there's a lot to love!

Whelp, we did it: We bought a lot! Suddenly this hypothetical of building a house is turning real, real fast. It certainly wasn't without its ups and downs and surprises but, in the end, it got done.
Our search was two years in the making after first finding a "dream lot" in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood. That lot was a bit Green Acres: city views out the front, a country creek in the back. It also had some building issues (challenging topography) and some less then desirable attributes (did I mention the railroad tracks one house over?). However, the owners were absolutely unwilling to budge on price, despite our financial stretching to within 90 percent of what they wanted. That lot is still unsold...

About a year later, after expanding our search, we found a wooded lot in northwest Austin. Again, backing on a creek but with far more challenging topography, a lot we called the "cliff lot". Into negotiations we went and came within a cat's whisker of having a signed contract when the neighbors used a small bulldozer to tear out trees and dam a small creek on the lot to landscape their backyard (all without city permits). The lot owner didn't appreciate our concerns with the potential liabilities, not to mention that he wasn’t at all upset about the transgression (suggesting he was somehow part of the whole affair), so we walked.

After pouring over the financials more closely, we realized that we were somewhat blessed to have those two deals fall through and started looking for lots for about a third less than what we had been budgeting for. This pushed our search out from the city core a little bit. We flirted with another greenbelt lot in northwest Austin, but balked because of city restrictions and neighborhood covenants.

That brings us to our current lot. It's different than any of the lots we'd considered before in that it is flat and doesn't back on greenbelt. However, it is a larger-than-usual city lot (1.5 times the "normal" size at a quarter acre). Located in Allandale, it is on the north side of downtown but "in the loop" (south of 183, east of MoPac, west of I-35, north of 290). It's also in the coolish mid-century modern part of Allandale. Most importantly, it appears we can build and, if we had to sell right away, not lose money. We can have a garden, and the neighborhood, because of its lack of topography, is “Isetta friendly”. Interestingly, the subdivision of Allandale that our lot is in is called “Green Acres”. So although we didn’t get our “Green Acres” lot in Bouldin, Green Acres is where we will be.

The seller was a little kooky. He wanted us to sign a nondisclosure statement on the selling price (we refused), and he added a little trickery into the contract which he revealed just before closing that nearly scuttled the deal (we walked out of the room with our cashier's check; lawyers were consulted). The agents, sensing a disintegrating deal, stepped up “to make things right” before the seller’s resolve was tested. Talk about a poker game…

The lot does offer one challenge: It's on the edge of the neighborhood and backs up to a car dealership. Unfortunately, the dealership keeps four air compressors out behind its shop right behind our lot. But we're confidant that can be dealt with in some way.

Because my job gets a little crazy from now until May of next year, we won't start building until then. That gives us plenty of time to work with the architect on designing the house and preparing our current abode for sale.

I stopped by the lot yesterday and christened it with its first blue bottle. The adventure has just begun...


  1. Hey, I think I know that lot!

  2. How did you find the lot? Did it just appear on the MLS or did you know a guy who knew a guy? Did you use a real estate agent to find the lot or complete the sale, or do it all yourselves? I see so few lots available in the general somewhat-central Austin area, and none remotely affordable. Buying an old house to knock down might be even more costly, plus the mortgage lender might not be happy if I bulldoze the house they just financed.

    1. It's funny that shortly after we started the blog, we found a lot! I had intended documenting all the in and outs of lot searching (especially since we had some drama there), but didn't get the chance.

      In short, we perused the MLS listings and then gawked at lots of lots (a great way to see and learn the town, btw). And, yes, we used an agent to close the deal.

      I hear ya on how expensive central Austin lots are. Ultimately, we had to expand (compromise...) our search radius and lower our lot expectations to find something we could afford to buy and build on. We looked at a lot of lots in East Austin, but they are also quite expensive (and it was daunting to think a building a brand new home across the street from a crack house [no joke!].

      We really didn't want to tear down a house (this was related to not wanting to tear down a house [cause we like houses...] rather than anything else), so we focused on empty lots.

      I'm speculating here, but I think if you're upfront with the bank on tearing the house down, you'll be OK, but you'll probably have to have more down on the property to overcome the lost value of the house itself. The crappier the house on the property, the less more down you'll have to have.

  3. When choosing your lot, I'm sure you considered whether you liked the location, the neighborhood and your neighbors—and I've had that same East Austin problem with some of the already-built homes I've considered buying. What other considerations were important to you? By the time you bought the lot, you had already found your first architect, correct? And he advised you on the suitability of the lot for building the type of house you wanted, for example regarding its orientation? Not that I discriminate on the basis of orientation...