To-Dos: Your March Home Checklist

With the first day of spring coming up on March 20, the time has come in many areas to start shedding winter layers and encourage new growth. Whether the view out your window this month is of a snowy wonderland or something springy and green, these 10 to-dos should help you get in the spring spirit.


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Austin leads the way in downtown job growth

austin riverAlthough most newcomers choose to live a suburban life, job growth in Central Austin is now outpacing job growth in the suburbs, according to a new report from City Observatory, a Portland, Oregon-based think tank.

In fact, Austin now leads all other U.S. cities in terms of the percentage of its overall workforce working downtown and in downtown job growth.

According to the report titled “Surging City Center Job Growth,” the downtown-oriented job growth in Austin mirrors trends seen in metro areas across the nation, reversing suburban-oriented job growth trends that stretch back more than 50 years.

As recently as the five years from 2002 to 2007, job growth was still suburban-oriented around U.S. cities. Then, job growth in suburban areas was growing at about 1.2 percent annually, compared to 0.1 percent in urban cores. But between 2007 and 20011, a switch happened, with job growth in urban cores rising to 0.5 percent annually, while suburban jobs shrank by 0.1 percent.

In Austin, the urban core job growth flip has been more dramatic. Between 2002 and 2007, city-center job growth in Austin was about 0.6 percent annually and suburban job growth was about 3.1 percent annually. Between 2007 and 2011, though, city center job growth in Austin surged to 3.4 percent annually while suburban job growth slowed to 2.3 percent annually. That’s the fastest-growing urban core job growth in the nation in that time. Austin, with 28.8 percent of its jobs located in the urban core, now has the highest level of core employment in the nation, ahead of even New York City, which only has about 23 percent of its employment in its urban core.

But while Austin’s new jobs are moving downtown, Austin’s overall population growth has, recently, been driven by growth in the suburbs, a fact underscored in a recent Austin Business Journal cover story that found that more than 62 percent of the Austin-area’s population growth since 2010 has been centered in about 54 suburban census tracts, with the fastest growing areas being Pflugerville, Round Rock and San Marcos.



9 Things New Homeowners Know to Be True

You’ve secured the mortgage, you’ve got the keys, and you’ve sent out the new-address notices. Congratulations and welcome to your new home! The hard work is over, right? Well, no. A new phase is about to begin, and it will be familiar to anyone who’s ever bought a house. A world of paint charts, fabric swatches and furnituredecisions awaits. But don’t worry; you’re going to love it. Here are some of the steps you might recognize.



Home Starts, Inventory And Sales All Up in Austin; More on Horizon

capitol groundsNew home inventory in Austin has increased dramatically in the past year but demand could still outstrip supply if population growth remains robust and building cycles continue to increase.  “No doubt the combination of attractive mortgage rates, strong job growth and positive local economic news helped to propel the market higher,” stated a report by Residential Strategies Inc., a Dallas-based market research company.

Home starts, home closings and inventories were all up in 2014 compared to a year earlier, the report said.  Even recent fears of localized market retraction created by declining oil prices are unfounded — at least in Austin, given the tight housing supply, the report postulates.  New home inventory — which includes model homes, homes under construction and finished vacant homes — stood at 7,279 units at the end of 2014, up 46 year over year.

The greatest challenge currently facing homebuilders, according to RSI’s report, are the “elongated cycle times” or how long it takes to build a house. Labor shortages are creating delays.  “Reports from the field are that subcontractors and trades are making progress in increasing the size of their labor force, but challenges persist in overall staffing and training,” the report states.


Here are some other highlights of the report:

  • Builders reported that sales activity through the fourth quarter of 2014 surpassed their own business projections.
  • There were 12,354 new home starts through Dec. 31, up 24 percent from the previous year.
  • There are 20,828 vacant but entitled homesites at the end of 2014, a 20.2-month supply. Equilibrium is generally considered 24 months, so undersupply is a concern.
  • At the end of the year, 9,284 lots were under development, considered a record pace by RSI researchers.
  • Resale listings remain tight with a 2.4 month supply, though the inventory at the end of November was 8 percent higher than in 2013 at the same time.
  • Tight supply and strong demand will continue to boost home prices in 2015.
  • Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage survey for Jan. 8 reports an average 30-year mortgage rate of 3.73 percent, down slightly from a year ago.

Construction Contracts: What Are General Conditions?

Here’s what you should know about these behind-the-scenes costs and why your contractor bills for them

Most people think payment to a general contractor for a remodeling project is broken down into four main categories: materials, installation labor, subcontractors and markup. But there’s a fifth category that may not immediately come to mind: general conditions.

General conditions are the costs incurred during a project that generally don’t involve swinging a hammer or installing something permanently in your home. Some contractors list some or all of the general conditions costs as line items, while others cover some or all in their markup. With a bid that is a bottom-line number, these costs are usually not visible. Here’s what you need to know.


Inching Toward a Smarter Home in 2015

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Searching for Connection

For now the smart-home frontier is more like the Wild West, with many developers creating their own operating systems independent of one another or compatible only with certain brands. It’s somewhat good for innovation but sort of bad for the consumer, because it’s hard to make sense of the overwhelming number of products and which ones have the ability to coordinate with others.

For example, you might own a smart thermostat, a smart light dimmer package and a smart door lock, but all three could have very different systems that don’t necessarily communicate with one another. So, you’re left to toggle between different apps, interfaces and panels to control them all. As a consumer, you have to do some serious research before buying smart-home products if you want them to be compatible in the future. For now it can be like having a separate remote for the DVD player, TV, stereo, ceiling fan and so on. At some point you just say, “Well, how is this smart?”

10 Ways Your Christmas Tree Can Live On After the Holidays

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