park.  What would be the company’s 5th major park, is widely rumored to cost well over $100 million to develop.

According to a company spokesperson, the plans they intend to announce this Thursday evening are of a “resort destination,  much more elaborate than the waterpark most people think [they] are announcing.”  The plans are set to be unveiled at the Cedar Park Public Library at 550 Discovery Blvd, this Thursday evening at 5:30.

Stay tuned.

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Exploring the Wines of Texas with a Hill Country Wine Tour!

by celeste.nunn | January 20th, 2010

Although I am both a fan of wine (no I wouldn’t say “enthusiast” or “spectator” by any means, my taste usually runs in the $12-$20/bottle range!) and an Austinite, until recently I did not have much exposure to the wines of the Texas Hill Country. I’ll even admit shying away from the Texas wines section when selecting a bottle. That all changed Thanksgiving weekend, when I enjoyed a local wine tour in celebration of my good friend’s 30th birthday.  I had such a great time that I wanted to share my experiences with you–particularly because, as you may know from my previous post, I’ve been injured and unable to update my hiking blog. Drinking wine, unlike hiking, can be comfortably done with a plastic boot cast on.

First and foremost, I have to applaud my friend for her genius idea: renting a bus for the tour! The nice folks at Marriton Limo picked up two groups (both north Austin and South Austin locations chosen by our hostess) so that we could all ride together in comfort and safety while we enjoyed our adult beverages. Such a cool idea and HIGHLY recommended if you are going with a large group. The tour consisted of visits to four wineries, with tastings at each stop. The tastings ranged from about $5-$10 per winery, so the total I spent–before gifts I purchased at the wineries–was only about $25. What a deal! Here’s a breakdown of the wineries we visited.

Texas Hills Vineyard: Their tasting room was small and pretty crowded, and although their wines have a decidedly Italian influence (they mostly grow grapes associated with Italian wines, such as moscato (Muscat), sangiovese, and the first Pinot Grigio produced in Texas), their premises are designed in the style of a French bistro. Lots of wood and a chalkboard listing wine specials, plus a little cooler of cheeses, spreads and sauces for sale, small gift shop area and an outdoor patio, also fairly petite. All of the vineyards we visited were picturesque–it was the Texas Hill Country–but in terms of beauty and ambiance, I would have to say that this was my least favorite. However, they did have a cat and a dog, and I do appreciate a business with mascots.

We tasted a 5-wine series, the most notable of which to my mind was the 2007 Toro de Tejas, a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, which their website describes as having “soft tannins” and flavors of  “dark berries and plum, and just a hint of spice.” Yum! I had a glass of that after our tasting round, while many of my tour-mates enjoyed a glass of the 2006 Kick Butt Cab (as the name suggests, a Cabernet Sauvignon) as well as their 2006 Syrah offering. Then, a few nibbles of cheese and veggies from our Spec’s deli tray, and we were off to our next stop!

Becker Vineyards: Becker had no shortage of ambience or yummy wines! Their lovely grounds include 3 acres of lavender fields, which were absolutely beautiful on a cloudy November day. The winery was designed with hosting events in mind, as it features a tasting room with a gorgeous antique bar and spacious covered patio, as well as the separate Lavender Haus reception hall.  While crowded–what did we expect for a holiday weekend?–it was spacious enough to be very comfortable for our tastings and for our large group to toast our hostess’s birthday.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Becker was that they allowed us to choose our own wines for the tastings instead of offering a pre-selected package. As I subscribe to my family’s old adage that you “only drink white wine when you are out of red,” this allowed me to focus on my faves and leave the rest to the others. I enjoyed almost all of the wines I tried, but ended up picking up a bottle of the 2007 Claret, a Cabernet-heavy blend which “produces essences of raspberries, chocolate, and spices,” for myself; and for my stepdad, who likes most reds but has been enjoying Zinfandels particularly of late, the 2008 Zinfandel. I would gladly drink any of the reds I tried at Becker again, including the Iconoclast Cabernet, Grenache, Malbec, or the Raven–a super-dark, Malbec-Petite Verdot blend that was delicious!

Becker also harvests and makes bath products from their fragrant lavender, like super-scented soaps and bath salts. A favorite stop on this tour.

Torre di Pietra: Texas wine with an Italian flair. This winery had a sort of whimsical, Tuscan feel to it, but the staff didn’t seem too knowledgeable about the wines. I tried a variety of reds, including the 2006 Primitivo and Black Spanish, and the 2005 Claret and Petite Syrah, as well as the  Texas Dirty Girl Chardonnay. Many of these wines seemed to have an herbal complexity to them that was in contrast to the red berry flavors of the vineyards we had previously visited; I enjoyed that but some of my companions thought these wines had too much going on.

I have to give high marks to the atmosphere at Torre di Pietra…the patio boasted a cozy outdoor fireplace, and beyond that was a covered pavilion where live music wafted through the air and patrons two-stepped. I could have relaxed here for much longer, but eventually we headed off to our last stop…

Grape Creek Vineyards: Grape Creek’s website promises “Tuscany in Texas,” and the grounds don’t disappoint. It was a perfect place to end the day as the sun was setting. However, I didn’t like the cattle-herding approach to wine tastings that they employed. In the first series of tastings, they introduced their white label wines, which were fairly unmemorable in my estimation. The staff in this portion of the tour had a hard time answering questions or making recommendations about which wines to try. We did get a take-home wine glass for our tastings, which has since become a favorite of mine. After the white label offerings, we were whisked away to the black label tasting room, where some of Grape Creek’s prize-winning (and pricier) offerings were being poured. We tried the 2007 Cabernet/Syrah and Bellissimo, but were disappointed that the winery’s award-winning Mosaic blend was not available for tasting. The black label staff knew their stuff, but seemed a bit rehearsed in their presentation. These wines were yummier, but a little pricey for everyday consumption ($36 and up.) Maybe for a nice dinner party, not for just any old Friday lasagna night!

In summary, if you live in Central Texas and like wine, you should tour at least once. In a group it can be inexpensive and fun. I highly recommend packing a picnic lunch and lots of water to ensure plenty of munchies and hydration along the way. And if you are unsure of the quality of Texas wines, you will have a better appreciation after touring. I can proudly say that I have purchased Becker Vineyards’ Claret a couple of times since attending the tour in late November, and it has never disappointed!

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Maudie’s Update

by Michael Scheffe | December 8th, 2009

maudies_bee_cave_new01As many of you know, Maudie’s restaurants announced a while back that they were planning a new restaurant in the bustling Bee Cave area near the new Hill Country Galleria.  What remained a mystery to most of us was where exactly this new Maudie’s would be and when it might open. 

With the recent demise of El Arroyo Bee Cave, we’re all clamoring for a new place to get our Tex-Mex fill.  Iron Cactus is great, don’t get me wrong. I love the location right on the outdoor amphitheater; especially if there’s live music.  But, if I’m being totally honest it’s got a little bit of a Dallasy vibe to it that just doesn’t feel like Austin Tex-Mex to me.

Enter Maudie’s.  These folks have been putting food on the table in Austin since the 50s.  And in the early 90s when they changed the menu to Tex-Mex, they did it in a way that Austinites appreciate.  The Bee Cave location will be their 6th in town and it appears they are going to do it right.

Their plans have now been approved by the City of Bee Cave, but they are saying publicly that they are timing the start of construction in such a way that the restaurant will not open until June 2010 or thereabouts.

The restaurant site is located on the eastern entrance to the Shops at the Galleria behind the old Jim Bob’s BBQ (now The Trading Post Wine Bar and Grill.)  They plan to build a 5500 square foot free-standing restaurant with a 4000 square foot deck area and a rooftop cantina.  Key design points for the eatery include a “hillside cocktail/waiting area embracing the existing arroyo and oak trees” and an “open rooftop deck rimmed by cushioned buncos and serviced by an upstairs margarita bar and appetizer station.”  I can deal with that. 

Bring on June.  It’s gonna be a great summer in Bee Cave!

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How the Newly-Expanded Tax Credit Works for Existing Homeowners

by Michael Scheffe | November 17th, 2009

Here is a quick and excellent explanantion of the newly expanded Homebuyer Tax Credit that now applies to Exisiting Homeowners in addition to 1st-timers.

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