Approaching 19

Flying Ceramic Pig

Next month is my 19th wedding anniversary.

Nineteen years with the same person (plus another 6 or so before I popped the question).

“Ad astra per alia porci”  ~ to the stars on the wings of a pig.

There isn’t much we don’t know about each other after this much time.  Pretty much we have been through it all.  The ups and the down, and even some unexpected sideways curve balls through the years.  We know the ins and outs of our monthly budget, so when I want something (or she does) we just buy it for ourselves.  Except for the really big ticket items – those we still run by each other first.

As you can imaginge, it’s hard to shop for her.  Not only does she have everything she needs, but I’ve been getting anniversary presents for her for nearly 20 years, and am just about tapped out.

Pigasus

That was until the other day when I was touring a house and saw this ceramic flying pig.  Both my wife and I love the Pigasus, as we grew up in Salinas and are big fans of John Steinbeck.  The flying pig was used by Steinbeck as his personal stamp, along with the motto  “Ad astra per alia porci”  ~ to the stars on the wings of a pig.

I had to find one for her!  Turning to her favorite on-line shop, and a quick search, I found the perfect item.  When I noticed that it would be handmade and shipped from Poland, I quickly ordered it.

TIme for a change

For the last 5 years, I’ve been an agent with JB Goodwin. Five wonderful years.

I began my career here, fresh out of real estate school, having just passed the Texas Real Estate Test, I was looking for a brokerage that would help me launch my new life as a Realtor.

My decision couldn’t have been a better one.

Often people underestimate the benefits that a great brokerage plays in a new agent’s life.  Not only do you need help learning all the ins and outs of the buisiess, but also you want to find a broker that doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg for trainings, or take a huge cut of your commission check.

However, over time, my needs changed.  What was once an important factor, didn’t seem so significant anymore.  And so it was time for a change.

I’m not ashamed to say that there was a little tear when I wrote my resignation letter.

Come back in a few days to learn where I now hang my license, and why I chose them.

Have you ever needed a change?  Share it with me in the comments below.

July 2017 Austin Real Estate Statistics

July 2017 Austin Real Estate Statistics

Whenever new statistics about the Austin housing market come out, I like to dig deep into them, and find out what is really going on.

You see, this last summer, a lot of agents have told me that it feels slower than usual for them.  Others have had a great summer.  I can understand both of the situations.  When you look carefully at the numbers, it is really very clear.

Here in Austin, there are really 3 different real estate markets:

  1. The bottom of the market
  2. The mid range
  3. The luxury homes

Let’s start by talking about the bottom of the market.  These are average priced homes that cost $300,ooo or less.  This is a HOT market.  Homes are frequently on the market for just days (sometimes only hours), and get multiple offers.  Frequently they are bought for all cash with a fast close and no inspection, buy flippers or corporate investors.  This is the majoirty of the first time homebuyer market, and it is very competitive.  Things move fast, and you can’t be picky.

The middle of the market are homes from $3000,000 – $750,000 or so.  Move up homes.  People who are buying their 2nd or even 3rd property (after selling their first).  This part of the market also sees a lot of people moving to Austin from other parts of the country.  After analyzing the numbers, this is almost a balanced market.  Houses tend to stay for sale longer, there are more places to choose from, and there is more negotiating on price.  It’s what you would expect to see in an average area where buyers have more homes to choose from, but can’t really dilly-dally because they will sell fast, just not overnight.

Finally we have the top end, the luxury homes.  Here in Austin, that’s defined as houses costing 3/4 of a Million dollars or more.  This encompasses a lot of the downtown condo market, as well as many homes in Westlake, Hill Country, and even parts of central Austin.  In this section of the market, there are more homes than buyers, and people are a lot more picky.  I’d be picky too if I was spending that much on a house.  These homes take much longer to sell, and buyers have a much larger selection to choose from.

So, while the numbers put out by the board show a slowing in some cases, it is easy to see why, when you look at market data segmented by price.

Coffee Station Goals

Modern Coffee Station

There is this one spot in my kitchen that’s just perfect for making coffee. Trouble is, I don’t have it set up that way.

Most days, I’m an early riser. I always have been. Never needed to set an alarm clock a day in my life.

I wake up, rub my eyes a few time, thankful that I’ve made it through another night successfully, and mosey into the kitchen. To simply make a cup of coffee.

Heading over to the drip coffee maker, I take out the carafe, which I usually have to rinse out before I even get started. Thankfully I’ve got the coffee maker near the sink. So there’s that.

While I’m cleaning it, I fill it up with water, and dump it into the reservoir. So far so good.

Then I have to dump out the used filter and ground in the garbage can – this is on the other side of the kitchen, in the pantry. Generally the grounds have dried out a little bit so they don’t drip on the floor, but sometimes they do. Now I’ve got a mess to clean up.

Heading back to the coffee maker, I reach into a cabinet and fish out a new clean filter and assemble the whole thing.

Next back across the kitchen to the fridge where I grab my pre-ground Peets Major Dickason, and then take a little side trip to the silverware drawer to grab a tablespoon to scoop out the magic crystals.

Back to the drip machine, grounds, and measuring spoon in hand, where I carefully scoop and dump the required amount for the volume of coffee I am preparing. Shut the lid, hit the little green button to turn it on, and wait.

Soon the house is filled with the delicious, and familiar morning smell of freshly brewed coffee.

There has to be an easier way.

So many steps, so many trips around the kitchen. So much work!

I’ve been noticing a trend at some of the houses I visit. No, not the houses I am previewing for clients, or touring with buyers. These are actual homes that people live in.

When I take my 5-year old kiddo over to a friend’s house for a play date, the other parents invariably offer me a cup of coffee. I do the same when the situation is reversed. But I’ve noticed something different at these other houses. All their coffee supplies are in one place. Neat. Tidy. Efficient.

These folks weren’t running all over their kitchens gathering the supplies needed to make a simple cup of Joe. Why hadn’t I thought of this?

So now I’m on a mission.

There is this perfect section of counter in my kitchen that would be ideal for a Coffee area.

This is the part of my kitchen between my fridge and pantry that will become my coffee station. Currently there are glasses and mugs in the upper cabinets, silverware and tin foil in the drawers, and misc storage in the bottom cabinets.  Don’t judge the un-remodeled kitchen.  I’ve got a 5 year old, a happy wife, a full time job, and a life.

Right now it has an oversized, under-cleaned toaster oven, a 5 gallon jug of homemade wine, and the rest of the space collects empty bottles and boxes for recycling. – now that I think of it, this may lead to a recycling station as another upcoming project. Stay on topic, now Eric.

Of course the first step in any project is to turn to Pinterest and the web to get inspiration.

My favorite high end coffee maker is probably this Breville dual boiler model. Too bad this photo is in black and white, because this is an amazing machine.
Are you a fan of the chalkboard wall behind the coffee pot? Me? Not so much.
If I still lived in a dorm or apartment, this is what I’d do.
This is my favorite.  Hands down.  Loads of different cups specific for each drink - coffee, expresso, cappucinno.  All neatly organized, with some high end coffee making machines.
This is my favorite. Hands down. Loads of different cups specific for each drink – coffee, expresso, cappucinno. All neatly organized, with some high end coffee making machines.
Here’s a simpler take on the whole idea – everything gets hidden behind a door for a nice clean look.  I especially like the pot filler to make adding water simple and easy.
This might be a bit too modern for me – but don’t you just love the seamless integration of the meile built in coffee maker to the cabinets?
Modern coffee station, check. Storage – check. grey color – check. Hideaway – check.
Here’s a pull out dishwasher under a coffee station.
Look at that natural wood, and those pull outs! Modern Storage – clean lines, and everything in it’s place for my OCD.
I've never seen anyone do this, but here's an idea that would take a coffee station to the next level.  Install a drawer dishwasher and fridge in the cabinets below.  Who's with me?
I’ve never seen anyone do this, but here’s an idea that would take a coffee station to the next level. Install a drawer dishwasher and fridge in the cabinets below. Who’s with me?

What are some of the essentials you have in your coffee station. Do you prefer a more industrial look, or something a bit more country? How have you streamlined your morning ritual? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below and I’ll incorporate them into my area as I’m re-doing it.

When a 46-year old dad uses a lawn mower for the very first time

Yard Machine Lawn Mower

Growing up, I never had to mow a lawn.  

It’s not that we didn’t have grass, only that my parents always had someone come and service the yards when I was a kid.  That’s why I was so excited to move into this house.  I finally had a front and back yard to mow!

One of the very first tools I purchased was a $100 push mower.

Before I even moved our furniture in, I had pushed that thing back and forth across the yard, slicing each blade of grass literally by hand.  Even in March in Austin, I worked up a healthy sweat.

This is great exercise, I thought.  If I can keep this up for 6-weeks, I’ll be in great shape, and my yard will look like a putting green – (isn’t that the dream of every home-owner?)

As you can guess, after just a handful of cuts, things began to change.

My enthusiasm began to wane.  The reel mower, as eco friendly wasn’t powerful enough to slice through the thick St. Augustine grass in my front yard and I began to neglect the turf.  Finally I gave up and did what my dad did as I was growing up, and hired a guy to cut the grass for me every few weeks.

Over time my lawn began to look less healthy, and last year, when a neighborhood kid came by and offered to cut my grass for$20 (and then scalped it nearly to the dirt), I had to re-take control and reevaluate my lawn.

First I turned to the internet, and then I found the Lawn Care Nut on YouTube.  This guy makes taking care of your lawn easy, and even fun!  You should absolutely check out his chanel after you read my blog.

Then it was time for me to buy some tools.  Manly tools.  The kind that are gas-powered, and heavy, and noisy!

I don’t just whip out my American Express and purchase the very first one I see – no sir!  It takes some research, spreadsheets, and interneting.

Must Have Features that are important to me in a new lawn mower (in no particular order):

  • Eco-friendly
  • Self-powered
  • Easy to start
  • Easy to clean
  • Ability to mulch or bag
  • Not too loud
  • Handles sticks and leaves
  • User replaceable parts (in case something breaks)

This is quite a wish list, I know.  Most likely I won’t be able to get all these, but hopefully, I can get enough to make cutting the grass more fun, and less of a chore.

With my initial research done, I headed over to Home Depot – and got to work.

So many different lawn mower choices? How do you know you are getting the best/right one?

Let me tell you – even with all the research it is still super hard to decide. Over 15 choices framing in price from $100 to over $1000. There were some features on my must have list like self-propelled , mulching, and easy to start that were non-negotiable. At the same time I also didn’t want to break the bank. Ultimately I went with reviews. Using my iPhone n the store I went to Home Depot.com and began to look at reviews right in the aisle. First I looked at the top of the price range for me Toro brand and I kept seeing recent 1 star reviews with all sorts of different problems.  That pretty much elimitated that choice.
Then I decided to check out the reviews for my #2 – it was less expensive, but had all the features I wanted, and tons of 4 and 5 star reviews, both recent and old.

I had to make a few sacrifices – Ultimately I wanted a metal deck for longevity but overall the price and other features won out.

The Yard Machines box just barely fit into the oversized shopping cart
Paid for, and in the car, ready for the trip home.

Once home, I unloaded the nearly 100 pound box (all by myself) and began the unboxing process.  I was a bit concerned because the cardboard box was damaged, and had some crushed edges, but inside the Yard Machines lawn mower was in great shape, and undamaged.

The unglamorous, but required, Lawn Mower Unboxing pictures

Included in the box was a plastic bag with some instructionmanuals, warranty cards, and enough oil for me to get started without having to take a 2nd trip back to Home Depot.  Of course it wouldn’t be unusual, as I forget some little doo-dad all the time, but it was nice this time to be able to get home and stay home.

Yard Machines Operator’s Manual, Oil, and other paperwork.

Assembly was SUPER easy.

This thing came completely assembled right from the box.  All I had to do was attach the collection bag to the metal frame.  Everything else was all put together.

Additionally, I had to unfold the all metal handle and extend it like the instructions called for.  Sadly and Thankfully no tools were needed.  Of course I love using my tools, but this mower came with big easy to grip plastic handles that easily unscrewed to extend the handle and put it at just the right height for my six-foot tall frame.  The whole process took like 3 minutes.

The mower came 99% assembled, and in one piece. All I had to do to assemble it was attach the bag to the frame, and extend the handle.
The first thing I had to do to assemble the lawn mower was open the handle all the way, and re-connect the oversized bolts.
Next, I had to loosen the handle extension bolts on each side, and slide the handle out to the maximum distance to accommodate my 6-foot tall self.

Next I had to add oil and gas to the engine.  There are two clearly labeled screw caps which maked identifying the proper reservoir easy.  The oil was easy to fill one handed so I grabbed a quick photo, but the gas took 2 hands so no picture of that for you.  Just close your eyes for a moment, and imagine me using my red jerry can to fill the gas tank.

Scroll down and read how it went for me after the photos.

Always check your lawn mower oil level and make sure it is properly filled with the correct weight and level of oil. Don’t wanna ruin your engine before 100,000 lawns!

Third I had to add the motor oil, which thankfully was included – I really appreciate that, as I’d have to take another trip back to Home Depot if it wasn’t.

Obligatory lawn mower picture ready for action.
Looks like she will go fast, right? Vrooom!
Just check out those stylish 5-spoked plastic wheels!
I really like that this model came with a Briggs & Stratton engine.  I’d need that power during the fall when all the leaves fall.
Another great feature is that with one lever you can adjust both wheels to the same height, and that the front adjustment is separate from the back.
The Gas filler cap, air filter, and priming pump are all clearly labeled and easy to access.
Yard Machines!
I’m a bit concerned about the throttle and other cables – they look like they could have been better designed, but let’s see how she lasts for a few seasons first.
Independent Drive and Blade Control Levers.
Ready to “Get ‘er Done!”

Overall Experience

For the first time in my 46 years on this earth I used a gas powered mower to cut my own lawn.

It was so easy!

First I primed the engine by pressing the red bulb about a dozen times.  I could feel the pressure inside the carb change when it was full.  That’s how I knew it was ready.

Then I held down the blade control lever, grabbed the pull handle, and gave the thing a good yank just like you see in the movies.

Guess what?  It started right up on the first pull!  There was a little bit of a stutter as the engine slowly came to life.  Imagine my surprise!  I expected to yank on that rope for a good 20 minutes and then have to call customer service or something, but NO!  It worked right out the gate.

Mowing the lawn was easy.

I adjusted the height of the wheels to the middle setting pulled the self-propel lever and in literally no time was able to cut the extra thick and tall grass in my front yard!

It looked amazing!

And I got to experience that summer smell of cut grass all day long.

 

Overall, I’m super happy with the way everything came out – Easy to start, plenty of power to cut the lawn (even if it is several inches thick), and not too loud.

Are you thinking of buying a new mower?  What features are important to you?  Share your story below in the comments about the first time you mowed a lawn – I can’t wait to read them!

 

Where are all the shelter blogs written by men?

It is so hard finding good, current shelter or DIY blogs to read.

It’s even harder to find some written from the guy’s perspective.

Two of my favorites are Kim & Scott of Yellow Brick Home and Sherry & John from Young House Love – one is actively still blogging, the other has stopped blogging on their website, but launched a Podcast (which isn’t exactly the same thing, but something I love listening to every week).

Yellow Brick Home Kitchen
Kim & Scott beautiful Yellow Brick Home’s Kitchen
Young House Love
Such a comfortable Living room from John and Sherry of Young House Love

I love good photography, and beautifully styled rooms.  I don’t always need all the step by step DIY how-tos, or material lists.  Mostly I just want inspiration, and a little bit of “what were they thinking” when they started this project.  For me that’s the fun part.  Especially when they are written as a good story.

Why are blogging guys so rare in this space?  Is it that they don’t have the same sense of style?  Are they computer illiterate?  Impossible!  Is there no audience for them?

I don’t think so – there are some great male designers like Colin Cowie and Jeff Lewis, but they don’t really blog that much.  There are of course lots more but I don’t have the ability to add them all here.

A Jeff Lewis Styled House
A Jeff Lewis Styled House

A few others I want to shout out specifically are:  Daniel Kanter who authors Manhattan-Nest is one of the rare guy home bloggers, and Chris from Chris Loves Julia is another one where I have read every post.  Every single one.

Manhattan Nest
Warm and Masculine – the living room on Manhattan Nest
Chris and Julia
I could cook all day in Chris and Julia’s Kicthen

Finding the perfect blog to stalk is hard.  I think Emily Henderson says it best:

To find blogs that have great ideas, information and pretty styling and photography is super rare.

And when you start to look for one written by a dude, the list gets real short real quick.

The combination of all those things, as well as the ability to tell and write a great story keeps me coming back again and again.

Are you like me?  Do you prefer a blog that stays on topic – one that is almost from the perspective of the house?

Who are your favorite male / guy shelter bloggers?  Let us know in the comments below. – Thanks!

Original House Photos

Today I discovered a little treasure.

My 5 year old loves looking at pictures.  He prefers to look at pictures of himself as a baby, or of photos of me and his mom together when we were younger.  A few days ago he asked about our house.

For some reason, today, he wanted to see pictures of our house when we moved in.  2009 was the year, and although I had a big professional Nikon D200, and took tons of shots when we closed, I have no idea where those photos are stored.

I think they are on one of my old servers that is currently stored under the guest bed in my office.

I also had my old iPhone which is in my office at work – that probably has some photos on it as well.

I could be better at organizing them.  I SHOULD be more together at organizing them.  My main excuse is that I need a new laptop.  It’s a good reason, but if I wait too much longer, I fear I won’t be able to access the old storage systems I used to use as new technology stops for nobody.

Remember those old 5 1/4 floppy drives?  I do.  Most of my college papers were saved on those.  I’ve got a box of them in the garage attic – not even close to archival storage.

Anyway, when he asked about seeing what our house looked like before he was born, I scratched my head for a minute, trying to figure out the easiest way to solve the problem.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could look at the old MLS photos from when our house was listed.

In fact, it’s a great archive of what this place looked like when we started, before our first series of renovations.

The place looked like 1988, complete with tacky wallpaper, wall to wall carpet (including in the bathroom), and popcorn on every ceiling.

For me, it was easy to access these pictures – Since I’m a Realtor, I simply logged on to the MLS, and searched for my house.  There is a record of all the sales, as well as photos from the last time it was on the market.

So I just downloaded them.

You probably aren’t a Real Estate agent, but I’ll bet Zillow may have a record, and I know your agent would be happy to dig them up for you using their credentials.  Maybe give it a try.

This is the fireplace in the living room.  I really like the herringbone brick pattern, but can’t stand the fake brushed bronze fireplace doors.  We still haven’t changed this, but I have some ideas to make it more updated, and add a mantle as well.

Here is the kiddos bedroom.  Absolutely nothing to write home about.  For a while this was my office, and I had bookcases against the wall you see next to the window.

One of the features we really loved about this place was the backyard.  Especially this deck.  Of course all the ferns and house plants are long gone, but we still have the french doors.  We spend a ton of time out here.
The complete backyard.  The big Elm in the middle of the photo had to be cut down, and I’ve done a lot of landscaping, but we still really love our yard.

This is the 3rd bedroom.  We also call it the ball room,  It gets the best natural light in the morning.

This is the master bath.  Notice the wall to wall carpet, old vanity, and amazing wall paper.  We have pretty much gutted this room, and totally redone it.

Here is the living room.  It is a huge space with amazing light in the afternoon.  Behind the camera is a wall of windows that look into the yard.  Also, it’s hard to tell, but ceiling slopes up to a final height of 18-feet, creating a majestic space.  My goal is to build some built-ins against the long wall and put in my vintage stereo, and record collection.

Anyway, I hope you liked this starting tour of our house.  It’s come a long way, but there is a lot more to show and do!

Worth it

The other day, I met a fellow stay at home dad.

This guy was visiting Austin from NYC for the weekend, and we struck up a conversation.  I asked why he came to town, and he told me that he was just visiting a friend.  As we got to talking, and I learned he had a law degree, but was now the main caregiver at home for his 1 and 5 year old boys.

It is so rare for me to find someone who is in the same situation as I.

For the last 5 years, ever since our son was born, I have been the primary care giver at home.  My wife has a good paying job, with even better benefits, and we decided that she would be the breadwinner, and I would begin raising our kid.

Do you know how it feels to be the only dad pushing a stroller down the street in the middle of the morning?

What about sitting alone on a bench at the playground as all the kids run around and the other moms sit together chatting with their Yeti cups filled with who knows what.

Speaking of that, what do moms put in those tumblers?  I’d like to think it is some kind of secret elixir that provides endless amounts of energy while simultaneously removing weight.

In reality it is probably a wine spritzer spiked with Tito’s Vodka.

Sadly, I’m not part of the club that will ever know what they drink. (my Cup has ice water.)

One time, while taking my kid to to the neighborhood pool, I was able to catch a glimpse of a mommy re-filling her stainless steel cup.  Her mommy bag was tucked behind one of the pool lounge chairs, and I was able to see her screw the top off a bottle of white wine, despite her best efforts to hide her actions with a towel. – Gotcha!

But I’m not one to judge.  Whatever gets you through the day, I’ve always said.

New York City, is a much faster paced, intense town, and I can only imagine the pressure this guy felt because he would have been the only dad with 2 kids, among not just rich stay at home moms, but also the nannies that populate the Big Apple.  I’ve read the Nanny Diaries.  I know what it’s like.

His wife is like mine.  Dedicated. Hard working.  Driven.  Great qualities that were what first attracted me to my wife.  Plus she is a great mom.  Always there for our Son when he needs her, taking time off to attend school events and so on.  And when she comes home from work, she is available to give me a break after 10 hours of playing talking Legos with a pre-schooler.

I learned that what gets me through the day, is the same thing that gets my new friend from NYC through the day.  Being the best Dad I can be.  Working hard to be a parent.  Giving endless love to our kids.  Turning adversity into teaching moments.  Kissing scrapped elbows and knees to make them better.  Wiping up pee-pee from the side of the toilet.  Picking up toys 24 hours a day that are strewn EVERYWHERE.  The list goes on and on.

But it is all worth it.