Renting your house on Craigslist

Craigslist is a great resource. If you don’t know about Craigslist it is basically a huge classified ad. Every major city around the world has one, and it is great place to buy and sell used stuff.

I use it all the time for buying and selling things. Most recently used it to sell off some power tools that I wasn’t using anymore. My wife used it to sell some gently used baby clothes and things our little one has outgrown.

As great as Craigslist is, one bad thing about the site is that the people who use it are often looking for a deal. It’s like a giant garage sale on the internet, and rarely do I get full price for anything I’m selling. In fact, I just posted a sander on Craigslist for $100, and I had to lower it to $50 before anyone called me to look, and then when I sold it the guy offered me $40 (I stood strong and got the $50).
A lot of landlords think they can rent their house on Craigslist quickly and without having to pay a lot of fees to a Realtor, and for some properties this is absolutely true.
Austin Real Estate, Renting a Modern House, EricEstateIn Austin, if you look at the Craigslist rental section, you see a lot of things for people just starting out – 1 or 2 bedrooms, in an OK neighborhood, for somewhere just under $1,000/month. This is just the kind of places people who are just starting out are looking for. They are targeted at people just out of college, or people who have some credit issues and the like.
Sometimes you can find a hidden gem, but the good places to live are way overpriced for what you get (More than $1,500), and when you are spending a lot of money, I know I don’t want to do things under the table or without some legal paperwork in place to protect me.
I’ve worked with a lot of landlords who started by trying to rent their place on CL. They post it, and think that as soon as they do, the phone will start ringing. This is hardly the case. Days, or weeks may go by before anyone serious calls, and then when someone does, they may try to bargain you down, or set up an appointment and never show up.
Then when someone applies, how do you do a background check, or a credit check to see if they aren’t someone who stiff’s landlords? You know packs up all their stuff in the middle of the night, trashes the place and runs out on the rent?
Everyone want’s to save buck – but do you want to risk ruining your largest investment by getting a bad tenant?

I can help you get good renters.

Here are some of the things I do when you let me lease your house:

  • I know the proper forms to use, and how to handle all the legal paperwork.
  • Find you qualified tenants who can pay the rent on time
  • perform background checks and income verification to weed out the riff-raff
  • Arrange all showings around your schedule if the house isn’t vacant.
  • Answer every with every phone call, and track all leads
  • Put a sign on your property to adverse it to people driving the neighborhood
  • Advertise your property through the traditional Realtor channels
  • Enter your property in the MLS – so every agent in Austin (all 8000+) sees it.
  • Control access to your home using a computerized lock box.
  • Possibly get you more rent per month
  • Take professional color photos (over 30) to showcase your house.

Don’t take my word for it though – I encourage you to try to be  Craigslist landlord – give it 1 week, heck give it 2 or even a month. When you get tired of wasting your time, and having an empty place that isn’t generating a positive cash flow, give me a call. I can help you get your place rented fast, with amazing tenants, and possibly for more money.

Stage 2 Water Restrictions 2012

Well, the city of Austin did it again, the lake levels have fallen over the summer, and we are in Stage 2 water restrictions.  Last night the City of Austin posted a press release on their website.

We all like to have nice yards.  I know when I moved here from California, the first thing I did was a lot of landscaping, and gardening.  In northern California, where I was born and raised, you could grown anything.  My grandma had quite the garden in her back yard, with everything from Lemon and Fig trees to a 10 foot tall cactus.  Bulbs would bloom throughout the spring, and everything was lush and green.

As soon as I bought my house, my green thumb was activated, and I spent a lot of money on pretty bushes, bulbs, and perennials.  I worked hard to amend the soil in my front yard and for the first year, everything looked incredible.  I had the best yard on the block.  A fantastic green lawn, pretty seasonal flowers would bloom and add color, and my trees were healthy and well watered.

Texas landscaping bookThen I got my water bill for the summer, and I was paying 3x more than anyone else.  The plants that I put in were not Texas natives, and although I was able to keep them alive with much work, it wasn’t the most efficient landscaping I could have done.

So the next year, I cut back on my watering, and as  non-native plants would slowly cook in the Texas heat, I’d replace them with plants I I saw on this incredible gardening blog, or ones that I purchased at the Wildflower Center semi-annual sale, or that were recommended to me in this fantastic book Texas Home Landscaping (find it on Amazon).  My yard began to require less water, and the plants could tolerate the brutal summer months, even on reduced watering.

These reduced watering schedules would have killed my old yard completely.  I see many neighbors who are experiencing this.  Their lawns turn brown,  there are empty spaces in their planting beds, and nothing is blooming or flowering.   That doesn’t have to be the case.  Even with restricted watering

Even though, The summer of 2012 has gotten a bit more rain than usual (I know I haven’t had to water my front lawn as much) earlier in the yard.  The city of Austin has put us on Stage 2 watering restrictions again.  We got a lot of rain in the late spring, and even a couple of early summer showers to soak the ground, and keep everything green.  There was even a big rainstorm during the downtown Art festival this year in April, and that was able to keep us going through most of the summer.
Thankfully, It looks like the city recognizes that we may be entering a stage of less rain, and more draught.  In years past they have had 3 levels of water restrictions, but now, there are 4.  On Aug 14 of 2012, the city voted for a new plan that recognizes the extremes in weather and works to protect our resources and keep the city’s urban landscape and tree canopy intact.

That’s new.  The old system was quite severe in the times that people could water.  Now under the new system, homeowners have a more flexible window and a few more options.  You still have to follow the rules, and only water on your designated days (and violators can be reported with hefty fines), but the new system will fit more people’s schedule better.

Here’s a rundown of the Stage 2 watering restrictions:

Austin stage 2 restrictions

You CAN’T

  • During Stage 2, the washing of vehicles at home is prohibited. If you need to wash a vehicle, you may do so at a commercial carwash facility.
  • Charity car washes are prohibited
  • Restaurants can only serve water upon request
  • All fountains with either a fall or spray of water greater than four inches are prohibited; unless necessary to preserve aquatic life.

You CAN

  • All hose-end irrigation may take place between midnight and 10 a.m. and between 7 p.m. and midnight on your designated watering day.
  • Your automatic irrigation system may operate between midnight and 5 a.m. and between 7 p.m. and midnight on your assigned day of the week. Please reduce your run times to ensure you can fit within this schedule.
  • The use of drip irrigation is exempt from the schedule, due to increased efficiency.
  • For the purposes of watering trees only, soaker hoses may be used under the drip-line of the tree canopy or you may use your automatic tree bubblers.  Irrigation of trees in this manner is exempt from the watering schedule
  • Commercial properties (including restaurants and bars) may only operate patio misters between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight; this includes but is not limited to restaurants and bars.

It is possible to have a great looking yard with the reduced watering schedule, you just have to do a little more planning, and select native plants.

Do you need to stage your house?

Have you ever noticed some houses sell really fast, while others, that look great sit on the market, even after several price reductions?  It happens all the time.

I always recommend to stage your home.  Home staging in Austin is important – we are seen as a fun and quirky city, and lots of people want to move here from all over the country.  Whenever somebody moves, they want to enhance their lifestyle, even if just a little, and their new house needs to look the part.

Most people think that staging only needs to happen to vacant homes, ones that have any furniture in them.  But that’s not true.  While adding furniture to an empty house helps homebuyers visualize where things will go, it is helpful to stage houses that are currently being occupied, too.

Of course, you can hire a home staging company, or you can do it yourself

One thing I’ve learned is staging a house, is beneficial, regardless of how it looks when you live there.

You could be Jeff Lewis, and your home might be perfectly decorated and featured in magazines, but home buyers.  But buyers are different than residents, and look for different things when previewing homes to buy.

I’ve walked into so many homes that look absolutely perfect when we begin the selling process.  The floors are great, the colors on the wall are just so, and the place is very well decorated.

However, as we live in a home, we personalize it, and make it our own.  We put up framed photos of our family on the walls, stacks of our favorite moves collect near the TV, and our bathroom counter is covered in personal products that we use everyday.

All these little items, and many more turn off buyers.

Let me put it a different way.

Home stagingI love staying in hotels.  Especially well decorated places like the W.  I’ll bet you do too.

Next time you stay at a hotel, either a fancy one, or something else, take a look around as soon as you enter the room.  Not only will you notice that there isn’t anything extra in the room, but you will also notice that there are places for you to “unload” all your stuff.  The table tops are free of any items, leaving you room to put down your suitcase.  The nightstand is empty, so you can put down your watch, and water bottle.  The bathroom has lots of space for you to use.

Your house, when you are selling it needs to be like a vacant hotel room.  Nothing valuable in it, and lots of space for people to imagine their things going.

This is Home Staging while you still live in the home.

Current conditions in Austin’s housing market

Right now, in Austin, we are in our 22nd month of declining inventory.  Yep, that’s right.   There aren’t enough houses to go around. (as of September 2013)

Usually, in a regular market there is about a six month supply of houses for sale.  That means at the average rate of selling a house, and if no new houses are added to the market, there are enough to last 6 and a half months or so.

A six month supply means there is probably the perfect house out there for you to choose from.  One in the neighborhood you want to live, in the style you want and of course the proper size for your lifestyle and family.

But this year, 2012, Austin is at half that – a 3 month supply of houses for sale, and it’s decreasing.

Why?  Because everybody wants to move here.  There are tons of great jobs, opportunities, and things to do.  Austin is all over the news, in the best possible way.

On a recent trip, a realtor friend of mine went to Vegas for a short vacation to get away from work, and wherever he went, once people from all over the country found out he was an agent in Austin, all they wanted to do was talk about houses.  So much for a relaxing vacation for him.

So, back to my original topic.  Why don’t you need to stage your house to sell it?

Should I stage my house?

Staging a roomBecause the Austin market is a sellers market right now.  There are more buyers than sellers.

Remember the basics of supply and demand?  Yep, it’s that simple.  Less houses on the market mean they will sell for more, and we’ve been seeing housing prices creep up and up.

But not because they are priced higher from the start.

Studies have shown that when a house is overpriced from the beginning it sits for much longer on the market.  MUCH longer.  It’s better to price it accurately and in line with the other homes in the area.

I’m really good at determining how much your house should sell for.  I know all the houses in your area that are for sale.  I’ve been in most of them.  I know which ones have hardwood floors, or updated kitchens, or views of the lake or downtown.  If you want to contact me, I can tell you more.

The same studies show that when a house is priced correctly from the beginning, and you are in a seller’s market, multiple offers are common and even bidding wars can happen.  Trust me, you want me on your side when this happens.  I’m a great negotiator, and I have connections with realtors all over town.

Instead of staging, I encourage you to talk with me about evaluating the price of your home, and pricing it to sell quickly.  I’ll work with you and provide you with realistic numbers that will get your house sold – FAST!  Give me a call, and let me tell you more.

Who is moving to Austin?

One of the reasons I decided to become a real estate agent is because very few agents are using the internet as well as they could to help you out.

A lot of agents have websites, or can search MLS listings, and send emails and texts and stuff.  But most of the Austin Realtors, don’t have a Twitter account (I do, and tweet often), or even blog regularly.

But, there are some very cool tools on the internet that every realtor should be using, and one of them is this nifty map created by Trulia.

What it does, is show what cities are most popular to move into, based on where you live.  Since I live in Austin, I wanted to see the top 10 cities that other people are in who want to move here.  I was quite surprised by the results – so were the Editors at the Austinist.

By the way, if you are moving to Austin, I’ve got tons of info on everything from the best places to live based on your lifestyle to the best contractors to when to view the bluebonnets.

According to the map, these are the top 10 cities people are searching about Austin:

  1. Houston
  2. San Antonio
  3. Dallas
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Chicago
  6. New York
  7. Washington D.C.
  8. Denver
  9. Fort Worth
  10. Kileen

You can also do the reverse search, which would show who is leaving a particular city for.  But since I’m going to sell houses in Austin, I’m interested in who is  moving here.

 

 

 

Warren Buffet wants to buy 100,000 single family homes

Transcript of Warren Buffet’s video about buying 100,000 single family homes:

If I had a way of buying a couple of hundred thousand single family homes and had a way of managing them, the management is enormous, is really a problem because they are one by one they aren’t like apartment houses. I’d load up on them and I would take mortgages out at very very low rates. but if anyone is thinking about buying a homes – five years ago they couldn’t buy them fast enough because they knew they were going to go up but now they don’t buy them because they think they are going to go down and interest rates are far lower. It’s a way, in effect, to shorten the dollar, because if you take a 30 year mortgage and it turns out your interest rate is too high next week you refinance lower, and if it turns out it’s too low, the other guy is stuck with it for 30 years. So it is a very attractive asset class now.

If you are a young individual investor at home and you have your choice between buying your first home or investing in stocks where would you tell someone is the better bet?

If I thought I was going to live, er, if I knew where I was going to want live for the next five to ten years, I would buy a home and I would finance it with a 30 year mortgage. It’s a terriffic deal. And if I, literally, was an investor that was a handy type, which I am not, and I could buy a couple of them, at distressed prices, and find renters, I think that’s, and again, take a 30 year mortgage, It’s a leveraged way of owning a very cheap asset now. And that’s as attractive an investment you can make.

Realtors in Austin

Did you know you can be a real estate agent and not a Realtor?  How is that even possible – and if I’m trying to buy or sell a house, which do I want to represent me?

Let’s start with the basics.  The term Realtor® is a registered trademark, used by NAR – the National Association of Realtors, and applies to any Real Estate Agent when they become a member of the National Association of Realtors.  I’m learning all kinds of things I didn’t know in Real Estate school.

Founded in 1908 the NAR started out as a group of around 120 members, but over the last 100+ years has grown to over 1,000,000 members.  Yep, that’s right, there are over a million Realtors around the world.  But let’s put that into perspective.  I find it kind of strange that it took a full century for them to grow to that size, when today, using social medial someone like Lady Gaga can amass over 19 Million twitter followers in just 2 short years.  The world is a different place these days.

But some things are still the same.  Before someone can become a Realtor®, you still needs to take Real Estate classes, and pass the licensing exam to become an agent.  In the State of Texas, there are three core classes plus an additional course I need to take in addition to all the college I had before today:

  1. Principles of Real Estate core real estate course [60 classroom hours]
  2. Law of Agency core real estate course (30 classroom hours)
  3. Law of Contracts core real estate course (30 classroom hours)
  4. An additional core real estate course (30 classroom hours)
Then after all those classroom hours are completed, I have a bunch of forms to fill out, and of couse I must sit for  and pass an exam – the TREC (Texas Real Estate Commission).  Finally I need to get sponsorship from an active and licensed broker.  That’s one of the reasons I’m blogging and Twittering now – I want to stand out above all the other fresh agents who are starting their marketing from scratch.
And at this point, after the schooling, testing, and sponsoring, I can call myself a Real Estate Agent.  But I’m still not a Realtor®, yet.
Let’s take a trip back in time to learn why people wanted to take the next step and become Realtor®, instead of just stopping after school.
As I understand, back in the days before the internet, it was sort of hard to find houses for sale.  Sure you could drive around neighborhoods and look for signs in front of houses.  Or you could open up the newspaper and look for ads paid for by brokerages of their listings.  There was a third option, a place where all the listings were consolidated in one place, and that was at the local Realtor® office in your town.
Sitting at a desk was a person who would keep track of all the houses for sale in a given region.  Real Estate Agents paid dues to their local Realtor® office, for access to this listing service.  It was an easy way to see all the properties on the market in one place.  A central office of all houses for sale.  There were some other perks, but the main reason to be a Realtor® was to have access to this listing service, called the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).  It was specific to each town, and was the hub of all activity for real estate agents.
Today, with the internet, things are a bit different.  Sure the MLS still exists.  It is still regionally based, and even is controlled by the Realtor® office.  But now there is an additional level called IDX – Internet Data Exchange – that allows brokers to display each others listings on their own websites, and on national sites like Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com.  But this is all stuff that happens behind the scenes for most people. I just like to know how everything works for some strange reason.
I believe you still need to be a Realtor® to add houses to the  system. In addition to paying dues which give them access to MLS listings among other things, Realtors  pledge to uphold a high standard and Code of Ethics, which is always a good thing in business.
Honestly, it all can get a little bit confusing.  You go to a real estate website, and can view and browse all the houses for sale in a town.  Some of the houses are represented by the brokerage of the website you are visiting, but the majority are represented by other agents and only being shown through the IDX portal on the website you are visiting.
Let me explain it this way:  You go to Google and search for Houses for sale in Austin, and click on the first result.  It takes you to a local agent’s website, where you enter your price, size, and other info.  You look through the list of houses, and find one that is perfect.  So you call the number on the website to get more information.  But the house you are interested in isn’t actually represented by the agent’s website.  The house you are interested in belongs to another agent.   See what I mean that it can get confusing?
And to make it even more complex, in every house sale there is a Buying Agent, and a Sellers Agent.  The Buyers agent represents the buyer, and works as hard as they can to make sure the buyer gets the best deal.  The Seller’s Agent represents the seller of the house and does the exact same thing for the seller.  Plus there are many states that allow for dual agency – where an agent can represent both the Buyer and the Seller.  In Texas, both parties (buyer and seller) must acknowledge if this is the case, and sign an agreement that they are aware of the situation.
Let’s say that you have been searching for a while, and already have an agent you like to work with.  When you search on the web it can become even more confusing because the house for sale is represented by the seller’s agent, you are represented by the buyer’s agent, and the website owner you just called is a third agent.
Thankfully Realtors® know how to sort all this out, and make the process as smooth as possible.  They have access to additional resources that plain ‘ol real estate agents don’t.  Although the old days are gone, and we are in a new more technology advanced time, Realtors help make everything work.

Living in Hyde Park

I got to photograph a fantastic house in Hyde Park last week for a new MLS listing. The professional Real Estate photos came out perfectly, but I had a whole lot more fun doing some detail shots of the house as I documented each room. I’ve never done this before while shooting RE pictures, but had the idea for quite some time now.

I’ve only really seen two different kinds of Real Estate pictures – the cheap ones, where realtors or inexperienced photographers document a home, or the super clean, clinical photos that look like they belong in a high-end real estate magazine. Where the house never gets dirty, nary a dirty dish on the counter, every throw pillow is perfectly placed and plumped. This seems even more pronounced in modern homes, where there is almost an operating room sterility to the space.

Who lives this way? Do you? I certainly don’t. I love the clean lines and simple materials of modern houses, but I also love to create, live, and entertain. After a night of conversation and drinks, there are glasses everywhere, empty plates of consumed hors’d oeuvres, pictures from recent trips, records, and all sorts of other remnants of a great night.

Besides, if you are like me, you don’t just buy the first kitchen faucet you look at. You spend some time at the hardware store looking at sprayers, reading reviews, maybe even twisting the handles to see how it feels in your hand. You spend time picking out the details. Do a little decorating, or hire someone to help you out if you are too busy. It’s all those little details that make a house a home, and those are the items that seem to be missing. Let’s change that.

Fireplace with small colorful tiles
Fireplace with small colorful tiles
Sink mounted on tile with antique faucet
Sink mounted on tile with antique faucet
Claw foot tub feet
Claw foot tub feet
Antique Tub faucet with sprayer mounted on tile wall
Antique Tub faucet with sprayer mounted on tile wall
Crystals hanging from curtains
Crystals hanging from curtains
House numbers made out of individual tiles
House numbers made out of individual tiles
Cactus in Austin
Cactus in Austin
Fountain in front yard with bamboo and a statue
Fountain in front yard with bamboo and a statue