Balcones Woods

Balcones Woods, or BW, as the residents sometimes call it,  is one of my favorite areas for a new family to come to when they move to Austin.  The average home size is around 2000 square feet, and have 3-4 bedrooms and 2-2½ bathrooms.  It’s a fantastic community with tree lined streets, friendly neighbors, and even a yearly Easter egg hunt, and 4th of July parade.  Plus the kids in this school all go to Hill Elementary, Murchison, and then Anderson High School together. (more…)

Why are plastic bags bad?

Did you watch the video?  Did you see that poor sea turtle?

I’ve been using canvas bags for all my grocery shopping for years.  I use them everywhere – Randalls, HEB, Whole Foods.  At first I used to get strange looks when I answered the bag clerk’s question of “paper or Plastic”  I’d say – I have my own, and hand over 3-4 heavy duty canvas bags.

I even use them when I go into places like Home Depot, or Lowes.  Gone are the days of me worrying about the bag breaking and spilling out all the contents into the parking lot.

All in all I have a collection of about 30 or so from stores all over the country.  Most of the time I just keep them in the trunk of my car, so they are ready whenever I need them.  When I travel, and need to go shopping I buy a new one, instead of taking the cheap route, and have a souvenir of my trip.  It just gets added to the stack I have when I get home.  If you want to see what’s available, check out these Reusable bags on Amazon.

The only drawback is I have to buy little bags from the pet store to collect my doggie’s do-do when we go for walks.

Call me a hippie.  I don’t care.  I see myself as a forward thinker because the Austin City Council is working to ban disposable plastic bags just like beautiful Seattle, and 25 California cities

Proposed Timeline of the Austin Bag Ban:

Feb 2012 – The Austin City council reviews final plans for the plastic bag ban.

March 2013   – Retailers can still offer plastic bags, but customers would be charged a fee of 10 cents per bag, or $1 per transaction.  Stores will also display signs telling customers about the benefits of not using the disposable bags.  Half of the revenue gathered goes to the city, and the retailers keep the other half.

March 2014 – Most disposable plastic bags banned at retail stores.

I know at first this will be a hassle, as we will need to change our habits.

But I remember when I was a kid in the 1970’s, and there was a movement to Save the Trees and use plastic bags instead of paper bags.  However over the last 30 years Trillions of plastic bags have been polluting

Why do I bring my own bags to the supermarket?  Here are a few facts about disposable plastic bags:
  • Plastic bags take 1000’s of years to bio-degrade.  Usually they photo-degrade in the sun (if they aren’t blown all over), into smaller and smaller pieces, until you are left with plastic bag dust.
  • 430,000 gallons of oil is needed to make 100-million bags.
  • Every year Americans use 380 Billion plastic bags – That’s enough for 750 Million gallons of gas.
  • US Retailers spend $4-billion dollars on plastic bags every year that they just give to you.  This could either mean more profits for the company, or even a savings passed on to you.
  • Every square mile of ocean has around 46,000 plastic bags in it.

Plastic bags are just bad for the environment.  Animals eat them, they don’t decompose, and when they do they make toxic dust.  I encourage you to try out using some canvas bags next time you go shopping.  I think you will like them, and find them easier to use because they hold more, and don’t ever break..

What I do to every blog post

What I do to every Blog post
I’ve found blogging to be the most effective way of promoting my business.  Over the years, I’ve had many different blogs, and used a myriad of programs: Typepad, a custom RoR blog, and even iWeb back in the day.
My absolute favorite to use is a self Hosted WordPress blog.  I’ve used Dreamhost as my Web company for years.  It costs me about $6 bucks a month, and they even install the WordPress blogging software automatically for me, so all I have to do is write the posts.  Plus, I get unlimited email accounts,  so I can have people email me directly at  I don’t have to rely on any web tech to update my site, and I’m not at the mercy of an agency to get my web page up.
Once the blog is up and running (that’s the easy part), I try to write 3-6 posts a week.  Ideally I like to have a new blog post up every weekday before lunchtime.  Often, I’ll work on 2-3 posts at the same time – bouncing back and forth between open windows, adding text and comments to each one as I think of them.  In fact, every time I get an idea for a new post, I simply open a new WordPress post, and jot down the idea and any related thoughts I have.  Over time, I’ll develop that idea into a bona-fide post, fleshing out the idea, and publishing it when it’s ready.  Typically I have several dozen drafts going at any one time.
Usually I try to keep my posts pretty short, around 400 words or so.  This is because I don’t want to take up to much of your time.  If you like the post, hopefully you will read more, or even subscribe to my blog.  Once I finish writing the original content I proofread it, add a photo or two, preview it to check the links,  and hit publish.  If I have more than one post ready I’ll publish one immediately, then use use the advance publishing feature to schedule the other to be automatically posted the next day around 6 in the morning.
But once I hit the blue publish button, it’s not over.  There are a few additional steps I do to help spread the word, and promote the post on a few social media sites I frequent.  Specifically, I cut and paste the URL for the actual blog post (not just my website name), and share it on Twitter  a few times throughout the day.  I’m always on twitter, so that’s not too hard to do.
Also, I’ll share the post in the same way on Facebook and Google + but not at the same times.  I’ve learned that most people will check their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media feeds one after another, and I don’t want them seeing the same status update from me everywhere they look.  I hate it when people do that, it’s spammy, and too self promotional.
In summary, Here are a few quick tips that I keep in mind when I write and & publish.
Writing Posts
  • Include a photo, or video – something visual
  • Categorize appropriately
  • Add 2-5 Tags, making sure at least one is a most used tag
After publishing – I do these things to promote
  • share the link on Twitter
  • email anyone who I mention in the post, and tell them about it
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Google +


Moving to Austin

It was only 6 years ago that my wife and loaded up our little Honda and make the 3 day trek from the Bay Area to Austin.  We had heard that Austin gets hot, but we are adventurous, and well traveled, and figured that August would be a great month for moving.  I mean, really, how hot can it get?

It’s Austin, in the summer.  It gets hot.  Since moving here I’ve learned:

  • A seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron . . .
  • The best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance . . .
  • You eat hot chili to cool your mouth off . . .
  • Farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs. . .
  • Hot air balloons can’t go up, because the air outside is hotter than the air inside.
All joking aside this is a great town.  There is tons to do, and people are honestly nice.  Plus there’s one other thing, but I’ll get to that in a minute…

We choose Austin because of all it has to offer:  We are full of independent thinkers, budding entrepreneurs, and may just be the hipster capitol of the world.  We don’t have to worry about earthquakes here, and we are far enough away from the Gulf coast that Hurricanes don’t bring wind or rain, only evacuees.

Rush hour traffic is the same as it is in every city – Bad.

And, although you can do the same things you used to do in your “old” city, Austin is different.  They don’t say keep Austin Weird for nothin’. You don’t’ have to full embrace the weirdness, goodness knows, we don’t, but sometimes it’s fun to head over to 6th st on Halloween, head over to the Congress Ave bridge for BatFest, or sit at Auditorium shores to listen to a free concert.  Not all the time, but it’s nice having the options.

Don’t be afraid to try some local stuff.   I know we all like our usual stuff like a Double Double form In & Out, or a bottle of 2-buck chuck from Trader Joes.  But this is Austin, and we don’t have either of those franchises.  Instead, pick up a #3 from P-Terry’s, or head down 6th st during happy hour to find a $2 Shiner.

There is a little bit of a different culture here.  If you want the usual stuff, head to Dallas, Houston, or even Ft. Worth, they have all the usual boring stuff.  For a little excitement, but only when you want it, Austin, Texas is the ticket.

Honestly, we live in a nice quiet neighborhood at the north end of town.  It’s super close to the Domain (high-end shopping), tons of great restaurants (neighborhood joints, and franchised places), it’s easy to get to movies, churches, and even Ikea isn’t too far away.

Really the only bad things about living in Austin are the lack of great Chineese food, and finding a parking spot downtown.

Austin housing prices 2004-2009
Austin housing prices 2004-2009

But I promised you one other really great thing, so here it is.  Housing prices have increased every year since 2004. Buying a house in Austin is a great investment. We are growing here. Business is good, unemployment is low. We haven’t been affected by all the economic stresses because Austin is the State Capitol, and we have the University of Texas. Both of these institutions always are hiring. Either contractors, or full or part-time employees. Lots of options. That’s why we picked Austin.

PS: Here’s the source for the data in the graph:

Simple Blog tips for Realtors – The long tail

Way back in 2004, Chris Anderson wrote an article for Wired Magazine. He later expanded the idea into a book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (I have a copy on my bookshelf).  The picture below is the basis for the idea:

Lets say you have a blog, and you have been writing fresh content for it for a while.  If you have Google Analytics installed (or some other visitor tracking software) you will begin to see a pattern emerge over time among your visitors.

Your most recent 20% of your content is visited by 80% of your visitors.  That’s the green part.  It’s the popular posts on your website, and it is what attracts the most visitors.  These are your fans, your community, and your closest circles and networks.

The yellow part of the graph is your other older 80% of posts, but it is just as important as the more current ones.  These are the posts and articles that attract new visitors to you.  This is the part that grows your business over time.  How?  Let me explain.

Marketing drives us to always have the newest, most up to date, and current  stuff.  But detailed sales analysis shows that older items sell equally as well.  Maybe not hot and heavy like the popular trendy items, but they do sell, and quite well according to retailers like Amazon and Netflix.  You are always promoting your latest post (I always do), but frequently forget to mention the older ones.

Here’s a great real world example:  This week the top movie is “The Devil Inside” bringing in an incredible $48 Million dollars in just a week and a half.  But I’ll bet your favorite movie is something else, possibly it wasn’t even a box office smash.  Mine is “Blade Runner“, a 1982 Ridley Scott film that grossed only six million dollars it’s opening weekend.  However, in the subsequent 30 years, Blade Runner has brought in an additional $26 Million dollars bringing the lifetime total to over $32 M.  I doubt The Devil Inside will garner those kind of numbers over 30 years, as it lives in the green zone.  Blade Runner, a much better film,  lives in the Yellow Area, and still is rented and viewed today, and will continue to make money for decades.

The same principles apply to your blog.  Most people will visit your site, and see the most recent 2-3 posts.  But Google indexes everything, and your older posts appear in the search results when the terms match.  You have no idea which posts will be searched for, so why not just do your thing, and let the results speak for themselves.  That’s what I do, and it works fantastic!  Just blog, on a regular basis, and you will get results.  It’s a proven fact.

Using Foursquare to open a real estate lockbox

OK I know there is already something like this for real estate boxes using IR technology, but check this out:

You can read more on their blog post, but they aren’t giving away any big secrets.  They don’t really need to.  Anyone with a soldering iron, a bit of Python programming and a cell phone could make this happen in an afternoon.  Be sure to  follow @istrategylabs on Twitter (I do).

So what is this exactly?  How do I check-in with my cell phone?  What is that.  It’s Foursquare.

If you haven’t heard of FourSquare it”s a location based game that you play using your mobile phone (iPhone, Android, or other smartphone).  Businesses and locations have check-ins, and users can only check in when they are actually, physcially at the location.  There is also the ability to add tips to each location – stuff like “this restaurant has the best Cobb salad”, or “mention the secret word for a 10% discount”.  Plus there are a few game-like aspects to Foursquare.  The person who has the most check-ins at a particular location becomes the Mayor, and some places offer special deals to the Mayor (like free ice-cream).  Users can also collect badges.  Stuff like – visit 3 Apple stores and get the Steve Jobs badge.

Imagine the possibilities of integrating Foursquare with Real Estate.  Let’s start from the perspective of an agent.  Imagine if every property was a check-in:

  • Use foursquare to unlock the front door (or open the lockbox)
  • track which agents showed your property
  • see nearby similar properties, or cool places to eat, or get gas, or …?
  • get tips on special locations (Realtors and visitors can add tips to properties when they check in)
  • Mayorship of a neighborhood – discover who truly is an expert on a certain neighborhood, they will have the most check-ins.
  • Track open house attendance

And from the buyer’s perspective

  • See all the listings in the area
  • Find open houses nearby
  • Earn badges for visiting open houses
  • Earn badges by visiting X listings by a certain agency
  • Find nearby services like gas stations, and supermarkets
  • learn who the Mayor of a neighborhood is (great person to talk to about the area)
  • Get Tips on special features on specific properties (Check out the garden in the back, or this house has a built in instant hot water heater).

Foursquare has been huge among lots of businesses, like Starbucks, and even niche groups like Food Trucks.  I predict that in 2012, Foursquare will hit Real Estate, and only help our industry.

Real Estate Photography

While visiting an open house last Sunday, an idea came to me, that quite frankly I’m surprised I didn’t think of before.

Modern Living room iphone

I was visiting a very modern house on Jeff Davis St. in Austin, and while I was walking around my iPhone came out, and I just naturally began to snap photos of the place.  I’m pretty thrifty when it comes to technology, and am still using the original iPhone. The 2G model. I stood in line, outside in front of an Apple store for 4 hours to get it, and for years have lovingly taken care of it. I have it with me ALWAYS, and it is my link to YOU!

That’s when it hit me. Photos for real estate.  There are really only two things people want when they are looking for a house  Price and Pictures.  I can’t do anything about the price until I’m licensed, but I can take some incredible photos.  You don’t need to just believe me on this, you can actually check out my 6+ years of wedding photos on my portfolio site

I’ve got experience with Real Estate Photography in Austin, and can provide Realtors with pricing.

Just so you know, all the photos on this post were taken with just my first generation iPhone.  No editing, no fancy lighting, no fancy camera.  If you are a Realtor in the Austin area, I’d love to chat with you and learn your requirements for pictures.  I love to do interiors, and really REALLY love sunset shots of exteriors.

My style is clean, fresh, and natural.  I don’t like to over-process images (no HDR here), and have enough equipment for any size condo or house.

If you are interested, send me a note and I’ll get right back to you.

Bathroom iPhone Pic


Kitchen iPhone Open House

NEST Energy Saving thermostat

Nest Thermostat on CBS Sunday Morning.

Did you watch the video?  Pretty cool ‘eh?  Did you see the part where you can control it from your iPhone?  I know.  I want one, too.

Nest Thermostat ScheduleThe idea is amazingly simple:  just use the Nest thermostat as you normally would.  Turn it up if you want it warmer, or down if you want it cooler, using the ring on the outside .  Inside, is a tiny computer that learns what you like.  It has a built in motion sensor, so it knows when you are home or away.    There’s even a lock feature to prevent others from teaching it.

You can find it on Buy the Nest Thermostat

Nest iPad AppI think it even has some sort of built in Wi-Fi so you can control it from you iPhone or iPad.  You can check out the Nest app on the iTunes store.  Forget to turn off the A/C before your 2-week family vacation?  You can adjust it from your car.  Are you coming home late from a show with some friends and worried about a cold house?  Turn it up before you get home.  There are a ton of helpful tutorials on their blog, if you want to learn more about it before you buy one.

I’ve ordered one, but it hasn’t come yet (it’s on back order) so I can’t share my experiences with you.  As soon as it does, I’ll show you how it works.

Since the design isn’t for everyone, there are alternatives out there.

One is the Free Thermostat provided by Austin Energy. Not nearly as design-ey as the Nest, it too can save you up to 20% (according to Austin Energy).  Here’s how it works.  On really hot days in Austin everybody has their air condition on, full blast.  This puts a huge load on the system so Austin Energy, the utility company sends out a signal to the thermostat which cycles it off for a short time during peak hours.  This only happens during the months of July to September, and no more than 15 minutes every half hour.

Plus, it’s also programmable, so you can set specific temps for when you are home or away, with different settings for weekends, too.

Most thermostats are easily replaced with just a screw driver.  If you are a little bit handy, you can probably do the job yourself.  Just be aware, that most older thermostats have Mercury in them, and need to disposed of as Hazardous waste.  Don’t worry though, it’s safe to carefully handle old thermostats.  The mercury is contained in a little glass tube inside the thermostat, and is perfectly safe to work with as long as you don’t break the glass vial inside.

Is this a Realtor's blog?

No.  And yes.

You see right now I’m not a Realtor®. I’m only a Real Estate student.  I’ve started this blog because I know the power of SEO.  In my previous business as a wedding photographer I never paid for any form of leads or advertising.  Every one of my clients came from people searching on the internet, or Word of Mouth Marketing.

Today the game is a bit different than it was in 2006.  Sure the internet was a big part of marketing back then, and having a successful website and blog was key.  But today, it’s a bit different.  Social Networks and mobile Apps are all the rage.  There are some great real estate websites out there, and some really bad ones, too.  Overall they all look the same.  They all present the standard MLS info in the same way.  I think there is a better way.

But since I’m not licensed (yet) I really can’t do much except on-line research.  So until I’m able to practice, I’ll spend my time doing research, writing, and making new friends and contacts.  I hope you will subscribe to this blog, and take the journey with me.

Do-Follow.Eu free link directory

Austin Modern Home Tour 2012

Saturday Feb 4 2012 from 11 am – 6pm + after party 6-8:30 at the offices of GoodLife (included with advance ticket purchase

Austin Modern Homes

Tickets are $20 Be sure to visit the website for more info about the tour, see a little description on each house, and check out the great bio section on the Architects and designers.

They talk about their favorite inspirations, and buildings through out the world.  Plus they give insight about the best ways for Austin to grow and thrive (hint: almost all mention an increase in public transportation). All in all, there are 16 houses on the tour.  A bunch are located in Central Austin, and of course South,  with a few in West Lake Hills, and there’s even one on the Lake.  I find it interesting that the organizers decided to leave out all the Modern Houses East of HWY 35.

I took a quick look through the website (actually I spent about 2 hours reading every page) and there are some definite MUST SEE homes for me.  I don’t know if I’ll get to see all 16, so I want to focus on these 4, and see what I can in the remaining time.

  • 3501 Greenway Street
  • 2210 East Side Drive
  • 1119 Redbud Trail
  • 2903 Wade Avenue
All in all there are many striking examples.  Some are brand new construction, but one of my favorites was built in 1984 by Ted Flato.  If you ever visit Austin, you can stay at the Hotel San Jose which was designed by him and his firm Lake|Flato.  What I like most about his designs is the incorporation of landscaping.  It’s not the usual agave cactus and horsetail plants that are so common among new modern construction.

Muppets Google plus Commercial

It’s one of the rare Saturdays when I actually get to sit down and watch a live football game. Just after the end of the First Quarter, and my SF 49ers are up 17 to zip against the Saints. I’m not a super big football fan, but do enjoy watching my 49ers win ever now and again. It’s been a tough few years, but this year the team is looking pretty good. But this post really isn’t about football.

It’s about the power of Google+ (Google Plus). During one of the commercial breaks, among all the beer and insurance commercials I hear a familiar beat – I’m a bit older so I know it’s Under Pressure from Queen. Those a few years younger would recognize it as the bassline from Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice.

Instinctively I look up, and see a familiar face. It’s Animal from the Muppets. Kermit’s there too, as well as my favorite Beaker, who is taking the lead singing as Freddy Mercury.

The commercial is for Google Plus. It looks like all the Muppets are in different places and are meeting up on-line to have a little sing off. The Muppets commercial shows how incredibly cool it is to start and join a hangout.

Of course I’m on G+ too. I signed up as soon as I found out about it.

If you haven’t checked out Google+ yet, you might want to take a few minutes and do it. If you have a Gmail account, or use any other Google services (like analytics, or Youtube) you already have the necessary login and password.  Of course if  you need an invite, I have some of those, too.  Leave a comment and I’ll give you an invite.

It’s sort of like Facebook and Linked-in, but just a bit different. Sure you can share links and photos and other cool stuff. You can message your friends, and look for people. For me there are three outstanding features of Google Plus that I really can’t do without:

  1. Circles
  2. Google Plus One
  3. Hangout

Circles – a nifty little way to keep some of the things you share on-line private. I have a bunch of friends on Google Plus, and have them segmented into different circles – Family, Friends, Photographers, Realtors and so forth. When I post something on-line I can share it with one group, or many. That way I don’t spam my family with business stuff, or bore clients with silly muppet videos.  I get to choose what I share with whom, just like in real life.

Google Plus one – I’m sure you have seen the little +1 button on websites by now.  I have one in the sidebar.  You are encouraged to click it when you see something on-line that you like. It’s like voting for something. Click, I like this. But that little +1 is integrated into Google plus. It doesn’t appear on your friend feed, but is integrated into your search results and the search results of your friends. If you vote +1 for this video, and your friends do a search for Muppet Google Video, the website your voted for will appear higher in their search results. It’s like a reccomendation from a friend, and it’s a great example of the social internet.

Hangout – Google Hangouts are so much fun. Basically it’s a video chat feature. Using the built in camera in your computer or iPhone, you can see and talk with your friends. Super easy, and fun. A great way to stay in touch with family, or have a meeting with a client who is in a different city.

I’ve added the Google + button to my website – if you like what you have learned today, just give me a little vote by clicking on it – Thanks!