The Attractions of Austin
Everything is big in Texas. At least, Austin, Texas is. Austin is the state capital and is also the seat of Travis County. This makes it the big city as the whole of Texas is governed from it. It has a majestic state capitol which was completed in 1888 and is now a designated National Historical Landmark. The football, baseball, basketball, and volleyball teams of the University of Texas at Austin have made a big name in their own fields that whenever they play, they draw big crowds of spectators. The lakes around Austin, particularly Lake Travis, Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) and Lake Austin are big destinations for sports fishing, swimming, and skiing. More than anything else, though, Austin in big in music –it is the Live Music Capital of the World.
There are plenty of big high-tech companies operating in Austin including Dell, Samsung, IBM, and Freescale Semiconductor who are among the city’s top employers. Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Cisco Systems, eBay/PayPal, Sun Microsystems, and Silicon Laboratories are also in the area, providing plenty of job opportunities. Pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food, and advertising companies also abound. Among the suppliers of the necessary manpower for these companies is the University of Texas at Austin.
Austin has a reputation for progressive politics, making it a haven for people with liberal and tolerant attitudes and ideas who have no problem accepting alternative cultural and artistic expressions, different social and norms, and subcultures that are a little off the mainstream.
Located in a strip of land where the flat terrain that begins in the Gulf of Mexico starts to rise to the Central Texas Hill Country, Austin offers great vistas. From Mt. Bonnell you can get a spectacular view of Lake Austin and other verdant hills. And from the hills, you can enjoy the sparkling and twinkling city lights.
Lakeside, Hillside, and Urban Dwelling
The topography of the area in and around Austin allows its residents, and would-be residents, the choice of living at or at least near the waterfront, downtown area, or at the top of a hill. Colorado River runs through the heart of Austin giving it a long waterfront and three man-made lakes –Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake, and Lake Walter E. Long. A portion of Lake Travis, including Mansfield Dam, is also within the limits of the city. Condominiums and apartments teem all over Austin.
Naturally, the apartments downtown are the most exclusive and expensive as they are close to government, educational, and commercial institutions and establishments. These are found along South Congress and Lamar Boulevards, and are the ultimate, not only in terms of their location, but also in their amenities, conveniences, and facilities.
The section in the northwest that includes the Lake Travis area offers generally cheaper housing options. Rentals are more reasonable due to overbuilding. Along with it, the cost of real estate properties is likewise less expensive in comparison to other areas, giving you the best value for your money.
The northeast section is where Applied Materials, Dell, Motorola, and other high tech companies are. For this reason, houses and apartments in these locations are peopled by young professionals, driving prices and rentals moderately higher than their neighbors in to the west. However, there are also older properties within the area which may be priced more affordably.
The same is true for the area called North Austin where IBM and Texas Instruments have offices. With the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, however, North Austin may be more attractive.
There is also an area known as North Central Austin, which is predominantly residential. The place is close to the University of Texas, with some sections within walking distance. For this reason, most apartments in the area are rented out to students. Others, though, are occupied by small families. Owing to its proximity to downtown, real estate prices as well as rentals are higher than in the areas further up north.
As an offshoot of the construction of a pontoon bridge in 1869 and its replacement wooden toll bridge in 1875 linking Congress Avenue on the northern shore of the Colorado River with its southern shore, growth in the latter area was greatly spurred. The current bridge, now made of steel and concrete, is named the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in honor the former Texas governor and Austin resident. The southern shore, now known as South Central Austin, has metamorphosed into a highly developed urban community. Amid modern buildings and structures, however, properties from the old era remain. Only across the bridge from the old downtown, St. Edward’s University and the University of Texas, as well as recreational and entertainment venues, are accessible from South Central. Prices of real estate properties as well as rentals, therefore, are also relatively high.
The Southwest is host to Zilker Park, a 350-acre recreational center that features a botanical garden, sculpture garden, picnic areas, sports fields, and a hillside theater where sports tournaments and music festivals are often held. Residential areas in this part of Austin can be found on hilltops, providing stunning views of downtown, and wooded areas in seclusion. Prices are high in these locations, both that of the properties and rentals.
Buying Real Estate
The process of buying a house involves plenty of work. This begins with deciding what you need or want in a house, its location, and, of course, how much you can afford to pay. After you have defined the kind of house your want, even more work follows.
Unless you have a bank account like the Texans Michael Dell or Alice Walton, you will probably need to look for a bank or other lending institution to finance your purchase. It is often advisable to do this even before house hunting so you will know your limits right at the outset and not waste your time looking at houses that may later prove to be beyond what your bank is willing to lend. If you can get your application pre-approved, you minimize the risk of losing a house you like because the seller could not wait for the processing of your loan application. Bring your financial records to the bank tax returns, bank statements, credit history, business records – to help them determine the amount they can loan out. You can, of course, approach a few lenders and compare their offers. Remember, though, that the highest offer is not necessarily the best for you. You will have to take into account your paying capacity. Higher mortgages normally entail higher amortizations and if these go beyond your ability to pay, you run the risk of foreclosure.
Once you have found your dream house, you may need to compare its asking price with those sold within the area in the last three to six months to get a better idea of how much you should offer to buy. When you make your offer, you may be required to deposit an earnest money check, typically 1% of the offer. If your offer is eventually rejected, the earnest money is returned. If accepted, it is deposited in an escrow account with a title company, who will then conduct a thorough check of the title, arrange for insurance, and coordinate with your lender.
Ask for an option period during which you should hire a building inspector licensed by the state to thoroughly examine the building for flaws and structures that do not comply with the building code. Have it checked by pest control specialists too. Also, check out utility providers in the area so that you can have everything ready before moving in.
If you decide to push with the purchase, arrange for the closing where you will meet with the title company closer to sign to documents. Be sure, however, to study the contracts before signing anything. Do not forget to bring certified funds during the closing as this is required by the Texas Department of Insurance. This can be a certified check made out to the title company. After the signing, ask for a copy of every paper for your files and for the keys to the house.
Selling Real Estate
Selling your house is as complicated as buying one. Perhaps the most difficult task you have to do is to determine an asking price that is neither too high that it is priced out of the market, nor too low that you end up practically giving your house away.
Keep in mind that the amount you originally paid for the house, or the money you spend building it, has nothing to do with its current price. Neither do improvements, nor the outstanding balance of your home mortgage. In the end, the price is determined by the buyers, and they look at the current price of houses in your area, your house’s condition, and its location.
You may have spent a million dollars buying your house 10 years ago, but if all the other houses in your neighborhood that are of similar construction and condition as yours are selling for half a million, do not expect to recoup what you originally paid for it. If your house has seen better days and is in serious need of repairs and repainting, buyers will likely shun it. Most buyers prefer moving into a home that does not require too much repair work. Location may be the last word in a buyer’s choice of a house. It may be priced inexpensively and is in prime condition but if they buyer has children and there are no schools near the house, he or she may not be interested in it. Although there is really not much that can be done about the prevailing house prices in the area or with its location, there certainly are a lot when it comes to its condition.
The Role of Real Estate Licensees
It is often tempting to try to buy or sell your real estate property on your own to save on the fees you will have to pay your real estate agent. Transactions like these, however, often involve plenty of preparation involving financial and legal requirements that can sometimes be difficult to interpret.
If you are buying, you will need to negotiate with a bank, prepare financial statements and records, deal with insurance companies, hire house inspectors, talk with a title company, and arrange with utilities companies. These can be tedious especially if you are not experienced in the area of real estate negotiations. Selling a house, on the other hand, requires more than just putting up a “for sale” sign on your yard. If you are serious about selling, you will want to reach as many people as possible, using all available means.
Owing to these reasons, it is often prudent to hire a professional to help you when buying or selling your house. In Texas, if a buyer does not have a Buyer’s Representation Agreement with an agent, the latter is actually a subagent of the seller, who would be more interested in getting the best deal for his client. Buyer’s Agents can help a buyer in the entire process of the purchase, from looking for suitable houses down to the closing. The best part about it is that it is usually free. A Buyer’s Agent gets his compensation from the Listing Agent’s commissions, or from the Home Builder. Sometimes, though, if a buyer is happy with the Buyer’s Agent’s job, he or she voluntarily pays an amount to the agent.
The counterpart of the Buyer’s Agent for sellers is the Listing Agent who is given the legal authority to represent the seller in negotiations for the sale of the house. By law, the agent is required to divulge everything that transpired in any negotiation to the seller. A buyer, therefore, will have to be careful about divulging any information to the agent that could provide the seller an advantage.
Like in buying, selling also involves legal requirements. In Austin, before you can close the sale of your home, you will need to have a home energy audit otherwise you can be held liable for misdemeanor. Offers to buy your house will typically come in the form of a letter from the prospective buyer’s lender indicating his financial ability. This often comes as a contract as promulgated by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) that includes the terms and conditions of the offer. You can find copies of these contracts on the website of the commission. A non-legal mind, however, might need a little assistance from an agent to fully understand the offer.
All established agents have a strong presence on the Web. This is because a full 80% of potential buyers visit the Internet even before contacting real estate licensees. Having your house advertised on a Listing Agent’s website, therefore, can give it maximum exposure.
There are plenty of real estate licensees in Austin who can help you whether you are buying or selling a house. Most of them have very informative interactive websites that allow you to specify the type of home you are looking for including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, lot and floor area of the house, price range, and location. Choosing an agent can sometimes be as confusing as choosing a house.
You can easily verify if a person is a licensed agent. All you need to do is log on to the TREC website and key in his or her name and hit “Search”. If the person is registered, the site will immediately display his or her license number, expiry date, permanent address, and even educational background.
Available Houses in Austin
As of 2011, there are over 8,000 houses for sale all over Austin, with a median price of $235,125. There are only 61 new houses but their median price is only slightly higher at $238,000. If you are lucky, you can get one for $175,000 from the foreclosures of lending institutions.
Interest rates naturally vary with the fluctuations of the economy, and can even vary every day. However, as of March 14, 2011, 5/1 Year, 3/1 Year, and 1 year ARM mortgage rates were in the low 3-plus percent. The 15 Year term with fixed rates was at the low 4-plus percent, while the 30 Year Fixed was almost 5 percent.
The site is one of many others that feature several real estate calculators that can help you decide how much loan amortization you can afford and what is your optimum repayment schedule. There are also calculators for mortgage refinancing, budgeting and finance, as well as closing costs calculators. These, of course, are designed to provide you with a broad idea about buying or selling your house. They can, however, give you the tools allowing you to intelligently discuss the matter with your chosen lender and agent.
Moving to Austin
After going through the rather complicated process of buying a house in Austin, and you begin moving your things to your new home, keep in mind that you are moving into a community of liberal and tolerant people who will most likely welcome you with open arms. You will easily blend with the Austinites. Just remember one thing – Keep Austin weird.