Free Real Estate Tools to Help Your Search

When starting your new home search, especially if moving to a new city, you will want to make as informed decision as possible. As a Realtor®, my job is help you make the most informed decision possible. Here are some tools and tricks that I use to help in your transition:

Traffic Tools

Austin like most cities has a really bad traffic problem. Often, how long you are willing to commute will dictate what part of town you will focus your search.

Google Maps (Free, Publicly Available)

Google maps has a feature that will help you understand what your commute will look like at a certain time. Let’s say you are moving to Austin for a job at the Texas Capitol and have heard good things about Circle C Ranch. You can learn what commute to expect by clicking on the arrow next “Leave Now” and change it to “Depart At”.

Change “Leave Now” to “Depart At”
Now you can see what your commute will be like at a certain time like 8am on a Friday.
Then do the inverse for 5pm on a Friday. If you don’t want an hour commute, you may want to focus your search somewhere else.
If you want to keep your commute to 30 minutes, you may want to look at a neighborhood like Harris Branch. It is the nearly the same distance from the Capitol but on Friday at 5pm, your commute will be 20 to 30 minutes.

Inrix – Drive Time™ (Paid, Only Available to Realtors)

If a decent commute is a high priority for you, I can setup a search for you that will only show you results that are within your likely commute. For example, if you want to see what homes are available within a 30 minutes of the Texas Capital at 5pm, the Drive Time™ tool will only show you houses in that area.

All the available properties within a 30 minute drive home from the Texas Capital at 5pm.

Schools

Many of my clients have school aged children and focus their search by school instead of commute. Here are some useful tools to make an informed decision in your search.

Great Schools (Free -Public)

There are many school ratings websites to dig through, one in particular that I find useful is Greatschools.org/. Here you can search schools by ratings, test scores, or college readiness, and read reviews and school information.

Realtor Property Resource (Paid, Only Available to Realtors)

The National Association of Realtors has a really great tool called Realtor Property Resource or RPR. As a Realtor, I have access to this powerful tool and can do searches and put together a wealth of knowledge for you. If you would like an in-depth breakdown of schools that meet your criteria, let me know.

RPR Report

Tips For Home Care In The New Year!

Tips For Home Care In The New Year! 

Welcome to 2019! A year most of us almost 40 somethings never really pictured happening. Alas, we are here so let’s make the most of this opportunity.  

Tips for looking for a new place to rent: 

If you are thinking about finding a new place to rent, here are some tips to get started. 

  • Identify your budget 
    • Have you had some good years and looking for an upgrade? Either way, 30% of your income is always a good metric in terms of affordability in housing. 
  • Identify the part of town 
    • As you already know, Austin has a bit of a traffic problem. Where someone lives is often dictated by where they work. Start your search with where you work and venture out from there.  
  • What type of housing do you want to live in? 
    • House with a yard? Condo with a pool? Duplex close to your favorite burger joint? Apartment with a gym? Everyone has different needs and wants. Figure out what is important to you. 
  • When do you want to make a move? 
    • If you are currently renting a place, it is time to pull out the lease and take a look. Determine when the lease ends and how much notice you need to give. Most leases nowadays require a 60-day notice. This gives us plenty of time to find a new place. 
    • If you own your home and no longer want the responsibility of homeownership, we need to put a plan together to sell your home. Likely, it will be 60 to 90 days from start to finish. 
  • Reach out to me 
    • I can help you through the entire process.  Give me a call, text or email and I will help you execute a plan.  

Tips for purchasing a new home: 

If you have been kicking around the idea of buying a new home this year, here is how you should prepare: 

  • How Much Can You Afford? 
    • This is best done by reaching out to a mortgage lender to determine a price range that is affordable for you.
  • What type of home are you looking to purchase? 
    • House, Condo, Duplex, etc. What best suits you and how you want to live? 
  • Where do you want to live? 
    • Don’t for get to take into account that our little traffic issue here in Austin often dictates where to start your search. It is easy to get stuck in a terrible commute if you don’t account for that early. 
  • Do you need access to good schools? 
  • What else is important to you or a must have criteria?   
  • Once you have thought about some of these questions, it is time to call, text, or email me.  

Tips For Home Maintenance To Start The Year 

  • When was the last time you changed your air filters? 
    • If you can’t remember, it is time to change them. If you can remember, it is also probably time to change them.  
  • It’s cold right now. Check your windows for leakage and make necessary improvements. 
    • Often it is as simple as caulking around the outside of the window. Amazon sells a cheap and awesome thermometer tool identify leakage. 
  • Do a lap around the house and make sure no dirt/soil has piled up above the foundation. A quick and easy way for termites to start eating away your home is through ground contact of your wood and bricks. The remedy is simple, just pull back all the dirt and re-route any chances for water to get above your foundation.  
  • Check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. 
    • These alarms are vital for your safety. If you haven’t changed them lately or ever, it may be time.  
  • Refrigerator lint 
    • When was the last time you looked under your refrigerator? Was it never? Grab your vacuum and put that brush attachment that has never been used. Pop off the bottom of your fridge and vacuum all the lint and debris. Remember those travel magnets you lost? Remove those. 
  • Leaf Clean Up 
    • By now, most trees that will drop their leaves or have already done so. Take some time to clean those up from around your house and gutters. You will thank yourself come Spring when everything is in bloom. 
  • Door knobs and locks 
    • Over time, your door knobs and locks will start to jiggle and move. Grab a Phillips head screwdriver and walk around the house tightening all the knobs and locks. This will prevent long term door wear and tear damage from loose knobs.  
  • Dust Clean Up 
    • By now, you have cleaned up your Christmas tree but have you vacuumed behind your TV stand? Take some time to move all of the furniture and sweep or vacuum under it. You will be surprised by how much collects back there.  
  • Water Heater Flush 
    • Central Texas has hard water. This often builds up in the water heater. Turn off the electricity and water to the water heater. Grab the hose and attached it to the bottom. Run the hose outside and put it into a bucket. Then open the drain valve and run into the bucket until the water becomes clear.  
  • Clean Faucet Screens 
    • Unscrew the screens on all your faucets and clean them out. You will often be surprised by how your water pressure returns.  

Property Tax Appraisals Are Out. What Can You Do?

That wonderful time of year is here. Spring has sprung, the weather is beautiful, and the local apprais

al district has made up a new value for your home. If you feel like the value on your home is too high, you only have until May 15th, 2018 to file a Protest.

Here Are Your Options

– Nothing – You are certainly within your rights to do nothing at all. Your tax appraisal will continue to climb year after year and your property taxes will continue to go up.

– Informal Protest – There are two types of protests. Information and Formal. Most taxing districts offer an online informal protest. You can also request an in-person informal process. This is an easy way to try to get a reduction. You fill out an online form, provide your evidence and argument, and wait for a decision. If you like that decision, you can accept the new value. If you do not, you can file a formal protest.

– Formal Protest – if you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can request a formal hearing. In a formal hearing, it will be you, a county representative and three board members.

– Hire Someone – There are lots of tax protest companies out there. Most work for a percentage of reduction.

How Can We Help?

– Get Your Facts Straight

You may protest the value on your property in the following situations:

  • the value the appraisal district placed on your property is too high;
  • your property is unequally appraised;
  • the appraisal district denied a special appraisal, such as open-space land, or incorrectly denied your exemption application;
  • the appraisal district failed to provide you with required notices; or
  • other matters prescribed by Tax Code Section 41.41(a).

– Ask Us For Evidence

If you feel like your property value is too high, you will need to support your argument with evidence. Contact me today at Jacob@TexasDreamRealtors.com. I can pull comparables for your home and discuss what my opinion of value on your home may be. We can often find alike home sales that will support a lower valuation than the county.

 You Can Do It!

The process to protest your taxes is actually fairly simple. It may seem like a lot of unknowns but we are confident you can do it.

 

 

More Information:

https://www.traviscad.org/eservices/

https://www.traviscad.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/96-295_Property-Taxpayer-Remedies.pdf

https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax/video/homeowner-protest/presentation_html5.html

Carbon Monoxide Detectors Required in the City of Austin Starting April 1st.

The City of Austin recently passed an ordinance requiring Carbon Monoxide detectors in all Austin homes that have a gas or fuel-burning appliance in the house or has a connected garage.

Read more about it here:

https://www.abor.com/new-carbon-monoxide-ordinance-effective-april-1/

Some best practices from The Family Handyman.

  • Make sure you have at least one carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home, including the basement.
  • Locate carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms – close enough so that they’ll wake you up if they go off in the middle of the night.
  • Mount detectors on the wall at least a couple feet below your ceiling or even lower. Carbon monoxide often won’t rise all the way up to the ceiling (like smoke does) until the concentration of the gas is at a critically dangerous level. Additionally, some carbon monoxide detectors have digital readouts – mount those kinds of detectors at eye level so you can read them. If you have pets or curious children, you’ll need to find somewhere the detector won’t be bothered.
  • The detecting mechanisms in carbon monoxide detectors need to stay at stable temperatures and humidities to work properly. Keep them out of direct sunlight and away from fixtures that generate heat (appliances, lights, radiators, etc.) and out of overly humid areas (bathrooms, laundry rooms, etc.). Keep in mind air flow, too: Don’t mount carbon monoxide detectors by windows that are often opened or in dead air spaces.
  • Don’t cover the detectors. Keep them mounted out in the open and away from curtains, furniture or shelves that could potentially block them or interfere with normal air flow to the sensors.
  • If your house has an attached garage, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector mounted inside the house within 10 feet of the door to the garage. A running car could very easily elevate levels of carbon monoxide in the home.
  • Make your carbon monoxide detectors easy to test. Put them in areas where you can easily reach the detectors and check them every six months or so and get in the habit of replacing them when the manufacturer recommends it (most carbon monoxide detectors are good for about five years or so).

 

 

Be Safe!

Quick And Easy Things You Can Do To A Home Before Move-In

The beauty of buying a home is you get to make it your own. Sometimes I just stare at my living room or yard picturing the different things I want to do. I think it is important when you buy a new home to make a list of all the things you would like to change. Some will be expensive, others will be cheap. Some difficult, some easy. Before moving in, some things are easier to do while the home is empty. Here is a list of quick and easy things you can do to your home while it is empty.

Refinish Hardwood Floors: If you have hardwood floors, it is much easier to refinish them prior to move in. This will keep you from having to move everything twice and make the home yours from day one.

Interior Paint: New paint on the interior of the home will remove any trace of the previous owners plus painting an empty home will greatly speed up the process. The ceilings especially are easy to do while the home is empty and will make a big difference in appearance.

Wall Switch Plates: Homes for many years came with off white switch plates throughout or even newer homes will have dirty switch plates. Swapping out the switch plates is very easy to do and very cost effective.

Thorough/Deep Cleaning: Many times a home has been cleaned by the previous owner but not a deep clean. Take the time before you start moving in furniture to clean all the cracks and groove, ceiling fans, and A/C vents. This will make a huge difference in your home.

Shower Heads: Older homes often have the shower head at 6 feet. Buying an inexpensive replacement shower head with an vertical extension will transform your showering experience.

Braided Steel Hoses/Valves: Most people may not be comfortable changing out the water valves on the house but installing new, 1/4 turn cut off valves throughout the house will save you a lot of money and trouble later. Over time, water valves wear out. If your toilet starts to leak and you need to turn off the water, it may not be possible. Taking the time before you move in will ensure you are prepared for an emergency. While you are at it, make sure all the water lines from the valve to the fixture are braided steel. These are way more reliable.

Caulk: Applying a fresh layer of caulk can prevent a lot of potential problems down the road and it can enhance the look of your bathroom or kitchen. Caulk is very easy to do and very inexpensive.

Seal Holes or Crevices: Animals were here before us and will be after us. That does not mean you have to offer them a place to live. Before you move in, take some time to look around house and attic and seal any holes or crevices that may invite critters into your home.

Just like the your own list for your home, this list is always changing. Please send us any ideas you may have to make this list better. Jacob@TexasDreamRealtors.com

Winter Weather Safety Tips

With some icy weather on the horizon, I wanted to pass along some tips to help protect you and your home.

Things to do around the house:

Hose bibs can freeze in winter.
Hose bibs can freeze in winter.

Wrap outside pipes: An ounce of prevention in this case will only cost you $1.18. In a hard freeze, outside pipes can freeze, expand, and break. Wrap outside pipes in Pipe Wrap Insulation and you shouldn’t have any problems. Rarely in Austin does the power go out during a winter storm but if it does and you do not have heat the American Red Cross advises, “Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent (interior) pipes from freezing.”

Trim Tree Branches: What time of year is best to keep your tree branches trimmed? Hint: It’s all the time. During wintry weather, ice can collect on branches making them very heavy. Weak branches can break and cause damage to your house. Protect your house by keeping branches trimmed away.

Check Your Car Battery: I just learned this the hard way on Wednesday. My battery was four years old and I started to notice a slowing cadence when I started my truck. When a car battery is reaching then end of its life, a change in weather will put it out of its misery. Don’t get stuck knocking on neighbors doors for a jump and check your car battery. If it is pushing 3 to 5 years old, have an auto parts store check it for free.

Check Your Chimney: If you are anything like my wife and I, you had your first fire in the fireplace when the weather turned a brisk 60 degrees. If you have not taken a look at your fireplace and chimney in a while, grab a flashlight and do a quick visual inspection. Be sure that the flue is not blocked with a bird’s nest or leaves, no branches have grown above the chimney, and nothing is crumbling or looks broken. If something doesn’t look right, please call a professional.

 

More Tips from the Texas Department of Public Safety

Make sure you have the following basic emergency supplies on hand in preparation for a winter weather event:

  • One-week supply of non-perishable food, one gallon of bottled water per person per day, coolers for food and ice storage
  • Credit cards and cash (banks and ATMs may not have power)
  • Battery-operated radio, NOAA Weather Radio and extra batteries or hand crank radio, cell phones and chargers
  • First-aid kit, seven-day supply of prescription medications, copies of prescriptions, special medical items, hearing aids and batteries, eyeglasses
  • Manual can opener, knife, tools, booster cables, fire extinguisher, duct tape, tarp, rope, flashlight with extra batteries
  • Supplies for babies, the elderly, family members with special health care needs, and food and supplies for pets

Remember animals are particularly vulnerable to extreme outdoor elements. Do NOT leave your pets exposed to the cold during a winter weather event. If you have outdoor pets ensure they are properly protected from the cold by bring them indoors or providing other adequate shelter.

If heavy ice on power lines cuts utility service, be extremely careful using generators or gas powered equipment. Carbon monoxide (CO) is invisible, odorless and deadly. It can build up in a matter of minutes. Do not use generators, charcoal grills or gas grills inside the house, garage or enclosed space. Do not try to heat the house using a gas range or oven.

Winter Weather Vehicle Safety

Keep the following emergency supplies in your vehicle in case you encounter winter weather on the road:

  • Blankets/sleeping bags and extra clothing, mittens and hat
  • Cell phone, radio, flashlight, extra batteries
  • First-aid kit and pocket knife
  • High calorie, non-perishable food, bottled water
  • Sack of sand or cat litter for de-icing roadway
  • Windshield scraper, tool kit, booster cables, tow rope and shovel

After The Storm

Here are some safety tips for keeping you and your family safe as you wait for power to be restored:

  • NEVER operate generators and other fuel-powered devices inside a home or an enclosed space, such as a garage. Unsafe practices could result in a build-up of deadly carbon monoxide fumes. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. If anyone in your home experiences these symptoms, step outdoors, ventilate the area and dial 9-1-1.
  • Report power outages. Turn off electrical appliances that were operating at the time power went off, including your heating system. Leave one light on to alert you when service is restored.
  • Power lines weighted with ice may be down or touching other objects, an extremely dangerous situation. Contact with power lines can charge cables, chain link fences and even tree limbs with electricity. Power lines can electrify a fence line throughout an entire neighborhood. Contact your power company for assistance.
  • Many people are injured each year by falling tree branches after any kind of severe storm. Ice storms are no exception. Heavy ice can make tree limbs and trees themselves unstable. Be safe. Wait until the thaw and call a tree care specialist.
  • Refrain from driving on icy roads. If you must travel, drive slowly and increase your stopping distance. Watch for downed trees and power lines across roads. If power fails, treat all intersections as four-way stops. Pack blankets, water, food items and a phone to take with you.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and be cautious with fire. Keep candle flames at least three feet away from cardboard, wood and other combustible objects. Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets, and extinguish flames before leaving a room or falling asleep.

 

Stay safe and have a great holiday season!