I just renewed my real estate license for the first time. This means it’s been two years since I passed the real estate exam. Happy anniversary to me!
While the terror of the test is now far behind me, I wasn’t confident I would pass on my first try. I had heard all the horror stories from really successful agents that took three or more tries to get their license. It was like when you are pregnant and someone tells you about the time they spent a hundred hours in labor – not really what you want to hear!
I had already decided on Stanberry & Associates as my brokerage and they had allowed me to take a few classes at their office so the thought of flunking and having to tell my new boss was humiliating.
I took a preparation class before taking the exam and did well on the National portion but not so great on the State part. So I canceled the test I had planned to take the next week and instead spent the next month poring over scintillating topics like Riparian Rights and what hours the Texas Real Estate Commission is open.
Finally I had the confidence to take the test – and to my surprise I did well! In fact, the administrator said I had achieved an unusually high score.
So imagine my surprise when I went to have my fingerprints taken, a mandatory part of becoming an agent, and flunked!
Maybe it was because many years of playing bass and guitar created callouses that covered the prints. Maybe too much typing erased them. At any rate, after many attempts to get prints on one hand, contorting my fingers into positions I didn’t know they could achieve, I was sent home and told to come back another time.
Who else would pass the real estate exam but flunk the fingerprint test!
A few days later I went back to try again, this time with no issues at all. I’ll never know what the problem was. Were my fingers sweatier the first time? Did low blood sugar before lunch contribute? I’m still not sure what that was about. But I am very glad to be starting real estate year number three without the fear that my fingerprints will prevent me from being the kickass agent I aspire to be.
And surprise - Austin is not on the list. The coasts have it worst. See below what a the median cost is for a one-bedroom apartment. I have lived in several of those cities - most recently Seattle - and yikes. Just yikes!
Sheryl, a marketing guru with 25 years in the field, interviews all sorts of people about their various opinions and habits with social media.
Which social media platform is your favorite? Or least? Leave your comments below and please enjoy the interview.
Austin isn't the only town that's busting at the seams. As prices climb and inventory wanes, people are moving out past Austin City Limits. Here is a map of expanding and future communities in Dripping Springs, coming soon to a former field near you!
Why use an agent if you are buying a new home from a builder? Having someone to look out for your best interest who understands the process can help in the negotiations. And often, it may even lower some costs!
If you need to sell your current home to move up, I'm ready to help. Call me with any questions you have - 512/363-2226. The home of your dreams may be just a phone call away!
I moved to Austin, Texas from Seattle, Washington right before Christmas, on the very tail end of 2010. The week I arrived, it snowed.
Although snow in Texas is a rare phenomenon, there are regular features that I now look forward to - in particular, the bloom of the Texas wildflowers in early spring.
One of my favorites things about living in the Northwest was the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, every April. I loved watching the brightly colored flowers pop open for a few short weeks each spring. My annual tradition was to drive an hour north to walk through the fields and bask in the magnificence of these incredible flowers. I knew I would miss this, so when I discovered Texas wildflowers, I was ecstatic!
Texas wildflowers, like tulips, come in a variety of colors. But unlike tulips, wildflowers have many different species with whimsical names like bluebonnets, paintbrushes and winecups. Each flower blooms for a week or two. Then another type of wildflower blooms. And just like that, by late May, they are gone, like fairydust on the landscape for another year.
You can see the wildflowers in their full glory along the side of the highway and by taking day trips just outside Austin.
A few weeks ago I drove out to Marble Falls and saw many people taking photos with their children and dogs in the fields. There is even a wonderful museum - the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, in South Austin, definitely worth a visit (also where I saw my first rattlesnake!).
While I sometimes miss the majesty of Seattle's tulips and remember them with wistful nostalgia, the opportunity to enjoy Texas' wildflowers takes the sting out of that loss.
If you haven't experienced the glorious Texas wildflowers it's worth a visit in April. Just another amazing feature of the good life in Central Texas!
Share your wildflower stories below. I'll save the rattlesnake story for another time.
Now that a brand new year is underway, many people are thinking about purchasing a home.
But imagine this. You are ready to purchase a new home and find one that is perfect for you – but you don’t have your loan approval in order and don’t know what you qualify for. Nothing is more frustrating than that scenario.
What should every prospective buyer know about applying for a loan?
I posed this and other questions to Margaret Pryor of Premier Residential Mortgage of Texas – one of the most knowledgeable people I know – to demystify the process.
She advises borrowers to begin the loan process long before shopping for a home. The ideal time to get your financial ducks in a row, she says, is four to five months before you are planning to make a move. That allows plenty of time to decide on the type of loan that will work best for you and to fix any glitches that might show up in a credit report so you can get a better interest rate, if possible.
While there are many great and creative loan packages available, buyers are in a much stronger position – especially in hot real estate markets - if they know what they can qualify for before finding the home of their dreams!
Here is some more great advice from Margaret.
1. What sort of credit score do people typically need to qualify for a home loan?
For most government loans, you need at least a 640 credit score. There are cases where financing can be obtained with a lower score, down to 580, but these are on a case-by-case basis. On conventional loans, you need at least a 620 credit score, but the higher the score, the better the interest rate will be.
2. How long does someone need to be at a job?
They should have two year’s experience in their field of work either through actual time on the job or a combination of education and time on the job with no significant job gaps.
3. What extra things apply to self-employed people that are different from applicants with a regular day job?
Self-employed borrowers need to supply their tax returns and typically the lender averages their taxable income for a two-year period. Keep in mind taxable income is usually lower than their actual income prior to writing off expenses.
4. What is a good amount to have available for a down payment?
While having 20% to put down is great, you can typically get into a house for anywhere from zero down on a VA or USDA loan, to 3.5% on an FHA and a minimum of 5% down for a conventional loan. Closing costs are in addition to the down payment.
5. How have the new laws changed the protocol for borrowers?
The new laws protect buyers in regards the closing costs they pay along with the requirement that they now see the closing statement three days prior to closing. Lender fees may not vary, some title company fees can only change by 10% and then other fees outside the lender’s control do not have any restrictions on them. All in all, final closing fees will be very close to what the lender estimated at the beginning of the loan process. The three-day waiting period once you receive the final disclosures cannot be waived so preparing for that is essential.
The winter season is a prime time for house fires. Half of all destructive fires tend to occur in December, January, and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
But most home fires are preventable. Here are some leading culprits to watch for:
Space heaters. These devices are the leading cause of house fires in the winter. Make sure the heater is at least three feet away from anything flammable. Plug it directly into the outlet, not an extension cord. And do not go to bed with the spacer heater still on, experts warn. “Most space heater accidents happen while everyone is sleeping,” says Peter Duncanson, director of disaster restoration training for ServiceMaster.
Cooking. The leading cause of house fires year-round is stovetop cooking. Interestingly, the majority of these fires occur within the first 15 minutes of cooking. Never leave the house when the oven or stove is on. Keep oven mitts, dish towels, and other flammable items at least three feet away from the stovetop.
Electrical cords. Overloaded or damaged circuits cause 3,300 fires annually. The laptop, iPhone charger, toaster, and other electrical appliances all squeezed onto the same power outlet with extension cords and adapters can be dangerous. Feel your cords to make sure they’re not warm (if they are, it's a sure sign they’re overloaded and you need to unplug some). Also, never run extension cords under rugs or in walls, and don't connect several in a row.
Fireplaces and wood stoves. Make sure you keep any flammable objects at least five feet away. And don’t think vigilance only during active burning is enough; embers can smolder for up to two weeks and still ignite if given the opportunity. Empty ashes into a metal container and keep them away from anything flammable for at least two weeks, experts advise. Sabine Schoenberg, home improvement expert and host of This New House, advises that home owners be sure to clean fireplaces and flues at least weekly.
According to recent statistics, 81% of people looking to buy a home start their search online. And far and away the most popular sites for that are Zillow and Trulia.
Whenever one of my clients mentions the Zestimate for a house they are interested in, I know it’s time for a talk. This is what I tell them.
Texas is a non-disclosure state. This means a listing price can be advertised far and wide, but it is illegal to publish what that property actually sold for. The final price can only be disclosed by a realtor in a comparative market analysis. So although Zillow and Trulia are national web sites, they cannot legally divulge this information here in Texas.
This creates very skewed and misleading numbers when it comes to Zestimates because the online suggestion of what a house is really worth is only based on the listing price – not what the property actually sold for.
Another problem with these sites is that the listing information is often old and outdated. This means that the house you fell in love with online may have sold months before you first saw it.
Zillow and Trulia are the Craig’s List of the online real estate world. Although they are helpful in some ways they are often used as bait for agents. Have you ever seen properties with prices that are just too good to be true – called the agent and then found out that the house was no longer available? Sometimes agents are on there simply to solicit new leads. I always tell people to look for an MLS Number on a Zillow or Trulia listing. In the Austin area this should be a seven digit number. If the property does not have the MLS number or it has more or less than seven digits, it could be a scam listing.
If you are searching for a home in the Austin area here are a few sites I recommend with reliable and updated information directly from the MLS:
I hope this has been helpful to you in your home search. Have you had good or bad luck with Trulia or Zillow? Add your comments below. Looking to buy or sell your home? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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It's no secret that Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Just ask any Austinite who has been here more than a year (otherwise known as a native) and they'll tell you how much the skyline, traffic and vibe have changed even in their short tenure.
It's currently estimated that 165 people move to Central Texas each day. The greater Austin metropolitan area is expected to top two million people by the end of October. Yes, you read that correctly! By the end of the month, Austin will match the population of San Antonio.
So what gives? Why is Austin so popular? Low unemployment, reasonable housing prices (if you are coming from California or New York), the creativity and sunshine make it more than just a place to see a show or come for SXSW.
And unlike other cities I've lived, where newcomers were met with a healthy dose of snobbery, Austin is still kind to its newcomers. "Welcome to Texas" is as common as the spring bluebonnet and craft beer.
So when you are sitting in traffic on I-35, unable to find downtown parking or can't get into your favorite restaurant without a long wait, just remember - you live in an awesome place that others covet!