House styles in Austin TX

Tudor Revival
Medieval Style
Spanish Colonial
Stucco Dutch Colonial
Spanish Colonial
Colonial Revival
Brick Colonial Revival
Classical Revival
Craftsman Style
Monterey Style
Brick Multi-family
Colonial Revival
French Eclectic
Tudor Revival Duplex
Colonial Revival
Brick Bungalow
Brick Rectangular
Tudor Revival Duplex
Tudor Revival
Colonial Revival
Georgian Colonial Rev
Tudor Revival
Brick Tudor Revival
Moderne/Bohn House
Colonial Revival style
Wood Asymmetrical
Wood Colonial Revival
International Style
Wood Asymmetrical
Brick Colonial Revival
International Style
Ranch Style
Stone Bungalow
Brick Asymmetrical
Wood Asymmetrical
Ranch Style
Mid Century Modern

How to attend an open house

As a Real Estate agent in Austin, I try to hold an open house every weekend.  Usually It’s on sunday from 2-4 (which is the best time), but sometimes I change it up and do a weekday after school or earlier on a saturday (if there is a Longhorns game in town).

I’ve seen all kinds of crazy things – Regular readers of my blog get a glimpse of these stories, so I suggest you subscribe to get the full story delivered to by email automatically.

If you are going to an open house in Austin, there are some general, unwritten rules you should follow.  I’ve written them down in case you need a refresher.  Here’s how to attend an open house (more…)

Selling your house – Maximum broadcast or targeted exposure

It’s not like you can go into a store and shop for a new house.  OK, you sort of can, but the entire city would be the store, and each neighborhood would be a different section.  Sort of like a grocery store.  All the food is loated inside the store, and each aisle has different things.  There’s the Fruits and Veggies section, the Meat counter, the Milk and Dairy area, Frozen Foods, Dry Goods, and so forth.  Cities are sort of the same way – There is the older neighborhoods, the areas with more apartments, a few sections of new construction, the expensive homes are usually grouped together, etc…

Most of their arguments begin:
“A buyer begins their search for a house on-line”.

But with the Internet, it’s super easy to see all the new homes in any city in America.  Just log on to your favorite real estate website, enter an address or zip code and start researching.  But did you know that not every house for sale is listed on these websites?  A lot are, and there is a great selection, but you are missing some of the properties for sale if you do all the work yourself.

You see, there are pocket listings, new listings, and houses for sale by owner that aren’t part of the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).  Plus there are a lot of Real Estate Agents that starting to choose to not list their listings on the MLS.  I can even imagine a few scenarios where high-end owners don’t want to broadcast they are selling their home.

It is a common belief that every house should be listed in the MLS – so it can gain maximum exposure, and attract the most attention.  But just like everything, you need to know your  market, your audience, and your inventory to make the perfect real estate sale.  In Austin a great many agents are heavily opposed to holding listings and not including them in the MLS.  They say it is anti competitive, not fair, and not in the best interest of the seller.

As of today there are three kinds of Real Estate Websites:

  • The Biggies –, Trulia, Zillow.  The “big box stores” for real estate.  Some really popular websites that get a lot of traffic, but all look the same, and can be quite confusing.
  • Local Brokerages – these are the big names within a city.  The popular guys who have all the connections and do the majority of sales for a community.  Their websites pretty much all look the same, with some stock photos of a city on the front page, a completed search box, and your average real estate verbiage describing the houses for sale.
  • Smaller Real Estate Bloggers – (like me or this guy who blogs about the Mueller Development in Austin) who are leveraging technology to their benefit.  These websites will become the true neighborhood experts, if they aren’t already.

Most of their arguments begin “A buyer begins their search for a house on-line”

Let’s take a look at that phrase a little more closely.  On first pass one may think that the real estate websites have control of the listings, and this is absolutely true, but upon further examination, the RE website results are controlled by the search engines.

A lot of agents believe that the MLS or IDX syndication system is what is getting the buyers to view their listings, but this really isn’t the case.  It all filters through the big search engines  Google, Yahoo, and even Bing.  Everything I read about real estate SEO says to write for the buyer/seller and know your audience.  I am also reading a lot about how the search engines are integrating trust and the results of your friends recommendations and searches into your search results.

Phoenix real estate guyI interpret this to mean that when someone does a search, the results are going to be more focused, and provide results that could be quite different.  This is where the Long Tail theory comes into effect (I blogged about this a while back)  A very popular Real Estate Blogger in Phoenix,  Jay Thompson even suggests this trend in one of his recent presentations.  Jay laments that while choosing the key phrase “Phoenix Real Estate Guy” was a good decision,  he should have concentrated more on the names of subdivisions, MPCs, and niche markets.  This is coming from a guy who as been real estate blogging for 6+ years, and gets the majority of his leads directly through his website.

Jay did the exactly correct thing back when he set up his blog.  Actually two things:  #1) He chose a phrase that had great search results, and #2) he uses WordPress for his blogging platform.  Because of this second choice, he can easily add custom categories to take advantage of this change in search technology.  But I digress

Selling a house is remarkably like selling any other product.  You need to  make sure your product is in front of the people who are going to buy it.  But as we all know there are lots of different stores – from Target, to local boutiques, to high-end luxury brands.  Each advertises in their own way, and is successful as well.

Ultimately, it is up to Real Estate Agents to decide how they want to market their listings.  As a home seller, it is up to you to decide if how you want your house sold.  I firmly believe that there should be a choice in choosing to use the MLS to list a house or not.  What do you think?

Who is a Listing Agent

Have you ever visited a Real Estate website and seen the term This listing sponsored byListed by, Provided by, or Listing Agent?  Do you ever wonder what that is?  I know I did, and it can be quite confusing at first.

Buyer's uses the term Provided by has two terms: Listing Brokered by, and Listing Agent

Zillow uses the phrase Listing Provided by

Each of these things means the same thing, and for someone buying the house you should know what it is.  In every real estate transaction there is a seller and a buyer.  These terms tell you which real estate professional is representing the seller.

These phrases aren’t limited to these big real estate websites.  Even local agencies and  brokerages can show all the listings on their sites.  They subscribe to the MLS system, and get access to the database of ALL houses for sale.  This means they can show listings on their website that they personally aren’t the agents for.

In all honesty, you should never really contact the selling agent.  They usually have signed a contract with the person selling the house to represent them.  Obviously the selling agent is working as as hard as they can to sell the house for as much money as possible.   While it is possible for a Real Estate Agent to represent both the buyer and the seller, you probably want somebody on your team, and only your team.  As a Buyer, you want someone who will work hard for you to get you all the accurate info on the home, and then help you negotiate the best possible price.

Often times you will find a Contact Agent button somewhere on the listing.  99.9% of the time this DOES NOT take you to the actual listing agent.  When you click on it you get a list of Real Estate Agents who have paid to have their name and contact info given to you.

If you are buying a house in Austin I encourage you to find a Real Estate Agent who can work 100% for you and you alone, and help you negotiate the best deal for your new house.  If you have to sell one house in order to buy another it is completely acceptable to use that same person for both transactions, unless of course the new house you have picked out is also represented by your same agent (but what are the chances of that happening).

I think it is totally cool to search for houses on the internet.  That’s how my wife and I began our first time home buying process.  The next time you do, however, just jot down the address or MLS# to show your realtor, and let them help you with the process.

Writing for Yahoo Voices

The Real Estate Field has some great catchphrases: “Location, Location, Location” “Fixer-uper” and “Luxury Home”.

In the on-line world “Content is King” are words to remember when writing.

One of the big reasons I’ve changed careers in mid life is because I don’t see myself as a 60 year old wedding photographer.  But also because I’ve learned so much about blogging, digital media, web design, and social networking, and don’t see it being used effectively in the Real Estate profession.

With so many different places to write for on-line why did I choose Yahoo Voices?  I’ve written for a little bit before, as well as been published in Real Simple Magazine, and of course been featured on multiple professional blogs.  But that was all as a wedding photographer.  Each of those sources can be a great way to drive visitors to my business and website.  But some are better than others.  For a high-ranking successful website, I’ve learned you need three great things

  1. Great Original Content
  2. Regular Updates
  3. High-quality back-links

It may seem like you only have control over the first two – you can start a blog, and update it regularly with original content.  That takes care of number one and number two, but what about the third thing – getting people to link to my website.  There are lots of tricks and techniques like using Twitter, and Facebook and being active in social media.  I’ve found these work great, but if you really want to stand out above the crowd, you need to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

There are lots of websites that need people to write for them – one of the very best is Yahoo Voices.  According to Alexa, the best and most respected website for ranking other websites, Yahoo is #4 (at least at the time of this article).  This makes Yahoo the leading website for accepting user generated content that isn’t a social website.  Sure Google and Facebook fight it out all the time for the top spot, and Youtube is #3 (but who has time to make and edit all those videos).  That puts Yahoo firmly in the number 4 spot – above Wikipedia, Twitter, Blogger, Linked-in, and a ton of foreign websites.

I know there are other Real Estate communities, like Active Rain, so why don’t I spend time there?  I have an Active Rain Account, and it is a great place to network with other Real Estate professionals.  As great as the Active Rain community is for learning about the Real Estate biz, it’s is pretty industry specific, and limited.  For a larger audience, you need to think bigger, and outside the box.

Yahoo Voices isn’t a new kid on the block.  They have been around for years, and have an active, and vibrant on-line community that most people don’t know about.  But they have some heavy SEO hitters among them, and if your writing gets recognized as good, you can be featured and get tons of new business very, very quickly.

I noticed they have a Real Estate section in Yahoo Voices, but as usual the writing is dry, boring, and super business-ey.  Rweal Estate writers don’t connect with their readers, it seems they only spew out boring facts and figures, or some other kind of boilerplate verbiage.

As a side note, I wrote this blog post, which is over 800 words on a sunny Sunday morning as I was sitting in front of the TV drinking my coffee with my dog at my side.  Total time, about 15 minutes.

You can sign up for free to Yahoo Voices, but you probably already have a Yahoo account.   If you do, you can simply fill out the on-line questionnaire, and be set up in 5 minutes or less.  I spent a little more time than this because I wanted to completely fill out my profile with all my likes – that makes me easier to find in searches.

Once you get set up you can browse available topics, or you can submit your own for publication.  Plus for every article you submit that gets accepted, you get paid!  Yes, they actually pay you for your work.  It’s not much, but like all things in life you get out what you put in to it.  My regular readers know that I love to write about luxury homes, modern architecture, and local neighborhoods and fun places to visit in Austin.  I contribute the exact same ideas, as it is exactly what they want for content.  I’m not writing reviews like on Yelp, but instead setting myself apart as a neighborhood expert in Austin.

In addition to writing, it helps to make connections and friends in the Yahoo Voices community.  Read their articles, comment on them, and they will reciprocate.  It’s a great you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours  – which helps everybody in the long run.

Check them out and sign up today to see what I’m talking about.  Be sure to visit my profile to read some of my articles, too.  You can find me under my pen name, Eric Estate on Yahoo Voices.


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  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.

Finding great contractors in Austin

This article may turn out to be more of a rant, and if it does, please accept my apology in advance.  When my wife and I purchased our first house a little over three years ago we had some very specific requirements.  Things that a first time homebuyer looks for like an enclosed garage, a gas stove, a DISHWASHER (I laugh now at how much different home ownership life is from renting life).  We also had some very specific requirements for our neighborhood, too, because in real estate it’s all about location, location, location.

What wasn’t as important to us was some of the other features of the house.  Things like flooring, an ugly kitchen, or a un-landscaped yard.  The cosmetic things didn’t really matter to us, and it may be one of the reasons we got such a great deal on our house.  Our first house had been on the market for a while with no results.  The owner (who’s son also happened to be a Realtor)  took the property off the market after 6 months of no activity, and made a few cosmetic changes like new carpeting, and some new plantation shutters, and re-listed it.  Again it sat for a number of months with no activity.

The place still didn’t show well even after all the money put into it.  There was some kind of  horrible plaster texture on the walls.  The home had popcorn ceilings in every room, and there was this hideous wallpaper in the bathrooms and kitchen.  The touch-points of the house just weren’t great.  What do I mean by touch-points?    Touch-points to me are things that you put your hands on when viewing a house.  First impressions like the entrance and doorbell.  Interior items like doorknobs and closet doors.  Light Switches, and open windows.  But that’s another blog post.

I’m a pretty handy guy.  My father owned a hardware store, and I have been around tools my entire life.  I can change a door knob in 7 minutes flat.  I can paint a room, in a saturday afternoon – and that includes doing all the the trim in a crisp white.  I can also comfortably change a lightswitch or electrical outlet with out calling an electrician.  When my wife and I walked into this house we immediately knew that with a few changes this place would look incredible.  We had found our first house.

One of the very first things we began to do was to peel off the ugly wallpaper from every room.  Have you ever tried to take down wallpaper?  There’s two kinds.  The kind that comes off easily in big sheets and leaves a nice surface for priming and painting, and the other kind of wallpaper.  This is the stuff that seems to be super glued to the wallboard.  It comes off in little 1 inch strips, and leaves an ugly pock-marked wall, only after hours or days of wallpaper removal.

We were almost very lucky.  We had great results removing the wallpaper from every room except the guest bath.  It took weeks to get it all down in that small 80 square foot room.  Plus, when we were all done the walls were ruined.  The place was a mess.  But wait, there’s more.  The layout of the guest bathroom was very inefficient.  There was a wall, an oversized vanity, the toilet was too close to the tub, and someone had put in a floor to ceiling laundry cabinet that dominated the space.  The place barely had enough room to walk in.

Since this was a guest bath that we didn’t use very much, it fell to the bottom of our remodeling priority list.  We spent 3 years doing other projects around the house.  This month, we decided it was time to get the room finished.  Even though I’m pretty handy, there are some jobs I don’t do because they are either too big or I’m not good enough at them to get the final results I demand.  Stuff like relocating a toilet on a concrete slab, or re-tiling a complete shower stall, or drywalling a class-5 finish (museum quality smooth).

My wife and I came up with a few designs, and a bunch of inspiration, and began to contact some contractors in Austin.  Because I am taking my real estate classes, and still working as a full time photographer, I didn’t have time to manage the job.  I just wanted to pay someone to oversee the job, hire some subcontractors, and make it right.  We even had a decent budget which was higher than the average cost for a bathroom remodel.

Stage 1 – researching contractors.  After searching the web, reading lots of Yelp reviews, and talking with friends, I came up with a list of 3 contractors to contact to get some bids.  I called each of the three, and left messages.  Guess what.   After waiting 3 days none of them called me back.  I left a nice courtesy follow-up message (none picked up their phones), and still I got no response.  These were reputable contractors with great on-line reviews, and high praise from some of my neighbors who had them do work in their houses.  No response.  Grrrr!

So I did some more research and came up with another list of 10 different Austin contractors to call.  I spent the better part of a day making calls.  Of the 10, 6 picked up the phone.  Every one was interested, and wanted to come over to see what I had in mind and give me an estimate.  After checking my Google Calendar, I came up with a scheduled over 10 days for each of the 6 to come over and chat.  One was even a contractor who lives across the street from us.  I had met him several times before but never asked what he did (I figured he was in technology or something).

Stage two – the face to face interviews.  Of the 6 scheduled contractor appointments 2 never showed up.  No calls, no cancellation emails, nothing.  A total waste of my time (At least I got to do some extra studying).  The other four showed up on time, with clipboards and tape measures.  One of them was even the guy across the street – not too hard to cross a street to give a bid I guess.

Each meeting lasted about 30 minutes – I thought things went well, as we established a great rapport –  chatted about what I wanted, and talked about the house.    One of the guys asked about my budget, and I told him.  He seemed very interested as the number was probably higher than he expected.  At the end of each interview I asked if they were interested in doing the job to which they all replied yes.  I wrote down my email on their clipboard, and verified my telephone, and told me they would get me an estimate in the next few days.

Start stage 3 – the waiting for bids.  OK fine.  I patiently waited for the calls to come in.  After a few days nothing.  Then the weekend.  Nada.  Then a week.  Still no estimates.  I called each of the four guys, and spoke with a couple who said they were “working on it”.  I left messages with the others who didn’t answer their phones.  The guy across the street who came over never replied.  Neither did any of the others.

I made 13 calls, had 4 people come over, and got ZERO bids for my job.

This is no way to run a business.  I keep hearing how tough the economy is, and how people are looking for work.  Each of the four contractors who came over seemed really interested in my job.  But I never heard back from them.  I had an open checkbook, and was ready to start the construction right away.  No wait.  An easy and fast bathroom remodel job.

In the end, I wasted almost a month of time trying to hire someone.  I have given up on hiring someone, and started to mange the job myself.  I’ll end up spending less money overall, but am giving up my precious time to get the job done.  I’ve gone to the county office and gotten the required permits.  I did the demo work and found a guy on Craigslist to haul away the debris.  I hired a plubmer who came on time and got paid.  I hired a drywall guy who did a great job and got paid in cash.  Today the tile guys is coming, and guess what – he will be paid when the job is done today, too.

If you are a contractor  reading this – please tell me why?  Why are so many bad business people?  Why don’t you answer your phones.  Why don’t you give me a bid?  Why?