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.

Statewide economic, population growth drove Texas real estate in 2014

texas flagTexas continued to be a national leader in economic, population and housing market growth in 2014, yielding significant growth in all areas of Texas real estate over the last year, according to the 2014 Texas Annual Housing Report released today by the Texas Association of Realtors.

“It’s a great time to live in Texas. The high demand for Texas real estate is not being fueled by speculation and investment activity – it’s driven by the thousands of people who move to the Lone Star State daily,” said Dan Hatfield, chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors. “People are moving to Texas from across America and around the world to take part in our state’s booming economy, business-friendly environment and quality of life.”

Texas currently gains more out-of-state residents than any other state and is a leader in home sales from international buyers. The 2014 Texas Relocation Report released in October showed that more than 584,000 people moved to Texas from out of state in 2013, whereas September’s 2014 Texas International Homebuyers Report showed that home purchases by international homebuyers reached its highest level in five years, contributing more than $11 billion to the Texas economy in a 12-month period.

The Lone Star State’s rapid economic, job and population growth had a positive impact on multiple segments of the Texas housing market over the last year. The 2014 Texas Homebuyers and Sellers Report released in March reported that Texans’ median household incomes rose significantly in 2013, increasing 9.6 percent year-over-year to $91,700. This is nearly double the nationwide increase of 5.6 percent to $83,000 during the same time frame.

“Virtually every segment of the Texas housing market has benefitted from our state’s continued growth,” adds Hatfield. “Over the last year, however, we saw several areas of Texas real estate that were still recovering from the recession in 2012 really begin to take off in 2013 and 2014, including luxury home sales and housing development.”

Luxury home sales surged to become one of the fastest growing price classes ($1 million or more) within the Texas housing market. January’s 2014 Texas Luxury Home Sales Report reported an average 35 percent year-over-year increase for luxury home sales in Texas’ four major metros in 2013. Small land sales in Texas – many of which were used for ranchettes, vacation homes and recreational uses – were also strong, with 4,189 small land sales statewide in 2013, according to April’s 2014 Texas Small Land Sales Report.

Housing development picked up significantly over the last year, with new home sales in Texas outpacing those nationally by more than half according to the 2014 Texas Homebuyers and Sellers Report released in March. While the 2014-Q1 through 2014-Q3 Texas Quarterly Housing Reports continue to show statewide inventory levels that are approximately three months below the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University’s balanced housing market level of 6.5 months, Texas homes sales in 2014 have kept pace with last year’s strong levels, putting 2014 on-pace to surpass 2013 as the second-best year in Texas real estate.

In addition, low inventory levels also drove Texas condominium and townhome sales to be the fastest-growing segment of the housing market, increasing an average 10.5 percent in Texas’ four major metros in the first half of 2014. As reported by the 2014 Texas Condominium Mid-Year Sales Report, condominiums were also a popular choice due to rising home prices statewide, which steadily increased between five and 10 percent during the year.

Despite this rapid market growth, tough lending standards and a competitive homebuying market caused some Texas homeowners to remodel their current homes instead of entering the market. The 2014 Texas Remodel Valuation Report showed that remodeling projects became increasingly more popular and profitable over the last year, with smaller, functional projects that boosted a home’s curb appeal yielding the most recoup costs statewide.

Hatfield concluded, “The Texas housing market will likely continue to be highly competitive in 2015, but rising housing development and inventory levels as well as greater access to homebuyer education programs like those promoted through Get Ready Texas will help make the dream of homeownership attainable for all Texans. This has been a glowing year for Texas real estate, and 2015 is on-pace to be just as bright.”

Buyers Are Paying More for New Homes

home for saleRising prices may be putting new homes out of reach of more buyers. The median price of a new home sold in the United States climbed 15 percent from a year earlier. The median new-home price is now $305,000, which is the highest level on record, according to the Commerce Department.

Historically low interest rates, near 4 percent, and an improving labor market have helped to increase new-home sales, but sales were up only 1 percent in the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period in 2013. What’s more, October’s annual sales pace is only about half the average annual level of sales from 1996 through 2006.

“I think we saw a little price resistance from the consumer,” says John Johnson, David Weekley Homes’ chief executive. “There are a bunch of people who are waiting until they feel more confident about the future.”

Builders are selling fewer, more expensive homes, and those higher-end homes are making it more profitable for them, analysts say.

Meanwhile, as home appreciation has slowed, sales of more affordable existing-homes are increasing in recent months. Pending home sales are up 2.2 percent in October compared to a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $208,300, nearly $100,000 less than the median price for a new home.

“The increase in median prices for existing homes has leveled off, representing a healthier pace that has kept affordability in check for buyers in many parts of the country while giving more previously stuck home owners with little or no equity the ability to sell,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a recent statement about pending home sales.

Source: “New-Home Prices Surge Despite Lackluster Demand,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 1, 2014) and “Soft New-Home Sales Weigh on Recovery,” The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 27, 2014)

The Best Bath Ideas That You Will Love & Are Cost Effective From Houselogic

If you’re looking for style, sanctuary, and long-term value, you can’t go wrong with these bathroom must-haves.


All those pretty photos on all those pretty home design websites are fun to click through — and maddening when it comes time to make bathroom remodeling decisions. Too many choices.

We’ve got your back: We distilled all the visual noise down to the essence of what makes a bathroom remodel truly great.

With the annual “Cost vs. Value Report” from “Remodeling” magazine pegging the average bathroom remodel at just over $16,000, you’ll want to make sure you get maximum comfort, convenience, enjoyment — and resale juice when the time comes to sell.

Here’s the definitive list of practical (and hedonistic) features.

1.  Heated Ceramic Tile Flooring

Bathroom ideas tile flooringImage: Backseat Boone

Enduring, waterproof, and good-looking, ceramic tile bathroom flooring is the classic, never-out-of-style surface material for any bathroom. Plus, consumers (read: future buyers) love it: In a survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), 83% of respondents said ceramic tile was their No. 1 choice for bathroom flooring.

With prices ranging from a mere $1 per square foot to $20 and more, you’ll find a huge array of choices, styles, and colors that’ll work with any budget.

But ceramic tile can chill your tootsies. Pair your ceramic with thin electric radiant mats that go under the tile without raising the floor level — ideal for retrofit installations.

A typical system uses about the same amount of electricity as three 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. Plus, radiant heat is often more efficient than forced-air heating because it eliminates heat loss through the ducts, says the U.S. Department of Energy. It also distributes heat uniformly across the floor, taking less time to warm a room than other types of heat.

At $5 to $15 per square foot to install, radiant mats are as easy on the budget as they are on the sole.

Nice-to-have ceramic tile accompaniments:

No-slip ceramic tile. With its finely textured surface, it’s great for traction, making it an exceptionally safe bathroom flooring for young kids or folks with limited mobility.

Look for one of two ratings on the packaging.

1.  A COF (coefficient of friction) standard of .60 or greater means the tile is rated as non-slip when wet by the Ceramic Tile Institute.

2.  The DCOF (dynamic coefficient of friction) AcuTest measurement, the new gold standard now coming on the market, requires a value of .42 or above for non-slip tile.

Tip: No-slip tile’s texture can trap dirt, and that requires extra elbow grease to clean.

Epoxy grout. New formulas resist staining and discoloration over time better than traditional ones. They’re also more flexible than regular grout and less prone to cracking, making them ideal for flooring installations.

The key to grouting success is the installer. Make sure your contractor is familiar with epoxy grouts, which require finesse to shape and handle. You’ll pay an extra $50 to $100 to cover a 6-foot-by-12-foot bathroom floor with epoxy, according to the Tile Council of North America.

Programmable radiant heat thermostat. Want to treat yourself extra nice? Greet the day with a sigh of relief when you add a wall-mounted programmable thermostat (about $60 to $200) that’ll start warming up your floors whenever you want. How about a half an hour before your alarm goes off?

2.  Curbless Walk-in Shower

Bathroom idea cureless walk-in showerImage: Molly McGinness

More than 60% of respondents to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects said walk-in, curbless showers are increasing in popularity. For good reason: They’re stylish, safe for folks of all ages, and oh so easy to clean.

They dovetail nicely with ceramic tile floors, too. You can have one continuous surface that moves seamlessly from shower to the main bath area.

Plus, they’re all about marketability. As the population ages, a contemporary walk-in is a selling point.

Be sure to hire a remodeling contractor with experience. Making a curbless shower takes know-how — the shower floor has to slope to the drain hole, which means the new drain will be located below the surface of the existing floor.

To make that work, you’ll have to remove old flooring and subflooring and alter the framing underneath the floor. It’s a good idea to consult with your local building authorities beforehand so that the work will be up to code and pass inspection.

Related: Dump Your Tub for a Dreamy Shower

3.  Quartz Countertop

Bathroom ideas quartz countertopImage: Joe Coulson courtesy of Atlanta Kitchen

We love natural stone, but in this battleground of soaps, lotions, pastes, and poultices, we prefer the impervious beauty of synthetic, low-VOC quartz.

“Consumer Reports” testing gives the edge to quartz over granite, citing quartz’s ability to resist stains and abrasions. It’ll look good year after year. Plus, the surface is so impervious bacteria can’t lodge in it.

Quartz countertop material is a synthetic composite made up of about 90% quartz particles held together with binders. It’s virtually maintenance-free —  it never needs to be sealed — and comes in dozens of styles and colors. If you’re stuck on the idea of stone, many quartz versions mimic the real thing.

Quartz runs $40 to $100 per square foot, installed (about the same as granite, although some varieties of granite get very pricey).

4.  One Big Sink Instead of Two Small Ones

Togetherness is a beautiful thing, but in the master bath, you’re church and your partner’s state. Establish your individuality without losing your bond with a large (38-inch or more) sink ($350 to $1,200). One big sink saves more counter space than two, and still lets you both wash up simultaneously.

Spec an undermount sink to go with your quartz countertop — undermounts have no protruding lip and help make cleanup a snap. The perfect companion to quartz countertops, undermount lavatory sinks are the preferred choice of 87% of respondents to a 2013 survey from the NKBA, and have been for several years.

Tip: Extra-large undermount sinks may need extra support. Check the sink specs and confer with your installer before you buy.

Related: Smart Ideas for Under-Sink Bathroom Storage

5.  Single-Hole, Motion-Activated Faucet

Ah, the savings. “Motion-activated, touchless faucets shut off automatically so you’re not running the water continually, like when you’re brushing your teeth, which saves a significant amount of water,”  says NKBA president John Petrie.

Besides that, we love the fact that sleek, single-hole touchless faucets are right in step with the calm, simple lines of transitional style. Transitional is a universally appealing, trend-defying design that’s cozy, elegant, and ensures a great return on your investment.

Finally, have you ever tried to clean around a two-handle vanity faucet with a narrow (4-inch) spread? Did you require therapy afterward? We heartily endorse the single-hole, lever-type faucet for your bathroom sink — and your sanity.

These tres-cool faucets run $200 to $650 and up. Some have temperature controls so you (or your kids) can’t get scalded.

For extra utility savings, look for faucets with the WaterSense label that use only 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) compared with the standard 2.2 gpm flow of regular faucets.

Related: High-Tech Kitchen Faucet: A Hip, Smart Retrofit

6.  Humidity-Controlled Exhaust Fan

What’s homebuyers’ No. 1-requested bathroom feature? An exhaust fan, says a report from the National Association of Home Builders. Wow — bath fans beat out linen closets and separate tubs and showers.

A fan or an operable window in a bathroom is required by building code. But who wants to open a window in winter to get rid of excess humidity? Get a fan with a humidity-sensing on/off switch. It’ll turn on when moisture levels are high and automatically shut off when things return to normal. That keeps mold at bay, ensures you’re not sucking out air-conditioned or heated indoor air, and prevents the fan from using power long after it needs to.

Tip: Make sure your contractor vents the fan to the outside, not the attic, or you might develop mold problems aloft.

Other fan options include multiple speeds, nightlights, and manual timers; you’ll pay up to $600 for a fan with all the goodies.

7.  High-Efficiency, Dual-Flush Toilet

Saving water is our future; a high-efficiency, dual-flush toilet reduces water usage and appeals to any buyer looking for a cost-effective home.

That’ll be an even more important selling point before too long. Several major U.S. cities — including Atlanta, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C. — could be out of water by mid-century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By law, today’s toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. California has even tighter restrictions: no more than 1.28 gallons per flush. A toilet that meets either standard of water conservancy may be certified by the EPA and carry the WaterSense label.

But we prefer to go one step further with a high-efficiency, dual-flush model toilet featuring a water-sipping, 1-gallon flush for liquid waste, and either a 1.6-gallon or 1.28-gallon flush for solid wastes.

All 25 toilets recently tested by “Consumer Reports” “removed liquid waste superbly,” including the dual-flush models. This is a change, says CR, from previous tests, when many dual-flush models performed well with solid wastes but underperformed with liquid wastes.

Tip: Bidets are standard features in Asia and Europe, but they’ve been slow to catch on in the U.S. (and there aren’t any WaterSense-labeled models). Nevertheless, some manufacturers are creating hybrid toilets and toilet seats ($650) that have bidet features, and we’re going on record as recommending them. They save lots of TP, and they appeal to our melting-pot homebuyer mix of races and cultures, a benefit when it comes time to sell.

Related: More Smart Ways to Save Water and $$

8.  Pocket or Sliding Barn Door

Bathroom ideas sliding barn doorImage: Porter Barn Wood

The floor area of a bathroom is precious. Why waste any with a swinging door that eats up some 14 square feet of space? A pocket door or barn door slides out of the way without requiring any clearance, leaving more room for storage and design flexibility.

Google Trends shows that interest in sliding barn doors hovered at a lukewarm rating of about 40 from 2004 through 2011, when interest upticked to 70 before reaching an all-time high of 100 just last year — the highest possible rating on the Google interest scale.

The sliding door phenomenon partners neatly with sustainability: old, salvaged doors of all kinds make showpiece barn doors for your bathroom.

So pocket or barn doors? Either can work well, depending on your budget.

Our editors had a lively debate about recommending pocket doors, which disappear into the wall. Some said the typical recessed door pull for pocket doors is awkward and can pinch fingers.

Modern tech to the rescue: You can find edge-mounted pocket door hardware with a handle that pops out at the touch of a button ($121). Or, add a door stop inside the wall framing to prevent the door from sliding all the way inside the wall. That way, you can safely use a recessed pull or add a traditional handle or knob to open and shut the door.

Tearing out drywall and reframing for a pocket door is $1,000 to $3,500, depending on the complexity of the job.

You can install a barn-style door, which hangs from a track above the doorway and slides in front of a wall., for less. It’s a good DIY project. Barn door kits cost $400 to $900, but if you’re handy, buy the hardware for $100 to $500 and make your own door, or find a used door at a salvage building supply store.

Related: Cool Improvements: Replacing Your Interior Doors

9.  Calm Colors

It’s always cool to be up on trends, but we say make your bathroom an exception. It’s your sanctuary — it should be soothing and filled with light.

That doesn’t mean it has to be boring. In fact, it’s a good idea to include a painted wall surface so you can dash color about on a whim and change it just as easily. Non-permanent items, such as artwork and antique mirrors, add beaucoup personality.

But permanent surfaces — ceramic tile and fixtures — need quiet, calm neutrals. White, beige, and gray are favorites. In fact, the NKBA says gray is the trendiest color for baths these days, so you win on two fronts, for now.

“A neutral color palette really is safe, especially in terms of resale value,” says NKBA’s Petrie. “You can always be expressive with colorful towels or curtains, things that are less expensive and easier to change than more permanent features.”

Plus, lighter colors help bounce light around, helping you see what a fantastic bathroom you’ve put together.

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Are You Too Late to Get a Great Deal on a Home This Year?

home for saleDid you start off the year with plans to be in a new home by the end of summer? Think it’s too late now to find a great home and get settled by the holidays?

According to real estate expert Leigh Gillig, you need to stop worrying and start looking for your new home now. “Essentially, there is no time like the present,” Leigh said.

It’s All Coming Together

After 30 years helping people find new homes in all types of markets, Leigh knows what she’s talking about. “I always say, ‘You pay if you wait,’” she explained. “We know what today’s interest rate is. We know where home prices are. What we do not know is the future!”

So far this year, home prices have increased modestly while interest rates for those who plan to buy their home with a mortgage have remained low. So from a financing standpoint, now is a great time to buy a home.

The housing market generally cools down starting in September, so fewer people are shopping for homes and fewer homes are on the market. “The closer we get to the holidays, the lower the inventory will get,” Leigh said. Right now, your choice of homes is the best it will be for the rest of the year. That’s why it’s important to begin your search now, she explained.

There’s also some evidence that home prices take a dip in the fall and winter, but Leigh cautions against setting your sights on an outright steal. “You will not get 2010 prices in 2014,” she said. “People are not giving away their homes any more. Even a less desirable home that needs some work will be appropriately priced.”

What About a Newly Built Home?

If your goal is to buy a newly constructed home, Leigh has some tips for you to keep in mind. “Your best new construction buys are completed homes,” she said. “Once a builder finishes a home, their profit starts to dwindle.” The longer the home sits, the more interest, taxes, insurance and utility costs add up. The builder will be more willing to make a deal so he can still make money.

“Don’t try to wheel and deal on a home that’s not yet built,” Leigh advised. “A builder won’t bother building a home if he won’t make his regular mark-up.”

Get Your Home Search Started Today

All that boils down to a couple of important points for home shoppers to remember:

1. Market conditions are favorable—home prices are stable, interest rates are low, and you still have plenty of homes to choose from.

2. You may face some challenges finding your perfect home and negotiating a good deal with sellers or builders.

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