MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Survey

Measuring-Jim,Jr Measuring-Matt Lot-Layout-4

The Survey is Ground Truth, or is it?

In order to design the house in the first place, Jim took lots of measurements.  Jim draws all our plans.  That’s a gift he has.  He knows where the lot lines are, and every tree, and every change in ground level.  He’s not psychic – he goes out there and measures.

Now that the lot is open and walkable, our foundation guy came over and put up batter boards.  These are temporary frameworks to hold strings.  The strings are critical to building the foundation in the exact place, as shown on the plans.

But something seemed wrong.  The actual measurements on the ground were not matching the dimensions on the survey.  Here’s an email Jim sent to an engineer friend:

Because I accepted that the survey must be correct, I have spent hours and hours going back out there in the heat trying to analyze what I was doing wrong.  Then many more hours fooling around with the drawing on the computer trying to come up with a new strategy for resolving the huge discrepancies between distances which I knew I should have –  and what I was actually getting on the ground.  Not knowing where the problem was, I questioned everything I was doing, thinking that my approach must be grossly inadequate.  Sons Matthew and Jim spent many of those hours out there helping me try to solve the puzzle.  I was almost convinced that I shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing anymore. 

The truth came out when they found both rear pins, which the surveyor had not uncovered.  He had marked the rear fence posts as our corners, which turned out to be about 2.5 feet beyond our property line.  So we had an incorrect survey.

Note to self:  Call surveyor and request refund.

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Hot Days

Lot-Chip-Mulch-3 Lot-Open

Hot Days, Hard Work

Tree Tom was our lot clearing guy.  He brought over his son, who’s been clearing since he was 12, and a couple of other guys.  Plus a giant chipper, and small backhoe.

We paid Tree Tom’s crew for their work by the day.  This could not be done as a contract bid, since we made decisions on the work as we went along.  For three days, Tree Tom’s guys cut Ligustrums, dead trees, and anything inside the house area.  Our sons, Matt and Chris, joined in and hauled logs and worked the chipper.  The mulch pile soared to over 6 feet.  The temperature soared to over 100 degrees.

We rescued many Oaks and Elms from Ligustrom prison.  The lot is looking open and beautiful.  These were hot days and good times.

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Good Boots

Papas Boots-2

Papa’s Boots

So we needed a pair of tall boots for Jim-Bo to wear as part of his chigger avoidance program.  This required a fun trip to Cavenders Boots, in south Austin, next to Central Market.

We selected these:  Ariat International, Inc. – Impact II 8-in. Lace-Up Boots

Later, Jim was reading his copy of Fine Homebuilding, and saw that these very boots were noted as a great construction boot.  They are not steel-toed, do not hold a lot of mud in the treads, and are sturdy and supportive.

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Tiny Problem


A Tiny Problem Shows Up

We all came home with chiggers after a hot afternoon of chopping down Ligustroms. Of course, none of us want to get chiggers, but Jim, Sr. is allergic to them. So that’s a problem we need to solve, or he just won’t be able to tramp around on the lot.

Jim looked up the US Army’s Chigger Specs, and followed them to the letter (as he always does with any directions):

1. Get a pair of tall boots
2. Wear pants tucked into the boots and tighten laces
3. Treat pants and boots with Permethrin Repellent

Permethrin was found at Dicks Sporting Goods, after a search at several pharmacies.

So far it has worked perfectly. No chiggers on Jim-Bo. The rest of us just spray a little Deep Woods Off on our shoes, and still get an occasional chigger. When Jim comes back from the lot, he puts his pants and boots into a box, since they have that Permethrin stuff on them.

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Ligustrums


Ligustrum Forest

We are underway with a new DIY home building project – a modern farmhouse in the Lake Hills neighborhood of Austin.

As you can see, the lot was so covered with trees and debris it was hard to walk on.  There were some big cedar elms, oaks, and Texas Persimmons.  But, there were plenty of trash trees too.  A whole lot of a Ligustrums had grown in over many years.  The hardwoods are “pruned” up high because the Ligustrums choked off light to their lower parts.

We checked with the Wildflower Center and Mr. Smarty Pants agrees Ligustrums should go!

Mr. Smarty Plants stands solidly with your arborist and applauds you enthusiastically for getting rid of those nasty, invasive Ligustrums. They do provide shade and privacy but at the expense of beautiful native trees that can do the job as well or better. Believe me, you’ll be glad those Ligustrums are gone!

Keep in touch!  We’ll have lots of updates as this long project moves along.

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Austin Appreciation – A Perspective

Most of the homes sold in a real estate market sell at prices around the median, or middle-point. Movement of the median price reveals the flow and direction of the market. The chart below shows median prices at year end, over 14 years:

Median Price (single family homes, not including condos, multifamily, or lots):

———–Median—-% Change

2001—- 153,000—- 4%

2002—- 157,000—-3%

2003—- 157,000—-(0)

2004—- 155,000—-(-1%)

2005—- 164,000—-6%

2006—- 174,500—-6%

2007—- 185,000—-6%

3.4% (7 year average)

2008—- 189,500—-2%

2009—- 188,480—-(-1%)

2010—- 193,520—-2%

2011—- 193,000—-(0)

2012—- 205,000—-6%

2013—- 223,890—-9%

2014—- 230,000—-6% year to date

3.4% (7 year average)

The years between 2001 – 2007 included a downturn ( Bust) and a return to normal. The median price experienced an average growth of 3.4% during that period.

The years between 2008 – 2014 included a downturn (the Great Recession) and return to normal. Again the median price experienced an average growth of 3.4% during that period.

The appreciation rates noted here include all MLS areas in and around Austin. The percent of change each year expresses a general trend, and is not a number that applies to every property.

Here are some questions and answers that come to mind:

What would our median price be if we had not experienced the and Great Recession downturns, but had a steady 6% appreciation over the past 14 years?

A 6% increase each year for the past 14 years would have brought our median price to $326,338 today. It is currently at a more affordable $230,000.

What effect will the current low inventory have on the median price?
The shortage of homes is evident to all who work and participate in the real estate market. Inventory is at an unprecedented low. Homebuyers are having to compete for homes, often offering over list price. Low inventory with high demand is a fundamental driver of appreciation – prices will move up when demand exceeds supply.

What appreciation rate can we expect in Austin over the next 5 years?
Mark Sprague allowed me pick his brain while he recoups from knee surgery. According to Mark, “Appreciation in Austin ranges between 5%-9% during growth periods.” We think that 9% appreciation is predictable for 2014 and 2015. At least 6% appreciation for the following three years is likely.

To quote Mark Sprague again, “If we see 3 years of double digit appreciation in a row, we are moving into a bubble. Double digit appreciation is not sustainable, and a retreat by buyers will cause the market to self correct.”

Is there plenty of land for builders to increase the inventory of new homes in Austin?
No. Almost all large areas that are close-in have been developed. Large close-in tracts (such as Steiner Ranch, Circle C, Lakeway area, Mueller, Pioneer Crossing, etc.) are virtually built out. Close-in Austin is full. As Austin grows in population, central parts will become more in demand and more valuable. People want to avoid traffic and be able to drive downtown and to other cool places in Austin. We see high demand and price increases in close-in East Austin, as well as all close-in north and south parts of the city. Westlake and central neighborhoods are prized locations more than ever.

Will builders add lots of new homes and overload the inventory?
Builders usually take about 25% market share, so that is normal. Large builders are building as fast as they can in suburban areas, but there are few spec homes – all are sold. Development work lagged during the recession, so lots are in short supply. The shortage of lots will lead to higher home prices in suburban areas, which will ripple in to central Austin.

Within Austin, we will see a surge of building in older areas by small builders. In-fill, gentrification, remodeling, and tear downs will supply nice homes to some of the 110 people who move here every day. We will eventually reach a saturation point, but this is not imminent.

Will a crisis or slow down reverse our appreciation over the next 5 years?
It is possible that an unknown calamity will arise, but we tend to be optimistic about the investment quality of homes in Austin.

Give us a call – Send and Email

More than 30 years in Austin real estate has taught us that service is the key to success, and we look forward to serving you. A big thank-you to all of you who have sent us friends and associates who need to buy or sell houses! Keep sending!

Roselind Hejl, CRS
Coldwell Banker United Realtors
512-327-0385 – Direct
512-789-4563 – Cell